Over the past few weeks, I’ve been creating a lot of little animal dolls, while at the same time, making a set of patterns and instructions for them that I would like to sell. The whole process of trial and error with my own little stuffed animals got me thinking about my Grandmother Elizabeth Johnson.
My Grandmother Elizabeth (my father’s mother) was a maker. She was a knitter, a crocheter, a baker, a sewer, a painter, a carver….you name it, she tried it. She made the little doll pictured above. I honestly cannot remember if she made it for me, or if I inherited it from my older sister Kris. I was the kiddo with the incredible doll interest, so it’s not strange that Kris would have let me have some of the dolls Grandma Johnson made.
Grandma Johnson used whatever materials she had on hand. Scraps of yarn, scraps of fabric and pipe cleaners. Real pipe cleaners, for cleaning pipes. Probably pinched from her husband Russell, who smoked a pipe. These dolls were made it the late 60’s and the 1970’s, and as you can see, the pipe cleaner wires have rusted and discolored the fabric a lot. They’ve also become very brittle, so posing the doll can’t be done easily anymore.
I always thought that Grandma Johnson was magic. She’s just jump in and start making things, just because she wanted to, and most of the time, she didn’t have any kind of pattern to work from. She just made it up (and learned from trial and error undoubtedly) as she went along.
This little chair was made for me. She used bits of cardboard and scraps of fabric from a chair she had reupholstered for her own home. I was always fascinated by her work when I was a kid. She’d just sit down and work for a while and make something out of nothing! Seriously, magic! I’m still fascinated as an adult too I guess.
The above animals and clown were all made by my Grandmother Elizabeth. They were used as Christmas tree ornaments. My favourites are the pink corduroy piggie and the polka-dotted hippo. Grandma must have liked kangaroos, because she made several of them. I only put one picture here though. I can see the trial and error creative sewing process the best in the hippo. The head of a hippo is tough. Kinda squared-off, with a large open mouth and large cylindrical tusk-like teeth. I also love that she used pillow ticking for the red-maned pony.
My Grandmother Wilma was more of a pattern-follower. An extremely precise pattern follower. Her finished pieces looked better than the pictures on the pattern I always thought. I guess that I have equal parts Wilma and Elizabeth as influence in my own creative processes. I like making up my own patterns, and to do that, I have to be like Elizabeth and just sit down and start working — while at the same time being systematic and accurate enough to create a working pattern from my own experimentation.
All this makes me wonder what will happen to my work, especially the dolls that I make, after I’m gone. Will they be treasured by someone, or tossed out into the rubbish heap? Only time will tell I guess.