getting serious about October

We had a great time on our quick trip to Portland for family weekend at MECA. Friday was a perfect fall day. We drove up the coast and did some beach watching and walking.



They have great rocks in Maine.

We stopped in Wells at Camp Wool. Thank you to the kind person who clued me in about this place via my comments. Unfortunately, no website yet.


There was lots of beautiful wool, although I am glad I had been to Dorr first. There was lots of beautiful colors and textures here, but not the basic skin colors that I went up to Dorr Mill Store for.



Yes, I managed to find some goodies to spend some money on. The lady here told me about another store- Wool and Goods in Rollinsford, NH. Another expedition! I am going to put a list together (in the next few days) of places to buy wool fabrics in New England. If you know of places, let me know and I will add them.

Portland is a great town- amazingly good food and resaturant scene- even made it into the NYT! I look forward to spending more time there in the next 4 years.

Tomorrow- what is ahead this month.

expedition to New Hampshire

Ben and I went to New Hampshire yesterday. Our destination was the Dorr Mill Store. It is about a 2 hour drive from our house, it was a beautiful day, the fall colors are just beginning and I’d heard good things. I wanted to check it out.

Oh yeah, it was good.


Here is the silly thing- I feel guilty buying fabric this way! I make most of my dolls from thrifted or salvaged wooly goodness but sometimes I just need to go somewhere with colors on bolts. Well, some of this did come from their small pieces bin so that can be guilt-free.

I have a hard time finding wool that is a good color for brown skin. What I find at the thrift store is too dark. I was completely out. I was also very low on my pink skin colors and hadn’t found any after several trips to various thrift shops. And, the problem with all the thrift store shopping is, I come home with other stuff. And then I need a place to put it. The skin color wools were my reason (excuse) for the trip and I am very happy with what they had. I also managed to find other goodies as you can see. Everything is washed and soft and ready to use. Bee-u-ti-full!

I had a few fantasy wools I was hoping to find, but no luck- an even black and white stripe, a heathery olive green and/or a herringbone olive green. I’ll just have to keep looking.

Here are some store photos-

the main fabric room-


Another room with kits, patterns, and over-dyed wools. Also a big collection of Gail Wilson kits and dolls.


and more-


It was definately worth the trip.

tape love

I spent some time in New York looking for decorative tape.  I like to use it to jazz up my boxes when I ship out an order. I had no luck. Actually, it was worse then that- everyone acted like I was asking for something totally nuts! I tried the Japanese bookstore, Pearl River an oriental import store in Soho, Pearl Paint (art supply store), a paper store… well actually several.So, I came home, googled decorative tape and hit the jackpot at Archie McPhee– Hallelujah! Lucky me! I got tiki tape, sausage tape, cowboys, black cats, pirate tape, wacky rubber duckies and sushi tape. Probably a lifetime supply.

From my walk yesterday- winter bricks.

nyc report 3- purl

Next stop- Purl in Soho. You know, purl bee in real time?

I !LOVE! this store- it is so pretty and inspiring and they have all kinds of goodies that look so tempting to try. The glow from the window works like a magnet on me! Above is the fabric store- Purl Patchwork and below is the yarn store.

And, lucky, lucky me! I had a gift certificate!

I felt like a kid in a candy store. I binged on felt- 100% wool in beautiful colors. They sell bundles– 8 selected colors, 8 x 12, gorgeous… how could I resist. It’s like having that new box of crayons or the new paint box- such perfect colors! I also picked out some of the bigger sheets and one piece of the hand dyed woven wool. But that’s not all! I’ve been meaning to get a copy of Jane Brocket’s book and there it was- perfect, onto the pile. And then to finish it off, some pearl cotton in my favorite colors- I’ve never seen them before and can’t wait to try them. Underneath it all is a canvas bag which I will happily be carrying my projects around in. Everyone can be jealous that I got to shop at Purl!

notes on stuffing

When I post photos of a doll that I really like, it is hard to do the next post and push it down towards the bottom of the page!

Some notes on stuffing. I am very particular about the stuffing I use. I am brand loyal for the most part. I want to know what I am dealing with when I open a new bag. One of my craft mantras is “limit your variables”. In other words, get to know your materials and happily experiment, but don’t be adding so many new things all the time that if something goes wrong, you won’t be able to identify what is the problem.

The first thing I learned about stuffing is that there are 2 varieties of polyester type stuffing. One type feels bouncy, slippery or oily- those are different ways I’ve heard it described. No matter how much you stuff a piece, it will still be squeezable. I think this is probably good for kids toys and pillows. It is what is most available at the big craft supply stores. I use a different kind. It feels “dry” to me, not slippery. You can stuff a piece rock hard with it. You can make a creature stand on it’s legs using this type of stuffing. When I was making dolls with painted body parts, I could stuff them hard enough that I never worried about paint cracking. If you are in a store and the bags of stuffing have finger holes poked into them, you can be sure that someone was trying to figure out which kind of stuffing was in the bag.

I use Super Fluff, by Buffalo Batt. It comes in a loose roll and the fibers are combed in one direction so I can pull long tufts of it off the roll when I am stuffing a doll.

I’ve been stuffing more of my dolls with wool batt from West Earl Woolen Mills. I found the wool batting handled very much like the Super Fluff. I was happy. The top wool fluff is from my order of last September.

The lower wool is from the more recent batch I got.

Okay, so here is my current aggravation.  I have bought new supplies of both types of stuffing in recent months- 20 pounds of wool, 40 pounds of Super Fluff. I have started using them and imagine my surprise- both types of stuffing have changed… humph. You’d think that a highly manufactured item like polyester stuffing would be consistent over the years. The new batch is not as soft and somehow seems less refined. Is anybody else using Super Fluff? Have you noticed it? I am sure I will get used to it, but it was an unexpected surprise.

The wool is very different. In a natural product so it is not so unexpected. The 5 pounds I bought in September must have been some of the last of the domestic wool. The new order is from the Australian wool. The new wool is much softer, whiter and the fibers are longer… all sounds good, right? Well, it is very different to work with. The old wool stuffed like the polyester and the new wool just doesn’t. So, there will be a readjustment and a learning curve.

And here is another kind of stuffing I’ve tried- Back in September I asked if anyone knew about reclaimed wool stuffing. It seemed like an obvious product to me. Thank you to Lisa who left a comment on the post and directed me to a source.

Here is a photo of the recycled wool fiber-

I was able to use it for some of the cushion/pillow type dolls- like the tikis. It wouldn’t be good for small detail stuffing but worked fine for bigger things. There are 2 reasons that I won’t be ordering more. The main reason is that shipping it from Portland (area) Oregon to Boston (area) Massachusetts adds so much to the cost that it is prohibitive. The other (lesser) reason is that it is messy. The tiny wool bits got on everything. Actually the new wool is pretty messy too- I am working on that. Get out the sticky paper fuzz picker-upper.

The last kind of stuffing I use is a homemade kind- my wool scraps from projects-

I don’t use them in all the dolls, but when I do, it adds a nice firmness and weight- good in the swaddled babies, for instance. I just put a handful in the core and surround it by softer stuffing.

tweedy tiki and color work

Finished- one tweedy tiki-


and the side-view-


The signature-


Here is one of the distractions that I was thinking about when I wrote the “revving” post. The tug got strong enough that I spent yesterday and part of this morning playing around with dyes. I have a collection of dye packets that I started accumulating in the mid-seventies when I was in college. They are mostly Cushing Acid Dyes. I have a paper with a photo of what the colors are suppose to look like. I also have my preconceived idea of what olive green or burgundy should look like. I have found neither to be even slightly helpful in guessing how a certain dye packet would look on my wool fabric. I decided it was time to test them all out and make my own reference.

This is what I did-

I collected all my white/off-white/cream wool fabric bits and set aside all the smaller pieces- odd shapes and smaller then 12″ x 12″- to use for my dye samples. I also cut up one white sweater with a 40% angora/60% wool content. I put 1/4 teaspoon (or less) of dye powder into a pyrex dish. (I have 2 pyrex dishes and a microwave that I just use for dyeing.) Dissolved the powder.  Added water, added wet fabric- at least 3 pieces of assorted textures, into the microwave for 10 minutes on high. Then I added a tablespoon of salt, stirred, and added a few more pieces of fabric, smushed into the dye. I let that sit for at least another 20 minutes, rinsed, threw it into the washer and dryer and then made my sample cards. I did 16 tests.

Here is an example card-


Dyeing this way makes it almost certain that the colors will be uneven- fine with me. The first fabric into the dyebath comes out darkest. The later fabrics can be not only lighter, but very different colors… The fabric texture and weave can really affect the look of the color- for instance the angora always looks lighter and hazy because the fluffy rabbit fur doesn’t absorb the dye like the wool.


Now I have these great piles of interesting and some very odd colors. Lucky me!
I was trying to see if I had something that would get me my favorite acid green, so the few bits left in my stash wouldn’t be so precious. I’m not there yet, but I’ve ruled out a lot of things and I have some ideas for additional experiments. I love doing this- it makes me feel like a mad scientist!


WooHoo! Finally, I can let you know about the coolest thing- Sister Diane from CraftyPod called me a few weeks ago for an interview. We talked and laughed for over an hour. It was so much fun! And well, afterwards, a bit nerve-racking. I spent the next few days rethinking everything I said and sometimes wishing I could add (or subtract!) to the conversation. I have been having low grade anxiety ever since, worrying I’d sounding like a complete idiot, but I have to hand it to the magic of Diane- she took all my babbling, run-on ramblings, ums and pauses and put them together in a way that I am ecstatic about! I think audio editing for podcasting must be a lot like quilting- Diane has all these little bits and snippets and goodies and she puts them together into an interesting and better-than-the-original, finished product. Amazing.

Some afterthoughts- On the doll vs softie thing- I think in the end it comes down to this- what I am doing grows out of a tradition of dolls, what softie makers are doing grows out of a tradition of stuffed animals. It took me all day of mulling to come up with that!

On the topic of getting into dollmaking- here are some links for dollmaking kits, patterns and supplies.

My favorite book/author on the subject- Susanna Oroyan’s Anatomy of a Doll All her books are excellent.

Gail Wilson– her dolls are based on antique dolls. You get everything you need and extensive directions. Her website has so much more then dolls though- there is furniture, fabric, dollhouses… a whole wonderful Gail Wilson world. Be careful ‘cuz you might get permanently sucked in!

Susan Fosnot– she has patterns, kits, and teaches workshops.
There are lots of places that sell kits for Waldorf/ Steiner type dolls. One place that I’ve bought from is Magic Cabin.

Judi Ward– I am a big fan of her patterns. They are easy to follow, easy to make your own and she has a most extensive variety of designs. I have learned a lot from making her patterns.

Here is a list of some Dollmaking suppliers that I have ordered from and been happy with. They have all the things you’ll need- tools, patterns, materials, on-line classes, stash enhancers! Doll Artist’s Workshop, Joggles, Dollmaker’s Journey.

I did some antique and vintage doll patterns when I first started. There are loads available on Ebay.

Now, if you still haven’t had enough of listening to me talk, I did another interview a year ago with Carley. Here are links to that- part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

And since we always need a picture, my desk today-


stuffing, tikis, atcs

making up a title is always a challenge.

I have decided that I should start stuffing most of my dolls with wool- the whole earth friendly, biodegradable thing. It really isn’t a price issue- polyester-$3 a pound, wool- 5.25 a pound. So I ordered up 5 pounds. I bought this wool batt from West Earl Woolen Mill.  They don’t have a web site so you have to actually call them on the telephone- eek, so old-fashioned! (717-859-2241) I say, I’d like to order some wool for doll stuffing- they know just what I want. And I got a free calendar!

Okay now everybody, this is what I want- someone to invent/manufacture so I can buy it- recycled scrap wool stuffing. Just figure out a way to take scrap wool and chop or shred it up for us to use- come on now, people!


I’ve been working on some more tikis. They have been my carry around project for a while now, so they are going rather slowly. Here are 2 brown ones. I’ve also got a red one going.

And today, I’ve been working on ATCs- artist trading cards. I will be doing a swap with my etsy group- Boston Handmade. I haven’t made any in more then a year. It is great fun to get back into it. I am remembering why I liked them. They are like little doodles.

ATC- Work in progress. I’m loving how they look all together here on my ironing board.

back to work, sort of…

I had a great expedition up to the Fiber Studio. It was a beautiful day for a drive and so after scooting up on the highways, we meandered back to Boston on back roads. I bought wool roving and batting to do wet felting. There was such an amazing assortment of colors and types of sheep and all kinds of other variables that I don’t know how to figure into the equation… so I chose solely based on color. Well, actually I bought a bag of assorted colors (the smaller balls) and then filled in with what wasn’t in that. I like playing with felt for doll hair and embellishments. I was inspired by these juggling ball also, so who knows where I’ll go with it.


Now I’m back to work starting with postcards. Here is what I’ve done in the past 2 days- 7 postcards, ironed onto the backing but I still have to satin stitch around the edge and then cut them apart. I’m working on a “Seasons” theme.