Hand Made Dolls
If there is a universal child’s toy, it may well be a doll. Whether hastily made from scrap material at hand, or painstakingly made to exacting detail, dolls “speak” to our humanity. At first glance, dolls are simple play-things… suffering the ravages of many other mere “toys”. However, there are many other reasons dolls are created and decorated for children. Dolls may also be used to teach children important cultural and educational lessons in dress, hair style, adornment and dexterity.
Some dolls are created for specific purposes or occasions. Others are made with whimsy and artistic license. There are no limits to the variety of dolls. This author is particularly interested in beadwork as a decorative medium. By making a basic cloth doll body, there are unlimited ways to construct and decorate these miniature personalities.
Northern Plains Style Dolls
The dolls illustrated to the left are dressed in Northern Plains clothing. The male wears a brain-tanned shirt decorated with seed bead panels. Brain tanning is a traditional method of tanning leather using the brains of the animal. There are other variations in home tanning that also yield a superior soft leather ideal for beading on. Note the beaded belt bag attached. The wool leggins and breech clout are similarly decorated with glass seed beads. The hair is made from horse tail, stitched to the face with antique seed beads. The woman is constructed the same way. Note her cowrie shell earrings and necklace. Her dress is reminiscent of the days of old when elk teeth were sewn to dresses as symbols of wealth and status.
Great Lakes Style Dolls
From the Eastern Great Lakes, this doll couple to the right shows the influence of European trade goods. Cotton and wool garments are highlighted with glass seed beads. The male’s headpiece and armbands are stamped from metal. Their hair is wool, sewn to a brain tanned leather head.
Plains Style Dolls
The Plains doll on the left is made from unsmoked Braintanned deerskin. The yoke is beaded with antique glass seed beads. Her earrings are beaded with glass pony beads in reproduction colors. The breastplate is made from antique bugle beads and old bone rings. The tin cones are hand made from antique materials. The hem of her dress shows traces of the calico under-dress.
On the Plains doll pictured the right, the dress is constructed from Braintanned deerskin. The yoke is unsmoked (off-white) and the skirt is smoked hide. Braintanned hides are often smoked. The smoke helps the hide retain its softness even if it becomes wet. Additionally, the smoking process leaves a wonderful “smoky” fragrance. Unsmoked hide may dry stiff if it gets wet.
The top of the dress is decorated with cowrie shells. The dress is highlighted with beadwork in an antique translucent rose colored bead. The concho belt has a beaded knife sheath attached. Over her left arm, there is a wool blanket with a beaded blanket strip. When buffalo hides were tanned, they were often cut in half to make them more manageable. After the two halves were tanned, they would be sewn back together to be large enough for a wearing robe. Blanket strips were decorations sewn over the seam to hide the stitches. Even after wool blankets became the norm, the decorative tradition of blanket strips continued to the present day.
About the Author:
Author Andy Bullock is a Master Craftsman who lives in Canada. He created all of the dolls pictured in this article. Andy owned The Wandering Bull Native American Craft Shop with his father, Paul Bullock for many years. You will find more examples of his craftsmanship for sale at The Wandering Bull!
Doll examples and close up shots below.
The Wandering Bull, LLC carries the materials you need to create and dress your dolls. You will find Scrap Leather for the bodies and Seed Beads for the beadwork. You can also purchase Metal Spots for belts and Cowrie Shells for dresses.