A message stitched onto the apron of a cuddly, black rag doll tells why Frannie Meshorer loves the soft, loose-jointed toys: "Little rag doll all torn and tattered, you were my friend when it really mattered."
The yarn-haired doll with a broken button eye and a crooked smile is one of her favorites, and the Pasadena resident said loyalty is the best characteristic of all her stuffed friends.
"Rag dolls don't ask perfection of you," Mrs. Meshorer says. "Rag dolls just point out the fact that we don't have to be perfect."
Mrs. Meshorer hopes to share her love of making and collecting rag dolls with others through a weekly club she is starting at her house off Magothy Bridge Road.
The club, which already has drawn 40 potential members, will begin with Brown Bag Rag Doll Tea Parties, where club members will make dolls step by step over five weeks and add individual touches to a different doll each week.
After the tea parties, those who are interested can continue with the club through other activities.
Mrs. Meshorer said she never tells her classes what the dolls should look like. She believes people should not be constrained by models.
"The doll will make herself," she said. "She'll decide what she wants to look like."
One of Mrs. Meshorer's first rag dolls was made for a friend's child who was hospitalized.
She made the girl a gypsy doll as a way of "giving a piece of myself, my spirit," she said.
Her love of rag dolls took off, though, after she retired two years ago as a secretary in the Department of Justice.
She recently went to Utah to find out more about making rag dolls from well-known doll-makers.
Some contemporary rag dolls, or cloth dolls as they are known in other areas, have wire frames so that the dolls can sit and stand in various positions.
Those made by famous doll artists, which usually have wire frames, can sell for as much as $1,000. But Mrs. Meshorer said she prefers the floppy kind.
"They just make my heart sing," she said. "My rag dolls have heart and they have soul, and that means more to me than the fact that they can stand on one toe and pose."
Throughout her house, Mrs. Meshorer has rag dolls representing nearly every friend and family member.
Four of them, named after the aunts who raised her, sit on a tiny bench on the front porch to greet visitors.
Cleopatra, whose apron bears the loving message, sits on an antique wooden training pot in the bathroom.
Another, My Nannie, is a Dear Jesus doll, one of a series of dolls made in memory of an aunt and her favorite expression, "Dear Jesus."
Though the rag dolls bring an interesting flavor to her rustic-looking home on a cove off the Magothy River, Mrs. Meshorer said they serve as more than decoration.
"My granddaughter gets the dolls, and she'll sit on my lap and I'll tell her stories" about her family, she said. "It's my way of passing history."
To sign up for the rag doll club, call Mrs. Meshorer at (410) 360-8504.