Whatever happened to dolls? Have all those plastic characters from "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back' caused soft, cuddly dolls to be relegated to nostalgia?
No, I'm happy to say that dolls are alive and well and living happily in all corners of the United States. In North Carolina a doctor is making baby dolls with individual personalities (each one is named and gets a birthday present from the maker every year.) He makes them out of nylon stockings, pinching and molding their faces like soft sculpture. You'd swear they're about to burst into laughter (or tears, as the case may be).
Then there's a lady in New York who owns 7,000 dolls -- some of them line the shelves of her shop -- with adorable shoe button eyes and identical pink faces. But each one has different colored bunches of brilliant wool hair and dresses of contrasting calico.
And from California comes an idea for making your very own individual doll with the simplest of means. We're all tall children, and my friend Elizabeth Spiegelberg, who makes the dolls, gets as much fun out of it as the children she gives them to. Cut out the head, arms and tube body (widening at the base so the doll will stand) all in one. Cut out two of these pieces in pale pink or white calico for back and front, and an oval to fit the base. Remember to cut one third larger so that the finished doll won't be too skinny when stuffed. Satin-stitch eyes and mouth (leave out the nose -- it will only detract), or sew black button eyes to the face. Sew back and front together, right sides facing, and stuff with batting or shredded nylons.
Now comes the fun part, the dressing. Elizabeth uses fabric she brought from her home in Switzerland, so each doll has a bit of her childhood in it. (A grandmother I know cuts up dresses she made for her daughter for her granddaughter's dolls, so that familiar fabrics link three generations.) You can embroider flowers on plain fabric and make an heirloom doll with an antique lace bodice and tiny bead necklaces. Or you could make a crazy quilt, patchwork skirt and tie a frilled white apron on top, around the waist.
You can either hem the dresses flat to the back and front of the huggable doll of the kind Elizabeth makes, or gather the skirts and leave them free standing with layers of lace-edged petticoats underneath. Once you start, there will be no stopping you. You may not want to give your fabric children away.