ACTON, Mass. (AP) — Once a month in the Acton Congregational Church, a group of women gather to discuss and play with dolls they collect.
But they’re not young girls.
These women immerse themselves in dolls, but their hobby encompasses much more, including such crafts as embroidery, knitting and carving, as well as the study of history.
‘‘We don’t play with it the same way children do, but most of us play with them, share them, dress them differently,’’ said Diane Root of Westminster, a former special-needs teacher and graphic designer who is the assistant librarian at Forbush Memorial Library in Westminster.
‘‘It’s great to have a group of friends who like what you like, because not everybody is into doll collecting,’’ Root said.
The dolls are fun, said Rosemary Laverdiere of Leominster, but they are also vehicles for making lasting friendships.
Laverdiere is president of the Yankee Doodle Dollers, which formed as a member of the Kansas City-based United Federation of Doll Clubs in 1978. She is a math teacher at Wachusett Regional High School in Holden.
Local members include Claudia Jarratt, a psychologist from Harvard; Renee Lantz, an engineer and bookseller from Tyngsboro; and Jean Stewart of Littleton, the club’s vice president.
There are about 20 members with a wide range of careers, Jarratt said.
‘‘I think what happens for us is, there is a strong component of play,’’ Jarratt said, adding that club members get together and talk about dolls and related subjects.
Lantz said if you’re a member, you ‘‘use your imagination’’ and get involved in ‘‘creative elements of sewing, knitting and crafting and design.’’
Jarratt went to a doll show in New Hampshire and decided she wanted to get involved, so somebody directed her to the United Federation of Doll Clubs’ website, which in turn pointed her to the Yankee Doodle Dollers about 10 years ago.
Jarratt met Lantz at a doll show in Fitchburg, then again at a national show with Nyola Vaillancourt of Groton in Atlanta years ago, so she invited them to join the Yankee Doodle Dollers.
Lantz said her first meeting sold her on the club.
‘‘People were friendly, laughing, learning and having a good time,’’ she said.
Members join and then stay for years because it’s fun and they develop good friends, Jarratt and Lantz said.
The monthly meetings usually involve some socializing, then a business portion in which members talk about philanthropic efforts or other activities, followed by a one-hour program that could be a workshop, a history lesson or some other doll-related topic.
One recent presentation, according to Root, was on how to bequeath dolls so they don’t end up at a yard sale, selling for 5 cents each, after an owner dies.
The group also gets involved in charity.
In years past, members contributed to the Wheat Program in Clinton. This year, they’re taking part in the Festival of Trees at Leominster City Hall to help raise money for the Mayor’s Energy Fund.
A doll can be as common as a Cabbage Patch Doll or a Barbie, but others are rare or cost thousands of dollars.
There are many types of dolls, from antique dolls to dolls with a Goth look. They can be made out of anything from wood to porcelain, plastic or resin. Stewart makes her own porcelain dolls with exquisite clothing, smocking and embroidery. Although, for some, the thrill is in the hunt.
‘‘If you are really good at hunting, thrift shops and Salvation Army can cost very little, but they can also go in the thousands-of-dollars range,’’ Laverdiere said. ‘‘Many of our members are looking for the bargain.’’
A splinter group of the Yankee Doodle Dollers, called the Needle Play Group, meets once a month in Littleton for crafters who knit and sew clothes for dolls.
The Yankee Doodle Dollers meet on the second Tuesday of the month, from 6:30 to about 9 p.m. The next scheduled meeting is Dec. 11.
The club has a website at www.yankeedoodledollers.org. For more information call Laverdiere at 978-537-4099 or send an email to rlaverdiere(at)aol.com.