|Vintage Costuming—a Cottage Industry Reborn|
Increased competition among collectors for the popular original mid-century dolls and clothing, evidenced by bidding wars on Internet auction sites, bears testimony to the renewed obsession to own a piece of “the old,” especially if it looks mint or “nearly new.”
Perhaps the most interesting “old” trend is the reemergence of a doll clothes sewers’ cottage industry. By definition, a “cottage industry” is a system of commerce where the creation of goods and services is home based, rather than factory based. When most of the American population was involved with agriculture, farm families often used non-growing seasons to produce cottage industry goods as a means of supplementing their income. Although homemade products were often very beautiful and unique, the artisans faced difficulties in marketing and competing with factory-produced goods.
With the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of unions, cottage industries all but disappeared in the United States. However, in the doll world, there was one notable exception. Books and periodicals document that The Vogue Doll Co. used hundreds of home sewers spread throughout several states to produce Ginny outfits. When Vogue Dolls ceased production in the United States, that domestic doll clothes sewing industry disappeared.
The manufacture of reproduction dolls, coupled with the greater availability of vintage and antique dolls through Internet auction sites such as eBay, have sparked the reemergence of home sewers. Now, a growing cadre of doll clothes sewers exist who are dedicated to producing faithful reproductions of vintage outfits for both original and reproduction dolls. The medium that makes this possible is the ability to direct-market the outfits to a large group of consumers through another cottage industry: on-line auctions. In effect, it is a goods-based cottage industry within a service-based cottage industry.
Avid doll collectors who restore vintage and antique dolls will attest that often the hardest aspect of rejuvenating dolls is replacing missing, heavily worn or damaged clothing. Optimally, collectors want tagged, documented, original doll clothing for their vintage dolls. But often these clothes no longer exist or are very rare and hard to find, making them prohibitively expensive. Then an alternative means of replacing the original outfits, one that remains as faithful to the doll’s era as possible, must be employed. When the quest for tagged original outfits becomes too lengthy or too expensive, savvy restorers and collectors turn to doll sewers.
The women profiled here are a unique group who combine their love of dolls, incredible creative design ability and technical sewing talents to turn out gorgeous creations in doll-size miniature. All four seamstresses have been sewing since their childhood or early teens and later worked in professional capacities that involved sewing and/or design. Each of the sewers is capable of designing and cutting her own patterns and then sewing the garments with finishing techniques that either rival or surpass the mid-20th-century factory finishes. Often, the only tip-off that the outfit was made in a home setting (and not in a factory) is the sewer’s personal label. All of these women are capable of reproducing a vintage outfit from a photo if they have the correct doll and fabric on hand. When a likeness rather than an exact reproduction is desired, each has the aesthetic and technical abilities to make lovely design decisions for the doll owner. While these women market their creations on eBay, they have established clients through other venues as well.
Muriel Carter, of Arden, N.C., enjoys sewing for many dolls, especially for those made in the 1950s. Carter comes from a self-described family of “needlewomen,” particularly her grandmother. As a 9-year-old, Carter started making clothing for her dolls by hand, followed by a stint in 4-H Club where she learned machine sewing. Carter then studied art and design in college. Later, while employed as a product designer for a small gift manufacturer, Carter used her training and talents to fabricate samples and create patterns used in the mass production of gift items. In the 1980s Carter owned a doll shop where she carefully researched and sewed outfits for dolls that were missing original clothing. Now sewing for the vintage Ginny and “Bleuette” dolls keeps Carter busy.
Carter recently reproduced five complete outfits (including the shoes and socks) for a set of Madame Alexander 7-½ inch composition “Dionne Quintuplets” at the request of Kathleen Fuchs (known in the doll world as Dr. KayCee). Fuchs, who rescues and restores dolls says, “[I] have always found the dressing and costuming part to be the most challenging. Thank God I’ve found Muriel! … Her work is simply exquisite, and her skill and attention to the smallest detail astounds me.”
Donna Johnson hails from Bend, Ore. Johnson credits her incredible sewing and patternmaking skills to instruction she received from her grandmother, mother and home economics teachers. In the 1960s she owned a dressmaking shop where she sewed bridal, evening and business attire. Johnson started sewing for dolls in the 1970s, and by the 1980s she was making outfits for a California doll shop. At about this time, her interest turned to Madame Alexander dolls because “the quality of these dolls and their outfits always amazed me.” Although Johnson sews for just about any doll, her recent creations consist mainly of the 8-inch dolls and the outfits that fit “Wendy Ann,” Ginny, and “Ginger.” A perfectionist, Johnson believes the inside of her garments should look almost as good as the outside—“not seen, but top quality,” she says.
Johnson’s attention to detail has earned her praise from customers, who post online comments such as: “highly creative and wonderful workmanship,” and “beautiful dress, impressive sewing.”
Carol Jacobs lives in Cape Coral, Fla., where she has a home-based design/sewing studio dedicated to dressing vintage and contemporary dolls. Jacobs’ love of fabrics, design and sewing was inspired by an aunt who worked in New York’s garment district as a women’s clothing designer. Jacobs’s college career started at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Although she ultimately opted for a liberal arts program, design continued to play an important role in her college life and subsequent career decisions. Jacobs’ professional sewing resume includes owning a home appliqué design business and a bridal and formal wear boutique. Carol also sells creations for a range of dolls on eBay. The variety of doll sizes and styles she sews is impressive. “Tiny Tears,” Ginny, 14-inch “Toni” and Wendy are some of the vintage “clients” Carol works with. Buyers praise her beautiful designs, excellent workmanship and attention to fine detail.
Catherine Kauffman, of Danville, Pa., is a self-taught seamstress who started sewing on a treadle sewing machine at age 14 out of economic necessity. One of 16 children, Kauffman’s mother died when Kauffman was only 11. The family couldn't afford extras such as dolls. As a teenager, Kauffman honed her sewing skills working in a pajama factory and later as a seamstress in a hospital laundry. Sewing for dolls came much later after her daughter was born. Now Kauffman makes approximately 40 “Shirley Temple” outfits, creating patterns from pictures of the original costumes. Brigitte from France owns three outfits and is thrilled with the faithfully detailed reproduction Kauffman made for her composition Shirley Temple doll.
Kauffman’s customer, Ann Sting from Florida, sums up every vintage doll collector’s goal best in describing the outfits that Kauffman created for her composition dolls: “I want my dolls to be as original as possible but would rather have reproductions of the original outfits made by Catherine than buy high priced fragile dresses that are 60 or 70 years old. She researches her fabrics and creates each one to the finest detail.”
In that light, considering the lovely reproductions these talented women produce, it would be more accurate to say, “Everything old can be made new … and even better.”
The sewers can be contacted via their eBay usernames: Muriel Carter (mlcsdollsetc); Carol Jacobs (alterations24u); Donna Johnson (kathy_gillispie); and Catherine Kauffman (logcabin5).
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The winners of the 2013 Industry’s Choice DOLLS Awards of Excellence (DAEs) were announced April 12 at the Debut of Dolls Banquet held at IDEX in Orlando, Fla. Each entry in this year’s competition was evaluated by our panel of judges: Doll industry consultant Pat Burns, doll writer and historian Penny Herbst, Simon Farnworth of DollObservers.com, author and DOLLS contributor Stephanie Finnegan,
DOLLS editor-at-large Jill Jackson, and Modern Doll President Patsy Moyer. This year’s Industry’s Choice winners go on to become the nominees for the Public’s Choice awards voted on by DOLLS readers. Look for photos of all the nominees, ballot, and online voting instructions in the July 2013 issue of DOLLS.
Iola, Wis. – Jan. 9, 2013 – DOLLS magazine publisher and former editor Carie Ferg received a special VIP Award for Outstanding Achievement in the 2012 Colliii Awards. The Colliii Awards are the largest online dollmaking competition in the world.
“We wanted to present the 2012 VIP Award to Carie Ferg as a recognition of the dynamism and innovation she has brought to the doll industry over the past few years,” said Colliii Awards Director James Carlsson. “The VIP Award is presented every year to a person or organisation that has made a significant contribution to the doll world. It was Colliii.com’s pleasure to present this to Carie as a token of appreciation for her hard work.”
Past VIP Award winners include DOLLS’ Editor-at-Large Jill Jackson for her work with "Doll Reader," the Biemann family from Schildkröt dolls in Germany, and such atists as Stephanie Sullivan.Registration for the 2013 Colliii Awards will begin in July. For more information about the competition, go to www.colliii.com/en.
The winners of the 2012 ProSculpt Annual Sculpting Contest have been chosen by collectors and artists from around the world. Winners this year are from England, Italy, Japan, South America, and the United States. Photos of all the winners can be viewed at the Johnston Original Art Dolls website. The winners are:
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Haute Doll introduces its new exclusive by Horsman Ltd., the modern-style “Heart Chair” perfect for 16-inch fashion dolls. The design was inspired by Verner Panton’s 1959 full-scale contemporary chair design.
The fourth Pullip and Dal Doll Lovers Event (PUDDLE) drew 60 doll lovers from 10 different states and Canada to the Elk Grove Village Holiday Inn in June. This year’s theme, cranes, was inspired by the sandhill cranes at the group's charity organization, the Willowbrook Wildlife Center. Six custom dolls and other items donated by sponsors like The Sleeping Elf and Denise's Dolls were raffled off at the event, raising $500 for the center.
The weekend started Friday night with dinner at Mitsuwa Japanese Mall in Arlington Heights, followed by a tea party at the hotel. PUDDLE officially kicked off at 9 a.m. Saturday, starting with an organized buy-sell-trade opportunity, and dozens of fans milled around trading and buying doll wigs, eye chips, bodies, clothing, and more.
Every attendee received a door prize, thanks to generous donations from many sponsors. Distribution of the door prizes was followed by a secret gift swap and lunch break. Afterwards, an informal Q&A-format customizing workshop answered questions for many fans new to the hobby, followed by a display of fully customized and modified dolls entered in the customization contest. Winners of an online photo/art contest which was held and judged before the event were announced along with the customization contest winners. The photo and art entries can be seen at www.puddlestyle.com/photoart.html.
Many fans continued the fun over dinner in the hotel restaurant and in the hotel lobby until the wee hours. Krista Farmer, who traveled from Toronto for the event, said “It was a crazy cool day.” Although the event officially ended Saturday night, 11 fans stayed for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Willowbrook Wildlife Center Sunday. — Jane EasterlyFor information on PUDDLE 2012, visit www.puddlestyle.com.read more
Attendees at the third annual R. John Wright Convention enjoyed the festivities of several major holidays coupled with outstanding dolls, all rolled into four fun-filled days! R. John and Susan Wright chose “Celebrations!” as the theme for their 2011 event held at the historic Desmond Hotel in Albany, N.Y., which was co-chaired by Loretta Nardone and Lillian Wright.
The convention opened with St. Patrick’s Day reception Wednesday evening, where everyone laid claim to being a wee bit Irish while enjoying a scrumptious dessert buffet. The sales room opened immediately after this kick-off event, with conventioneers hoping the “luck of the Irish” would help them find that perfect doll or dolls.
Thursday began early with the Easter Morning Breakfast; those attending this ticketed event didn’t have to search for large, beautifully decorated baskets serving as table centerpieces. They were filled with molded felt eggs in pastel colors. At the end of the breakfast, the eggs were distributed and the happy new owners opened them to find “Peep,” a 3-inch yellow mohair chick as their event souvenir. His companion, “Posey,” was available for sale. After breakfast the special and competitive exhibits opened, along with the helper room. This year’s special exhibit, arranged by John and Susan Wright’s daughter Emily, was titled “Happy Holidays” and showcased R. John Wright dolls and animal characters and the traditional holidays that inspired them.
That afternoon, attendees boarded buses for the short trip to Bennington, Vt., for a tour of the R. John Wright facility along with other local activities. The Wrights explained the development of their creations from concept through completion before everyone had the opportunity to visit with their employees as they made various doll parts and accessories and shopped in the R. John Wright store. The day culminated with a Fourth of July BBQ followed by fireworks at dusk.
Workshops by dollmaker Gail Wilson and a program by Alan Pate, a leading American expert on Japanese dolls, were offered on Friday, along with several roundtable discussions on various topics. Attendees dressed up for the frightfully fabulous costume parade leading into the Halloween Masquerade luncheon, with prizes awarded in five categories. After lunch, the newest piece from R. John Wright’s Wizard of Oz collection, “Wicked Witch of the West,” made her debut in front of an enthusiastic audience.
The ticketed Victorian Yuletide Dinner featured traditional table decorations and an enchanting program, “A Victorian Christmas,” presented by Nardone. The event souvenir was the 10-inch “Mary Frances,” the latest addition to the Victorian Children Collection. Available for purchase was her 7-inch little sister, “Baby Grace.”
Saturday morning’s activities included another program by Pate and a workshop conducted by Emily Wright. That afternoon, a Valentine’s Day High Tea charmed conventioneers with fine teas and delicacies. The newest addition to the Flower Fairies series, “Rose Fairy,” was available for purchase. The evening’s closing event was a New Year’s Eve Gala Celebration. This elegant banquet featured another entertaining program produced and presented by Nardone. When the souvenir dolls were distributed, delighted attendees found the adorable 12½-inch “Celebration Scootles” would be going home with them. As an added bonus, her delightful twin brother was available for purchase.As the convention ended, attendees were already making plans for next year’s “Around the World” event, which will be held at the same location June 20-23, 2012 and will celebrate the magic of children around the globe. There will also be an added treat as the first bear event held at an R. John Wright convention will be incorporated into the excursion to the Wrights’ facility in Vermont. For more information, visit www.rjohnwright.com or call (802) 447-7072. — Pat Burnsread more