Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Lonely Doll project

Edith reads to Little Bear, vintage-tint photo

Edith and Little Bear with their Lonely Doll book.

Edith sits down to eat.

Edith looks for her winter clothes in her trunk.

Edith shows Little Bear her winter woolens.

The first image in black and white.
A couple months ago I think I mentioned I had finished another version of my Edith doll. She is my rendition of the antique Lenci doll used in The Lonely Doll books by Dare Wright. My first Edith was made of 100% felt and disk-jointed like the old Lenci dolls. I finished this doll in November and expected to sell it for Christmas, but I had some unexpected complications. My grandmother came to stay and became very frail. I spent the weeks before Christmas caring for her two days a week and wasn't able to get the doll's clothes finished.

Even if I could have finished the doll before Christmas, I would definitely not have had time to finish the entire project. I really wanted to try some photos like those in the original book. I have been fascinated by Dare Wright's photos since I was about 10 years old. After I discovered these books I remember my friend, Elaine, and I tried to replicate them using my Barbie Dream Store and dolls. The photos were cute, but nothing like Wright's.

Of course, Dare Wright was a professional photographer with a career that spanned the globe. It seems like she had a special talent with her dolls and bears. Even the new book starring Edith and using the same doll, just doesn't capture that spark of life Wright could create with her camera. I wasn't sure if I should even try to take more photos. I did take some of my first Edith doll, which you can see in my Chasing the Lonely Doll post. Those weren't what I'd hoped. This year for Christmas, though, Jerry gave me a new iPhone and I have been going crazy with the Instagram and Photoshop Express aps. I was able to get a vintage look in color and black and white, and I was pretty happy with the personality the doll has in them.

I also revised the doll a bit this time. My first doll was smaller; only about 16 inches. I redrew my pattern so the doll is 18 inches. Now she can wear most of the doll clothes made now. I also tried different disk joints, made of Masonite and metal rather than plastic. These joints are largely unavailable now, but I found some in a doll shop in Michigan this summer. The joints were still too loose, so I also added internal stringing. The stringing tightens the joints and allows the doll to stand alone and hold more poses.

I plan to keep making felt dolls and trying to improve mine. I hope someday to perfect both my dolls and my photos as Madame Lenci and Dare Wright did.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Journey is the Destination

Our Christmas village, all set up for the holiday season.

At night the village looks just like I remember the mountain towns I would see from the car window.

Years ago, as a new mother, I bought a little Christmas village in a box for my oldest son. He was about 2 years old at the time and he adored Christmas villages. I had always felt they were somewhat tacky, but I wanted him to enjoy the holiday. Our little village had a church and two houses. It came complete in the box from Kmart. We unpacked the houses and the tiny bottle-brush trees, street lamps, lights, and tiny citizens. My son had a ball setting it all up and was suitably impressed when we lit it. So, setting up the village on the dining room sideboard became our Christmas tradition.

A few years later during our move to a new house, the original village church was broken and had to be replaced. A year or two after that I decided to use a sheet of quilt batting as the "snow". It seemed like a great idea until the cat, now late and lamented, jumped up to investigate, grabbing the edge of the batting with her claws. We rushed into the room after hearing a fantastic crash to see our village scattered everywhere! After that incident many buildings and people had to be replaced. My mother found out about my son's love for villages and scoured the after-Christmas sales for deals. So over the years our village grew to completely cover the sideboard.

We have it down pat now, so it hardly takes any time at all to set up. Maybe the buildings are all different sizes due to the various replacements over the years. Maybe some of the people are actually too large to fit through any of the doors. Maybe several of them are missing limbs after the cat tragedy. So what? The town's Christmas tree is made of glittered construction paper, a Kindergarten project that was the pride and joy of my now 7th-grade son. The wooded hills in the background are sticks and leaves pushed into Styrofoam blocks and covered with fiberfill, devised to hide the cords for the lights. Now, each year when we light the village for the first time it truly feels like Christmas. And over the years I think I've come to love it more than my children!

When it's dark outside and the village is lit I can almost see the Ohio town of my childhood. It is the same sort of idyllic-looking village of Victorian architecture, wrapped around the a lake shore, often blanketed with snow at Christmas-time. When I was a little girl they used to play Christmas carols on loudspeakers so they echoed throughout the down-town streets and wrap the lighthouse with Christmas lights. I also see the many towns and villages scattered through the Blue Ridge mountains from North Carolina through Virginia and West Virginia and Ohio. This is because for more than a quarter-century my family drove home each year for Christmas. When we first started the trip in the early 1980s we had just moved to North Carolina. It took forever on winding mountain highways, 14-16 hours. One year it took us 22 hours because of a traffic jam. We took a crazy, tilt-a-whirl tour through tiny towns like Mount Airy and Fancy Gap. The houses near Charleston, West Virginia seemed to cling like barnacles to the sides of cliffs. Nowadays, the new highways cut a great deal of time off trip. You can sometimes make it 10 hours. But you still pass many of those rural villages. The snowy, stacked mountain towns, all lit and decorated, come back to me when I see our village.

Who would of thought that dreaded drive would ever be missed? But I do miss it. A few years ago my grandparents, aged 90 and 88, decided to spend the winter on the Texas shore. We spent our Christmas here. After so many years of wishing we could stay home for Christmas it seemed very quiet. Yes, we didn't have to sleep on bunk beds in the basement, but where were all the crowds of cousins and old friends? Christmas lights aren't half as festive when it's 75 degrees. And crazily enough, I actually missed the trip. I miss the mountains passing outside my windows, the sleeping towns covered in snow, the truck stops and landmarks, the scratchy Christmas carols on static radio stations.

My grandfather died shortly after his second Texas Christmas. The day before he'd gotten a speeding ticket driving home from their condo! My grandmother decided to come down here for Christmas and spent two holidays here. But this year when she came her visit was cut short. She became increasingly frail and unable to do things for herself and finally began having hallucinations. The doctors say she has Parkinson's with dementia and told us sending her home would help. So we took her back and the hallucinations did cease. But when I talked to her on the phone yesterday she was nearly in tears because she can't remember things she used to know.

I would give anything now to be able to turn back the clock to the holidays of my youth, when all my relatives would gather and my grandparents were well enough to host 40+ people in their house for Christmas. Even with the drive and the fights with my siblings over who would sit where and who would sleep there. Even sharing one shower with all those people. But I also need to remember to enjoy the holidays we have now, when our children are small and it is a wondrous time for them. I guess the greatest lesson I've ever gotten from the holiday season is that you have to enjoy the journey. Because in the end, life is the journey, and the journey is the destination.

Happy Holidays to you all.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Autumn Reverie

Sun dapples a carpet of leaves.

Autumn colors

My son is nearly lost in a sea of leaves.

Golden leaves under a threatening sky.
It occurs to me that although this blog was supposed to be about projects created daily, I am actually lucky to finish one project a week. Week before last I did manage to complete two: the Ramona doll and a series of photos of my youngest son. I just didn't get around to writing about the photos. In the past week we have had our house power-washed, put in a new closet, attended two hockey games, visited with my sister's family who came for Thanksgiving, had Thanksgiving itself, and done some Christmas shopping! I also re-worked my felt doll pattern to smooth out some issues with the finished dolls and make them a bit larger. I want to get them to the size where they could wear the 18 inch clothes, since that is the popular size now for doll clothing.

The series of photos above are excerpts from my son's 3rd birthday photo-shoot. He won't actually turn 3 until next week, but I wanted to get the pictures while the leaves still looked good. The site is the Jaycee Park here in town. Normally this is a somewhat seedy-looking park, with run-down equipment. I always have liked it though. For one thing it is behind the elementary school I attended and where my children now go, so I have been familiar with it from childhood. Also, it has a huge field kids love to run in and a stream which is occasionally full and bubbling. No one else is ever there, either, so it's sort of like our own private park.

This time of year, for nearly the entire month of November, the park sheds its dowdy garb and cloaks itself in stunning beauty. The stream becomes deep and black and mysterious. A thick carpet of leaves cover the ground, and the varied trees, oak, sweet gum, maple, and more, just burst into color like fireworks.

We go every day to this park, because I sign my kids up as walkers so we get some exercise. We walk through the park to school. In the fall we stroll under this cathedral of color, with leaves raining down like flakes of gold, and I feel like I can finally be at peace in my skin. It's very seldom I can turn off my brain, my longings for something more, the to-do list always running in my head and just take in the beauty of a place.

Another reason I come to this park is that we used to live over near it and I took my first baby there for his outing every single day from when he was only about a week old. I can remember sitting in the deep cushion of leaves with more falling silently all around us, my baby just learning to sit up himself. In this time of year I can see him as a new crawler and walker, practicing on the soft ground, and learning to climb the steps to the slide. That baby of mine will become a teenager in a few months. He will have to start shaving soon. To be honest, it's a hard time for us. He is becoming truculent and secretive. His grades are a disappointment. It is nice to go back in time for a bit and remember how wonderful and amazing he seemed when he was new to us.

It is always good to cultivate an appreciation for the transformation of the everyday into the extraordinary.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ramona Forever: My Friend Jenny as Ramona Quimby

My Friend Jenny #217 as Ramona

Jenny's original outfit looks like the bridesmaid dress described in the book.
Recently my daughter and I have been reading the Ramona books together. Ramona Quimby was a great friend of my childhood, nearly as real to me as my school friends. I read all the books myself, my parents and teachers read them to me, and I always understood Ramona and sympathized with her in her plights.

I was excited when I got a large box of dolls and saw this Jenny wearing her original yellow dress. We were just at the part of the book, Ramona Forever, where Willa Jean picks yellow dresses for the girls to wear in Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Hobart's wedding, and I thought how the yellow dress looked like the one in the book. Then I went to the store and found a copy of Ramona Forever marked down! So then I knew this doll was meant to be Ramona! It seems a little crazy, but the dolls do almost kind of tell me who they are meant to be.

This Jenny didn't need a lot of work. I cleaned her thoroughly and styled and conditioned her hair. I sewed a linen jumper and striped voile blouse for her and found a pair of Horsman shoes that fit. I find that the vintage Horsman shoes advertised for Terri Lee fit the My Friend dolls as long as they aren't wearing socks. These shoes are often available new in lots on eBay.

I am pleased with how cute this little doll turned out, and I enjoyed revisiting Ramona with my daughter. I really think sharing your childhood favorites with your own kids is one of the greatest blessings you have!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Alpine Girl: Mandy as Heidi

Mandy as Heidi, with her goat and wardrobe.

My Friend Mandy with her original outfit.

Mandy as Heidi in her original flannel nightgown.

Heidi in her new dress and pinafore with her goat.

Heidi's embroidered dress without the pinafore.

Heidi, wearing her pinafore over the pink dress, packs her trunk to visit Klara.

For about a week now I've been working on a Mandy as Heidi set. I could have finished it sooner, but my wonderful hubby took me to the beach for the weekend without the kids, and I wasn't about to refuse in order to finish a doll!
I had to buy this Mandy set because it is the complete original set I got  as a gift from my mother when I was about 3 or 4. I can still see Mandy in her box. I think I remember it particularly because I would not normally have gotten a large gift for the occasion; I think maybe it was Valentine's Day. This is also the first "girl" doll, not baby doll, I can remember having. We were still living with my grandparents after my dad died, so this would have been 1977 or 78. My mom had gotten the doll because she was so excited to find a doll named Mandy, like me, with the same two-tone blond hair. The only difference was that I had brown eyes that later turned green-hazel like everyone else on my Mom's side of the family. It's too bad. My dad's mother had the bluest eyes, "China blue", my mom would say. I wish I'd gotten those. My mother's own eyes have lightened so much now they're sort of yellow, so I guess I know what I have to look forward to!

I eventually owned all these dolls, or shared them with my sisters. Gosh, how we played with these...but I know I've recounted that in previous posts and I don't want to bore you to death! Besides playing with dolls, I spent my childhood reading. I had certain books I would read again and again, usually at least once a year. The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, and Heidi were all big favorites. I loved the beginning of Heidi best, when she lives on the mountain with her grandfather.

Crazily enough, it was somewhat similar to my own childhood. After my father died, my mother and I moved from California to Ohio to live with her parents. Her father was Norwegian, and her mother is Swiss and Norwegian. My father was nearly all Swiss, so I am half Swiss and a bit less than half Norwegian, with a slew of other nationalities mixed in. My grandfather often served what he called "cheese toastie" for breakfast, which was toasted cheese on bread. In the summer he would also give me a bowl of raspberries from the garden with milk, like cereal, only with raspberries. My grandparents' house is on a lake, and I spent a lot of time roaming the lake shore unattended. Later we moved to the countryside and I was allowed to ramble around in the cornfields as I wished. We didn't have mountains, of course. I often wished we did, and I also wished for some goats like Heidi has, or maybe a pony.

My grandmother had a Swiss pen pal when she was a pre-teen. Even though she's over 90 now, she still has all the letters and photos her friend, who lived in the Alps, sent her back in the 20s and 30s. We used to pour over them. It is just a stunning landscape. I have been to the Italian Alps, and they are also just amazingly lovely.

I really enjoyed re-visiting this book in order to make the doll. In fact, I was craving cheese so much my husband said he may have to take the book away, as it is causing dangerous cheese fantasies for me. Okay, that may be true, but I have been on a diet...I've lost 18 pounds, so I haven't been eating as much cheese and bread as I'd like! I also enjoyed taking the photos of the doll...a bit too much perhaps! It was so much fun to illustrate the story with the doll, though! I am really proud of how well the pinafore and ribbons go with the original Mandy outfit. I am also impressed with the toy goat. This is by Dakin, and I had to go to eBay to find it. There were no goats available locally, although I did see some yaks made of actual fur in the Ping Tibetan shop in Wilmington! I didn't realize until I got it that the goat actually makes a bleating goat sound when you squeeze its sides! It was a plus, but it has made it hard to keep it from being stolen by the children.

All in all, it's been a great week! I went to the beach, spent alone time with my husband, and revisited a favorite childhood story! If only they could all be so good!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Harry Potter Transformations

Vintage My Friend dolls reworked as the three friends, Harry, Ron, and Hermione

Without their wizard robes
Here are Harry, Ron, and Hermione sneaking out at night, wands drawn. Are they visiting Hagrid or going on a secret mission?

My latest project has been ongoing for several weeks now. Re-working three dolls at once isn't ever easy, but this was a huge job, involving one gender change and hair plugs! The baby has also been sick for about three weeks. First he had a cold, and it seemed like his entire face was running with snot. Then he got an ear infection and had pus pouring down his face and neck. Now he's back to a very runny nose. I sure hope he recovers soon!

This doll project started rather unusually. You may remember my "Box of Possibility" post from a month or so ago in which I had gotten a large box of distressed My Friend dolls. That box contained a Becky doll whose hair had been chopped off at the head right in front. She also had deep scratches in her face paint, particularly the cheek paint. Instead of the normal rose print body she had a flesh colored body. This is very unusual; I've never seen a Becky like that before. I looked at her chopped hair and flesh-colored body and immediately thought "Ron Weasley". Should it worry me that my mind works this way? I don't know!

At any rate, I didn't suppose Ron Weasley (or Ron Weasel as my daughter calls him!) would sell by himself so I sent for ANOTHER large box of My Friend dolls which contained a Mikey. I have a ton of Jennys right now, so I picked the best one. The real work started with Becky's transformation into Ron. First I had to figure out how to address the chopped hair. The way the My Friend hair is rooted is that the dolls have a large number of hair plugs with lots of extra hair in them rooted right at the front. This hair then covers the other hair plugs and prevents bald spots. Naturally this was exactly where the former owner cut the hair, so Becky/Ron had a large bald spot. To fix the bald spot I first carefully cut the remaining long hair into a boyish style. I made sure to keep the hair I cut long enough to knot. I then knotted these into new hair plugs and rooted them into the existing holes as well as right into the vinyl head to cover the bald spot. The photos below illustrate the process:

First the long hair is cut, leaving the cut hair as long as possible. Note the bald spot.

I place the new hair plugs into the bald area using a mushroom rooting tool.

The bald spot is covered.
After rerooting the hair is still somewhat sparse, but looks much better. You could pretend, I suppose, that Ron is just exhibiting some early male pattern baldness! I thought Ron was looking good, but my husband was making fun of him for looking girly. So, I combed his hair down over his forehead and worked a bit on his face paint. As I mentioned, the paint on his face had been really rubbed and in some cases, gouged, off (I'm glad the former owner wasn't my child! Some of the hair had also been pulled entirely out!) so I went ahead and removed all the cheek paint. Then, matching the lip paint from the factory, I painted over his eyelashes, just making a shaded eyelid, to hide the eyelashes. He looks much more masculine now.

When Ron was finished I began work on Harry. He didn't require much except glasses and the famous scar. I bought a pair of doll glasses, which were yellow, all I could find, and repainted them black. Then I painted the scar on his forehead using acrylic paint. In fact, I sued acrylic for all the repainting. Therefore, if you ever wanted to transform Harry back to Mikey you could just remove the scar using Goof-Off. Just be careful, as Goof-Off will remove the original factory paint and discolor the vinyl if left too long. I "neutralize" the Goof-Off by washing it off with dish soap and water after I'm done.
The scar is painted on in acrylic. It can be removed with Goof-Off.

Jenny just needed some clothes to be a perfect Hermione. I made her linen-look skirt and reworked a sweater to fit her. For all the dolls I designed the little robe pattern and sewed them. The boys robes are sewn from an old pair of my husband's dress pants and Hermione's is fancier, made of crepe-backed satin left over from another project. I made the magic wands from some strong sticks (apple wood I think) I found in the yard. I gave them a pointy end and added polymer clay handles, cured for durability.

I had such a great time thinking this concept up and creating the characters! Why oh why can't I think of a story like Harry Potter to write myself? I guess I have a doll-geared brain, at least at this point in my life. When I was working on these I found myself wishing we could transform ourselves so easily. Who wouldn't want to stick some extra hair plugs in, or paint more beautiful features on? Or to travel back in time and have a 20-year-old body again? Or even just a baby whose entire face isn't covered in snot or pus for three full weeks? Maybe someday we'll figure it out!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cheerful Owl Yarn Wreath

Here is my newest creation, a yarn wreath for Fall. I guess yarn wreaths are the big new trend now. I hadn't ever heard of them before I was invited to a party to make one. I have a collection of owls which started with my rock owl purchased in Michigan (see the rock art blog for a photo). Once I got it I started to see them everywhere. It has become a game for my husband and me to find owls all over the world on our travels. I have a pottery owl that is a whistle from Nicaragua, a jade owl from China, a carved wood owl from the State Fair in Raleigh, but which I think was made in Mexico, and a pair of metal owls on a whirligig I bought this summer in Michigan. So when I saw the yellow fabric printed with owls at Michael's I knew I had to build my wreath around it. I found everything at Michael's. I thought the bright colors usually used in spring decorations would be a nice change from the usual muted Fall tones. The black feather owl is a Halloween decoration that clips on, so I can remove it after Halloween if I want.

The yarn wreath is easy to make. You basically buy a wreath form. The one I found was straw. Warning: it is messy. Straw goes everywhere when you work with it! You glue the yarn end on the wreath using hot glue or regular glue and wrap it around. Whenever you reach the end of the wreath or the yarn glue the end again. To get the striped look I used a variegated yarn called "Sunshine". I forgot the brand name, but you can get it at Michael's. That took the work out of striping it! I knotted a loop for hanging in as I was wrapping the wreath for extra strength. To make the rosettes I just cut two strips of fabric, one twice as wide as the other, and folded them in half lengthwise, with wrong sides together. I then basted and gathered the unfolded edges, sewed them up the ends, sewed them together, and glued them on the wreath. The owl charm in the center is sewn on. I then glued the pre-made flower decorations on, clipped on the feather owl, and that was it!

I wanted to hang the wreath on my black door for more contrast, but I can't find my wreath hanger. Since the homestager came I have no idea where half our stuff is. It was probably shoved in a box somewhere! I bought a Command hook today so I can move it to the door. I sure hope the house sells soon; last night I made a trip at almost 9PM to get a roll of paper my son needed for a school project, my winter shoes, since the weather will turn cold tomorrow, and I hoped to find the wreath hanger but didn't locate it.

Still, I have to admonish myself for feeling too  much self-pity. Although things may be inconvenient right now, we still have it pretty good. We never had our wreath party because another friend lost her sweet baby, Ella, and the funeral was the same day. This is the second baby this family has buried in 3 years, and I don't know how they can bear it. Ella had a congenital condition which they knew would prove fatal, but I don't think that makes losing her any easier.

I know I will always think of Ella when I see this wreath. I hope it will remind me that I am truly blessed, even when things don't go as I might wish. I hope it will remind me that even on  the darkest day the sun is still shining, and the clouds which hide it from view are temporary.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Winter Ballet

"Before": a Hildegard Gunzel for Gotz doll found sans clothing at the thrift store.

This is a very poseable doll, so I dressed her as a dancer.

Stringing in her arms and head allow her to hold many poses.

Angled disk joints in her hips allow her to stand alone.
Whew! What a week! I am amazed I managed to accomplish anything! We are back in school now, with all the attendant homework, PTA meetings, concerts, etc. Our daughter, mid-way through the second week, got up to the gate of the school grounds and threw up all over the place one morning. So she was home for the day! The baby had his speech and developmental evaluations which confirmed, surprise, surprise, that he needs speech therapy to deal with his corrected cleft lip and palate. I've been running to all our area Targets to stock up on the Missoni collection, both for me and for my eBay store. I have always wanted a Missoni outfit; when I lived in Florence I used to take a special walk just to look in the Missoni window. It's too bad I couldn't have one then when I was so much younger and thinner!

We lowered the asking price on our house and got it all clean, anticipating a new run on showings, but no one came. That was a real bummer. The house by the lake that I wanted has sold, so I am way less motivated to clean up and rearrange our lives. In fact, I'm just bone-tired. This could have something to do with a diet I'm on, however, where you eat only almonds, eggs, yogurt, tofu, spinach, and raspberries. Whatever works! But then again, the Missoni dress and heels I got make me look about 20 pounds lighter and about 3 feet taller, so maybe I'll just stop dieting and wear Missoni!

But I was finally able to finish a project I've had on the back burner for months.  I got all the fabric and stuff out for this and then someone wanted to view the house and I had to pack it all away. Then they didn't buy the house! So I'm actually kind of glad no one wanted to see it this week.

A while back I was making my thrift store run when I spotted this doll with some others on the shelf. I could see they were gorgeous dolls and well-made, but I didn't recognize them. There were two blond and on brunette, all with the same face sculpt. A little girl picked up the brunette while I was looking at them, so I didn't get that one. When I got home and researched them I wished I had gotten all three! I found they are by Hildegard Gunzel for Gotz and sell new for $170-$200! All the dolls were missing their original outfits and their hair was a mess. Still, you've got to wonder who these people are who buy dolls that cost hundreds and then just give them away! Do they forget what they paid?

Anyway, this is a gorgeous doll. More limited Gunzel dolls go for thousands and I can see why. She is an amazingly talented artist. This doll is beautifully and realistically sculpted and cast in a scented vinyl that smells sort of like vanilla. They way the joints and stringing are done allows the doll a huge range of movement, making it perfect for a dancer.

I had this lovely blue satin in my scrap bag that matches the doll's eyes and I was inspired to do a winter-themed dress, although what inspired me was our summer vacation to Northern Michigan. I was so hoping for a house by the lake here after going back up north. Everything up there, around Traverse City, is blue or silver, it seems. The air even seems more clear, like crystal! I took these water-colors and really went to town. The dress is encrusted with beading. The tulle skirt underneath is detached so it can be used as a ballet skirt with other doll outfits and she wears handmade pantyhose with a retro back-leg seam. The American Girl clothes will fit this doll, although her feet are large, so I don't know about the shoes.

Speaking of shoes, my take-home lesson from this project is that doll ballet shoes are HARD to make! I almost just went and bought some ice skates and turned her into a skater. I was afraid they wouldn't fit because the pattern I had was for 18 inch dolls and I finished a shoe and it didn't fit! So I had to re-draw the pattern. The shoes are sturdy enough, but rather clunky-looking. Not my best work.

The dress and doll turned out really well, though. The doll had fuzzy hair and some stains in her vinyl. I faded the stains using benzoyl peroxide and Mr Clean erasers and conditioned her hair and re-dressed it. The dress came together well and has tons of handwork. A very unique piece!

Let's hope for a rather less strenuous week to come and, someday, a house by the water!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Box of Possibility

My Friend Mandy as Shirley Temple
Fall is creeping in. The leaves knocked down by Hurricane Irene are turning brown and crisp. The air is cool, mercifully, in the mornings and evenings, and melancholy creeps in too. My father died at the end of summer in 1977, so I have always felt sad this time of year. It seems appropriate that the year should begin to die as well. I also have happy memories in autumn of a time long-gone, my college years. I would drive down Highway 42 to Greenville around this time. Back then all the tobacco warehouses were still open and the "golden leaf" would be ripening in the fields. The entire air would smell like a pipe shop. The road to the beach, usually Highway 13 through Bethel if we went to Nag's Head, would be littered with cotton bolls blown off the trucks. That would be a month or two from now when the semester had settled enough to get away. I love to relive those happy years, but am a bit sad I can't go back to being that young again, with seemingly endless possibilities before me. I am feeling for them "Down East" as we say; they've been dealt a hard blow by Irene.

Right now I am also a bit sad because we are having a lot of change, and change is hard for me. I have not been able to work this week. The baby has been having speech and developmental evaluations through private channels as well as the state, so yesterday and today were nearly taken up with that. We are preparing for an open house Sunday in our effort to sell our house, and tonight someone called wanting to see the house tomorrow. So all the laundry I had sorted on the floor, all the sewing I had started, all my projects, had to be packed away and must wait. Sacrificed to the illusion that we live always in this sterile and professionally-decorated environment.

I did get a reminder today that change is possibility as well. I ordered and received a box of My Friend dolls. Thank goodness I managed to get them for about $5 each, because they are in awful shape. They were evidently owned by a budding beautician or tattoo artist. Every one has permanent makeup, some have names written on their limbs, and a few have hair that's been cut. But the possibilities...who could they be? I have two or three Beckys. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm? Anne of Green Gables? I have some Jennys...Pocahontas? A couple Mandys who may be beyond repair...but then I thought the doll shown above was beyond repair.

I have a "thing" for the 1920s and 1930s. I love the older Agatha Christie mysteries, Art Deco, flappers, and Shirley Temple. What a cutie she was! This Mandy came to me quite distressed, but she turned out to be a perfect Shirley Temple. Sometimes the cut hair can still make a really cute style if it isn't too close to the scalp. I had a lot of fun with her dress design, too. Too bad she doesn't have dimples. I did get a Becky, who does have dimples, with cut hair today. Maybe I'll redo her as a blond!

Today my daughter said, when she saw the box of very disheveled dolls, "I am tired of fixing these dolls, Mommy. I want to just get dolls we can sell and get rich!" But where would the fun be in that? There is so much we can do with this box of broken dolls. It's a good reminder that possibilities are always endless, and out of ruin can come opportunity and rebirth.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lotus Flower: Restoring the Chinese bride

"Lotus Flower", a Chinese character bride doll in need of restoration.

"Before", Lotus Flower has dots of glue in her hair, possibly from a bridal headdress now missing.

"After" cleaning and restoration, Lotus steps forward to display an intricately-painted shoe.

She wears a very detailed costume.

Here I am with my husband wearing traditional Chinese wedding gear on a Beijing family's marriage bed.
This week, despite all the travel and travail associated with trying to sell our house and deal with our son's ongoing surgical and therapy appointments, I did manage to do a small restoration project. I found this Chinese character doll in a box of badly damaged pre-1950 dolls. I think she was probably originally the "bride" character, made in Hong Kong between the 1930s and 1950s. If so, she is missing her original bridal headdress. This would have been a tall headdress in red and gold, stamped all over with characters. She had a large hole in the sleeve of her Mandarin-collar jacket, but was otherwise in excellent shape.

I started the restoration by cleaning her gently with a cotton ball dipped in water and dish-soap mixture. I then "fixed" her sleeve by sewing on bands of gold ribbon to look like stripes. I created a new headdress with a piece of gold trim, slightly elastic so it is able to slide on and off, and fringe ornaments that hang down over her hair.

The traditional Chinese wedding headgear can be quite elaborate or very simple, as in the red veil I wear in the photo above. That photo of Jerry and me in China was taken in the home of a family in Old Beijing who open their homes to foreigners in a "Hutong Tour" or "back-alley" tour. The house is made of several detached rooms arranged around a central courtyard. Large doors open each room to the courtyard so the effect is of being in a giant, adult-sized doll's house. It is practical, as the air is able to circulate during summer, when the temperatures reach well over 100 degrees. The room where we sit is the newly-wed's room. Each member of the family who is married uses that room, with its traditional red decor and lucky "double happiness" or chongqing character in the window, for a certain period of time after the wedding. Tourists may sit on the marriage bed and wear the bride's red veil and the groom's red scarf for photos.

The doll's hair is styled in braided buns over her ears, which seems to be the preferred bridal style. In China these braids are called "pigtails" and it is considered very beautiful if they are perfectly symmetrical. When we adopted our daughter the guide told us they will sometimes have trouble with older orphanage workers using boards to flatten the backs of the girls' heads in order to display pigtails more becomingly! Our daughter's head was certainly very flat, but I think it was due to time in the crib rather than boarding. She is very beautiful, though, even if now her head is no longer flat and her pigtails aren't perfectly symmetrical!

When finished, this doll has such wonderful personality I named her "Lotus Flower" because of her pink and gold dress. Maybe I should have chosen cherry blossom, for the pattern of cherry blossoms and bamboo woven in the brocade, but that seemed too Japanese. She is very lovely, and displays beautifully and is very photogenic. A real gem for any collection! I am happy to feel like I accomplished something creative this week!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lovely Lenci Ladies

Mimi by Lenci, 1997

Carmen by Lenci, 1995

If you've been following my blog, you know I haven't written anything since the homestager came and we painted our entire house. We also cleaned out our garage, moved a ton of stuff into storage, traveled out of state to consult our son's surgical team, and had lots of showings. One rather inconvenient one on Wednesday, when I had scheduled my eBay auctions to end Tuesday thinking it would be slow during the week,. So I was cleaning like mad, driving around with all our pets and kids in the car to keep the house clear, mailing packages, one to Australia so it required a trip to the post office...and then the people chose a different house. AGH! Hopefully the house will sell soon, because besides all that I've had to clean like crazy!

One basic tenant of the homestager's manifesto is no collections, with a specific ban on DOLL collections! If her accent hadn't already told me the woman wasn't Southern, that would have! Growing up here, I can't think of one friend whose mother didn't have a doll collection. This was typically displayed in the best, usually the front, room along with the family Bible. One mother did keep her dolls in their boxes in the linen closet but she was the exception. Old-fashioned jointed bears were in back then too, and one neighbor had her fireplace so filled with them I guess they must never have lit a fire! So I started collecting dolls when I was around 12 and continued until I lost interest in my late teens.

I do still love dolls, and occasionally I buy them to resell. This is occasionally pretty hard for me, as it is in the case of these two Lenci dolls. The Lenci doll company was famous for their stunningly beautiful, exquisitely detailed pressed felt dolls. I have started trying to make Lenci-style dolls and bought these to study them in person. These dolls were also made in years that were special to me, then years when I worked in Italy and got married. But given our current situation, with so little room in our home and so far no offers despite all our showings, I think it's time to let go of them. I did do a slight amount of restoration on Mimi, as I glued the dislodged feather and comb back on her hat.

These dolls are infinitely poseable and photogenic, just like the famous Lenci doll, Edith, from the Lonely Doll books. They are so much fun to take pictures of and would probably be as durable and playable for children as they were back in the 1920s. Madame Lenci did design her first dolls after being unable to find an unbreakable doll for her own daughter, Anili. I hope someday to make dolls just as wonderful as these.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Memories of Murals Past

Faux Venetian plaster in the powder room.

Our sons' space-themed mural.

The farmyard and forest scene in the loft.

A cardinal escapes from the mural in the loft.
Nearly a decade ago my husband and I built and purchased our first new home. The first home we owned was a 60s ranch that taught us everything we know about remodeling. But this was the first house made entirely for us. Our family has outgrown it to the point that we will need to either move or add on. We don't think we will recoup the investment of an addition, so we are preparing to put it up for sale.

We had the home for sale for a year with no luck and barely any showings. This time we are using a Realtor who hires a homestager to advise each homeowner. I had "staged" our home already in my opinion, but the homestager came and managed to remove probably twice as much as I had done. Her rules: No valences (dated) no curtains if they aren't essential; no gold frames or lights (out of style); no rugs; no bold colors or murals. So I haven't been blogging this week because I've been painting!

The rules against murals is unfortunate, since I often work as a muralist and find it handy to have a life-size area to show clients rather than just a photo. The murals in this house are highly personal as well, since they were painted entirely for us. The pink Venetian powder room had to go, being decorated in a rich Italian pink with gold frames as trim. That not-quite-coral, not-quite-salmon pink and gold combo is so uniquely Italian that every time I saw it I was instantly transported. I used to leave the door open just to catch sight of that color. Now the powder room is the same sedate beige as almost the rest of the house, but I feel the loss of my color fix like a pain in my heart.

The children had the hardest time painting over the farm and woodland scene in the loft, which serves mostly as their playroom. They begged to keep just one or two parts. Could they keep the rabbit? Or how about the cardinal? The rabbit has been so popular it exists in Clayton as well as Garner, lifted straight into the bedroom of a baby girl named Julia at her mother's request. The loft painting was inspired by the giant barn, made for me by my grandfather when I was 4 years old. It certainly can't be hidden, so I worked it into the decor. The rest of the room was decorated with toy horses and bird houses to carry the theme. It's funny, I can still remember the episode of Monk playing on t.v. when I started painting it. I started with the sky. I made a special roller for my son to use so he could help. He painted the leaves in the forest. I can still see him, a toddler wearing one of my t-shirts that reached to the floor.

For him as well was the space room painted. His favorite character at the time was Buzz Lightyear. The little green ball hanging from the ceiling was a Christmas ornament. He saw it in the store and said, "Look, Mommy, it's The Green Planet, for my room!" Today the sight of The Green Planet lying on the floor (thankfully taken down by Jerry) brought tears to my eyes. The truth, though, is that that sweet toddler has turned in the blink of an eye to a teenager, and the toddler who now lives in that room really prefers Lightning McQueen to Buzz Lightyear.

So tonight as I sit in our primarily beige home I reflect that in a way it is good for us to do this. We have said goodbye to our home through this purpose. Where we now live is more like a really big hotel room, nicely appointed, light on furniture, artfully arranged. We will leave it on the market until it sells now, because to return it to our home would be too much work, and impossible anyway.

I don't agree with everything the stager says. She prefers towels tied with raffia and fake ivy on most surfaces, a look that says "1992" to me, far more dated than a gold-finish mirror frame, and she picked the worst painting I've ever done out of the garage to hang on the wall because she loves it. I was only keeping it so I could paint over it someday! But I do think this was necessary for us. We are guests now in our home, ready to move on, but we keep the memories of the life and the home we created here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fab Flapper Attitude: How to restore a composition doll

This is an early 1920s boudoir doll, still in original clothing.

She was a "fashion victim" in the 1970s when someone glued this horrible faux fur helmet to her head and neck!
One day on our Michigan vacation I wandered into a typical Northport resale shop, which has a sign on the door saying they are open "mostly by chance" looking for vintage juice glasses. Instead, I found this antique doll sitting, dirty and neglected, on a high shelf. I could see her well enough to tell she was a boudoir, probably from the 20s or 30s. I got her down and saw her tag said she was from the early 1920s. I could also see, on close inspection, that she was the victim of a very unskilled and unfortunate restoration. Judging from the materials used, this occurred sometime in the 1960s or 70s.

The main lesson from this poor girl is, if you don't know what you're doing and aren't going to do any research, then STEP AWAY from the doll! The would-be doll restorer fashioned a sort of helmet from faux fur and glued it to the doll's head and the sides of her neck. The doll had a lot of crazing and cracking in the composition material in that area and they may have been trying to cover it. In any case, that only made it worse. The doll was also allowed to get extremely dirty. To start, I removed her fur "hair", which was disgusting and full of bugs and insect casings, and thoroughly cleaned her.
The boudoir doll with her fur hair and clothing removed.

The doll is carefully cleaned.
To clean the doll I first used Q-tips and a water and dish soap liquid mixture. She had some stubborn glue stains and ingrained dirt all over, so I went back over her with a Mr Clean Magic Eraser. Be VERY cautious with the Mr Clean erasers, as they will remove the paint. While the doll's clothes were off I hand-washed them and let them air-dry. Spot-check the fabric in an inconspicuous spot before cleaning to make sure it is safe to use water on the cloth. Let the doll dry thoroughly before beginning the composition repair.

The doll had a lot of composition degradation, probably from water damage and the glue used to attach the fur on her head and neck.

I used sculptured acrylic nail material to fill in the broken areas of the composition.

The doll had quite a bit of damage to her composition. Much of this was from the glue used in the first restoration, so it is a real shame the person didn't know what they were doing! It looks like she got wet or damp at some point and her shoulder swelled and cracked. Her body also has a lot of mildew staining. A good book for general doll repair is All About Doll Repair & Care by Carol Lindberg. It is available on eBay. Mrs. Lindberg advises using auto body putty to repair the composition, but you can also use acrylic nail material. This time I used the nail material. This repair will be apparent, so you want to confine it to areas you can cover with clothing or a wig if possible. The acrylic will stabilize the chipping composition, preventing further decay. Use the instructions in the package to make the acrylic. It really smells, so work in an open, ventilated area. Generally, you just dip a brush into a jar of acrylic liquid and dip it into the acrylic powder. Then use the resulting putty-type acrylic to fill in the holes. You can even sculpt new fingers if they are missing. When the acrylic is dry sand it lightly, being careful not to sand the original areas, and paint with a matching paint color. I use acrylic paint. The nail mixture is translucent, so you may need more than one coat of paint.

The composition repaired, I added a new wig.

Mohair and glue were used to make the wig.

Once the paint is dry you can rewig the doll if necessary. If there was anything good about this doll's original restoration it is that the fur hat protected the original hair underneath, so I could see the color and style. These dolls generally had big hats, so they didn't have much hair. It looks like this doll originally had golden blond mohair styled in waves very close to the back of her head and a bit longer in front. Because of the glue on her forehead and the damaged neck I could not use the original hair, but made a new wig. I chose wavy mohair in the closest shade to the original. To make this type of wig take a package of mohair and sew down the middle using the finest stitch setting on your machine. Use matching thread. This will be the part in the hair. Glue on to the head using Aleene's Tacky glue or other white water-soluble glue (so a future restorer can remove it without damage if necessary). I glued the wig over the original hair to enhance the fullness, as I did not have much mohair in this shade. Style the mohair in waves by pulling across with a t-pin or metal comb and spraying with hairspray to set the wave.

The cleaned and repaired doll with her new wig.

The doll is finished to this point. Now I have to work on her costume. Her original clothing was sewn to her body. That is very common with these dolls. However, her dress is disintegrating, so I am trying to figure out a way to resew it in a way that it can be taken on and off like a regular dress. Then I will sew a new costume for display so the original can be reserved. We are about to list our house for sale and I am getting ready to have a homestager come on Monday, so I'll have to get back to the doll later. For those of you who have never hired a homestager, you have to make your house look as though no one lives in it. A BIG challenge when you have 3 kids! So, as I can continue the doll restoration I'll write more entries.