The Making of Silver’s Dolls and the BeBoodle Story – Doll Whispers
It began with the desire to make one doll. I found myself intrigued with the concept of primitive dolls — the muslin, the painting, the grunging, the freedom to design the clothes — and the delight of making them magickal by adding charms, sigils, and spells inside the bodies so that these dolls would be haunted in a purely positive way. My version of the Voodoo Doll. As I worked on my first doll stories began popping in my head. I kept seeing this little old lady (I suppose that would be me) in a car filled with these primitive dolls. Some hanging out the window. One swinging from a moon roof.
And the dolls are talking.
To each other and the lady driving. She’s frustrated because she’s trying to keep her mind on the road and the sound of twenty yapping dolls twists her concentration into horrendous knots. She is going to a show, by the way. The first one she’s ever been to. There, she plans to sell her dolls. She’s nervous. What if she doesn’t sell any? She had to pay a vender fee — the last money she had in her savings account. Like everyone these days, she’s worried about her future and how she will cover her bills. These dolls aren’t exactly the normal type. They don’t have pretty blonde ringlets and liquid, cornflower blue eyes. They are primitive, powerful, and unique. At this point the racket in the car is getting out of hand. One doll is slugging another. Two are climbing from the front seat to the back seat and to the front seat again repeatedly. One doll is singing Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall and she’s worried that he broke into her liquor cabinet before she left. If customers smell booze, they won’t buy.
No one can hear the dolls, of course, except our little old lady who is driving the car.
And then a police cruiser appears over the crest of the hill behind them. All the dolls turn and start screaming about the approaching police vehicle. As the officer pulls the old lady over, one doll yells, “Shut-Up! Be Quiet! It’s the Po-Po!”
That is exactly how the Beboodle stories began. With this vision of the screaming dolls and the little old lady.
So…how do I really make them?
My first three dolls were from patterns I purchased over the internet. After finishing these dolls, I decided that I wanted to create designs of my own. I was already creating designs and posting them here on the blog for other projects (a cat, spirit dolls, mojo bags) so the step to actually creating the doll with the patterns as a reference wasn’t too big of a leap. From the primitive Mammy dolls came the idea for the BeBoodles. Yes, I made mistakes, like spending hours making a vest that should have taken me forty minutes — but, part of the joy was in the creation process. I drew many patterns on graph paper until I created exactly what I wanted.
Once I finished the patterns, I transferred the pieces of the dolls to muslin, sewed them together and stuffed them. I learned to double stitch the seams so they could take the strain of primitive-style stuffing, which is tightly packed using small pieces. This style takes several hours just to stuff one doll — but, its worth it. I also learned to sculpt fingers, toes, lips, and noses using a doll needle and embroidery thread. This type of needle art gives each doll its own, unique look. The BeBoodles don’t have sculpted fingers and toes as I was looking for a less time consuming doll that could be completed faster. A BeBoodle takes approximately two full days to complete. Sometimes more depending upon the theme of the doll.
I, by no means, consider myself a seamstress. I have basic skills and my only real adventure into sewing was years ago when…for a time…I made unique Halloween costumes for my children or the occasional summer clothing. What I’m trying to say is that if you really like something but think you don’t have a creative bone in your body — think again. The art of creativity isn’t in the fingers — it is a combination of the will to try and the patience to work through it — telling yourself that mistakes are okay, the world will not blow up if you get it wrong, and keep going.
I sew the back of the doll last because here is where the focused magick begins. Each doll, like the dolls in the BeBoodle stories, contains a combination of herbs, perhaps charms or trinkets, and a spell paper dressed with Kyphi Oil (an Egyptian oil, when if made correctly, contains a high number of ingredients). The items in the doll are created to make him or her “come alive” in a magickal sense. Once sewn closed and the facial features created, the doll is painted using acrylic paints and allowed to dry in the sun.
When completely dry, I sand the doll with sandpaper, then I paint the doll again using a coffee, vanilla, cinnamon mixture. If I’ve used kitty litter to weight the bottom, the doll can go in the oven for about 20 minutes at 180 degrees. If I have used plastic pellets, the doll is placed in the sun to dry once more. When dry, she or he is sanded again.
Grunging the doll before it goes into the oven. These days I add magickal herbs during the baking process.The magick for each doll is performed at the best possible time available, which isn’t the same for each doll. I look at the moon phase, the sign the moon is in and other heavenly movements. When I feel the time is right, it is placed in a ritual circle and often empowered over a bonfire. In the story, the BeBoodles are put in large pickle jars (I have those) which are buried in the ground for three days (a Braucherei technique for gathering power). The pictures below show both the type of jar and the jar inserted in a very large flower pot filled with dirt from many places (Molly Pitcher’s grave being one of them).
I also have a Beboodle Birthing Box that I created if I can’t go outside to bury the dolls.
Once the doll is sanded, the eyes are painted with acrylic paints. I draw them freehand and take my time. I spend an hour or more just on the eyes — sometimes two. Then, I affix the hair either by sewing it in or by needle felting (or both). Sometimes I add a full head of hair, other times not so much. Normally, I use natural wool, straight from the animal, purchased on Etsy or Ebay.
Before the eyes are painted, I treat the cloth with a ritual solution of eyebright and other herbals so that the doll can metaphorically “see” danger and be used as a divination partner.
I seal the eyes and mouth with acrylic polymer liquid sealer. Then add embellishments such as the bells, jewelry, buttons, etc.
When I first began creating the dolls, I finished the doll first, then made the clothes. I found, though, that I prefer making the clothing first, and then putting together the doll. I started with clothing consisting of the basic dress, bloomers, apron and headpiece or scarf. With each doll I began changing patterns, particularly the apron. I even made a pinafore for one doll (that took me forever), and a vest for another.
Shopping excursions for BeBoodles are half the fun. I choose material, jewelry and any other items I want to add to the theme of the BeBoodle. For example, I took a special trip to a local restaurant store to pick up a metal pitcher for my Molly Pitcher BeBoodle. I’ve made other trips, too, to find just the right embellishment for a particular doll.
What I didn’t expect in my journey of doll making, was the interest and involvement of my family. From my husband to my children and my in-law children, ideas flowed and helping hands stuffed and shaped bodies, arms, and legs. My daughter-in-law, Samantha goes on trips with me to take pictures. In fact, I rarely shop alone for the BeBoodles. There are often two or more people cruising a store looking for that “special something” for a particular doll. There were many times where I would completely finish the clothing, lay it out on the table, and then sew the doll together, thinking of the chosen colors, the theme, and any particular embellishments I would like to add. My youngest daughter sometimes paints the remarkable shoes on the dolls.
And why the bells? Two reasons that collided. While writing the first BeBoodle story I wanted to add something odd…unusual…about the doll. I thought back to my childhood when my grandmother gave me a cloth doll with many jingle bells. I loved the bells — disliked the doll (I hate clowns). The bells, then, are one part delightful memory, and one part fiction. They certainly do make the dolls unique!
I’ve also done one or two special requests. For example, in the beginning, my dolls were only female; but, one lady in Texas asked if I could make a male BeBoodle for her grandson. Right now, I have another male BeBoodle in the pickle jar for a customer in Florida. As I create the dolls, the BeBoodle story evolves in my head. Sometimes I will go for weeks, waiting for the right experience or thought to show me the direction of the story. Other times I know right away just “how it will go down!”.
I can honestly say that the BeBoodles saved me in a way that nothing else could. Some of you know that for five years I took care of a family member with dementia. Although the first two years were more of a series of adjustments to my lifestyle, the last three years flowed into a horrendous nightmare. Rather than bore you with the trials and tribulations of home caring for a family member, let me move on to how these dolls helped me keep my sanity. Because I could carry them with me, put them down, and mindlessly stitch on a whim, their creative process fit well into the environment of care giver. Their story in my mind kept my thoughts off the harsh reality of my daily tasks and allowed me to live in an interesting world in which evil does not survive…for long.
My family member passed away in May three years ago and I’m still adjusting to the freedom of living just for me (okay, so I live for my kids and my husband, too, but they are grown and I don’t have to spoon feed them, or worry what they are wearing or whatever). My BeBoodle fantasy stalled a bit as I recovered and took care of business. My family, however, did not let the BeBoodles go and continued to encourage their existence!
How much of the Beboodle stories on this blog are real…and how much is fiction? Obviously, I did not kill Marlene’s brother nor did I send Mrs. Witherspoon to her demise when my daughter-in-law and I went to the graveyard to count out the steps (really) and navigate the terrain in the story. Much of the magick that you have read and will read, however, is real. No, none of my BeBoodles have climbed out of a watery grave to save the day…but…
it would be nice, wouldn’t it, if they could really make bad people go away…
In 2015 my husband said, “You haven’t made any Beboodles in a while. What’s up with that?” I’d been busy making magickal candles, writing lessons on Granny Magick and Braucherei, and even chugged out a big lesson on making magickal dolls. “You should make more,” he said, “I know how much you love creating them.” I put up a listing in my Etsy store for the custom made dolls and was shocked with the positive response.
Soon, I began offering more themes — currently I’m working on a Florence Nightingale Beboodle, a Wolf Woman Bebeboodle and several others. My daughter began helping me on a regular basis by painting the shoes. She comes over once a week and calls herself the “shoe fairy”. She takes special care in designing every Beboodle’s boots so they are unique to that doll.
In May of 2015 I started using Instagram to show my customers how their Beboodles were progressing. I began taking pictures of the different steps in the creation process and then moved on to showing the dolls in my daily life. Folks started following these Instagram pics because they are fun and lighthearted. People actually logged onto their devices every day just so they could see the antics of my Beboodles.
Some folks ask me, “Why do you make the dolls this way? Why don’t you just buy brown, purple, or blue fabric and just make the doll out of that?” I very much enjoy the primitive soft sculpture technique. The painting , the sanding, the dressing of the doll with herbs and spices. The many days and steps it takes to make the doll can be filled with all sorts of charms, rituals and incantations. To me, this empowers and honors the making of the doll. Too, I like to think outside of the proverbial box whether it is magick, religion, crafting or sewing and this process encourages me to do that. Finally, not too many people are interested in this type of doll crafting which makes it alluring to me.
One or two people have claimed that my dolls are dishonorable to the community because I am a white woman wielding a brush filled with brown paint on a soft sculpture art form. This is utter nonsense. When I look at my dolls, I see beauty. They are created in love and they are empowered for strength and protection. In my mind, if anyone bothered to read about the process, how much care, time and adoration is put into each and every doll, and how each doll is revered by its owner (they send me pics) they wouldn’t even think of such a thing, unless (of course) they are dishonorable themselves.
May you find inspiration as I have.