Agosia Arts is about celebrating the natural world, fine craft and conscientious recycling. My main goals with this blog are to : 1) provide a peek behind the scenes at how my work is produced; 2) document my problem solving process; and 3) encourage others to try new things. If you have questions, email me at Thank you for visiting!

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April 14, 2015

Technique Tuesday: Lining Doll Clothes Part 1

Most of my figures wear clothes.  Most of those clothes are lined.  Your first thought may be that lining tiny garments is a few extra steps and whole lot of extra time.  The reality is that it is the simplest and fastest way to make doll clothes.  And it looks great.

I have a only a small number of patterns for clothes: a few jackets and some coats, a few sleeves and that's it.  I often change the look of a garment by altering its length, but generally the designs are changed most by choice of fabric and embellishments.  If you look carefully at my website galleries, there are only a few garment styles that my figures wear. 

The first step in making doll clothes this way is to think carefully about how the garment is going to be made. A few of my garments are cut and sewn as one piece (a swing coat, for example), but I usually cut, sew and line fronts, backs and sleeves separately, then sew the sections together on the figure.  Even for one-piece garments, a few seams will have to be sewn on the doll - usually side seams. Embellishments are added last, after the basic garment has been completed.

Once you know how to put your garment together, the second step is to create a  pattern.  This is easiest if you have a finished body. The process I use is similar to creating a muslin for a normal sized garment, using a dress form and inexpensive cloth.  Test ideas by making a sample garment. Using a single layer of muslin, cut out a rectangle of fabric and pin to the doll body. 

Cut out a sample garment piece, following the contours of your doll and paying attention to where seamlines will appear.  Try to cut where you want those seams to be. If you are not confident in your cutting skills, use a pair of round-tip scissors. Repeat this process for every garment piece needed (fronts, back, sleeves, etc). Remove your test muslin, neaten up the edges, make sure sides are symetrical (if that is important to the design) and cut out a complete new set of muslin garment pieces.

Pin the test garment pieces to the doll.  At this point, you only have a single layer of fabric, but you're trying to make sure the pieces fit together, cover all the important parts, have the correct size openings for appendages, and give you room for intended embellishments. In this example, I'm making a jacket for a new smaller size figure that has proportionally larger hips than my usual figures.  When I pin the side seams together, there isn't enough fabric to cover the hips.  I pinned some extra muslin to the back of jacket section and cut the combined piece to the correct size (shown in the top photo).

If something needs adjustment, consider if you want to adjust the pattern, or if you can make adjustments on finished pieces.  For example, changes to length, armscye curves and necklines should be made on the pattern, but pleats, darts and gathers can be made most easily to completed garment sections.  This isn't how you would make human clothing, but for dolls, this process is easier.  Mark any changes needed onto the muslin and include where your seams overlap.  This is important because your final pattern and garment sections will not utilize seam allowances.

Next week I explain how I create the finished garment.  Stay tuned...

April 8, 2015

Book Review: Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar by Roderick Kiracofe

I recently read and pored over every picture in this delightful book by Roderick Kiracofe.  He has assembled a unique collection of quilts from yard sales, online auctions & thrift stores.  Although most people wouldn't call any of these quilts traditionally beautiful, most are visually striking in some way.  Included with the plentiful images are essays by various quilt and fiber art experts including curators of museums and well-known quilters Denyse Schidt and Kaffe Fassett.

What makes this book so great is the celebration of quilts that were everyday quilts - the ones we actually grew up sleeping under.  Not the precise patterns and carefully selected color schemes that hobbyists and sewing professionals (like myself) create these days, but the haphazard collection of fabrics from a multitude of sources, sewn together in meager spare time.  Maybe there was no filling, perhaps the backing was something strange, and it may not have been quilted, but it was a quilt we loved.

The quilts of my youth were of this type.  They came from my great aunt, who made them to keep family members warm in the 40s and 50s.  Her husband was a tailor and he gave her old suiting samples.  The wool rectangles were usually 4"x8" and pinked on all sides.  My aunt sewed them up in random combinations as she received them, backed the assemblage with cut up old shirts and always tied the quilt with bright red acrylic yarn.  There was no batting, but these quilts were very heavy and extremely warm.  They were oddly attractive, dark and broody, but with shocking bits of red.  No one else I know had anything like them.

If you had quilts like this in your past, this is the book for  you.  Actually, if you are any type of quilter or artist, this book is for you.  This book celebrates the creative streak that everyone has, wacky ideas made real, recycling (but not upcycling!), tenacity, and personal endeavors of all kinds.  

My favorite essay in the book is by Janneken Smucker. She says, " As a quilt historian I've refuted many times the myth of the scrap  bag quilt, insisting that historical quits typically were high-style objects of the middle and upper classes, rather than utilitarian ones crafted with an economy of means.  An then I see the collection of quilts R.K. has assembled over the last decade, .... exhibiting creative reuse, unconventional design, and an awareness of quilt making traditions ...  These quilts make me think I know nothing about quilts.  These quilts break the rules".  

This is a highly recommended read.

February 27, 2015

February Photography

I am constantly taking photographs of my work.  Some are quick shots for this blog, but many others require a full photography set-up.  The finished image may look nice and neat, but the process in the studio is actually a little crazy.  For formal shots I use a black to gray photography background, but for informal shots, I use paper from a roll of newsprint.  The backgrounds are pinned to my design board and the figures sit or stand on my the ironing board.  In this shot you can see the February Figures of the Month getting their photos taken for Etsy (the lights are not on).

As recently as a few years ago, I would only take formal photographs of my 'best' figures.  These would be the ones I put on the website, or I used for jurying into shows. I've since realized I don't have a visual record of many works from the past.  I have written descriptions of every figure I've made, but I miss having images of some of them.  So, if I've finished a set of figures, each one has to be photographed.  I take multiple shots of each from various angles, including the whole figure from head to toe.  Each subtle change in pose makes a difference in the outcome of the shot, so there is a lot of manual manipulation during photography.  I also take torso shots, and  if the work has an interesting feature, I will take close-up shots of that. It's a lot of work!

My studio is not large and when I set up the three photography lights, there is very little room to move around. When you are taking 100 shots, it takes a few hours and things can really heat up with incandescent bulbs. I recently switched to 5000K florescent bulbs, which made a huge difference in the temperature of the room. These aren't like the bulbs you have at home; they are about four times larger, 10 times more expensive and 20 times brighter!  I fear dropping one.

For digital work, like my haiku on Facebook, I often have to place a figure in a more realistic pose.  I may have to pin arms or legs in place, but thankfully the hands are fully wired and are easy to move.  I use a white doll stand for upright poses and a newsprint backround so that both can be easily edited out.  I try to anticipate the poses I will need because I have to install the entire set-up for even one photograph. 

Mainly I shoot at night or very cloudy days because my studio has a large window - natural light alters the color balance of an image.  The goal is to get the best image during photography so that very little has be done in Photoshop.  Although I alter images when creating digital collages, images intended for my archive, sales or advertising are edited very little.  Cropping, slight color editing and watermarking are the most I do. 

All this goes to show that it isn't enough just to be an artist these days.  You have to wear multiple hats, including photographer.  Photography isn't difficult, but honestly, I would much rather be sewing!

Stay tuned...

February 20, 2015

Custom Crocheted Coats, Faster Than Sewing For Dolls

Recently I made a design decision:  I would make all my rabbits and possibly, jackrabbits with crocheted coats.  Why you ask?  Because it's faster than sewing a coat.  And I make a lot of rabbits (they are quite popular).  Shown at left is a new Desert Cottontail wearing his custom-made linen coat and knit wool scarf - spiffy, no?

Although it sounds like a lot of work, it's not.  The coat is based on a simple rectangle, with crocheted-in openings for the arms.  There are only three things to consider: 1) the size of the body, 2) the yarn and, 3) the stitch used.  Unlike crochet or knitting for a human body, I don't use a lot of fitting for my dolls.  I measure only two parts of the body, the circumference of the hips and the width of the shoulders.  If the coat can close at the hips without gaps and hangs properly at the shoulders, everything else looks right. Actually, that's good advice for human garments, too!

As with fabric, I prefer natural fibers for yarn.  Linen, wool and silk always look appropriate for my figures and they are easy for me to overdye if I need a particular color.   I usually try a few different stitches to find a yarn/stitch combo that has some texture, but isn't too overwhelming at doll scale.  I don't use a foundation chain when crocheting, but instead use a variation of foundation single crochet that looks like picot edging - a nice touch for the hems.  I am a very rapid crocheter, so swatching only takes a few minutes.  After picking a nice stitch - in this case a shell stitch - it only took 30 minutes or so to complete the coat.  Much faster than knitting.  Buttons are easy to add because crochet is so open that buttonholes are unnecessary.  This coat has one button and a leather belt to hold it closed.  The belt is made from an old watchband and has a beaded thistle dangle - visit the website link above for a look. 

In this case I'm using a hook on the small side, but it isn't smaller than what the yarn requires.  I think chunky sweaters look bad on everyone - dolls included, but that doesn't mean you need to go miniature in every case.  If you are using a tiny crochet hook just to obtain a scale correct garment for a doll, you may end up with a lot of hand fatigue and a garment that is difficult to finish. 

This type of coat is easy to complete and doesn't require additional embellishments.  Most of my sewn garments require a similar amount of time to comple, but embellishments add to the total; in some cases a few hours more.  So for the rabbits, this really is faster.  I can meet the demand for richly textured, unique garments for each figure, without spending a lot of time completing them.

Stay tuned!

February 17, 2015

Technique Tuesday: Stumpwork Beetles!

One of the design elements on each of my cloth figures is it's beetle companion.  Those beetles are created using a variation of stumpwork, a 3-D embroidery technique.  I wish I had the time to make each insect by hand, but I don't, so I've altered the methods to add a machine stitched shortcut.  I get a lot of questions about the beetles and always try to explain the process as best I can.  In previous posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I outlined my methods, but this month, I made a video.

If you would like more information about stumpwork, there are quite a few good books out there.  The technique is hundreds of years old, but is going through a well-deserved revival in popularity.  My two favorite books are by the same author, Jane Nichols.  Stumpwork Dragonflies is lovely, but The Stumpwork, Goldwork and Surface Embroidery Beetle Collection is a stunner.  I think it deserves a spot in every embroiderer's library.  If you don't want to purchase the books, they are available through interlibrary loan - visit your local library for more info.

February 13, 2015

What Quilt Design Should I Try Next?

Around this time every year, I really start itching to make a new quilt.  The funny thing about that is that I am almost always working on a quilt.  For example, right now I'm finishing the quilting for a lovely Ocean Waves replica.  In any case, I'm thinking of trying something new - a red, white and blue quilt.  I don't want to go all out patriotic, but I do like the combination of the three colors and I know it appeals to a lot of people.  The scraps from other studio projects have been piling up and I have plenty of white and off-white linen and red and blue silk.

I am a fan of star quilts and have always wanted to try a five pointed star.  I drafted a possible pattern, but I'm on the fence about it because I will need to do a lot of Y-seams.  Not a big deal, it just takes up time.  It is pretty though.  Maybe more white around the stars...

The second option is a replica of a sweet School House quilt I saw in the book New York Beauties: Quilts From the Empire State by J. Atkins and P. Tepper.  The original is one of seven identical quilts Ella R. Hill Fatz made for her grandchildren around 1916.  I like the graphic simplicity, the way the colors are used, and the slight variation in reds and blues.  Oh, what to do!

Stay tuned.