Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Loving Lenci: restoring a felt doll using needle felting

Today's post recounts the restoration of a tiny Mascotte doll. I bought an entire lot of dolls because I saw in the blurry photos this tiny little Lenci type Mascotte. I am not entirely sure it is a Lenci but it certainly is close.

This doll is a true Mascotte. It has a hanging loop from its head. I suppose these dolls were intended to get as a souvenir in Italy and hang from your bag or your window or your rear view mirror when you got home. This particular doll certainly does look like she was used in that manner. She looks like she was dragged around on a backpack for years! She had many tears in her body and lots of rubs on her face. One of her eyes had completely rubbed away, leaving the gesso and felt underneath sticking out. The restoration of the doll was a long undertaking but this time I was able to use a new skill I've learned called needle felting.

Before I began the felting process, I had to clean the doll and repaint her face. To clean the doll I used artist's erasers. Never use water on a felt or pressed cloth doll! It can dissolve the sizing used to harden the face and it may also leave watermarks on the fabric. Instead, start very carefully rubbing the face with an artist gum eraser. You must be very gentle because the fragile old fabrics can tear. After you have rubbed the face dress and body with the gum eraser, switch to a kneaded rubber eraser. The kneaded rubber eraser will work a bit like silly putty, lifting the dirt and any foreign particles from the doll.

When the doll is clean you can go ahead and start painting. In this case I used acrylic artists paints even though the original doll would have been painted with oils. Because of the eye being rubbed off down to the gesso I was worried that oil paint might eventually eat through the head. The gesso acts as a seal and protects the fabric from the oil paint. I knocked down all the colors using Payne's grey paint in order to give them a vintage look. I was unable to get the eye exactly the same as the other one because the surface was no longer smooth. I did the best I could. I also touched up the blush on the cheeks. You can see some dots of paint on the face where I covered up rubs. They show up a lot more in the flash photos than they do in real life.

Once the paint was dry I began work restoring the skirt. The dolls wool skirt had basically been turned into lace by moths eating it over the years. I recently learned needle felting and so I decided to use that to restore the skirt. To needle felt you need to buy felting needles, a foam block or brush pad to felt into, and some wool roving to use in the felting process. You lay a piece of roving over the hole and stab the needle in and out through the roving into the felt. Make your needle stabs as close together as possible. This weaves the new material into the old.

To felt into the skirt, I pushed the foam pad under the skirt and felted the red roving into it. In some places I was unable to get the felt pad under the skirt because the fabric was so delicate. I could not pull on it or it would tear. These spots were mostly along the waist. In that case I felted directly into the doll body. The clothes were already pinned into the dolls body so I don't think it would matter! This would be a wonderful way to fix felt doll skin with moth holes. I am not sure how well it would work to felt into the gessoed face but it is worth a try and I have seen it done! I would practice on a cheap doll first, not a Lenci! When I was done felting, I treated the ribbons on the costume with Fray Check. If you want to the costume to look completely new you could take the old ribbons off and put on new ones, but most people want their dolls to show a bit of their age. The Fray check will stop the deterioration and still show the hand of Time.

The fully restored doll looks lovely! As you can see she fits in the palm of my hand.
This is the smallest Mascotte I have ever seen. Now we get to the hard work of identifying the doll. Her costume is nearly identical to a larger Lenci Roma Mascotte I have seen documented on the Internet and listed on eBay. However, that doll has the googly eyed surprise face and this one does not. In this doll's favor are her very detailed costume with necklace, earrings, appliqu├ęd flower and metallic thread embroidery. She even has tiny pantaloons and little shoes with contrast stitching. Also in her favor is the deep relief in her face. I have noticed through the years that Lenci dolls have much more deeply incised facial features than their competitors' dolls. Compare this little doll to another Mascotte by Eros.

You can see the Eros doll has a flatter face, a less pouty expression, and no hanging loop. She is also larger with a less detailed costume. Notice the very dark upper lip on the newly restored Mascotte. That was a Lenci trademark. However, this doll also has some features not in favor for her being a Lenci. She does not wear constructed shoes; instead, her shoes are sort of tied around her ankles. She also is not marked with the Lenci name. However given the very disheveled condition this doll came to me in, it would not be surprising if her mark had worn off. This Mascotte has the famous side glancing eyes, but she does not have individually stitched fingers. I do not know if such a tiny doll would've had individual fingers, even one made by Lenci. So in fact, I really can't tell what brand this doll is. There were so many companies copying the Lenci dolls at the time. These little mascottes are perfect for a larger doll to hold, such as my daughter's Rothschild Edith!

I will say that this is a very rare doll in my opinion. I look every day for different Lenci and other felt dolls and I have never seen this one before. This is also an old doll, certainly pre-1950s. The fact that it has survived an obviously hard life is impressive and shows how well it was made. I am proud to have been able to restore her to some of her former glory. Keep watching for the series of Eros mascotte dolls I have coming up!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Petite Sophisticate: I Am Seduced by Miss Revlon

A Revlon doll and Virga doll before restoration.

Little Miss Revlon or look-alike after restoration.

A new leotard matches her vintage skirt and bag.

A new hat and refurbished shoes to match her vintage outfit.

A new pink net hat completes her vintage ensemble.

Miss Revlon's hair can also be styled in an updo. She's shown here with all her clothes and accessories.

So if you've been following this blog you might remember my last post about my temporary 50s doll buying frenzy. In a moment of pure insanity I purchased a bunch of different 1950s dolls. The first complete restoration was recounted in my last post; a Virga Pam walker with clothes. That doll came with the one shown here. Now I've restored both big and little "sisters" and their copious clothing.

Someone really loved these dolls! They were supplied with the best of everything and have an absolutely enormous number of outfits between them. The restoration of this little doll started with identification. This was tricky because, although once marked on the back of her head, the doll seems to have had her marking sanded off the back of her head. I don't know why anyone would do that, so I'm sure what actually occurred is that many years of being placed on her back in her case and carried around caused her rough synthetic hair to "sand" the logo off. I don't know a lot about 50s dolls, so I'm really grateful to the many bloggers who specialize in these dolls and write extensively about them. I found through my research that the Revlon company produced many incarnations of Revlon and Little Miss Revlon. They even sold the use of their molds to other companies, so it can be really hard to tell one doll from another. This particular doll has oddly-colored hair. It's very pale blond with a pink tinge. Revlon did produce a pink-haired ballerina or fairy type doll, but I think it was a larger one and her hair had a ponytail. The bubble cut hair is very rare for a Revlon doll; they only did a few bubble cut prototypes. So then I thought maybe it was a knock-off or had its hair cut at some point, but the other day someone listed a doll with the same face and hair on eBay and that one actually still has its mark. So maybe it is a real Revlon after all!

The white shoes the doll came with are the bow-front Ideal shoes the Revlon dolls wore. One was split in front and the owner's mother had sewn it together with thread. I brushed Golden acrylic flexible modeling paste over the split, which is sort of like brushing on new vinyl. Now that the shoes are fixed the doll can stand alone wearing them. The red shoes are too small; they were probably for Barbie. One of them was split too, but I took a hint from the previous owner and sewed elastic gussets in to make them fit. I covered the elastic with ribbon. These fit well, but the doll can't stand alone in them.

Anyway, as you can see from the "before" photo, this was an enormous undertaking, and I had way too much fun with it. I had to force myself to stop taking pictures of her in all her different outfits! I started by cleaning the doll and washing her hair. I tried to set her hair but it was rather brittle and she had some hair loss and breakage. Her hair is nice, though, because you can curl it by brushing it around your finger or brush it into and updo and it will stay where you put it. I found the vintage Fisher Price Mandy hair matches perfectly, so I rooted some in the top layers of her hair to thicken it up.

The doll's rubber face had yellowed and it and her arms were sticky. I repainted the lips and blush, which helped even out the tone. I varnished the paint. To address the stickiness I massaged the doll with baby powder. You can do that periodically with old dolls to address the sticky finish. The legs had dark ink marks. I was able to fade them quite a bit by placing the doll in the sun with 10% benzoyl peroxide on the spots, but they didn't go away totally so I painted over them and varnished the paint. As always I used the artist's acrylics. The repainting can be removed with Goof Off if desired.

Once the doll was restored I concentrated on her clothing. I made replacement earrings for her from silver posts and glass beads. I finished any unfinished seams with overlock stitching and Fray Check and stabilized all the closures. I sewed any torn seams and cleaned all the clothes. I starched and pressed them. Then I sewed new pieces to complete some outfits. I used vintage fabrics and trims so the pieces look authentic. The yellow satin dress and pink polka dot dress have commercial snaps I recognize as being used by Vogue. These are both a bit snug and fit better without the doll's underwear, so I think they were originally Jill or Jan clothes. One snap on the yellow dress was broken but Jerry fixed it somehow. He won't tell me how; he says he "worked his magic"! I had such a good time putting the outfits together! It made me remember how much I used to love dressing up myself.

In fact, I think maybe I'll try to make myself some nicer clothes! It's crazy to me that this was a "teenage" doll. I don't remember having it this together as a teenager! I love all the 50s glamour too; the thigh-high stockings, garters, girdles, lace bra were all made by me and made me wish I were as well-dressed as this doll! I do like these dolls as a role model for girls. They are so much less slutty than the teen dolls sold now, and I really appreciate their more realistic figures. These dolls actually have a body type a girl can aspire to without contemplating plastic surgery. So here's to Miss Revlon's transformation...may it inspire my own!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fab Pam? I fall in love with the 50s

A Fortune Pam doll, possibly a Fab detergent promo, from around 1957

All vintage clothing with a new poodle skirt

A vintage Vogue tagged dress

A vintage felt outfit

A vintage skirt with new leotard

The entire lot before restoration
A few weeks ago, on Super Bowl Sunday, to be exact, I went a little crazy. I was browsing on eBay for a Revlon doll for my daughter. She is getting to the age where she would like a "grown-up" doll, but I find the modern "teenage" dolls mostly so slutty or weird (have you seen the Monster High dolls?) that I don't really want her emulating them. The little Barbie-sized dolls are so hard for little hands to dress, as well. The 18 and 20 inch Revlons are so much easier, and even the small ones seem easier to dress to me.

But anyway, I was looking and I decided to place several bids. I've done this before and I always get outbid. We were on our way to my sister's Super Bowl party, and I fully expected to lose most of the auctions while we were there. Well, I guess I was the only one on eBay that day, because I won almost every doll! The reason I say I went crazy is that I haven't ever restored any of these 50s dolls before. Now we have dolls on practically every surface  having spots bleached, getting reroots, having their eyes fixed or wigs replaced. Luckily no one has asked to see the house in the past couple weeks! I hope to move some of these out pretty fast.

I practiced on my daughter's Revlon first, and she turned out very nicely, so I moved on to some Sweet Sues. Those dolls are finished but they are awaiting clothing. Since I was working in those walker dolls I picked up this little Pam hard plastic, straight leg walker. Pam was a Ginny copy by the Fortune doll company. This doll isn't marked but her Pam face is very distinctive. I like her face better than the Ginny face, which always looks fat to me. I think this doll may have been a promo in 1957 for Fab detergent. You sent in a Fab box top and a dollar to purchase the doll. My knowledge of Pam dolls is limited to the eBay listings of the past few weeks, so I could be wrong, but the Fab Pam is the only one I've seen with this wig and dress.

The Pam doll arrived with the body in perfect condition, but her mohair wig had really had it. It had come unglued and had been brushed totally out of shape. She had a big loose Afro! I washed the doll and her hair. So much dirt came out of the wig the wash water turned gray! After the hair dried I reglued the wig. Then I set the wig...twice! The first time I used cold water and larger perm rods. The curl didn't set at all. So I rerolled the hair on the tiniest perm rods I could get at Sally's beauty supply and poured nearly-boiling water over the rods when they were rolled. Obviously, you want to keep the hot water out of the doll's eyes. I rolled the hair in a 50s flip. It is still quite big: I would have killed for such full but smooth hair back in the 80s! It's perfect for a 50s doll too! This doll has more hair left in her wig than any other vintage doll I've seen!

Pam had several outfits in the case, but they were all dirty and many were incomplete. I washed them and pressed them. Then I finished any unfinished seams (even commercial doll clothing often had unfinished seams) with overlock stitching if possible. If I couldn't get my machine in for the overlock I treated any fraying with Fray Check. I also completed  outfits by sewing some pieces. I made a poodle skirt from wool felt and a leotard from knit. Now she's ready for 50 more years of play!

One Pam doll came as a hula dancer. I would have loved that one as a child! My parents went to Hawaii shortly before my father died and they brought me back a hula doll. Later, the doll was lost. I'm sure she was thrown away when my father died; we moved across country and left many of my toys behind. She was a cheap doll too--one of those light plastic tourist dolls. But I still have dreams about that doll, that I find her. When I was a girl I would wake up all excited and go look in whatever place I'd dreamed I left her. Of course she was never there. I realize now that dream is not really about the doll; it's about trying to find my way back to my old life. I woke up one morning and my family was destroyed and I guess in my mind I still have that child's simple view that if I could fix one thing I could bring my father back, bring our home back. I know it's not about the doll, but I often wish I'd gotten another hula doll!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Classic Baby: Repainting a Rubber Doll

Effanbee Twinkie from 1968 with new paint and clothing.

In my last post about restoring the Gotz toddler doll I mentioned I was also working on a classic Effanbee baby. This, finally, is the finished doll. It took a little longer than I anticipated, because for one thing, it needed a repaint. The doll was actually in very good condition, so much so that it caught my eye on a table full of dolls from across the room. I picked up this doll, the Gotz toddler, and a Teen Trends fashion doll off the one table. I could see right away this was a really nice doll. The matte rubber is very even, not yellow or orange-tinged like you sometimes see. The doll is a drink and wet doll with sleep eyes. She is 16 inches and can wear the Bitty Baby clothes. You can see her "before" picture in my previous Gotz Cutie post.

My research led me to believe this is "Twinkie" from 1968 by Effanbee. Her lips had a paint rub and her sculpted hair  was scratched and mostly flesh-colored. Her cheek paint was scratched. I could see from my research that she had originally had hair painted reddish-brown. The original doll had matte-finish paint, but I was influenced by a mint Effanbee baby doll called "Sweetie Pie" for this repaint. That Effanbee baby was produced around 1940. It was a composition baby doll with a sweet face and glossy paint. I saw a listing for a near-mint Sweetie Pie who was dressed in a gorgeous yellow outfit and had a satin ribbon tied around her hair.

She was just so adorable I decided to use a gloss finish for my Twinkie. I think also that the gloss finish will be more durable for her new mommy. I used artist's acrylics, which are certified non-toxic. I thinned them with slow-dry blending medium and applied the paint to the hair with a make-up sponge. This gave the paint an air-brushed look. I don't have an air-brush or a spray booth, so I have to replicate the look using brushes and sponges. Once the paint dried (which took about a week because of the slow-dry medium) I sealed it with acrylic gloss varnish.

After the paint was dry and sealed I started on a wardrobe for Twinkie. The original doll may have come wearing a white knitted jumpsuit and bonnet. I couldn't find a photo of the doll in mint condition. I decided to use eyelet in a shade of nearly-white whisper pink. I trimmed it with light fuchsia ribbon and glass beads. I also made a sweet old-fashioned nightgown, a diaper, and got her a new nurser bottle, since this is a drink and wet doll. I tested her drink and wet ability and it was a drippy business. A lot of the water came out of her neck! But I think it worked as well as these dolls ever do. A few years ago my daughter just LOVED drink and wet dolls. I got her some vintage ones. So I made sure to include a diaper for the new mother!

Another reason this project took so long is that I got a little side-tracked. A couple weeks ago I ordered a bunch of vintage Revlon and Sweet Sue dolls. I don't know what came over me, because I don't know much about these dolls ("doll madness?" my husband offers), but I placed a bunch of bids and won most of them, probably because it was Super-Bowl Sunday and no one else was on eBay. Usually I get outbid on Revlon dolls! I was so excited to get those I have spent a few weeks lost in the world of repairing vintage walker mechanisms, sleep eyes, mohair wigs, etc. It is a whole different world, but I have really enjoyed learning to repair these older dolls. So keep watching for lots of posts about repairing the 50s dolls!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gotz Toddler Cutie: Restoring a Modern Doll

A lot of modern dolls in need of restoration.

Maxy Aquina by Gotz after cleaning.

The doll lot with new clothing.

A recent consignment sale yielded the group of dolls shown above. Some research told me these were Mattel Teen Trends Deondra, Gotz Maxy Aquina, and Effanbee Twinkie. The first two dolls are modern, produced within the last 10-15 years most likely. The Effanbee doll is a vintage baby doll from 1968. I saw the Effanbee baby from across the room and could see it was an classic baby doll of high quality. When I walked over to the table I immediately recognized the Gotz doll and grabbed her (this is the type of sale where you have to elbow your way to the deals and NEVER let go of something you might want to buy!). This particular Gotz face reminds me of the children's book illustrations by Eloise Wilkin. Her sweet children adorned, it seemed, about 50% percent of the Golden Books published between 1950 and 1970. Garth Williams had the other 50%! I loved the We Help Mommy and Daddy books she illustrated, as well as Where Did Baby Go? This little girl, or rather the girl this doll resembles, was the child of a friend of hers and Eloise used her as a model from babyhood. I couldn't resist putting the retro Dr. Denton sleeper on her, since it looks so 50s with its little rump flap! The sleeper came on the Effanbee baby but it seemed to modern for her. I'm doing her in a more classic style. Keep watching for that one!

My youngest sister always wore Dr. Denton sleepers. Hers were mostly yellow. She was the cutest baby, the only tow-head among us, and with her fluffy white baby hair and round dark eyes she looked like some kind of baby duckling or chick in her yellow sleeper. This sleeper was not original to the Effanbee baby; it was made by Horsman doll company in 1988, probably the height of Dr. Denton fever. Do they even make that brand any more?

This baby was in pretty good shape. Her hair needed a good styling, and she had a lot of general grime. She was a well-loved doll! And why not...she's beautifully made! Doing the research to identify her I found she is water-proof and can be bathed. Despite that she has working sleep eyes. She's jointed and beautifully-sculpted. She looks like a real toddler! Her hair is wonderful and thick. I cleaned her vinyl body all over with a Mr. Clean Eraser, avoiding her face where it is painted. She already had a rub in her lip paint so I went over it in artist's acrylics, safe for play, and now she looks great. If her hair had been really dirty I could have cleaned it with liquid fabric softener and then conditioned it with monoi oil, but inn this case just brushing was sufficient.

Another nice thing about this doll is that she can wear the Bitty Baby and Bitty Twin clothes and shoes, all except Bitty Baby's hats because she has too much hair. To finish her restoration I made a pair of panties for her to wear under her original outfit, a pair of vintage shoes, and a swimsuit. I gave her the sleeper, and a new baby duck toy for the bath or pool.

This was a nice restoration. It wasn't terribly challenging but the result is adorable! My daughter loved helping me brush her hair and take the photos, too. Next up is the vintage baby. Baby dolls are a change for me, but I've enjoyed doing these. It reminded me of the year my daughter got her Bitty Baby and loved her baby dolls. She's moving on to older dolls and now our youngest son loves the babies. He likes to pretend to feed and diaper them. Since he's my third I know the baby phase  doesn't last very long, especially with boys, and I'm determined to enjoy it!