Experiencing Mindfulness Through The Healing Art Of Doll Making

My earliest memories of embroidery were having after school lessons at 9 years old, with a wonderful primary school teacher called Mrs Kerr. I didn’t realise at the time the sessions were set up to help me talk about an upsetting happening in my family, I just thought I was very gifted at embroidering lampshades! I had no idea my teacher was a secret healing artist.

I haven’t really sewn since that long forgotten time until now, unless to fix a button. It was whilst making my first doll today, that I found my mind travelling back to the 1970’s and find that long lost memory in my minds archives.

My next encounter of the healing arts was much later in life when I was studying Reiki and the Shamanic arts. Even simple Shamanic twig rag dolls were believed to carry a powerful way to connect between supernatural unknown worlds. As part of that training, I was taught how to heal through doll like figures. Shamans made medicine dolls as part of their spiritual practice to aid healing.

Throughout history we have crafted figures in our own images. Fetishes, effigies, totems, puppets and symbolic dolls playing a key role in religious ceremonies and healing or sadly the dark arts. With ancient healing ceremonies, a doll, called the scapegoat, might have been created to represent the illness and would be buried, enshrined or burnt to dispel the disease.


I must admit that I turned to dolls and puppets for a number of my health presentations abroad, as a means to explain painful case histories and get the story across. I wasn’t using them to send prayers or spirits to specific patients. I might have been burnt at the stake!

Loving the colourful clothes of shamans and doing a little studying into cave paintings and art therapy, strengthened my interest in combining my very scientific orthodox medical approach with a little old-fashioned magic.  I could start to grasp how it made more sense for psychology to come through a creative door in the right side of the brain rather than the logical left. This helps explain why historically it was believed that when a doll maker made a doll, their actions on the doll influenced their own feelings, moods and sensations.

So this weekend I have decided to delve deeper into the history and art of doll making,  stepping out of 2D art into 3D magical healing. I find myself surrounded by doll making books, fabric, twigs, clay and pipe cleaners.

I have been drawn to a beautifully illustrated book, written by Barb Kobe, a very gifted American Psychologist and Artist. Her teaching of reflective healing thoughts, sewn into five Doll like representations of yourself is very enlightening! She describes her five dolls as Guardian, Scapegoat, Loving Kindness, Talisman and Inner Healer.

Thus, I started making my first messy creation. I thought knowing anatomy inside out it would be easy, how wrong was I! For my first creative action, I wanted to work with a theme of trees, as that was my latest subject for series of art scribbles. Snow at Xmas inspired me to walk out amongst the trees rather than cycle past. I then started to day dream about how trees are the lungs of the Earth.

I didn’t have any expectations or preconceived ideas about embarking on this journey. I just thought it would be a lovely soft creative way to help my patients with anxiety, upsetting backstories and chronic pain.


So, armed with a pile of twigs, I tied a couple together to make my first tree lady. Bark Kobe, Medicine Doll tutor, suggests your first doll should be to represent your guardian. This is to help protect you on your reflective healing story.

I struggled with a lumpy body with padding in all the wrong places, I made a really bad first attempt face with harsh buttons for eyes. Then I let go and got creative, and it was as if time stood still, the fire went out, my tea went cold…

I was suddenly reliving very traumatic moments in my life and it was if I was outside myself looking in. I felt cocooned in love, I could see it from a totally different angle, I was really getting out of my own way. I wasn’t expecting that! I thought I would have a go, then sit in meditation later and think it through.

With lockdowns and COVID-19 it’s really tough to stay positive and our immunity will be badly affected by relentless stress. Hence, now more than ever, we need mindfulness and peace. For some, the art of dollmaking could be the catalyst to induce a healing process.

I will let you know how I get on.