Friday, 9 March 2012

My very first art doll!

I have always been fascinated by art dolls, but have never really understood them.  Having decided it was time to do something about that, I Googled “art dolls” and discovered a magazine called "Dolls United".  It is American and comes on a CD, so I wont be subscribing, but their downloadable free sample issue just happens to be all about art dolls, so I grabbed it!  There are instructions for several different projects, but the one that caught my imagination was the “Mermaid Pin” by Kathleen Chrisman.  I followed quite a lot of her instructions, because I didn't feel confident to design my own doll from scratch, but I adapted things to suit myself.  I didn't like the shrink plastic face at all, I can't draw for toffee, and I don't have a suitable stamp, so I was at loss how to make the face.  However.....

As it happens, the monthly challenge for February on UK Stampers, is to produce a piece of art that includes an image transfer and the use of a favourite stamp in a new way, with no red and no hearts.  So I decided to make my mermaid to fit in with this challenge, by using an image transfer for her face, and one of my favourite “stitch” stamps for the scales on her tail.

I went to the Stitch and Creative Crafts show at Malvern on the 3rd March, and bought some beautiful green fabric, a mixed pot of green and yellow seed beads, and some tiny hand-mirror charms.  I already had some fibres and ribbons for the hair and some pearl beads for the breasts, so I just had to dig out a slightly off-white 1960’s hanky for the main body of the mermaid, and do the image transfer.

The experts say that you can only do image transfers with laser prints, but I have succeeded several times using inkjet prints and matte multi-medium onto paper, so I decided it was worth having a go onto cloth this time.  I used a picture of a pretty woman, that I had downloaded from Lisa's Altered Art.  I painted a fairly thin layer of medium onto a scrap of hanky, and quickly laid the print face down onto it and burnished it with the back of a teaspoon.  I let it dry, then spritzed the paper with water and rubbed it off.  You can’t be as rough with an inkjet-print as you can be with a laser-print, so the transfer is very slightly “furry”, but it’s quite clear, and I am very pleased with it!

I didn’t use Kathleen’s pattern for the body of the mermaid, but drew my own, about 6.5 inches long, so that it suited the size of the face.  I marked out the shape on my old hanky, which I had folded in half.  Then I forgot the instructions!  I should have sewn round the outline at this stage, but instead I went straight ahead and painted a wide line round the outside of the outline with Viridian blue-green acrylic paint.  I dried it with my heat gun, then turned the fabric over and painted the other side the same way.  When all the paint was dry, I cut round the shape, about ¼ inch outside the line.  I decided I didn't want my mermaid to be all one colour, so I cut out the tail in green fabric and stamped the “scales”, using Coffee Archival ink and a chain-stitch stamp, which I curved to match the shape of the tail.  Then I painted the tail onto the body.   As instructed, I cut a 1” slit in the back layer only of the body, and started stuffing with cotton wool, because I couldn’t find my toy stuffing.  That’s when I realised that I should have stitched round the outline before I painted!  By now it was too late for the sewing machine, so I back-stitched round in green cotton.  Disaster averted, I finished the stuffing and sewed up the little slit.  I turned in the edges round the image-transfer, which wasn’t very easy, as the multi-medium had made the fabric rather hard, and I slip-stitched the face in position. 

Then it was time for the beads.  I strung a few seed-beads onto cotton thread, and slip-stitched them along the top of the tail, to disguise the raw edge.  I added a necklace in the same way.  I thought Kathleen’s version of the tail used too many beads, so I made mine smaller, deciding by eye how many beads to string for each loop.  After sewing the first loop of beads onto the tail, I put the needle back through some of the beads, to get to the right place to start the next loop.  I only did 5 loops, because I thought it looked the right size for my mermaid.  I was lucky enough to find 2 old pearl beads of the same size, that I had rescued from some old jewellery, so I sewed them on as breasts.

I followed Kathleen’s instructions loosely, when I made the hair.  I didn’t have many fibres of a suitable colour, so I just used 2 lengths each of brown and gold organza ribbon, a length of light-brown eyelash yarn, and a length of some fluffy off-white stuff that was left over from knitting a sheep.  I cut them all to 12inches long, and tried to coil them up, like Kathleen did.  It looked very messy, so I decided to plait all the fibres and ribbons together and sew the ends with thread, instead of tying them with a ribbon.  Following Kathleen's instructions, I sewed the plait to the back of the head, coiling it from the centre outwards, then brought the end round to the front, and stitched it down at the top of the tail.

Lastly I sewed on the tiny hand-mirror charm.  It’s slightly too small, but I think it adds a nice finishing touch to my doll.  Kathleen put a brooch-pin on the back of her mermaid, but I couldn’t see myself actually wearing mine, so I left the back plain.

The final problem was trying to take a good picture of the mermaid.  Whatever I did, the colours wouldn’t come out right, so you can’t see the lovely blue-green!


  1. Great firt go at an art doll, love the scales on her tail!

  2. Fabulous mermaid! Love how you put her together!

    Thanks for questing with us at UPA!

    Don't forget to come back and vote for your favorite entry on the 26th!

  3. adorable mermaid, very lovely