There was squealing. There was yelling. There was jumping up and down, hugging, twirling, grinning, and thank yous. And then a little bit of singing. Granota and Rana were so thrilled to find their dolls sitting under the tree when they ran down the stairs Christmas morning. That made the past several weeks worth it. But I am not sad at all that I won’t have to continue to hide those things anymore! It was beginning to be more and more of a challenge with snoopy little people asking way too many questions for their own good.
One good challenge was having several different tasks required to make the dolls. Machine sewing, hand sewing (blech), embroidery, pattern drafting, free-hand drawing, painting, failures, successes. Once again, I used my Joan Russell doll-making book and used the Indian girl pattern, which is the same I used for Rana’s cowgirl doll last year. Also, the Guns N’ Roses Photographic History book that I had received for my birthday became a sort of textbook for me, studying Axl’s features, tattoos, and clothing. All of the doll body pieces were easy to crank out one morning while Mr. Gren kept the kids occupied with a movie. I sew so often, that the kids rarely bat an eye when they hear the machine going. They did yell at me a couple of times because it was too loud and they couldn’t hear the movie that they’ve seen 3487 times.
First, heads were attached to bodies, then faces embroidered on heads. I traced Axl’s eyes, nose, and mouth from the photos in the book, trying to determine what exactly about his features makes him look like… him. The mouths were hard. See, Real Life Axl (RLA) has full and, uh, shapely lips (for lack of a better description). On a soft doll face, full lips look awfully girly, then combined with the long hair… It just wasn’t going to be good. I actually had to undo a top lip which was a little nerve-wracking; I was afraid that the phantom embroidery line would leave holes in the fabric, but it recovered quite nicely. Whew!
So on the second doll, I just made the mouth a straight line. Kind of boring, but no illusions of girliness (After all the gifts were opened, Granota noticed that the mouths were different and asked that I make her doll have an “open” mouth. Close enough. A quick fix and she was happy).
Next, I painted on the tattoos which you’ve already seen on dismembered arms. There was no way I wanted to do that with them flopping around on a doll body that would constantly want to roll over and probably end up with paint in places where it shouldn’t be. Post-tattooing, the arms were quick to sew on, followed by the legs. I settled on yarn hair this time which turned out to be infinitely easier to sew into wefts than the doll hair that I used on the fairy and cowgirl dolls. It didn’t slip out as I was sewing and it seems resistant to shedding. Both good things! This time, instead of making several wefts and sewing them at different levels around the heads, I followed an online tutorial to sew the part onto the head and then make a line of stitching around, to hold the bottom layer of hair down and cover any bald spots. Then a second layer is added on top and sewn at the part and allowed to fall loose. I cut a few strands into bangs to poke out over the top of the bandanas.
The fabric choices for the clothing are one of the things I’m most proud of. Granota had requested an Axl dressed like RLA in the “Sweet Child” video. Leather jacket, leather pants, black t-shirt, cowboy boots and a blue bandana. For the jacket and the boots, I found a costume leather that seemed to have a realistic-looking full grain. The look is great, but I am a little bit concerned about the durability of this stuff. I guess time will tell.
For the leather pants, I found a dance knit that had a leathery look. The stretch was nice and made the pants fit nice and snug!
The t-shirt was another dance knit and was quite thin; my machine hated this stuff and tried to eat it at every opportunity. All together, the effect comes off right!
Rana had settled on the clothing that RLA wore in the “Paradise City” video, the one exception being she preferred his sneakers to the white cowboy boots. I did notice the other day that he does wear these sneakers in another part of the video — just not when he’s dressed in all white — so I don’t feel completely inauthentic. White leather jacket, black t-shirt, white spandex pants. I couldn’t find any faux leather in white, so I went with a heavy bottomweight cotton to give it enough stiffness. It also made painting on the logo easier since the paint probably would have smeared off a smooth fabric.
White spandex was also elusive, so I used a white poplin that had a little bit of a stretch for the pants. The sneakers are white vinyl or somesuch.
For the shirts and jackets, I used the various patterns out of the Joan Russell book, with a little tweaking to make them work for this particular doll. The jackets were tricky. Tiny collars, turning points, and having to line the darn things! Yikes! They didn’t turn out as flawlessly as I would have liked. I was really under the gun trying to get these sewn without Granota catching on. Inexplicably, she began developing a keen interest in what I was sewing as I worked on the white jacket. Without the sides sewn together and no sleeves, it didn’t look like anything recognizable to her, but she was still very, very curious. And when that happens, it’s time to close up shop. It happened a lot more often than I wanted, leaving me precious little time to sew. Then I’d get rushed and seams turn out a little pinched and ripping it out would have just set me way back. So I squash down my perfectionist nature, look at the miniature piece of clothing with a less critical eye and decide that it will have to do.
Painting the white jacket was really fun! It made me nervous, too, though. I suck at drawing guns. They usually turn out looking like mutant candy canes. And roses can easily veer into cinnamon roll territory. Candy canes and cinnamon rolls, while tasty, will probably never be the name of a rock band. Once again using my GNR photo book, I meticulously freehand drew the band logo on the back of the jacket and was pleasantly surprised at just how well it turned out. Painting it just made it that much better! I haven’t measured it, but I’m guessing it’s just slightly larger than a silver dollar. Not a lot of room for error, but I did manage to cram in quite a bit of detail.
For the zippers, I used a silver embroidery thread. It was very stiff and hard to work with. I had meant to add on the little side zippers on the black jacket, but in my rush to get it sewn up, I had already attached the lining. Oh well.
Bandanas weren’t a big deal, although I did have to enlist some help from a math teacher friend to figure out how big to make the square of fabric because I am pathetic at math. Both bandanas were made from fat quarters; I really looked hard to find ones with a print that would match the scale of the dolls.
The footwear nearly sent me over the edge. I didn’t want a seam running up the front of the cowboy boots, but it took me several days and several botched attempts to come up with the solution that now seems so obvious. There is one piece that goes over the top of the foot and meets in the back from the heel to the ankle. The critical piece ended up being a simple tube that wrapped around the leg and was sewn to the top piece (is there a name for that?) across the ankle and then up the back. A little easy scissorwork produced the typical cowboy boot shape at the top of the boot finished off with a zigzag stitch. Finally the sole was sewn on. As Granota noted, Axl’s feet don’t reach to the end of the boots; I told her that RLA’s feet don’t go into a point either, so it’s realistic. ha! The soft boots do have a tendency to get mushed down in the toe and look a little funny. I may need to lightly stuff the toe just to hold its shape.
The sneakers were even more of a headache. The stiffer fabric would not lay flat over the top of the foot, so I had to fold side seams into it in order to contour the piece. The unfinished edge at the top didn’t look good, so those had to be cuffed under. Last to figure out was the little tongue that reads AXL. This piece was no bigger than my thumbnail and was not easy to maneuver. It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve and I didn’t have much time at my disposal. I probably could make a better-looking shoe with more time, especially now that I have some clue of what to do. But you know what? Rana likes them, so I like them. A red Sharpie bought that night finished them off.
The girls were pleased with all of their Christmas gifts, but I noticed that they never left their dolls unattended all day. Even at dinner, Axl was tucked in behind them while they ate. It was such an all-consuming project for me, but the payoff is great. I’m looking forward to hearing little impromptu concerts and eavesdropping on all of the adventures that the two Axls will have. But you shouldn’t have to hear about anything Axl-related for a long time (unless you read my other blog). Hoping to finish a monkey hat for Konik soon. That should be fun, right? Thanks for reading!