All dolled up: Local artists spent months perfecting creations
At the end of the day, Kristine Fisher escapes into another world where she makes tiny petticoats, corsets, bustles and dresses.
“I call them my late night with Dave projects because I sit and watch David Letterman,” said the Charlotte resident. “I have a business, I sew out of my house making costumes and formal wear and doing alternations.
“After I shut the machines off, I sit down and do stuff by hand. It’s very cathartic.”
The clothing she fashions will be worn by dolls she crafts by hand, an art form she took up some 20 years ago.
After making doll clothing for a family friend, Fisher decided she’d like to try her hand at actually creating a doll from start to finish.
“I’ve always done a lot of drawing. This was sort of taking that into 3D,” she said. “It incorporated everything I already did from the sewing to drawing, so it was easy for me.”
As a child, Robin Wyatt watched her mother make dolls, but she didn’t have much to do with the process.
“I was a tomboy growing up,” she said. “I had some of the first Barbie dolls, but I didn’t become a doll lover until I got older.”
Wyatt, who lives in Concord, started making dolls more than 25 years ago when she moved back home after college.
“I had always watched my mother and I guess being exposed to it so young made me develop my passion as I got older,” she said.
As Wyatt began a career in information technology, she took up making dolls at night after work.
“I needed a creative outlet,” she said. “I consider myself a hobbyist dollmaker; I’ve never sold one.”
Fisher and Wyatt currently have several dolls on display at the Spencer Doll and Toy Museum.
Both women starting making modern dolls and later switched to replicating antique dolls, a form of dollmaking that requires an eye for detail.
“It’s kind of hard to transition from modern to antique because it’s more precise and it’s more controlled,” Fisher said.
Wyatt said there’s little room for creative liberties when making antiques.
“It’s all about how well you can copy the original,” she said. “For people who try it and don’t love it, it’s not easy.”
Wyatt said the only dolls she’s made in the past 12 years have been antique porcelain dolls.
“I’ve got a passion and a love for them,” she said. I’ve gotten into making French and German dolls, which has helped me to understand and love that history.”
Wyatt has also learned how to restore and preserve dolls.
“I’ve taken a whole series of classes,” she said. “I want to make sure these dolls are around for another 100 years.”
But restoring dolls can be much more time consuming than making new ones, Wyatt said.
“It takes at least five times as long,” she said. “It’s hard to find somebody to do it because it takes so much time, but it’s really important.”
Fisher said she enjoys making miniature dolls.
Both women create the dolls from scratch using a kiln.
“You start with just a jug of mud and a mold,” Wyatt said.
They paint the faces on to each doll, making sure the eyelashes are symmetrical and the lips are just right.
Sometimes they opt to buy a wig instead of going through the tedious process of making one using mohair.
The women each spend at least six months making just one doll.
After finishing one doll, they start thinking about their next project.
“I just go by what inspires me at the moment,” Fisher said. “It really depends on how complicated I want it to be.”
Wyatt said she looks at magazines for inspiration.
“It helps bring out your preferences and your taste,” she said. “If I don’t like it initially, I don’t even consider trying to make it.”
AccessorizingFisher, who makes her own patterns for clothing, said the majority of her doll clothes are handsewn because of their size and the intricacies involved.
“My mom used to show me how to make clothes,” she said. “As a child, I was always dressing and undressing my dolls. I love the clothing.”
Wyatt said she can sew clothes, but she doesn’t enjoy it.
“I do it out of necessity because I’m pretty picky sometimes,” she said. “But that’s not where my likes are.”
But Wyatt said she is an “undergarment fanatic.”
“I don’t mind making underwear as much as I do the clothing,” she said. “And I love to make accessories like purses, hats and shoes.”
The women said the clothing has to match the kind of doll being made.
“You can spend weeks trying to research the correct clothing for that time period,” Wyatt said.
Fisher and Wyatt each spent about five years competing in doll shows.
“There are different kinds of competitions across the United States,” Wyatt said.
Between the women, they’ve traveled to California, New York, Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C.
They spent such a short amount of time on the competition circuit because of the cost.
These days making dolls is simply a fun hobby.
Their dolls are displayed at various museums and in their homes.
“Not all of my dolls are on display all the time because I don’t want to overflow my house,” Wyatt said. “I travel for programs and cycle them out.”
Fisher said her husband keeps wondering where they’ll fit another doll.
“I’ve always loved dolls,” she said. “I’ve got some from when I was 5 years old. He swears they are multiplying on their own.”
Contact lifestyle editor Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.