Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A common linen doll from an American Girl's Book

I've been wanting to make Rose (my two year old) a cloth doll to take round with her when we do our re-enacting for some time.  As she's not really that much in to toys at the moment I didn't want to make something too elaborate that would just get discarded to the toy box and would never see the light of day.  So I decided to have a go at a rolled linen doll.  I found the directions for this in the American Girl's Book by Eliza Leslie.  Originally published in 1831, an extended version was reprinted in 1857, so it easily covers the time periods we re-enact.  

Armed with these instructions and the authors promise that these are "easily made" and "some little girls make a dozen of these dolls" I gathered my materials and got to work.  Being on a tight budget I bought a old large pure cotton bed sheet from a local charity shop for £1 to use as dolly's body.  I made a prototype and all the instructions seemed to be going well until i got to "from the waist the linen must go loose, and be made to spread out as widely as possible; so as to form something like a petticoat.".  Try as I might I couldn't get it to spread, the best I could get was a slight flap from the end of the fabric.  In desperation I asked my husband if he could figure out what was going wrong, then I had a more sensible idea and asked the kind folk at the sewing academy forum if they had a clue as to what was going on.  It turns out that the author was using a bit of artistic license and the "petticoat" effect is more of a flap - though unfortunately for the prototype I found this out after I had lost patience and attacked it with a pair of scissors.

One other problem I came across with the prototype is that I did not like it not having a face.  I had seen images of some with painted hair and features but as Rose still puts everything in her mouth, and I really wanted something I could wash, I didn't think that would be a good idea.  So I did some more research and eventually found a couple with embroidered faces.  I decided that if dolly was going to have a face then she really ought to have hair.  The couple I'd seen with embroidered faces had embroidered floss hair (one had the remains of little bunches of human hair sewn on as well).  I didn't have any hair coloured embroidery floss and nowhere in town sells it.  Budget ruled out a bus trip to one of the neighbouring town, I thought about using some brown felt but I couldn't find where I'd put it (it turned up after I had finished) so it was back down to the charity shops.  There I purchased some brown Shetland wool for 50p and an x-large mens pure cotton gingham shirt for £1 to use for dolly's dress.  

Dolly with hair

I just used standard sewing cotton for embroidering the face (I then found out I didn't have any black so had to unpick some thread from my black t-shirt for the eyes and nose).   Given it was my first go at this I'm quite pleased with the result, especially as I ended up sewing it in very little light whilst Rose was having a nap.

Dolly with hair and features.  
She was a bit on the long side so I cut the 
body a bit shorter.  Here you can also see the flap 
that forms the "petticoat".

After this I pretty much followed the instructions as given.  I used a little cotton lace to decorate the bodice and a small piece of ribbon to tie round the waist.  All together she cost me £2.50 to make and I've got enough cotton left over to make another 20 of these if I really wanted to.  I only used a strip off the arm of the gingham shirt to make the dress so there's enough left over to make Rose a pinafore.  The lace and ribbon were just small scraps out of my bits and pieces box.

Given that nearly all Rose's toys are named after what they are "Mr Horse" "Mr Parrot" "Horsey" I've named this little lady Dolly.


  1. I love this!! Thank you for posting it, I've been researching dolls for Victoria.

    1. Glad you liked it :) They're really fun to make and quick too!