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Commissioned Doll: A Big Hug
Greetings all! Recently I mentioned this commissioned doll in a blog post. This doll was a joy to make and I wanted to share her story with you. I hinted at some of her story in the above blog post but today I can tell more of her story. I was given permission by her new owner. Her name is now "Heather," very touching to me (because it is the German version of my name. Heather/Erica is a kind of flowering bush.)
I first receive the commission
A friend of mine from college (Bowdoin in Maine) recently asked me if I would make a doll for a special friend of hers who lives in Berlin, Germany. I told her I'd be happy to do so and we worked out the details.
First I asked her to send a list of questions to her friend. These questions include things like: what parts of your body needs healing? What are your favorite animals? Your favorite fairy tale?
Once I get the answers, it usually takes quite a long time to figure out how I am going to make a particular commissioned doll. That's why I don't do them very often. The first step is to make some sketches.
In the images above, the first steps, including false steps..sketches, practice patterns, and her sculptural needle felted head and hands
Working through various versions of the doll...
I found as I went along, that I loved Pesha's answers to my questions. Many of her favorites were similar to mine. She loves elephants, squirrels and butterflies. Her favorite fairy tale was the Frog Prince. She asked for healing in various parts of her body. As I worked with these ideas, an image of the doll came clearer in my mind. I had at first envisioned her as smaller with a stitched face.
You can see that first version of the doll above. I sat with this version for a while but eventually realized it wasn't right. She wanted to be larger and softer. One of the things that my friend had asked for is a doll that would be "like a big hug," and this smaller doll didn't seem to meet that need. So I turned to sculptural needle felting to make her face and hands.
Steps along the doll making process, the back of a stitched panel for her chest, and another view of that panel painted with fabric paint. Elephants added along the edge of the jacket. Her hat and then her tutu.
Working along, step by step
Above you can see how the doll comes together, step by step. I add elements from the fairy tale on the chest of the doll. You can see an image of my initial stitching of that story for the chest of the doll, from the back. I often like the way stitching looks from the back, a record of what is there but a bit blurred.
I decided to give her a jacket and to put the elephants on the sides of the jacket. I had researched about the symbolism of elephants and one of the stories talked about elephants being stacked on top of each other, a kind of origin of the world story.
Pesha is particularly fond of squirrels and so I decided to make them a central part of the doll. They became a symbol of healing. I gave each part of her body that needed healing its own special squirrel, along with one of the symbols from a list of favorite symbols she had shared.
One of the last steps was adding a tutu as a skirt. I had gotten a sense of Pescha's playfulness and sense of humor and felt that this would fit her personality. I used a range of her favorite colors in the tutu.
Detail view of the hat and of the doll as she progresses, including a special pocket inside the jacket
The hat with parrot feathers
She also got a hat and on the hat, I added parrot feathers, another of her chosen animals. I found someone on Etsy who sells feathers that her pet parrot molts. I gave the jacket an inside pocket where Pesha could add her own messages or special small objects.
Working on the shoes and felted feet-the first shoes I ordered were too small
The question of shoes
I had an idea of wood shoes. I ordered these first ones but unfortunately, I hadn't measured correctly and they were too small. I found some larger ones, painted them, adding the healing squirrels (her feet needed healing) and then I made some sculptural needle felted feet.
The symbolism of the various parts of the doll
When I make a commissioned doll, there is a lot of meaning that goes into each part of the doll. I collect symbols, stories, colors, and various other elements that have meaning to the person who is going to receive the doll. But I also research about the meaning of the various symbols and that gets woven into the final creation as well.
I will go into more detail, as an example, with the elephant symbol. Here is part of what I wrote for Pesha in the little book that I sent her along with the doll, to explain my process and thinking about the doll:
"Elephants are an earth symbol and represent ancient power. The elephants adorn your healing doll’s jacket. In addition to ancient power, elephants represent strength and even royalty. Elephants live on a grand scale. They have a splendid “largesse of soul.” Their cushioned feet (healing fours) are especially attuned to the earth’s vibrations. Elephants are so large that they actually reconfigure the topography of the land they walk on..."
I went on to write about the meaning of the elephant's tusks, the trunk and also to describe various folk and fairy tales that have elephants as protagonists. This is part of the fun for me as well, as I get to benefit from the learning that comes from this kind of research. And it makes it more meaningful for me to be able to add all of these layers into the final product.
The doll's long journey to Berlin
There was another part of the story of Pesha's doll that any of you who follow me on Facebook or Instagram might have read about. It became quite a production sending her to Berlin from Washington, DC. We decided to use DHL since it is a German company. Yet, somehow she still ended up taking longer than expected.
She flew to Ohio, then to New York City and then back to Ohio-finally making her way to Leipzig in Germany and then the last leg to Berlin. Along the way, her box had to be opened by customs, once or maybe twice. I was worried about her the whole way. I wrote about this to my readers on Facebook and Instagram and she had a team of people praying for her. We were all so happy when she finally made it to her new home!
Pesha's doll on her couch in Berlin. She is still choosing just the right place to keep her
I've been making dolls for about ten years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am excited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!