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Weighted Dolls: Part One

December 9th, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

For the past few years, I’ve donated goods, of one kind or another, to a county nursing home. Last year I made tactile/fidget quilts, but this year decided to do something different.

Originally I thought I’d make bears, but soon realized that I didn’t have the wherewithal to manage anything quite that complex in this, Our Second Year of Covid. I decided that simple dolls made more sense, and started by drawing a face template.

I thought that figuring out the faces would be the most difficult task of all, but that wasn’t quite right. It was important to begin with the face, because that all-important feature had to be accommodated within the overall shape, and I wanted it to be framed, as if in a bonnet, or a bunting. So every trial pattern was tested each time against the face template.

So, as soon as I’d drawn it, I set the face sketch aside, and moved on to designing the main pattern. I decided on a teardrop shape for a lot of reasons — the matryoshka-like shape is cuddly; the end product (I hoped) would look a little like a bundled baby; and the shape would be (I hoped!) relatively straightforward to sew. And the abstract nature, of both shape and face, is meant to help anyone holding the doll to imagine that the doll is whatever, or whoever, that person wishes it to be.

I saw the basic design of my dolls on a French Pinterest post while looking in a general image search for ideas that would meet these criteria: the photo I saw was exactly the feeling I was aiming for. The dolls themselves were marked as “unavailable”, and I haven’t been able to locate the maker to give credit for the design (though I’d like to!). I was on my own for turning the idea into a weighted doll suitable for nursing home residents.

Lots of folds from trying various configurations.
Figuring it out took some major fiddling.

This first attempt at a pattern seemed fine, until I sewed it up. My contact at the nursing home had requested that the dolls be weighted, at about 2-3 lbs (1-1.3 kg) apiece, and the first sample, filled, was way too heavy. A weighted doll, lap quilt, or toy, can be calming for some nursing home residents, and is particularly helpful for dementia patients, as the weight can help sooth and settle them, which is why the weight requirement matters so much.

Several of the trial bodies.

Too much weight makes the dolls difficult to manage, and and too little weight doesn’t fit the “calming” brief. Once I filled the practice body, it became apparent that any doll made from muslin No. 1 was going to be far too heavy, so it was back to the drawing board. The tricky part was keeping the proportions right: I wanted the dolls to rest easily in the crook of an arm, and also lie on a lap equally easily, while respecting the weight requirement. It took five tries to get it right — or at least what I hoped was “right”.

Pattern No. 5, at last!

This was the final pattern, with marks at the top, for the opening for the inner body, to allow stuffing with the fill beads, and at the bottom, to allow pulling the external covering over the stuffed inner body. I was careful not to notch the marks in the fabric, though I cut them out on the pattern template, because I didn’t want to stress the integrity of the seams, and I made the fill opening only large enough to fit the funnel tube snugly. For the same reason — maintaining the integrity of the seams — I designed the curves to be broad enough that they didn’t require clipping when turned.

Clipping the seams along the curves would give
a marginally nicer result, but it was more important
to keep the stitching absolutely intact, as the dolls may see rough use.

Because we have felines in the house, I closed up the kitchen and filled the bodies by placing them into a large Japanese casserole — wide and with low sides — and poured in the weighted pellets, slowly and steadily, using a metal funnel. The weighted beads are nothing you want your pets, children, or anyone else, to mess with! (Though, for these purposes, they are sanitary, impervious to liquid damage, and provide a weight “feel” that is still easy and pleasant to hold.)

Even filled, the inner body is strangely lacking in personality . . . but that’s what the exterior cover is for. Step two, though, involves making all the faces, and that’s the next post.

Weighted Dolls: Part Two

Weighted Dolls: Part Three

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