Monday, 23 September 2013

Elephant No. 21: Cloth Doll

I came across a magazine at the bookstore last week called Prims, which features interesting folk art dolls and animals by various artists. Although there were no elephant dolls in the magazine, I bought it anyway—as much for the inspiration it provided as for the technical information it contained.

I began by drafting a pattern for myself. My pattern was admittedly eccentric, but I was pretty sure it would work well enough for what I had in mind. On the other hand, I've never made a cloth doll before, so I'm not sure why I thought I could make one based on some pictures in a magazine.

I began by cutting out everything in unbleached muslin.

Next, I stitched up the following parts: body, arms, legs and trunk. I originally had another idea for the ears, so didn't stitch them until later.

I sewed the arms and legs in tubes, then flattened them so that the seams would be on the inside of the body, where they would be seen.

For the trunk, I inserted a length of wire—bent over itself on both ends to keep it from poking through.

Finally, I stuffed everything firmly.

I assembled everything by by whipstitching all the openings, attaching the legs flat, and the trunk and arms as you would an inset sleeve.

Now that everything but the ears was attached, I rethought my original plan for the ears, which had been to leave their edges raggedy. Instead, I stitched them on the sewing machine, turned them, and attached them with whipstitching.

I thought this was fun as is, but I wanted to give it more of a ragdoll look, so I gave the whole thing a light wash of grey acrylic paint. I let everything dry for about half an hour, then painted pink inside the ears, at the tip of the trunk, and on the toenails.

I hadn't decided yet whether I would paint eyes or add beads or buttons, so I left that decision for later, once the personality of the elephant became a little more clear.

Now came the fun part: dressing up the elephant and giving it a personality. My original idea was to stitch or glue things to the elephant's body to give it a sort of folk art look. I tried tying on ribbons and bits of felt to create both boy and girl elephants, but nothing really pleased me. Then I realized that it was because the elephant didn't have the folk art look I had expected. I changed gears and decided instead to dress the elephant up like a more conventional doll.

I drafted a sleeveless dress pattern, cut it out of unbleached muslin, seamed it up the back, and hand-hemmed all the raw edges. I must be insane.

Because I'd made the dress of plain muslin, I decided it should now be handpainted. I stuffed it with paper towels, and painted a striped design, not caring much about precision and paint bleed. I let that dry for about an hour, then used the hairdryer on it to make sure it was really dry. To finish the fabric design, I added some abstract flowers, and left it to dry again.

Once the dress was dry, I began embellishing it with ribbon and buttons. I'd put the dress on the elephant to give me a better sense of proportion, but was careful not to stitch the dress to the elephant.

I decided now that the elephant looked like she was going to a birthday party, so I gave her angel wings, looped over her shoulders, and a party hat.

For the wings, I used this tutorial by Milky Way Photography for inspiration. I decided her wings should be purple.

For the hat, I used this template by First Palette to give me the general shape.

This is what she looked like with just the party hat. Pretty cute.

And this is what she looked like with her wings. Also cute, I thought.


It took me hours to make this, partly because I was drafting my own patterns, and partly because of the amount of hand-stitching involved. That being said, I love this little elephant, and might even make another one sometime.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In August of this year, six-tonne Anarkali the elephant got into trouble when she went for a bath in the lake outside Amer Fort in Jaipur, India.

Anarkali is helped back to shore, Jaipur, India, 2013.
Photo: ©Dainki Bhaskar/Barcroft India

Wandering away from the shore on her own, she became trapped in a pocket of deep water, and was in danger of drowning. Confused and afraid, she seemed unable to figure out how to free herself.

Her owner quickly boarded a motorboat to the stricken elephant. Climbing onto her back, he managed to help her free herself. Anarkali was then guided by her owner and two small boats to the shore, where she was greeted by scores of tourists.

To read more, click here.

Anarkali is greeted onshore by scores of onlookers.
Photo: Dainik Bhaskar/Barcroft India

To Support Elephant Welfare
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)
Wildlife SOS (India) 
The Elephant Sanctuary (Tennessee)

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