Alright, so this may not be Hogwarts, but we do have hogs...
We haven't made it to the latest Harry Potter movie. In fact, the penultimate and ultimate books in the series are still buried, unread, somewhere in our old-house-turned-storage-shack, waiting for that novel invention, "free time." Maybe THIS winter, I'll read them!
For now, the season demands the busy-ness of my hands. For those rare occasions when I'm actually forced, by circumstance, to remain seated, I've been toting along my craft basket and making dolls to sell at the farmers' market. I call these my "Wise Tiny Creatures," an affectionate nod to the poem, "Glen Uig," from Richard Hugo's Hebridean poetry cycle, "The Right Madness on Skye." The dolls range in size from two to six inches, about right for use in dollhouses and easy storage in backpacks, Christmas stockings, and coat pockets--a few of the places one might want or need them.
The dolls started with a kit my sister sent for my birthday a few years back. While I was delighted by the ingenuity and ease of the dolls' construction, I found myself itching to push the limits of design and decoration, to come up with something that matched the dancing creaturely images in my head. I wanted dolls with realistic bodies, padded and rounded and pleasant to cradle in one's hand, to tuck in one's pocket, to play with and pose and hold. I wanted engaging little faces, some wise and old, some fresh and young, some pensive, some mirthful, in a wide range of skin tones. I wanted them to be made, as much as possible, from natural, rather than acrylic, fibers and materials. I wanted dolls that would stand up to a fair amount of play, equal to the imaginations of those that might acquire them.
Each doll begins with two pipe cleaners or chenille stems, bent into an armature and wrapped with cotton embroidery floss. The heads are simply wooden beads from a craft store, but I hand-paint the faces--even though I question my sanity and rue the cost of the tiny, quickly-bent brushes each time I do so. I cover the acrylic paint with a few layers of non-toxic gesso and use a non-toxic craft glue to attach hair and beards made from wool that has been washed/carded but not spun.
I found a source for plant-dyed 100% wool felt from which to sew clothes. This is the hardest of my materials to find-- none of our local craft shops carry real wool felt, and I use such small quantities that it hardly justifies the cost of shipping from most internet vendors. (Also, I sew too slowly to use up my own inventory with any speed, but I do wish I had a few more colours!) Lately, my original source seems to have slowed production and cut down their range of offerings. Any suggestions besides dying the wool myself?
Salley Mavor's excellent book, Felt Wee Folk, includes patterns for fairies, pirates, mermaids, and members of a royal court. I've played with a few additional ideas: wizards, saints and a poseable nativity set, among others. A favourite commission: the request to make a doll that looked "Like St. Patrick, but for a guy who's really into Zen Buddhism." (I embroidered yin-yang symbols on the wee saint's stole and tiny gold snakes on the bishop's mitre and robe.) Lately I've taken to making shoes for most of the dolls, which is ridiculously time-consuming but ensures that they can stand on their own--an important feature for both display and active play.
I'll never be able to charge what these dolls are worth in terms of time and care and creative energy--they sell for twenty to forty-five dollars--but I justify them by reminding myself that much of the work is "multitasked" in the service of keeping my hands busy during meetings and such. (I learned years ago that handwork helps me focus and attend much more effectively. In grad school, I kept my hands busy by colour-coding my class lecture notes with a set of a dozen fine-point gel pens. People were always asking to borrow my notes when it was time to study for exams!)
Back to Harry Potter for a bit: devout readers and movie-goers will be familiar with the character/device known as the "Sorting Hat." During the School for Wild Girls, KyedPiper gifted me with a set of circular needles and two balls of lovely colour-flecked chocolate-brown wool-blend yarn. (I should note that my previous knitting experience is limited to two scarves and the back of a vest--one of many over-zealous unpatterned experiments I took on, then muddled and hid in the bottom of a trunk.) She talked about hats she had made and suggested that I try making one for myself.
While watching episodes of "Xena, Warrior Princess" on DVD, Kyedpiper helped me cast on and get set up to knit on circular needles, something I'd never tried. I worked without a pattern and, a couple weeks after she left, reached the stage where I knew I needed to decrease stitches further than the up-til-now-easily-used circular needles would allow. Another friend let me borrow some double-ended needles and taught me how to work with them, and a couple days later the hat was finished. With a vague nod in the Sorting Hat's direction, I have christened this project my "Sort-Of Hat:" I sort-of knew what I was doing and it turned out sort-of how I hoped it would! (I am still debating whether to adorn the tip with a pom-pom or a small bell, or just snip the extra yarn and leave it as-is. I'm leaning toward the bell.)