Cloth dolls have been traditional in Western culture for hundreds of years. It’s easy to understand why: these were dolls that could be handmade for young girls by virtually anybody. All that was needed was some cloth left over after finishing some other garment, some sewing thread, and something to stuff the doll with.
Naturally, in times when people had to depend on their own resourcefulness, many different fabrics and fillers were used: wool, straw, small scraps of cloth, animal hair or anything else that was soft and wouldn’t be missed. And just as naturally, because people are inherently creative, the way that dolls were made evolved over the years and became a craft all its own.
Somewhere in the long evolution of rag dolls, someone came up with the idea of the clay over cloth doll. When designing this style, the body (and head, initially) is made of cloth and stuffed with some soft material.
Then clay is applied over the cloth of the head and sculpted to make the face. The versatility of this art from is truly amazing – and it is an art form: although anyone can try their hand at it and get impressive results, many dolls with sculpted heads are made by professional artists and some people make this their life-long hobby that they are absolutely devoted to.
Today there are baby cloth dollies, dolls made to represent particular characters or professions, dolls intended for decoration and others meant to be played with. Some artists have a particular style, others specialize in designing clothing, or hair, or other props. Collectors who like these unique treasures can make their own from scratch.
Patterns are available, or you can buy the body already made and add your own clothing, or do you own sculpting to create these dolls. You can buy pre-sculpted heads and, of course, if you’re not keen on the crafting part, you can buy the whole finished doll for your favorite child or for display in your home.
The wonderful thing about free-sculpted clay over cloth dollies is that no two are alike. They are all so unique, and often very original. Some faces are smooth and pretty, some coarse, some have extra large noses or chins and look like gnomes, some are beautiful and fairylike, some are babies – it all depends on the mood and the skills of the doll maker. Underneath, they are all simple rag dolls with soft simple long wearing cloth bodies – the original toy for a little girl is still with us.
The internet is a good place to find out about baby rag dolls and other styles. Lots of doll makers have their own web sites and many retail internet sites sell supplies and patterns. Buy a pattern for $5 and collect the materials you’ll need, or buy a kit for around $45. Classes that teach the art of making cloth dolls are often available as well.
Dolls that are already completed sell for anywhere from $30 to nearly $200, and many of them are so beautifully made that you’ll wonder why they don’t cost more.
If you are purchasing for a child, do make sure that the doll you buy in not meant only for display — and be careful: the craft of doll making is addictive. Once you begin, you may never look back.