Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cissy Sophisticate


Madame Alexander Cissy doll after restoration.

I do apologize to my eBay viewers and those who read my So Many Dolls post who've been waiting for this post. I've been busy, busy lately with work. That's a good thing, so I'm not complaining! Here, finally, is Cissy restored in all her glory.

I love dolls, in large part, because I love history, and dolls are an enormous help in understanding the past. In particular, they are a wonderful window into the history of women, so under-documented and taught. With only a few exceptions, women have historically been the big players in the doll world. They design the products, they run the corporations, and so you can understand their lives so easily when you view their work. Madame Alexander is probably America's most famous doll entrepreneur, for good reason. "Madame" Beatrice Alexander built her father's small doll repair shop into an empire, using the misfortune of World War I to her advantage. When bombs destroyed the bisque doll parts stock her father had imported from Germany and France she began making and selling her own cloth dolls. In time she became famous and powerful enough to command the attention of large corporations like DuPont, and she was able to persuade them to allow her to experiment with new materials for her dolls.

Cissy's face after repainting.

I've read Cissy was modeled after Beatrice herself. I love vintage Cissy's face. She seems so aware of her own importance and fabulousness. I always think of the girl in the Jet song who's "so sweet, with her get back stare"! Cissy should feel important. She's an icon among dolls. She's the very first fashion doll marketed to young girls. Without Cissy there would be no Barbie, no Bratz, no LIV dolls, and on and on. Before Cissy girls were given dolls that resembled babies or children to care for or dolls representing other ethnicities to encourage education. Lenci and other companies did make many lady dolls in fabulous and fashionable dresses, but these were marketed to adult women as home decor to "decorate the corner of your limousine" or to place on the bed (thus their descriptive term, "boudoir" dolls).  I have seen one Lenci ad which promoted their dolls as a means to encourage "artistic tendencies" in one's children, but it doesn't advise mothers to encourage the child to think of herself as an adult.

The "Alexander" mark.
Beatrice Alexander took a lot of abuse over Cissy, who was both controversial and sought after right from the start. I think Beatrice saw, however, the real need for girls to imagine themselves as something other than mothers and homemakers. Cissy provides that model. Maybe she is or will become a mother, but she is most importantly herself first, with her own hopes and dreams. And of course she has her own fabulous wardrobe!

This particular Cissy was obviously used as intended; as a child's toy. I am always happy to see a doll who was well played-with and loved. I don't like to see them abused, as with the next Cissy I will restore, who was obviously desecrated on purpose, but I think nothing is more sad than to see one of these gorgeous dolls never removed from the box. Never loved or played with, decaying over the decades, like the Revlon doll in my Revlon-ution post...it's a shame.

Cissy before repair.

When I got Cissy she had several needs. Her thigh had split and someone tried to fix it with packing tape. Her stringing was loose. Her wig had lost quite a bit of its hair, and her face had darkened. This Cissy is a later model doll. I've read on one expert's blog that this doll was only produced from 1960-61, but I've also seen this doll on eBay dated from 1958. At any rate, she was last Cissy produced before Alexander changed to the "Jacqueline" face modeled after Jackie Kennedy.

Someone tried to fix the leg with packing tape.

The body is still hard plastic and the arms are vinyl, but they are a different, harder type of vinyl and are not jointed. The face is often described as "vinyl", but it isn't, or at least it isn't vinyl as we think of it today. It is very hard, and more translucent than the original painted, hard plastic Cissy face. This face is very prone to yellowing with age. The paint color is "infused" in this face, also, so it is tricky to re-paint.

The infused face is prone to yellowing.

Note the difference between the earlier painted face Cissy and the infused face.
I've devised a method to clean and re-paint these faces. It isn't perfect, but it ends up working quite well. First, to remove the yellowing, I clean the face with a Mr. Clean Eraser. You will see a huge difference after a while in the color. The trouble with this is that even though the color is infused, the top layer of paint, like eyebrows and eyelashes, will come off. Usually, these dolls are largely missing them anyway, but in the infused face a shadow of the paint will remain under the surface. After the face is clean, wash it with dish soap and rinse thoroughly to prepare it for painting.

Painting the face.
The infused face doesn't accept paint well. I've experimented with both oils and acrylics. They sit on the surface and don't adhere, so even dry oil paint can often be rubbed off with a Q-Tip. To combat this I use pure oil paint with no added mediums. On a regular painted-face Cissy, for example, I will usually mix the oil paint with Gel or other medium to make it more transparent for cheek blush and eyebrows. In the case of the infused plastic face I use a method more like staining wood. I rub the pure pigment on where I'd like the cheek to be blushed and let it sit for a bit to sink in. Then I rub it off with a makeup sponge and repeat the process until I have the color where I'd like it. For eyebrows and eyelashes I use pure burnt umber mixed with flesh color to give the paint a more transparent look and paint it on with a tiny brush. I let it dry for a long time and when it's dry I seal the face with gloss varnish. You can still see a slight shadow under the brows where the plastic was infused with color, but I don't find it unattractive. I just paint the new brows a bit thinner than the originals to compensate. I've heard you can use water colors and then seal them with varnish but I haven't tried that.

To repair the split in the leg I apply Kwik Plastic epoxy. When it's dry I sand and paint it with oil paint. This knee had the spring removed. The knee probably split in the first place because of a stiff spring. I restrung the knee with cord more loosely than the rest of the body to protect it from splitting again.

The knee is repaired with epoxy.


After sanding and painting the repair is not very visible.

After the doll was re-painted and re-strung I turned my attention to her wig. She had quite a bit of hair loss and breakage and her wig was coming unglued along the edges of her face. I was worried at first that I might need to sew in an extra layer of hair. I found, however, I was able to style it to hide the wig cap.

The hair before re-styling. You can also see how yellow the head was before cleaning.

When styling saran hair, first, I comb out the hair using a wire wig brush. I wash the hair in a mix of fabric softener and water and rinse it out. Then I apply a little more to any dry areas as a leave-in treatment. I then roll the hair on tiny perm rods using endpapers, just like I'm giving the doll a perm. I set the curls by pouring very hot, almost boiling water, over the curls, being very careful to avoid the face and eyes. I let the hair dry on the rods for 24 hours at least before I unroll them. Then I sew the hair in place to the wig cap if necessary, and pin the longer curls into place. You can see in the photo above how the hair was originally sewn into place. Sewing, rather than using elastic bands, gives the hair the proper vintage look. I spray the hair with Mink hairspray to set the style and make the hair shiny.

The hair after re-styling.

Now that the doll is completely restored she can hold many poses. She can sit and can stand alone with careful balancing when she is wearing high heels. I do recommend using a stand, however, since the old plastic is fragile and the repaired knee is loosely strung.

The restored doll can sit.


She can stand alone with careful balancing.


When the doll is finished I can dress her. That's the best part! For this doll I was able to purchase a slightly younger dress that went to the Goya Jacqueline face Cissy. It's in nearly perfect condition. I also have several accessories in my doll "stash".

The tagged "Goya" gown is perfect other than a bit of fraying at the edges of the ribbons.

Cissy wears lots of lovely jewels.

The gown is tagged.

I buy lots of dolls clothes and accessories and save them for the perfect doll. In this case, I had a box of untagged Cissy items, from which I took the nylons, shoes, and necklace and earrings. Then, I had another box of accessories that had been made for Cissy and were available only at a breakfast during the 1999 Madame Alexander convention at Disney World. From that box I took the hair ornament, which can also be pinned to clothing with two stick pins or strung on a chain as a pendant. I also took the ruby ring from that set. The fan was something I had purchased in a vintage fashion doll lot a while back.

The Cissy accessory box I split between vintage and modern Cissy dolls.

This ornament can be used several ways.

I made a crinoline for Cissy using three full yards of tulle and vintage pink lace. In places the lace has yellowed from age, but I think this makes it look appropriate the the age of the doll. The slip helps the gown stand out, but it is short enough to use under a day dress as well.

Cissy's handmade crinoline.
Now that Cissy and Revlon and my Betsys are finished I have been mostly working around the house today. I did have a case of Target withdrawal last week. We went from having two Targets in town about 5 minutes away to not having one at all. Now I have to drive 30 minutes each way to shop there. I was lucky to find lots of endcap clearance sales while I was there, so my store has lots of modern toy inventory in addition to these vintage dolls. Check it out at: http://stores.ebay.com/atelier-mandaline.

Jerry helped me out with a novel solution to a problem I've been having in the garden. I mentioned in the last post, I think, that the seeds we planted didn't come up, though the bulbs and roots had. I thought the seeds were too old, but it could also be the work of a very adipose robin who hangs around in the garden all the time. This robin has some attitude, too. You can go out there and yell at him and he just gives you a baleful glance and goes on his way. He might have eaten the seeds. Well, besides our fat robin, we had a squirrel in the garden digging up the onions and garlic. I didn't know what to do about that, but Jerry suggested a "scarecrow" of sorts.

The day we moved into the house back in November our youngest was scared to go in the yard because he said "something is sleeping out there". "Something" turned out to be an abandoned garden gnome lying under a tree. We laughed about it and propped it back up under the tree and told him it was fine, but he still wouldn't go to that part of the yard. Well, a few weeks ago I saw out of the corner of my eye what I thought was a man in our yard! It scared me to death until I really looked and saw it was just the gnome. It had appeared so much larger, though, and as if it were moving! There's definitely something creepy about it! But, we've moved it and another gnome we found to the garden and that squirrel stays away now! It doesn't work on the robin, though. He just doesn't care! Luckily, now that we explained how the gnomes are helping keep the squirrel away, our son isn't so scared of them.


Our garden with its guardian gnomes.

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