Making Peg Dolls by Margaret Bloom, reviewed by Dawn Bevins on UKHandmade website, 4th May 2013
On hearing the words ‘peg doll’ I can’t say that I burst with excitement. I have a vague memory of playing with some as a child, wrapped in scraps of cloth, with blank little faces. Apparently blank faces are supposed to encourage creativity, imagination, and expression, but I always thought they were just a little sad and unloved. I certainly wasn’t convinced in the entertainment value of a whole book about peg dolls, so it came as a surprise when a rather substantial, chunky book, called simply, Making Peg Dolls, arrived at my door. Even more surprisingly, it’s full of all kinds of cute and adorable, and if I can bring myself to admit it, a little bit of excitement.
Making Peg Dolls contains over sixty doll designs, based on the theme of the seasons, along with various annual festivals. We are informed that the peg doll is part of a Waldorf education (an independent alternative education movement founded in Germany, based on anthroposophy and spiritual philosophy) handcraft tradition, which may go a little way in explaining why I’m not so familiar with some of the Christian festivals, such as Martinmas, and Michaelmas. Christian, Jewish and Japanese festivals are included, and my one little criticism would be, that it would have been nice to see other multicultural celebrations featured, that we are more familiar with in the UK, such as the Chinese New Year, and Diwali. With that said, the doll designs merely represent characters that can be adapted for use for any form of story telling or play: a king, a princess, a wizard, a dragon, regardless to whether the festival mentioned is relevant to an individual.
The little blank peg dolls used throughout the projects are flat-bottomed and come in a variety of sizes. The variation in size lends itself neatly to some of the different characters, so for example, the Easter Hen is larger than her chicks. However, after a quick search online, I’ve found that most pegs available in the UK are the standard long ones that won’t stand, and would therefore need the bottoms sawn away. I only found one supplier of the dolls featured in this book, so it looks as though supply would be limited.
After a thorough introduction to the dolls and materials, the first chapter embraces Spring. It includes turning peg dolls into sweet little Spring Flowers, Bluebirds, Easter Bunnies, Hens and Chicks. Each project has an opening spread that includes and introductory paragraph, a poem, song, or quotation, a list of supplies, and a full page image of the finished peg dolls. Construction of each of the peg dolls then continues on the following pages. Instructions are written in a step-by-step format, are very thorough, but incredibly simple and easy to follow. They are accompanied by hand drawn diagrams, that look a little wonky and naive, but are quite charming, and add to the feeling that peg dolls are achievable for anyone willing to have a go. The diagrams also include actual-size templates, that can be traced and used to cut out the felt shapes needed to create clothes and hats.
The dolls themselves are quirky and quaint, and I found that each page turn filled me with wonder and delight, they are so simple, but they just make you smile. I think it’s something akin to when a parent dresses their child up in cute costume for their own amusement, while some dolls are simply painted, the ones in hats, that look like a small person in costume, are so adorable.
I have two favourite chapters, the first Autumn, features all the things I love: Toadstool Gnomes, a Family Of Gnomes (with pointy felt hats), Owls, and Halloween Witches, Ghosts and Cats. The other chapter is at the very end of the book and is entitled Tell Me A Story, and we are shown how to make characters from the classic fairy tales: Goldilocks and the three Bears (peg dolls in bear hats – oh my!), Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel.
Making Peg Dolls is a lovely family book that can be turned to as a wet day activity. It’s well presented, and I adore how the the finished peg dolls are presented within a set, as props and scenery really help bring the little people to life. It’s easy to imagine how children could become totally immersed in creating their own little theatrical worlds, developing their creativity and skills in storytelling.
This is a great book to enjoy with the kids, as a parent or teacher, but even if you don’t have children, let yourself reconnect with your inner child and fall in love with this magical world of tiny wooden characters. I don’t have any children, but I confess, I’m completely enchanted by these sweet little dolls, and at some point I’m going to cave in to the need to create my own little Gnome, or Bear, or Bunny, or Dragon, or Owl, or maybe even a Cat!