The Miracle of my Doll World

When did this obsession for making dolls begin? Perhaps it was when I was a small child, sitting on the lap of my Grandmother in church. I would get restless and wiggle, and she would dig into her shiny black handbag and pull out her powder scented, floral handkerchief she always carried.  Holding my hands in hers, she would guide me as I folded the two ends of the handkerchief into a triangle and then rolled the ends toward the center to be my dollies. The other two ends were pulled out underneath just right, sometimes with the use of my tiny teeth, the corners were pulled out under the two rolls so that you had made a cradle with two little babies. When you got tired swinging the babies by the corners you could give a slight tug and start all over again! (As years passed I would be repeating this for my children and grandchildren.)

Did grandmother realize her lesson would one day save my sanity during the most difficult challenge of my life? Perhaps she did. Such is the wisdom of grandmothers. This is just about the start of everything. Well, I didnít start out crawling but having been born in June, 1936, my father said I was the only thing they raised that year ― so there are few pictures of my early life. That could also be because I was the middle child!

Living on a farm you learn to make up your own entertainment so when I was not riding my horse I was playing with my dolls. Little has changed because I remember my father telling about me talking to my dolls as a small child. Today I still talk to my dolls. The difference is when I was little my dolls were usually from another persons choosing. Now I make dolls of my own choice.

I wish I had pictures of the next dolls that were a part of my life because they were the beginning of my doll making. Maybe just by describing them you will remember them yourself.  Nature was my source: Hollyhocks made wonderful little dolls with beautiful skirts. Daddy allowed me to pick off the "suckers" on the cornstalks. (These were small ears forming on the stalk that would never turn into an ear of corn. It was not until I was grown I learned that these needed to be picked off so the ears would be larger ― I may have been the "sucker!") Anyway these little ears of corn made wonderful dolls with flowing blonde hair. The little green husks and a bit of string made a great skirt. You know how many dolls you could have in a corn patch?


My sister and I had a doll collection (I am the youngest) and in this collection of dolls we had corn husk dolls that were made by some Indians.  We tried to make our own but they werenít too successful. (This is one of the few times that my sister and I ever had to dress alike.)

My mother did not sew and my first knowledge of fabric shopping was going with my grandmother to a farm to get chicken feed sacks.  A lot of trading that took place to get enough fabric to make a dress.


Living in the Flint Hills of Kansas the closest playmates were a mile from our home. Our country school was over a mile and was only in session for eight months of the year. "My good friend and means of transportation was my horse."  It was very exciting when 4-H clubs were first formed when I was ten years old.  My mother took me several miles to learn to sew on a treadle machine. When I was in the eighth grade I sold my 4-H calves and bought a White sewing machine.  From that time on my sewing machine and I have seldom been parted. This was also the time that I began gathering fabric! You will not believe what scraps I have but they go back to this time in my life and I even have some flat folds that never got made ― imagine that!

So years after grandmother amused me with the handkerchief dolls and I was grown, with a family and a career teaching school, I found myself struggling through the darkest days I would know. Our 23 year old daughter was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. The next four years provided many lonely days in an operating waiting room or next to my daughters bed. It was then that I once again turned to making dolls. Then enter elinor peace bailey!!!! You know when elinor enters there needs to be a drum roll―but I had not met or seen elinor at this point, just her patterns. I was introduced to elinor in a magazine with her whimsical dolls. Kathy would embroidery the faces and I would sew the dolls at home and stuff and finish them at the hospital.

After losing Kathy and during the healing process I made every elinor pattern that I could find. In a flier from the Osage County Quilt Factory I saw that Virginia Robertson was offering a doll class and the last class would be taught by elinor! I told my husband that this was what I wanted for Christmas, thinking this was an easy present he jumped at the deal and the rest is history!

My first dolls looked like elinorís Monique except for the faces.  I wanted to make my dolls different from these because I wanted them smaller and to stand or sit like real people. I made them to "resemble" relatives who were no longer living so I would not insult them!  I was a bit shy about my Dollmaking.

One of my first dolls was my grandmother, Minnesota Benham who had helped me make my first dolls. I took her to doll club to hear the first critique! One of the members bought her right there. Would you believe?

Sarah Rakes, an artist and my niece, took some of the dolls I made to galleries―mainly in Georgia. Each depicted some activity in life and they were all angels. This was soon after I had lost my mother and she was the subject for several of my dolls.

The Pin Ella P. doll club was formed after elinor came to our club. From the beginning we brought in special teachers to help in our doll making skills. We would never have gotten these teachers if it had not been for Virginia and her wonderful quilt shop. Among our first teachers was Lisa Lichtenfels―need I say more! No, we couldnít make dolls like Lisa but she gave us a philosophy and goal to strive for the very best we can do.

Aunt Ruth has become a symbol of my doll making.  We had a show of our work for Lisa and that was when Aunt Ruth was born. Since then she has been in every color and age. Sarah took her to California to one of her shows and she was purchased by Sarahís agent. Then enter Lee Crowe, a friend of Sarahís agent. Lee was looking for a way to illustrate a book she was writing. It was suggested that she use dolls I had made and she showed her Aunt Ruth. This was the beginning of the film "The Art of the Doll maker" aka "The Doll." The film which is the story of how my family adjusts to the death of our daughter and sibling has been very popular. Next month it will come out as a DVD with a new introduction added to it. The film will be available all over the country in a variety of stores. Watch for announcements in magazines.

When the computer entered my life a whole new world was opened. By joining internet doll clubs I immediately was in contact with dollmakers all over the world. I was no longer isolated in the middle of Kansas where I seemed to be the only soft doll artist. Any problem I had would be answered many times over when I asked it on the computer. A s I went to the first conference thinking to be alone, I found, because of the computer I knew many of these people and we could just start right out talking for we had many things in common. What great fun!!

In many exchanges we have traded dolls, help is found everywhere, and dear friends have been formed. I like to enter many challenges ― probably because of my 4-H days. It is one way that I can keep stretching myself. Who would have thought I would be teaching on the internet. After 30 years of classroom teaching I had to learn to teach by explaining things without talking with my arms!

Well, I guess I use my arms to type and make the dolls but this is quite different.  There are so many eager doll makers out there.  This year I became part of a new project. One day I opened my e-mail to see an e-mail from Drusilla. Usually things like this are hoax but for some reason I opened it. After visiting for several months Drusilla B decided to write a book about Drusillaís because she had found several thousand through the years. The exciting part was she wanted to illustrate the book with some of my dolls. It has gone to print now. So suddenly all of my dolls have become "Drusilla" and for once I can remember their names.

So what is next in my doll making? I will continue to give the many talks and demonstrations to groups in order to share doll making, work with young kids, visit rest homes, attend conferences, take classes, take part in projects that will promote Dollmaking and teach on Dollstreet.

My home is my showcase for my dolls.  "Mother Nature" sits high, overlooking the dining room table where "The Doll Maker and the Elves" reside. "Aunt Ruth," "George" and "To Market, To Market" and the ladies having a tea party are all nearby. Throughout the house, scores of small faces that were born in my mindís eye survey their kingdom.

Grandmother look what you started!

Order Information

Inquiries about purchasing a doll made by Dru should be e-mailed to:
or snail mailed to:
Dru Esslinger
3508 AA RD
Madison, KS 66860


  •  "Celebrating Drusilla"
    A lighthearted look at people, places and things (real and fictional) named Drusilla -- through the ages.  Dru's dolls are used as illustrations in the book.

  • "Art of the Dollmaker"
    available in VHS or DVD contact:
    5657 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 390
    Los Angeles CA 90036
  • Dolls United, Spring 2004 ~ CD Rom

Click >HERE< to Read about "The Art of the Dollmaker", available in VHS or DVD

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