Monday, April 2, 2012

Marybel Really Does Get Well

Here is lovely Madame Alexander Marybel, "The Doll Who Gets Well" from 1958. Marybel has the late 50s Elise face, or what some also call the Kelly face, which was used on the 15 inch Lonely Doll, and a couple ballerinas to name a few. I think this face may also have been used on a Revlon-type fashion doll by Madame Alexander. I thought only Marybel had the brown eyes but the other day I saw a brown-eyed Lonely Doll.

If you have been following my blog you may recognize Marybel from her pitiful "before" state as shown in my tutorial on replacing sleep eyes in vinyl dolls. She is hard to recognize; she really doesn't look like the same doll! Marybel had lost her leg stringing at some point and a helpful father had reattached the legs by twisting the leg hooks together inside her body. I have no idea how he got them twisted together. They were very tight and getting them apart was a bitch. Marybel's head was very tightly attached and I had to enlist the help of my son and father to remove it. I found it was attached with a heavy spring much like the "doll screw" if you are familiar with doll making supplies. This spring had lost its bounce, though, and was pulling the head down into the neck so tightly it was starting to cut into the vinyl neck. I made the decision to restring the doll without the neck screw. Because having the leg hooks twisted together loosened them, they roll in the socket. I strung her as tightly as possible and she does hold a pose now and can stand alone with balancing, but her legs do still feel rather loose.

The reason I had to take Marybel's head off was to replace her eyes. One was sticking and someone had gouged it with a screwdriver trying to unstick it. The lashes were rotten and falling out. I replaced that eye but then the other eye, though the same color, looked old and cloudy so I went ahead and re-did both of them. They function well and look beautiful. They are an unusual rich root beer brown.

Marybel was marketed as a doll for girls who wanted to be doctors or nurses, and she came with crutches, casts, bandages, and stuff like that. She wore pink pajamas, a filmy robe, and slippers. At least one set also came with a trunk holding her medical supplies on one side and a wardrobe on the other for her to wear when she recovered, but that is so rare I have only seen it illustrated in advertisements. Maybe they never produced it; I don't know. In any case, I have re-created it to the best of my ability here. First I gave her some pink pajamas:

Heirloom sewn chemise and panties used as pajamas.
These came as underwear on a Sweet Sue or that type doll. They are much older than the 1950s, however. I would say these were handsewn using heirloom techniques around the turn of the last century. The workmanship is just exquisite, featuring french seams, shaded tonal embroidery, and real mother-of pearl or shell buttons with tiny hand-embroidered button holes. Each tiny button is unique, of varying thickness. Sadly, this set was disintegrating and smelled musty, so I had to restore it. I washed the pieces by hand and air-dried them flat so they wouldn't pull. The fabric is full of holes in some spots, and it definitely is too fragile to sew into so I ironed fusible interfacing onto the back of those areas to stabilize them. On thin spots that were not yet holes I applied Fray Check. The panties still smell a little musty but only if you put them right up to your nose. I recommend using this outfit for display only. They do greatly resemble Marybel's original pajamas. If you want a child to be able to play with these I also made a satin slip and panties which could be used as baby doll pajamas:

Marybel's underwear, which could be used as pajamas.
I made a robe from the same satin. It has very lovely details, such as inset lace waistband with tucks and abalone buttons. Marybel originally wore a pink hair ribbon but I thought this creamy butter color went better with her hair and eyes. I gave her a brace made of an old Ace bandage. This can be worn on the arm or leg, as here. You might prefer the arm since I don't have any crutches. You can get doll crutches and casts and stuff from American Girl, but they don't look vintage. I bet if you watched eBay long enough the original crutches and stuff might turn up!

A lot of girls would probably still enjoy pretending to care for  a doll. My daughter has been suggesting that SHE would like such a doll to care for, since she would like to be a doctor. I hard-hearted-ly told her she has plenty of dolls and a doctor coat so she can play with those! The original owner got a little carried away playing doctor and actually gave Marybel several shots using a real pin or needle! This resulted in a split and several holes in one arm and less serious holes in the other arm. To repair this I used my trusty acrylic modeling paste and painted over the repair. The paint is a good color match but a slightly different sheen, so it is visible but not too obvious.

The repaired arm.
I am not sure what material this doll's body is. It isn't hard plastic, and it's not rubber. It's like a really heavy, thick vinyl. She has a nice twist waist like a fashion doll. Her arms are a different material naturally. Doll companies did that all the time back then and now it's the bane of my existence because the different parts age and no longer match. I guess the doll companies weren't considering how the doll would look after 50-plus years! This doll's arms, which I think are a thin rubber, kept their color better than the rest of the body, which is a more yellow tone now. It isn't too obvious, but it's there. This doll was also very dirty and has a lot of dirt ingrained, even though I have washed her several times inside and out, with many different products. She has two faint red spots on her legs and one brown spot, like a bruise. I guess you could pretend these were cuts and bruises from her accident! I faded them a lot with 10% Clearasil, and you could probably completely remove them with continued application. As I mentioned in other entries, we have our house for sale, so having Clearasil-covered dolls lying in all the windows is not ideal! All things considered, the doll looks wonderful compared to her previous appearance!

Marybel had some hair plugs missing and some breakage, so I gave her a partial re-root using human hair. It matches really well, though it is straighter and lighter than the synthetic hair. If you comb through her hair looking you will notice it, but otherwise I don't think you will see it. Her original hair is wonderful. You can style it by curling it around your fingers and it will stay the way you arrange it.

When Marybel is well again she can go out wearing her new outfit. I made her a pretty Georgette dress in yellow with blue roses print. It has a fully-lined bodice, double-layered, bubble-hemmed skirt, extra-wide grosgrain sash, and all seams are finished with overlock stitching. She wears vintage socks and side-button patent-leather or pleather shoes.

I worked really hard to restore this doll to a state where she could be played with again as intended. I think that, apart from the pink heirloom pajamas, she and her clothes are sturdy enough to withstand play from a child age 3 and up. Of course, you can just display her too; she'd be a lovely addition! Just from watching vintage dolls, I would say this is one of the rarer Madame Alexander dolls. You don't see this Elise face very often...I think they only used it for a couple years, and you almost never find the brown eyes. This is another restoration that really challenged me, because I was not sure at first if the doll could even be repaired. I am happy I was able to "treat" her! My next projects in the pipeline are a couple of hard plastic Sweet Sues or possibly Margaret-faced Madames. But I am going to take a well-deserved spring break for Easter, so you won't hear from me for a week or so! Happy Easter to you all!


  1. Love your column. I have a Marybel with floppy legs. How did you restring your dolls legs. Do you use rubber bands or elastic. Did you restring it thru the hook at her waist. Any info you can give me would be appreciated. Is there a website I can go to for more info. in you cant inpart this.
    Thank you, Carol

  2. Thanks for reading! My Marybel was strung in a loop of elastic. The elastic ran through a hook in her head and then through her arm hooks and leg hooks. The head hook had a big elastic spring which had lost its give and was cutting her plastic neck, so I removed it and just ran the new cord through her head hook. You can buy doll stringing cord from, but if you are new to stringing I recommend using LindysLTD on eBay. If you search doll stringing elastic on eBay they will come up. You can email them the size and type of doll and they will send the proper cord WITH a diagram and instructions as well as extra hooks. Each kit is also inexpensive, under $10! They also sell Carol Lindberg's book on doll repair, which I also recommend. For your Marybel, you need to buy doll elastic cord (looks like small bungee cord) for a 15 inch doll. Run it through her head hook, then arm hook, then leg hook, other leg, other arm, and back to head in a circle. Do not twist the loop. Tie a knot and place it in the middle, not on any hook. Make sure the limbs are tight before cutting the ends and replacing the last leg in its socket. Good luck! Amanda


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.