Fran Parrigan-Meehan’s a pattern designer, doll artist and teacher. She is an auxiliary member of ODACA and served as the auxiliary chair person for 3 years. Her work has been published in Patti Medaris Culea’s “Creative Cloth Explorations” book and in Soft Dolls and Animals, Doll Crafter, Doll Crafter and Costuming, and in Dolls magazines. She has designed and published numerous patterns and has taught at Artistic Figures In Cloth, Enchanted Doll Artists Conference, and for several doll clubs, the Boulder City, NV, library for the Las Vegas Silver Dollars Doll club, and in her studio. She has worked in the commercial clothing industry, making men’s and women’s clothing, had a doll related business in Las Vegas called Fran’s Doll Land, and now has an Etsy shop of the same name. She dyes laces, ribbons, fabrics and mohair, and designs and sells face molds and half doll molds. She designed and teaches a doll out of real rose petals. She has also exhibited a doll in an exhibit in the Lithuanian Museum and had 2 dolls exhibited in the Boulder City, NV, library. She also recently had a doll which won Judge’s choice in the Treasures of the Gypsy challenge 2011 at the Houston Quilt Festival. To see more of Fran’s work, visit her blog: http://mydollland.blogspot.com.
Fran is teaching 2 new classes at ADAA 2012! She’s teaching the Little Fairies class, one of which is pictured above, and the Miss Prissy class.
AnLiNa Designs: Hi Fran! Please tell me, how did you find dolls?
Fran: I always loved dolls, since I was 4 and 5 years old. My mother taught me how to cut out and sew a one piece doll on my great-grandmother’s Singer Treadle machine, which was an antique already at that time. She even taught me to make a doll house from trees, with the spaces where the roots come out making rooms and how to make furniture out of the twigs and bark. She showed me how to make stick people. And we can’t forget the paper dolls either. My grandmother used to get the McCall’s magazine, and she’d cut out the paper dolls, and we’d design our own. We’d get tissue paper and wrapping paper and design our own clothes and shoes, gluing them onto the dolls make them stay. I’ve always had dolls, ever since I was little. I collected them since I was little, and I continue to collect dolls and have made dolls ever since.
AnLiNa Designs: How did you get from there to cloth and clay dolls?
Fran: I started making clay dolls in 1995. I took classes from everyone I could find, including Earlene Maple Bromer, Lewis Goldstein, Heldegard Gunzel, Sherry Goshon, Mary-Ann Oldenburg, and many others. As far as cloth goes, I started making cloth dolls on my own, years ago, before I was ever even in the doll business. I would draw up my own patterns. I also have an art background, as I took lots of art courses in college, and everywhere else I could find them, including Jo’Ann’s.
AnLiNa Designs: What other media do you work in besides cloth and clay?
Fran: I also work with mixed media, doing collages with metals, papers, paints and bits and pieces of everything. I draw faces, fairies, people, houses and whatever interests me at the time I’m creating a collage on hard board or canvas.
AnLiNa Designs: Where do you get inspiration for your dolls?
Fran: It just comes to me. I can go out and about and look at things, and I’ll think of a doll. I look at carpets with designs, ceramic tiles, and curtains, etc. I can see faces, heads, and shapes of pieces. There’s one place I went that I saw a tall standing rabbit. I often see faces in carpets. Even in the sky, you can see bears, dragons, angels, faces, and other things. I dream a lot when I’m sleeping. I dream about dolls all the time. I keep a sketch book on my night stand and when I wake up during the night with an idea for a doll, I will write it down or sketch it. When I go to make dolls, I’ll think, when I sit down, which one should I create first? I start drawing the pattern, put the body parts together and sometimes what I create isn’t that original doll in my head, but another doll entirely.
AnLiNa Designs: Do your dolls talk to you when you are making them?
Fran: The dolls do talk to me and tell me what they want. What I do is, I have all these baskets and drawers. I’m a bits and pieces hoarder of fabrics, trims, all sorts of stuff. I don’t throw away anything, flowers, bits and pieces, sticks, metal, anything. I go through these baskets pulling out stuff and putting it up on the doll to see if it’s right. If it’s not right, then she tells me and I have to put it back and try again until I find what’s right for the doll.
AnLiNa Designs: Does the doll lead you or do you lead the doll?
Fran: The doll leads me. I sometimes try to lead the doll and it doesn’t work. I keep picking up bits and pieces and I love manipulating fabrics on the doll and dressing them. If she doesn’t like it, I keep changing bits until the doll is the way she wants to be. I could say I guess that the doll controls me. I try to control it sometimes, and I end up have to take the doll apart and start again. I’ve even taken faces off of dolls because they didn’t work. I have a lot of doll parts lying around!
AnLiNa Designs: I haven’t taken faces off of dolls, but I have a lot of spare heads when the head I created for the doll in process didn’t work on the doll. All of these heads are sitting on the shelf behind my sewing machine, waiting for a body.
Fran: I’ve even painted over faces before!
AnLiNa Designs: Do you know what dolls you want to make next?
Fran: I have some in mind that I’m going to make next. I always write down what dolls I want to create. One I really want to do is a long-legged, long-armed, long body doll, a silly doll. I don’t know that she will come out first, because there’s a little boy that wants to come out really badly. He’s from the Victorian era, with his little knickers and his hat playing with the barrel rim with a stick like they played with in the Victorian days. He’s been wanting to be born for quite a few years. I have his pattern drawn out and he’s ready to be put together. I don’t make too many boy dolls.
AnLiNa Designs: What do you like most about teaching?
Fran: The thing I like about teaching is watching new students work and completing their doll and making it their own. When I teach, I tell my students, “it’s my pattern, but you make the doll your own. I’ll take you through the steps, but when you are finished, it’s not my doll, it’s yours!”. A lot of students will tell me that they are taking my class to make my doll, and I respond “No! It’s my pattern, but I’m teaching you how I do things and you take them and make the doll your own. I can learn things from you”. This last time, at AFIC, I had two students that had never made a doll and they were so thrilled! They did fantastic dolls! I was so proud! All of my students made great dolls!
AnLiNa Designs: What advice would you give to aspiring doll artists?
Fran: I’d tell them not to be afraid. I’ve heard a lot of people say I can’t. There’s no such word “I can’t”. My daddy would always tell my brothers and I “You can’t? THERE’S NO SUCH WORD! YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU SET YOUR MIND TO!” Very wise man, my daddy was!
I would tell them to go for it, keep making dolls, don’t be afraid of what anyone says. Don’t listen to negative stuff. Anything you do in life, to get good, you have to keep making it and keep doing it over and over. You’ll see, you’ll get better and better at everything you do. A lot of people are scared taking classes, thinking they have to do exactly what the teacher does. I’m there to teach and guide you, but you, as the student, are there to learn to make how to make the doll and the techniques.