Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hello, Dollies! BCA

Oh, hello! Pleasure to have you here.  It's been a while.

Please excuse the blogging lapse. My work of late has been decidedly low-tech. So low-tech, in fact, that what is seeming like a majority of the population does not know how to do it.  This is summer number eight on my mission to teach sewing to the next generation.

If you said that these don't make you want to scoop them up for a hug, I would refuse to believe you.

This is my favorite part of working for Burlington City Arts in the summers. Back in 2007, I proposed this class, and it ran once that summer, completely full with a waiting list of equal size. Clearly, little people wanted to learn to sew. The following year it was offered twice in the summer, and still is.

Flannel monkey pajamas.  A doll has got to have options, right?

When I was around six, my Girl Scout troop sewed little rag dolls. Mine had a light blue shirt. What mattered most to me was that I made her myself, and I loved her. That feeling of tangible accomplishment was one that I want to make sure other people experience.  In the summers, the campers are here for fifteen hours (what a blessing!) in one week, which makes it not only possible to sew a doll entirely by hand, but to make lots of outfits for the doll as well.


Step one! Lay out your fabric, two layers thick, and trace your pattern onto it.

Yes, these are art tables. I find them beautiful.

Next, cut out the pattern pieces.

Snipping oh sew carefully. (Sorry, I couldn't resist. You knew it was coming.)

The arms and legs are sewn first, with a running stitch.  If the students ask, we can make them a line of tiny dots to sew on, especially useful for beginners.

 The campers are usually 6-8 years old, but sometimes are 5.

This is not easy work for little hands, but they are determined.  Fortunately, BCA usually offers me a volunteer Teaching Assistant to help with the tangles and knots that can cause anxiety for newbies.

Those are some tiny stitches. Wow.

After all of the arms and legs are sewn, it is time to make the body. Artists choose hair colors, and lay it inside the doll so that the whole thing is sewn inside out. In the end, the hair will then be held in tightly.

Some of the colors choices for hair.

Rainbow hair!

This is always the hardest part.  They sew the doll's hair three times to make sure it will stay in for all of the future braids and pigtails it is sure to receive.

Pinned in place, and sewing underway.

 After the doll is sewn, the body, arms, and legs are flipped right side out and filled with stuffing.

Like a pillow, less stuffing makes the doll softer, more makes a it firmer.

The students work at all different paces. That is perhaps the best thing about the camp- sometimes someone has never sewn a stitch, while other girls might be back for their third summer in a row, have made one or two already, and just want to design the clothes all week. Rarely is differentiation for learners at all levels so effortless.

So focused.

Once the doll is stuffed, artists sew on the legs.

Some have added faces already at this point, while others wait until the doll is sewn.

The arms are sewn on with a simple whipstitch.

The stitching is in back of the doll.

If they have not done so yet, it is time to add a face. Or even two. On several occasions the maker has designed the doll two-sided instead of front and back, so that it has faces that are awake/asleep, happy/sad, etc.

There were a lot of belly buttons this year. And those freckles!

The makers can choose how to create the face in a variety of ways. They can sew features, draw them, add button eyes, or use puffy fabric paints.

Sometimes artists even draw or paint on jewelry, or sew on sequins for earrings.

When the dolls are done, artists begin the clothes. I bring lots of patterns which can be infinitely varied, or the artists can design their own.  All of the patterns I have made also fit American Girl dolls, which makes this whole camp even cooler. Lots of campers arrive with a doll, sew the new one, and make outfits for both.  One-shoulder dresses, swimsuits, shirts, shorts, skirts, aprons, ties, pjs, shoes, tiny purses- there is no end to the variety.

"This color will look amazing on her!"

So, the part of this that brings it to an almost unbearable level of sweetness is that the week culminates in a tea party with the artists, the dolls, and the families. The kids are bursting with pride about now.

The dolls are introduced.

Cookies, juices, and real tea (of course!) on pretty white tablecloths.

 There are lots of places to find easy sewing patterns.  Look online or at a fabric store and learn a new skill!  It's never too late to learn to sew. And once you do, it is empowering to be able to fix tiny seam rips or that button which abandoned your shirt.

Doreen Kraft, BCA's Executive Director, often visits for our tea parties.

 Do you have a skill you worry will disappear? Maybe someday you could show a little person how to do it. 

Dolls and artists all glammed up for the tea party.

I hope you are enjoying your summer!

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