Felt Dress-up Doll Book

After the bibs, I wanted to make something for my friend’s son Jonas.  To be truthful, I didn’t get it done in time for his birthday, but that was the impetus for the project. I also had the wonderful book “Wee Wonderfuls” by Hilary Lang that I was just dying to do something from. This book somehow shifted from my sewing bookshelf to Fiona’s personal library.

She loved to look at all the pictures of the dolls. We would go through the pages together and at almost every project I would have to tell her the name of the doll and then she would say, “Will you make this for me Mom?” To my chagrin, I still haven’t made anything for her, yet but someday soon the promises of Pixie, I Heart You, Melvin and Marvin, Katie Kitty etc. etc. etc. will become reality.

I decided to use the general pattern and idea of the Betsy Dress-up Pillow for this project. Betsy has a cute ponytail, a felt body and dress-up felt clothes. The basic body is sewn onto the front of a pillow and the back of the pillow holds her extra clothes.

Of course I would need to change Betsy into Jonas, and I decided that a soft book would be more practical than a pillow. I felt uncomfortable making something like a pillow for a friend- that kind of thing takes up space and is more of a display item- and I didn’t want to do something that may not “fit” with the existing room. Plus, if the felt clothes fall off, then it is a little naked felt Jonas pillow sitting around, and that is kind of weird.  Plus, a soft book could be better for travel, church etc.

Jonas has an adorable smile and very blonde hair.  I free-handed a different bang and did the smile a bit wider to reflect Jonas’s big personality.  Oh, and skin-colored felt was NOWHERE to be found. This is probably the main excuse why I didn’t get the whole thing done in time. I even tried hand dyeing and hand-painting the off-white felt.  Finally I just ordered some online.

Once the body pieces are cut out, they are hand-stitched to the foundation fabric. (I used a soft neutral flannel).  The next step was to make the clothes. There were one or two basic patterns for a pant and shirt & shoes I used from Betsy, but mostly I just read the basic instructions and then built from there.

 The clothes were the fun part.  I became a blog-stalker. We were living in Germany at the time, and my friend Melinda was living in England, so we both (tried) to post about our life and the things we were doing abroad for friends and family at home.  We had also had the opportunity to take several trips and visit their home in the past year, so that also gave me material for my tiny creations.

Based on my memory and poring over my friend’s blog to confirm, I was able to replicate many of Jonas’s actual outfits that reminded me of him so much. He is a very stylish guy, so that was fun.  I remembered him often wearing this striped (pronounced strip-ed) polo in the summer.

Jonas helping his Mum and Dad navigate on holiday in Italy

Felt Jonas in Polo shirt

I must say I was proud ouf that collar. It was hard for me to draw out at first! (Sketching true to life does not come easily to me). I used fabric marker and also stitches to create the stripe detail. I also love his athletic socks.

The next outfit I had to try and recreate was this robot sweater that I knew he loved. This is a perfect picture of his smile too:

Now getting this robot right was a challenge. At one point I had several different teeny robot shapes that I kept losing in my couch. And talk about teeny- I needed tweezers for that little blue collar! Finally I created a version I could be proud of. What do you think?

Jonas is also very well-known for having the coolest pajamas. I vaguely remembered these alligator pajamas from a visit, and was excited to see them pictured in a blog post. Sorry I couldn’t get this picture any bigger for some reason, but you can see the little alligator who is wearing a hat, right?

I had bought some cute kids fabric that featured a bunch of animals, and I figured that if I tweaked the alligator just so, then felt-doll Jonas could also have something fun to sleep in:

felt doll

Alligator PJs

Jonas loves Mickey Mouse and I know he absolutely loved being Mickey mouse for Halloween. He looked so cute in the pictures I saw, I just knew I had to try and make his doll a Halloween costume. Plus, at this point, I just couldn’t stop creating- it had become kind of an obsession. Plus my husband was out of town, so once I got Fiona to bed, it was my pet project for a few hours every night.

I remembered my friend mentioning how much he loved his little pumpkin bag- and that he would put it on his head and crawl around with it, so I had to include it.  As I was making all of these, if I worked on it during the day, Fiona would come over and ask to play with Mickey. This was her favorite “outfit.” As for my favorite outfit, it is hard to choose, but I was really excited to do his school uniform.

In the next picture, you will see that Jonas is sitting in a wheelchair. Jonas uses a wheelchair and walker because he was born with spina bifida.  This condition comes with  varied complications which affect virtually every element of his life.  For example, he has limited mobility as far as crawling and walking is concerned. He does practice walking with a walker, however is unable to support himself unassisted.  For greater independent mobility, he relies on a wheelchair.

Jonas and his family deal with the continual challenges of his condition with great grace and love. He is a cheerful, positive little boy who loves interacting with those around him and experiencing new things.  In addition to spina bifida, he also has severe food allergies.  For a peek into what their life is like, you can find them at The Osterhouse.

Whenever I saw Melinda’s kids in their school uniforms I always thought they looked so smart and proper and British.  I knew that Jonas would want his felt doll to go to school, so I had to make a felt uniform. I remember scrutinizing the insignia, trying to replicate it, and I’m happy how it turned out. I also knew Melinda would appreciate the front crease of his nice pants, simply done with some straight stitches down the middle of each leg.

I also created some outfits that weren’t based on real life, but just to have some extra options:

I think I used an old belt loop to retain the stitching on the cuffs of the jeans, and used the reverse side and hem as accent. I matched the thread to sew on the pockets.  It also looked really odd to have boy pants without a fly, so I had to cut out a bunch of tiny rectangles. No offense Jonas! (That joke was for Devin). (Not like he will ever read this though).

Jonas also had to have a snazzy outfit to wear to church.  I love this little vest with the french knot buttons. Do you see though, that the pants look a bit odd without the fly?  He also had to have a pair of scriptures.  I got these wool scraps from the fabric store free scrap bin.  This is actually a great project to use up your scraps.

Here are some of the other outfits that weren’t based on real life.

The tiny shoes were also a favorite part. My husband has good taste in shoes so I modeled the brown ones after his Campers.

I then wanted to make up some letters to spell his first and last name. I found the font I wanted on Word, printed it out and cut out tiny paper letters for a template in order to then cut out the felt.

I tried to come up with a way to make Felt Jonas a wheelchair, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it work well. Instead, I decided to make Jonas a horse. At the time, Jonas was undergoing Hippotherapy. This sounds like a very strange sort of therapy involving a hippo, obviously, but actually it is horseback riding.  (The Greek word “hippos” means horse). Hippotherapy is physical, occupational and speech therapy which uses the rhythmic and continual movements of the horse  to provide motor and sensory input.

I knew Jonas really enjoyed his time on the horse, and since I had some Eric Carle fabric with big animals on it it wasn’t hard to cut out a horse for him.

Now to put it all together:

I used the basic elements of the Betsy Pillow, however instead of having an elasticized pocket on the back of the pillow, I just made it into a book.  I used bias tape to bind it all together.  I sorted the clothes and put them into baggies which are stored in the pocket.

Of course I had to think of something for the front and the back of the book. Since I was going with a green theme, I did a sort of “crazy quilt” square featuring this friendly little frog. I was happy to use up some of my mom’s fun fabric.

For the front I came up with a very challenging idea.  I wanted to create a felt landscape which would be reminiscent of the Yorkshire Dales. (Near where the family was living at the time).  We had visited them a few times, and I just loved the look of the trees, the divided fields and the varying shades of green.  Here are the pictures I took that I used for inspiration.

Driving through, one can see sheep grazing in the pastures divided by the stone fences.

I knew I wanted to recreate the different textures of the stones and the pastures so that it would  evoke the feelings I had driving through the gentle hills of the Dales.

After studying the pictures, I sat down and drew out an imaginary scene with hills and a road going through them. Since I am not a trained artist, it was kind of difficult to figure out perspective, but I drew upon the measly natural talent that I have. I’m not trying to be self-deprecating, I feel like I am artistic enough to figure it out, (or maybe I just really really want to be)  it is just that it probably took me a lot longer than some people I know who can just sit down and sketch out things easily due to their amazing natural talent.

After several drafts, I finally had the scene I wanted.  Then I just had to transfer it to felt. This process involved making photocopies of the sketch, cutting out the individual pieces, using those pieces as templates to cut the felt, deciding which colors of felt to use where [this decision took an insanely long amount of time] and then putting it all back together again like a puzzle.  I used fabric glue to put the pieces in place on a flannel foundation, and then stitched it all to hold it together.

Some other details:

  • For the sky I found a scrap of fabric I had hand-dyed earlier. This gave it a lot more dimension than just a light blue solid.
  • The mountain and the green pieces to the right of the road and below the trees were also hand-dyed fabric. (I liked the mix of texture with the fabric and felt)
  • To simulate grass underneath the trees and to the right of the road I pulled some threads to rough up the raw edges but stitched across so it hopefully wouldn’t unravel.
  • I had fun with embroidery stitches- especially to create the little detail on the different fields and the trees.
  • I used some actual North Carolina sheep wool  for the miniature sheep which my mom had acquired for Santa beards.

It turned out exactly how I had envisioned it!

But of course I couldn’t stop there!  I had to add something for Jonas to do on the front too!  So I created a version of their family van to drive along the road, some clouds and a sun to change the weather, and had his first and last name in letters.  I blurred out the last name on this picture, that is why the photo below looks a bit odd underneath the clouds.

This gift was a labor of love and I was really happy to finally turn it over to him.  I have no idea how long it took, but I remember–although it is a bit embarrassing to admit– that I would work on it at night while watching episodes of The Shield. (A TV drama about corrupt police officers). Ok, I just looked it up.  The Shield lasted 7 seasons and had 88 episodes of about 51 minutes each. So that is about 75 hours of television watching during which I was either eating dinner or working on the book!

That show often so excruciatingly dramatic and often violent, it was nice to have a calming project to work on (although the two are a bit incongruous)  Plus, I prefer to do something else while watching TV & Rijen was away, so it was a nice little month of putting Fiona to bed and then watching a couple episodes and working on the project. [spoiler alert:  And if you know the Shield, you will know which one turned out better in the end!]

I would love to do another project like this in the future, so I guess I better find another long TV drama I have never watched to entertain me while I work. Like ER.  That would give me LOTS of project time!

Anyway, I enjoyed looking at these pictures so long after having completed the project. It does inspire me to get out my felt again and think of what else I could do. That reminds me- an important note on felt- I do not recommend using the cheap synthetic felt found in most craft stores. The felt I used was much higher quality (100% wool)- at a higher cost- but definitely worth it. The colors are more vibrant, the texture is much better and it is beautiful to work with.

Note: I highly recommend the Wee Wonderfuls book I mentioned above.  I took the project in a different direction, however I couldn’t have done it without that inspiration.  The basic well-written instructions  from the book and diagrams helped me figure out what I wanted to do and I loved the idea of personalizing the project to the person I was giving it to.