Dolls’ dolls and dolls’ dolls’ dolls (and some dolls.)

In the last week I finally cleared the decks and got busy sculpting some dolls.  Sculpting is accurate as a term, also modelling.  All the masters from which I make the moulds are made in Milliput.  If you watch the Repair Shop on the BBC you will see ceramics restorer, Kirsten, making good, by filling losses in ceramic artefacts, sometimes with a two part epoxy putty.  This is Milliput.  On its own it has been used as a modelling compound for all sorts of modelling and repairs since 1968, you can read all about it at .  You can model with Milliput, as you would with any mouldable compound, once it sets, rock hard in about four hours, you can then sculpt with it as you would a block of concrete or limestone.  The two actions, combined, give the opportunity to refine your original shapes.  In my case, when making the small articulated dolls, which are fourteen parts of porcelain which have to interact, revolving and moving round each other as joints, the ability to refine my original models to make smooth movement and ensure the joints hang together and the dolls does not come unstrung, is essential.

I have modelled a new twelfth scale man and most of a twelfth scale child, the parts for my Christmas card and some dolls’ dolls.

I always have a book on my show table in which visitors who would like me to have a go at an idea they’ve had, are encouraged to write the idea.  I have a good list this time, top of which is Tudor dolls’ dolls.

We certainly know that dolls and dolls’ houses have been around for thousands of years because we have the evidence.  If you ask your search engine for images of an ancient Roman doll, you will find plenty of examples that were buried with their owners, or surrendered as offerings to the gods upon marriage. They are made of wood or ivory, beautifully carved with very Roman hairstyles.  In the Ashmolean museum there are many examples of miniature peopled buildings made by expert ancient Egyptian model makers for the Pharaoh to take with him into the afterlife.  I think the Egyptian modellers, working in the villages that serviced the dead had got the most pleasant job.  I easily conjure them as ancient nerds, shouting ‘Hang on a minute, I’ve just got to paint this man’s eyebrows!’ to a departing funeral procession, though that may have much to do with days gone by with the S&H up at one end of the dining table with metal miniatures and me at the other end with a dolls’ house.

There were also ivory, bone and terracotta ancient Greek dolls, also with modelled complex hairstyles and paddle dolls, which, as the name suggests, were flat paddle shapes with a head, which are attributed to the middle Kingdom period of ancient Egypt.

There have, of course, also been rag dolls throughout history, most of which did not survive.  I had a rag doll, known as ‘blue doll’.  My grandfather made it to comfort the crying baby that I was, by rolling up a blanket and handing it to me with the words ‘Here’s a blue doll for you, now you can stop crying.’  I am quite sure something similar will have happened  as long as there have been adults who could not stand the sound of a crying baby and babies who were comforted by the doll made of whatever came to hand.

The Tudor dolls were not known as dolls but as Bartholomew babies.  They were turned wooden shapes sold at Bartholomew Fair in London.  Any fan of Tudor architecture or furniture knows of the facility that Tudor workmen had with turning.  At a time when much of England was still forested, pole lathes were very popular.  To make one of these, you dug a pit in the forest next to a nice springy sapling.  You then felled a tree that would lie across the pit with the ends supported, tied a bit of rope to one of the branches and the other end to the top of the sapling.  You wind the tree up and get your chisels on it as the sapling springs back, revolving the tree for you.  This is the basic principle of wood turning, the tree turns and you carve it by putting a cutting blade on it as it turns, making a smooth pole. Tudor carvers were lathe virtuosi, making many furniture parts from elaborate turnings.  Bed posts, for four posters, table legs, chair backs and legs, triangular chairs for Elizabethan ladies to perch on in huge farthingales and every other thing you could imagine from carved wood.

The Bartholomew babies were the left-over turned branches.  They had heads, shoulders and waists but not usually feet.  They were dressed in typical Tudor fashions and are depicted in various paintings of Tudor families, clutched by little girls.  Boys had hobby horses, cups and balls and no doubt, little bags or boxes full of treasures such as funny shaped pebbles, carved dice and what we, as children in the North East used to call ‘Chucks and Handies’ but which were known to Roman children as knucklebones.

Bartholomew babies, according to museum records, did not have arms.  However some of the paintings definitely show dolls with their hands clasped, it is likely that arms could be made by threading a suitable material through holes in the torso.  Tudor clothing, pre buttons, was tied on.  Sleeves were tied on under the shoulder frills known as Piccadills, which were sold in the area of London now known as Piccadilly.  In a time pre-deodorant, replaceable sleeves must have been an airy blessing; if you visit as many costume museums as I did in the early days of doll dressing, you will be very familiar with garments rotted at the under arms.  Strings of various materials were finished at the ends with metal tags called aiglets, unless they were made of an unravelling substance, such a leather.

So my Bartholomew Babies will be made of porcelain but will have threaded arms.  I have also modelled a nineteen thirties style dolls’ doll and a shoulder head doll, typical in Victorian times, which may or may not be a kit.  If you fancy having a go at a doll kit, please get in touch in the usual way.  It might be suitable to be a twenty fourth scale person but I might shrink it if anyone is keen.  It might just be a small doll for anyone wanting to have a go at making a Victorian type doll.

I also have, ready to shrink, a Seventeenth century prototype. I was obsessed with the seventeenth century for so long I had dolls of the era, which were originally carved wood, to live in my houses as residents.  I did offer them years ago but no one was keen, so the time has come to shrink them down to dolls’ dolls as see what anyone else thinks.

The one hundredth Miniatura is the place to see all these dolls’ dolls and the dolls that are usually there and the new dolls. Whatever else there is, there will be dolls (I will make them and bring them!)


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