All dolled up!

With so many accomplishments in her life, it’s difficult for a talented individual like Kristin Jones to settle on one particular hobby. The classically trained soprano keeps her vocal chords in check when singing with her church choir. Time spent at school in Vermont and Colorado allowed her plenty of time on the ski slopes. Her knowledge of the real estate biz has helped her lead a successful career in New Jersey and Delaware. But it is her lifelong pastime of sewing that’s about to bring her more recognition.

Coastal Point photos by • Ryan Saxton: Dollmaker extraordinare Kristin Jones poses with a few of her friends.Coastal Point photos by • Ryan Saxton:
Dollmaker extraordinare Kristin Jones poses with a few of her friends.

Since the age of 12, she and her sister had worked with needlepoint, sewing doll clothes. “It got to the point where our mother told us that we could sew our own clothes, too,” said Jones, “instead of her doing it.”

She continued to dabble with needle arts as she grew older, making clothes and toys for her family that she and her husband raised in West Chester County, New York, and New Jersey. For her first son, she made a Raggedy Andy, and later, a Raggedy Anne for their second child, a daughter.

“I made something for our third child, but I can’t quite remember what it was,” she admitted. When you’ve assembled the number of dolls that she has, it’s easy to lose track.

Not long after those, the Cabbage Patch Doll craze started.

“By then, I was making toys for the kids and doing crafts for shows, and I couldn’t find a Cabbage Patch doll at all, so I made one of my own,” she said. “There weren’t any Cabbage Patch patterns out there, but there was a similar one. I’d make one, and then someone would say, ‘Hey, I’d like one of those,’ so I started making them for friends.”

From the yarn hair and the childish smile, the dolls were both familiar and original with each finishing stitch. Her eye for style helped her evolve these little dolls into appealing animals, from frogs and elephants to cats and bears, Jones has attempted and perfected a multitude of plush critters.

Jones is originally from the farmlands of Michigan, and it shows in her craft, as she creates geese, crows, cows, chickens, horses and floppy-eared bunnies. Everything, even down to the intricate clothing they sport, is carefully perfected by hand.

“You’d look through patterns and find something you thought was cute,” she said, “then make it your own.” Stuffing and sewing any particular doll can take up to four hours, though she cannot recall exactly how many she’s made over her lifetime.

“A small country store in the town we lived in back in New York carried some of my dolls,” she said, “and I would sell them at craft shows, and school and church events. It all just sort of took off from there.”

She’d work diligently, creating each handmade work of art in her sewing room in the attic. “I would sew until two or three in the morning,” she said, “but I was a lot younger then. I couldn’t do that now if I wanted to.”

As more friends caught on to Jones’ talent, she found herself at a very prestigious showing.

“I was invited to present my work at a show, put on in New York City’s American Craft Museum, honoring the late Jim Henson, in late November 1990,” she explained. “That was the biggest honor I’ve seen yet. It was a great experience and a lot of fun.”

After the family moved to New Jersey, Jones participated in a few craft shows, but her real estate career began consuming most of her time, keeping her off the pins and needles, and she took a brief hiatus from the dolls.

Following disc surgery, her husband advised her not to carry around her heavy briefcase, and she started making handbags and purses, which also quickly found their way to her friends. She also makes quilts and “wearable art,” finding there’s little out there that brings her as much enjoyment as needlework.

“After we moved to Delaware six years ago,” she said, “I wanted to get back into doll-making.” Her husband, a Frederick, Md., native, had introduced the family to the Maryland and Delaware beaches in the summertime, and the couple eventually made it their home.

“I still had a lot of supplies, but I didn’t think [the dolls] would work at the craft shows I was seeing.”

She didn’t think that what she created was appropriate for the Bethany’s boardwalk art shows, and timing with the presentations presented conflict, as well. After being introduced to Jan Schafer, who heads South Coastal Delaware AARP with her husband, Robert, she decided to give her dolls another go, as long as they were represented well.

“They don’t belong next to some potholders at a church bazaar,” she said. “They belong at a good craft show. There are not too many people doing what I do or creating dolls at the quality that I do. There’s a lot of effort and hours that go into what I do.”

Everything on the dolls is enclosed, and there are no frayed edges on the seams. She uses safely fastened eyes on the doll to prevent any mishap with children, and the paint used for the mouths is non-toxic.

Until now, the growing appeal for her dolls came strictly from word-of-mouth. Although she admits she’s not computer savvy, she’d eventually like to take her craft online and distribute them that way.

But on Saturday, May 24, Jones, along with nearly 40 others, will share her talent at the South Coastal Delaware AARP’s Artisan Fair, being held at the Millville Fire Hall from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The fair will benefit the AARP chapters’ scholarship fund for Indian River High School seniors.

This show will mark the first time Jones has presented her dolls in Delaware. Show-goers can also scope out some of the toys she has made over the years, including small, beanbag frogs, a favorite among young children. She also has mood dolls, complete with a bonnet that depicts rotating faces, which can mimic how a child is feeling.

Not only are they safe, but Jones’ dolls will stay together for generations to come.

“I know they last,” said Jones, “because my granddaughter still has her mother’s that she had bought from me.”

Her son’s Raggedy Andy is still together, a little dirty, she noted, but intact.

“Satisfaction for me comes with the end result,” Jones said, “when they’re done, sitting there and I can look at them and say, ‘Alright, you look really good today.’”