Blythe Spirits – The Magic of Making Dolls With The Major Arcana

blythe doll

Blythe dolls are handmade dolls that you customise yourself. Lauren customised Blythe dolls to represent Tarot cards in the Major Arcana for Summer Solstice…

I first came across one on Etsy, while browsing the dazzling (and sometimes slightly horrifying) array of handmade dolls. From a sweetly-stitched sack dolly to a haunted china-faced waif, there was – as they say – something for everyone.

But my eye was caught in the big doe eyes of a Blythe. Her wild ginger curls, wound with mohair, down to her dotted freckles and perfectly miniature pinafore dress… she was like a tiny, bobble-headed human, and I knew I wanted one.

But it turns out that Blythes aren’t easy on the pocket, whether you go for an official release or a custom. The brand Blythe began its life in 1972, with a short run of dolls sold in the US, UK, Australia, and Japan. They were available for just a year before the production lines stopped…but there was nothing wrong with Blythe dolls – this just wasn’t their time. The great Blythe awakening began in the 1990s, when Hasbro purchased the brand and began reproducing the dolls for the growing group of vintage blythe collectors.

Nowadays, a few official dolls are released each year, in various sizes – the full Blythe doll stands at 30cm, with middie Blythes and petite Blythes each knocking off an extra 10cm or so. Each can cost around £100.

Their mainstream moment came when the Littlest Pet Shop collaborated with Blythe on a unique line of petites. These days there are Blythe cons around the world and a healthy online community of mega-creative, super-talented carvers and painters. Honestly, some of the dolls literally look like they’re made of flesh and bone…

Despite the LPS petites, what fascinates me about Blythe dolls is that they are not really for children, but for the grown-ups who were once children themselves – and a lot of parents, incidentally. Indeed, many Blythe customisers with huge followings refer to themselves as the Mummy or Mom of their dolls. There is clearly a very fierce attachment to your tiny creations, and I was soon to discover this for myself.

There is something quite magical about bringing something into being, and nurturing each step of its creation – from a houseplant to a plastic doll. You begin to care about every tiny bit of them almost as though they were conscious beings themselves. With a Blythe doll, you lightly dust pastels onto their round little cheeks and mouth, conditioning and brushing their hair, tying their little bow necklace. They feel (and can be) fragile, so there’s definitely a strong parental vibe that creeps into your heart and craft.

Customising Blythe dolls to represent four cards in the Major Arcana for Summer Solstice

So, I spent my Summer Solstice making Blythes. Four Blythes, to be precise! I have to admit, despite my best efforts I couldn’t finish them all in my four-day holiday: reassembling the customised dolls and adding the beads to their pull chains (which operate their blinking eyes) came the week after. But as the midsummer sun dazzled my front room, I was totally absorbed in the creation of four tiny gals

First, you have the slightly daunting challenge of taking the factory line dolls apart. You get a plain plastic body and glossy face with retro-style makeup. I began by deconstructing the dolls by removing their heads and reducing them to separate parts (scalp, eyeballs, etc) and sanding off the glossy finish so they could be customised. I find wet-sanding (just using wet sandpaper with a heavy grain) works best. They can be smoothed with a fine grain sandpaper if needed.

Then, the bulk of the work: the carving. I do mine with a scalpel, a flat and round file set, and a dremel (like a tiny drill with different smoothing ‘bits’ attached). Safety note: I wear a construction-grade mask so I don’t breathe in the plastic dust!

First, I alter the face shape itself – changing where the cheekbones are, altered the shape of the nose and eyes, and so on. With each of these four dolls I wanted to try out something different. Three of the dolls were inspired by a card of the Major Arcana from a traditional tarot deck: I chose the Fool, the Magician, and the Sun (the fourth is just a lil’ witch). I thought about what each of these cards meant if they were encapsulated in a character. For example, for the Fool (blonde doll) I carved large, innocent eyes. I gave her a little button nose, and big pouting lips because I reckon she’s a bit petulant and headstrong sometimes too (a reverse reading of the card!).

I left the lips until last because this part takes forever! The basic shape is done with the dremel, while the details are created with the files and scalpel. Using reference images from photographs really helps. Once all of the carving was complete (a couple of days’ work), I sanded the faceplates with a finer grain until they were smoother and the major carving work began to look as if it had always been there. 

Once carved, the dolls were ready for the ‘face-up’. I used pastels, all ground up into powder, dusting each colour on lightly to build up the colour gradually. For each doll, I used a mixture of coral pink, dark brown, and a whitish-grey in different balances to suit each doll’s skin tone. The key areas for blush were the cheeks, chin, and sometimes nose and forehead. Meanwhile, the white-grey was used around the eyes, and as a highlight. For the final details I grabbed some copic markers and pencils in colours to match each doll’s hair – eyebrows and freckles were last! Each coat of colour was sealed with fixative, and the lips were varnished at the end to make them super gleamy.

By this point I was talking to the dolls as I made them quite a lot…perhaps it was time to take a break!

I returned a week later for the final steps. By now the weather in the UK had gone full Hestia, goddess of fire, so the dolls weren’t so easy to work with. A bolt expanded there, plastic warped there… let’s just say it took a while.

But it was so worth it. Tightening the final screw and laying your dolls in a line is so satisfying. Four custom, lovely dolls brought into the world. I brushed their hair and styled it a little, dressed them in little cotton outfits I’d sewn a few weeks back, and of course took about a thousand photos!

The Blythe on the left is called Sage. The Blythe on the right is called Folly.

Blythe dolls are a perfect hobby… one where you imbue a little of yourself into each creation.

Are Blythes a relaxing hobby? Eh, maybe not – it gets a bit fiddly and frustrating sometimes. But are Blythes a rewarding hobby? Hell, yes! Each one is imbued with a little bit of me, just as any piece of art reflects its artist. I love the idea of one day selling a few to a happy home where they’ll join other dolls on a cosy shelf. For now, I can look at them on my bookshelf as I pass and think, ‘I made those!’. And that’s pretty magic, no?

More Blythe dolls on Mookychick: This is not the first time Blythe dolls have been created for magical purposes and showcased here. Katrin’s Blythe Dolls Beltane Sabat ritual photoshoot for our annual May Day Magic ritual is incredible!