How they're made

hands sewing a doll hair
If you're curious about how Sunny Stowaways are made, here's a bit of sewing, crocheting, embroidery talk :)


So, the first step is quilting the material for the body and legs. While I was figuring out how I wanted to make the dolls, I tried a lot of different fabrics--sturdy upholstery, lined velour, all kinds of cottons and knits. I wanted something that had body but flexibility, something that would look and feel good after being squished and cuddled over time. Quilted cotton turned out to be perfect, especially with the swoops and curls of the free-motion quilting. The swirls give the fabric a bit of structure, while allowing it to bend. The quilting part is more time-consuming, than just lining a fabric, but I think it's worth it. Doing that part is very satisfying, though, like scribbling, only very slowly. I recently discovered quilting gloves, with the little silicon on the fingertips and palms that make it easier to move the fabric around. Game changing! (And so, so glamorous.)


I use the quilted cotton for the legs, too, so that with clothes, they look like they have little socks or tights sticking out. Over time and lots of sitting and standing at tea-parties, the legs of dolls take a lot of wear, and cloth dolls have a tendency to get thin in the legs over time, so I wanted Sunny Stowaways to be substantial, but also look and feel nice once they get a little more squishy. I've tried lots of ways to make the legs of cloth dolls, sometimes with unquilted linen fabric legs, and I keep coming back to this style. I think its because I like the way these dolls even when they are lying around with no clothes on. Which I think dolls tend to do a lot.


The next step is tracing, cutting, and sewing the body, head, neck, and limbs. First, I do hand-dye the linen to skin color, so the cutting part is still cringingly inefficient because I dye the linen in small batches and the math is slightly different each time for how to fit the maximum number of pieces on the material.


So the next step is to take the flat little pieces and sew them together and flip them into a shape that looks like a little fabric kid. Each piece is lined, and I go over each seam twice with my machine. I always picture my dolls swinging by the hand of a child skipping down the hall. There's a few seams that get go through multiple layers of fabric that get pretty loud. I have a second-hand, heavy-duty, straight-stitch machine. The machine has three speed settings, and I feel about it the same way I felt about my first car. (Which was also a hand-me-down.): strong, strong, strong affection. Out of love, I oil that machine almost as often as the manufacturer recommends. The speed settings have a picture of a turtle and a rabbit. I turtle around the hands and rabbit the rest. It also has an automatic thread-cutter. A lot of machines have this, but my old one didn't, and when I got this machine, I felt like I had spent half of my old sewing life cutting threads.


After the parts are sewn together, I put each set of doll pieces in a gallon ziploc bag to keep them dust-free and organized. Later one, the faces will lay sideways in the bag, smiling out like cheerful sci-fi characters.


Next, I stuff the face, neck, arms and body separately. One time I searched on youtube to look for a descripton of how they made stuffed animals in factories to see if there was a more efficient way to stuff the parts firmly. One factory video I saw had an assembly worker sitting at a table with a large thin metal dowel rod with a rounded end clamped to the side of the table. She would take each stuffed animal, stuff it, and then shove it down on the dowel rod, then stuff more, then shove and repeat. So...basically, same over here. If I can think of something to clamp to a table, I will.

hands holding a doll head

And then comes my favorite part--embroidering the face. I draw the features with an air-erase marker and then embroider and shape it to give the little eyes and cheeks some dimension. When I first started learning how to make dolls, for my daughter, I thought I was going to make their heads and faces a different way, that was really cute and popular I'd seen online, the faces are adorable, and I made a few like that, but they all tend to look the same. The first time I tried making the heads a different way and embroidering the face, I was hooked. The possibilities seemed endless. Even though the basic placement of the features and my face design is repeated on every doll, every little face is different.


I think kids long to feel special, in real life and their imagination. Sometimes I see people choose a doll based not on their hair or eye color, but on the way the doll's particular face makes them feel. Something about it feels personal to them. Embroidering their faces feel to me like the illustrations in a children's book, how just little fractions of an inch in the curves of the smile, or the height of the eyebrows can give a totally different impression of a little personality. Just like kids, actually. And adults.


After the face comes the hair. It's always all about the hair. I crochet the caps with long hair, sew it onto the head, and then trim it. Usually custom orders request long hair, and my girls like long hair for their dolls, and when I make a doll for them to give to one of their friends for a birthday gift, they request that that doll has long hair, and most dolls you see commercially-made have long hair. Long hair, long hair. But if I'm by myself making a ready-to-ship doll, I have to stop myself from cutting their hair short every time. If I had my way, which I don't, at least one of my daughters and all my dolls might have cute, bouncy haircuts. Like a bob, but a little scraggly and messy. Maybe a lot like the old illustrations of Ramona and Beezus, I read when I was young, I guess. But I think lots of kids don't necessarily want to see themselves as adorably scraggly and messy, they want to see themselves as beautiful, brave, amazing, I think they like to play with their hair. So, more long hair. Someday, someone will buy one of my short-haired dolls for a little girl who either likes her short hair or just gave herself a haircut and she'll feel seen and I'll be delighted ;)


The last part of the doll is sewing the neck into the body of the doll. That's the main hand-sewing, so I use heavy-duty thread and go around the head and neck multiple times, using two different stitches. I'm well aware that these little dolls will be hanging by their hair more than once in their life. The neck is stuffed very firmly, with a stabilizer inside, and acts more like a spine inside the doll, so she can still sit up proud after lots and lots of cuddles :).


Then it's time to make the outfits. I think I'm still trying to figure out exactly what to offer. .....If you have ideas and input, I'll take them. :)


And then, she's ready. :) Maybe for you.
girl with curly hair holding doll with curly hair