Arrogant Russian princesses of the Byzantine epoch, pompous ladies and their baroque caballeros, sumptuous gentlewomen and ordinary peasant girls constitute a tiny part of the doll collection created by professors and students of Belarusian State Pedagogical University. The first ever display of the collection has traveled around Belarus recently, and has been a huge success. The masters of doll clothing may take months to apply beads to a single dress. “The only thing that we have ready is fabric, while the rest is handwork,” they say. They burn clay, they make the famous Sloutsk belts and ceremonial towels. These things are very small, though.
— It is a very tough task to make shoes that are only a couple of millimeters long, especially if you need to embroider them. Shoes of the kind were worn in Byzantine Empire — shoes and underwear with laces, Tatyana Rutkovskaya tells me. — But we try very hard to make our dolls as close to life as possible, especially their clothing.
Clothes for dolls are very much like real attire, with “working” buttons and belts. Of course, you have tiny wires instead of baleen in these ladies’ corsets. Jewelry is often made from dry construction foam, and diamonds are replaced by miniature strasses. Real fur was forsaken because of moths, and hairs are made of flax, because real hair is too costly. However, only professionals will notice these drawbacks.
— You breathe life into the dolls that you work with. It sometimes seems to me that they change places in their boxes themselves, Raisa Kolosei says. — You start talking to them, they tend to come to you in your dreams. It often happens that you cannot make up patterns and then you suddenly see them in detail in your dreams. You wake up and turn your dream into a real dress.
Besides separate dolls the enthusiasts of the pedagogical university make whole collections based on well-known literary works or everyday life. The images inspired by the writer Vladimir Korotkevich seem the best ones, they say.
I even see kerchiefs on male necks in the set describing the traditional hundred-year-old wedding. A lady from Turov is wearing the traditional headgear called golovachka, with a small pillow inside to make it beautiful. The special bread-towel for newly-weds features two birds placed opposite one another. This means true love, unlike domination (one bird behind each other) or rift (the birds look in opposite directions). A nobleman has a miniature tobacco pouch on his belt, but the smoking pipe was stolen by some visitor.
— Dolls rarely return from their trips in one piece, senior lecturer of the university Olga Parfenovich laments. — I hope when people learn how much love we give our dolls they will be more careful about them.
To become a professional costume maker for dolls one has to know the technology and be able to sew, tailor and burn clay. One should take a course of lectures on the history of costume and folk culture. One should also combine historical facts with imagination, make age adjustments and believe in fairy-tales.
— Dolls depend a lot on the maker. When your heart is light your Baba-Yaga [the terrible witch from Russian fairy-tales] may look comical and not in the least scary, Olga Parfenovich says. — When you feel oppressed and lonely you should give it a break.
Those who love dolls will certainly recognize the authors in their creatures. You see almost the same faces and features of character.
Quite often the girls change their mind about the sex of the doll at the very last moment and a fiery female in bright skirts suddenly turns into a guy in elegant trousers. When the past mistresses get back from the past and look into the future they tend to create something extraordinary, like a “Rain Bride” and “Flower Elf”, to say nothing of the “Mystery Doctor”.
— When I was a kid I disliked one doll, Olga Parfenovich shares her memories. — This doll disappeared once, and my parents told me she had left because I did not love her. I love all my dolls since then.