Making the Dolls

Photo by Mary Stivers

In my dollmaking, I combine a love of dolls, an appreciation of history, and my experience as a folk artist to create dolls in early styles. I've cherished dolls all my life, and have collected many types, eventually concentrating on American dolls of the 18th and 19th centuries.

I've been fortunate enough to receive national recognition over the years for my dollmaking and folk art. For years I created handmade chalkware figures and historically inspired paintings, and have been trained in painting primitive portraits. Several years ago I decided to put my efforts mostly into doll making.

My work has been featured in:
  • Country Living
  • A Simple Life
  • Early American Life
  • Dolls Magazine
  • Country Victorian
  • Prims
  • Somerset Living
  • Country Collectibles
  • Oregon Home
  • Holly Berry Hill Catalog
  • Several Hearst Publications design books
  • Warner Bros. movie, Felicity
I have the high honor to have been inducted in 2009 into the prestigious Country Living Guild of American Artisans and Craftsmanship. I am the thirty-first artisan to be named a guild member in Country Living's thirty-year publishing history, as well as the guild's first doll maker ever.

I also have been selected for several consecutive years for the Early American Life Directory of Traditional American Crafts, a collection of the country's top 200 traditional craftspeople.
I'm greatly honored to have earned such confirmations of my craftsmanship, high quality, and historical accuracy of my dolls.

My husband, Gregory, and I have lived in Michigan, Ohio, Vermont and now for over thirty years in Oregon. Our home is a National Register historic home in Oregon City, just a mile from where the legendary Oregon Trail actually ended.

There's a lot of information on this page. You might want to go straight to The Styles to learn more about the dolls, or perhaps to Inspirations, both lower on this page.
T H E   D O L L M A K I N G    P R O C E S S

My dolls come from my heart, imagination, and hands. I make each part of each doll completely by hand and am constantly inspired by treasured dolls from the past. On this page, I'd like to share more information about the styles of dolls I create and the actual process I use. 

My historical dolls are inspired by dolls from the mid 1700s to mid 1800s. For some, actual vintage dolls have served as the prototypes. For others, I've interpreted original dolls based on created the dolls based the early styles. Whenever possible, I try to use vintage fabrics in their period-style clothing.I've been fortunate enough to have my dolls praised by curators of some of the country's leading living-history museums as being of true museum quality in historic accuracy and workmanship.

And I've been so very fortunate in collecting a wonderful group of customers across the country who appreciate the styles of my dolls and share my love of them.
The Heads

Actual dolls from 1820 to 1860 serve as the basis for most of the papier-mache busts I create. My handmade molds capture the distinctive facial features and hairstyles of dolls of the different historic periods. 

I use a papier-mache material baked in the mold. After removing the bust from the mold, I sand and refine the bust's surface before painting it.

Painting the face is one of the most important aspects of the dollmaker’s craft, and I've been fortunate in being trained as a primitive-portrait painter and I strive to paint faces that are both historically accurate and pleasing. I delicately age each doll's head to enhance the doll’s vintage appearance, and then varnish each one to protect its painted finish.

Painting faces in the doll studio.

Dolls getting their bodies.
The Bodies

Depending on the particular style of doll, her arms and legs may be papier-mache or they may be cloth. I use the same technique to create the molded arms and legs as for the doll’s heads, from casting through painting and finishing. 

Cloth arms and legs involve creating the original pattern, then cutting, sewing and stuffing each piece before stitching it to the doll’s body.

I design my doll bodies with proportions based on the most historically prevalent patterns for the particular style of doll. For some models, I delicately age the bodies, arms and legs by individually tea-dying them.

I try to design clothing for my dolls based on apparel of the appropriate historic period of the doll, usually the 18th or 19th Century. 

A number of drawings and paintings, such as those found in Godey’s Lady’s Book, have inspired many of their garments. 

I pay particular attention to selecting fabrics with historically accurate colors, textures and designs. Whenever possible, I try to use genuine antique fabrics for my dolls' apparel.

Clothing varies according to the type of doll. Some wear simple dresses. Others are more fully adorned with petticoats and pantalets, a chemise, or an apron. I like my dolls to have fancywork accessories, including pincushions, reticules and floral bouquets, which I make based on patterns from the appropriate period.

Dolls waiting for their dresses, each with my signaure painted-on pansy representing "rememberance."

Dolls dressed and waiting to have their pictures taken.

H I S T O R I C     S T Y L E S
The Tess and Tillie dolls are based on the rare Queen Anne dolls of the 18th Century. Queen Anne ruled England from 1702 to 1714, but most of the dolls bearing her name were made during the reigns of George I, George II, and George III, from 1714 to 1820.

Only a few of these treasured dolls survive. They have distinctive white faces, rouged cheeks and black pupil-less eyes with dotted lashes. My rendition Queen Annes have papier-mache heads and busts, cloth bodies and painted shoes and stockings.
My rendition of the rare Izannah Walker doll uses some of the same techniques associated with this pioneer of the American cloth doll.

Izannah Walker created her dolls in the mid-1800s. I use layers of glued fabric pressed into molds to create the front and back of the head, which are then sewn together, with the ears attached separately.

My Izannahs use the challenging pressed-cloth method with the sewn-together head, and features the applied ears and thumbs, just as the originals did. The doll's face, body, and clothing are closely based on those of the surviving Izannah Walker dolls.

The Hannah dolls are inspired by an authentic 1858 Greiner from Christine’s collection. These dolls, like the original, are usually 28 inches tall. 

 As with the original Greiners, the Hannah dolls have papier-mache heads, with bodies and limbs of heavy fabric. 

I studied the homemade bodies and clothing on several Greiners to design Hannah’s to be accurate and appealing.
The Emma dolls are inspired by an original 1820s milliner’s model in my own collection. 

These models were used in the early 1800s to display clothing styles and coiffures, and were not intended for play. The face, hairstyle, body, and limbs on the Emma dolls all closely resemble the original. 

I use papier-mache for the head, bust, arms below the elbows, and legs below the knees. The body is fabric. Like the original, the Emma dolls are 13 inches tall.

These dolls are inspired by the French carton dolls of the late 1700s. 

This type of doll was sold by street vendors at the time of the French Revolution and only a few battered samples have survived to this day. 

 These charming dolls incorporate the early art of quilling, mostly on flowers on their dresses and in baskets.


Hattie dolls are inspired by an early Greiner mache head, with a hairstyle marked by hair tucked behind the ears, generally regarded as the style earlier than the 1858 patented Greiner.

I was fortunate enough to locate the early Greiner bust and create a mold based on it, then designed the cloth body and limbs, based on styles typical of the era. Hattie dolls are about 30 inches tall.

The Amy dolls are inspired by a papier-mache doll from the mid 1800’s. 

The original doll in my collection is about 18 inches tall and has no markings to identify her creator. 

She came from Florida in remarkably good condition with her original blonde hair and body and limbs of fabric and leather.
The Claire dolls add a sweet, decorative touch to a home. They are inspired by an M & S Superior doll in my collection, from the mid-19th Century. 

Like the original, my Claire dolls have papier-mache busts and cloth bodies and limbs and are about 14 inches tall.
Maggie dolls are based on a small, early doll, believed to be a mid-19th Century Greiner doll's doll. 

The original - like my rendition of her- has a papier mache head and cloth body. While the original has glass eyes, this doll's eyes are reproduced as part of the mache head. 

The Maggie dolls, like the original, are 15 inches tall.

The Mary dolls originate from a rare, 1850 handmade wooden model doll head I acquired in Maine.

The head was likely the basis for a mold, and that is how I've used it.

Because the face and hair are reminiscent of girls in primitive portraits, I like to paint and dress the Mary dolls to reflect that style. Mary dolls are about 24 inches tall.

S O M E     I N S P I R A T I O N S

My inspiration comes from many times and places, from people as well as things. Here are some of my favorite ones.

Eliza Leslie

Eliza Leslie was born in Philadelphia in 1787, and died in Gloucester, New Jersey, in 1858. During her lifetime she became one of America’s most popular writers of cookbooks, etiquette books and juvenile fiction. 

In 1831 she published The American Girl’s Book, which included a number of sewing projects such as dolls and fancywork.

One of Miss Leslie’s concerns was that, as children and their parents became more highly educated, they would forget the joy of creative play in their lives. She went on to write a number of books on cookery and housekeeping, all marked by her common sense and quiet humor.

I'm fortunate to own an 1831 first edition of The American Girl’s Book and have created several of Eliza Leslie’s projects from it for sale. A number of the book’s illustrations appear throughout this web site.

Ludwig Greiner 

Little is known about Ludwig Greiner other than he was a German immigrant and was listed in the 1840 Philadelphia city directory as “toy man.”

But on March 30, 1858, he was issued the first patent in the United States for dollmaking. He had developed a method of molding papier-mache heads using white paper, dry whiting, rye flour, and paste, then notably reinforcing them with linen or muslin.

Ludwig Greiner’s doll factory in Philadelphia produced only the distinctive doll heads and relied upon the purchaser to make the body and clothing at home.

Even so, Greiner dolls became among the most popular and recognizable papier-mache dolls ever produced. (Shown at left, an 1858 Greiner from my collection.)
Milliner's Models

Papier-mache dolls are among the most distinctive of 19th Century dolls. Early in the century, Europeans discovered that paper and pulp waste could be molded cheaply into mass-produced dolls.

By the 1820’s a more sophisticated type of papier-mache doll appeared, known as the “milliner’s model” or “dressmaker’s doll.” The heads were attached to bodies of kid leather or fabric and their limbs were molded or carved.

These dolls, resembling miniature adults, were designed to exhibit the latest fashions in clothing and coiffures and were not intended for play.

(Shown at right, an 1820s milliner's model from my collection.)