Never too old for dolls Turning childhood pastime into collectors craft

April 18, 1991|By Sujata Massey | Sujata Massey,Evening Sun Staff

ANDREA LEWIS may be a 36-year-old assistant educator at Baltimore City Life Museums' 1840 House but she still plays with dolls.

''I've been making dolls and strange things since I was itty-bitty,'' says Lewis, who grew up in Baltimore stretching socks over balls to form her earliest dolls.

''I was a weird child. They used to say I was my grandmother's child since I stuck with her, sewing and crocheting. My grandmother was the one I was trying to keep after,'' said Lewis, who fondly remembers doll tea parties her grandmother set up for Lewis and her sister.

Today, Lewis makes old-fashioned cloth ''Tea and Crumpet'' dolls inspired by those childhood memories. The dolls are made from snow-white or jet-black cotton. Their faces are seamed down the center, creating a delicate profile with saucy noses. The eyes are subtle, seamed indentations; the only note of color on the faces is an embroidered blossom of a mouth.

''Everybody loves dolls, and these dolls have an adult flavor,'' says the doll-maker. They ''have their noses in the air,'' just like fine ladies.

Lewis' dolls, who sometimes accompany her on museum tours, have long bodies and legs, similar to doll popular in the mid-19th century, the period Lewis specializes in at The 1840 House. The dolls all wear long gingham, calico or organdy dresses with leg-of-mutton sleeves, a popular style of the mid-19th century. Some dolls have bonnets or hats; all have curly wool hair. Each doll and costume requires 12 to 24 hours of hand sewing, usually spread out over a week's time. Lewis' doll designs even have a copyright.

Women are her biggest collectors, paying about $70 to $200 per doll. Some are passed down to be enjoyed by little girls, including Lewis' nieces.

Lewis also makes male dolls in tailored, period costume with curly mustaches and hair.

''I think boys would love to collect dolls if they were not all feminine,'' she says. ''But fathers often don't like boys playing with dolls.''

She thinks a dignified, gray-haired grandfather doll or one resembling a handsome uncle could be a young boy's keepsake.

Lewis is something of a doll herself, as she moves confidently around The 1840s House dressed in a white lawn bonnet, an apron and simple calico dress of her own design. The museum, full of tiny rooms and twisting stairs, was the home of the Hutchisons, a middle-class family spilling out at the seams. Lewis counts a father and mother, three daughters, an aunt, an apprentice to the father's wheelwright business and a free black woman and her daughter as all living in the house, which is rich in textiles that drape windows, tables, and beds.

''In the 19th century, a woman's hands were never to be idle. Needlework was a wonderful way to keep the hands busy,'' says Lewis, who enjoys embroidery herself when not making dolls. In the old days, a family's stature was measured in part by the way women decorated the house with hand-embroidered linens, curtains, and tablecloths.

Whether making dolls or a lacey cloth for the table, Lewis finds sewing a relaxing respite from the stresses of modern life.

''Sewing is wonderful. It's very, very easy and gives you a sense of accomplishment-- plus you can get clothes out of it,'' Lewis says. ''It's wonderful therapy. My heart always beats slower when I sew. It's just a wonderful way of being quiet.''

Doll-making workshop

Andrea Lewis will share the gentle arts with interested beginners this weekend.

At 3 p.m. Saturday, Lewis will explain the art of doll-making at the Baltimore Museum of Art, at Art Museum Drive and North Charles Street. The workshop is free, but reservations should be made by calling 396-6320. Admission to the BMA is $3.50 for visitors older than 18; $2.50 for seniors citizens and students with identification; and free to members and those 18 and younger.

Lewis has also designed ''Caring Hands and Needlework,'' a demonstration of 1840s needlework and home sewing, to take place Sunday at The 1840 House, in the City Life Museums Courtyard Center, 50 S. Albemarle St. The tours, lead by Lewis and a team of docents in costume, begin at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. The program is free with regular 1840 House admission of $1.75 for adults, 75 for kids and $1.25 for seniors. The 1840 House will showcase more old-fashioned sewing June 2, when an old-fashioned wedding will be staged in the courtyard by actors in costume. For details, call 396-3279.


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