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Antique Girls get all dolled up

Oak Crest resident shares the art of doll making

Created date

January 28th, 2014
woman sitting on couch with her dolls

“There are no mistakes, only challenges.” That’s what Helen Miller tells the ladies who come to the monthly Antique Girls and Friends Doll Club to learn the art of doll making. 

Helen, a lifelong doll maker, founded the Antique Girls and Friends Doll Club ten years ago and invited her new neighbors at Crest to join her when she moved into the Parkville, Md., Erickson Living community in 2010. 

“I enjoy being able to teach people something I love to do myself,” says Helen. “I think if you are given a gift, then your job is to share it. It’s fun to play around with [the dolls] and see what you can come up with. You can take an idea and run with it; however, you want to just let your imagination have a ball.” 

Helen first learned how to make dolls as a young girl in elementary school. 

“I went to the library and got a book about how to make dolls,” says Helen. “My mom used to help me and would take a piece of cardboard and cut it out into the shape of a doughnut and wrap yarn or ribbon around it for a hat. My dad would get boxes from the bakery and cut a hole in the top, and we would stand the dolls in them and place them in the window where we lived in the city. People would see them as they walked by, and we actually sold a couple of them.”

Girls just want to have fun

The doll club meets once a month to discuss ideas, and Helen shares her doll making techniques. Some of the ladies like Betty Knight are relatively new to the hobby. 

“I didn’t know anything about making dolls until I met Helen,” says Betty. “I saw a display of her dolls at a crafts show, and I was intrigued. It’s really been a fun hobby. I never expected to get involved in anything like this, but I really enjoy it.” 

The dolls they create are not the delicate, perfectly dressed porcelain dolls you may envision. Ranging in size from a few inches up to a foot and a half are tiny fairies resting on flowers, bikini-clad ladies with long exaggerated legs lounging in beach chairs, and even a Santa doll playing billiards with an elf. 

“They’re really fun and comical; we’ve done some crazy ones,” says Betty. “Sometimes, we use patterns, and sometimes we just come up with our own design. We sort of invent as we go along when it comes to the clothing and the hair.” 

Though Betty can’t put a price on her creations, she has given some as gifts.

“One year, I made all the girls in our family a doll,” says Betty, now a great-grandmother. “It was the same doll with long skinny legs and flippy hair, but each one had different colored hair and was dressed differently. When I gave my daughter hers, she said, ‘I used to have a skirt that looked like that.’ and I said, ‘Yep, that’s where I got the idea.’” 

Special delivery

Helen sells her dolls and donates a portion of the proceeds to Oak Crest’s resident care fund. She even takes special orders.

“I have people contact me all the time with requests. I had one lady ask me to make her a boy doll because her girl doll was lonely,” says Helen. “I had another woman call me and said her cat lost his favorite toy and asked if I could make another like it. She was tickled pink.”

The club has also made African dolls for an orphanage in Nakura, Kenya, and is currently working on small stuffed dolls and animals for another charity in Pennsylvania. Closer to home, club members make unfinished dolls for assisted living residents to stuff as craft projects. 

Of all the dolls she has made over the years, Helen holds two dolls, in particular, dear to her heart: a grandfather and grandson sitting together on a bench.  

“It was inspired from a poem written by Sheldon Silverstein called ‘The Little Boy and The Old Man,’” says Helen. “The poem has special meaning to me, and I don’t ever plan on selling that one.”