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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Intermediate Work : Mini Shimotsuke Paper Dolls

April 28th - May 13th 2013

As I had said before, this is my first dolls house construction.  I have been a fan all my life but had never attempted to build one.  And as much as I love all things miniature, I do not like dolls in the dolls’ houses.  I don’t know why.  They strike me as creepy.  Often they are stiff and dead looking.  Their clothing seems to puff up off of their stiff little bodies.  No matter what you do, they seem life-less and without personality.  So I really never imagined that I would have any people in my ryokan.  But then I came across shimotsuke dolls.

Most of us already know about origami (Japanese paper folding) as well as theater like kabuki with their heavy make-up or noh with the expressionless masks.  So when I saw this book by Shigeo and Shizuko Suwa which details construction of the shimotsuke, I just had to have it. (I paid a lot less by the way thru Abe Books).

Obviously, paper dolls like these are made by artisans and it is an art form which I could never even hope to replicate.  But the ideas were stimulating and gave me hope that perhaps some small people could inhabit the ryokan.  The first problem was scale.  The book gives instructions for dolls that are around a foot high.  So I had to reduce whatever I was doing to my 1/20 scale which meant a 3-4 inch high doll.  The shimotsuke are also made of cotton which has been rolled and squished into a free standing form.  But none really have defined limbs.  They look like cocooned mummies.  But I needed mine to be posable somewhat so I opted for making a small armature and just binding the cotton with string.  Next time I think I will only have to wire the limbs and not make them posable.  I think it will work just the same.  The head I covered with some rice paper.  These dolls traditionally have no expression which was fine for me.  Again, I was caught between making them look real (which if done incorrectly is just too damn creepy) or giving you the idea of a person.  More like a tiny inhabitant - a doll.  So my doll’s face remains absent.
Making the armature.
Wrapping the cotton round the limbs.
Next was working on the clothing.  The intriguing part of the book was making the gathered paper.  This was a blast!  I used an old wooden spoon handle and crimped the paper.  It takes a while.  You have to roll and unroll at least 10-15 times depending on the paper.  I found that the texture was similar to cloth once finished and was easy to drape and shape.

First phase of wrapping and crimping.

After quite a few wrappings.  Then squishing it into a spring.
After unwrapping and smoothing it out, it has a texture like cloth. Before crimping on the left.

I then had to cut out some pattern pieces.  They were not very clear and as I followed the instructions I realized that the translation was lacking in a lot of places.  But I just used a bit of intuition and will be sure to make some adjustments for the next one.  I made a small obi using origami paper which was a little more damaged by the crimping process but still, since my scale is so small, I had enough to make the obi.
Wrapped doll and obi pieces.
Next was the hair.  I just used pre-crimped paper otherwise known as crepe paper.  Yeah, it was a cheat but I found a roll of it and it saves a lot of time.  The hair instructions were not clear at all but I figured out what I needed and glued her locks in place.  I then put her in a kneeling position as she is the young girl behind the welcome desk in the main entrance hall.  Pretty damn cute I must say. 
Finished doll.

Obi and hair in place.

I learned a lot from this one doll and will definitely make more.  I don’t think she looks creepy at all!! What do you think!

Seated at her welcome desk.

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