Sunday, January 6, 2013

modern medieval family : a medieval doll

One of my biggest concerns with having three sons and only one daughter is that K will have a hard time understanding the importance of being a lady- even when she may end up becoming a heavy weapons fighter. It's important to me that she know and appreciate that being properly dressed is always the best course of action, whatever path she chooses to take in the SCA.

So I thought it would be fun and a good idea to make a medieval dress-up doll for her, to give her a tool for learning how medieval outfits go together while she's still young. The long-term hope here is that she'll develop an appreciation for medieval clothing so that when she's kicking butt as a heavy weapons fighter in her teens, it will be a given that when the fighting is over, it's time to dress like the lady she is. That's the hope at least!

As luck would have it, my mom located an old doll of mine when we were cleaning out the garage. She was still in good condition, but she had a "prairie" style that I didn't care for. I saw the potential for converting her to the medieval doll I was planning to make.

The original doll.
In order to convert her to a more "blank" doll, I removed all the lacy pieces. Then I removed her skirt and used pieces of it to cover the printed area around her chest and neck. It's not perfect, since you can still see the printing through the off-white fabric, but it's not overly noticeable. I also removed all the original hair, which was a thin crochet cotton and had not held up as well. I also took the "laces" off the boots. I couldn't really do anything about the embroidery on the chest (since there was a printed design underneath that it covered).

After initial modifications and with most of her new hair and hose.
 I located a fuzzy brown yarn that had a really soft feel to it, Though it looks kind of ratty up close, it was actually perfectly suited to being the dolls new locks. I cut a length and sewed the center into place one at a time until the hair was sufficiently full.

Close-up of the embroidered garter with "buckle".
 I made new linen hose (which didn't end up as tall as they should have been) to cover her old boots, and used some pearl cotton the stitch them into place around the top. I used two rows of chain stitch to create faux garters and used some gold cotton to make "buckles". the embroidery prevents the hose from being pulled off.

Hair completed and trimmed and the fixed smock in place.
In order to cover the remaining portions of the original doll that I couldn't alter otherwise, I decided that the linen smock would also be a fixed piece. In this way, with the smock and hose, she'll never be completely undressed. The smock in stitched directly onto the doll at he wrists and neckline, as well as along her shoulders.

Embroidery around the smock neckline.
 To fancy her up a bit (like the Lady she is), I used some linen embroidery thread for a line of herringbone stitch around the neckline. I'm really happy with that little inclusion, not just because it looks good, but also because it's another way the smock is attached to the doll.

German-style kerchief headdress with tassels and braided hair loops.
I had planned to do a huvet, but when I got into it, I ended up having an easier time folding the linen into a kerchief style. It's stitched on in several places so that it can't be easily pulled out. The braided loops are also secured so they can't be pulled out. I used some cotton yarn to create the tassels.

Almost done with a teal linen kirtle.
I made a really simple, 4-panel kirtle (without gores), and used some pearl cotton the "lace" it closed. I was going to leave it here, since Christmas was fast approaching, but I decided that she needed one more item.

Final doll front.
 I made a really simple apron which is actually more 15th century French in nature, but is really just an added accessory. I'm glad I added it, though, because she looked a bit more complete with it.

Final doll back.
I did all the sewing by hand, including all the garments, since the original doll had also been sewn by hand, and it seemed to be the right way to do about it. All the materials came out of my scrap stash, so there was no cost involved.

I hope that she serves my daughter well, and that she's able to adapt to K's changing interests and moods over then next several years. I also hope that she serves her covert, intended purpose of teaching her that there's no excuse to be under-dressed!


  1. I hope your sons also get dressing dolls. To remind them that the SCA isn't just about fighting.

    Sara van den Hove

    1. Hehe. Good point. I certainly don't mean to imply that I have a sexist view of my children! My sons do already seem to enjoy getting into garb a bit more than K does and have already shown interest in the "gentler" arts, particularly music & dance, so I suppose a worry that they would only care about fighting never really entered my mind. A male doll would make a nice addition, though. Thanks!