On Refashioning Dolls’ Clothes

For years a collection of dolls in national dress from around the world adorned a shelf in the children’s bedroom. Then the girls grew up and left home and the dolls collected dust. During a spring cleaning spree these dolls were packed into a box and nearly discarded. Luckily nostalgia stopped me and the box of dolls was stored in the attic, to gather more dust. Then along came COVID and lockdown and the community stitch challenge (thank you TextileArtist.org) where I was inspired by textile artists who have repurposed old linens and vintage stitch work into new and exciting pieces. Then I remembered this collection of dolls in folk costumes, and retrieved the box, undressed the dolls and washed the clothes with the idea of using them to make similar textile pieces.

It took a while to decide how to repurpose the traditional costumes. At times it seemed like a silly thing to do, but the idea kept percolating and, when I saw how Jennifer Collier uses old postage stamps in her paper-based collages something clicked into place. Why not use a particular country’s stamps as markers for the origin of its folk costume, I thought. So I unearthed my childhood stamp collection, dusted it off, and started assembling the collages pictured above.

I laid the clothes onto a calico background and hand stitched or pinned them into place. The calico is backed with a thin layer of flannel followed by a piece of sturdy canvas, to make up the three layers traditionally used by quilters. Once I was satisfied with the layout of the clothes that make up the outfit, I added postage stamps. [I confess to some ironic and quirky choices. As I examined the images on these old stamps I realised that they tell a (not the) story of a country’s history that can be uncomfortable. I wonder if academic theses have been written about this.] The stamps were lightly glued into place. Then I overstitched the whole assemblage.

A full view of the piece (25 x 33 cm)

The size of the works is based on the A4 or A3 format and the black stitched line in the above photograph matches the A4 size (21 x 30 cm).

Once I had decided on the layout of the piece, the stitching went quickly and smoothly. The background stitch is done in rows and I use the wavy zigzag setting on my Bernina, with the stitch length set to 1 and the stitch width to 5 (the maximum). After finishing the Dutch costume I decided to stitch down the Native American folk costume as it also fitted neatly into the A4 format. I inserted a leather needle into my trusty Bernina, held my breath, and started stitching. The needle went through the leather and the fabric layers like butter and, despite the extra thickness of the needle, did not tear the comparatively fragile paper of the postage stamps.

I was not happy with the way this turned out and was all set to unpick the bottom section (the leggings) after the overstitching was done. My friend the artist suggested I could save it by turning the legs into a more abstract design by overlaying black strips and adding a central strip of leather. Thank heavens for friends with a good eye.

Then I tackled the South African based costume of a long dress, apron, shawl and doek [head scarf] sometimes worn by African women. The outfit would not fit into the A4 format, hence the expansion to an A3 size. I also had a large collection of this country’s stamps that I could use.

A quick snap taken at the early stages of laying out the collage. Below is the finished work, to show the effect of the overstitching. It measures 35 x 45 cm.

There are still quite a number of traditional costumes from the doll collection and I will slowly stitch them down. At this stage, I am not sure if I will make one large piece or frame each of the outfits separately.

When I began writing this post I did not know what collective term to use for these clothes and so, of course, checked on google where I found the terms traditional dress, national dress, folk costume, and national costumes are all used. I also came across this informative article, if anyone wants to have a look at it.

Solving the mystery

Slowly but surely my blocks for the Good Hope Quilters Guild mystery quilt are taking shape. Every Friday a new tutorial becomes available and the photograph below is the result of nine weeks of following the instructions. Only three more to go. The quilt is designed by Diana Vandeyar as an introduction to modern quilting. Her instruction sheets are crystal clear and I have learnt a lot about the joy of precision piecing from her. I am very glad I took that step into the dark (as it were) and started this project (see this previous post for a blog on the beginning of the process).

The Good Hope Quilters’ Guild has an Instagram page where one can see what other followers of the mystery challenge have produced.

19 thoughts on “On Refashioning Dolls’ Clothes

  1. Such a clever way of preserving those doll’s clothes and the precious memories associated with them. And incorporating the postage stamps is pure genius! I appreciate how you generously explain the details involved in the construction🙏🏽! Thanks too for sharing your progress on the mystery quilt.


  2. Mariss, your creativity never ceases to amaze me. This is absolutely stunning. I am fascinated by the fact that you have been able to include paper stamps too. Just fabulous.


  3. As a former philatelist with more than a few albums of stamps packed away – this is an eye opener. The addition of doll costumes to the appropriate country’s stamps is such an inspiration…you never cease to amaze me, Mariss!


  4. I too have a small collection of “dolls” packed away – I may just have to take your idea and do something with those objects. Possibly not the stamps, I think most of them have gone; although I do have a stamp catalogue that I’ve used in some of the handmade books after I’ve used by fancy scissors that has a “stamp edge” blade…I certainly have enough fabric to add anything too

    Thanks for sharing the idea. I too have been following the challenges for Textile.org on f/b. But this time around have only downloaded the workbooks – because busy with other projects.


  5. A really interesting project, Mariss. 🙂 The overstitching brings a nice texture to the pieces, and the doll clothing with stamps is creative and so visually interesting. There’s a conversation between the two (clothing and stamps), and I am intrigued. I can see each one in a frame. 🙂


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