A dozen pretty dolls stand around Nguyen Thuy Duong as her fingers deftly work on another creation, carefully dressing a doll in a stunning red paper dress.
Their colourful dresses and clothes brighten up the narrow 8sq.m room in a four-storey corner house on Ngo Sy Lien Street.
Five years ago, the Trade and Technology University student began making paper dolls after receiving one as a birthday gift from a friend.
“I fell in love with the paper doll at first sight and asked myself ‘why don’t I try to do it myself’,” said Duong.
Duong’s friend taught her how to make the body of the doll and since then she has learnt to make the other parts by herself. She began spending several months looking for materials in Hang Ma Street, where toys and decorative objects are sold.
She also began designing the dolls herself, which she said was not easy at the beginning and required hours of patience. The first doll she made had long brown hair and was dressed in a long pink dress, which she gave to her teacher as a gift.
Crafty : Nguyen Thuy Duong makes paper dolls.
Duong says that it takes her about 4-5 hours to create a doll and she always begins by making the doll’s body from a steel wire frame, then designs the costumes, and finally creates the face and hair.
Sometimes when she can’t find materials in Hang Ma Street, she asks friends in Japan, which is well-known for its long tradition of doll-making and has a wider variety of high-quality paper on offer.
“I have to use elastic papers, not normal ones, so it sometimes takes time to find materials”, said Duong.
After five years, she has created over 5,000 dolls with ideas from family, friends and customers helping her diversify the models of the dolls. They are divided into three types: modern dolls wearing casual dresses, dolls wearing the traditional ao dai (long robe) costume and dolls in pairs.
Each one of Duong’s dolls is a unique creation with different style, faces, costumes, hair, and accessories. From graceful long-haired dolls in long dresses to modern short-haired dolls with colourful skirts, or bride and the groom dolls, Duong has become a master of her craft.
Many of her works have been showcased in different countries including France, Russia, Italy and Germany.
Beyond the first fold: a global tradition
In Viet Nam, there hasn’t been a tradition of paper dolls, but many other countries in the world have long traditions of making paper dolls. In Japan, paper is used to create origami, an artistic paper folding discipline dating back to AD800, where many figurines are created wearing the famous kimono. Balinese people have made paper and leather into puppets for centuries and other cultures around the world have developed paper arts, such as in Poland, where they were called Wy’cinanki. These early types of paper figures differ from the typical paper dolls of today, as no clothes were made to be used with dolls.
In France, the first paper dolls were made during the mid-18th century. The paper was jointed and they were called “pantins” meaning dancing or jumping jack puppets. They were intended to satirise nobility and rare hand-painted sets of paper figures dating to the late 1780s can be found in some museums today.
In the US, McLoughlin Brothers, founded in 1828, became the largest manufacturer of paper dolls, making their dolls fairly easy to find today.
They printed their paper dolls from wood blocks engraved in the same way as metal plates and some of the most popular dolls, selling for five and ten cents a set, were Dottie Dimple, Lottie Love and Jenney June. A paper doll convention is held every year in the US, with hundreds of attendees.
“Most countries in the world have some sort of traditional dolls and I also wanted to create the typical Vietnamese doll to present to friends in other countries,” confided Duong.
The 22-year-old student can earn money by selling her hand-made dolls at home, at exhibitions and even online during special occasions such as the Mid-Autumn Festival, Christmas and New Year. The price of these dolls ranges from VND60,000 to 250,000 (US$3-10).
Wallflowers : Nguyen Thuy Duong’s colourful paper dollls.
Her works pleases people of all ages: from children to the aged, who buy dolls for themselves and for gifts to family and friends for special occasions such as birthdays or Valentines day.
“I remember one day a girl came to see me and asked me to make a doll from a photo of her mother, so she could give it to her father on their wedding day. I was very touched when I found out her mother had died,” Duong said, emotion showing in her voice and eyes.
“In Japan, every year, there’s a doll festival but I still prefer Duong’s pretty paper dolls – they’re very original and creative”, said one of Duong’s customers.
The ambitious girl plans to set up a centre where handicapped people and children will be taught how to make paper dolls.
“I think it’s an activity I can share with children today, teaching them about craft, history, fashion and art while having lots of fun together,” Duong said.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of digging into a box of assorted paper and suddenly finding a childhood toy in one’s hand, which can awaken the joys of childhood in everyone.
VietNamNet/Viet Nam News
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