Maud Humphrey

Maud Humphrey

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Art Mills Fabric Doll

Last summer, I picked up this little sweetie at a local doll show.  She is a 24", Art Mills Fabric Doll, made around 1900.  Around this time, pre-printed fabric panel dolls were very popular.  Mothers bought the panels, and then sewed and stuffed the dolls at home.

Because she is was in poor condition, I was able to purchase her for a fraction of what she would have cost otherwise.   So I brought her home, fully intending on mending her immediately.  But like so many of my other projects, she languished in the "to-do" pile in my sewing room.
I think the thing that kept me from repairing her right away was the extent of her damage. Her head was tearing away from her neck, and some previous owner had tried to patch it. She had a badly torn left arm, a ripped out crotch, and numerous other rips in her seams.  But her face just spoke to me!
Because I had a few, uninterrupted hours today, I finally decided to tackle this project.  I started with the easiest mends first, and then worked my way up until only the head remained.
Because so much of the fabric around her face and neck was disintegrated beyond salvaging, I decided that the best of course of action would be to remove the head, cut away the damaged fibers, and then add a strip of bias fabric.  I just so happened to find a twill fabric at my fabric favorite store that matched in color very closely.  First I attached the bias fabric to the head, and then I sewed the bottom of the bias fabric to the body.  Much better.  I am toying with the idea of "dirtying up" the bias strip so that it more closely matches the soiled fabric of the head and body, but for right now, I think it looks a hundred times better.  The sweet little thing can now hold her head erect without fear of it ripping off!
In the process of mending, I had to remove some of the cotton stuffing and put it in other places because it had matted and shifted so much over the past 100 years.  I pulled the wads apart and re-fluffed them before stuffing them back in.  I have to admit, I kept daydreaming that I might find a centuries old love letter tucked inside the body cavity, or maybe even money!  But no such luck. 
Before I show you her "after" picture, I just wanted to mention the thread I've been using, and how much I like it.  It's 100% cotton by Coats & Clark, especially for machine quilting.  There are 1200 yards per spool, so it lasts a really long time.  It regularly costs $6 at JoAnn's, but I either use a coupon, or wait until all thread is 50% off.  Plus, when the thread is gone, all you are left with is a simple, cardboard spool that is easily recyclable.  It is strong and feels nice, especially in all my vintage projects.  I guess the one downfall might be is that it doesn't come in too many colors.  But since I use mainly muted colors, this hasn't been an issue for me.
And here she is!   Doesn't she look much better?  I named her Izzy.  Every time I looked at her, that was the name that kept coming to mind.  I was able to find her an antique slip and baby dress among my collection of vintage clothing that fit her just right.  Oh, and I forgot to mention:  because I added a simple running stitch along the top of each leg (where they connect to her body), she can now sit in a chair.  Prior to this, her body was stuffed and sewn all as one piece, so although she had limbs, they couldn't be bent.  And since I wanted her to be able to sit in a chair, I decided that it would be okay to add the stitches.
It's hard to tell from the rest of her body, but here you can see the detail in the printing of the fabric.  Aren't those the cutest little boots?  Her torso has a one-piece underwear printed on it, but it has become so faded that it's really hard to see.  She is really quite dirty, but I kind of like it.  How many little children loved her?  I can just imagine her being pulled around in a wagon (and tumbling out!), and playing "house" with her little owner under the shade of a large bush while making mudpies.  This doll (and those like her) were made to be loved.  They did not sit on a shelf like their fragile bisque and china sisters.  They were dragged around, played with, loved.
And here she is with her "little sister", another fabric panel printed doll of the same era.  I think they look quite happy together.

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