This past weekend I attended a workshop given by Susan Fosnot at the Woodstock Court House, a historic landmark that has been turned into a Community Art Center.
Susan is a very talented cloth doll artist who resides in Woodstock, IL. She gets her inspiration from 19th century dolls, Izannah Walker is a favorite. In the past she used oil paints to achieve the vintage look. This involved painting many layers of gesso on a cloth head, sanding, and oil painting...a long tedious process. She has recently perfected a method of applying acrylic medium, along with acrylic paints, directly to the fabric, which results in a very similar look and saves a lot of time.
In the class we learned to sew and stuff a cloth head, probably the most critical part of making this doll. The head has to be sewn and stuffed carefully so you have a very firm, well shaped face to paint on. The fabric and stuffing have to be carefully chosen as well.... to wick up the medium and water. Susan said plain muslin works well for the head fabric and Mountain Mist for the stuffing. She uses a higher quality fabric for the body, which doesn't get painted.
After our heads were sufficiently stuffed and closed off we covered them with a mixture of Liquitex Acrylic Medium & Varnish mixed with water. Several coats were applied until the head absorbed the liquid. This solution keeps the fabric damp for about four hours, which gives you plenty of time to apply Liquitex acrylic paint to create the face. It also allows for easy blending. You then need to let the head dry over night...then you can go back in and apply small details, like the white hi-light in the eyes. We had time to paint two doll heads. Susan had a darling pattern for an Asian child's face that a few woman tried. I thought they all turned out great. Susan provides a pattern for the body, as well as instructions to complete an outfit and hat at home.
The dolls we made are from a pattern Susan has published called "Zinna". Zinnia is eight and a half inches tall. She has a round head, but a rather flat face. Her features and hair are created with paint. You could use textural paint if you wanted to add hair with some dimension. Shoes and socks can also be painted, or you can make your own tiny shoes, which is what I will do. Her complexion is delicate and pale. Since her facial colors work well with the color of old muslin, her arms, legs and torso can be left unpainted.
In the past I've always worked with clay, it was interesting working with fabric... using just paint to create a face with depth and dimension.