Rubens Barn is a brand of handmade Swedish cloth dolls that have recently made their way to the United States. At first, I thought that the name of the brand was Ruben's Barn--meaning a guy named Ruben had a barn, and the dolls were in it. Actually, barn means "children" in Swedish, and "Rubens" is possessive without the apostrophe, so the dolls are "Ruben's Children." These dolls can be found at Magic Cabin, and also on Amazon. They cost $25.
I could look at the cutes faces on the Rubens Barn website for a long time. The larger babies are fantastic, but my favorite dolls are in the Linné collection, a new group of babies that are dressed in outfits that represent something from nature. There's a bluebird, a bumblebee, a butterfly and even a pinecone. I almost bought the pinecone doll, because a pinecone is Maine's state flower--even though pinecones aren't flowers. I think we're the only state in the nation that has a seed as its state flower.
After looking closely at all of the dolls, it was Moss who I couldn't resist. This fellow is not only lovable, but he might be the only doll ever in the history of the world that is made to look like moss:
|Rubens Barn Linné doll, "Moss."|
My new enthusiasm for cloth dolls started when I saw the (fake cloth) Lalaloopsy Workshop dolls at Target:
These dolls come apart and can mix-and-match limbs and heads with other Workshop dolls. They're smaller than normal Lalaloopsies and coast $14.99 each. They're cute, but I can't see spending the money to get enough dolls for the mixing and matching to be fun. I don't really enjoy mismatched things, anyway.
Right next to the fake-cloth Lalaloopsy doll display, I noticed a beautiful new line of real cloth dolls called "Mooshka." Here's a quick picture of my favorite Mooshka doll, Ina (I'll review her separately):
I like many things about the Lalaloopsy line, but the massive plastic-ness of the full-sized dolls has always bothered me. Seeing the new Workshop dolls right next to the soft, watercolor sweetness of the Mooshka line was especially striking.
I was not at all tempted to buy one of the new Lalaloopsy dolls. In contrast, I had a hard time leaving the store without Mooshka's Ina. Even after I got home, I kept thinking about her and how she stood out from the rest of the dolls at Target. Coincidentally, Lily emailed me about the Rubens Barn cloth dolls the very next week. The allure of these two cloth cuties together was more than I could handle, so I broke down and bought both of them. I am determined to pay more attention to the cloth doll market from now on.
One nice thing about cloth dolls is that they don't need much in the way of protective packaging. My little moss baby came inside a brown shipping box and was protected by a plain plastic bag:
If I had bought him at a store, it looks like he would have been displayed on a hanging rack, held up by a small green and white polka dotted cardboard hanger:
I think I'll name him Oscar. I checked the Baby Name Wizard, and Oscar is the most popular name on the 2010 Swedish baby name list.
|Oscar the Moss.|
The tricky thing about Carl's naming system is that many of the names are in Latin. This makes them a little hard to pronounce, but very fun to decode. You can probably guess that Felis cattus is the scientific name for a cat and Canis lupus is a dog, but can you guess what Panthera tigris or Lama glama are?
This fly is called Pieza kake:
|I'm not eating that.|
So, that's the story behind the name of this group of dolls. Can you tell that I like them already?
The hand tag folds open to reveal small pictures of the other dolls in the collection. You can click on these to make them bigger if they're hard to see:
I'll enlarge one section for you because I think there's a mistake:
|Butterfly and ladybird are switched.|
That little bluebird is so cute. She'd be next on my wish list, I think.
Here's Oscar again. He always looks like he wants to give a hug:
|Need a hug?|
The cardboard hanger is tied around his waist with elastic string. It slides off very easily.
His body is made out of a skin-colored polyester fleece. The doll is machine washable, but the company recommends hand-washing the outfits.
Oscar's eyes are embroidered patches. The have black pupils and two colors of forest green in the irises. The separate regions of the eye are outlined in grey:
His feet and hands are sewn into the fleece, just like the mouth and nose:
Oscar's outfit consists of a fuzzy hat, a layered top and a pair of fleece shorts.
|Sure you don't need a hug?|
The bottom of the hat is made out of fleece and the top is made out of one of the softest fake furs I have ever felt. It's very silky and smooth. It actually startled me the first time I touched it because I didn't expect it to be so soft!
The hat is well-constructed, but some of the rows of stitching and cut edges are charmingly crooked. It looks handmade.
Underneath the hat, Oscar has fuzzy auburn fur hair that sticks up in an endearing way:
|Hugs are great!|
With the hat removed, it's easier to see Oscar's rosy cheeks and tiny little fleece ears:
Oscar has two Rubens Barn tags--one on his arm, and one on the collar of his shirt:
The shirt is a three-layered green tunic. The top layer is felt and the bottom two layers are fleece. All three layers are cut in un-hemmed jagged lines:
Here's Oscar in just his little green shorts:
These are simply-made little pants with inside-out seams and unfinished edges. Fleece is pretty forgiving with this type of sewing, but I can see why Rubens Barn recommends not machine-washing these clothes.
Here's my naked little moss-baby:
I had to put him right back into his clothes, though, because that hat is so darn soft, and he looks much more like moss this way:
Oscar is 9.5 inches tall from head to toes (when he's laying down). I was actually quite surprised by his size. I expected him to be really tiny, but he's about the size of a Webkinz stuffed animal. Maybe a little smaller:
Here he is next to my Liv Katie, in case you have more 12" dolls in your house than Webkinz:
Oscar is a delightful little fellow. He's soft and super-cuddly and would be a great friend for a smaller child. The tag says that he's not for children under 3, which is too bad because I can imagine babies reacting very positively to his happy face and big eyes.
I think Oscar is a wonderful doll, but what I really adore about him is that he is a bryophyte. That's another word for moss. Bryophytes are the most primitive plants on Earth (they've been around the longest) and they have some fascinating features. For one, moss don't have flowers or seeds. They also don't have a way to move water around to all of their cells (most plants have tubes that carry water through the stem or trunk). This is why moss tend to be small and grow in damp places very close to the ground.
|Have you hugged a bryophyte today?|
Another neat thing about moss is how they reproduce. In honor of back-to-school day, Oscar and I will tell you a little more about that.
Like most plants, moss alternate how they reproduce with each generation. This means that there are two different versions of an adult moss plant, and two different ways of making baby moss. The first way might seem familiar. It involves the version of moss called a gametophyte (gam-ee-tow-fite).
Basically, a boy gametophyte moss meets a girl gametophyte moss and they have a baby:
|Gametophytes in love.|
When the sporophyte grows up and wants to start a family, it doesn't go out and try to find love, it simply stays on Mom's head. It doesn't get a job, it doesn't pay rent, it doesn't load the dishwasher, it doesn't take out the trash...it just sits there and releases spores.
Spores are tiny little reproductive cells that will spread out and land on the ground, each one growing into a whole new moss plant all by itself:
|Wheee!!! Yippee! We're spores!|
The new moss plants that grow from the spores are either male or female...and, you guessed it, they're gametophytes. Let's take a closer look at the two in the red circle:
These two are a male and a female, so, when they grow up...
They'll get together, join cells, and have a baby sporophyte moss. So, we're back to where we started:
|Let's find somewhere damp to settle down and have some sporophytes.|
Ok, that's enough learning for one day. Let me show you a few pictures of Oscar, out meeting his Maine relatives. There's no shortage of moss in my
|Hello there, cousin Rhytidiadelphus loreus!|
Hangin' with Polytrichum commune
Bottom line? This is a charming, creative doll. The only problem with him is that he's not safety tested for children under 3. He'd make an amazing baby gift, especially for a family that enjoys nature.
His sewn features aren't very realistic, but he has an elfin grin and side-glancing eyes that give him a lot of personality. His fur hair looks good and will never get tangled. His mossy hat is amazingly soft and adds significantly to his cuddle factor. His outfit is sweet but simple, and would be easy for a child to manage. The soft, cozy handmade charm of this doll is a nice break from all of the plastic.
This doll's small size makes him very portable and versatile. He could be a cuddle toy for bedtime or be tucked into a backpack for show-and-tell. With his machine-washable body and sturdy stitching, he could even go along on some outdoor adventures. He would make an excellent companion for a nature hike. The connection to nature is what I love most about this doll--he brings the fascinating diversity of the living world into the hands of very young children.