She’s 15 inches long, stuffed with clean white cotton, and sewn together with a thousand tears. Or…let’s be truthful here…a thousand expletives. I was like Ralphie in A Christmas Story: I have since heard of people under extreme duress speaking in strange tongues. I became conscious that a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me as I screamed.
A few months ago, I returned home from Redding with my copy of Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann Stories.
Written in 1918, Gruelle created an instant classic about a little girl and a rag doll with a candy heart. Raggedy was based on a doll he found in his mother’s attic, and the little girl was based on his own daughter Marcella. The stories have that simple and slow style like the Oz books, and the original illustrations are vintagey perfection.
Although the stories are out of her age range, Fern immediately fell in love, with one chapter read every day. She also became enamored of my 1972 Knickerbocker Raggedy Ann doll, with a face stained with hot chocolate and hair rubbed down to the nubbins. Since Fern was terribly sad whenever it was time to put my doll away, I asked her if she would like mommy to make a Raggedy for her very own. Her face turned into sunshine and she began to ask for it at every reading.
And I began to rue the day.
I assume the tension for all artists is between the vision and the manifestation. Part of the satisfaction comes from the result being a close replica of that inner sight. With crafting, sometimes I hit near the mark, the realized version coming into life in a way that delights. And then, there’s those other times.
I wanted Fern’s dolly to look very similar to my own, as well as close to the book illustrations as possible. I began to look online for a pattern, and quickly discovered that there weren’t any, or at least not any that were authentic. Or not scary and ugly.
Also, it seems “primitive” dolls are all the rage. Somebody tell me why.
When I came across this version by a famous french dollmaker (I can’t find the link now, sorry), the ante was upped. This was perfection, exactly what I wanted for Fern. Maybe I would just buy one instead.
So I used my own Raggedy to create a pattern.
Just like in the making of Freya’s dolly, I had planned to document the whole process and even include my own brilliant tutorial and pattern, since there seems to be a need for one. And then things like this happened.
If it could go wrong, it did during this project. At one point, I worked on her for 6 hours straight, and at the end of that time had only finished 1 1/2 legs. Fern wondered what the heck I was doing and why was this secret mission from Santa turning Mama into a crazy lady. I kept the faith, and sewed on her hair all the way down to Encinitas (10 hours), where we would spend the holiday with my folks. I embroidered…and then ripped out and embroidered and ripped out and started crying and stabbing couch cushions with my needle….all the way up to 11pm on Christmas Eve. I let go of perfection, I let go of my vision, I let of everything except for my determination to keep my promise to my daughter. Mommy will make you your very own Raggedy Ann doll.
Christmas Eve we placed all the gifts under the tree and topped it with
the disaster My Magnum Opus.
Despite redoing them 8,000 times, her arms won’t hang right. My stitches are erratic, the dress fits wonky and her face will not win any awards of craftsmanship. But when Fern woke up on Christmas morning, the first thing she did was look at the tree. It took her under 30 seconds to locate the dolly, and she stood frozen as she whispered, Is that my Raggedy Ann?
We took her down and Fern hugged her close. There was no scrutiny or examination. There was only acceptance…this was her dolly. Her very own. And Raggedy instantly became just what I hoped she would…Fern’s new best friend.
I tried to get a picture of Fern with Miss Ann this morning, but she wasn’t having it. But Raggedy was gracious and agreed to a photo-op.
My 2011 swap partner, Kim, also sent along a generous surprise for Fern. A waldorf dolly, who Fern immediately recognized as “her baby”.
And just like all Raggedy Ann’s, this one has a heart of gold.
Imperfect, but true.
Happy New Year’s Eve all. We are all kinds of exhausted over here and will be ringing in 2013 with our housemates and some baked vegan mac and cheese. And wine. Probably lots of wine.
Big candy heart love to all of you. I’ve been missing you all during this holiday season, and can’t wait to catch up. xoxo