9.27.2010

the dark side of handmade

Meet Train Boy and Flower Girl.  They are handmade.

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Handmade is these dolls, sewn frantically during the time when I was supposed to be packing up my sewing things to move in just a few days, while my two year old boy sat on my lap attempting to 'help' by sticking straight pins into the fabric as I raced it through the machine, causing my arm to jiggle every 1.5 seconds so that every seam appears to have been sewn by someone suffering whole body tics. 

(Handmade is a run on sentence, trying to capture every since nuance of a situation, telling a whole story, even if you have to pause for breath three times while saying it.)

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Handmade is using what is available, which here means a dozen squares pulled from the neatly piled stacks, cut and organized, for quilts that I am never going to make.  My regular fabric was already packed and since both children frequently like to go through the patchwork squares to pick out their favorite fabrics it was easy to justify the raid.  But still, despite their earlier pawings, when it came time to decide what colour the body should be, there is a half an hour pause for angst ridden decision making, finally ending when I agree to do a two fabric body, to allow for a skirt that matches Smootch's tiered green one that she still wears three and a half years past it's construction (yes, it's getting pretty short).

The faces are drawn in with Sharpie, an aesthetically revolting concept, but insisted upon by Birdie who couldn't wait for a stitched face to be done in that mystical time I call 'later' (he's old enough now to not fall for that one anymore).  Faceless dolls are highly disturbing to Birdie.  So we do what we can right now

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Handmade is following through, even when we know it's not perfect.  As a result of my frenzied pace, and the fact that instead of enlarging the lovely pattern provided by Emily Martin of The Black Apple as it was intended but Smootch insisting her doll be exactly the size it was on the paper when it printed, these dolls, are badly constructed.  Really terrible.  When I actually had a moment to truly look at what I was sewing, note that the leg on Train Boy didn't make it all the way into the body seam, the oddly textured head from my poor hand sewn ladder stitches to close the top, the over stuffed arms and under stuffed body, my only thought was, 'Crap!  And I'm supposed to be a professional!'

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Handmade is realizing that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  It is recognizing the substance in the object.  My kids love these dolls.  Birdie doesn't care that Train Boy's arms are upside down (omg, bad, right?!), because he likes that the hair is orange, just like he chose to match his own (don't try to figure out toddler logic).  And there are trains on the body, a fabric brought to us by a dear friend, who picked it up at a garage sale because she knows how much Birdie adores them.  Plus the legs are of the same fabric as his idolized sister's doll, a small connection to his hero, but real enough to make him feel close to her all the same.  And he sat on mama's lap during it's creation, choosing fabrics, helping with his own two hands (pinning - ouch!), and giving the doll life by insisting it have eyes, mouth, and, donotforgetmama, nose.

For Smootch, who loves dolls and has been asking for a pioneer-esque rag doll for a month and a half now, well, turns out she was right about the smallish size of the dolls.  They are exactly the right size to haul around by their legs or heads.  They make great companions, big enough for play, small enough to fit in a pocket (if you don't mind eyes peeking out to see the world). Thank you, mama, for finally making me a doll!


Handmade is love materialized.  Smootch has the articulation and acumen to tell me straight out that if she had to draw a picture of 'love' that she would have to draw a picture of an imperfectly sewn doll, made from patchwork squares intended for a quilt that will never be made, on a Sunday morning when there were other things we were supposed to be doing.

Handmade says we are here, now, and we love each other.

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Today, as I finally packed up the sewing machine, I fought my urge to redeem myself with another go to make a properly sewn doll. Maybe one where the arms point the right way. But, knowing that my children are as happy with the badly sewn ones, it wasn't too hard to put my redemption on pause while I tend to other things. Next week or next month, maybe I'll get another shot at these Black Apple dolls. Or maybe we will be on to something new that I will get a chance to screw up with my clumsy hands while Birdie sticks pins into them.

I can only hope.

23 comments:

  1. I filled a plastic bottle with some rice, coloured paper and fabric when I had my 3.5yo, it is now still one of his favourites and he fights over it with my 1.5yo.

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  2. Love this post. The dolls are awesome!

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  3. Ha! Great minds think alike, because I'm working on hammering out some purely functional nightgowns for the twins, and since I refuse to use patterns because they are expensive and overcomplicated, we are working it out as we go. I was thinking about blogging and starting with the sentence "Have ya ever had a project that you just keep plugging away at even though you know its hurried, harried and certainly not your best work???". Ya beat me to it. :D

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  4. Lovely post and great dolls- embracing imperfections and recognizing that perfection isn't required for pleasure and love.

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  5. I enjoyed this post so much.

    Lovely dolls which they will treasure.

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  6. Love this post. This is so true. I have made lots of things for my daughter that I thought were way below my actual sewing level but she loves them. Her favorite outfit ever is a skirt that I made from a bed sheet. She grabs it out of her drawer all the time. I personally hate it and I cringe to think that she would wear it out of the house and showcase my bad sewing job. But she loves it and she knows that I love her and that is all that matters.
    I'm going to link to your post on my blog at www.fabrictherapybykerryann.blogspot.com. I think everyone needs to read this.

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  7. Oh my is that oh so very true.

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  8. I love to make dolls and monsters too. It's magical to see their little eyes full of joy with "the perfect" handmade softie mama did! Your kids had that love eyes in the pictures :)
    www.maomaocrafts.blogspot.com

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  9. A great post.

    There is no way I can call myself a professional, but sometimes even I am amazed at how bad something can turn out, and how much it can be loved by my daughter, Emma.

    Emma and I sometimes like to make dolls we call Emma's creatures. She draws up a creature and we cut, sew, and stuff it together. Here is a picture of one of her creatures.

    http://kaotickrafter.blogspot.com/2010/04/wordless-wednesday_28.html

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  10. BEAUTIFUL! The sentiment, the message, the dolls, the children...simply beautiful!

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  11. My almost-two-year-old's black apple doll has no arms, courtesy of our middle dog. She still loves it.

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  12. Wow, BTDT! My stuff is packed to move, too, but 4 of my friends had the unmitigated gall to give birth this week. And G-d forbid I should buy a baby gift...

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  13. I've just sewn some quick fleece mittens for my girls from paper patterns they made themselves. I added a bit of lenght and didn't finish the cuffs or clip the curves or anything. You can see them on my blog and be underwhelmed.

    Big sister says to small sister: "We have the best mum in the world because she makes things for us that we can wear"

    I do LOVE them.

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  14. i make suggie dolls ( pronounced like sugar, with a southern twist) not that i'm southern... but i live here... anyway they are so imperfect its ridiculous- but i give them to my friends kids for birthdays and to my kids with the intention of being roughed up- and drug around- and to have arms and legs sometimes re-attached. all kids love rag dolls... yours are adorable.

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  15. My husband jokes that I start frantically sewing anytime I'm about to leave on a trip or vacation. Last time was an upcycled zoo-souvenir tee, and the time before that a small pillowcase and carseat cover for roadtrippin'. ( in my defence, he organizes the spice cupboard or plastic containers before travel!)

    What, I wonder, compells our pre-trip creative purge and why it it directed at our beloved little ones? (even though a thousand adult things still need doing)

    Cheers to you and me and all the Mommas up late with polyfill, thread and blurry-eyes. Here's to our "handmade love."

    Shann

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  16. oh my gosh! i love this post.....it totally is what it is. there are some pretty hideous dolls out there the kids are still loving {yours are actually pretty ok from here}. You have captured the feeling, the rush, the completion, the learning, and then the best part--- the love. thanks for sharing.

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  17. "Handmade says we are here, now, and we love each other."

    And THAT says it all.

    Wonderful...

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  18. You have a knack for making em weepy.
    You also remind me that I need to sew more for my girl. She is after all, the reason I began sewing.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  19. A very moving post. Thank you for the words.

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  20. So glad I stumbled on this. :) I have to admit I've taken this one step further. During a trip from NC to SD (28 hr car ride), my 5 yr old lost her doll along the way somewhere. Since I bring my machine with me everywhere, I set it up in the 3rd seat row of our suburban and whipped up a new one. It was made from a handtowel, a spare t-shirt and stuffed with the leftover scraps. She loved it and has it still at age 11. :)

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  21. I found your blog by a pin on Pinterest, and was browsing your posts...I am so glad I happened across thiscone! Amazing words, and so true...and your children look so happy with their dolls!! A sweet and refreshing post :)

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  22. Great post- love your thoughts on handmade and how sometimes its more about creating in the moment and just going with the flow :D

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