Character Cloth Dolls
My early dolls were made of Mokassin, a type of ultrasuede. The later ones are
made of silk crêpe de chine interlined with Lanier. All are painted with acrylic
paints (not fabric paints).
Rather than needle-sculpting the faces of my dolls, I like to rely on the pattern
and paint the details of the features, though with the Fairy, the Bride and
Schehérazade, I did use some acrylic modelling paste, largely to reduce the
visibility of the dreaded centre seam, which till then hadn't bothered me.
I design and make all of my dolls from start to finish, including painting the silks
for the clothes to making the hair (and stitching it on!), the hats, accessories, and
Here is a selection.
Zuleika (Gypsy Fortune teller) (1996/7) At the 1997 Park Doll Show in Brisbane, Zuleika won me
the First Prize for Cloth Doll (Own Design) and the award for Champion Cloth Doll. She is made
of Mokassin which has then been painted. At this time, I was quite happy with the primitive
"mitten"-type hands. The hem of her hand-painted silk skirt is 90" wide, and decorated
with beads and antique metal paillettes. She stands 18.85"/48cm high.
Brother and sister Algy and Daisy (1997) are my Victorian child dolls. I used them to experiment with
designing and making hands with fingers. Algy (16.2'"/41.5cm tall) is a terror, whose muddy boots
show that he has been playing in the drains. He has found a decaying dead rat, which he has brought
back to tease his little sister. For her part, Daisy is no pushover. She holds her doll like a bat, ready
to hit back in self-defence. She is 15.5'/38.5cm tall. Her bodice features antique warp-painted silk,
and her hatband is decorated with machine-embroidered daisies (stitched on dissolving fabric). Her
doll is 3.75"/9.5cm tall.
Sophie the Saloon Girl (1997) was a project commissioned by Australian Dolls Bears and Collectables.
She appeared in two consecutive issues, one concerned with making, the other with dressing, her.
A frontier floozy, she wears high boots, pink tights (with jewelled garter), long drawers, and, under
her corset and bodice, the apron and bustle (but not the skirt) of a bustle skirt. She stands
Caliban, from Shakespeare's The Tempest, is my monster (1997). He stands 17.5"/44.5cm high,
though, as his knees are bent, he is just as happy to sit. When standing, their bend emphasises his
animal nature. He was my exercise in distorting a pattern. He has three toes to each foot, a
crested, deformed head and a crested, rather reptilian hump. As you see from the back view, he
also has a tail.
Neptune (23.5"/59cm tall) was made for the 1997 Bernina Conference. As it was held at Seaworld
on the Gold Coast, the theme was Neptune's Realm. What better excuse to make a classically-
inspired doll? I'd also been commissioned by Bernina to make a Neptune costume for the then
head of Bernina Australia, Michael Orvis. For the doll, my idea was to costume him as if he was a
character from a 17th century masque. Hence the breastplate, the codpiece, the paned canions
(pants), the combined crown and helmet, and his rather theatrical cloak/cape.
My fairy (1997) represents the old British music-hall (variety) song "Nobody Loves a Fairy when
she's Forty". Dressed as a rose fairy (rather than a snowdrop fairy, as in the original) in a style
which might have been worn by a theatrical performer in perhaps the early 20th century, she
stands 22"/56 cm tall. She's ageing and over-weight; her wings and wand have seen better days.
Like Caliban, she was an exercise in pattern distortion (and, unlike him, padding) in order to make
her convincingly plump. She carries two bags: the smaller (empty) is for fairy dust; the larger,
laden, is for chocolates. Her hair is natural russet alpaca "wool", stitched into the scalp.
All self-respecting doll-makers have to do a bride doll, don't they? Well, mine represents another
music-hall comic song - Vesta Victoria's "There was I, (Waiting at the Church)".
(January, 2007: I had believed that this song was originally popularised by Vesta Tilley. However,
a short time before then, I did some internet research, looking for the lyrics, only to find that I had
misremembered the artiste. My grandfather had seen the song performed in its heyday and used
to tell me about it. I mistook Vesta Tilley for Vesta Victoria. The research also gave me the right
name of the cad who left her at the altar: Obadiah Binks. Above, you can see the letter from him.
He's no calligrapher.)
The doll stands 21.5"/54.6cm tall. I've given her the name Sarah Larkin. She is in full, bustled
bridal outfit, carries a posy-style bouquet, and wears an orchid-and-fern corsage. Her
stunned-mullet expression (wide-eyed and blank!) is the result of reading the letter her groom
has sent to the church. The corsage and everything in the bouquet, including the lace backing,
was stitched on dissolving fabric, then assembled by hand and machine. The orchid is
1.325"/3.5cm high. Her hair is also russet alpaca "wool", stitched into the scalp. I was trying to give
her (as well as the fairy) a fairly realistic cleavage, but the period costume cloaked the results. She
is also my first experiment with eyes "in the round", using my adaptation of a Lisa Lichtenfels
technique available on her website.
Stephen Sondheim has a song about it. I won't give its title, but, from the details above, you can
see what two (or possibly three, if you'll forgive me) of the technical problems making Schehérazade
(2000) posed. The third was to create a pattern for a semi-reclining, seated figure. She is seen on
her divan in the process of telling the Tales of the 1,001 Arabian Nights, one hand raised in a
gesture. As pictured, she sits 14.5/37cm. high. She, too, has eyes "in the round".
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