When I was very young—maybe three years old—my mother’s friend made and gave to me an “upside down” or “topsy turvy” doll. One side was made of white muslin and had a pink-and-blue calico dress, blue eyes, and two thick blond yarn braids. The other side was brown muslin with a red-and-black striped dress, brown eyes, and a headwrap. I remember this doll so well—the calico patterns, the feel of the cloth, the yarn hair as it became worn and tatty. But most of all I remember feeling perplexed by its anatomy. Which side was up? What about legs? How was this fair? This was a thoroughly integrated doll in a severely segregated time and place, so that raised a whole raft of other questions in my tiny brain. I did not love this doll; I worried about it.
This style of doll dates back to before the American Civil War, and it surely had “mistress-slave” connotations then. But the idea has evolved. Now there are doctor/nurse dolls, frog/prince dolls, Goldilocks/bear dolls. Imagination is the limit. The originals were sewn, but now there is a knitting pattern for a cheery little version, easy to adapt to your own idea of what would make an interesting conjoined pair.
This is just one of many patterns for traditional toys that we’ve enjoyed developing and publishing: teddy bears, dolls, bunny rabbits, angels— all the interesting cuddly creatures that children have doted on for centuries. They are the very opposite of the mass-produced plastic that you see in the stores. Have you looked at the calendar lately? Forty-nine days until Christmas.