How to Make a Doll – Black Handmade Doll Nose Story Tutorial
By Cassandra George Sturges
When I say, “I am a doll maker” it feels empty, half-hearted, and superficial. I am not just a doll maker; I am an African American Doll Maker. I am a Black Doll Maker. I need to tell you why this label is so important to me. I grew up in the mid -1960s and early 1970’s primarily playing with White dolls envying their tiny noses, blue eyes, and long straight hair. Even though James Brown sang, “I am Black and I am Proud,” most African Americans knew that this was an affirmation that every Black American wanted to be true. We sang and we chanted, “I am Black and I am proud say it out loud,”-- although we didn’t believe it—but my God-- we wanted to believe it. We wanted this to be true, while we permed our heads bald.
Michael Jackson had supernatural talent as a singer, dancer, and performer—yet he did everything he could to downsize his broad, African featured Black nose. As a kid, we made fun of other Black kids who had what we called big noses—myself included. Growing up in a culture where I have been socialized to hate my African heritage, and severed psychologically from my ancestor’s roots has altered my consciousness as a human being. Learning how to make dolls is my way of healing my psyche and putting back the pieces of my broken soul.
When I first started making cloth dolls, I combed the Internet and bought every cloth doll making book, I could find to help me create a cloth doll pattern that reflected my culture. As a child, I did not have the cognitive ability to understand race, culture, and ethnicity. I simply played with White dolls that did not resemble me or the people in my family or community. As a fifty-something-old Black Woman—my soul will not allow me to dismiss, ignore, and minimize the spiritual, psychological, and physical experience of being a Black woman in a world dominated by White people.
It was very, very, very important to me—to figure out how to sculpt a broad, African, featured nose for my black handmade cloth dolls to honor my ancestors, and to heal the little girl inside of me—who wanted to be anything but Black. I begged my daddy to paint me White when I was a little girl—and he cried and asked me why. And I said, “Daddy, can’t you see that everybody hate Black people.” I was 5 or 6 years old at the time.
I hope no one is offended by this—but I think one of the biggest lessons that I have learned in this Dark Brown Earth Suit is that it is not White people’s responsibility to make Black dolls that reflect the African American experience. It would be like asking an elephant to help squirrels cross the street. A doll is always more than a plaything—it is a representation of a version of reality that conditions the imagination to accept and ultimately act out—it’s creator’s truth.
This YouTube video on How to sculpt a cloth doll’s nose is 35 minutes long—because it took years for me to figure out how to make my doll’s nose look Afrocentric, broad, and beautiful like Oprah Winfrey’s Serena William’s, and the comedienne Monique. I wanted to do my best and take my time sharing this doll making technique on how to make African American handmade cloth doll noses for other people like me. This is also my apology and atonement for making fun of all of the Black people whom I criticized for having Afrocentric features.