Forget about cramming all your plastic grocery bags into another plastic bag. In the 21st century there is a ragdoll that can keep your plastic bags in order. Traditional rag doll maker Vera Belogonova from Melnitsa Center for Culture and Crafts (Tugan Avylym complex) held a presentation at the Kazan City Press Center on traditional dolls and their contemporary iterations.
Belogonova comes from the Republic of Mari El, where she initially specialized in folk costumes before switching to ragdolls. The first dolls she made wore traditional Mari El costumes. She explored the history of the craft by asking elderly visitors to her crafts center about dolls they played with when they were younger. Since Belogonova liked making various crafts to begin with, working on ragdolls was an obvious career choice.
"I love crafts such as sewing, knitting, embroidery and modeling with clay, and I can use all these skills when it comes to making a doll. For example, you have to make a dress for a doll, decorate it with beads, knit something and even make a small clay pot for one of the dolls to hold," Belogonova pointed out.
At the workshop, several dolls lay around on her work bench. There was a grandmother, a granddaughter, a mother, a Tatar couple, a family, and miniature stick puppets.
"A piece of wood provides the foundation for making a Tatar doll. It's covered with bits of material which turn it into either a boy or a girl doll," Belogonova said showing her dolls.
On the same work bench journalists could see a doll with its arms wide open, creating an image of hospitality. There is also a flip-over doll representing a mother on one side and her daughter or a grandmother on the other side, each wearing their own hat, dress and apron. Colors match their ages: the grandmother wears whiter, more respectable colors, while the mother has a brighter outfit.
"She is her own master. She wears an apron and does all the house work herself," Belogonova said about the mother doll, before flipping it over to reveal the grandmother and granddaughter. "It was not uncommon for grandmothers and their granddaughters to become close friends, which is symbolized by this doll," she noted.
According to Belogonova, flip-over dolls first appeared as part of the Russian culture and were later dressed in Tatar dresses.
"For me, this doll symbolizes a miracle of transformation, since a girl can change into an old lady, and vice versa, an old woman instantly becomes a young girl. After all we all feel young in spirit," Belogonova said about the flip-over doll.
Journalists at the City Press Center have attended a number of doll-making workshops, but were still surprised when Belogonova used a thick roll of paper covered with thread as a starting point for making a doll.
"I use a special knot to fix this one, called a short knot. The same sort of one was used to tie a goat or a cow up so that they don't run away," Belogonova pointed out.
Cotton wool or fabric are used for stuffing the dolls. This is how it gets a head. The face is not painted, since according to a local tradition this can attract an evil spirit.
It was not uncommon in ancient Russia for these dolls to be made of old rags which were once the clothes of the owner's relatives. If the doll was for a boy, it was made from his father's old clothes, and the mother would provide clothes for her daughter's doll that would serve as a protective charm.
When the doll was almost ready journalists asked the animator to tell them something about the other ragdolls on the work bench. Belogonova took a stick doll, explaining that it was called a Veselushka or a happy doll. She started to spin the stick between her palms, saying that children used to exercise their manual dexterity this way in the older days.
Another traditional doll holds small bags of aromatic herbs, and serves as storage for herbs, and the doll itself is filled with them.
"Just smell it, and you will feel the various herbs it is made off: mint, lavender, sage, milfoil, and tansy. You can add any herbs you wish. And when no herbs are left, the dolls can be stuffed with tea," Belogonova noted.
By the end of the workshop Belogonova surprised the unsuspecting journalists one more time. It turned out that the biggest doll that was on the work bench for the entire workshop actually served as a bag. She raised the doll's dress to show a bag underneath it. Belogonova invented the doll herself, and calls it a plastic bag storage device, which can be an alternative to using a bag in order to store other bags.