Stella Kramer

Tell Your Story

Topsy Turvy Zine Cover

Topsy Turvy is a subset of The Black Doll series by Qiana Mestrich that appropriates original imagery of vintage black dolls for sale on Etsy and Ebay.

This new series is inspired by the “topsy turvy” cloth dolls, invented and handmade in the late 1800s by enslaved African-American women. Two-headed and reversible, one side of the doll was a Black girl child, while the other side was a White girl child. Both were sewn together where the hips and legs would be, with a long skirt designed to hide one doll while the other was held upright.

While their purpose is still misunderstood, it is believed that topsy-turvy dolls were made for enslaved children and perhaps also intended as “maid dolls” for the slave master’s children. The legacy of these racialized dolls continued long after abolition and their flip design was mimicked during the shift from craft production to mass-produced toys.

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Across cultures, dolls have commonly been used to represent the human figure; to instill in girls a sense of care and maternity. For many children of color, the dolls chosen for us are also our first introduction to the divisive concept of “race,” specifically if the doll’s skin tone or features do not match our own.

Learn more about Qiana’s series.