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Hand-crafted dolls featured at this weekend's Kris Kringle Craft Show

November 16, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Connie McMillan will sell her handmade, primitive-style rag dolls at the Kris Kringle Craft Show this weekend in Hagerstown.
Photos by Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff photographer

They didn’t walk. They didn’t cry. And their eyes didn’t open and close.

Yet, as simple as they were — with hand-stitched bodies made of leftover cloth — they had the ability to steal away a child’s imagination and heart.

They were rag dolls — each with a personality of its own lovingly sewn by creative hands.

Few have survived from earlier eras of childhood, and those that have command prices at auctions and antique shows that would have astounded their makers.

But Connie McMillan offers an alternative — new rag dolls with an old look.

The clothing is dark and stained, the eyes are crooked and the buttons could have come from grandma’s wardrobe.

McMillan has been handcrafting primitive dolls for about five years — each one made from scratch in her Hagerstown home.

To give the appearance of an antique look, McMillan said she dips material in coffee and then bakes it the oven.

The hair is made of sheep’s wool, which is dyed different colors using Kool-Aid.

And the dolls are not just the traditional rag babies. McMillan makes bears, Santas, snowmen, mice, pigs and ornaments — all with a new twist on an old-time look.

The local artisan will be displaying her primitive work when she participates in the 28th annual Kris Kringle Craft Show on Saturday, Nov. 19, and Sunday, Nov. 20, at Hagerstown Community College’s Athletic, Recreation and Community Center. Admission is $1 with all proceeds benefiting Children’s Village of Washington County.

She is expected to be one of about 250 crafters offering unique items. McMillan’s distinctive technique makes her work popular with craft show shoppers.

“My dolls are definitely unique,” McMillan said. “I haven’t seen anyone doing anything quite like what I do. I have a lot of people who collect my dolls. Customers follow me every year and always want something new.”

To make it even more collectible, she usually signs her work.

McMillan said she has a job outside of the home and enjoys making the dolls as a way to relax.

“But it easily could be a full-time job, with the amount of time I spend on each doll,” she said. “I would have no problem putting in an 8-hour day.”

Despite the fact that her items are handmade, McMillan said she tries to keep the prices as affordable as possible.

“Most ornaments are about $3 and my dolls range from $9 to $20,” she said.

Unlike many artisans, McMillan said she doesn’t travel the craft show circuit.

“I only do a couple of shows a year -— usually in the fall, like Colorfest, and at Christmas,” she said.

McMillan said she participated in the Kris Kringle Craft Show “back when it first started at the Ramada Inn. But I got out of it for a while and recently returned.”

She prefers to participate in shows like Kris Kringle, she said, “where everything is handmade. I can’t compete with wholesalers who have a larger inventory and don’t have to make each item one at a time by hand.”

In addition to the primitive rag dolls, McMillan said she has done a wide variety of crafts over the years, including woodwork and ceramics.

“I guess I’ve always been an artistic person,” she said. “Even as a child, I liked to draw.”

In an age of mass production, McMillan said she thinks people still are drawn to anything that is handmade.

“They like one-of-a-kind — which my dolls certainly are. I also realize you either love them or hate them,” she said. “And I don’t get offended if they’re not your taste.”


If you go ...        

What:  Kris Kringle Craft Show

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20

Where: Hagerstown Community College’s Athletic, Recreation and Community Center, 11400 Robinwood Drive, Hagerstown.

Cost: $1 admission, with all proceeds benefiting Children’s Village of Washington County

Contact: Call 301-582-1233 or 301-331-1233.

More: Features more than 250 quality crafters. Golf cart shuttle; free gift wrap and package holding area. New this year: children’s shopping village.

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