Monday, September 24, 2007

The Beauty of Toymaking

“ONCE upon a time there was a very beautiful doll's house; it was red brick with white windows, and it had real muslin curtains and a front door and a chimney.

It belonged to two Dolls called Lucinda and Jane; at least it belonged to Lucinda, but she never ordered meals.
Jane was the Cook; but she never did any cooking, because the dinner had been bought ready-made, in a box full of shavings.”

And so begins the tale of Two Bad Mice, by Beatrix Potter… a tale about a dolls house. It gets more interesting. THAT dollhouse belonged to the niece of Norman Warne, Beatrix’s erstwhile fiancé, and it took her a LONG time paint being as it was NOT her beloved wildlife.

It was, of course, a handmade house, and it is fairly obvious that at least one of the two dolls is a handmade (probably wooden) doll.

In fact, in the Victorian and Edwardian eras in which Beatrix wrote many of her ‘little books’, most of the toys were handmade.

Nowadays, it is a sad statement on the current lifestyles of our children, that they have so many toys and so few favourites. My favourite toy is still with me after all these years. He is a little the worse for wear, and I have no idea if he was a homemade toy or store bought, Cottontail (named after Peter Rabbit’s sister) was real a long time ago! (For those who are unfamiliar with the 'real' concept or who have never read The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, I highly recommend it!) Cottontail inspired the toy beneath him, which was a rabbit I made for my son many years ago. The two of them are still played with today by my daughter, and still well loved!

Indeed, the ‘realness’ of toys is often a factor in the importance of toys... and I am not the only one to think so. Cay Gibson tells her story of a handmade doll, made real.

We had a crisis regarding dolls just the other day. Some kind, loving friend of the family gave my three year old porcelain dolls... which, although quite lovely, are really not the province of little girls. You see, accidents can happen. Yes, accidents like this one.
It truly was an accident this time. Dolly went flying when she opened her blinds, and a few minutes later, she came running, screaming and crying to me about "it's bwoken...".
She was almost inconsolable... for a doll she rarely even touched. Yes toys are very real to our children, which is why kids deserve those special toys, made with love and a story.

Katherine’s children will have such stories. She and her daughters have been making dolls from Magic Cabin kits. She has step by step pictures AND all the doll making posts are linked in her sidebar.

And here is a Waldorf Style Bunting Doll, if you feel bitten by the dollmaking bug.

Not all special dolls need to be made of cloth. Eileen and her kids took a step into the past and made cornhusk dolls. What a lovely autumnal craft, and a wonderful story (and documented with photos too!). In fact, Eileen has many crafty toy ideas at her blog!!

If you are handy with your knitting needles, you might liked the idea of knitting dolls or doll clothes, or even some other kind of knitted toy. There are so many wonderful resources online to do just that... Alice mentioned a few the other day in the original toymaking fair! There are even knitted Dalek toys for the sci-fi fans.

Not into knitting? Why not try paper dolls? There are historical versions at David Claudon's website. If you are a fan of Brit Coms or even Star Trek, you might find these paper dolls amusing! There are many paper doll sites online, and over at flickr, you can often find historical ones just for fun! Be warned though, it is NOT just a fun toy for the kids, there are many adults who enjoy the hobby too!

Maybe a wooden doll is more your style? Hitty: Her First 100 Years is the story of a wooden doll, made in the 1800s. She is described as having pegged joints... and if you have woodworkers in your house, perhaps you can make your own Hitty Doll. If you scroll down you will find the wooden doll information, but there is also a bunch of information about other kinds of dolls there too.

Sometimes it is the children who make things. My son spent days with old cardboard tubes, boxes and tape, making himself a marble run. (Think tubes and holes for marbles to roll down). I had hoped to take a picture of it for this fair, but life happened and the thing was disassembled and shoved in the cupboard. I suspect it would have come out of the closet if someone had not had a birthday in the meantime ;)!

Amy’s kids made some lovely fairy houses and acorn fairies as a wonderful craft. These are such great seasonal things to make... a lovely addition to a nature table too!

Our lovely fair organizer Alice, was a little surprised when her daughter had some fun with duct tape and her kids also made some lovely gnomes for their wee garden.

Maybe your child is interested in making for younger sibling. Sara's 8 year old helped her to make a book for the baby! What a great thing to do for your baby brother or sister!

Sometimes, allowing the kids to make toys can be a matter of sanity... YOURS! Maybe it is a rainy day, or your sick and need a quite craft for the kids to work on. In that case here is a really cool page of toys to make.

For the slightly older/more modelling inclined, Canon has paper toy print outs from their papercraft site.

There are, of course, pioneers in the field of toymaking, blazing the way into the future with crafts from yesteryear. Take Tasha Tudor. She made dolls, doll houses, clothes and all sorts for her family and herself. Yes, you do not need to be or have a child to make toys J

EDITED TO ADD: Our very own Elizabeth has been having fun making math gnomes and working on a seasonal table with one of her sons :) Take a good look because there is a lot of inspiration there! (I really want to make these ;))

And check out the lovely rocking horse and dolls house over at Lindafay's Higher Up and Further In (Love the name of the blog from my favourite book!!)

If you do decide to make some of these toys, or some variation or original design of your own, don't forget that there is another Toymaking Fair at Almamater on October 20th!



  1. It looks wonderful. Thanks so much for hosting.

  2. What a wonderful toymaking fair!! SO many great links! Thank you, Rachel, for hosting! :-)

  3. Love it!
    What a wonderful job you did. :)

  4. Thanks for all the lovely links to so many creative people.

  5. I am so glad you all enjoyed it... I had a blast finding and sharing the links... some of which came by way of the 4Real Forums, some of which made their way through my own searches.
    I'd like to say thank you to all the bloggers who participated!

  6. Beautiful! You have set the standard high for the rest of us toymaking fair hostesses.

  7. I used to be so into toymaking! As a teen I made my own dollhouses and miniatures. Now I'm getting the itch again.
    My daughter's itching to get out her knitting needles and try the knitted toys!
    Peace and Laughter,


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