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Miniatures to perfection Damal dolls
2003/June

The term Damal dolls means nothing to most people, and the few people who have heard of them are usually unaware that Damal is a place name. So let me begin by explaining that Damal is a small town in the district of Posof in Ardahan province in northeastern Turkey, before telling the interesting story of these local dolls. Fidan Atmaca was born and raised in Damal and as a child used to make her own dolls from pieces of wood and clothing made from scraps of fabric. That was 30 years ago. Evidently the young Fidan was a resourceful child, and it is no surprise that she grew up to become a skilled dressmaker. She specialised in traditional regional costumes, which she made for the trousseaus of young brides, and as her reputation spread, people began ordering costumes for folk dancing troupes from her. Widespread interest in traditional costumes inspired her with the idea of making simple handmade dolls dressed authentically in every detail. Later on she began to buy factory made dolls and dress these in local costume.

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Miniatures to perfection Damal dolls
2003/June

In 1990 a man purchased one of her dolls and entered it into a competition at Izmir Fair under his own name. It won first prize. Then the same man took the doll to Japan, where again it won another prize. Fidan Hanim was unaware of this at the time. She enjoyed none of the honour of being a prize winner, nor the financial gain which resulted. Meanwhile, with the encouragement of the governor and Damal's district director she opened a workshop, where she taught young girls the skills needed to make Damal dolls. Today's 65 young women are employed in this task. So what is special about them? Miniature versions of regional costume are made for two sizes of doll, the larger 40 centimetres tall and the smaller 30 centimetres. The costumes are those worn by local women on feast days and ceremonial occasions, and in fact are Georgian in origin, since the area has a considerable community of Georgians who settled here many years ago.

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Miniatures to perfection Damal dolls
2003/June
This mountainous region is cold in winter, and the costume is designed to keep the wearer warm, as we will see when we take our Damal doll onto our lap and examine its garments one by one. Underneath she wears long pantaloons which may be made of printed cotton or any other fabric. Her knee-length socks are tied with a cord to keep them up. These are no ordinary socks, but handknitted with motifs in four different colours, the feet patterned to look like slippers over the socks. The colour of these 'slippers' is important, because they are visible beneath the velvet dress with its skirt split into three panels, and their respective colours must be in harmony. The ends of the front panels are gathered up and tied behind at the waist, revealing two separate underskirts in different colours and decorated with braid. Over all there is the apron, that indispensable part of almost every traditional costume around the world. The apron of my own doll is of velvet, trimmed around the edge with a band in a contrasting colour.
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Miniatures to perfection Damal dolls
2003/June

She wears a blouse in a bright colour, over which is a waistcoat entirely embroidered in beads. Her white headscarf is decorated with a beaded woollen fringe that stretches down over the waistcoat like a collar. The headscarf is held beneath the chin with beads, and its beaded edge crosses her forehead, showing just a little of her blonde hair. Her cap is decorated all over, but particularly the back part, with beads, buttons and ribbons, and a long band of beads hangs down the back of her neck. The costume of the smaller dolls is also in keeping with the original in every respect, including undergarments and socks. The beads and sequins on the cap, the beaded ornament used to tie their hair, the beaded decoration on the scarf, and the beaded waistcoat are exact miniatures of those worn by the girls and women of Damal. Even the tiny socks are handknitted, and the sewing techniques and fabrics are all original.

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Miniatures to perfection Damal dolls
2003/June

My doll is a meticulously made model, and as anyone who has tried to make anything of this kind will know, the smaller the model the more skill is demanded to remain faithful to the original. No description is equal to seeing the real thing, and the pleasure of discovering all its intricate details.

* Professor Dr Yildiz Demiriz is an art historian.

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