Recently, I solicited our writers for anyone willing to write about Geek Crafting. Kate Tanski, who has been featured in our crafts section before for her Carol Danvers’ Lucky Hat, told me about her Etsy shop Raggedy Fan Dolls. I liked the dolls so much I asked if she would be willing to make one for me. As a Red Sonja fangurl who appreciates the character for her ferocity, but sometimes feels uncomfortable with the ways in which Red Sonja is represented, I have a hard time finding a Red Sonja statue or figurine that I enjoy (I mean, what is with all the underboob and straddling swords and snakes? I mean the metaphor isn’t even subtle). When I asked Kate about making me a Red Sonja doll, we immediately began going back and forth about what the doll would look like which included wearing a chain mail top instead of the infamous bikini. We also discussed Kate’s business.
How did the business come to be?
So, it came about last year. Sort of an impulsive idea that I would make these dolls for a photo op at a Teen Wolf con, and then people really liked them, and I made a couple more for my friend who goes to a lot of Teen Wolf cons, and then Arden Cho saw the Kira doll and tweeted about it, and then some of the writers from Teen Wolf saw them and tweeted about them, and I decided to try to open an Etsy store, and it took about six months for me to manage to do that.
These dolls are so unique. How did it come to be an idea in your head?
It’s a strange and wonderful thing. I never thought that a year later, my life would be like this because of these dolls.
I was going to my first Teen Wolf convention, but I’d been to other conventions before, and using props of some sort in photo ops is something that’s cool and different, and I thought, that would be kind of cool to do. I’d never made a doll before, but I have rudimentary sewing skills, and I got this idea in my head to make plushies in the Japanese style. I think the original tutorial I found online was on DeviantArt for plushies, but I couldn’t find the materials I wanted, so I thought, “what if I just used fabric instead of felt?” and that led me to this tradition of the rag doll. I made two dolls to take with me to the Teen Wolf convention, but it was the reaction I got from people about those dolls that encouraged me to make more. The fans I talked to were so nice and encouraging, and a friend of mine asked me if I could make a doll for her of a specific character, so I did that next, and it sort of…snowballed from there. I took more dolls to another Teen Wolf convention, and that’s where Arden saw the doll I had made, and Arden adored not just the doll, but the attention to detail in copying her character’s outfit.
And that’s when it kind of hit me that people appreciated the work I was doing, and they liked it, and in the year since that happened, I’ve made about a dozen dolls, some as gifts, other as commissions. I created an Etsy store, Raggedy Fan Dolls, and I’ve been working to expand out of Teen Wolf into different fandoms. People ask me all the time if I just do Teen Wolf, but if people can provide reference images I’m willing to do pretty much anything.
What about your process? How long does it take?
It’s funny to think about even having a process. People ask me how long they take, and I usually say about a month, because that’s about how long it takes for me to find what I need and make the doll. Once I have everything I need, the doll-making itself takes about a week.
The first step is always reference photos and figuring out what fabric to use for the skin tone. I’m really concerned about trying to find an appropriate skin tone and not whitewashing or making them darker than they are in real life, so I have a stack of swatches that range from light peach to dark brown. It’s not always perfect–and sometimes I find the perfect shade after I’ve already made another version of the doll–but I do my best.
Next comes the doll’s face. I use iron on transfers for most things–eyes, mouth, and eyebrows, and paint for things like facial hair. The eyebrows are all done freehand by me and so are unique for each doll.
The clothes are the most time consuming aspect, since they’re customized for each doll in terms of fit, which means I can’t start them until the doll body is finished. I started out modifying patterns made for 18″ dolls like the American Girl dolls, because while my dolls are similar in size they’re not similar in shape, and now I have bags of pattern pieces for various things. The other thing that people don’t know about the clothes is that a lot of them–like the jeans and some of the tops–are baby and kids clothes that I buy at the local Goodwill. For things like jeans, the distressing and fading and the decorative topstitching are things I can’t duplicate, so I repurpose the clothing for the dolls. The way the patterns and sizing work, that usually means that I only get one pair of doll jeans out of one pair of children’s jeans, so each doll’s wardrobe is unique in that sense.
Finally, after the clothes and shoes are done, I work on the hair. I use different kinds of craft fur for shorter, spiky hairstyles, and bulky yarn for longer hairstyles, and it seems to work pretty well, for the most part. The bulky yarn can be braided and styled like normal hair. I choose a roving or 1-ply yarn because I prefer that look to the traditional yarn hair. The craft fur is usually just folded and shaped, but sometimes trimmed and styled as well until I’m satisfied. I’m pretty picky about the hair, I’ll be honest.
Once Kate gets finished with my Red Sonja doll, I will be sure to share a picture via Twitter. Until then, consider checking out her Etsy shop and contacting her for your own Raggedy Fan Doll commission.