The first rag doll I made was for Stacey Hector. Stacey was the first child of my best friend from high school days, Viv, and John. I also crocheted a dressing gown in five ply wool for Stacey. I wasn’t married, and was working with Heather Hall, and didn’t know what making a doll for a friends baby would eventually lead to.
I chose a long skinny clown pattern (Stacey turned out to be long and skinny too) which was published in the New Idea, and followed the instructions reasonably well. I did make a few changes, but made lots more when I made them for Brian’s nieces for Christmas one year, starting with the sex! They became long skinny dames with short dresses, which eventually became long dresses, with long pantaloons and aprons.
I only made two or three clowns, but there were eventually ten or more variations on the theme, a few sold at Cowell, but mostly around the Adelaide Hills. By now I had my own daughter to make dolls for, but they became a great source of pocket money too. Other designs were mutilated too, though I didn’t realise how much they had changed until I found the original of the ‘Judy’ series of dolls while packing to leave Woodside.
Judy started as a Jean Greenhowe design, again published in New Idea, while we were still in Jamestown. She was named after Judy Hagger, another doll maker who lived in Woodside when I started putting name tags on all the dolls I sold. Judy and I bounced ideas off each other, and there were many phone calls when we talked through construction problems. Most of the time we had little idea what we were advising each other to do, but it seemed to work for us
My first original designs were ‘Pixie’ who was born at Woodside, and ‘Moonshadow’ at Coonalpyn. Dolls don’t come any simpler than Pixie, but Moonshadow was a great leap forward in design. Another simple doll grew from Moonshadow many years later, and I sold heaps of them as Couzens, with a bigger version called Kouzens.
While we lived at Woodside a shop in Lobethal would order 50-60 dolls at a time. From about the age of 12 months until she was about 10, Megan had to finish every doll with a hug which was noted on the label, so she had to give lots of hugs. When we moved to Coonalpyn I lost the markets for dolls, and concentrated more on quilting, but in Snowtown I was able to sell a few again.
After a short time in Yorketown I started selling dolls at craft fairs in Stansbury, and started designing my own dolls, but initially most started with changes to a commercial pattern. Eventually, as the changes became more extensive it became easier to start from scratch, drawing up body bits until they all fitted together, then designing clothes to suit the body.
By the time we moved to Kadina I had dispensed with other peoples patterns altogether. I started teaching doll making workshops after I took dolls to sell at a Quilters Guild of SA exhibition, and the girls from The Quilters Cupboard asked me to teach classes for them. (The girls from the Quilters Cupboard included some of my quilting girls and Woodpatch Quilters, Ann Lewis, Michele Gilmour, Pat Wellington, Patricia Knott, with Sue Murphy who was a Woodpatch quilter with one ring in, .)
They filled two classes for that first weekend, and I spent at least one weekend a month teaching all over the state for many years, combining doll and patchwork quilting workshops. Would have been very profitable, except many of the classes were at quilt shops, and I spent nearly as much on fabric and books while I was there as I got for teaching!
In Kadina I stuck a notice in Norma Baker’s shop asking if anyone was silly enough to help make dolls, and I met Barbara Fenech. Barb was willing to learn, which was just as well because she had limited sewing skills, and I thoroughly enjoyed having her company as much as her help for about twelve months. During that twelve months we made well over 1,000 dolls, and as quickly as we made them they sold. I was also designing new dolls, big and little, simple and complex.
I made one big mistake, in introducing Barb to quilting, and she didn’t have time for both doll making and quilting, so she quit on me! I still had her company though, but at quilt meetings in Minlaton and Maitland, and even in my sewing room when we had Claytons sewing days at my place, but there was never a doll under construction.