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What a doll!


Summer is a wonderful time for family . . . except for the fact that after about a week, you want to kill your sweet offspring The kids wake up everyday wondering what you have planned to entertain them, and after two days of Neva announcing she was bored and my answering “no, you’re boring” (very snotty mother, I can be) I decided to figure out some organized activities – quick. I signed her up for two sessions of Girl Scout Sleep away horseback riding camp (and a third  session that happens to be a mother daughter horse camp we will attend together. Once a girl scout, always a girl scout, you know, and I figure this is the closest I’m going to get to camping with my favorite girl nowadays.)


So, we scurried around getting her ready for a week away from home. It just so happens that as I was checking my e-mail for a camp confirmation, I received a message from the Campbell Folk School that they were offering a June special with guaranteed space and a discounted rate for local residents. As if on auto-pilot, I signed up for a class for the week Neva was going to be gone. It seemed like a good idea in the moment, because Mark has been working all the time, Kent is busy with friends and I’m alone most of the week anyway. My taking a class now would not interrupt the family at all. But moments after I sent in a registration, I was sorry. A week alone would be prime opportunity to get some decent writing done, sans guilt, and to spend uninterrupted time with the horses too. Damn me.


The more I thought about it, the more I really wanted to kick myself for signing up, but I felt it would be too irresponsible to forfeit the 50% deposit ten minutes after signing up. In the end, even though I was not very enthusiastic about going, I decided to attend because I couldn’t bear being that wasteful. I’m much more conscientious and careful about our resources now that Mark has gone back to work. I respect his efforts and don’t want to abuse his return as he strives to forge a new career.  


So, despite reservations, I went to take a cloth doll-making class. It turned out to be a delightful week, primarily because the class consisted of some of the nicest women I’ve ever met. They were full of good-cheer, artistic enthusiasm, and positive encouragement. I had lively lunch conversations with people taking other classes too, not the least of which included a boisterous meal with a table full of blacksmiths that couldn’t resist sharing jokes and teasing any woman bold enough to crash their table. Nice to know I can still give as good as I get.  

My best buddy was a 71 year old woman from Atlanta with the most positive, nurturing personality I have ever had the good fortune to meet. I want to be like her when I grow up. She tried making a doll that looked like Opra. She wants to send it to her favorite star.


A established quilt teacher took the class and made her dolls out of recycled materials. She used casset tape for hair and cut up credit cards for decoration.

Everyone had a different style and unique vision. It was fun to see everyone’s first attempts at doll making.


Two art teacher’s took the class and incorporated multimedia techniques to create doll works of art. They labored to make a perfect doll with more patience and understanding of visual art than I could ever demonstrate. Remarkable. Her doll is “Icaris Falling”. She wouldn’t dare put a face on it, for fear it would be ruined.
 


I’ve always had an interest in fiber arts and love creating characters (on paper or in my head), so the subject of doll making appealed to me. The teacher is a renowned doll artist, with work featured in several doll books.

Her work was fun to see – here are some of her creations on display to inspire us.

(She called this one ‘Armed and Dangerous”)



I found cloth fairly doll-making easy to grasp, because if you have a great deal of experience sewing (which I do) and are comfortable with the human body (I am) you only need common sense to come up with something that resembles a person.  I made three dolls in the time my classmates made one. They called me “gifty” since I seemed such a natural and proceeded with such ease, finishing a doll a day. Honestly, I think I was just less conscientious than they were. I was having fun with trial and error and wasn’t too hung up on perfection. I consider any craft class a learning experience and I don’t need to go home with a perfect creation to make it seem as if the time spent was worthwhile.  If I like doll-making, this would be the beginning of my journey and my early dolls would be beginner attempts anyway. If I don’t stick with the craft- why stress to create something perfect  -you are only dabbling for fun.   I guess I should take the subject more seriously – but hey. . . it’s a doll.


When I got home and showed off my creations, Mark said, “You made dancers? Why?”


“As a matter of fact, that happens to be a wood sprite,” I corrected, pointing to my standing doll (which I made to practice wire frame characters.


“A wood sprite . . . in perfect arabesque and on pointe? Ha. That’s a dancer. Accept it. You can’t stop making dancers.  If you can’t do it in the studio, you’re gonna do it with a sewing machine.”

Eesh. Can I help it if, when drawing a pattern from scratch and assembling a body I happen to make it in the vision of the bodies I’ve been staring at for the last 45 years. . . . Every body in my mind is at least one part  dancer. The natural state of humans is to keep in motion. (Physically – mentally) Dancers then are perfect examples a person living fully.

So my dolls all ended up willowy with beautifully pointed feet. Shoot me. They rest in flexible poses that suggest movement and relaxed grace. That is my idea of beauty. 

My teacher didn’t instruct us on face technique. She makes her dolls face-less because faces are so difficult and she is never happy with the result. I stumbled through and did the best I could with my faces by guessing how to go about it.  Had I left the faces off, I suppose they would look more “arty”. I admit the results of my face-bearing dolls are nothing to be excited over. But to me, the face is the soul of a doll – the place where the character and personality rests, so I had to try . A doll without a face seems incomplete – like a person without a personality. I think it is a cop-out to avoid this most difficult part of creating cloth figures. I figure I’ll take another class on cloth doll faces someday and see if I can improve. Till then, my amateur dolls with silly mug smiles will have to do.


But what I must say about my hand-made original dolls is that I adore the intimate elements only I can appreciate. My doll’s hair is made of wool fiber I collected from my first llama (boo-hoo). One has hair made of the first yarn I ever spun – hand died with marigolds I picked in the garden. The bodies are made of fabric I used for the first quilt I’ve ever made (I haven’t played show and tell with my quilt attempts yet, but some day, I will.) I wrote words on the arms of one doll to remind me how to make sense of life. “Contemplate . . . Write” These things make the dolls seem special to me – as if they are representative of my private world.


Neva will be going back to camp another week in July, but I won’t be running off to play next time. I’m committed to using the time wisely to make headway with my writing – no frivolously playing with dolls. I’ll chalk up the first week she was gone to a summer kick-off – silly “camp fun” for us both just in celebration of the warm days ahead. I must admit taking the class was good medicine in a way, because I’ve been starved for companionship and conversation lately, and that is always in abundance at the Campbell School.

It was a nice experience, and I chose not to ruin it by feeling guilty about what I wasn’t doing all week. That is the key to happiness, I think, accepting that your life is composed of all the choices you make along the way. You must always focus on the good rather than dwell on the “other path” and what it may have led to. You must trust that the choices you made were right for you at the time, driven by your deepest needs. Not that my deepest need is to play with dolls – but perhaps getting out, visiting with others, being distracted and other forces were the true motivator this week. They say children learn through play. No reason to assume adults are not the same. Embrace play and you grow.





  


 


 

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

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