Meet Zula, newly awakened from the realm of old socks and sweaters. Kind of a variation on The Velveteen Rabbit: if you treasure your clothes, even as they begin to wear out — if the natural fibers have soaked up all the joys and sorrows, all the thrills and spills — they can find new life and new adventure as an enchanted doll (or, How Good Old Clothes Become Real).
How She Came to Be
We decided to winnow out the ancient excess from Jim’s three sock drawers. The pilled up acrylic dress socks got tossed, but a few pairs of great old woolen ski socks demanded a better fate.
I picked out a long pair of red and white ones to experiment making a sock doll.
Color. The white looked a little dingy, so I cooked up a dye bath with lots of dried red-onion skins and dried St. John’s Wort from our garden. (Simmer the dried material for an hour. Strain and cool. Add socks. Raise heat slowly. Simmer for about an hour, then let the sock soup sit overnight. )
Structure. Sock #1 was cut through the cuff to make legs and turned inside out to hand-stitch them closed. Here’s where I found the “James G Zimmer” laundry label that told me Jim must have worn these Cornell-color socks in college (1949-1954). I also noticed that the heels had been carefully darned to keep them in service after he’d worn them through. By his mom? In any case, the socks now felt like treasured heirlooms. I shouldn’t be too careless in my experimentation.
Sock #2 contributed the arms. It all got stitched together.
Stuffing. I haven’t made a stuffed cloth doll in years. When I pulled out my bag of Polyfill, the polyester seemed all wrong. After some research on which alternatives to use, I sent for some plain cotton fiber.
The quickening. I could not cut away the loving spirit in the darned heel, so it is stitched in place over the heart center. This is when the doll quickened and whispered her name: Zula. (There is always a moment in dollmaking when the doll comes alive.)
Clothes. Zula’s hat and dress came from another vintage ski sock. Her cape is felted cashmere, from the sleeve of one of my favorite old sweaters.
Face. I love faces. Dolls with no faces or only a suggestion of one disturb me. In my research, I noticed that a lot of these “disturbing” dolls were called “Waldorf” dolls. I checked it out.
According to History of Dolls, dolls made of natural materials with minimal faces conform to the Steiner school of childhood development. Begun in 1919, the Steiner schools emphasized creative play and letting a child’s imagination go to work on the “story.” A minimized face allows the child to project his or her own expression.
Got it. Since Zula is destined for the home of a toddler, Waldorf model it is.
Two blue eye-spots and she’s ready to travel!