The popularity of cloth dolls probably stem from the fact that dolls were not originally intended as play things. During the 1800s, most dolls were manufactured in European countries, particularly Germany and France. Due to their delicate materials like porcelain or china, glass or wax, they were only kept in intricate cabinets where they were showcased as collections or souvenirs. Quite impressively, they remain well-preserved and intact.
The cloth dolls on the other hand to be perfect had to withstand going through several washings and re-sewing before their owners were ready to let go of them. They always ended up grimy and muddy looking, yet they were the all time favorites since little girls can lug them around just anywhere. The skin and stuffing of these cloth dolls were all fabric, although some made good use of straw, leaves, cotton batting, threads, cloth scraps and feathers as stuffing materials. The eyes, nose, and lips were often embroidered while ruddy cheeks were in natural red dyes.
Another interesting thing about the cloth dolls of before is their resemblance to the little girls who owned them. They also carried the fashion of what was in vogue at the time that the dolls were made. Real-life looking shoes were unheard of then but were simply painted on or a piece of black cloth was sewn to resemble the shape of a pair of shoes. Not surprisingly, cloth dolls patterned after a boy’s image was unheard of.
As years went on, more mothers and grandmothers, in fact even fathers found innovative ways of creating cloth dolls for their little girls. In 1840, a certain Izannah Walker, created them into folk art or themed them into tribal images which later went on in years into becoming “dolls from every nation”. Now doll collectors began to include cloth dolls among their assortment of dolls.
In 1915, a father and a freelance artist illustrated and created a series of children’s book entitled Raggedy Ann and Andy and soon after, the popularity of the books inspired him to create the design for “Raggedy Ann” cloth dolls which he protected under patent and trademark. Johnny Gruelle went into history as the “The Raggedy Ann Man.” And even after his death in 1938, his books and dolls were being sold in almost every country.
Another male figure who was then only 21 year old, Xavier Roberts went into the doll making business. He gave birth to another of the modern version of cloth dolls, the Cabbage Patch Kids. His innovation included the unique idea of adopting the dolls instead of being bought. This caught the fancy of the little children who went into his make-believe ward of dolls ready for adoption which he called Babyland General. Both young and old enjoyed the idea of adopting the Cabbage Patch Kids, which were all made from painstaking needlework of stitches, tucking and quilts. It also soared to popularity and is quite well-known all across the globe.
Dolls come and go, but cloth dolls are something most parents can create if only to make up for a toy which has become too expensive to afford. In time, another creative mind will come up with a cloth doll that every young girl would like to have for her own.