Speaking of the Sewing Circle which meets at the Port Clyde Baptist Church, the group’s president, Terry Bomba, says it’s “a wonderful fellowship.” The three other women who have gathered in the church’s parish hall on this early April morning—Laura Wiley, Jaye Sierer and Colleen Newcomb—nod in agreement. “Stories come up and we do a lot of laughing. And once in a while we have a few tears together—whatever is going on.”
The good fellowship may be significant, but this sewing circle is all about the dolls they make—the Port Clyde Fishermen dolls, to be specific. These dolls, in fact, are the reason that, for the past several decades, on the first Wednesday in August (this year that is August 5) a line of people begins forming outside the church doors by about 8am in anticipation of the church fair that will begin at 10am.
“You open those doors and stand back because the people rush through to the table that holds the 55 to 60 fishermen dolls we’ve made since the last fair,” Bomba says. “There’s also a bake sale, a crafts table and a flea market, but the first thing is the dolls. Most are scooped up in the first 10 minutes.”
For many years the sewing circle made quilts they would sell at the church fair. The shift to focusing on dolls began in 1977, when the first Port Clyde Fisherman doll was “born,” selling for $8. The design, by artist Janice Tate, was inspired by a pattern in a magazine. The doll sported a bait bag and lobster buoy, elements that every fisherman doll since have had, although differences in clothing and facial details make each doll unique—and sometimes looking like people you know.
Eventually Tate developed prototypes for “wife” (each with a handmade rolling pin), “mermaid” and “artist” dolls (complete with berets). Over the years the artist dolls evolved into what the circle calls “specialty” dolls of every conceivable type—pirates, brides, ice skaters, cheerleaders, Grundin fishermen—whatever strikes a member’s fancy. More recently, the group has developed a “lobsterette” doll (each with specially made lobsters in their hands) to honor the fact that women are now fishing and sterning.
“This is all hand done,” points out Jaye Sierer. “Every single little stitch of each body. It makes the dolls unique.” Sierer herself, however, doesn’t sew anything. “I never attended sewing circle because I said ‘I can’t sew.’ But I found I didn’t have to be a sewer—I could be a ‘stuffa.’” The group breaks out in laughter at this, which turns out to be an old joke.
“That’s how Diane Bailey got involved,” Bomba explains. “When Diane moved to Port Clyde, Eva Cushman, one of the veteran members of the circle, tried to get Diane to join. Diane said she couldn’t sew, but Eva said, ‘You can be a stuffa.’”
The story illustrates an important sewing circle tenet: Everyone has something to offer in the making of the dolls. While some of the members, like Wiley and Bomba, are well versed in every aspect of the doll-making process—from sewing the bodies, arms and legs, to knitting sweaters, sewing clothing, and adding the facial features and hair—others specialize. Eva Cushman, for example, now only knits sweaters for the fishermen dolls. And some members, Bomba says, “are better at eyes or hair.” Circle members who spend the winter elsewhere return to Port Clyde with the dolls and pieces of dolls they’ve continued to work on while away.
Another tenet is that circle members don’t need to belong to the Port Clyde Baptist Church. Colleen Newcomb, who shifted from being “a buyer of the dolls to a maker,” recalls her initial hesitation about joining the circle. “I was worried because the circle’s members were getting older and that if more people didn’t pitch in, the dolls wouldn’t be made anymore. But I was concerned that I would have to be a member of this church.”
The group’s goal is to annually raise $3,000 through the sale of the dolls, which these days run from $45 to $70 each. “We then send the money out into the community,” Bomba says with a note of pride. The Fuel Assistance Program, Trekkers, the local boy scouts, the humane society and Herring Gut are among recent recipients.
Bomba admits that it would be nice if new people would join the group. “Nobody ever quits the circle—they keep on until they get sick or pass away. It used to be that women came to the circle for the social aspect and they would bring their children and then the children would get involved. I wish more people realized how enjoyable it is to do this. We’re creating something.”
After a moment of reflection, Bomba adds, “Still, we have a good group of women. I told them at church meeting that as long as we can make a doll we’ll have a sewing circle.”—JW
PHOTOS: Julie Wortman