I created a post today for Instagram that had pictures of the the two latest dolls that I had created in it. I just have the basic dolls done, nothing more than the faces are decorated, but the limbs are all attached and they are both awaiting some kind of clothing that as yet, I have not put together. These latest dolls, all three being based on my 20 cm doll basic body pattern, are a departure from how I spent the majority of the summer working. I created Fey Creatures most of the summer. Lots of different kinds. Most having more legs or arms and more complicated bodies and construction than my basic 20 cm doll. I sat down and pieced the three separate dolls (one peach, one pink and one violet) because I knew that I would be giving one of them to a friend for her birthday, but wanted to make sure that I had a choice in finished dolls, so that I could make what I would consider the correct decision; the right doll for the right person at the right time. (Dubravka loved the doll that I made for her, so I think I made the correct decision.)
Last night, I was finishing the violet doll. Once they are pieced, and the main portions of the face (nose, eyes, cheeks and mouth) are appliquéd down, sewing the doll together takes only a couple hours. The embroidery on the face takes another couple of hours. All in all, at this point, with the amount of practise I have with my own patterns, I can get a doll finished in one day, with the clothing taking another half day, if it’s nothing too extravagant. Dubravka’s doll took two and a half days start to finish, and there was still glue drying when I gave it to her!
I sat and chose the colours of thread that I wanted to use for the embroidery of the violet dolls face. As usual, it went fairly quickly. I know enough about colour to know what is going to work, what is going to pop the way that I want it to, so it’s simply a matter of deciding on which colour will be used for what particular portion of the embroidery. Working on violet and lavender felt means I needed to use a contrasting colour, a colour complement. So, yellow flowers it is! I knew I wanted to use a lazy daisy stitch, so the type of flower is chosen (I’ve been doing a lot of floral motifs in the past few months). I decided that instead of half a flower on the cheeks, I wanted to stitch a whole flower, one that matched the nose portion of the doll. The space on both is small (2.5 cm and under for cheeks and nose) so I couldn’t get too ornate with the stitch work. Lazy daisy, back stitch, French knots, stem stitch. Nothing too fancy. I worked with a No. 5 needle and a No. 7 needle. Most of the time, my embroidery thread is reduced, and I use only two or three strands. The spaces where I am placing the embroidery are too small to use anything larger. I start with the largest parts of the motif, in this case, the yellow daisies. I sew them in, then start adding the rest of the elements, the stems, the vines, the leaves, other small flowers, etc. It kind of reminds me of creating a woodcut, or doing a method for a woodcut called a ‘suicide print’. Work biggest to smallest, once something is down, or stitched, it’s there, learn to deal with it if it doesn’t look spectacular. The only time that personal rule doesn’t apply is when it comes to French knots. I want those little buggers to be as uniform as possible, and if they aren’t, I stop and make corrections on the spot, and if that means snipping and picking, then that’s what I do, along with some grumbling.
In recent years, I have come to rely on the patterns I design and create for my dolls, yet, when it comes to the embroidery work, I am much so more ‘flight by night’ in my approach. I can see what I want it to look like in my mind, then I just start stitching. If things go horribly awry, I will stop and snip out stitches that I don’t like because I feel the colour is wrong or the stitch quality is sloppy. It bothers me when a wonky stitch doesn’t make itself known to me until I am way past the point of no return, and have no way to fix it. At present, one appliqué stitch on the violet dolls mouth is driving me nuts, because it is slightly larger than the other stitches. I know. I will have to learn to deal with it. It’s permanent.
I’ve started wondering why I don’t do what I see a lot of embroiderers do, which is use a pen on some kind of mark making devise to draw the pattern out onto the fabric first, then start stitching. I honestly do not have any kind of answer for that. I suppose I could blame it on the fact that I use wool blend and a acrylic blend felts to make my dolls, and sometimes it’s difficult to draw on them and sometimes the disappearing ink pens don’t disappear to the extent that I would prefer. I also find the way that these pens bleed on the fabric before they dry to be visually distracting, making it hard for me to judge distances and colour choices. Or, could I just be lazy? I think that at this point in my creative journey, I have enough experience under my belt that I’m not so scared to just dive right in with regards to the embroidered portions of my dolls. There are still stitches that I am trying to learn, but I just don’t feel like I know how to execute them at the level in which I feel comfortable using them on my dolls yet. The notion that I have enough experience to do some things well, but still lack experience to do many things well, and thus leave them out of my work until I can in fact, do them well, is kind of punch in the self confidence and a kick in the self efficacy for me as an artist. An outsider sees my work and likes it for what it is, while I see all the things that went wrong and I had to fix on the fly. All the stitches that I still haven’t mastered, but really want to use in my artwork. They don’t see the time spent sketching out the idea, creating the pattern, choosing the fabrics, colours, stitches. I think it was Duchamp who said something about how artwork isn’t finished until it is viewed by someone other than the creator, and I think this applies here, but in a different sort of way. An outsider sees the final product and gives it meaning through their interpretation of it, made possible by their own unique experiences. What they are not privy to is the journey that the artist has undertaken that results in the final finished piece of artwork. For any artist who creates a large body of work, a finished piece is just one stop along the journey, with each consecutive stop getting the artist closer to the idea that they are chasing.
I must pause and address my use of the word ‘idea’, and it’s use in describing what an artist might be pursuing through the creation of art. Every artist has something that they are chasing after, or perhaps something that instead is chasing after them, some means of motivation that propels them forward and compels them to create. For each artist, it’s different. Some have individual demons to slay, while others see endless internal vistas that they want to interpret and share with others. Some are motivated by a need to know, or experience, and some simply want to make aesthetically beautiful objects. Still others have a wish to build and create for those who come after them, and enlist others to aid them in the execution of their vision, while some artist work for years, and never show a soul what they have made. My use of the word idea is meant to encapsulate all of these types of motivations an artist might have and more.
One of the strangest experiences I’ve had of late was while looking through some of the dolls I’d made over this recent summer. I was looking for a particular doll that I had created. I wanted to look at what I thought were some rather nice floral motifs mixed with some abstract designs that I had created for a few dolls that just happened to look somewhat similar to some circular Nordic runes I had come across in some research. I found it interesting that my own semi abstract circular designs just happened to resemble existing runes and I wondered if they had been floating around in my subconscious while I had been stitching the designs down — or — perhaps a more practical answer to this might have been, there are only so many ways in which you can create a circular design using the chain stitch and the back stitch, so my mathematical chances of stitching something looking vaguely runic were fairly high. Anyway, as I stopped and looked at each of the dolls, I had this weird sensation of “When did I do that? I didn’t do that. No way. Seriously, I don’t remember doing that.” when I looked at each completed dolls face. There was almost this kind of existential disbelief that I had in fact created these dolls and done the embroidery work on them. I wonder if that has anything to do with the flow state that I get into when I am working on a doll. Time doesn’t mean a whole lot. I just work until it’s done to a point where I am comfortable stopping for the night. Sometimes the journey doesn’t make regularly timed stops.
I think that may have something to do with the fact that with some of my dolls, I’m working with a humanoid form, and I instinctively grant the doll a soul. I just do. I didn’t realise I did that until I had the recent pink doll all together and was looking at it. I was no longer working on her body and face, she was together and sitting in front of me. She was made real in an instant. Not just bits of thread and felt and stuffing, but real and whole, and in my mind, that means she was given some manner of soul or spirit to go along with that. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think she gets up and walks around when I’m not looking. I don’t think she speaks. The kind of soul that I am talking about is more along the lines of a soul of creation kind of thing. Perhaps it is more of an ushabti kind of thing, in that she is, in some way, a small version of me and in being created by me, is part of me, and if I have a soul then she must have some manner of soul, or at least be part of some creative life force that I have been able to latch onto in the act of creating her from bits of threat and felt and stuffing.
This reminds me of something that was said to me a number of years ago by my mother. I have written about a few times before, and it amazes me how differently I internalise it at any given time. Some days I’m amused by it and other days it cuts me so ferociously deep and painfully.“Katie doesn’t make friends, she makes friends!” This was in reference to my doll making. Somehow I am, apparently, in her eyes, bad at making real flesh and blood friends with which to have a real emotional connection with, so I choose to create hollow little puppety dolly friends that I can control instead to keep me from being lonely. So I can say that I have friends. Ha. Ha. As I stated, on any given day, I can think about this statement in different ways. Today, the pink and violet dolls aren’t my friends, I didn’t make them to be my friends, they are instead an extension of myself through the act of creativity. The soul that I keep thinking that I feel when I look at them is merely a reflection of my own soul I see looking back at me.