Wearing Their Stories: The Giving and Gathering of Antique Cloth Dolls


Of all the antique dolls I've seen - china, papier mache, bisque, and cloth dolls - it is the cloth dolls that wear their stories most prominently.  Dolls with hard surfaces may show their stories with rubs, cracks, chips and sometimes the changing of the final varnish, as with papier mache dolls.  Sometimes they gather patina in their lives in the crevices of the sculpt.   But the very flexibility of cloth dolls allows them to give and gather in their surroundings in a  unqiue way.  They are continually changing and molding as they travel their journeys.  The dolls presented here are from the recent auction by Withington's. Pictures may be enlarged by clicking on them.

This gentleman above was made by someone who really cared about his station in life!   His clothing is made with as much or more care given as the painting of his face.  Surely he is a portrait of someone whose ears were a prominent feature.  I love this doll!  His oil painted face speaks of a combined mischief and innocence.  The contrast of his folky ears with his man-about-town suit lends an air of humor.  

The delightful cloth lady doll below shows the maker's skill in drawing.  The face is very specific, which makes me wonder if it was a drawing of a particular beloved person, perhaps from a photograph?  The face appears to have been drawn with pencil onto unpainted cloth with color added at the hairline and features.  Perhaps this was done with watercolor? 

The clothing is interesting, but the personality is in her face!

Less specific in facial detail, 
but no less in personality,
is this wonderful topsy-turvy doll. 

Facial features are embroidered on unpainted cloth.  

The red hair is an interesting surprise. 
Miss Red looks as if she's made a lot of mischief!

The turn of the century cloth lady doll below wears her story in the fabric from which she's made.  Her face is painted  on raw cloth and the fabric shows repairs during the 100 years she's been with us. 

But she doesn't just wear her story, 
she also carries her written story with her. 

Another red-headed wonder is presented below.  She makes me smile.  The maker of this doll gave her a very specific face and specific hair - it looked to be human hair stitched on at the top. Another portrait?  

When you look closely the doll has toddler like hands 
with stitched separately stitched fingers. 

I'm not sure, but this mischievous lady might be sticking out her tongue!

The prominent ears, the tongue that sticks out, the surprise red hair, all speak to the creativity of the makers of these dolls.  The repairs and gathering of patina from the dolls' journeys along with their specific design features combine to create treasures worth preserving.

For those of us who enjoy making cloth dolls, these design features are worth studying.  It is often the one quirky feature that is specific to someone we know that give the creation its personality.

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