Monday, October 3, 2011

How To: Crafting a Waldorf-style Doll from Upcycled Materials

Last week, I posted an entry about a Waldorf-inspired doll that I had made for my newest little addition (due in December). It isn't a full-fledged Waldorf creation because I was trying to craft with materials that I already had on hand. Rather than using natural wool, I used some leftover Poly-fil. Rather than buying organic fabrics, I upcycled old t-shirts.

The results came out pretty cute, so today I would like to share how I did it.

- old t-shirt in a skin tone color (I used peach, but tans or browns would be lovely for this project)
- old t-shirt or onesie (at least 9m size) in another color to make a dress and hat
- stuffing for the head (used some leftover Poly-fil but a nice wool or natural cotton would be much easier to work with)
- embroidery thread for eyes, mouth, and dress
- sewing needle, doll-making needle, pins, scissors
- sewing machine (optional)

 Step One: Get Ready
Once you have all of the materials together, start by prepping your pieces. This doll is completely customizable as far as size goes. The important thing to work on is proportion. For the skin tone fabric, you need to cut out probably an 8" square to cover the head. For the dress and the hat, I just kind of eyeballed sizes. The basic shape of the dress is a square, but I cut out the  long, half-oval shapes at each end to make the corners easier to tie. On this particular doll, I still had some trouble tying-- the tabs could have been longer!

Step Two: Form the Head
Begin constructing the head by creating a small, tight ball of stuffing. This will be the "pit" or "seed" of the center of your head. I used a Poly-fil stuffing (definitely NOT traditional Waldorf), but I really recommend a natural wool or cotton for this. The Poly-fil was extremely slippery, and that made it very difficult to form a nice, rounded head. Aside from being more natural, a cotton or wool stuffing would stick to itself better, resulting in a denser and more nicely-shaped head.

Once you have a good kernel formed for the head, add flat layers of stuffing over top to encase the kernel and build up the head in layers until you have a fairly dense sphere. As you layer the flat squares of stuffing over the head, you will have leftover corners hanging from the bottom of the head to form a neck.

(Sorry if this is not very clear in the picture-- I found it really difficult to show this process of head formation. If you are still confused, look at some other Waldorf sites for clarification or feel free to send me a message!)
When you are happy with the shape and density of the head stuffing, use the flesh-colored square of fabric to wrap it up. Again, the extra corners of fabric will come around to the bottom to form the neck of your doll. Use thread to tie the neck closed, then use needle and thread to stitch back and forth to secure the opening. (If you want to create a doll with a more distinctive, Waldorf-shaped face you would need to wrap the head in stockingette first, shape the face, then add the skin-color fabric. For simplicity, I left my head spherical.)

Step Three: Embroider the Face
I think this is probably the most difficult step of the doll-making process. I recommend that you start by smoothing out as many wrinkled from the face as possible (or, pick a side that has fewer wrinkles to start). Next, pin the location of the eyes and the mouth. Pinning first will help you line everything up before you start sewing. The eye line should be located about midway on the doll's head, with the mouth just a bit lower.

I didn't have any embroidery thread on hand for this project, so I just doubled up the regular thread in my needle. Starting from the back of the head, push your needle all the way through the head to sew the mouth. Do the same for each of the eyes. I used a regular hand-sewing needle, but there are doll maker's needles specifically designed for this task. I am thinking that the doll-maker's needles would be a bit longer, which would help keep the head from getting compressed during the embroidery process.

One of the trickiest things to remember is don't pull your thread tight. I made that mistake with my first doll, and it had everything to do with the face looking all squashed when I was done. Again, I feel like having the right kind of thread and the right kind of needles would have helped make this part of the process go much more smoothly. However, if you are like me and really want to do this without buying a ton of supplies, know that it can be done!

Step Four: Sew the Dress and Hat
Use a sewing machine to sew the right sides of the dress together, leaving at least an inch gap in the top center. (If you are awesome, you could hand sew this part too.) I used a simple straight stitch, but a zigzag stitch or a serger would work here too. Turn the dress right-side out by stuffing everything though the gap at the top. Get your corners straightened out, and tie a knot for each "hand" and "foot" of the dress. Not only do the knots look cute, but they make for good chewing later!

Also sew the edge of the hat together. I cut the one edge of the hat from a seam so that I would have one less piece to sew later. The already-finished edge forms the base of a sizable right triangle-- all your need to sew is the hypotenuse.

Next, attach the dress and hat by hand. I am not really great at hand sewing, so I used a simple whip stitch (at least, I think that's what it's called). Go as simple or as fancy as you like. I think the stitching adds character-- that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

And you are done! Now you have a sweet little rag doll to keep for your own child or to give away. This little cutie is going to my nephew, who will be born in February. I am really excited for all of the babies on the way (and a few that just arrived!). I hope you enjoy the opportunity to make something really special for a wonderful, new, little soul!

 Happy Crafting <3