I actually remember doll clothes before I really remember dolls.
I made my first doll clothes for a doll similar to this one which was made from my grandmother's empty thread spools. I still remember the sound and movement of Granny's feet back and forth, back and forth, as she worked at her treadle sewing machine while I played with scraps from her sewing basket.
The first real doll I remember came from Santa Claus when I was about four years old. She was a lage baby doll with a cloth body and composition head, arms, and legs and wore a yellow organdy dress and matching bonnet. She had beautiful blue eyes that opened and closed, and when I laid her down she said Mama. I named her Susan, probably because my grandmother's name was Susie. Of all the dolls I ever had, I loved her most.
I played with and carried that doll with me everywhere, including on a bus ride to Ft. Worth with my mother when I was about five, when one of my cousins was born. When we got home I discovered that I had left Susan on a downtown bus, and was so bereft that my mother made another bus trip to try to find her. Fortunately, someone had given Susan to the driver on that route, and she came home safely to my arms with no visible signs of her ordeal.
This is the only picture I can find of me with Susan, and my tiny Betsy Wetsy, whom I also loved and played with for years. This photo was taken in South Texas and I treasure it, for many reasons. That's my brother Mike, and my sister Kay with her doll is standing next to my baby sister Ann in the stroller. I was maybe eleven years old when this was made.
(This is the last picture of the four of us, with Mother, before my brother Mike was killed in an automobile accident in 1982. That's Ann next to Mike, me on the left, and my sister Kay on the right. They are all gone now, except for my memories and love for them.)
And back to dollmaking ....
It was popular when I was a very little girl for women to cover wooden boxes with batting and chintz to make little trunks. For years, I kept my dolls and their clothes in the colorful floral trunk that my mother made for me for my birthday.
My father's sister, Aunt Inez, was what was referred to in those days as a spinster, and used to spend about three months of the year with us. She was a very no-nonsense person and a bit sharp tongued, but we were great friends. I loved it when she came to visit because she made beautiful doll clothes for Susan by hand, and when I got the new Betsy Wetsy for Christmas one year, Aunt Inez made clothes for her, too.
Susan looked so HUGE after I got Betsy Wetsy, and I think I felt so much like a baby sitter at that time with my much younger brothers and sisters, that I put Susan aside for a while because she seemed TOO REAL somehow. She sat in a small red rocking chair in the corner of the bedroom next to the trunk. That new little doll had such an adorable face and came with several outfits. She was small enough that I could experiment making clothes for her, too. It seemed to me that Susan's eyes followed me reprovingly whenever I was near her red chair, and I felt a little guilty.
So, here I am with both dolls, trying to make it up to Susan, I suppose. lol
Aunt Inez made the dress Susan is wearing, and the sweater, cap and booties were real baby clothes! I can't tell from the photo whether Betsy Wetsy was wearing Aunt Inez clothes or not.
About a year after this picture was taken, we moved again, and as we were packing, my mother said of Susan, "Are you going to keep hauling that old doll around the rest of your life?" I remember thinking, Well, I guess I am getting too old for dolls, and left Susan on top of the trash can. I have never forgiven myself (or my mother, frankly) for that. We kept Betsy Wetsy, and when I married, it never occurred to me to take her with me, and my mother let my little sisters play with her. They weren't really doll people like I always was, so she was used more as a club or a stand-in for a football, than as a doll, and eventually destroyed, I suppose. One little dress for Betsy Wetsy that Aunt Inez made survived, and I do have it. Its pink dotted swiss is a bit faded, but still in good shape otherwise.
I always said that if I ever found another Susan, I would buy her, regardless of price, and I always look at doll shows.
In the 60s I made doll clothes for my daughter, staying up half the night after everyone was asleep so that she would not know that the clothes for her new doll from Santa (it may have been a Betsy Wetsy, too) were made by Mama.
During that same period a friend of mine, Josie, had a booth at the local bazaars where she sold refurbished dolls, donating all the proceeds to a charity for crippled children. She collected old dolls all year which she repaired, restrung, repainted, and rewigged. When she saw the doll clothes I had made for my daughter, she asked if I would be interested in dressing dolls for a charitable cause. Sure, I said; I love dressing dolls.
I had a great time for the next couple of years, discovering the personalities of each "new" doll she brought me throughout the year, and quite happily made underwear, dresses, coats, hats and accessories to outfit each one. Our collaboration was a big success, and people stood in line to get to our booth. I only wish I had pictures of all those dolls we brought back to life. However, for various reasons, including my college classes, I was no longer able to participate, and she decided it was too difficult to continue such a large undertaking all by herself and worked with dolls only on a limited scale after that.
In the 80s, I discovered the wonderful world of miniature dolls when Beth Lane, a professional dollmaker living in La Luz, NM at that time, joined our miniature club. She gave workshops all across the country, and the first miniature doll I ever made was in one of her classes.
Here I am with another club member, Pat Jones, listening intently as Beth instructs us.
Over twenty years later, it was Beth who called me about a sculpting class with Marilyn Huston for larger dolls. You can read all about that workshop and my Green Man here. That's Marilyn on the far right, but unfortunately, I don't recall the name of the other woman who is in this photo; I think it was something like Tita.
My next miniature doll making after many years was with my friend Tayna, who helped set up this website for me. In those days before she got so busy, it was great fun getting together to play, and Tayna became quite an accomplished mini dollmaker and developed her own mini fabrics business. Her daughter Talisa is very talented, and sculpts delightful character dolls of her own.
Tayna and I made several trips to Beth's home in Tularosa, NM, for play days. And it was there that we first met Dana Burton, of the MiniDolls List. From left, this is Beth, Dana (not to be confused with my daughter Dana), Tayna and Mary Coss at one of Dana's workshops.
Dana Burton's innovative techniques for costuming and draping dolls have helped me bring the characters into my stories as close to people as I can get them to this point.
And with Beth is Cheryl Polito, who also came for play days and workshops.
Beth loved entertaining and could host a two day workshop - figuring out how to sleep a whole houseful and feeding more people than I see in a month - without seeming to work at it. The turkeys she and her husband Don smoked in their giant cooker were legendary. During one weekend she managed to prepare an entire Thanksgiving-without-its-being-Thanksgiving turkey dinner, while still making a doll, too! Unfortunately, those fun play days at Beth's are gone; she passed away in 2007 after a long, courageous battle with cancer. She was a very good friend and I miss her greatly.
And to this list I can now add my friend professional miniaturist Alice Zinn (iamazin) who taught me her unique way of assembling dolls at the Chicago International in 2009, and has for years shared her insights, techniques and awesome knowledge freely with the entire miniatures world. Here we are in 2002.
And here we are in 2010. Alice doesn't change, but what a change for me since I quit putting a rinse on my hair!
From my grandmother to Aunt Inez to Josie to these modern day dollmakers - Beth Lane, Marilyn Huston, Tayna Miranda, Dana Burton and Alice Zinn - I have been profoundly blessed, and feel privileged that they have all been my friends, as well.