OR over the holidays: sewing dolls

Earlier in 2009, I decided to sew dolls for my two daughters.  They each had one handmade doll, and I wanted to give them each another.  I do not like hard plastic injection molding dolls, and due to my love of sewing, I decided to sew two dolls.  When I gave the dolls to my daughters for Christmas, my brother-in-law asked me if I used OR to sew them.  I emphatically answered “Of course!”

Sewing projects take time, and there aren’t nearly enough ways to improve the efficiency aside from buying a sewing machine.  To maximize the probability of finishing the dolls by December 24, I started the project in June.  Here are the steps I used to make the dolls:

  1. I first designed a pattern for the dolls based on tracing one of the existing dolls.  I already had some leftover material (fabric, yarn for hair, embroidery thread for faces, thread needles, etc.) from other projects.
  2. I then cut out the fabric pieces for the body, labeled the pieces and stored them carefully.  This is my least favorite part of sewing, since it requires meticulous attention and careful measuring.  And my cat usually lies on the pattern and fabric.  The upside is that it did not take any extra time to cut pieces for two dolls than it would for one doll.
  3. Once the fabric pieces are cut, the advantage to starting early paid off.  I put the pieces aside until I had a some spare time to embroider the faces (eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth) at my convenience.
  4. Once I had some more spare time, I sewed the body parts together.  This took about half an hour, but it required (1) overhead of setting up the sewing machine and then cleaning up the pile of threads and pins and (2) scheduling this sewing around my daughters’ schedules so that I could sew in secret.
  5. Once I sewed the body parts together, I had a collection of legs, arms, heads, and torsos.  I took these parts along with a bag of stuffing on a routine car trip.  I stuffed the arms, legs, and heads while my husband drove.  This took a good hour, mainly because it was difficult to stuff the thin arms and legs.  By the end of the car trip, I had a bag of stuffed body parts, which I’ll admit was pretty creepy.
  6. The next step was to sew the parts to the torso and stuff the torso.  This part of the process was fairly simple, but it was too hard to do in a bumpy car trip.  I was able to sew the body parts together while watching TV.  At this point, the dolls resembled voodoo dolls, albeit happy voodoo dolls.  Hair fixes that problem.
  7. The sewing of hair is a logistical nightmare.  It involves carefully lining up yarn, taping it to some fabric tape, sewing it to the fabric tape, and then sewing it to the doll’s head by hand.  The hair must be treated with care throughout the process so that it doesn’t get tangled or discovered by my cat, who would immediately turn it into a toy (cats discover the yarn the second you take it out).  I took on the hair all at once.  This process also used the sewing machine, so it had the same issues with overhead, but it was fun to watch my dolls go from creepy to cute.
  8. The hair was the last step of sewing the dolls, which I completed in August.  I wanted them to be finished before classes began.  But the dolls were naked and required clothes.  I didn’t have the energy to even think about sewing clothes until the end of October.   I created patterns for clothes at this time, by tracing the clothes to another doll.  I decided to opt for simplicity by only sewing a shirt and dress for each doll (skipping shoes, socks, and accessories).
  9. I waited until the Thanksgiving break to sew the clothes.  By then, I was intimidated by the task of hemming tiny clothes (it gets harder the smaller you go, at least for me).  I sewed the doll shirts with great frustration.  As a result, I chose fleece and felt for the dresses to avoid hemming (one of the few ways to improve efficiency).  I sewed five dresses in less time than it took to sew the two shirts.  Later, I embellished the dresses with pockets and a few beads, which only took a few minutes per dress.  The clothes were all completed in a single day.

After describing the sewing process and its frustrations, I should probably explain why I like sewing in the first place.  I enjoy sewing because planning a project from beginning to end is challenging yet rewarding.  I particularly enjoy projects that require me to be creative with my own designs.  All sewing projects are aimed at meeting a specific need in my life, and it feels great to solve the problem with a needle and thread (this is a little easier to see when I am sewing curtains or a chair cover).  Sometimes I use OR to solve problems, and at other times I use my sewing machine to solve problems, but it’s ultimately a similar process for both.

A picture of the finished product is below.  My daughters were happy with how the dolls turned out.  My five year old named her doll after herself (the red-headed doll was made to look like her).  I helped my two year old name her doll after her Great-Grandmother Ena, whose name is easy for her to pronounce (the first rule for naming dolls!–I was inspired by Ralph Keeney’s Value Focused Thinking, which mentions several criteria for choosing names).

Punk rock OR dolls

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If you sew, please let me know!

5 responses to “OR over the holidays: sewing dolls

  • Sarah

    I usually quilt — not sure if you count that since it’s a cousin of sewing. I like it because I like to play with colors and I think the geometry of it all is fun.

  • Laura

    Quilting counts, but I haven’t tried it yet. Oddly enough, I was asked about quilting at INFORMS.

  • Rebecca

    Cute dolls! I enjoy sewing but unfortunately I don’t have much spare time to do it, and then I also tend to lose steam before I can finish a project like the one you undertook.

  • Sommer Gentry

    I like to sew also. I occasionally make entire garments, but usually I’m modifying my clothes. Being 5’2″ means shortening pants is a routine task, but I also add strategic darts, decorative buttons, or flared sleeves to my clothes.

    I had a great experience in copying a pair of pants. I used a book called Making Patterns from Finished Clothes that allowed me to copy the entire pattern without cutting apart the original pair of pants, which would be the default method for making a pattern from a garment. It was a neat exercise since it involved tricky ways of measuring a 3-D garment to determine what 2-D pieces it was made from. Now I have a lovely paper pattern and two more pairs of pants in just the colors I wanted.

    Final thought – I remember seeing researchers working on simulating fabric draping and I keep fantasizing about a web app that would calculate exactly how a particular dress would look on my figure.

  • Mel Valdez

    Very informative article. I’ve found your site via Google and I’m really glad about the information you provide in your posts. Btw your sites layout is really messed up on the Kmelon browser. Would be really great if you could fix that. Anyhow keep up the good work!

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