On the props list that was sent home recently for the 6th-grade production of "Annie" going up in a couple of weeks was "Tattered Rag Dolls 2 or 3". I thought to myself, "I bet I could make rag dolls that look like they belong to orphans!" so I poked around on eBay for "1930s rag dolls" and came up with a number of ideas, and searching generally for free patterns brought a few more. I chose a range of models and patterns because I wanted the dolls to look like they'd been made by different people, and possibly at quite different times.
I even managed to use all materials from my stash -- even the stuffing, which is from an old pillow that I had thrown out literally the day before and then rescued from the bin! (and washed, of course!)
The first one was based on a couple of eBay vintage dolls, and used the rag doll pattern from Allcraftsblogs.com. I couldn't open the PDF file, so I just cut-and-pasted the pattern, and sized the body up to about 7 inches, and the arms and legs proportionately. This one has the most shaping of the three, and with the limbs being separate was a bit more fiddly, as it turned out, but not at all difficult.
Her hair is fine black wool (from Super Yarn Mart, so that might tell you how long it has been in my stash!). I wound a long length of the wool around a book, to what looked like "enough", then carefully spread the mass across a strip of fabric, then machine-sewed along the strip with black thread to make the "part", then hand-sewed the hair to the doll's head. This took a bit of fiddling, and I had to trim the base strip and color it with black laundry marker to keep it from showing through, but it worked pretty well. I trimmed the ends of the yarn after I did the two braids -- it seemed safer that way.
She has very shapely calves, and the feet are, for a rag doll, quite elegant I think.
I ended up making her bodice fully lined, because facings at this scale were far too fiddly.
Her face is drawn on with ballpoint pen, which has a faux-faded look already. I am not very good drawing faces.
The second doll was based quite thoroughly on a vintage original, with the pattern half-improvised and half the Simple Doll Pattern from Doll Chamber. I thought it was interesting how much size was "lost" with stuffing, even this one which I wanted to be much softer than the first one.
I made the neck too long -- it flopped very disconcertingly -- and because I was lazy I didn't bother making a new body, but just tucked in the original one until it was as short as I could get it. It's still floppy, but at least more of a "baby" floppy than otherwise. These joints are simply machine-sewn across after stuffing.
The face and hair are embroidered with three strands of floss, based fairly closely on the original folk-art doll. I couldn't decide from the seller's photographs if the original doll's hair was chain stitch or outline stitch, or maybe a combination of the two, so I just used chain stitch. I used two slightly different shades of blond floss so that it would look "faded". The eyelashes are blanket stitch, the pupils satin stitch and the rest outline stitch. I was impressed by the artists' trick of the dab of pink in the corners of the eyes on the original doll!
The original doll has a safety pin at the back of its romper, too --
The third doll was an utter failure on three attempts, and ended up back in the rag bag (do not make the arms too narrow, trust me!), but the fourth one, from a pattern at Nadene's Practical Pages, went together quite easily. I did modify the pattern by adding a quarter-inch seam allowance all around, and omitting the armature -- as a result, the body was much simpler, and finished in about an hour.
This one is also based fairly exactly on a vintage original, but didn't turn out quite as appealing as the original for some reason. It went together relatively easily, though, as I sewed the pieces of the dress straight onto the body, first the bodice, then the skirt, then the waistband.
This is the back, although really you can only tell because of the seam in the waistband, since I left her face blank like the original doll's. The dress is made from an old shirt of David's that was frayed at the hems and collar, but I liked the fabric so much that I saved it. The skirt is one of the shirt sleeves, partly because it was already hemmed but mostly because the hem was already worn through in places. Except for this hem, the dress is completely hand-sewn! I made two basic T-shapes for the bodice and sleeves, and gathered it a little at the waist -- sewing it directly onto the doll -- then "pleated" the skirt and sewed it down, then folded a strip for the waistband and sewed that on top of the join between skirt and bodice.
So these are the dollies before "aging". The girls kind of laughed when I said I wanted them to get the dolls dirty -- like "is she serious? get stuff dirty on purpose?" -- and I had to actually throw the baby doll on the ground as Laura and I were walking across the school field the other day, and tell her to kick it as we walked. (I heard other kids saying to each other in disbelief, "She's kicking that doll!") That didn't get it really dirty, to my surprise, so yesterday I filled a dishpan full of coffee and soaked the baby doll and the plaid-dress one, and the clothes of the pigtailed one in that for about half an hour. (The pigtailed doll is stuffed fairly hard, and I was afraid she wouldn't dry fully before Tuesday. Her hair wouldn't survive the washing-machine or dryer either, I suspect.) I had also bleached the striped dress to fade it.
(I also, I confess, stomped heartlessly on the pigtailed doll after I threw her down onto the deck in the back yard. That got it dirty.)
It was interesting how differently the fabrics were affected by the coffee. The pigtailed doll's petticoat looks quite ancient now, but the plaid-dress doll -- who was bleached-white muslin to start -- is only a pale ecru.
It's a hard-knock life ....