Monday, March 19, 2012

Fifties Fashionista Frenzy: a fashion doll makeover

Those of you who follow my blog may notice that I have been working like a dog recently (not that my own dogs ever do any work!). A couple weeks ago I had really sold through most of my inventory. Then eBay called to tell me I am on track to become a Top Seller in June. When I become a Top Seller my listings will get more notice because they will appear closer to the top of search results. I also started a Pinterest page and got some followers. So, I decided I'd better increase my buying and really make sure I have a full store. I borrowed about $200 from our joint household account and bought several dolls and materials to restore them. Well, wouldn't you know, as soon as I did that my sales have dropped off a cliff! I've made about $10 toward paying our joint account back! I am really working hard and late trying to fill my store and increase sales.

So anyway, here is the completed restoration of a Revlon or Revlon-type fashion doll that I've had in the works for a few months now. This doll came in one of the first lots of Fifties fashion dolls I won on Super Bowl Sunday when I was apparently the only person bidding on eBay.

This doll (center) and the very similar doll on her right were described identically by different sellers  as "Unmarked Doll Blond Ponytail Revlon Clone". This doll is actually the nicest of the three shown. All three dolls were very grimy and stained. When I cleaned them I discovered every collector's dream: one of the ponytail dolls has a faint marking that was obscured by dirt. It reads "I deal VT-18" and her thigh is also marked "18", so she is a Revlon doll by Ideal, albeit one of the cheaper versions made in the late 50s and 60s when Ideal was trying to cut costs. She has her original outfit too!

The doll I show here, though unmarked, comes out on top in comparison to the marked Revlon doll. She has a much nicer body, made of sturdy, heavy plastic that is almost like fiberglass. She has lovely working sleep eyes, thick, long hair, and immaculate face and nail paint. A possible flaw I saw was that her hair had been what I think of as "cut into style" or "rooted into style". This just means that since the doll was supposed to have hair in a ponytail or updo, the manufacturer cut the hair in the center to thin it out and in this case actually didn't root a couple rows. This doll's hair may have also been cut a little more by her owner. It seemed choppier that the Revlon hair cut in the same style:

The Revlon doll's hair (on right) has longer layers.
I started making a wig for the doll, but I thought of a little girl who might want to play with the doll and would want to be able to brush her hair and style it. My own daughter, who took the marked Revlon doll, has been enjoying styling her hair! So I gave her a little reroot using a blend of human hair and vintage Saran hair. It matches pretty well, and now her hair is a lot less thin in back.

The doll after her reroot
Another flaw is that the doll was originally wearing a red dress that left marks on her arms. BOTH the ponytail dolls have the same red marks in the same place on their arms, so take from that what you will. It looks to me like they wore the same dress! To bleach out the stains on her arms I put 10% benzoyl peroxide on the spots and placed the doll in a sunny windowsill. I added a little more peroxide each day. This did fade the marks significantly but I was unable to completely remove them. Now that we have our house on the market again it is really inconvenient to have a bunch of dolls sitting around on all the windowsills! You could probably bleach the marks away totally if you kept the treatment up. I decided the marks were too faint to make much difference. They don't show much at all anymore. I went ahead and dressed the doll in a fabulous wardrobe.

One of the things I really enjoy about these fashion dolls is exactly what they were made for:dressing them! I love to think of a little girl, imagining her future as a cherished wife and daughter with all the fabulous and mysterious accessories she will need in her glamorous grown up life! We still do this, I guess. I remember my mom and I went shopping and bought several lovely outfits and nightgowns for me to wear on my honeymoon. They also helped me transition into my post-college career, since I had some nice outfits for work. I enjoyed my beautiful trousseau for about 2 years until pregnancy took away the tiny waist that was the defining feature of my hourglass figure. I still have all those clothes in the hopes that I will fit into them again someday! I tried to make this doll a complete trousseau as well.

I am really proud of the silk dress I made from an old scarf. I thought this was so was a scarf advertising Arthur Murray dance studios and it is printed with his famous footprints and arrows dance instructions and dancing couples. I adapted a vintage pattern so I could use the existing handkerchief hem. I used the extra scraps to make lovely silk flowers and had beaded them along the waist. I put in an attached net crinoline to the skirt really stands out. It's a lovely gown! The kicky hem is perfect for dancing!

Next I made a stole from vintage faux fur and gave it a vintage rhinestone accent. I also made a hair pin with the rhinestones to dress up her 'do.

I bought a wool skirt from a thrift store for 75 cents and used it to make the coat, hat and boots for the doll. It was a 6 petite, and I could barely get one doll outfit from it (and to think I once wore a 4, but never petite!). The boots turned out weird. I made the bases with polymer clay and cured them and then followed an American Girl pattern to make the boots. But the boot is too straight to stay on Miss Thang's curvy  calves, so I had to add a loop of elastic to the inside. To put the boots on you have to first put the foot through the loop and them pull the boot up over it. They don't work well with the hose.

I made a winter day dress with a suede cloth scrap from one of my scrap tubs, and also made vintage-style pansies adorned with tiny pearl beads to adorn the dress and hat. This has very nice details, like a bodice facing made with custom matching bias tape.

The skirt lining had enough material to make a bra and panties. This fabric has some stretch, so it probably is some synthetic that didn't exist when the doll was made. The color and style give the underwear a vintage look, though. I made stocking my usual way, by cutting down a pair of regular modern pantyhose. Since our hose now have a lot more stretch than the old ones I make these too large and then make garters to hold them up. This gives the stockings the correct vintage look. I would use 1950s hose if I could find them, but they just don't last that long! You almost never come across 50 year old hose!

Next, I made a pretty dressing gown, or robe, out of an old sheer curtain. I used a vintage pattern, which results in a very detailed garment. This robe has rolled hems throughout. I can't believe these old patterns advertise that girls can sew the clothes for their doll! I guess girls had much better sewing skills back then! I am very lucky in that we have an enormous cherry tree outside our bedroom window. I have been sitting and sewing with a fabulous view of the tree in full riotous bloom, and I was inspired to embroider the collar with a spray of beaded ribbon cherry blossoms. I am definitely working on my wardrobe when I get these dolls finished! I am so jealous of their clothes!

When the clothes were all done I decided the doll needed some jewelry. I made some faux pearl and silver loop earrings. I've done several pair of these now and pretty much have them down pat. I then tried to create a pearl necklace on a wire, the type that you just pop on and off the doll's neck. Lots of these dolls came with those wire choker type necklaces. However, I made the opening too large and ended up having to create a sort of hook and eye clasp. The clasp is rather crude looking, but it works. Then, I guess this wasn't enough of a challenge for me, so I decided to make a ring out of an old single earring I had. I thought I would just solder a jump ring on and have an adjustable ring. I took metals in college about 20 years ago and this project quickly reminded me why I only took one semester. I forgot how much I hate making jewelry! My oldest son, who has been taking stained glass lessons from his grandfather, and my husband helped me. We finally got the earring soldered on, but we got a lot of solder everywhere. The adjustable space is on the side rather than on the bottom, but it was so hard to do that I didn't want to change it. When the ring is closed it fits her  pinkie finger and you can open and adjust it to fit her ring finger. The earring is real gold, I think, with cubic zirconium, and the ring band is sterling silver. The ring isn't great looking off because of the soldering, but it looks nice on. The doll also has a mirrored jewelry box with satin lining to hold her hairpins or jewelry. The box is made from an old contact lens case.

So, this has been another fun and challenging project. Along the way I learned a much easier technique for rooting hair with felting needles. It's so much faster it's unbelievable! I'll write a new tutorial on that soon!


  1. I like your new dolls. I bought a doll from 50s, marked 14R on her neck, but her body is very dirty. I don't know what can I do with her. Can you give me some advice?

    Look my doll blog.

    Thank you


    1. Hi! I use a lot of different products to remove stains from doll bodies. I like Mr. clean Magic erasers and I also like Carol's miracle doll cleaner which is available on eBay or from dollspart, the same place for you can get the sleep eyes. If your doll has stains in her vinyl like marker or ink or just stains from clothing then use the benzoyl peroxide treatment I described in this entry. Put a 10% benzyl peroxide solution like Oxy 10 on the stain and leave it in the sun adding a little more peroxide each day. Eventually the stains should come out. You can also try goof off But be very careful around the face paint. It will remove paint.


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