Saturday, November 21, 2020

Medical Dolls!

Hello everyone!

I'm excited today to finally share my Medical Dolls with you. Given everything that's going on in the country and world right now, it kinda gives me goosebumps to be posting this now, but this project has actually been long in the making. There's a story behind that, which I'm about to tell you. But before we begin, if you're noticing similarities between these and my Owie Dolls, you'd be right - and there's a story behind that, too. 

One of my favorite aspects of working in pattern design and sewing in general is collaborating with other creative people, both individuals and organizations. Often, in spite of us both saying, "that was so much fun - let's do this again sometime!" these are one-off opportunities. It's usually the nature of the assignment, or the way of the ever-evolving crafting environment. Occasionally, I am fortunate to form a working relationship that allows for multiple opportunities to create together. Publications - books, magazines, blogs - have opened doors to working with some wonderful folks, many of whom are as nice as they are artistically awesome.

In the spring of 2018, the editor of an overseas-based magazine for whom I've done some prior work, asked me to design a new project for an upcoming issue. I'd always enjoyed working with them, in particular this editor, who was a thoughtful and succinct communicator, appreciative, kind and easy-going. She was specifically interested in my Owie Dolls, and while we didn't want to reissue the original pattern, she wanted to preserve many of its pretend-play features - could I essentially create a new twist that still fit within the space constraints of a magazine article?

So I got to work reimagining. If you're anything like me, you might sympathize with the particular challenge of recreating something you've already done before and whose outcome you were already pretty happy with. Creatively, it's a lot easier to dream up something completely new than to tweak a previous design, typically. But what a fun opportunity to reach a whole new market with a fresh version of a doll that's already been beloved for a decade. In a different country, no less! By late summer, the prototype was ready, photos were sent and approved (and exclaimed over) and I began photo-documenting and writing the instructions.

Then, unexpectedly, the magazine was acquired by a larger publication company. And the editorial team was let go of and replaced by new staff. Apparently, this was all went down quickly and unforeseen - it was evident in the email this editor sent out to the contributors that they were just as stunned as we were. As I read about how our contracts would be handled by the new management, I remember feeling a sense of loss beyond just What Will Happen Next; this was a working relationship that I would actually quite miss. 

And now, the madness began.

Right at the outset, communicating with the new editorial staff was very different than before. They were inaccessible, although cordial enough when we eventually did connect. Yes, they said, keep to the original deadlines and finish up. So when the pattern instructions were completed, I packed up the prototype and all the paperwork and sent everything off to the new editor along with an email to say it was on its way. This part at least was familiar; in the past, the package would arrive in a couple of weeks, the editor would notify me when it did, and it would join the queue of projects to be processed and readied for print according to sequence and priority. 

Weeks passed and I heard nothing back, but I assumed that the new editor was busy with the transition and all its demands. I figured that when it was time in the queue for my project to be worked on, communication would start up quite naturally, with clarifications and questions and other things inherent to the editing process. I moved on to Menagerie, becoming distracted with designing new animal patterns for Auntie Laura.

When weeks turned into months with still no news from the publication company, I began to be concerned. I forget who reached out first, but we collectively discovered that the package never arrived. Bewildered, I pulled up tracking info, contacted my post office and ascertained that it had successfully made it overseas, found its way to the local post office, was out for delivery to the address, yet was never received, and was then returned to that local post office, at which point the trail went cold.

I relayed this to the new editor, and asked if any inquiry might be made at their post office, but nobody responded. By now, this was beginning to feel like a low-grade, even lower-stakes crime drama, rife with red herrings and no viable leads. How might one possibly move forward, stuck in limbo as things were? 

But a few days later, the package turned up again - on my doorstep. The thing had traveled halfway across the world and miraculously, with inscrutably serendipitous timing, found its way home. 

Dumbfounded (albeit secretly relieved), I reached out to the editor again. Here it is, with a note from their P.O. explaining why they had to ship it back - would they like me to resend the package? And if so, would they look out for it so that this time it might safely received?

Actually no, thank you, the editor replied. Since the project had been returned to me, they had decided to drop it from their lineup, as it were. They cited various reasons, including the changing focus of the magazine under new artistic direction, away from projects like mine. They would still compensate me for my time, of course. There were other logistical and legal bits, but that was the gist.

Well. That was certainly disappointing.

This is a business transaction, I reminded myself; they're profit-oriented and task-centric. Besides, how fortuitous that the prototype came home, and isn't instead languishing in some cobwebby corner of a post office in a foreign land. (The children, who are always slightly heartbroken when my projects are sent to new homes and who'd been carefully following the misadventures of The Package, were very happy that the dolls were once more in their possession.) Think of this as closure, I reflected; perhaps now I could move forward, throw myself into other, new projects and chalk this up to experience. All true things, yet I still felt mentally and emotionally wearied for a couple days. As for the manner of the letdown itself, let me just say that I'd never missed that old editor, and all her humanity, more than in that moment. 

And now, how exactly would one move forward? On the one hand, I had a sort-of ready-to-release pattern, complete with prototype; on the other hand, it was in spirit similar to another popular pattern that was already in my shop. It was also formatted rather narrowly for a publication, which meant that instructions-wise, it was skeletal with limited photos and no annotations or other details, as per the uniformity guidelines set out by the magazine. Certainly it was of no use to me collecting dust on my desk, but could I possibly release it as is, qualifying it as "Magazine Format", which was not only lame but also meaningless to most people, and slap on a token price tag like 99c to appease my conscience, while simultaneously undercutting the market and invalidating the months I'd spent developing and writing it? 

Or I could rework it into a more usable format, and give it the new lease on life it deserved. I'm happy to report that I decided to go with the latter. As expected, it took several more months of work, but at the end of it, we had a pattern that's accessible in all the ways you guys are accustomed to. An unfortunate debacle that found redemption, I call it.

And that's the story. Incidentally, please don't let this discourage you from working together with other potentially lovely organizations should the opportunity present itself. I think of this as an anomaly among the many other wonderful experiences I've had in my collaborations. 

So now, let us move forward and meet the Medical Doll Set!

I'll highlight similarities and differences between this doll and the Owie Doll, too - partly to distinguish one from the other and partly to share what happens in the design process during a reinvention. 

A little bit of background: in the early stages of creating this project with the original editor, there were several practical guidelines we'd considered. One was the variety of materials available to the typical readership of the magazine. This was not the US, and some of the more specific fabrics would not be available overseas. With that in mind, we opted for common fabrics for the doll, as opposed to the fancy velcro-sticky velour that was so crucial to the Owie Doll's design. Another was the space constraint. While many of the readers had considerable sewing experience and would likely enjoy projects at least as involved as this one, more complex techniques meant more detailed instructions and numerous photos and diagrams. Which we didn't have the luxury of in a magazine layout. So we picked a happy medium - simpler construction techniques than those in the Owie Doll pattern while still offering a toy with a good level of detail for interesting play.

First, the dolls, 

which have yarn hair. There is the shorter style,

the longer style,

(which can be tied back, braided and manipulated into other hairdos),

or none at all.

The round heads, incidentally, were hugely important (to me, at least). 

Now, I understand that most people don't really care about the shapes of doll heads, but folks who've followed this blog for a while will know how obsessed I am with all things round, heads included. Ironically, my Owie Dolls did not have round heads - for a completely practical reason: felt hair. The multiple seams required to produce a round head did not do well in felt, and flat heads were simply the more rational choice. Yarn hair and round heads, however, are a perfect pairing. A happy side effect of shaping a head with multiple seams is being able to introduce cute noses - again, something that could not be integrated into the profile of the Owie Dolls. 

OK, maybe you've had enough of heads. Shall we move on?

Next are accessories you can make for your dolls. First is a wrap gown. The construction is super-simple: unlined, fastened with ties similar to real hospital gowns (and much more stay-in-place than the ones I've had to wear myself!). 

There's also a bouffant cap and thermometer, 

a reversible sleeping mat,

an arm bandage, an arm sling, a foot cast and strips of wrapping bandage.

Also, a face mask. 

Two years ago, the set did not include a face mask. When I was rewriting the pattern this fall, however, I remember thinking, "it feels like something's missing," and then it dawned on me: how odd that I could actually see the doll's entire face. 

I realized I would need to add a face mask to the list of accessories, at least because it was a sign of the times.

This one is reversible - not because it's fancier, but because lining the mask is simpler and neater than finishing tiny exposed seam allowances. (Reversibility - and fanciness - is bonus!)

This is the medical center. 

There are three medical stations, one on each panel/wall. If you're familiar with the Owie Doll's add-on Med Hub, these are the same three medical stations.

Station 1 is the blood pressure monitoring system, 

Station 2 is an ultrasound system,

with a transducer,

and a display screen (the blob is supposed to be a kidney but you can create any symbolic shape you like).

Station 3 is an EKG/ECG system

with a set of electrodes.

The grey medical center reverses to a red-and-white storage bag -

saves space, keeps all the disparate parts organized and portable, and feels a little bit like magic at the same time.

Tomorrow, the pattern goes on sale, so do check back then for all the specs and details! 

Next week sometime, I'll put a couple of Medical Doll Sets in my Etsy shop for you to buy if you'd prefer the finished thing to DIY. 

Also, what do you guys think about having a kit to save you time shopping? Folks have often written to me about the challenge of finding the materials they need for their projects - not so much because the materials are specialty per se, but because they don't have easy access to a large enough fabric store that carries more than the absolute basics. Add to that the difficulty of going out in person safely these days, or finding the right stuff online (if they're even in stock). I get it. 

Here's a photo of what such a kit might look like. There's a LOT of stuff in there - fabric and interfacing and notions and whatnot, everything except maybe the stuffing and sewing thread.

Here are the lists of materials you'll need for the Medical Doll Set: 

The plan is to offer a limited number so that I'm not overwhelmed, and make up each set as I receive an order. The kits are $75, plus shipping, and each kit contains enough materials to make one doll, one medical center and one set of accessories. If you want to make two dolls instead of one, I should be able to customize the yardage to accommodate that so you don't have to buy two kits. 

Stock on hand permitting, I'd also like to offer you a choice of skin colors. Some of you might be sewing with a specific individual in mind, and it can be a wonderful thing for a child to have a doll that looks like them. 

The kits won't be ready till the end of November/first week December, but let me know in the comments below if you're interested so I can start pre-ordering ASAP some of the stuff that takes a while to get here. The aim is to get the kits to domestic addresses in time for Christmas. I'll let you know later when and how to submit an actual order for a kit. 

Stop by here tomorrow to buy the sewing pattern for the Medical Doll Set! Meanwhile, if you're interested in ordering a kit, do let me know in the comments below.


  1. This is absolutely amazing! Thank you for sharing your creativity. I'm forwarding your blog so others can see it.

  2. These are wonderful! I have been a nurse for 43 years and currently work in pre op. I love the variety and the medical center/ storage bag is genius. You are so gifted and it’s a blessing to have you share your work. Love, love, love them.

  3. These are lovely, LiEr!

    I definitely think a kit would be helpful. I love having all the materials available instead of having to source everything myself, particularly in covid times.

    I have a request for non-acrylic yarn, because that's a skin allergy in our family. But I might buy one of your kits even with the yarn because I do have other options here and it would be so nice to have everything else sourced. Also I fall into the "kits are fun" category of human.

  4. Is there a size difference between the Owie Dolls and these ones?
    If so that would be awesome! I make dolls for Christmas presents for the Navajo, and a slightly smaller version would be perfect for making just a tiny bit more of them, and this looks finicky than the owie doll pattern.

    1. Hi Ticia, yes, but the Medical Dolls (16") are actually taller than the Owie Dolls (14"). The Medical Dolls are also a little simpler in construction, in spite of looking more 3-D. If you'd like to make even smaller, simpler dolls, you can try the Fairytale Dolls. There is a basic version that is a free tutorial here: as well as a pattern you can purchase for more outfits and a carrying sleeping bag and the yarn hair adaptation here:


Thank you for talking to me! If you have a question, I might reply to it here in the comments or in an email.