Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wishing Wendy Well: How to Repair Crazed Composition Dolls

Pretty Wendy Ann from 1936
A couple weeks ago I was lucky enough to come across one of the nicest dolls I've seen for a while. The original owner, liquidating her mother's estate, believed this to be a Madame Alexander Wendy Ann. The doll is not marked, but I am inclined to believe it is a Madame Alexander. My Madame Alexander doll book shows what appears to be the same 11-inch unmarked Wendy Ann, this time with a hairstyle of big curls, "tied at the ends", whatever that means. Even if this isn't the exact Wendy Ann variation, now I have proof Madame Alexander did indeed make an unmarked 11 inch Wendy Ann in 1936.

Here is a photo of Madame Alexander's unmarked 11-inch doll.
This doll has what I believe is a human hair wig which was mostly brushed out of its set, but around her hairline a couple big curls remained from her original style.

The doll's wig retained part of the original set.

I curled the rest of the wig into big curls, but I didn't attempt to "tie" the ends, since I don't know what that means and I couldn't tell from the photo. The wig had come unglued slightly in the back and had some hair loss, but I was able, with the help of a great deal of hairspray and a few tiny hairpins, to set it in a sweet stacked curly bob. The stitching on this wig is different than a Saran wig, and it doesn't style with heat as firmly. It certainly isn't mohair, so based on the age I determined it is probably human hair.

The wig stitching is different than Saran or floss wigs.
Besides needing a hair style, Wendy Ann had to visit my doll "spa" for some crazed composition repair. Her body and face were crazed overall with a serious chip on her foot.

A serious chip, exposing the wood pulp.

Crazed composition isn't really a terrible thing as far as value, but if you don't repair it the finish will start to chip away. This exposes the composition medium, sawdust mixed with glue, and makes the doll vulnerable to decay. Moisture and mold can get in there and expand the wood, causing the doll to break apart. So, if the crazing hasn't widened too much you can go ahead and seal it.

The doll had all-over crazing.
I am not talking about hiding the crazing with the commercial polishes you can purchase, but actually fixing it. First, repair any chips which expose the composition medium or any places where a piece has broken off, like where a finger has come off. I used hard plastic epoxy for this.

The foot, repaired with epoxy.

The foot after re-painting

When the epoxy is dry, sand it down. Now you can repair the crazing. Using a makeup sponge or your fingers, rub a very light layer of flesh-colored oil-based paint over the body. Do one section at a time, like the torso, or a leg. Don't let the paint dry like this. Rub it in well so it fills the composition cracks and then buff the surface with a clean white paper towel. This will remove the paint from the surface, leaving it in the cracks. When you have finished, the crazing will still be slightly visible, but much less than previously.

Rub on a thin layer of oil paint

Buff with paper towels.
When you are working over the face, take care to keep the layer thin so you won't cover the face paint. Buff lightly so you don't remove the original paint. This doll's eyebrows had mostly rubbed away before the treatment, so I painted them back on, following the very faint original brow line, after the crazing treatment had dried. After the crazing layer dries, go back and paint a thicker layer over any larger white spots or chips.

Paint rubs can be fixed after the crazing is repaired.
Re-painted rubs
When this has dried, seal the paint, if desired, with a gloss sealant. The original composition is very shiny, so I like to use a gloss varnish to return the doll to its original glory.

Afterward, the crazing is much less visible.

Wendy had some broken eyelashes on one eye when she arrived. I replaced these, by gluing a small section of lashes over the break. This is slightly visible. I had black or blond lashes, not the light brown to match exactly, and I wasn't able to get the original lash stumps out of the channel to insert new lashes, so I had to go on top of the originals. To match the color more exactly I colored the lashes with a bronze Sharpie. If you look close you can see the new lashes, but on general inspection they aren't noticeable, and it looks better than having a big chunk of lash missing!

The doll with repainted eyebrows and partially replaced lashes.

Wendy needed re-stringing, and then she was finished. I strung her as tight as I dared. The composition around her hip sockets had some rubbing and a little place where it was starting to chip. so I was scared to get her too tight and chip the finish even more, or break the old limbs. She is tight enough to stand alone and poses well.

Wendy Ann after repairs


Wendy Ann came to me in her birthday suit. I was hoping the clothes from some other 11 to 12 inch Madames I have in the store might fit her, but the later dolls are a lot chubbier than this doll. I was thinking I'd probably have to draw a custom pattern up for her, because nothing was working. Then, a 1950s Cissette I ordered came wearing a very old dress that was too large for her. On a whim I tried it on Wendy Ann and it's a perfect fit! I think this dress was certainly made to fit this doll. I don't know whether it was seamstress made or commercial, but the workmanship is exquisite. The dress is satin with a lace overlay. It has a bloused bodice that drapes beautifully over the attached satin ribbon sash and has an attached glass pearl necklace. All the seams are finished with hand stitching. The slip is stiff buckram trimmed with lace, again, all hand finished. The lace and satin on the dress are very fragile and the lace had several large tears. I repaired these the best I could. This is not noticeable when the doll is on display, but you will see it upon close inspection.

The dress needed some repairs.
The Cissette also came in a cotton or linen chemise teddy, but it was too deteriorated to save. Instead, I gave Wendy a pair of satin panties from my vintage doll clothing stash. These are commercially-made, probably 1950s. I also had a pair of old rayon socks and new-old-stock vintage faux leather side-snap shoes that fit her perfectly. The Cissette had a long ribbon just thrown in the box with her, and I think it makes an adorable oversized hair ribbon for Wendy Ann. I pinned it in with a doll bobby pin.

In the end, this doll turned out very well. She looks lovely in my cabinet. Her head has a tendency to tilt forward and to the side, which gives her an adorable, and very lifelike expression. She is typical of the 1930s style dolls as popularized by Lenci, with a pouty toddler demeanor. She even has the rosebud mouth with two red dots for nostrils like the Lencis, but recreated in composition. I have to say, I have had an affair with the 1950s dolls for about a year now, but the 1920s and 1930s are my true love. Their darling little faces, their mohair or human hair wigs, the soft felt or shiny composition complexions, all tug at my heart and they look to me like the dolls in old story books and movies, the way a doll should look!

I don't really want to sell Wendy Ann, but I probably will end up listing her. Sometimes I have to be strict with myself and remind myself we don't really have room for a permanent doll collection. You can find my store here: http://stores.ebay.com/atelier-mandaline.

Besides, there are so many more dolls to work on, and I tend to lose interest once a doll is finished. If my daughter could play with her it would be one thing, but while this doll might stand up to some play, the dress certainly won't. My daughter is really interested in Wendy Ann, though. She makes every excuse to pick her up and look at her and tell me how pretty she is. I had some trouble getting her finished with all the coddling she was receiving!

In other news, I promised to keep posting photos of the dining room re-do. Here is the sideboard moved into the house with some of the chairs. We are halfway finished now. Work is going to stop for a while, however, because we have to get the house ready for my mother in law to visit.

The dining room suite is halfway done.
One becomes very popular when living at the lake, it seems. We barely have time to clean up from one set of visitors before the next arrives. It's good to see everyone, though, since the kids' schedules make it hard to get back home very often. And in this case I'm not complaining, since my mother in law will be watching our kids for almost a week while Jerry and I go to New Orleans. We haven't been on a vacation longer than a day or two without kids since 2009, so I'm looking forward to it! Technically, Jerry will be at work during the day since I am tagging along on a business trip, but we will have fun at night. We are going to a dinner party as well, so I get to dress up!

In the garden I'm trying a new idea. The peat pot tops were doing well to protect the plants that got one. Those plants are larger than the others. They were still getting some nibbles, though, and some of the plants that didn't get one, since I didn't have enough, were almost entirely eaten. I sprayed bug spray, but it only works for a short time. I was going to order floating row covers, but I decided to try cheaper shower caps. These have elastic to draw the cap in around the stem and can expand as the plant grows. You can also use the elastic to pull the cap partially aside if you want to give the plant some air. This will not work for plants that need pollination, like tomatoes, or plants that grow really large like rhubarb, but I'm hoping they will protect my cabbages and cauliflower and such. It is still rather hot and dry, so I will probably have to take these off at noon so the plants aren't fried. We will see if this is a good solution. They are so much cheaper and easier to apply than row covers!

We are trying plastic shower caps as row covers.

Cabbages with shower caps.

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