Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Report on Shirley Gibson's QSG of NSW talk on Doll Making

Shirley Gibson has been a long-standing member of the Quilters’ Guild of NSW who has made many prize-winning quilts. She is a Guild-accredited quilting teacher and is also a valued member of the Guild’s Quilt Valuation Team. But many of us did not realise that she has another prize-winning skill – that of doll making. And on the 18th of July her audience was transfixed as she explained how she made her dolls and why.

Shirley with the first doll she made


Shirley was first attracted to this area when she was given a doll for Christmas in 1987. She was intrigued by how it was made, so had to make one for herself (a challenge she still follows). She started by buying the components of the dolls but quickly progressed to making them completely by hand: from handling the greenware through to making the accessories such as a bible, a chatelaine or in the case of her soldier doll, all his military equipment. In the process she has learnt valuable skills in porcelain painting and firing, millinery, shoe-making, smocking and pleating, and always researches historical costumes and construction in order to make authentic clothing. Along the way she has made all types of dolls, from the modern period to the late 1700s.
Shirley's daughter Merryn with the wind-up German doll her mother made for her

1920s doll with its own poupard (church doll)

Shirley started her talk by showing us the first doll she made. She explained how she prepared the greenware moulds for firing by using various tools to smooth and create attachments for eyes and limbs. She then showed how she painted the eyelashes and eyebrows using a paintbrush stripped down to 1 or 2 hairs, making sure that every hair painted is completely symmetrical. Lastly she paints the lips, nostrils and eyes (if they are not moveable) and makes teeth to insert. Finally the head is completed by making the wigs (from mohair or lambs wool) and attaching them. Some doll bodies are made from leather and some from calico and Shirley showed us all types.



After completing the body and researching the type of doll, Shirley then makes the clothing, footwear and any accessories needed to complete it. For the soldier doll going off to the Boer War, the uniform of a Tasmanian Regiment, complete with long johns and weapons, took her some time to make.

In the case of another doll, that meant making a complete wardrobe – all her clothes and accessories, along with a box to contain them.


For this doll, the ball gown with bustle and the tiara completed the ensemble.

The doll that intrigued us most was a French doll from the late 1700s that had the most beautiful clothing, including a quilted petticoat (quilted at 25 stitches to the inch). It was remarkable to see as Shirley undressed it and explained how she had made every part of the doll and its clothing.


Over the course of the talk we learnt the difference between the French and German doll and the various types of dolls – poupard, googly eyed, holly hobbie etc. Photographs of a small sample of those she brought along to show us are below.












Currently Shirley has an 1830’s doll body her son gave her for Christmas that has to be dressed, so her hobby continues still.
Shirley's next project

If you are intrigued by the speakers and topics, please come along to the next Quilt Study Group of NSW talk on Saturday afternoon, the 21st of November 2015. The speaker is by noted contemporary quilter Lisa Walton and her topic is ‘Leap and the net will appear’. For details, see QSG of NSW Events

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