From rag doll to wardrobe riches

Updating a favourite rag doll with spin offs so that Nell makes a new (anti nit) head scarf and Lola creates a bebop skirt. And everyone practices their sewing skills… Post by Nicola Baird.

The queen of green writing, Observer columnist Lucy Siegle, has introduced loads of people to the concept of upcycling. So instead of putting an unwanted item into the recycling bin you find new uses for it.

In our house Rag doll Marcia is queen of the upcycled toys. Marcia (see pic) was made in the 1970s by Auntie Kaz and her mum. When my daughter Lola was about two years old, and still shorter than Marcia, the giant girl became a favourite toy whenever we visited Granny Sheila’s house. It wasn’t long before Marcia came to stay with us permanently…

Granny Sheila was amazing at knitting but could do a bit of sewing too until Alzheimer’s unravelled the knowledge. But Marcia was made so then eight-year-old Kaz could have a go at sewing, and it’s her imperfections – the crooked rosebud lips, the shut eyes that seem to make her so appealing to the next generation of children.

Marcia now lives at the end of Lola’s bed sleeping in a beautiful blue velvet dress (once M&S but acquired by me for Lola from a charity shop). This was Lola’s favourite dress and much worn despite its grandeur. Marcia’s original dress was more daywear – a pretty red flower print that my daughters have grown nostaligic about, even though I’m not so mad on that 70s look.

During the holidays we decided to clear up outgrown clothes and Marcia’s unwanted wardrobe was one of our targets. Of course the recycling bin is out – too much love to give this away – so Lola decided to adapt the dress into a bop-around skirt for herself. While Nell wanted me to help her make a new head scarf as the one she’s been wearing since nursery days is in tatters.

Head scarves (see pic) are a brilliant way of keeping head lice out of long hair without resorting to cutting the locks (drastic), conditioning and combing daily to break that nit life cycle (time consuming) or using the foul chemicals (toxic). For greener ways to tackle nits (because young children always get them) have a look at the great bug busting ideas here.  Or consider getting a fine-toothed NittyGritty comb from here.

  • Make a head scarf (and say goodbye to nits)
    Use a pretty rectangular material scrap approx 33cm
    Hem the long edges with your child
    Cut a piece of elastic (approx 18cm) to allow the scarf to slip over a child’s head and also stay put comfortably.
    Cut a thin rectangular piece of matching material about 5 cm longer than the elastic (to allow for strecthing and fixing) and sew into a tube (tip: material should be inside out for this).
    Turn the tube so the material is back the right way. Then thread the elastic through it (tip: prevent it slipping out by temporarily attaching a safety pin at each end).
    Check the size, then sew the end of the material covered elastic to the centre of each short edge. You now have a basic headband.
    Neaten it up by making symmetrical folds on the short end so the band has a more banana shape and will fit the line of the head better. Then sew these into place (hand sewing may be easier for this stage than using a machine).
    Hazards: Making the band too tight. If you make this mistake on your first go (you won’t on your second!) just unpick the stitches on one side of the headband so the elastic is able to stretch.
    Timing: A good sewer will do this in about 15 minutes, most of us allow far longer. If you are doing it with your child it will be a project that lasts about an hour. A younger child will learn how to select thread, thread a needle, tricks to thread elastic and puzzle over the challenges of getting an inside out material print to go the right way around. If you are using a sewing machine they can also turn the handle or foot pedal for you to power up.

The problem with all this reuse and refashioning is that if you don’t get around to dealing with it the clutter mountain takes over… perhaps we all need to do occasional swaps of useful-for-a-rainy-day treasures such as textile scraps, boxes, ribbons, buttons etc etc. 

There are loads more ideas like this in my new book Homemade Kids by Nicola Baird (out July 2010). Order here.

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One Comment on “From rag doll to wardrobe riches”

  1. Francesca Says:

    Excellent suggestions for combatting head lice, Nicola! The head scarf is a superb idea. (Cute and trendy, too.)
    Lice are very sadly and most maddeningly an ongoing fact of life in schools.

    We found a nice, homemade remedy that won’t hurt anyone (but the lice) and can even help the hair: olive oil. Perhaps not coincidentally we discovered this while living in Italy.

    You cover the head with copious oil, and a swim/bathing cap. Obviously it must be tightly on the head, which is why a shower cap won’t be enough. On before bed, sleep with it on, and the full grown bugs drown. One still has to use a tweezer or fine tooth comb to pick off the eggs, but the olive oil helps to make them slide off if you’re using the comb method.

    By the way, if it’s an older child who’s infected and can stand it, we did find that the very best and most effective method with the nits is to tweeze out the whole hair strand. Very time consuming,indeed, but without doubt the most effective.

    Best wishes and best of luck!


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