Me (watching YouTube videos): wow, but who has the patience for that? That’s too finicky for me.
Me (months later): Well, I guess now I do this too.
And so it was with rerooting doll hair.
I’ve been on the lookout for a “Clawdeen Wolf” 17inch tall Monster High doll to make into a Teen Titans Go Starfire to pair with the Raven I made.
While in America, shopping at Tuesday Morning for random dolls, I bought a regular sized version of Clawdeen as a test doll. I also thought, “Cool! Her hair is kinda the right color!”
Silly me. I didn’t realize the need to make Starfire would lead me to learning how to plunge needles into a doll’s naked head, sowing rows of synthetic hair.
Once back in Japan I realized some obvious issues.
Starfire doesn’t have wolf ears on top of her head.
Starfire does have noticeable ears though, in a location Clawdeen doesn’t.
Even if I remove Clawdeen’s ears, fill the existing holes, and reattach those ears lower as Starfire ears….Clawdeen is going to have bald head spots.
I think this is where normal people decide that 8$USD spent on a doll is no great loss. It is where >I< decided to learn how to fill skull holes, move ears, and reroot a whole head.
Time to Google things!
What did I do before I learned to teach myself from the wisdom of the internet?
Libraries. I know I taught myself interior faux finishes from library books. Just as my mother learned she could check out books on refinishing floors….and rent heavy duty tools.
In my day the neck of a Barbie or similar doll was a simple affair with a simple nodule the head would fit onto. If that nodule broke, or the neck hole in the head suffered structural damage, you had a head that popped off easily and needed to be shoved so far onto the neck as to be absurd.
Now Barbie and similar fashion dolls have a more complex plastic inner head rack that is less likely to be damaged by ill meaning playmates and bad choices.
It reminds me of an IUD.
I cut off Clawdeen’s perfectly crimped hair, warmed her head, and eased her off her skull hooks.
Then I took tweezers and a needle nosed pliers to remove the remaining hair plugs from the inside and outside of her head.
Then, it was time for a setback.
The internet recommends a non-toxic glue called Liquid Fusion for plugging the holes left behind when cutting off the doll’s ears. Liquid Fusion would have been easy to buy in America but I was back in Japan.
I was able, with much google power, to find in available in a Japanese online store dedicated to fly-fishing. They didn’t have an online checkout but I emailed them for an invoice, transferred the money, and would soon be back in business.
DEAR me,” sighed Mary Frances. “How will I ever get so much done? I didn’t want to interrupt you, dear Fairy Lady, but I’ve gotten, you see, no further than basting the hem of dolly’s apron!”
Big tears trembled in the little girl’s eyes.
I’m not saying that I’ve never broken down in tears faced with the size of task at hand, even one that feeds my heart like dance or sewing. I have. But, Mary, I’m a little worried about. I got help and continue to get help so that small stressors aren’t met with my body serving grand extravagant reactions that are disproportionate.
”Dear child,” smiled Fairy Lady. “We realize how rapidly we’ll have to work in these lessons in order to get through before your mother comes, so we are ready to help.”
But Fairy, we’ve only just begun sewing lessons. We’re borrowing white lawn fabric to make simple aprons. We don’t even have a fabric stash! Won’t Grandma get suspicious? What if she starts asking questions. How much more IS there to sew? Why is Mary so stressed out? I know there’s a whole book of lessons ahead but what do you know, Fairy Lady?
Lady Fairy taps her Bodkin Wand and we meet another anthropomorphic cast member, Needle Book. This is Mary’s own needle book but now it walks and talks.
I didn’t have a needle book when I started blogging this book. My needles usually just lived alongside my pins thrust into various pincushions…and then I started googling and consulting Pinterest.
These are some spiffy vintage needle books.
I made my own, it’s still in progress. I used this tutorial. I couldn’t find my batting so I substituted some polar fleece instead…so it’s a little floppy. I eventually found my battin stash but it was too late.
Then I cleaned my craft room and made a new pocket organizer (which may be slightly crooked. I’ll measure and fix my next day off.
Mary takes her now-living Needle Book in stride:
“There is but one needle in the world, your Seamstress-ship,” he said, “which is called the Needle-of-Don’t-Have-to-Try, and the King of the Thimble People has sent it to you by your humble servant,” glancing proudly about. “—and here, dear Mistress, is the Needle-of-Don’t-Have-to-Try.”
Mary Frances saw a bright shiny light come from between the opening leaves of Needle Book; then slowly, very slowly, with his tiny little hand, he pulled out what seemed a needle of fire, and dropping on his knees, held it out on both arms toward Mary Frances.
The little girl hesitated. Would it burn her?
Mary, consult your R’hllor history books! That is obviously Lightbringer the hero’s needle of Azor Ahai. You need never plunge it into Mr.Emery for, after being tempered by the heart of Nissa Nissa , it never grows dull or rusty. You may need to check Fairy Lady for a magic necklace…just sayin’.
“Do not fear,” smiled Fairy Lady. “It will not harm you. The Needle-of-Don’t-Have-to-Try is loaned to you on only one condition: which is, that you will promise to sew some time every day between lesson days.”
“Mary Frances found her thimble, and threaded the glowing needle, although she feared it would scorch the thread,—but it seemed like any other needle except that she didn’t have to try twice to put in the thread.
”I wonder how it is different?” she thought as she started to sew.
Then the most wonderful thing happened. She found the needle darting ahead of her hand, making the stitches just as fast as she could touch the eye with her silver thimble.
In a minute the apron was hemmed.
In another minute the apron was gathered.
In another minute the strings were hemmed.
Then the Needle-of-Don’t-Have-to-Try stopped dead still and wouldn’t move.
“Oh! ho!” cried Mary Frances. “What have I done? What have I done?”
“Nothing, dear child,” said Fairy Lady. “But the Needle-of-Don’t-Have-to-Try cannot do for you anything you have not yet learned; so use your own needle and set the gathers of the apron into the band.”
Mary gets a magic needle that does for her any sewing technique she has already learned?
As an adult reader I think that this is meant to symbolize the ease of stitching that comes once a technique is fully learned and internalized …but it’s the only artifact of Thimble Land I WANT.
I can make a needle book but I WANT this witched needle.
Mary, when you’re back to life with your mom it is this loss you will cry over…and it won’t be an over reaction.
Chapter XV Three Little Kittens
Nothing much happens. Mary learns to embroider three kittens on her apron. I didn’t use white lawn cotton. I already know how to embroider. Skipped!
Abruptly, Grandma is home!
“Why, my dear,” puffed the old lady, climbing the last of the stairs, “I am home very early, you see. There was no regular meeting to-day because almost all the members of the Ladies’ Guild went to Daisy’s wedding. I’m home for some games with my little girl.”
“Oh, Nanny-dear, will you play ‘Piddy-Pinny-Plump?'” asked Mary Frances.”
“Yes, indeed, girlie,” laughed Grandma.
What has Grandma done to the other members of the Ladies’s Guild that she is not invited to Daisy’s wedding?
What is Piddy-Pinny-Plump?
Google is of no help and just serves me P’diddy info.
Let me start with corrections and omissions regarding this passage from the last post:
“Oh, ancestors go-to-China!” exclaimed Emery Bag. “We live in the present, and I demand—I demand justice. I leave it to anybody if it’s fair to have twenty needles stuck into your heart at once!”
A friend of mine contacted me to say she feels that Mr. Thimble and Mr. Emery bag’s conflict may be purely class-based and with no racial undertones. Her take is that “Go to China” may have been a polite (but racist/xenophobic) way to say ‘go to hell’. Mr. Thimble had evoked his ancestor’s history of power and Emery was simply saying “fuck your ancestors, this is now and stabbing people of less status is bullshit.
Even with this more clarified reading, Mr. Thimble is still the worst.
Chapter XII: Mary Frances’ Treasure Box
Let’s return to the sewing room.
The Sewing Bird, now awake, informs Mary of their future sewing plans.
“For your dear dolly we will make, And every pains will try to take, An apron, and a pinafore; And later, other things galore;“Her wardrobe we so full will fill, No one would care to pay her bill.”
I’m not sure what to make of that last line. The doll’s wardrobe will be so luxurious..and she will have no obvious means of employment or benefactor…that folks will suspect much money is owed to a seamstress and think “well, I’m not paying for THAT”?
Mary gets all excited about this news, covers her eyes, and orders the Bird to transform into her Fairy Form,
“Oh,” said Mary Frances somewhat breathlessly, “excuse me for calling you so suddenly, but I so wanted to talk with another woman—” and then she blushed, fearing she had offended the little bird.
“And not a bird,” smiled Fairy Lady. “I understand,” she nodded, “a bird, be she ever so wise, doesn’t understand the needs of a doll-child or the heart of her mother.”
“Thank you, dear Fairy Lady,” replied Mary Frances.
It might have been that Mary was close to tears once more and wanted a motherly figure. There had been talk that Mary’s mother was to teach Mary how to sew over summer but her ill-health prevented her from doing so and Mary had been told not to pester her Grandma about it, for Granny’s eyesight can no longer handle the delicate work of stitching. Or perhaps Mary had grown up being taught that sewing and clothing is a women’s domain that to even discuss it requires a human-like woman’s presence to be near.
“And I know how brave you are while your mother is away, Mary Frances, child,” continued Fairy Lady, “but I’ve had orders from our King not to speak of that—so we’ll get the material ready for dolly’s apron.”
Awww, hell. The Fairy Lady can control Thimble Folks with her bodkin-wand but she ultimately reports back to a King? Smash the patriarchy.
“By the way,” said Fairy Lady. “Where will you put these things as you make them? You must keep them a secret, you know, until we finish the lessons, or we’ll become Never-Nevers.”
NEVER FORGET THAT LOOSE LIPS DOOM FAIRY SHIPS, MARY!
I hate the idea of a fantasy existence that must be kept secret from adults. I really do. Nothing good comes from swearing children to secrecy under the threat that they will lose something they care about if they speak. Nothing. I’m far more in favor of fantasy realms that children can speak of but that adults do not have the imagination and power of youth to experience/believe in.
“I shall keep them in my treasure box. Mother gave it to me a year ago. It has a little key and it locks. Mother said all girls love to have a kind of a secret place to keep treasures in.”
Yes, Mary, in times when women’s belongings…and women themselves..are believed to be the property of men, even something so simple as a small tin box with a fragile lock feels thrilling. It was not yet time for a room of one’s own…but a secret box of one’s own? Yes.
Smash the patriarchy.
Mary brings in her tin box and asks the Fairy Lady if she might tell someone someday of these lessons.
“Yes,” smiled Fairy Lady. “You may,—some day. We do not want our help to be given to one little girl only—so when we are all through, you can form a Sewing Circle to which your girl friends may belong, and you can teach them all you have learned.”
Nobody likes a selfish girl, Mary, share what you’ve learned with other girl. GIRLS. Not boys, they are too busy being good scouts and important people.
The Fairy Lady goes on to tell Mary that after this summer she’ll have her mother to help and won’t need the Thimble People.
Then, because our author can’t always find a good segue for introducing information, the Fairy Lady announces that the lesson is about to begin but not without a few words…and then performs an info-dump…which I will add to. About Cloth, Weaving, and Spinning Cotton cloth is made from the cotton plant; wool cloth from sheep’s fleece; silk cloth from silk worm’s cocoon; linen cloth from the flax plant. The soft cotton is the warm coat for the cotton plant seed-baby. The fleecy wool is the warm coat of the sheep, or the little lambs. The web from the silk worm’s cocoon is the cradle in which it sleeps. Linen is made from the stalks of the flax plant.
This is all before most man-made synthetic fibers, of course.
Rayon (discovered in 1850’s and in commercial productions by 1890’s) actually predates the book but it isn’t considered 100% synthetic. because rayon is made from the cellulose of wood pulp and cotton. Prior to the 1920’s the manufacture of it was quite hazardous to the workers expensive and the resulting fabric was highly flammable, so by the time Mary Frances’ book was published rayon wasn’t yet popular enough to be covered in a home-sewing book.
Nylon, the start of man-made fibers synthesized solely from chemical compounds, was invented in the early 1930’s by a chemist in America and the resulting fabric was in production by the end of that decade. Polyester cloth was invented by British scientists in 1941 and in 1945 the DuPont company in America had bought the rights to produce it. DuPont expanded its synthetic reign by inventing the chemicals needed to create Spandex (invented 1958 and in production by 1962). By 1980’s DuPont had created the world’s first synthetic automaton: (Diamond) David Lee Roth.
When these materials are spun, or twisted, into long threads, we have spool cotton and silk, wool yarns, and linen thread, for sewing. When the threads are woven or laced together into cloth, the stronger threads run the length of the goods—they are the warp threads. The weaker, or woof threads, run crosswise of the good.
As you can see in this illustration, the woof threads also go by the name weft threads.
The relatively weaker thread is why it’s possible to cleanly tear fabric in a line perpendicular to the selvage but not parallel to it.
Chapter XIII: Making a Doll’s Apron
A constant I’ve discovered so far in the book (because I’ve made more of the projects than I have yet written about) is how much I don’t look forward to making clothing items of a domestic nature like aprons or pinafores.
It’s not like I don’t cook. I cook frequently and have a variety of homemade aprons.
Yet I have no memories of my dolls cooking and cleaning. It may have been that as a small child I was a notoriously picky eater and took little joy in preparing food other than ice-cream sundaes.
I do remember that Megan A. and I would play Barbies together. Our Barbies had scandalous dating lives, imitating what we thought was going on on Dallas and daytime soap-operas. Our Barbies also dated the aforementioned David Lee Roth.
But, once I decided to sew the outfits of this book I knew I’d have to stitch an apron.
I didn’t have quite enough of either of these prints to make a whole apron, so I mixed prints.
The primary skill learned in this lessons was how to hand gather fabric, stroke the gathers to distribute them evenly, and stitch them into a band.
I’d previously avoided ever hand gathering fabric because my first adventure in making a gathered skirt was HUGE.
Photo by Maaserhit Honda. Dancer and Costume: Me!!!
Albums of these sorts of skirts I’ve made with in-progress photos.
For industrial level ruffling I’ve invested in a ruffler foot for my sewing machine, seen here next to its simple sibling the gathering foot.
On the apron the gathering was done by a single thread (starting with a large knot) sewing a running stitch and then pulling that thread so the fabric gathers along the thread.
I wasn’t satisfied with how the single thread hand-stitched gather worked on the apron but I didn’t want to make a second one.
I find that gathering works much better when I use a machine, set to a long stitch, and stitch two parallel seams (no back stitching). Then I pull on the bobbin threads (the thread on the underside of the stitch) to gather the fabric, like so:
As you can see above, the gathers are not evenly distributed…because it’s time to STROKE. THAT. FABRIC.
(When Googling, include ‘fabric’ or ‘sewing’ in your search terms…don’t rely just on stroking gather/ gathering)
Stroking the fabric involves running a bodkin or blunt needle back and forth across the gathers to more evenly distribute them.
Chapter XI begins with Mary asking grandmother for a piece of white lawn cotton.
“Why, certainly, dear,” said Grandma. ”You are such a good child. I am sure I never saw a little girl who was so able to amuse herself.”
“My, I wish I could explain about my little friends,” thought Mary Frances, but she answered, “I don’t get very lonely when you are away, Nanny dear, because I keep busy; and when you are here, we have such fun together!”
“Heigho!” exclaimed Grandma, “I feel really young again!”
And then Grandma leaves again. She must. It’s essential for the plot for her to always leave.
Mary then takes her doll, Angie, in her arms and rocks her to sleep. She suspects that Angie is too old a doll to baby but Mary has left her baby-baby doll back home. What Mary told Gran, about not getting lonely, was a lie. Mary needs to feel a connection to something familiar and now that means rocking her doll to sleep and crying.
“I’d certainly get very lonesome if I didn’t do it—with Mother and Father so far away—and Billy in camp!”
The big tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Come, Mary Frances,” she said. ”I feel like shaking you. When you promised Father so faithfully to be a woman, and your Grandma is such a darling!”
Mary re-read her mother’s last letter and took comfort in it. Of course the letter also reminded her that her Brother Billy is a very good scout.
“My, I feel better,” said Mary Frances, drying her tears. ”But if it weren’t for my sewing lessons, even with Grandma’s help, I’d not be a Scout. Billy is a good Scout:—but now,—for the lesson,” and she went to the sewing-room very softly, with Angie asleep in her arms.”
I’m not even sure what that means. I think it’s there to remind little girls that being a scout is not the sort of thing a girl aspires to…and to once more justify why Billy’s summer is paid for and involves peers and human teachers and Mary is left to hide her sobs from the servant and interact with Thimble Folks.
Sadistic Thimble Folks.
“Hee-ha!” she heard through the door, which was a very tiny way open, “that’s the time!”
She thought it was the voice of Silver Thimble.
AND IT WAS!
“I don’t care,” answered a new voice. “It’s too much, to have to clean them all at once.”
“Oh, there are only two more. Come, I’m ready— it is really excellent practice for a soldier!”
Mary peered into the sewing room to find Mr.Silver Thimble thrusting needle after needle into the body/face of Mr. Emery Bag.
Emery (corundite) is a dark granular rock used to make an abrasive powder. it might be most recognizable as the coating for emery nail files. An emery bag is a fabric pouch filled with emery powder. Sewists jab pins and needles into emery bags to remove built-up rust from these tools.
One most often sees small strawberry-shaped emery bags paired with tomato-shaped pin-cushions. I do not own either…yet.
“Take ‘em out, I say!”
And now the world of Mary Frances forces me to ask once more…is this some racist bullshit? Think I’m overreacting? I’ve read the Mary Frances Housekeeping book, Jane E Fryer was…a white woman of her time.
“Emery Bag, what do you think you were made for? I hope you realize it’s your duty to clean all the rust and roughness off these needles as I run them through you, so that the little Miss may sew more easily,” lectured Thimble. “No in-sub-or-din-a-tion! Stop and think! You know my family’s power,—you know my family’s wealth. You realize, I hope, you live in a land named for my aris-to-crat-ic ancestors— Thimble Land!”
Why do these characters so love ran-dom d-a-shes?
“Oh, ancestors go-to-China!” exclaimed Emery Bag. “We live in the present, and I demand—I demand justice. I leave it to anybody if it’s fair to have twenty needles stuck into your heart at once!”
“The idea of being such a coward!” retorted Thimble. “Where’s your heart of steel you brag of so often?”
….uh. So. Many. Questions.
Is Mr. Emery Bag supposed to be Chinese? Is that why he (and later Ma Chine) doesn’t have illustrated big, wide eyes? If not, why are his ancestors going to China? Is he wearing one of those tacky “China hat with attached braid” deals?
Is…is the needle thing related to acupuncture? It certainly was practiced at that time, albeit not legalized or seen as acceptable for westerners until the early 1970’s after Nixon’s China visit. It probably would have been known of by 1900’s as something “those inscrutable Asians” did.
Mary stops none of this– she just watches it unfold from the doorway.
“It’s scarcely fair, you know,” came a new voice. “You see, twenty needles at once are really more than are needed.”
Pin Cushion, you go ….you amorphous horror!
“Humph, Tommy Pin Cushion,” answered Silver Thimble. “What you sticking your ‘pinion in for? It’s a wonder Sewing Bird hasn’t stuck her bill in! Tommy Pin Cushion, you might just as well keep out of this—everybody knows you’re stuck on yourself— Fatty!”
Oh, Mr. Thimble is a fat shamer too? Quel surprise! I hate Mr. Thimble. You should too.
“You conceited old Silver Thimble,” came the voice of Pin Cushion. “You will please address me by my full name—’Tomato-Pin-Cushion, Custodian-of-the-Sword-Needles’;—and what’s more, if you don’t quickly remove all those needles from poor Emery, you won’t get any more sword-needles to wield. So there! You know Sewing Bird’s taking forty winks; that’s why you don’t act in your best military manner.”
Sewing Bird began to wake. Mr. Thimble ran to put the needles into Tommy, hiding the evidence of his brutal treatment of Emery Bag. With no more conflict to avoid, Mary sighed to herself, “Good. Now I’ll go in.”
I didn’t make Mary Frances’s Laundry Bag because I am awash in handmade things to put things in. It’s where I started my self-taught machine sewing journey while in Japan…even before I owned a machine! I used a high school’s home economics machines in my down time between teaching.
Well, self-taught sewist, it’s time to teach yourself about needle sizes and types.
If you’re here for Thimble People entertainment, you can skip ahead to the sewing tools at the end of this post. They are puuurdy. If you stay, prepare for needle talk.
What do the numbers mean? Generally the number of hand-sewing needles (not machine needles) refers to the gauge. The higher the number, the finer (and usually shorter) the needle.
There are also different types of needles:
Sharp Needles: Aren’t most needles sharp? Not helpful. These are the average/medium lengths needles with sharp points and the eye of the needle is round (almost a circle but on the oval-ish side).This is probably your general idea of a hand-Sewing needle
Between/Quilting needles: shaped like sharps but shorter and thinner (higher gauge) for making fine stitches on heavy fabrics.
Milliner’s needles: shaped like sharps but longer.
Photo stolen from sewingschool.org
Embroidery/Crewel needles: like sharps they have a sharp tip and are of medium length but the eye is a longer oval eye so that they can more easily be threaded with multiple embroidery threads, thicker thread, or yarn.
Ground Down Needles: I have no idea what this means, maybe the tapestry needles? …no, those were Zephyr needles. I got a little tired of Googling and then going “Ohh, add hand sewing to search” when I got pages and pages about proper disposal of needles and what to do if you find a needle. If you know, drop me a comment.
Bodkin needle: blunt, huge eye, used for drawing tape, ribbon or elastic through a loop or hem.
It was with Bodkin searches that I started to drift into “Oooooooh, PURDY!” Remember, really nice ornate sewing tools were sometimes the only property a mother could get away with handing down to her daughter. They were seen as too much “Women’s Tools” for anyone to make sure they remained the legal property of the husband and thus part of what would be passed town to sons. Before sewing became highly automated the ornate tools of sewing and the craft/artistry of needlework, was seen as an aristocratic skill and past time.
All that to say: Check out this bodkin and needle case. Vintage/Antique bodkins get pretty fancy..
Damn…look at that sewing basket. WHAAAAAT?
Sewing Egg: containing needles and a thimble! Makes me almost like thimbles (Seriously, next chapter is all about how Mr. Silver Thimble is the WORST)
Here’s a smoother sewing egg! The Smooth Sewing Eggs could be used to stretch items for darning. I’m not sure what it has inside but I want it.
I WANT A PONY NOW!
THIS IS HORRIBLE AND I WANT IT SO MUCH! People say I’m hard to shop for but just get me a flapper vomiting a measuring tape. I will LOVE you.