doll in yellow © 2001 Maria Pahls

seed pod newsletter

Seed Pod #070
april 1999

© Copyright 1999 Maria Pahls
Published to the internet
by arrangement with Homespun Peddler.

Fence Post
the fence post
(editor's letter)

dear friends:

the inspirational words that follow are from anne dillard's "the writing life" and were sent to me by penny baugh:

"One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book: give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it's destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."

i thought this was a wonderful insight to any creative process and using what you have right now not saving it for later. too many times i hold back a scrap of cloth, bead or bobble-even names i've dreamed up for that "perfect" doll. when i come across the item later i often find that it no longer appeals to me and some how it feels as if i've cheated myself. has this ever happened to you?

primitively yours,

maria pahls
drop a line
miscellaneous letters sent in by readers

stephen kent of homespun peddler shares a good story: Pattye took the Shari Lutz class on Izana Walker dolls at We Folk of Cloth. Each of the two dolls she made was weighted so that it would sit up. One had a load of buckshot in the butt and the other had a large fishing weight.

Returning home with the dolls, Pattye was delayed at the Baltimore airport security gate. her dolls were "targeted" by the x-ray machine as suspicious. Pattye was asked to step aside since the two gals running the gate couldn't figure out what was in those dolls and didn't quite trust the explanation.

To be sure, the agents called a supervisor to come over for consultation. He put some kind of sensor material on the doll that was probably used to detect explosives. After Pattye explained again that one doll had buckshot in the butt and the other had a big fishing weight, the dolls got x-rayed again. the supervisor approved them but not before calling other agents to come over so he could show them what it was and what to expect. As Pattye says "Good thing too... if the rest of the We Folkers come through with buckshot constipated dolls, it could have constipated the entire airport!"

primitive ponderings
questions asked by readers, then replied upon in later issues.
new question:

"I'd like to hear more about how people use their creative process. I have found that I actually design better in the evening than at any other time. I'm more tired then, but that seems to open things up.

I have also noticed (and family members have pointed out) that I am quite obsessive about my creating. If I get an idea i will work like a crazy person to make the idea come to life. I usually 'see' what I'm going to make in my head. If I try to change that, it usually does not work for me. I even keep the project colors the same as what I envision.

I start with small sketches, altering and modifying until I get a shape I like. Then I go to the fabric and design board. Sometimes I do a mock up in fabric, cut shapes and try them out. I'm very intuitive and most of the time I go with what I did first. I don't change things too much. This style has been difficult for making pattern shapes because I have to make the quilt first, then figure out the shapes and sizes from the finished piece. So how do you all create?" Pat Sloan

tips and techniques

tips & techniques

French knots,fear not!
when i mentioned that never have any luck making french knots... toni sent in Erica Wilson's instructions for making them...and they come out perfect every time!

if you know the basics of a french knot these directions should help:
  1. Bring needle up at A (A=where you want the knot to be).
  2. Twist thread ONCE around the needle.
  3. Put the needle in at A or just beside it and pull the thread until it fits CLOSELY round the needle (not too tightly). (we will now call this "B").
  4. Pass the needle through B to back.
  5. You will have a finished knot...The trick is that the thread should only be twisted ONCE around the needle, as this makes a neat knot...NEVER 2 or 3 times. Knot size is determined by the number of threads, ("or ply"), and the size of the needle used... French Knot instructions from the book CREWEL EMBROIDERY by Erica Wilson.
dried flowers made easy

here is a simple way to dry basic yellow daffodils. pick new opened, clean, dry, blooms and cut the stem at desired height. enjoy them in a vase with a few inches of water for several days. remove the water and return the flowers to the vase or a jar. check to see if more water puddles in bottom of container & remove as it appears. the blooms and stems usually dry within 2 weeks and resemble tissue paper flowers. they last about one season. spray with matte sealer if desired. now can it get any simpler than that?

felt balls

The old fashioned way to make felt balls is under water by hand rubbing with soap and shocking the fibers by alternating hot and cold water.

use carded fleece and loosely form into a ball of desired size. place in toe end of old nylon stocking. knot open end of stocking tightly to stabilize the fleece ball and secure its shape and position. Place in washing machine with soap suds on hot cycle with cold rinse. this can be followed by drying in the dryer to help with the felting and/or drying). repeat washing and drying if desired. most times the balls come out perfectly, once in awhile they are a bit off.

peel off the nylon stocking to reveal felt ball,some fibers may adhere to the stocking. finsihed balls can be tea dyed , decorated or dyed with kool aid. these dyes are non toxic but do stain so be sure to wear gloves.

make enough of these balls to fill a wooden bowl for display ~they look great, but beware! -cats seem to go bongos for them. sent in by bibi


blacksmith~ a metal worker who hand forges hot molten metal into various wares.

whitesmith~ a metal worker who finishes pieces by polishing, buffing, chasing, engraving or filing, etc that are made by a black smith.

wrought iron~ any iron object that has been forged and worked by hand.

pomander~ a mixture of aromatic substances, formerly worn enclosed in a box or bag as protection against odor and infection. or a case,box or bag for holding pomander.

Artist Interview
G A I L    W I L S O N

MP: you have an interesting story of how you began making dolls, would you share that with us?

GW: "I began making dolls for a living in 1974. It began because I'm allergic to cats. I had returned for a graduate level course in ceramics to my alma mater, Skidmore College. I had always, at least since age 14, thought that I wanted to make my living from my own two hands. When I got out of college, I found myself not doing that, but working at real jobs in graphics, so one day said to myself, "stop and do it".

Needing more technical know-how for my future career as a potter, I went back to school as I said. The cat part comes in because during that summer while doing school, my face broke out so badly that I looked like I had some unspeakable disease. No doctors could figure it out. I felt I had to stay in my boarding house room and occupy myself rather than socialize. So I brought home some porcelain that I had been throwing with on the wheel. I fashioned a head, hands and feet, then realized they needed to be hollow or they would explode in the firing, so I made some very crude press molds. Nothing was researched or known by me about dolls only what I knew about clay. Since I now had a mold, I made 4 dolls.

There was a show to help students recoup some expenses, it was always well attended . So I put the 4 dolls in for fun (it was a serious ceramics show) with price tags of $25 each. When I got to the show, the receptionist said that there was a line waiting to buy more dolls. I couldn't believe it. I never thought anyone would actually pay that for the dolls. But I happily sold the 4, took orders for more and when those were made, more people were waiting and I haven't thrown a pot since. As an aside, the rash would go away when I was away from my room for more than a day, so when I thought about what I could be allergic to, and asked my landlady if a cat had lived in the room before me, I learned that I was right.

(doll) Kits came later- in 1981. A friend (from the little craft community in the woods where we lived the hippy lifestyle of the early 70's who made clothing and sold it to high-end handcraft stores and shows) told me that she had mastered just designing clothes,handing the fabrics and designs to her sewer, sending them out and then getting a check. I realized that I needed something that earned money while I designed since all I could manage was hand-to-mouth making my dolls to fill orders and I had no extra money to do any research or anything new.

That night I had a dream (I really believe in dreams) that I should design kits with integrity. This was somewhat shocking to me as years before I had been approached by the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan, Butterick and Better Homes and Gardens to do just that. I at the time felt insulted that they couldn't see that I was making art and kits were the tackiest thing imaginable. But the dream told me how many people had just as strong an urge to create as I did, but they lacked the skills to carry out ideas from scratch with any degree of success. I was even given the first kit and title in the dream. When I awoke I knew it was the thing I had to do. The rest is history."

MP: your dolls are often labeled as "museum quality" and "historical" for the non-doll makers could you explain what this means and tell us if replication of old techniques an important part of your work as much as the resulting finished doll overall?

GW: "Those two terms are because unlike the whimsical magic kind of dolls a la elinor peace bailey type, mine have a more serious and timeless quality to them with emphasis on detail. They are not spontaneous like the other category I mention and both types are certainly valid for different reasons.

I also love early Americana and what age does to things to give them charm and heart. Sort of like the meaning in the book "The Velveteen Rabbit". I don't usually hold too strictly to old techniques (mainly as I am a speed demon), but I do pay attention to why things were done the way they were and adapt my own methods to things. I strive to find ways that the average person can actually carry out and still have a look of integrity and quality.

MP: tell us a little about your style of making dolls, what kinds of themes,fabrics, size of dolls,finishes/techniques,ect do you enjoy making most? how have your techniques changed over the years if at all?

GW: "I use any style that comes into my head, but for my kits I always try to make it workable and spend many hours refining ways so others can do it too. I am winding down on my porcelain dolls of 25 years as I actually have always hated porcelain. It's too unforgiving and technical. Besides I am really good with cloth and like it. However, since there is a certain charm with a molded doll, I am switching to papier-mache - not the kind kids do with newspaper and paste, but the very ancient technique using pulp in molds. For size, I like small. Whatever is nice is nicer smaller. But of course that has diminishing returns at some point as small scale makes it harder to get good effects."

MP: do you keep any/many of the dolls you make?

GW: " Almost none. I always say I will, but demand is powerful.

MP: tell us about your most favorite doll that you made and why it was your favorite.

GW: "I still like a lot of my porcelain ones and in cloth, it would be The Basic Doll as I think I was successful in making a doll that wasn't "cute" - I hate cute, but also was not a rag doll type and had great dignity as a cloth doll - the kind that molded dolls get much more easily."

MP: any other information about other talents that you have and would like to share

GW: "I think the greatest thing I have going for me is I am an engineer. I can figure out how to do anything in any medium. I think it's all the same to me. You do know that I do a lot of wood things that also are in my kits,and if I want something like a little antique style flat iron, I find a way to make that too."


burlap sack
Gail Wilson
Phone or Fax: 603 835-6551
write to: Gail Wilson Designs
Grout Hill Road
South Acworth, NH 03607
printed catalog $3
book wormie   book reviews
books of interest

Erica Wilson's Embroidery Book
c 1973 - published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York
SBN # 684-13018-1

an early american childhood
dolls toys & playthings of american youth 1780-1880
soft, 88 pages

Early American Dolls in Full Color
The Creative Genius of Unsophisticated America
by Helen Nolan
Paperback - 32 pages
(April 1989)
Dover Publications
ISBN: 0486252035

Dolls the Early Years, 1780-1880
by Theriault
(October 1989)
Doll Masters
ISBN: 0912823011
spider web
web sites of interest

gail wilsons web page:

debras dolls (antiques)
maypole rabbits © 2001 Maria Pahls
"May Pole Rabbits" © 2001 Maria Pahls


Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet,.....
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.
------ William Butler Yeats

April by sara teasdale (1884-1933)

The roofs are shining from the rain
The sparrows twitter as they fly,
And with a windy April grace
The little clouds go by.
George Washington fraktur by Toni McKorkle
Yet the back yards are bare and brown
With only one unchanging tree-
I could not be so sure of Spring
Save that it sings in me.

once there was a bumble bee
who slept 'til spring had come.
when the winter broke,
she then awoke
and her wings began to hum.
edith patch 1926

The rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.
robert louis stevenson

Shown at right is a fraktur of George Washington by Toni McCorkle.

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