An Artist's Journey: Deanna Hogan

Deanna Hogan, Key West 5/09

Deanna Hogan works as an ER nurse, and in addition to that she is an accomplished doll artist and doll pattern designer. Deanna's wonderful Alabama Baby inspired pattern captures the essence of the original dolls, while still bringing her own aesthetic into play. I've been watching her doll designs for a long time. I like that she designs modern and antique inspired dolls. That shows versatility and flexibility! You can read more about Deanna's work at her blog.

How long have you been making dolls? How long have you been selling them?

I really had to do some research to figure this one out. I’m so glad I started a doll journal early on. My first logged dolls were made in 1993. They were simple country dolls, inspired by a Santa pattern I found at the Puyallup Sewing and Stitchery Expo ( I made these dolls with the intention of selling them at craft fairs.

How did you begin selling your work? What was the first doll you made with the intention to sell like? What prompted you to make that doll?

I had a like-minded crafty friend/co-worker at the time. We’d gone to the Puyallup Expo and were inspired by some of the craft projects we’d seen. We started scheduling regular play days. We’d play with beads, polymer clay, and cloth, making various crafts into the wee hours of the morning. We were fairly prolific, and decided we should get a business licenses and sell at some of our goods at local craft fairs. While I sold simple pancake dolls at these fairs, I also sold beaded earrings, polymer clay barrettes, buttons and necklaces. My primitive country dolls were based on the only style of dolls I’d seen. They sold well, so when I heard of the “Every Husband’s Nightmare Bazaar” ( I began focusing more on dolls. Boy, it didn’t take long to tire of these simple pancake dolls. About that time we got a computer, became connected to the Internet, and I discovered a book by Miriam Gourley called Cloth Dolls: How to Make Them. The dolls in that book amazed me, and really opened my eyes to what could be done with fabric (now keep in mind this was my first cloth doll book, and it didn’t even address needle sculpting!). That’s when I began exploring dolls with a little more detail, like my muslin Laundry Woman. She had a flat face with hand-embroidered features. She had individual fingers, but I didn’t know about wire armature yet. My dad carved the little oak clothespins:

A couple years later, I found that doll maker Judi Ward lived just an hour away. She was teaching classes in her home, so I signed up for one. I saw some of her amazing dolls as well as other dolls made by local doll artists. I hadn’t really met any other doll makers. That was such a catalyst for me, and the beginning of my cloth doll pattern and book collection. I think I bought just about everything I could get my hands on, which was the impetus to try my hand at pattern design and publishing. In 2000, a few of us decided to start a doll club. I built a basic website and posted many of our club projects there. We began selling our dolls at the Crossroads Dolls4All show in Portland, where I was approached to join ODACA (Original Doll Artist Council of America). I became an ODACA artist in 2006.

Describe your creative process - do you make detailed plans before you create the doll? What do you use for inspiration - antique photos, your own sketches, etc? Does the doll end up looking exactly as you planned or does it change and develop during the process?

My creative process varies. Sometimes I have a vision in my head, and other times I just start sewing and see how it all turns out. I can’t say I like one method any more than the other, which surprises me as I’m a bit on the Type A/OCD side of the spectrum.

My sources of inspiration vary. I love exploring the Internet, because there are so many visuals: paintings, others’ dolls, antique dolls, statues, sculptures, etc. Sometimes I do a little research before beginning certain projects. For example, if I wanted to make an angel, I might search the Internet for styles of wings. If I’m stumped for ideas, I start pulling out my doll books and magazines.

One of my favorite projects and one that was quite challenge, too, was inspired by the carved wooden figureheads of old ships. I saw a wooden figurehead over a tavern in Nantucket a few years ago. That got my mind thinking about how I could create something like that in cloth. For this project I made a few sketches, but did my problem solving as I worked. I took progress photos as a record of what I did: ( This doll was made for the Treasures of the Gypsy Challenge, so is a bit more embellished than my typical doll.

As I gain more experience, I think my dolls turn out more like what I envision in my mind. Early on, the dolls had more control than I did.

I’ve done some commissioned dolls, which I really don’t enjoy. Two were based on cartoon characters (Reading Man, and Elf Sparkle). I found the projects to be very stifling, and definitely not my style.

What is your favorite doll that you've made and why is it your favorite?

My favorite dolls change all the time. Dolls lose favor, and others take their places. Currently, I really like my 2009 Hoffman Challenge doll, and my second Izannah doll made in Dixie’s workshop. I think I like them because of their facial expressions:

Bella, 2009 Hoffman Challenge doll

Izannah Walker inspired doll, from Dixie’s workshop

How has your work changed since you began doll making? How do you see it changing in the future? Did you start out making antique inspired dolls, or did you start out making modern dolls?

My dolls have definitely changed over the years. They began as very simple country dolls made from unbleached muslin, to more advanced modern dolls made from knit fabric with lots of detail and needle sculpting. For years, I avoided making dolls of color. I was afraid of offending, and didn’t want my dolls to look like stereotypical characterizations of people of color. That was one obstacle I’ve overcome. More recently, I’ve enjoyed making antique inspired cloth dolls. I enjoy working with paperclay, too, which gets easier with time, and I love doing cloth-overs.

The longer I’ve made dolls, the more I realize there’s really nothing new under the sun. I think it’s funny that “new” techniques frequently turn out to be something done over a hundred years ago. I don’t know what the future will bring. I’ll probably explore more mixed media techniques and continue being inspired by antique dolls. I’m open to all possibilities.

Where do you create your dolls?

I make my dolls in my upstairs studio, formerly a bedroom. It’s not a huge room, and it’s certainly packed tight. Sometimes I have a hard time finding things. It’s the hottest room in the house in the summer, so do “suffer for my art.” I have a mini fridge under my work table. That’s a remnant from my college days, and a true necessity. I have an industrial wire shelf rack for my fabrics, which have spilled over into bins. I have a large collection of doll books and magazine that I refer to for inspiration. I have a mishmash of furniture rejects. Oh, and you’ll seldom (never?) see the studio this neat – it was staged for these photos. I’ve also got studio “annex,” which is the other upstairs bedroom. Here I keep more *stuff* and leave my photo equipment set up for convenience. Empty Nest Syndrome? I think not.

Sunrise out my studio window.

Were you a doll person as a child? Do you remember making any dolls as a child? What was your favorite doll as a child?

Yes, I’ve always been a doll person. I loved my baby dolls and Barbies. My siblings and I would play together, creating skyscrapers for the Barbie dolls from my brother’s Erector set, complete with elevator. I loved my Baby Tenderlove, Chatty Kathy and Baby First Step. One of my favorites was a doll I called “Betty.” Sadly, the dog stole her while we ate dinner, and probably buried her somewhere in the garden.

I don’t remember making dolls, but I made their clothing. I mimicked my mom, who sewed many of our school clothes. When she saw my hand-sewn clothing had details like yokes and separate sleeves, she decided it was time to teach me how to use the sewing machine. I was six.

Left Picture:
Me, with plastic souvenir doll from Mt. Hood

Right Picture: Me in 1961, possibly my very first cloth doll

What were your play interests as a child?

We lived out in the boonies. We rode our bicycles everywhere, strapping our dolls to the handlebars. My sister and I used to hike into the woods and build forts. We’d dig up clay from the bank of the creek behind our house, then take it home and sculpt all sorts of things, letting them air dry. We’d catch crawdads, squealing like the little girls we were whenever the big pinchers got too close. We raised rabbits. We climbed trees. We’d pitch a tent in the yard in the summer when our upstairs bedroom was too hot to tolerate. I took accordion lessons, and every summer I picked strawberries and beans to earn money for school clothes and fun stuff.

If you own any antique dolls, what drew you to purchase those particular dolls?

I have a small collection of antique cloth dolls. I’ve enjoyed discovering the history of these dolls. My first acquisition was a Chase doll. I saw him at a doll show and kept going back to look at him. The price was reasonable, so I took the plunge. I have a special place in my heart for the Chase dolls, because they are historically connected to the nursing profession (I’m an RN).

I participated in an Alabama Baby challenge through the Vintage Cloth Dollmaking group, which brought these dolls and their history to my attention. I finally found one I liked on eBay, and was lucky enough to win the auction. I also found a Philadelphia Baby in really rough shape. Her construction differs from the Chase and Alabama Babies. It amazes me that the women of this era maintained profitable businesses and created works of art that are so sought after today.

While not antique, I also have a Helen Pringle doll. Her dolls are inspired by antique cloth dolls like those made by Izannah Walker. I’m sure I’ll never own a genuine Izannah, but I can dream.

Left: My first Chase doll.
Right: My Alabama Baby and Philadelphia doll.

Left: Helen Pringle doll, wears Victorian/Edwardian children’s shoes
Right: Another Philadelphia baby, in better condition.

What are your hobbies?

Besides making dolls, I have many hobbies. Too many hobbies. I enjoy bicycling, and have participated in some organized rides over the years: Cycle Oregon (500 miles in a week), Reach the Beach (1-day, 100 mile ride to raise money for the American Heart Association), and the MS 150 (2-day, 175 mile ride to raise money for multiple sclerosis). Now that our weather is improving, it’s time to get back in shape!

I enjoy making music. I’ve sung in my college and church choirs and community chorale. I’ve been in several home-grown basement bands (blues/rock and bluegrass), and I like doing on-line karaoke to unwind after work. I play a couple of instruments, but not that well – my husband is the real musician.

I also enjoy sailing on the Columbia River. My husband and his boat partner own a sailboat together. Sailing near the mouth of the Columbia can be challenging due to strong winds and tidal influences. I’m a decent crewmate, and have learned a lot over the years. I started a sailing blog for my husband. He doesn’t post often, and has probably forgotten his password:

Do you have a doll making technique tip you'd like to share?

I love sharing techniques with anyone who’ll listen, and post them on my blog and picturetrail sites:

The fact is, we all learn from each other. We all become better doll makers through sharing of knowledge and techniques.

Is there anything you'd like to share about making antique inspired dolls that we haven't covered?

I really enjoyed Dixie’s discussion about making Faithful Reproductions of antique dolls versus making dolls that are Inspired by the Original. We have many different materials at our disposal to use in our doll making today. I’m more of an “inspired by” doll maker. I’m also a methodical worker, and strive to enjoy the process as much as the finished project. Whatever approach taken, I believe strongly that we each must work to the best of our abilities. That doesn’t mean a perfect doll the first time out of the chute. It means not settling for something you know to be not your best work. If you settle, you’ll not be happy with your doll.
What keeps you engaged in the doll creating process?

I find that it’s easiest for me to stay active in my doll making when I’m not overwhelmed by too many responsibilities. I have a busy and stressful career, and sometimes I’m just too tired to be creative when I get home from work. On the other hand, I tend to be more productive when I’ve set goals for myself – but they have to be realistic goals. That means I say “no” to quite a few requests and commissions. I already have a job. I don’t need doll making to become a job, too.

Doll making needs to stay fun and fresh. I take classes from various doll makers as a way to stay connected and inspired. I’m not afraid to try new things. So many of us get stuck in our own comfort zones. We’ll never learn anything new if we don’t break out once in a while.
I like participating in challenges. This is another way to break out of comfort zones.

How does inspiration work for you? Sketches, seeing an antique doll that inspires.....?

I have many folders on my computer, where I’ve saved photos of just about everything I find inspiring. I’ve printed many of the photos, and keep them in real paper folders, too. It may be a pose, an expression, a costume, that catches my attention.

My “Averill” doll and pattern started out as a personal challenge, to select several techniques I’d never tried before, and incorporate them into one doll. The techniques I identified were buried bead joints, knitted eyelash yarn hair, and a molded polymer face covered with knit fabric.

Favorite quote?

“If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing well.”
“Quality, not quantity.”

What question would you ask another doll maker that you have not been asked? And then of course answer it. ;-)

Who are your favorite doll makers?
Lisa Lichenfels for her realism
Shelley Thornton for her use of fabrics and the texture of her faces and fabric hair
Christine Shively for her beading and embellishment
Akira Blount for her use of natural elements
Susan Fosnot for her painting skills
And on and on and on…

Recent Dolls:

Made of muslin; paperclay over cloth


Izannah Walker Workshop dolls, in their underthings


  1. Awesome post! I love Deanna's work, and it's so interesting to see an artist's beginnings morphing into what they are presently creating. I'm in awe of her!

  2. Loved reading about you and your dolls Deanna!!!!

  3. So interesting! I liked what Deanna said about how the dolls had control over their ultimate outcome when she first started making dolls...I can SO relate to that. I guess you need lots of experience for that to stop happening. My dolls are still controlling me!

  4. Wow, What a wonderful artist profile. I too love seeing her humble beginnings and how she has grown to where she is today.
    I too am in awe of her!!!


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