knit | sew

Our Tree Change Dolls

October 9, 2015

Spring is birthday season in our family and there has been some tiny sewing going on in preparation.


Our Dear Girl has reached the age of asking for Barbies. I struggle with this stuff. I worry about corporations and advertising executives hijacking childhood and defining gender just to sell stuff and then I worry about me controlling what my kids play with too much. These are my own worries…I am not judging playing with Barbies or launching into a tirade about buying popular toys. But I have been compelled to try to find the middle ground that allows my kids to participate in peer play and creates spaces that encourage self expression outside of the product catalog.

I interpreted Our Dear Girl asking for a Barbie to mean that she wanted a companion dressing doll…not the squishy baby dolls she has loved since a wee one, but a hard doll with hair that perhaps reflected herself more than a baby doll did.


Tree Change Dolls were my middle ground.  These dolls are the brain child of Sonia Singh, a Tasmanian research scientist. When she found herself retrenched, she started collecting discarded Bratz dolls, removing their heavily made-up faces with acetone and painting on a new, more childlike, relaxed kind of face with simple acrylics. With some hand knitted and sewn clothes, she started a small revolution. Her first batch sold immediately and she encouraged folks to make their own.

So when the Barbie call came, I thought I would do as she suggested and make a couple for Our Dear Girl. It was trickier than I expected despite looking so easy on Sonia’s DIY Youtube vid.


Despite going through almost a whole bottle of acetone and all of my smell receptors, these girls still have smudgy noses but I figure that will be nothing to how dirty they will get in Our Dear Girl’s company. The eyes became larger than I had intended because apparently you need quite a steady hand to do eyes! But the wonkiness and smudginess is part of them, a symbol of my enthusiasm and lack of skill, a symbol of my anxieties for my daughter. And the dolls, themselves seem relieved by the change.


The knitting was extreme. I used handspun laceweight and sock yarn on 2.5 mm needles. I first knit a tiny cardigan in sock yarn from this cracker of a knitting book. Yes, that is a Farrah Fawcett doll!


I knit the cardigan in pieces from yarn scraps from a pair of Rivercats.  I then wet blocked the pieces, sewed them together and finally blocked the garment. I will never ever do that again.


The other tops, hat and skirt were knit in one piece in the round or flat to minimise the tiny sewing. The hat and top were from leftovers from Baby Lottie and the skirt from a wee bit of yarn from Jillybean Slow Socks.


I also sewed a skirt and some tops and hand stitched a ball gown out of raw silk scraps left over from making my wedding dress. Whoever has the job of sewing clothes for dolls like these on industrial machines for mass production better be paid a squillion dollars, cos this is hard, fiddly sewing. I could barely see what I was doing, nevermind get my fingers to work with the tiny seams.


Here are the girls, hiding in their bag before the birthday. Our Dear Girl was delighted and declared them ‘just like Barbies’. I think have dodged a bullet…for now.


Postscript: a few weeks ago, in response to the movement of many thousands of refugees across Europe, the desire to knit articles of clothing for Syrian refugees was raised in comments by a number of readers. At the time, there was no locally based point of co-ordination for such a project but I read this week on of a project co-ordinated by Nelkin Designs Blog. One of her Ravelry group members is doctor in a public health centre outside of Munich, Germany who is seeking knitted woollens to distribute to refugees for the approaching winter. You will find all the requisite details on the Nelkin blog if you are keen.