How to Create an Art Doll from Up-Cycled Materials

I love making Tilda dolls – but I was beginning to look for something different …

I took my inspiration from Patti Medaris Culea.  Pattie has been making cloth art dolls for more than 40 years and teaches cloth doll workshops in the US, UK and Australia.  She is the author of  several books on cloth doll making and has produced four instructional workshops available from Galli Creative.  I really hope I have done her justice with my first attempts at making an art doll from Up-Cycled materials.

I love the way Patti works with a combination of mixed medias, stitch, embellishment, beading, drawing and painting.  Her books are truly inspirational.

Keep reading to find out more about her work and the dolls she inspired me to create.

Project Overview

Art Doll Cloth Doll Workshop Book Patti Medaris Culea

If you want to make your first art doll, I hope this post will help you create an heirloom piece that you can be really proud of.  Keep her yourself, giver her away as a gift to someone special, or – have a heart and donate her to raise much needed funds for charity.

What You Will Need

I started by making two art dolls. I love the vibrance of purple and I had some small scraps of purple silk taffeta that were just perfect for creating a little bolero.

What I didn’t have was any pretty purple fabric for creating the doll’s body.  I solved this by taking a White/Blue cotton summer dress purchased from the Saint Mary’s Hospice Charity Shop (see the Heart UpCycling section below for images) and dyeing it purple.  I was really pleased with the effect – I suddenly had a whole new fabric to work with – a real transformation!

Using the same dye wash on some other scraps of floral fabrics I had in my stash meant I could create a co-ordinated look for the bolero lining, shoes and skirts.

Violetta Art Doll
Art Doll Violetta
Art Doll Violetta with Wardrobe

Orange is probably the colour I like to work with most after purple.  These bright colours are so joyful and they lend themselves much more readily to the vibrancy of an art doll.  Tilda dolls are much more suited to pale cottons and lace trims – but creating an art doll brings the opportunity to introduce a little more excitement to the creative process.  Bring it on!

Art Doll Mo
Mo

I have a favourite Great Aunt whose name is Maureen – we call her Mo for short.  Always immaculately and elegantly dressed and the one who draws your eye in family photos – what better name for my second art doll?

Whether my Auntie Mo would wear orange or not these days, I’m not sure, but I hope she will appreciate the compliment and enjoy having a doll named especially after her.

Art Doll Mo with Wardrobe
Art Doll Mo with Wardrobe
Art Doll Mo's Wardrobe
Art Doll Mo's Wardrobe

Step-by-Step Guide

Time needed: 3-4 days

Creating a unique art doll is never something to be rushed. Take your time and enjoy creating something as exquisite as you can make it.  I will freely admit to being a perfectionist, so I enjoy the painstaking process of making every stitch invisible and adding lots of intricate details to a design.

If you are looking for something you can quickly run up on your sewing machine in a spare afternoon, this probably isn’t the project for you.  If you have some patience and imagination though, keep reading – this journey is going to be a lot of fun!

Creating the Body

First, you will need to photocopy the pattern from Patti’s book.  I obviously haven’t reproduced it here for copyright reasons.  Links to Patti’s website and her book are included above.

You will probably want to start off by following the steps in the book to the letter.  Based on the experience I have gained making other dolls, I adapted Patti’s instruction slightly and I will share with you how I approached making my doll below.  If there are no instructions, then I just followed the book to the letter.

Back

  1. Photocopy the body back and front, but cut off the seam allowance.
  2. Join flesh and coloured fabric – right sides together – in a 1/4 inch seam, pink and press.
  3. Fold right sides together, matching the seam line.
  4. Sew all the way down the centre back seam.  Pattie leaves a gap for turning, but I found I could turn the body through the neck hole and leaving no gap means your seam is so much neater.
  5. Trim the side seam with a generous seam allowance (so it doesn’t get stuck in your sewing machine).
  6. Attach trim to cover the seam between the flesh and body coloured fabric.
 
Art Doll Back Front & Head
Art Doll Back Front & Head
Art Doll Body & Head
Art Doll Body & Head
Front
  1. Join flesh and coloured fabric – right sides together – in a 1/4 inch seam, pink and press.
  2. Attach trim to cover the seam.

Joining Back and Front

  1. Place the front over the back with right sides together.
  2. Hand tack the seamline to make sure it meets perfectly when turned right side out after sewing.
  3. Place the front pattern back on the fabric, matching the seams on the back to the front all the way around.
  4. Sew all around the edge using the paper as a guide.  A clear presser foot is great for this.
  5. At the bottom of the first side, flip the pattern over and match the seams again and continue to sew all around the edge in one continuous line.
  6. Trim the seam using pinking shears to a scant 1/4 inch.
  7. Remove tacking stitches.
  8. Press.
  9. Turn through the neck, using haemostats.
  10. Press again.

Head

  1. Trace the face front stitch line onto a piece of flesh coloured fabric with a heat dissolving pen, being careful to keep the arrow on the pattern along the straight grain of the fabric.
  2. Trim, laving a generous seam allowance to make sewing easier and
  3. Fold a piece of flesh coloured fabric with right sides together.
  4. Lay the face back pattern (with the seam allowance trimmed off)  matching arrows to the straight grain – this is really important!
  5. Machine stitch all around the centre back seam and trim to 1/4 inch seam allowance, cutting a tab at the opening.
  6. Insert the pattern back into the face and trace the stitch line on both sides using a heat dissolving marker pen.  It can be useful to hold the fabric against a window if you have difficulty seeing the stitch line.
  7. Fold the face front in half, matching the chin and the centre head and pin the back to the front along the stitch line.  The opening for attaching the head to the neck goes at the chin end of the face.
  8. With the face front upwards, sew all around the seam in one continuous line.
  9. Trim to 1/4 inch seam allowance with pinking shears.
  10. Press.
  11. Turn through the opening and press again.
  12. Stuff until any wrinkles disappear (which is a LOT of stuffing for a small space!)

Creating the Hands

The hands are a little fiddly to make, but well worth the effort because they are delicate and possible.  I think they give the art doll real character.

Art Doll Hands
Art Doll Hands - Sewing
Art Doll Hands - Turned & Pressed
Art Doll Hands - Turned & Pressed

The sewing process is simple – as long as you remember to sew before you cut.  You can turn the hand through the open wrist.  I left long threads when I sewed the fingers so I could pull them inside the hand and completely hide them – no knots, no loose ends to unravel.

The pipe cleaners makes the hands possible.  A small amount of stuffing brings the hands to life.

Art Doll Hands - with Fingers Sewn
Art Doll Hands - with Fingers Sewn
Art Doll Hands - inserting pipe cleaners
Art Doll Hands - inserting pipe cleaners
Art Doll Hands - Stuffed
Art Doll Hands - Stuffed
Art Doll - Poseable Hands
Art Doll - Poseable Hands
Art Doll Violetta

I used strong sewing thread to attach the arms and legs and two hole buttons (rather than 4).

Creating the Shoes

Art Doll Shoes
Art Doll Shoes
Art Doll Shoes
Art Doll Shoes
  1. I found sewing the pretty little slipper shoes really tricky at first, but the steps below made it a much easier process, in my view.  I really hope they work for you too?  The main trick that really helped me sew neat little shoes was to sew before I cut.
  2. Fold the fabric for the outer shoe with right sides together.
  3. Sew around the pattern (with seam allowance removed) from the top of the shoe all aroud to the toe, leaving the top open.
  4. Repeat for the shoe lining, but leave 1/2 inch open for turning in the centre, where it will be hidden inside the shoe.  Make sure you secure your threads each side of the opening or your little shoe will quickly unravel.
  5. Press and trim the seam to 1/4 inch all the way around (including the open side).
  6. Clip curves.
  7. Turn the lining inside out and press.
  8. Slip the lining inside the outer shoe, matching right sides together.
  9. Sew all around the top of the shoe.
  10. Press again and turn the shoe inside out through the opening, using haemostats.
  11. Hand stitch the lining closed with an invisible ladder stitch.
  12. Finally, push the lining neatly back inside the outer shoe, using your haemostats to line up all the seams and points.
  13. Press again.
  14. Decorate with bows/flowers as you choose.  Remember – you are creating an art doll here – have fun – go play!
Art Doll Violetta - Finished Shoes
Art Doll Violetta - Finished Shoes

Tips and Tricks

Art Doll - Fabric Dying
Art Doll - Fabric Dying - "Before"
Art Doll Fabric Dying
Dying Fabric

Working with upcycled materials means that matching fabrics up can be a challenge.  Using fabric dye really helps to create a co-ordinated look.  Find out more about fabric dyeing on this post.

Layering net and lace over cotton/silk also helps to change the colour and adds texture and interest.  Violetta’s skirt is made from cotton layered over with a fine purple mesh.  The net helps to change the colour of the rather stark purple and white into something that fits the overall vintage look of the doll much better.

Working with synthetics/fine fabrics/metallics can be a real challenge – but it is worth persevering, because they create such beautiful finished pieces.  I always keep a square or two of calico spare so that I can protect a fine/fusible fabric when I press it.  It can also be useful to stabilise fine or easily frayed fabrics with a layer of fine fusible interfacing before you start working with them.

I have a growing collection of long doll needles and very fine beading needles which I am finding increasingly valuable.  Apart from creating a neater finish, having the right needle for the job really speeds up the creative process and takes the frustration out of it.

A Clover Mini Iron is also a real boon when you are sewing intricate doll’s clothes.  I found mine especially useful for making the shoes.

Clover Mini Iron
Clover Mini Iron
Vintage Needlecase - Doll/Ribbon/Bead Needles

Find our more about how to make the Vintage Needlecase on this post.

Heart Up-Cycling!

Heart Upcycling Logo

An old Summer dress made a good subject for dyeing purple.  The white background took the dye really well and blended with the blue flowers perfectly to dull down the overall palette and make a unique new fabric just perfect for creating an art doll.

Thanks to Julia for the christening gown – there is plenty left for other project too!

Art Doll from UpCycled Dress
Dress - Before Dyeing/UpCycling
Art Doll fClothes from Christening Gown
Christening Gown pre dyeing for Violetta's petticoat
Art Doll Violetta - Body Close Up
Art Doll Violetta - Body Close Up
Art Doll Violetta - Wardrobe

The christening gown had narrow pin tucks at the base and a pretty lace trim.  I kept these in tact during the dyeing process so I could utilise them in the finished petticoat.  The fine linen is very lightweight – just perfect for an art doll’s pretty petticoat.

Thanks to Julia for the donation of the christening gown.  There is plenty left for other projects too!

Art Doll - Beads from Charity Shop Necklace
Mo's necklace - made from UpCycled Charity Shop Jewellery

Fabric Fused Flower Embellishments

I love using fabric fused flowers to decorate my art dolls.  I think they look lovely attached to the little bolero – and to the shoes?  You can find out how I make these on this post.

Art Doll - Fabric Fused Flower Embellishments

Creating Face and Hair for an Art Doll

I found creating the face and hair the most challenging parts of this project.  I still have much to learn and I think I can definitely improve on my first go over time.  I will share my learning with you over the next few months in future posts, so keep reading – or subscribe so you don’t miss them.

Art Doll Violetta - Painted Face
Art Doll Violetta - Painted Face
Art Doll Mo - Hair
Art Doll Mo - Hair

Amora Encora

This is just the start of my journey into making unique, One of a Kind art dolls.  Ian the new year, I will be creating a new range of art dolls celebrating the beauty of the natural world.  I plan to make no more than 50 and each will carry her own certificate of authenticity.

They will be unique – you will never find another like them.  If you are interested in building your own collection, please favourite my Etsy Shop to be the first to see new additions.

Would you like a Doll made especially for you?

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