Handmade toys honor well-known rag dolls

Gerri Bradley doesn't know what it is that draws her to Raggedy Ann dolls.

Maybe it's the red hair made from yarn. Or, maybe it's the hand-embroidered face and colorful dress and apron unique to each doll. But something attracted Bradley to Raggedy Ann dolls more than 25 years ago and she's been making and selling the whimsical figures ever since.

"I've always liked them," Bradley said about the dolls. "I can't explain it, not even to myself. I just think every child should have a Raggedy Ann or Andy doll. That's just my opinion."

Bradley has made and sold hundreds of dolls during the past two-and-a-half decades. Her busiest season is the three months leading up to Christmas. With at least one week's notice, she can have a small, medium or large doll ready to be wrapped and placed under the tree.

The clothes, apron and body are the easiest and quickest parts to make. The hair, however, is another story, Bradley said, and takes the longest to complete. She does all the embroidery by hand and sewing by machine. Her favorite part, according to the mother of two and grandmother of four, is picking out fabric patterns.

Dolls are child-friendly but make good gifts for adults too, she said.

Bradley started sewing as a teenager and fell in love with the hobby. She learned to sew by hand from her grandmother, who would make her take stitches out and redo them if they weren't perfect. Passing down the tradition, Bradley taught her daughter to sew.

Bradley's daughter is a tailor in Sequim. Her son died about 10 years ago.

One of her proudest accomplishments, Bradley said, is that some of her dolls are overseas. Bradley's husband, who died four years ago, was in the Army and stationed all over the world, including France and Pakistan. Bradley continued to make, donate, sell and give away dolls during those 13 years abroad.

The couple was married 54 years.

Bradley used to make rabbits, cows, pigs and other critters but she focuses on rag dolls now.

Making and selling dolls is one way Bradley supplements her fixed income, although she doesn't make much profit for the amount of time she spends on each doll, she admitted.

"For my time, I make maybe 10 cents an hour. (But) making these dolls is good for me," she said. "It keeps me from thinking too much or counting cars out my window as they drive along Washington Street."

Bradley always uses the same two patterns. The paper is worn thin and the pattern no longer is for sale in stores. She copies the pattern to a T except for the hair, which she describes as "crazy and scary looking." Instead of attaching each hair individually, she loops the yarn to create a softer, friendlier appearance.

Bradley feared she'd lost the patterns during her move to Sequim. "I almost died when I thought I lost them. I thought I had thrown them away," she said. "They have different brands (available in stores) but not the same ones."

Luckily, Bradley found the patterns in a box at her daughter's house.

This year, Bradley is considering selling dolls on eBay as well as putting her usual holiday classified ad in local newspapers.

For more information or to place an order for a Raggedy Ann or Andy doll, call Bradley at 683-8934.

The history of Raggedy Ann and Andy,

according to

Raggedy Ann is a fictional character created by writer Johnny Gruelle in a series of books written and illustrated for young children. Created in 1915 and introduced to the public in the 1918 book "Raggedy Ann Stories," Raggedy Ann is a character with red yarn for hair. A doll was marketed successfully with the book.

A 1920 sequel to the book introduced Raggedy Ann's brother Raggedy Andy, dressed in a sailor suit and hat.

Gruelle created Raggedy Ann for his daughter Marcella when she brought him an old handmade rag doll and he drew a face on it. From his bookshelf, he pulled a book of poems by James Whitcomb Riley and combined the names of two poems, "The Raggedy Man" and "Little Orphan Annie," calling the doll Raggedy Ann.

Marcella died at the age of 13 after being vaccinated at school for smallpox without parental consent. Authorities blamed a heart defect but her parents blamed the vaccination. Gruelle became an opponent of vaccination and the Raggedy Ann doll was used as a symbol by the anti-vaccination movement.

Gruelle's hometown of Arcola, Ill., is home to an annual Raggedy Ann and Andy Festival, as well as the Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum.

Raggedy Ann was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2002. Raggedy Andy followed in 2007.

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