Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Rubens Barn Linné "Moss" Doll

It is back-to-school week here in Maine, so I am getting my kids ready for their first day and, of course, I am thinking about science and learning.  This doll fits right in with my current state of mind.

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 friend Lily recommend this new Rubens Barn line, but I have actually been looking at cloth dolls with renewed interest for a few weeks now.

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.

Sailor                                                                                                         Ina

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.
Oscar is wearing a simple hand tag with some information about the Linné dolls.  This series of dolls is named after the famous Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linné.

Carl Linnaeus invented a naming system for living things called binomial nomenclature.  Binomial nomenclature is just a fancy way of saying, "naming with two names."  We still use Linnaeus' naming system today--it's how scientists categorize all living things.  For example, humans are identified by the two names "homo" and "sapiens."  These are our genus and species names.  Binomial nomenclature names are written in italics, with the genus capitalized: Homo sapiens.

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?

Felis awesomus
By ColKorn1982 (CatSkiing) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
There are so many living things that need to be named, scientists can get a little desperate for good new names.  They can also get a little silly.  There are more species of beetle than any other animal in the world, so beetle names are especially strange.  There's a genus of beetle called Agra, and some of the species include: Agra vation, Agra cadabra and Agra phobia.  No joke.

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:

Oscar's mouth and nose are sewn into the fleece face with thread, and he has a visible seam right down the middle of his head:

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:

Big hugs!
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:

Bear hug?
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.
To be more precise, the two gametophytes each release a reproductive cell, and those two cells join together to make a baby moss.  Then, things get weird.  The baby grows up attached to the mother and is an entirely different version of the plant.  It looks completely different, and it's not male or female!  This version is called a sporophyte (spore-oh-fite):

Congratulations!  It's a bouncing baby...ah...sporophyte.
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 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 swamp yard:

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. 


  1. The number of times I went "AWWWW" while reading this review was too high!

  2. My girls have one Rubens barn each, my big girl has Sunny, who is bigger with bright orange super soft hair, and my little one has Clara, who is smaller, with dark hair. They really do make wonderful companions, and they're just as nice fresh out of the dryer after a bath in the washing machine, which I find important. They hold up beautifully after years of loving abuse... the perfect doll, in my eyes.

    But since I'm Swedish, I might be a wee bit partial! ;)

    1. Hi Johanna! Thank you for sharing your experience--it's great to hear that these cuties hold up well, too. They sure look durable.

      I suddenly find myself wishing I had more young children or baby showers in my life. These seem like the perfect gift. I'd love to see more dolls made in Sweden! :D

    2. They really are the perfect gift, Alice got her Clara for her first birthday and hasn't slept a night without her since.

      I was thinking of getting a mini ballerina one for my niece (The one named Lily, just like her), but her mom has a different approach to these dolls. She works in dementia care, and apparently they had an experiment where they had some of these dolls for the patients to care for. Unfortunately they didn't get more than a few, and the poor little old ladies fought tooth and nail to care for these babies, and that scarred my sister-in-law for life...

      I don't think we have any more Swedish doll manufacturers, not that I know of anyway. There's mostly the Zapf Baby Born type dolls... Oh, after a bit of googling I found Skrållan ( a creepy talking doll who isn't very cute. But she's Swedish! :)

    3. Hi, Johanna. I've heard of doll therapy being used with dementia patients before; do you know how well that experiment turned out?

  3. MGA makes both Lalaloopsy and Mooshka. The dolls even have similar stories of magically coming to life. I think they might have created the Mooshka line for people like you who prefer a more traditional soft doll over the hard rag doll. Both Mooshka and the Moss doll remind me of the simpler, folksier types of dolls I saw more of when I was little but don't really see nowadays.

    1. No kidding! I hadn't noticed that yet. Poor Ina is still in her box.

      I did notice a third, larger variety of Mooshka doll at Walmart yesterday, and these seemed to be electronic in some way--I think they sing a song. I prefer the traditional simplicity of the smaller Mooshka dolls, but I think they're all amazingly sweet.

      It's good that MGA is willing to distribute a wide variety of dolls, but I'd rather see a larger number of small independent doll companies like Ruben Barns. I was hoping that's what Mooshka was, sitting there sharing a shelf with MGA, but I guess not.

      I do like to see diversity in the mainstream dolls, though!

  4. Gah, what a cute little guy! He actually looks much cuter in your pictures than he does in his promo shots.

    I love all the options on the website: there seems to be a size and a clothing style for everyone, and the dolls are pretty ethnically diverse. Did you see the anatomically correct babies?! BTW, they got things right online: ladybirds and butterflies are named correctly, and chantarelle is spelled correctly, too! The Linné line is so clever, although I'd like it even better if the traditional cuddly animals stayed in the "Ark" section and the Linné dolls were all plants and insects and things. They remind me a little of Giant Microbes, which I love; both of my sisters are biologists-to-be, so it's always good to keep cuddly, enlarged lab-creatures in mind for potential future gifts!

    1. OOoh! I love those giant microbes, too! :D They always get a giggle out of my class. Nothing like having a larger-than-life Salmonella or Anthrax to cuddle up with at night! ;)

      I LOVE the big anatomically correct Rubens Barn babies, too. I would like to get my hands on one to see how they're weighted. I bet they are wonderful to hold! It's a fun website to browse, isn't it? I'm glad they have all of the critters labeled correctly over there.

    2. i wondered if you ever got hold of one of the babies. i would love to read a review for one or one of the origional maria dolls.

  5. this is cute, and this collection reminds me of my adorable Vanellope plushie that my boyfriend gave me as a Valentine's gift.
    I think that those dolls would make a great gift for children or people of all ages! they're soft, cuddly and sweet looking. And if you love nature, even better!. Liked them a lot :)

    1. I like Vanellope! Never seen her before. You've got a cool boyfriend! :D

    2. We went to watch the movie at the cinema together, and we both loved it. so when I got her as a gift I was really happy! here's a pic of her :3

      and yes, he's a great boyfriend. we both share similar hobbies and he supports my fondness towards dolls... I'm so happy with my geek <3

  6. Umm... Emily, where is the mini Rebecca doll review?

    1. Hi Dot--I'll get to her, never fear! There are so many fun new dolls to review at this time of year, I can't think straight! ;)

  7. He is SUPER adorable!

    I was wondering if you have seen the Positively Perfect Divah Collection. I just saw them at the store and wondered about their quality and if they can share clothes with AG dolls.

    I am more of a MH/LIV/ Barbie and AG/H4H girl than cloth dolls, but I do enjoy seeing pictures of these adorable little guys. Again, great review!

    1. Oh, wow! Positively Perfect Divah looks amazing! She's new to me. I just saw the new Madame Alexander lineup at Walmart, but didn't notice this gal anywhere nearby. What a cutie. Where did you find her?

    2. The new Madam Alexander dolls are wonderful! We just got a bunch of nnew Monster High Dole at our store, so I am super excited about that! I foundher at Walmart, but she was hidden by the baby dolls and Cabbage Patch Kids. There were 3 of the dolls the. I noticed today that above the 18 inch girls there were some smaller baby dolls.

    3. Also, who is your favorite doll? I love Zair, but I am a sucker when it comes to curly haired dolls. :)

    4. I've also seen the Positively Perfect Divah dolls, Vivienne! Zair's my favorite, too.

      I didn't have time to examine them closely in-store, but they look very nice in their boxes and online. I found a review for them here: It didn't discuss clothes-sharing between these and AG dolls, but it does have a picture for size comparison at the end.

  8. I loved this review - I'm more of a fashion doll type but I loved hearing all about this wee guy :)

    1. Thank you so much, thesmu! Your comment makes me think--how fun would it be to see a fashion doll with an avant garde outfit inspired by moss? I wonder if that's been done. I'll have to go search... ;)

    2. Haha if it hasn't it should be!

  9. OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!!!! PURE CUTE!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Wow, fantastic review (as always)! I love his sticking up hair, so adorable! My niece used to collect the soft dolls, Groovy Girls. Have you ever heard of them?

  11. What a wee cutie! I have to say, I just love it when you work a little science lesson into your reviews. I had no idea moss reproduced that way. But now I know! He's a very sweet little doll. I had never heard of this line, but I enjoyed looking at all the nature-inspired designs. Pine one looks like a cute lil elf in that pointy hat.

    I'm glad to see that you've come across Mooshka dolls, too. I love the folk-art look of the line. I'm not much of a cloth doll person normally, but I was so impressed with the aesthetic that I had to pick one up. I decided on Misha, one of the smaller "Mooshka Tots" dolls. She is darling! And the dresses can be removed and swapped between dolls, which is fun. I also love that they come with coordinating little finger puppets. I'm tempted to get Misha a big sister. I want to see them hold hands with that Velcro-palm feature. I am such a sucker for folksy cuteness!

  12. That is so cute! I wonder if they're available in Canada?....

  13. Not interested in this doll, but please review the AG Sweet spring dress and Rebecca mini doll? I've been waiting for a while because you said you would. I'm not trying to push you or be rude, but I've been waiting for a while. Thanks :)

  14. I loved your review as always. He is adorable, I loved learning about this line. I'm a sucker for anything butterfly themed but Moss is almost too cute to resist.

  15. Thanks for another great review. You're like PBS: educational and entertaining. I learned all about Oscar (who for some reseaon reminded me of Mattel's My Child dolls from the 80's) and how moss reproduce. What more could a girl ask for?!

  16. He is adorable! I love your review!
    I went to the website and checked out the others. All are really nice.Of the Linne I tend to lean toward the Strawberry and Sweetpea. But I really like the Rubens Ark group.
    Thank you for sharing!

  17. While this little guy is super cute, he has nothing on your writing. Oh god the moss babymaking lesson, I am melting from all the adorbs in this~

  18. Nice review, Emily! I like cloth dolls, but I prefer boudoir dolls and more folksy-looking handmade dolls to Rubens Barn dolls. I've seen Mooshka in stores and loved the designs on their larger dolls--if they made a smaller doll designed to look like one of the smaller dolls I'd definitely pick her up!

    Your biology lesson was a fun walk down memory lane. It's been so long since I covered moss reproduction cycles that your pictures were even more welcome! So cute!

  19. XD I had to reach over and fiddle with my Beanie Kid as I read this. Cloth babies are the best.