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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Special interest groups: Dollmakers club brings cloth to life

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 8, 2021

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

From the rag doll that your grandmother played with as a child, to whimsical works of art; cloth dolls seem to come alive beneath the hands that stitch them.

That’s one of the reasons Carol Vaughn joined the Spokane Doll Club in 1993.

“A friend told me about it when I worked at City Hall,” she recalled.

She was no stranger to doll-making.

“I made 50 Cabbage Patch dolls,” she said, recalling the Cabbage Patch craze of the ‘80s. “So many girls wanted them! I bought the heads, and made the bodies and the clothes.”

The Doll Club meets monthly at various locations and has about 14 active members. Last week, a couple of them visited Vaughn’s North Side home to talk about their passion and show some of their creations.

One of Marge Hammond’s dolls rode in the passenger seat next to her, his seatbelt securely fastened.

“His name is David,” Hammond said of the 5-foot-7 fellow. “He’s named after a friend’s first boyfriend.”

Another of her life-size dolls got a job in New York.

“I took him in pieces when I went to visit my daughter in New York,” Hammond recalled. “I assembled him while I was there – big dolls are quicker to make than little dolls. His name is Aloysius Ebenezer. My daughter got him a job at a local quilt shop.”

A couple of Vaughn’s creations have international homes.

One was delivered by then-mayor Jack Geraghty to Limerick, Ireland, one of Spokane’s Sister Cities. Another, a replica of the first Miss Spokane, went to our Sister City, Nishinomiya, Japan.

Dollmaker, Shirley Hudson, is fairly new to the group, but her book of doll patterns, “Charming Dolls,” was recently published by C&T Publishing.

“I started sewing 23 years ago,” she said. “After careers in the Air Force, law enforcement, and the postal service, I wanted to do something girly.”

Hudson began designing and selling patterns, gradually moving into doll-making.

“The first doll I made was a prairie doll,” she recalled. “She had yarn hair, like a doll one of the girls in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ would have.”

Cloth dolls are the club’s focus.

“Not porcelain dolls where you can make thousands all alike,” said Hammond. “I defy you to make even two cloth dolls the same.”

Often the group’s monthly meetings feature a theme or a challenge. September’s theme is books – each member was given a tiny book to incorporate into their design. Vaughn has already completed hers – the book rests in the lap of a sprightly book fairy, wearing a pink tulle skirt, and a gold-beaded choker and earrings.

The challenges spark fun ideas.

“One time I got the ugliest green lace in the world,” Hammond said. “The challenge was to use it in your creation.”

Not all the dolls are the stuff of fairy tales. Vaughn showed her granddaughter’s favorite doll.

“The theme was heavy metal,” she recalled.

Clad in a black leather bustier, with black lace trim, the steampunkish doll sports large earrings and a gold watch face dangles amidst her leather.

One of Hammond’s favorite dolls is George, the Drag Queen Chicken.

“He started out as a regular chicken,” explained Hammond. “But I have had chickens in my past. I couldn’t just make him a straight chicken.”

A feathery headpiece inspired her, and George in all his beaded, bedazzled glory was born.

Hudson brought two dolls featured in her book; Derek Dracula and Daisy Bunny.

Several times a year, the group attends a doll-making workshop, hosts a teacher, or has a “Sew Day” at a local library or sewing shop.

Their work is so popular that their display at the Spokane City Hall Chase Gallery was extended from a one-week exhibit to a whole month.

In addition to sharing their common passion for creating cloth dolls, the members agree the best part of the group is simply being together.

“We like each other,” Vaughn said. “It’s great getting together with everyone and exchanging stories.”

Often, those stories involve dolls.

“You’re making a doll, and pretty sure you know what their name is,” said Hammond.

Sometimes the process brings lost loved ones to life for a time.

On a shelf in Vaughn’s entryway, her Grandpa doll stands between framed photos of her grandfather. Clutching a pitchfork in one hand and a bucket in the other, the overall-clad farmer exudes gentle warmth.

Vaughn smiled when she recalled crafting the doll.

“I felt like Grandpa was with me,” she said.

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