I’m not a seamstress. In fact, I was never taught how to sew either by hand or using a sewing machine so I have had to teach myself how to do both. I was given my grandmother’s old bobbin-less treadle sewing machine in 1971 and learned to use it when I lived without electricity while living in a remote cabin in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Trying to decipher a McCall’s pattern to make my husband a flannel shirt was like trying to teach myself a foreign language! However, having taught myself how to bead on leather and make leather handbags in the early 1970’s, I decided that I could probably figure out how to hand-sew or machine-stitch just about anything if I dedicated enough time to the process.
In the Fall of 2021, I decided I wanted to learn to make cloth dolls to take with me for the two 11 year old girls whose education I am sponsoring in Kenya. One is from the Maasai tribe of southern Kenya and the other is Turkana from northern Kenya. At the same time, I imagined that dolls would be a good project to teach the Samburu women of Unity Village in northern Kenya so that they could add it to their product line of beaded adornment that they sell to tourists and online through the Samburu Youth Education Fund’s website. As synchronicity would have it, a local friend of mine mentioned that she still had Waldorf doll kits hiding in one of her closets and that she would be able to show me how to make them.
That set me on the path to learning how to make a cloth doll by hand. By Christmas 2021, I had made two large 16” dolls that I intended to take with me to Kenya the following January. I dressed them in cotton fabric napkins I had previously purchased in Kenya and adorned them with necklaces using old trade beads I had collected many years ago.
I decided that I wanted to also bring smaller dolls for the younger children and grandchildren of my Kenyan friends that I would be visiting. I ordered a girl doll and boy doll online from a doll maker who was making dolls out of dark fabric and clothed in Kente cloth from Ghana. This doll maker was also kind enough, when asked, to also design a doll that I could take with me for the women of Unity Village to learn to make.
Then the Omicron variant of Covid-19 hit the world and I had to postpone my trip to Kenya indefinitely. I decided to send the larger dolls over to Kenya with a friend who was going there for work and to also take the sample doll for the Unity women as well as a small doll for my friend Apin Yasin’s daughter Sarah. I took a photo of me holding each of the large Waldorf dolls and sent that in a card with the dolls to each of the girls I am sponsoring . The photos in this post show the girls’ reactions to receiving their dolls. It is the first doll any of them have ever had and their smiles speak volumes about how they feel about them.