LAFAYETTE -- A curious onlooker walking by the classroom of The Cotton Patch in Lafayette may hear the buzzing of sewing machines as a group of women feverishly stitch to their hearts' content.

Then as the visitor peeks in, immediately her eye is drawn to an array of colorful, matching outfits tacked to a wall. But the outfits aren't meant for human wear; they're miniatures, designed for 13-inch Corolle Les Cheries dolls.

Caroline Archer poses this question to those curious about what she's been doing for the past four years: "Picture yourself as a young child in a hospital room, alone with your family unable to visit often. How would you feel? Scared and lonely."

Archer created a solution -- give the child a new toy or doll, with lots of clothes.

It is for these children who may have received a transplant, treatment for cancer or facing multiple surgeries after an accident and required to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time, that Archer and fellow volunteers have gathered for Stitchin'for Kids "Doll Day."

Held monthly at the Cotton Patch, volunteers sew and knit colorful outfits for brand new dolls to be given to girls ages 4 to 12. Quilts, carriers for toy cars and toy snakes made out of fleece are given to the boys.

"I've heard the girls would take their doll friends with them for medical procedures and treatments," said Archer, who delivers the dolls and outfits to the various Bay Area children's hospitals. "These children are well enough to play but are in the hospital for an extended stay. The dolls give them something to talk about besides their illness. I heard that sometimes they sleep with their dolls."

Archer's early sewing influence stemmed from her mother.

"My mother had lots of yarn," she said. "During World War II, she cut up her own wedding dress and made doll outfits for the girls in the neighborhood."

The idea for Stitchin' for Kids "Doll Day" came about four years ago when Archer, an avid quilter, started making doll outfits for her granddaughters. As the doll clothes kept piling up, Archer's husband suggested she find a place where she could take her doll outfits. So Archer, a Marin resident, contacted Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto where she delivered her first four dolls with 10 outfits each.

Archer enjoyed making clothes for the dolls and said that the recipients were so gracious that she realized she could make more clothes and reach out to more children in other hospitals. Realizing the enormity of the task, Archer contacted former co-worker Christie Batterman, who's taught quilting at The Cotton Patch, and soon word spread about the project as volunteers stepped up to make doll clothes.

While some of the women gather at the Cotton Patch once a month to sew or knit clothes, most of the clothes are made at their homes. Archer and volunteers deliver dolls and clothes to hospitals twice a year.

"Three are women who sew clothes really well for the girls' dolls, but what about gifts for the little boys?" Batterman said.

Using colorful fabric with interesting patterns, some volunteers make quilts, blankets and Hot Wheels toy car carriers for boys.

"Parents are uptight because their child is sick, so the quilts and toys made out of fabric gives them something therapeutic to talk about with their children," said Batterman, who lives in San Ramon.

Archer said hospitals' Child Life Specialists, who act as a liaison between families and the medical staff, know the children well enough to decide which child gets what kind of doll or toy. A typical gift box for girls includes a Les Cheries doll with two dresses, jeans, five sweaters, hats, skirts, shorts, assorted blouses, jewelry, handbag, hair brush and other accessories. Each doll also comes with a bed roll for the doll to sleep on.

"It fits on top of the steel tray near the hospital bed," Archer said of the bedroll.

She said that the girls dress their dolls appropriate to the weather outside.

"The dolls and toys are a link to the outside world," Archer said.

All fabric used to make the doll outfits, quilts and toys are required by the hospitals to be washed before they come into contact with the children.

Missc Wilbanks of Lafayette said she looks forward to "Doll Day," when she brings her own sewing machine to the Cotton Patch classroom and makes a quilt from the various patterns Archer provides.

Carol Murphy of Oakland said it's fun to be a wardrobe coordinator and knit sweaters and other accessories for the dolls.

"The walls will just be covered with so many stylish outfits," Murphy said.

Carolie Hensley is owner of the Cotton Patch, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. She said she gets to help the volunteers mix and match and sort through the various outfits they package in boxes to prepare for delivery to hospitals.

"It's so much fun to pick out outfits," Hensley said. "This is a very heartwarming project. The Cotton Patch has become this place where people come to help people feel better."

Archer said she's grateful to Hensley for providing the space for "Doll Day" and to the volunteers who have gathered monthly or sewn from their homes. There's still a need for more volunteers to help make clothes, quilts and toys for the next "Doll Day" on Oct. 8 and beyond.

Stitchin' for Kids won the prestigious Jefferson Award in July 2011 for community volunteerism for their service to Children's Hospital of Oakland, Lucile Packard's Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital and UC Davis Children's Hospital.

"Not only do the dolls provide comfort but also ensure that play and socialization continue during the children's hospital stay," Archer said.

Stitchin' for Kids, 'Doll Day'
  • WHEN: Next session,
    Oct. 8
  • WHERE: The Cotton Patch, 1025 Brown Ave., Lafayette
  • INFORMATION: www.stitchinforkids.org.