Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sybil - just a pretty trifle

This pattern is from a terrific book, the imaginatively titled Book of Doll Making, by Alicia Merrett, which I bought at Book Corner in the Dune Centre, Al Diyafah Street. (Do look at her site, which is mostly mouth-watering patchwork.)

Hepzibah has button-jointed limbs and a needle-sculpted face - less challenging than it sounds! I love the reversible hat, and used it for Sarah, too.

Here you can see how the doll is constructed. Because I used satin, I had to stuff her quite softly or risk shredding the seams. If you want your doll to sit up without support, you should go for a good quality cotton (dress weight for a decoration, sheet weight for playing with). A cotton will support the head, withstand firm stuffing, and keep its shape when you stitch your buttons through body and limbs.

Twenty one inches of classic Hollywood glamour!

I want a coat like this! But I'll try and get the collar right next time....

As with Sarah, I preferred an embroidered face to drawn-on features. Also, because I made her for myself, which means that safety isn't a factor, I used white seed beads to highlight her eyes - literally, since they reflect light in a way that white silk (floss) can't.

I always knew I wanted her to have green hair to match her eyes, but it took me a while to decide on the style. Meanwhile, Sybil sat on a shelf, green-eyed, pensive, and quite bald under that hat. She put me in mind of the sybils, the female seers of classical times, hence her name.

A bald doll is simply work in progress, but this one disturbed me. She was disconcertingly real, regardless of the particoloured body. I couldn't just leave her on a table, any old how: she had to be up, elegant, with her collar turned up and her hat turned down. If she hadn't got hair, she at least had her dignity.

On reflection, I realised that the other dolls were archetypes or children; their features sweetly neutral, their expressions uncomplicated; but Sybil has an extra, unmistakeably adult, dimension - a suggestion of wisdom gleaned from experience - which turned my pretty trifle into something else entirely. Maybe it's the glass beads in the eyes? The arch of her brow or eyelids? I expect that a psychologist could make some suggestions, but me, I don't know.

I have always understood that the human race responds very powerfully to its own human image, and that this is not simply a matter of aesthetics or vanity; we need to represent ourselves to ourselves. I know where my increasing fascination with dolls comes from, but I'll spare you that. Ah, tis a grand thing, the human psyche!

Anyway, this particular pretty trifle will always put me in mind of women who face down cancer and the wretchedness of chemotherapy with quiet courage and a show of stylish aplomb. I've known some. Bring on the green wig, the snazzy hat, the silk scarf and the huge brooch: someone's got a life to live.

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