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Doll Making

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If you think dolls are strictly for girls and grandmas, think again. These figures can be anything from pudgy old men to frog-riding fairies. No matter who you are, there's a doll out there to suit your taste.

In fact, many of these artists prefer to be called figurative sculptors because of connotations associated with the word "doll."

Jean Lotz is a doll maker with her own studio. "There are many sculptors who do not want the term 'doll' associated with their work in any way," she says.

"Many modern figurative sculptures are indeed very far from the wholesome play doll stereotype, and are rightfully targeted to an adult, art collector customer base."

Doll makers use cloth, ceramics and many other different kinds of materials to create unique sculptures.
Courtesy of: Carol Salmon

For some companies, making dolls is a multimillion-dollar business. But for the thousands of people who make dolls one at a time, it's an expression of creativity.

Doll makers design and create their own dolls, from china dolls and cloth gnomes to stuffed animals and historic figures. They usually work with cloth, porcelain, or wood to create unique dolls -- and accessories such as furniture and clothing.

They're creative thinkers who are good with their hands.

There are very few limits to the imagination, says Lotz. "Dolls and figures are being made in every shape, size, style and medium. You just need to start browsing doll artist sites on the Net to get a glimpse at the potential for creativity!"

Lotz carves one-of-a-kind basswood dolls from scratch, many of which are now privately owned by serious collectors.

There are several areas within the doll field. Some artists sculpt or carve unique dolls from scratch. Some make dolls from existing molds, while others reproduce and restore antique dolls. Costume design is another specialty within the field.

Many doll makers even go on to teach, write and research about dolls and doll making.

Doll makers often gather in groups to exchange ideas and offer encouragement to one another, just as artists and writers often do. As Lotz points out, doll making is an art that transcends cultural and geographical boundaries -- anyone can participate.

"The doll business is a very unique, flexible field and it can suit many different people -- people of all ages, races, sexes and religions all over the world," she says.

Like all serious artists, doll makers date and sign each piece. They also keep careful inventory of their work by recording dates and titles and by keeping photographs of each doll.

Most doll makers also design clothes from a variety of fabrics, and use real human hair or a substitute to make wigs for their dolls. Those who work with porcelain are usually adept with paint so they can design and apply faces.

A working knowledge of human proportions is helpful. Did you know, for example, that your eyes are exactly halfway between the top and bottom of your face? While many doll makers make distorted and funny characters, some strive for a more realistic look.

Women outnumber men in the field. In the past, however, it was more balanced.

Cody Goodin makes healing dolls based on native American tradition, although he says he uses many sources as inspiration. "Men, actually, were quite common in the doll making field in the early days. It was only in [Canada and the U.S.] that doll making was looked upon as a woman's craft," he says.

"There are plenty of men in the sculpted doll field. But I think I am in a minority as far as cloth doll makers go. I would certainly like to see more men get into the field. The more the merrier!"

Getting Started

Getting started takes a small investment. A basic cloth doll requires needle and thread, a stuffed doll body, and some additional cloth -- an investment of about $20.

For artists who use porcelain -- which is sculpted and then fired in an oven (called a kiln) -- the cost per doll can reach $65 or more. Seasoned pros often charge over $1,000 per doll.

The hobby can become a business. Doll makers usually begin by selling a few dolls at local craft sales, covering time and expenses, and earning a few dollars per doll. After a little experience and exposure, some choose to mass-produce their product or sell it through retail and wholesale venues.

Others sell their designs to manufacturers.

Learning to make dolls is usually a matter of some training, lots of practice and some trial and error.

"Doll making is an art form that requires a certain amount of skill and dedication," says Goodin. "It takes many attempts to...achieve an acceptable result."

Doll-making lessons are available through some continuing education programs. As well, there are dozens of books, videos and Web sites that detail the steps of doll making.

"The Internet is currently changing the face of the doll industry," says Lotz.

"More and more artists are choosing to sell their work via virtual means rather than attending the traditional style doll shows because the Net provides ways to display our work to a broader audience with no travel expense."

She adds, with emphasis, that the market is tough for people trying to make money in the doll field. "This is not a field to make money fast and furious with minimal effort. Doll artists have to constantly strive to improve their product, and strive to create a market for their product."

Associations

National Institute of American Doll Makers
E-mail : niada@niada.org
Internethttp://www.niada.org

Links

Sew Sweet
Complete with stories on how many experts got started

Loved to Pieces Doll Hospital
Make an appointment for your doll with Doctor Karen

Bell Ceramics
World's largest doll-making supplies company

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