Doll Questions

28 Oct 2007

I have had many inquiries about the type of dolls I make and whether there is a pattern available so I thought I would give you as much information as I can and then you may be able to make one of your own.

The type of doll I make most of the time is known in Australia as a Steiner inspired doll and in the rest of the world it is a Waldorf inspired doll. The doll is based on the European type rag doll and as with all rag dolls was made with what the mother or gran or the child had at hand. The skin of the body and head is a cotton knit fabric which you can buy especially already dyed in skin tones but originally probably would have been cut from an old singlet or similar. The doll is stuffed with wool which I imagine was originally plucked from hedgerows and fences or pieces left over from spinning but you can buy it from specialist stores now. Most Steiner/Waldorf doll makers do not use polyester stuffing because the wool stuffing gives a nice warmth and weight to the doll but if you only have polyester fill and want to make a doll , go ahead. It's your doll so make the way you want it. The dolls can still be washed whether filled with wool or polyester but wool takes a while to dry.

The special look that a Steiner doll has comes from the construction of the head. There is an inner head with shaping caused by tying string around the head horizontally and vertically which gives the eyeline, and chin and occipital bump. This is then covered with the outer head covering and a very simple face is embroidered on . Some people prefer to paint a face but I have never tried this. The main thing to remember is that the face is deliberately simple so that the doll can take on the emotions that the child wants it to have. I think this is perhaps a very Germanic way of making a doll face such as with the Sasha dolls and Elizabeth Pongratz dolls.
I have seen quite flashy faces on Steiner dolls but they don't pull at the heart strings the way the simple face does.

I have taught many people to make these dolls and everyone was able to make a reasonable doll on their first attempt. Often there is great variation in the head shape but interestingly the head shape is often similar to the doll maker's head.

If you live close to a Waldorf/ Steiner school I'm sure they would have doll making classes and there are many books available. I have found "Kinder dolls" by Maricristin Sealey to be the most helpful . "Baby Dolls and Their Clothes" by Valeria Ferrari has excellent pictures of the doll construction and of course"The Children's Year" is a wonderful resource.

The first Steiner doll I made, about ten years ago, was with a group of mothers at a play group . One of the group had made a doll before and with her help we all made a cushion doll for our child. Since then I have been to a couple of weekend workshops and taught several doll making courses myself some with young women who could barely thread a needle. The best thing to do is just jump in and have a go. My technique has changed a lot over the years and has become truly my own, suiting my own handling preferences. I have altered and refined my patterns and chosen the style that suits me best.

There are basically two styles of doll; the German and the English. From what I have read and seen the German doll tends to be more firmly stuffed and has separate arms and legs that are stitched on to the stuffed body. The English style is a softer doll and the body and legs are all in one piece with a hand stitched shaping to separate the legs from the body. I have made both and now make my own variation of the English style.

There are some excellent tutorials on line showing how to make a Steiner/Waldorf doll. Simmy has wonderful step by step instructions to make a formed doll, that is , one with arms and legs. Simmy embroiders the face quite early in the construction, I always do the face last after the hair. Soozs has instructions for a small felt version. Cara has a tutorial for a bag/cushion doll. There is also a Steiner doll flickr group for inspiration.

Businesses such as Magic Cabin and Joys Waldorf dolls sell kits on line plus in Australia there is Winterwood for all doll making supplies.

While I am happy to make anyone a doll for their child or themselves I would encourage everyone to try making one themselves. It's very therapeutic and you will be amazed at what you can make with such simple supplies. There is a joy in working with natural fibres and when you have finished there is the fun of dressing your doll and choosing a hair style. All the books I mentioned have patterns and ideas for clothes. The jumpers, cardigans and dresses that I make for my dolls are patterns I have made up mostly based on various sized rectangles. I always knit in natural fibres, usually wool and try to use a 4 ply yarn unless I am going for a bulky look.

I hope that has answered some questions and if anyone has anything to add especially my German or Swiss doll maker friends, please feel free to contribute.
I do make other styles of dolls , mainly country style and Prim dolls but they are more decorative rather than playthings. Doll making is a very absorbing hobby and when you see the love in a child's eyes when they hold their doll it is such a wonderful thing.

Edit: I forgot to mention the Silver Penny tutorial with some patterns to download.

13 Responses to “Doll Questions”

  1. Your dolls are beautiful. I have found the Magic Cabin pattern easier than Joy's. I complete my face and then put on the hair. What I love about making dolls is how they slowly gather a personality while being made. I also think the warmth and care that goes into making the inside of the doll makes the outside sparkle. Maybe a little corny, but it feels true to me.

  2. great resources! thanks for all the tips. i've yet to make one of these but it's been on my mind to do so for quite some time.

  3. Jenny, thank you for telling us a bit about doll-making. I think they can be a wonderful gift and I look forward to learning to make them especially when I have my own children :)

  4. Thank you, Jenny. I am becoming more and more enamoured with making dolls and stuffed friends. You are right about the look in a child's eyes when you've made a plaything for them in love. Blessings to you, Tami

  5. Thank you for so generously sharing your trade secrets!!! I love your dolls, and now I am so excited to try and make one myself!!

    I've reccommended your ETSY shop to several of my friends for upcoming holiday shopping!

  6. Thank you so much for this information, Jenny. I think your dolls are truly beautiful. I am fascinated by your description of how one makes the heads. I

  7. Jenny, I've just tagged you for the new meme I've started. Come and have a look!

  8. How wonderful, Jenny! It is such a joy to read a little more about how you create your dolls. There is so much wonderful information here, too. I am looking forward to reading :) Love, Q

  9. Jenny, Thank you for this post. I have wanted a Waldorf doll for my daughter, but they are so expensive to buy (which is very understandable) that I haven't yet gotten her one. I wasn't sure I could make one, but now I will definately try. Thank you for the resources and for being so willing to share. I love your blog, even though I don't comment often because I'm often holding a nursing/sleeping baby while reading.

  10. Hi Sarah,I also love the way their personality slowly emerges. It is always such a surprise to me that I am always so surprised by their dear little faces and bodies.

    Hi Kristin, I'm sure you will enjoy it.

    Hi Anna,You are most welcome.

    Hi Tami, it can't be beaten can it.

    Hi Mrs MK, Your welcome and thanks for the recommendations.

    Hi Kate,you're welcome, I'm happy to share because so many people have generously shared with me.And thanks for tagging me, I think.

    Hi Quinne, I hope you do enjoy reading through the links.

    Hi Joy, I agree the dolls are expensive to buy. The reason I started making the dolls myself was because I couldn't afford to buy one. Thankfully some people are able to buy them so I can keep making them.



  12. Hi Jenny - I love to revisit your doll making blogs every so often and always seem to read something new! Your little dolls have a spot of honour on my doll shelf! I have been experimenting with making them as well. I was wondering, do you roll the doll limbs with the wool on a chopstick or do you just stuff the doll? I noticed a bag of loose wool in one of your photos (almost like a wool roving)? I love how firm your dolls are but they are also so smooth! That's why I was wondering how you actually stuffed them...

  13. Hi Angela, it really depends on what kind of wool I have. Sometimes, when I have the wool slivers or roving I do wind the wool and sometimes I just stuff the limb but I stuff until the limb is very firm. I also shape the limb as I stuff it.


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat. I don't always have time to reply but I do read every message you leave.