Sunday, November 05, 2006

Memory Dolls ~
All About Dad

You may remember that my beloved Dad passed away on July 13th this year. Everyone in the family loved and respected him, and we miss him more than we know how to say.

A few days after he died, Mom pulled out his neck ties and asked me if I thought any of my brothers would want one or more of them. Instantly it popped into my mind that I could use the fabric in his ties to make memory dolls - one each for Mom, me, my brothers and sister, and each of Dad's grandkids. Mom liked the idea too. Most of us picked out the specific tie we wanted.

Here is a picture of the dolls, constructed and with picot bead edging around the bodies, ready to embellish.

memory dolls by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Here is one side of my first completed doll. This one is for Mom; it's the tie she picked.

memory doll for Mom, by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Here is the other side of Mom's doll.

memory doll for Mom, by Robin Atkins, bead artist

I did silk-ribbon roses on Mom's doll because Dad always bought her long-stem red roses for their anniversary... and often on Mother's Day or Valentine's Day or her birthday, as well.

silk ribbon embroidery on memory doll, detail, by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Each of the dolls will have a locket around the neck. The lockets open, and inside there will be a picture of Dad on one side, and a picture of the person for whom I've made the doll on the other. Each of the dolls will also have a miniature book hanging from one of the arms.

miniature book and locket for memory dolls by Robin Atkins, bead artist

The book represents a favorite family tradition - that Dad always read out loud to us before bedtime. There are five kids, with 16 years between the eldest (me) and the youngest. As my brother and I entered High School, "mature and sophisticated" as we were, we still hung out around the dining room table to hear Dad read to the younger ones. And after we left the nest, part of the attraction of a visit home was to hear Dad read. He always chose books that were good literature, well written, often challenging to the intellect... books like Wind in the Willows, which was popular with all of us.

I made miniature copies of this book by scanning pages, reducing them, printing, and binding with Nymo thread. Thery're only 1/2 by 3/4 inches, but with a strong magnifying glass, you can actually read some of the text!

Each of the dolls also has flowers and leaves (because Dad loved to garden), a jade bear (an animal considered to offer a connection between mortals and the spirit world), pearls (representing Dad's purity and honesty), a heart (representing his love which still surrounds us, and our love which surrounds him wherever he is), a star (because of his wry sense of humor and way of laughing, his eyes all a-twinkle), and a dove (representing his spiritual beliefs). Oh, yes, and each of the dolls includes the label from one of his ties.

At first, as I cut apart the ties and began to construct the dolls, I felt ragged... grief, loss and emotions all over the surface of me. I could only work on the dolls for a short time before the tears would come. But as I've continued to work on them, meditatively, holding dear thoughts and memories of Dad in my heart, I've begun to feel less raw and more connected to him in a special new way.

Note: This is my first post in Beta. If you have any difficulty leaving comments, etc., please email me at this address: robin[AT]robinatkins[DOT]com. Hope it all still runs smoothly for you.


  1. How incredibly thoughtful of both your mom and you, glad the creative process is helping with the works that way for me too.

  2. So beautiful, Robin -- what a lovely remembrance. You all will have a part of your Dad with you always. The lockets and minature book are so touching. And BB, you are so right -- creating is a wonderful way of helping to heal.

  3. What a beautiful idea! I love that you're using the ties to make the dolls. They will have so much persoanl meaning for each person. I think all the extra touches are so thoughtful. I'm glad to hear that by creating these it's helping you with your grief.

  4. Robin what a wonderful thing to make in memory of your Dad. I cried when I read your post. We really miss our Dad too. Thanks for sharing your healing process.

  5. Oh Robin!
    This is where the spirit world and the material world intersect, via the loving hands of a daughter.
    This gives all of us strength and inspiration.
    His is a beautiful, gorgeous soul...

  6. To all ~ Thanks dear friends. Working on the dolls is indeed helping with the grief... I still feel sad and miss him tremendously, but the raw, self-centered grief is much less now.

    To No Easy Beads ~ How long has it been for you? Blessings.

  7. What a wonderful thing to do for your family. I love the way you have incorporated your father's special ways into each doll. I'm sure they will be treasured by everyone over the years.

  8. What wonderful reminders of your dad! The amount of thought and detail in these wonderful dolls makes them truly personal

  9. Anonymous9:31 PM

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I went on from today's post to read of your father. Robin, I was a student in two of your classes in Tacoma this summer, the one with the long name! Thank you so much for your teaching, even under the difficult situation of your parents' illnesses.

    I had actually been thinking that I would like to do a collaberative teaching together around your bookmaking workshop, because I teach writing in the same kind of improvisational way as you work with beading. However, I understand that you are ready to move on from teaching to your next chapter.

    This post is so beautiful. I remember when my mother died in 1975, her dear friend gave me the advice to do a creative project in her honor that would take some time and effort, which I did. And it did help, even though I felt so bereft to lose my mother and one of my best friends at such a young age. I too was born in 1942. Happy 64th.

    Today I spent with friends writing together on Bowen Island. There was much grief in the writing around the table over the recent loss of family members and also two members of our group in the past three years. When I came home I thought I would just look at some blogs as a way of ending the day. When I found your wonderful dolls, it was such a gift. I can sleep without worrying about my friends, because I know that I will direct them to read your post today, even though they've never heard of you.

    Thank you,

    ElJean wilson

  10. To Eljean ~ And you have touched me deeply as well. Thank you for posting your thoughts about all of this. Maybe I'd change my mind about teaching IF we could do a collaborative thing as you mentioned, maybe in a retreat setting somewhere nearby. Would you like to toss some ideas around on the phone?

  11. What a great ide. I will keep this in mind. Maybe I will do something simmilar.
    Thanks for a nice blog.

  12. That's a beautiful idea, Robin. You're family is lucky to have you doing this wonderfully creative tribute to your dad. (((Robin)))

  13. Robin, This is undoubtedly such a wonderful idea I can hardly even believe it. I'm always so impressed with how deal with this sort of thing. I'm amazed and in awe.

  14. wonderful- thanks for posting about your dolls. Such a generous gift to everyone in your family.

  15. What a wonderful way to honor your father:)

  16. Anonymous8:32 PM

    Dear Robin I,m so glad to hear you are keeping part of your father to touch and see when you miss him.
    My mother has made memory bears for us. She will take a shirt/skirt/coat to make the bears. For my grand father he always wore plaid wool shirts (reds, blues, greens or browns)my bear is a blue & green plaid. I can still see him in that shirt.

  17. Your bouquet of tie spirt dolls is really charming. I see them ready to carry love and healing from your heart into the other hurting hearts in your family. Robin, you are full of love, warmth, caring and inspiration. A true healer!

  18. What a wonderful idea. I'm sure it will help with the healing process. I wish I'd thought of that so many years ago. Thanks for sharing.

  19. How absolutely fantastic! That is a wonderful way to remember your dear father. These will be cherished forever.

  20. I'm glad you thought of doing this and that it is helping you work out your grief as well as giving lovely momentos for your family. The dolls are wonderful.

  21. Robin, I am truly touched by this post and encouraged by your creative way of honoring your dad and healing yourself and your family by making those special dolls. My heart goes out to you and your family - and as before, I continue to marvel at what a creative, encouraging and positive person you are. Thank you for sharing yet another facet of yourself!

  22. Anonymous11:48 AM

    What a wonderful way to remember your father. It resonates with me because of my dad's love of ties... I didn't keep much of my dad's belongings after he died, except for some pictures and about 20 of his ties. :)

  23. Anonymous12:22 AM

    what a wonderful idea, it's so personal for each person. It made me think of a friend whose dog is her family, and how I could possibly do something similar for her. Thank you so much for sharing. beachgirl27

  24. These are wonderful I loved reading about this I used dolls as symbolism in a body of art work in memory of my mum I also sewed the dolls Just in case you want to see I will include the blog This blog has been private up till now
    I think all your work is wonderful
    Glad I found your blog

  25. Anonymous5:38 PM

    What a wonderful idea. I have been making small animals out of recycled wool jackets. This is amazing to make out of some of the linings if there is no ties available. thank you so much


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