I made my first Mourning Poppet in 2017 after a conversation about mourning practices for children in Victorian England. I wondered if there was such a thing as a mourning doll. Turns out, there were some dolls who were dressed in widows weeds, but it wasn't quite the 'thing' I hoped it would be. I wanted there to be dolls that were made specifically to honor mourning. I started to play with making a doll of my own, and after so much trial and error, I successfully made my first Mourning Doll. I now call them Poppets, and have begun to make Literary Heroines and Women in History as well as Mourners.
I begin with undyed cotton muslin fabric. I use three methods for dying them three different skin tones, avocado skins, tea staining and a traditional dye. I use washed and hand dyed sheep or llama locks for their hair. Once the fabric has been dyed rinsed and line dried, I use my pattern and sewing machine to sew the torso and head piece, and the arms. I sew the legs in black linen to mimic stockings. I trim the pieces and turn them right side out before stuffing them. Once they are stuffed, I hand sew their limbs on to their torso, which I love doing! I've become a real fan of the slow hand stitching process. Now we have a complete body!
Next I name her, and I begin to think about her story. I have Poppets who mourn the death of a spouse, of a child, of parents and siblings. When I share their micro story, I try to keep them as neutral as possible, allowing you to read their story and to possibly see your own grief in it. I don't embroider faces on them because I want them to reflect the contrast between the way that Mourning looks, and the way that Grieving feels, as one is external and one resides within. Also, when Grieving, many people experience pressure to look or act a certain way. By leaving your Mourning Poppet without an expression, she is allowed to reflect the changeability of your emotions.
Once I have her story, I hand write a small phrase about her grief onto her torso. Because this will be covered when she is completed, each doll comes with two small black bordered cards of heavy weight watercolor paper. One bears her name and her quote is on the other. I handwrite these with a dip pen and nib and sumi ink.
At this point, I begin to dress her. I have made dress patterns, as well as patterns for bodices, jackets and skirts. I use a couple of fabrics for base layers, one is flat black, the other is remarkably similar to victorian silk. I stay within the general Victorian Era style of mourning costume, though I have made a series of Mourning Poppets in a more Georgian Era aesthetic. Often the base layers are modern fabric. Anything surviving 100 plus years tends to be fragile. I do source antique silk and lace when I can, and I almost exclusively use antique or vintage beads, buttons and accessories. The majority of their clothing is hand sewn. I make each Poppet unique. If I use one type of lace in a bodice, I likely won't use it for anyone else's, though I may for a skirt or a trim. I love dressing them, but my favorite part is the final step.
Hair! At last! I sew her hair directly onto her head, using braids and beads for adornment. Because hair is the final step of their becoming, I will sometimes go through a couple of styles before she 'becomes her'. This process is very soothing, and I enjoy it so much!
Each Poppetl takes 10 to 20 hours to complete. I finish with sore fingers and a full heart. I believe that beautiful things are a comfort, and I want these Poppets to be a way for you to find beauty and to honor your mourning, to own your mourning, to heal and to share.