Dollmaking with Seams Like Tracy

0.75x 1x 1.25x 1.5x 2x 0:0000:33:35 Dollmaking with Seams Like Tracy


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Tracy Perry is a self-taught artist with 30+ years of experience in sewing and art to create unique dolls using fabric or clay. She’s been creating and selling dolls since 2008. Tracy was the owner and operator of ImaginePerryDolls and TerranDollmaker.  Tracy endeavors to make dolls that show the many colors and uniqueness. She strongly believes that everyone should have access to a doll that looks like them or inspires them. Her dolls have appeared in an issue of Art Dolls Quarterly.  And she has a sincere fan base that includes Virginia-based doll clubs, and collectors from around the United States.

Host: Lisa Woolfork is an associate professor of African American Literature and Culture. Her teaching and research explore Black women writers, the fiction of Black identity, trauma theory, and American slavery. She is the convener and founder of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black Lives Matter. She is also the host/producer of Stitch Please, a weekly audio podcast that centers on Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. In the summer of 2017, she became a founding member of Black Lives Matter Charlottesville. Actually, she is active in a variety of university and community initiatives, including the College Fellows Program to reshape the undergraduate general education curriculum.

Insights from this episode:

  • How Tracy got started in doll making
  • Insights into the different types of dolls
  • Differences between soft sculpture and cloth dolls
  • Tracy’s button-jointed doll experience and the lessons she learned
  • Tracy’s favorite tools in doll making
  • Tracy’s process in doll making and choosing the personality, shape, outfit, and character

Quotes from the show:

  • “Plushies can be a novelty, they can represent lots of different things: they can be abstract, they can be representational” -Lisa Woolfork in “Stitch Please”
  • “Don’t overcommit if you are a solopreneur” -Tracy Perry in “Stitch Please”
  • “You love dolls, you love doll making, and that love was very much tested and it stood its test but you also got to learn lessons about boundaries, about protecting the peace of your creative life” -Lisa Woolfork in “Stitch Please”
  • “My number one tool is my hemostat” -Tracy Perry in “Stitch Please”
  • “If you have something that is working for you, don’t change” -Lisa Woolfork in “Stitch Please”
  • “One of the things I love about your dolls is how they look like you” -Lisa Woolfork in “Stitch Please”
  • “I just try to do what I like, I was just bending myself backward trynna say ‘people don’t like this, people don’t like that,’ then I would find out that people did like it” -Tracy Perry in “Stitch Please”
  • “I think too often when women, especially Black women, wanna do something that’s self-directive, self-determined, self-reflective, it’s seen as selfish, which is absolutely false” -Lisa Woolfork in “Stitch Please”
  • “The work that comes from your hands should reflect the deepest essence of who you are, as well as from the inside and outside” -Lisa Woolfork in “Stitch Please”

Stay Connected:

Lisa Woolfork

Instagram: Lisa Woolfork

Twitter: Lisa Woolfork

Tracy Perry

Website: Seams Like Tracy

Instagram: TR Perry

YouTube: Seams Like Tracy

Read Full Transcript

Lisa Woolfork 0:10  

Hello Stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So, sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together. 

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I am your host, Lisa Woolfork coming to you from Charlottesville, Virginia and I am grateful to welcome Tracy Perry, who is a doll maker and dolls are incredibly popular and powerful cultural artifacts. They are art. They are craft. They are personal. They are all of these things. And just to kind of bring it home in terms of the contextualization very recently, the New York Historical Society just closed an exhibition on Black dolls that exhibition closed in June of this year 2022. And they had dolls from nearly 100 years of American history. They had dolls from 1850, which included dolls from Harriet Jacobs, who was an enslaved woman in North Carolina who wrote this fantastic slave narrative called "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." So, they had to have her dolls that she had made for her employers. When she came to New York, they had dolls up through the 1940s. So nearly 100 years of Black doll history at this stunning exhibition. And so that is just one example of the powerful roles that dolls play in our lives. One of the things I was so excited to welcome Tracy to the program for, is because her dolls are amazing. And I've been following and watching her work for quite some time. I'm really excited to hear more about her doll story, her story of sewing and making dolls, she makes the dolls, she makes the clothes, the dolls wear, she makes the hair that the dolls have on their head, she paints the makeup that they have on their faces. Like this is a head-to-toe top-down doll maker. So welcome to the program. Tracy Perry, thank you for being with us today.

Tracy Perry 2:25  

Thank you, Lisa. I don't even know if anybody can see me. But thank you,

Lisa Woolfork 2:28  

We're going to go ahead and put this on our Patreon so people can indeed see you. And if you're not a patron, why are you not? You should thrive. There's a lot of great things that happen in the Black, Patreon, including face to face video chats with me. So, Patreon and you get to send me video messages. And I will reply with a video message. How fun is that? 

Tracy Perry 2:28  

Sounds great.

Lisa Woolfork 2:44  

Somebody has a question about something that could be like, “Oh, try this.”

Really honestly, who else is doing that? I can't think of very many people. 

So, I wanted to welcome you again. And thank you, Tracy. Tracy, you got to tell us how did you get started with doll making? How did you know that doll making was for you? How did you know that? You know what? I could be a quilter; I could be an embroiderer. I could be a painter. I could be a garment maker. I could be all of those things. But instead, I'm going to be all of them in small scale for tell me how do you make your creative choices?

Tracy Perry 3:23  

I was actually a seamstress first. I was a seamstress for many, many years. I learned how to sew by hand. I think I must have been like 10 years old.

Okay, one of my neighbors in the neighborhood: this older lady. She was a friend of the family. I would go and visit her and sit on her porch. And she showed me the first time I ever held a needle and thread. She showed me how to thread a needle and how to sew things. So, after that, I just started making little bitty things. I took home economics in high school, and I sold clothes. I used to steal things from my mother. She's like, “can you make me this?” And I was like, “Sure,” you know, so I always sewed then I went in the military. And I was up in Alaska for I think about four years in Alaska. And I still sewed. I had my sewing machine up there with me. I sold like these bears. And I was doing it for decoration because my dorm room was so blah. I wanted something interesting. So, I did the satin teddy bears and I put them in my room on my bed and everybody loved them, and they had like little musical notes in their chest. You know, you could press a little part and it would play a little tune and it was like oh, this is pretty good. I didn't think anybody would like it but me. after I get a military went to Florida. I had made this doll just a rag doll and she was pretty big, probably about a 20- or 30-inch doll. Okay, and she had the long hair. the first rag doll I ever really made it sold like right away and somebody paid like $14 for it and I was like wow I could sell this for $14--

Lisa Woolfork 4:48  

 $14 is not enough for your doll but okay. 

Tracy Perry 4:50  

So, I had a friend fortunately that was working in a bookstore, and I was telling her this and she showed me this book by Susanna Orion. I think it was called Art of the Doll.  I've never seen anything like it in my life. I was looking through this book at all these dolls in the bookstore she was showing me, and I was just like, fascinated. And then it struck me. Oh my god, you can make money making dolls. I mean, it was just like, these are art dolls, like really high-end art dolls, but I had never even considered it. These people make things for museums. So that was my goal. I was like, oh, I'm going to go and make me some museum pieces. And so, I started making Dolls there. I didn't make cloth dolls. Right away, I started doing soft sculpt, because one of the artists in the book did soft sculpt. And I was like, I want to know how to do that. I'd practice and try. I was terrible at it. But my style was totally different. And people still love those dolls. Yes, but that was dangerous work. I say dangerous, because I cut my hand twice with a razor or trying to carve the Styrofoam or to cut out something because I was just like these little exacto razors almost cut through my hand one time trying to do something. And also, I have problems with my fingers so that constant penciling and pulling threads and oh, my hands hurt so bad. So yeah, I stopped doing it. And then I started doing the cloth doll. First, they were like these little triangle shaped dolls. I did, I sold them at a craft show. And then I started doing the larger dolls, the dolls that I have now, which are like my signature dolls. I had like two prototypes that I did, there was just something I was like, I want to figure out how to make something different. Yeah, but that was curvy. I can't think of the name of those dolls. But there is a doll similar to mine. But the shape is a little different. And there's no hands or feet. So, I wanted to make something similar to that. But I wanted to be curvy. So, I can make like black dolls or whatever with like some hips or something. Yeah, I was like how you can have a doll with no hips.

Lisa Woolfork 6:43  

What I want to pause you there, because you have shared a whole lifetime, it feels like a few experiences before you even get to where you are at this moment. And the idea that you were in the military, you were in military dorm housing, it's rather sterile. Alaska is a place you've been stationed; you don't have necessarily family there or any kind of connection to the place where you are. And so, you need something to do well, you got plenty to do, I'm sure. But you want your home environment, the dorm space to really feel comforting and warm. Now some folks will say, you know, I'm going to make it quilt, I'll put a quilt on the bed. And that'll be the thing that will remind me of my creativity, and I can snuggle with et cetera, et cetera. But you went in a different direction, you said, I'm going to make a three-dimensional object that is also allows me to do the same thing. And you are absolutely not going to skip over the fact that your first bear projects, as you explain them, to me here also included an interactive component and music. When I think about my first teddy bear, which I think I might have made one or, so it wasn't great. It did not send to people kind of thing that nobody wanted to touch and make noise. It was more like, oh, my gosh, I have terror. Like don't show this to anyone else. You know what I mean? So, like the fact that you made this bear that was so cuddly, and you could press the heart. And it would say - what Tracy like how?

Tracy Perry 7:53  

I don't know how. My mind works in this. My husband tells me it doesn't settle down. So, I wanted to make the bears. And then as I was making them, I was like, oh, wouldn't it be neat if you could press here and play a little music. And that's exactly what I did. I went to the fabric store and looked for like those new music boxes. Yeah. And so, I bought like three of those little things. I don't even know if they still sell those anymore, where you just press them, and you can sew them into things. So, I just sewed it in. I didn't move heart patch, and I sewed it behind the thing. And yeah, it was great. 

Lisa Woolfork 8:36  

That is really wonderful. I mean the idea; you not only made a bed that you could touch and squeeze. But it also had sound that is kind of next level. That's like really thinking about this as a whole project is thinking about the textures of the doll, what the doll can do, how the doll can reach out and provide comfort. And so, I just thought that was just a really fun way to begin, even at the earliest stages before you became someone who is such an advanced and highly skilled doll maker. From the very beginning, you were thinking in the totality, you were thinking as a whole not just this is a project that I am doing. For you. It was something else it was more than that. So, I think that's really incredible. I just think we have to give you some kudos, having that be such a powerful success. Can you talk to us about some of the different types of dolls? You mentioned something about dolls that might have hands or feet like the idea of something being like could you explain about what an articulated doll is? Can you explain what that phrase means in terms of doll making and why that's important or difficult?

Tracy Perry 9:41  

Like I said, I started off with the soft sculpture dolls and basically that's just what for me.... it was Styrofoam with some batting and then a lot of hand sewing of features and putting in like make glass eyeballs and those dolls I did make articulate. You could bend their arms; I would make fingers that actually bent. I would have to do like a wire armature. Basically, I did like a solid body, and I attach the head and then I would do like the wire arms and the wire legs and wires, feet, so you could move them around. Like I said, those were a lot of work. And honestly, I could never recoup the time that I put into that. I mean, I was still dolls for like, 250 or something, the price was good. But honestly, the amount of work that went into, it was probably a $500 doll. It was just so much work that I was like, I'm never going to be able to do this and make a lot of money unless I of course do like the people who put the things in a museum and sell them for like $10,000 apiece. And I didn't think me were that good. And they were good. But I was like, “Oh, I wouldn't pay that much. I might pay $300.” Yeah, so then I started with the regular cloth dolls, I always wanted my dolls to bend at the joints, even my regular cloth dolls, they will either just bend at their elbow or bend their knee, sometimes I will make just a straight sculpted leg like I'll actually sew the fabric where the leg curves so that I don't have to put a joint or anything there you'll see like a knee and I'm actually working on some like that. Now, most of my dolls will bend at the elbow. I don't make a lot of jointed dolls as far as like button joints and things like that, although I do have some patterns. I have made them in the past. And I've made a lot of them. I think I told you about them.

Lisa Woolfork 11:17  

What I'm understanding now is that I think I believe that soft sculpture and cloth were the same. I believe that because there was softness in the soft sculpture that it was like a synonym for a cloth. 

Tracy Perry 11:31  

Oh, no, it's different. 

Lisa Woolfork 11:32  

You know that. So soft sculptures, even if it has like wire armature, for example, it's still considered a soft sculpture because it combines...? Well, explain soft sculpture.

Tracy Perry 11:44  

Soft sculpture can be different things. That most people who do soft sculpture now, they do it in felt. Like felt is considered a soft sculpture. Because soft sculpture is basically: you're taking a soft material like felt, or in my case with the polyfill, or the batting overt. You're taking that soft material, and you're molding it into something. So that's my understanding of what soft sculpture is. A lot of felt artists do it and they do it with the needles. But wish I could do that. I just know my hands aren't gonna do that.

Lisa Woolfork 12:12  

I do like needle felting. I've done needle felting before my teaching partner is a needle felting artist. And so, I have learned to have that really fluffy, light roving, and you just dab it a million trillion times and it turns into something hard. So, I definitely hear that. Thank you. And so, you're saying that some folks just use felt entirely as part of that process.

Tracy Perry 12:33  

I don't know what else they use because I'm not real familiar with the technique. But that's my idea of what stuff sculpting is: you're basically taking a softer material, like the wool roving or like I said, the polyfill and you're sculpting it into something, into a figure or into a face. And that's my understanding what soft sculpture is. There's so many different types of doll things. I know there's a whole plushie community where people make plush dolls, which I have not gotten into, but it's really big because when I go to craft shows, I see people selling plushies that they created and I'm like, hmm, I hadn't thought to do that! 

Lisa Woolfork 13:06  

Yeah, I can totally see why! Because plushies that can be so novelty. They can like represent lots of different things. They can be abstract, they can be representational, so I can definitely see why that would thrive. I want to talk about your button-jointed doll experience. Y'all. Miss Perry was invited to be a guest at a conference. So, this is my understanding. She knows the story. My thing is she was invited to be a guest at a doll conference convention meeting or something. And part of that invitation included making 80 dolls that were jointed. And they were what's called button jointed. And Tracy is going to explain about that because it felt to me like she was being invited to be hazed. I don't see how you invite someone to do something. And you're like, Okay, I need you to bring 80 of anything other than potato chips. Like, really? But tell us about how this experience taught you some important lessons.

Tracy Perry 14:03  

Oh yeah, well, I have local doll groups around the area from I guess from Richmond up to Fredericksburg. And some of them collect my dolls. This one particular doll club was having their annual show and they want it well, I will say that I did get paid for the dolls, but they wanted someone to make what you call them... souvenir dolls, you know, you put stuff in people's bags, you know, swag bag. They're like, yeah, we need you to make these dolls. And originally, I thought they told me which doll and so I made like three samples of these little dolls. And when I showed them to the ladies, they were like, that's not the doll we were talking about. Yeah, I have these little stick six-inch dolls that you hold at the bottom, and then a little dress and little hats and they were cute. And those would have been easy to do. But when I showed them to him, they were like, you don't have anything else. This is not what we were looking for. We were talking about this other doll that you made, and I was like, oh, so basically, they wanted this little six-inch doll who has a little button joint for each arm and a little button joint for each leg. And like I said six inches. So, you can imagine.... that's how tall the doll is. Each leg is only about, you know, each arm,

Lisa Woolfork 15:10  

two-inch torso to get really small. Okay,

Tracy Perry 15:13  

so, I was thinking I had like four months to do it. So, I was like, okay, I can do this, I can get this done. I did it. I mean, I got it done. But I had to enlist the help of my daughter, I had to enlist the help of one of my friends, because I would draw out patterns. I'd get like 20 drawn out. And then of course, they got to be sewn and then cut them out. And then they got to be turned, that was really hard on my hands. So, I had my friend, she would help me turn them and cut them out and turn them after I sold them. And my daughter would help me stuffed them and help cut them out as well. But I ultimately was the one who had to sew all the button joints and things because they didn't know how to do it. They don't. So, I was like, I made the deadline, got all the dolls, they were really cute, and took them to the event. And every day everybody got their little doll. Everybody loved them all they raved about them. And they wanted me to do more shows. Other people came to me from other doll clubs who had attended. 

Oh, can you make a doll for us? It doesn't. And I was like, Ooh. a couple of lessons I learned from that. Well, first of all, do not over commit if you're a solopreneur, 

Lisa Woolfork 16:11  

and that everyone has the wisdom for the episode. 

Tracy Perry 16:15  

That is, it. And let me tell you, I realize I am not a mass production person. I hate it. My idea of mass production is maybe six dolls. I can do like six and a series. Even right now. I think I've got like 10 dolls that I'm doing but I've been taking my time doing it because it's something I created. But anything more than that. I don't do mass production. I don't want to do mass production. If you want to reach out to me and say, hey, we need 50 of these. I know I'm gonna have to hire about four more people to do it. I will hire people to help me out. But I'm not gonna do it as a solopreneur. Again, I didn't like it. And I had to go to this do; meeting because I was an honored guest. And I had to shake...

Lisa Woolfork 16:58  

They really honored the hell out of you.

Yeah. I mean, I got a lot of recognition from it. And these are some serious doll collectors, but it was exhausting. It was absolutely exhausting. Mentally and physically. After I did all that working, I had to go, and I had to set up a table to because they let me have a table to sell my other dolls. I was just exhausted. I was like mentally exhausted. I was like I don't want to do this again.

September is National Sewing Month, and the Stitch Please podcast is going to celebrate that like we celebrate every episode: by centering Black women girls and femmes in sewing. For September, however, we are going to be talking with Black women authors who are also sewist. So, tune in for the month of September, and you will hear from writers like Bianca Springer, Akima Hapa, Leslie Ware, Olubunmi Sola, Rue De Perkovic, and more. So, listen out for September, and we will help you get your stitch together. 

It's so interesting, because for other folks, I can imagine it's kind of like one of those stories that you hear: those kinds of really abusive stories, like somebody sees their kids smoking a cigarette, so they lock them in a closet with a pack of cigarettes and say you can't come out until you smoke everyone, go.... smoke so bad, horrible, horrible. I do not recommend that as a technique. Really what happened to you? Right, like the loved all making and that love was very much tested. And it stood that test, but you still got to learn some lessons about what essentially our boundaries, you know, yeah, protecting the piece of your creative life. Hey, I'm happy to make a whole bunch of dollars. I just need to be well resourced for it. So, you want me to make a bunch? You got to pay me a bunch, so I can pay people to help me. Because what's not going to happen? is me staying up until two three o'clock in the morning, putting buttons on some dolls hip joint, like - 

Tracy Perry 18:57  


Lisa Woolfork 18:58  

Again, that is a lesson learned. I love that because I think that for myself, I absolutely get very much involved in a project. I lose time because I'm so excited about it. But that's animated by joy. Because animated by stress, then it's horrible. And you just feel like wait a minute. Yes, I can do it. But why do I have to? You know, and so yes. And the thing is, you don't have to you don't have to. I'm really curious about some of the tools that you use in doll making to make the dolls work. I think a lot about I'm a big notions fanatic. I love - I'm terrible. I'm looking right now at three pressing hams and a ham holder and a hand mitt. Two mitts really. Like I am very much into sewing notions. And so, I consider that the dolls -y'all have such cool tools between the hemostats and all the other things that you use what are some of the things that you found most helpful for notions and making dolls that maybe some of us who don't sew dolls or sew in general might be curious to know about.

Tracy Perry 20:01  

I'm going to tell you my number one tool is my hemostat. I don't know why I never even knew what a hemostat was. And I don't even know how I came about it. I needed a pair of pliers that were like really, really thin. So, I got the hemostat.... I bought it from like Walmart or something. The first one I got it was small, just regular size and I bought it in the fishing department. I don't know what I was doing in the fishing department, I think I was my husband. And so, I got this hemostat and I got it home. And it was a life changer for me. I could turn like small fingers and everything because you know hemostat basically, they're like pliers that clip. 

Lisa Woolfork 20:36  


Tracy Perry 20:37  

Oh my god, I love them. My most favorite tool in the world. I don't know who makes them. They need to put me on some kind of promo.

Lisa Woolfork 20:44  

I think that hemostats and what she's describing, she says it's like a pair of pliers. It's a combination of scissors and pliers, don't you think? So, I'm holding a pair right now. hemostats y'all. Essentially, it has these teeth at this pier where the handle is. And this is why you should be a Patreon subscriber because you could see this or just Google hemostats for free. I get you. It has these teeth, and you clamp it shut. And then when you pull, it'll pull turn, it'll do whatever you need. I have three of them. I have more. And I'm sure I gave up. No, that's not true. I've got three, four. Yeah, there's another pair there. Well, you can get these in medical supplies because I think nurses use them and that kind of thing. So, the hemostat right. Oh my gosh, how do you turn with the hemostat. And this is something that I struggle with. I don't know if I'm just too heavy handed. But when I go to clamp, I always feel like and have done I poke a hole in it.

Tracy Perry 21:35  

Oh no.

Lisa Woolfork 21:37  

That's what I always say, oh, no, it is not a doll maker. So how do you avoid poking a hole through? Does it require like smaller stitches? Well, I guess you just more patient than I am and that I -

I use smaller stitches on my doll so that I don't have to reinforce I used to sew over everything twice. And I was like oh my god that takes too long. So now I just use these two millimeters like the tiniest stitch that I can do that will hold. I really want to rip it apart, take it apart. But with the hemostats I have two sizes. Okay, well I have two smaller ones about the same size that you just had. And then I have like the really long curved ones they used to turn feet and legs, but I don't always initially start off with the hemostat I use a tube Turner. I will start it off with my fingers I can use my smaller hemostats and I use like a regular straw actually. And I put it on the inside and then I use the tip of the hemostat to push the fabric into the straw to get it started. And then once I get it started, I just move to the main part of the hand and do that part as well or the other fingers. And then after I get so far out, I go ahead and stick the hemostats in and just pull it out and it makes life so much easier. So, it's kind of a combination of tools. I always use a tube and let me tell you smoothie straws work excellent if you're turning like little, small belt or something. smoothie straws, there's kits like I bought this kit I pay like $14 for the stupid thing and just some plastic tubing. I kind of went to Lowe's and got it for like you know 50 cents so you can find tools, so I use my hemostat with the tubing, and I find that works excellent.

Well, I'm going to offer to you a suggestion of my absolute favorite tool in all of sewing and that is the "fast turn to turn" set. If you've ever listened to this podcast but maybe more than five episodes, I'm sure I have said it aloud. I do not work for these fast turn sets in turn people that don't know me from a canopy, but I bought one back in 1998 and I have been using it regularly with my sewing for 25 plus years. Wow. So awesome. I'm just going to recommend that to you because as you say it's not the kind of plastic with the stick and the whatever. First of all, if you have something that's working for you don't change. If you want to try something I'm telling you those that fast turn two turns said like it changed my sewing it revolutionized it. I can turn spaghetti straps the size of actual spaghetti and it lets you stuff at the same time you can put it down and then pull. It will pull in the stuffing as the thing is turning.

Tracy Perry 24:16  


Lisa Woolfork 24:16  

yeah, because it's about physics right you can lay you know you've done this, I'm sure once you start turning the bedding or the filler that I use for liking the cord for example to make a corded 

Tracy Perry 24:27  


Lisa Woolfork 24:28  

it just pulls it right in right alongside inside and so you don't have to jog or whatever it just automatically grabs it. I love it. I love that doggone thing.

Tracy Perry 24:38  

I think it'd be well you know; I'll be looking for it.

Lisa Woolfork 24:42  

It's not cheap, but it is worth its weight in platinum, in my opinion is such a good thing. I won't use anything else. It is so easy. And we've been talking about like advice and offering advice and you have done such a wonderful job with your dolls. And as I was saying - one of the things I love about your dolls is how they look like you. I really feel whenever I'm just scrolling through my feed, and one of your dolls pops up on your page, I noticed your page and like this is a Tracy doll. This is Tracy's. because I can tell. So can you talk a bit about the creation, you'll have dolls with purple hair, their makeup is so nice, like all of these things, all of the wonderful detail that you put into that. Can you talk a little bit about your process for how you decide on what a doll's personality is going to be? What her shapes going to be? What his outfits going to be? Like, how does that come to you? Are you creating a series of characters in your mind? Or is it just like what just happens to speak to you at the moment,

Tracy Perry 25:43  

it speaks to me at the moment, and sometimes with the faces and things, I'll look at television or I'll look in a magazine, I have like some stock faces around here that I've cut out of magazines at because I love the expression, I will just use that face. Sometimes when I do custom doll, sometimes people send me pictures, and sometimes they don't. So, I have to kind of get a feel. They're like, oh, she wants to paint. Oh, she smiles all the time. So, then I just have to come up with something. It's probably because I am looking at my own face. A lot of times I'm looking at my face, say Okay, where's the light, okay, my eyebrows, most of my dolls will have like very similar eyebrows. Because I'm either drawing my eyebrows, or I'm drawing something just similar to all end up have my lips. I don't know why I tried to change it up. But for some reason, they always end up. Back when I was in high school, I used to pay. And I was good at watercolor. And I love painting. So painting is like another thing I'm going to go into because I absolutely miss it. And the only time I get to do it is when I do the doll. So, I draw their faces on with one of those permanent Archival ink pens, I'll draw the face on and then I'll just start painting from there. Sometimes people tell me what colors they want, like they want the lips to be really red, or they just want. I try to make it neutral because I know some people don't like love makeup look on their dolls. And some people like that look, but I'm a selfish doll maker. I just tried to do what I like, yeah, I was bending myself backwards trying to say oh, people don't like this. People don't like that. And then I would find out that people did like it is just like I'd make a doll. And it's in here for two years. I've got dolls in these boxes here that some of you have been sitting here for like a year or so. And then I'll repost them, and they'll sell right away. And I finally understand

Lisa Woolfork 27:19  

and love this idea when you were saying that, and I would not call it selfish in a way that is negative. I think too often when women especially Black women want to do something that self-directed, self-determined self-reflected by seen as selfish. That is absolutely false. But it's absolutely false. And in the same way that Toni Morrison wrote books that she wanted to read, and we all benefited from that you miss Morrison, yes, right. So, to this Tracy Perry make dolls that kind of look like Tracy Perry, but also are incredibly powerful. And because they look like Tracy Perry, they are speaking to an entire community of Black women who have never seen themselves in a doll. And I'm just assuming that most of our cultural institutions that are not created by Black people that the doll community is predominantly white and reflects whiteness all the time as a matter of course, and that black dolls are somehow other and special and different. And white dolls are normal and regular. So don't call it selfish.

Call it corrective. 

Tracy Perry 28:30  

Oh, I got to tell you, man, you're right. Because majority of my dolls are brown dolls. That's what I like doing. I like to sprinkle in a few Caucasian dolls I do. But that's not my primary focus. I like to offer one or two because if somebody does love my dolls, I want them to be able to say, hey, I can purchase one as well. But I like the fact that I make my dolls for brown people. Well, not for brown people, because a lot of people buy the dolls, all different races. But I primarily make brown dolls. But the thing I love about it is that the Caucasian dolls are the minority in my set.

Lisa Woolfork 29:06  


Tracy Perry 29:06  

It's like flip the switch, you know, it's like,

Lisa Woolfork 29:09  

and that's how it should be. And that is what Toni Morrison was also say, it's just like, in my world, Black people are the only people. they are my neighbors. They are my family. They are my children. This idea that somehow it is wrong for Black people to start with ourselves when it is not wrong for white people to start with themselves and to look around and see themselves reflected everywhere. That's not seen as wrong or bad or selfish. We call that normal. And when we go to do that for ourselves, it's a problem. Really, you have to ask yourself, why on earth would anybody think that as a Black woman, you are supposed to begin and end with whiteness? That makes no sense. It would be in my mind, unhealthy obscuring your true vision of who you are. It makes no sense at all. And yet there are folks who often start with white in with white and that is all There is, and they want to kind of fit themselves in the background. And that's just fine. And that's, you know what, I don't judge lies I do, but it's not for. It's not for me, it's not for me. And that's what I love about it. I mean, of course, the work that comes from your hands should reflect the deepest essence of who you are, as well as on the inside and the outside. That is just a normal human expression of life. And you are doing that so beautifully in so many ways with your dolls, and I am so glad we got to talk about it today. 

You know, I'm going to ask you, the slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together. Okay, you miss Perry, the doll maker who makes these amazing, amazing cloth dolls, dolls that are so vibrant, and they have so much personality, they've got so much integrity of craft, how would you advise someone to get their stitch together? What would you say to them? 

You know what we were talking about tools. And I'm gonna tell you, Lisa, my number one thing for anybody that started out, get the right tools, and then just take your time, develop your craft, take your time, you don't have to be like me, you don't have to be like this person. No two peoples are the same. I sell the patterns for my dolls, and someone says, oh, they don't steal your ideas. Somebody's gonna make them and I'm like, you know what, they can make them but they're not gonna be my dolls. Anybody looking at my dolls is gonna know that it may be my pattern that is not my doll, get you the right tools, and take your time and develop your craft.

That is absolutely wonderful. And on that note, where can we find you on the socials? Where can we find you to follow you and to learn more about your work and what you have coming up next,

Tracy Perry 31:39  

everywhere? I am at seems like Tracy, I'm on YouTube. It seems like Tracy I'm on Instagram. It seems like Tracy and my new website whereby the time this airs will be up and it is at seems like Tracy. seems like Tracy like crazy.

Lisa Woolfork 31:55  

You know we're so in podcast and seems our SCA Ms. That yes, it seems absolutely. Tracy, this was delightful. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I really appreciate this so much.

Tracy Perry 32:06  

Thank you, Lisa, thank you so much for reaching out to me. I really enjoyed it. And I admire you so much. You do such a great job.

Lisa Woolfork 32:13  

Oh, mutual admiration society. 

Thank you so much for being with us today. This was awesome. You've been listening to the Stitch Please podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you supporting us by listening to the podcast. If you'd like to reach out to us with questions, you can contact us at If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patreon, P-A-T-R-E-O-N, and you can find Black Women Stitch there in the Patreon directory. And for as little as $2 a month you can help support the project with things like editing transcripts and other things to strengthen the podcast. And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really help the podcast by rating it and reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So, I know that not all podcast directories or services allow for reviews. But for those who do for those that have, like, a star rating or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us and the stitch, please podcast that is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. Come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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