Thursday, April 25, 2013

Steps in Making a “Primitive Folk-Art Doll”

As you may know, I spend each Saturday from April through October at a craft market where I sell handmade toys. Last year I was only marginally successful, so I changed my style and started making “prims.” Already I have seen an increase in sales, and I've only been at the market twice so far. 
"Maggie-doll" by Susannah Wollman from a
pattern by Threadbare Primitives.

This article is not a detailed account of dying or sewing a primitive doll. You'll find that in the instructions that come with your pattern. This is only an overview of the steps involved. Here’s how I go about creating a prim.

1. Search the web for prim patterns. I’ve bought patterns from several places, including,,, and I’ve bought patterns from each one. I think that threadbareprimitives is my favorite, although each has its own style and "flavor."

2. You can dye your fabric at this point or after construction. Follow the instructions for making the prim. Most of the patterns I’ve seen direct you to trace the pattern onto the fabric (traditionally muslin or osnaburg) and sew the seams on the trace lines before you cut the pieces out. This works because prims do not normally have gussets or darts. Then you trim about 1/8” to 1/4” away from the line.

3. I have found it most helpful to have a pair of long-handled hemostats for turning and stuffing the doll. You will also find a long doll needle to be quite useful.

4. Stuff the doll and hand-sew the pieces together (arms, legs and sometimes heads). Don’t sew eyes on the doll yet, but do any needle-sculpting at this point. 

5. If you didn’t pre-dye the fabric, do it now with a paintbrush or a sponge.

6. Dry your piece in the sun, in the oven, or in the air.

7. Paint any details once the dye is completely dry. Use a dry brush and don’t try to cover every pixel of the detail. You want it to look aged, after all. A dry brush helps you achieve that look.

8. Re-dye the doll, and let dry.

9. Lightly sand with fine sandpaper.

10. Sew the button eyes on now, and embroider any details you want embroidered.

11. Make the doll clothes and dye the finished garment. Let dry.

12. Don’t iron! The prim look requires a worn appearance.

13. Dress your doll.

Now you can see why prims are priced like they are. There’s a lot of work and many hours in creating a doll that truly conveys “old, worn, and well-loved.” 

If you are in Grapevine, Texas, on Saturday, come by and visit me at my booth!

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