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.

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  1. ‘just like barbies’ but oh SO much better mumma.
    i love the tree change dolls and i even more love that you have made some for your dear girl. what a magic birthday bag that one was! those teeny clothes, really and truly, i am speechless.

  2. I love the creations you made for the dolls. I remember making Barbie clothes and totally agree with you….the people who make these clothes should be paid a zillion dollars! I viewed the video on the remarkable change of the Brat dolls and my heart was warmed. I struggled with the Barbie issues with my own daughter as well as the Cabbage Patch Dolls that sparked the horrendous fights in stores by parents back in the early 80’s. Talk about corporate marketing and brain washing…I refused to buy one. Beautiful gift for your daughter as well as yourself. Joanie

  3. Oh I have been waiting to see these beauties!!! They look fabulous and I recognised that wedding dress ballgown immediately (such a striking colour). I can’t wait to meet these ladies in person and I am delighted they were received so joyfully. Well done Mum xx

  4. Great post, lovely lady! I loved the photos on your last post, too, but haven’t yet had time to comment. Thanks for including the link to the Nelkin blog, too. I will check it out. You did a great job on these little garments and re-painting of the dolls.

    It’s funny, I had Barbies that were handed down to me by our neighbours and my parents’ good friends. Their daughter was quite a bit older than I was (maybe six or eight years) and she had outgrown them, so I received a box with at least three or four and a bunch of icky polyester and tulle clothing. The funny thing is that I distinctly remember that I wasn’t so much interested in the dolls themselves as I was in 1) making dresses for them myself, which I did with baby blue bemberg stolen from my mother’s sewing supplies; 2) assembling the pool and ski slope that were purchased for use with Barbie; and 3) arranging and subsequently chopping off all of the dolls’ hair. The dolls as representatives of femaleness themselves never really got any of my attention, and I definitely wasn’t involved in any role play involving Ken. Not too many months after I received them they ended stuffed in their box under a bed and I went off to play with my brother’s Tonka trucks! It will be interesting to watch how your daughter uses and engages with the dolls (if she does).

  5. What a good Mum you are!! Making those tiny clothes must be true torture. How old is Dear Girl? Perhaps her tiny fingers are ready to take on the doll-clothes making.

  6. WOW . . . Your “tiny” knitting and sewing is just fantastic!! Although you say you struggled with the tinniest of pieces, the results are just dear. Every outfit is different showing you have a talent for designing – a feast for the eyes. I think you out-did anything the Barbie people could come up with. Hahaha. And thanks for the update on kniting for refugees.

  7. Rebecca, you are some kind of mum. Some kind of super-mum to even consider making those tiny clothes, let alone knitting some of them, and some of them in COLORWORK??? I hope you have a million photos, because that is a project for the “I love you always and forever don’t you ever doubt that” archive. Trot those out if ever your devotion is called into question!

  8. I admit to a divided mind on the evil nature of Barbie. There is something lovely about a doll who has been both a flight attendant and an astronaut. I covet her jet-pack! Then again with a little imagination a bottle of ketchup can take on the same roles even though a bottle of ketchup in a dress is a bit of a stretch.

    The one lesson I wish came with every toy is the difference between fitting in as a must-have versus belonging because you are unique . For all the wrong reasons Barbie is pitched as a ticket to fitting in and is a toy in a constant race to keep up appearances. Poor exhausted doll!

    Your daughter’s new friends, Rebecca, are all about belonging. So happy to see that life lesson getting a fair shake.

  9. Your thinking behind and the making of these dolls makes me happy. Another meaningful project, Rebecca. Well done. If only we could start a world-wide trend.

  10. These wee little girls are so beautiful. Thumbs up for creating something so lovely from something so hideous! (I have loved the Tree Change Dolls concept for a while). x

  11. That was an IMPRESSIVE post! What a great job you did, knitting and sewing for those small ‘creatures’ is a Chore. My daughter had larger dolls but wasn’t really a doll fan. Odd how that happens.
    You did a great job on the faces, they are comforting. I looked at Sonja’s post and thought, how clever. I loved the ball gown best of all and know the knitted garments probably took more time. Also looked at the ‘related’ posts and had to laugh, bad Susan, re your marathon dolly sewing. whew 🙂

  12. The things we do for our children!

    As a child I was never allowed a Barbie, instead I had a Cindy Doll and a Daisy Doll (Mary Quant) both of which had a wardrobe of hand sewn and knitted outfits thanks to my mother and grandmother. I still have all the outfits.

    My daughter was never into dolls so I didn’t get the chance to repeat the tradition. But I must have done something right as she loves to sew and knit her own designs.

    Well done Rebecca, on keeping up a wonderful tradition.
    Cheers Suzette

  13. Lovely post – had me chuckling when you were so clearly absolutely fed up with teeny weeny sewing – but also I can identify with so many of those feelings that you struggled with as a parent. Whatever, you ended up with a lovely doll for your daughter – and high approval that she is just like a Barbie!! has she got a name, I wonder? – or is she just Barbie? I hope she inspires lots of happy fantasies and playtime 🙂

  14. You have succeeded brilliantly and I am so glad for you that your daughter was thrilled with them and the outfits are glorious. Ive been there with the knitting too. However i had two sons as well and Action Man clothing is just as fiddly to make and with boring colours too. Once just for a change I made up a dress unifrom with red and gold braid on it which was not well received! So I said The Queen was visiting! But well done Super Mum!

  15. These dolls are beautiful Rebecca. Recyled and renewed with love for your daughter! What a lovely gift. And your knitting and sewing of those small and gorgeous clothes is awesome and very impressive. Well done!!! I’m not a mum, but i understand the conundrum of wanting your kids to play with decent stuff in opposition to being worried about being too controlling. You’ve done fantastically with these dolls. And you’ve given me more ideas for presents for my nieces and nephews.

  16. Much better than Barbies! Having done my share of fiddly sewing – fancy dress costumes for Sylvanian Families bears … what was I thinking? – well done you!

  17. Awww! The dolls are awesome! What a difference! My daughter is grown now but I remember doing some tiny stitching on doll clothes. Never knitted a cardigan for one though! Great post, Rebecca!

  18. Beautiful 🙂 So glad she liked them, and it has filled the request brief!

    I love their little outfit; I remember making my Cyndi doll (I wasn’t allowed a Barbie for all the concerns still being raised 40 years later).

  19. Oh such sweet and lovely girls will be wonderful new friends for Dear Girl, The outfits are amazing, the knitted garments look as though they’ve been made with fairy needles.

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