Okay, as I may have mentioned before, I’m becoming obsessed with the idea of jointed dolls. After looking at what a lot of other artists are doing, I concluded that it was going to be extremely difficult to figure out how to do Asian-style ball-jointed dolls without actually buying one to examine for myself. Since that’s out of the question in terms of budget, I had to figure something else out. You know what they say about necessity and invention…
So I went looking through my trusty Susannah Oroyan books, and discovered that one of them (Anatomy of a Doll) had a whole page about ball jointed cloth dolls. I had already been thinking about poseable cloth dolls, and the photos of Shelley Thornton’s work in the Oroyan book really inspired me.
So pictured above and throughout this post is my first attempt at a soft doll with ball joints. I know, it’s ugly. I chose to make it from felt because I like the way felt is firm, but slightly stretchy when you stuff it. There are a lot of things I like about the way this turned out, and some things I want to improve on.
Things I like:
1. The hip joints have a very natural movement to them. I don’t know if you can tell in any of the pictures, but the thighs actually angle inwards, just like in a real skeleton. The movement is a result of the bead being attached as a ball joint on one side and a hinge joint on the other. I would present this as evidence of my apparent genius, but it happened completely on accident.
2. The beads can be ball joints or hinge joints, depending on how you sew them in. I don’t think you can read my inspiring diagram above, (dang WordPress!) but suffice it to say that you make a ball joint by anchoring the thread as close to the center of the joint as possible, while you make a hinge joint by anchoring the thread on either side. The hinge joints are very firm, firm enough to hold their positions, especially in the arms.
3. The wooden beads add so much weight that I don’t think I would need to weight the butt of this doll to make it sit. It won’t sit unassisted, but that’s because the hip joints are too loose.
4. There are three movements to the head (turning left-to-right, tilting left-to-right, and tipping up or down). My first attempt at the neck resulted in a hinge joint with only up-and-down movement. I removed it and tried again, and now it moves in any direction but is too floppy to hold its position.
Some things I want to work on:
1. I’m pleased with how the hinge joints set into the soft parts of the doll, but the way I sewed the ball joints prevents them from sitting in that tight. There must be some way to develop sockets, so the ball joints would be firmer. I had hoped the doll might sit and stand on its own, but the hip joints are too floppy.
2. My husband laughed at me because I was fretting about the doll not having a bottom to speak of, but it’s actually an engineering concern. I wonder if a sculpted behind would allow the doll to sit after all, or if it would interfere with standing movements too much. I think future versions will have more sculptural torsos.
3. I’d really like to develop a skin I could slide over the construction to hide the joints. I thought about adding two skins so I could do some needlesculpting in between, but I don’t think I’ll bother for this doll. I’m tempted to add one skin layer, though, because I really want to see how this doll will look with clothing.
4. The arms are obviously way too long. It was hard to judge the proper length for the pieces while taking the length of the beads into account. When I get this thing perfected, I may need to use (horrors!) a pattern instead of just eyeballing the sizes I need every time.
5. I wonder how the size of the bead impacts the performance of the joint. Can I get away with smaller, less conspicuous beads, or will that limit movement? I can almost imagine a ball-and-rod setup for the hip joint, similar to the way actual femurs are shaped, but that’s probably more complicated than it needs to be for my purposes.
6. And finally, I’m already picturing how I can transfer what I’ve learned to a hard-medium doll. Woo hoo!
Here’s where I want some feedback from you, dear reader. Have you ever tried this before? If not, are you interested in trying it now? I’d really like to see what some collage-type doll artists could do with this — imagine decorative beads tied into the doll with ribbons — there’s a lot you could do with it. Leave a comment and a link to some pictures of your work.
Another doll artist, Maggie Iacono, makes felt dolls with ball joints for collectors. Her site says the fingers on her dolls are “poseable” but not that they’re jointed, so I wonder if they’re just wired. I have an idea for a jointing system for fingers, but it would be impossible in this tiny scale. Can anyone think of a use for a life-sized, fully poseable hand?