Diary of a Mad Dollmaker

Mimi's Weblog – Let's Talk About Dollmaking

My Sister Made Me Do It! – Chapter 2: Down the Shore

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GO DOLLY DIRT!

My Sister Made Me Do It!

A Memoir of My 30 year Journey to Becoming a Doll Artist

Chapter -2:  Down the Shore

We lived in a Bed+Bath. My Jim helped my cousin Mary’s Jim build a 2-room extension out of their garage so we could live there. My Jim may be the only Jewish husband who knows how to use tools. He did all the electrical work (to code) and learned how to sheet rock, etc.

My Jim got a short-term contract in Washington, D.C., and commuted on the weekends. I kept house and cooked for Mary who worked very long hours and had three daughters, one tween and two teens. Chrisi (had disappeared from New York and gone back to live with her mother.

We did not own a car in the city. It cost as much to park as for a small apartment. Jim rented a car and drove to D.C. every Monday morning and back every Friday evening.

I became a housekeeper for 6 months, and Mary and her Jim and me and my Jim are still good friends. After 6 months, we found a rental in a condo development. We were “cliff dwellers” from New York, and were comfortable in a 2-bedroom, 1-bath apartment, the size of my studio apartment before I met Jim.

A few weeks after moving into the apartment, Jim found work locally and we each got a used car. I found a couple of private art teachers for more painting – mostly florals, landscapes, and seascapes. I was still interested in surface design on fabric. But I was still painting on canvas boards and lots of drawing pads – and not much fabric. I had no space to work.

I have cousins in Atlanta, as well as my sister and her family. Bobbie had often come to the City to visit me, but I had not been to Atlanta for a long time. I flew down to visit my family.

Bobbie drove us out to my cousin’s house in Stone Mountain, GA. I knew Diane was a doll collector. She had dozens of large baby dolls. Bobbie loved a big cloth doll that Diane had bought at the gift shop called “The Cabbage Patch” at a tiny antique maternity in Stone Mountain. Diane began to make the bodies for these dolls in spare time (she was a banker),

Seems a fella named Xavier Roberts had started a cottage industry with ladies in the area making the dolls, and he had purchased an old, but small, maternity hospital once called the “Lying-In Hospital” and now the nursery became the show room. Each doll had to be adopted with official paperwork and certificates. This was the beginning of the “Cabbage Patch Dolls.” They still had cloth heads. Within two years, they were showing up in Point Pleasant and everywhere else with plastic heads and cloth bodies.

As we were driving away from Diane’s house, Bobbie asked how I liked Diane’s dolls.

I said: “They’re fine. A few are quite beautiful and may be valuable, but I was not really impressed. I hated the Cabbage Patch dolls ugly faces and can’t believe she paid $50 for a 25-inch cloth doll with an ugly face.”

So Bobbie asked if I wanted to visit a craft store. I got excited! There wasn’t even a craft store in New York City except the top floor of Pearl Paint – a decrepit building on Canal Street with a construction elevator with one wall up to the 5th floor craft department.

She took a giddy me to a very large craft store which a few years later was part of a chain of shops bought by Michael’s. I was in heaven.

Bobbie asked me if I would make her a doll. I was surprised. I let her know that I knew nothing about dollmaking, less about shoe-making, wigging, and all the stuff required to make a doll. She insisted: “You can do anything. You have been sewing most of your life!” She marched me over to a table showing a couple of sample large dolls of cloth and some pattern books called Foster Kids designed by Esther Lee Foster packaged with a yard of double-knit polyester fabric called “Southern Comfort.”

Of course, the bourbon folks got upset and made them change the name. Since it was made by Windsor Mills, it became Windsor Comfort. Windsor also made Ponte (a heavier) double-knit fabric. Both knit fabrics were made for undergarments for “Plain People” aka Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish, etc. There was a limited choice of color.

Anyway, Bobbie started it all by insisting I make her a boy doll with red hair and freckles. I had to! She phoned several times a week until I started one to shut her up!

Well, he was not beautiful. I kept making several more – boys and girls – not sexed, just dressed genderly! Bobbie got the third one. I kept the first one and dated him and hid him in the closet for years. I learned a lot. Not to pull stitches too tight was very important.

Jim came home from work one day and the dolls were all over the place. I was having so much fun! He asked: “What are you going to do with these?”

I said: “I haven’t a clue – maybe give them to family members for Christmas.” This was mid-November 1983.

He asked: “Have you any idea how much money you are spending at Cloth World? – and mail order from Foster?”

I said meekly: “Not a clue.” (I knew I was in trouble.)

He marched down to the local firehouse and got me a table at the upcoming craft show the day after Thanksgiving. Since the indoor space in the firehouse was sold out, he also bought me a set of long warm ski underwear to keep me warm as I sold dolls outdoors in 25 degree (F) weather. By this time, I was combining Esther Lee’s head with a baby doll pattern by Tiny Tots. Still not making original dolls, but they were nice 25” and 28” baby dolls and toddlers. Jim priced them at $65 and took orders to customize them by sex, hair and eye color, and clothing style.

We got over 50 orders that cold day. Now we had a problem! We had to deliver before Christmas Eve! We took 50% on order and the rest on delivery to pay for supplies. I sewed and stuffed and finished the dolls. My daughter Cathie, a stay at home mom, made the clothing to my patterns. We purchased baby shoes wholesale. Jim used his drill press to make a yarn winder to wrap yarn around a wood frame. The frame fit under the sewing machine needle to sew wefts of yarn for hair.

All of the dolls were delivered before 10pm Christmas Eve. All the 15 or so samples went to the family for Christmas. I learned to love being a dollmaker.

Continued next week – Chapter 3: My First Original Pattern

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Thursday, February 28, 2013 - Posted by | Diary, Memoir | ,

3 Comments »

  1. Dear Mimi,
    Just a note about Xavier Roberts’ dolls. I moved (and severly downsized) about a year ago. I may still have the booklet to prove what I am about to tell you. If I remember correctly, if you followed the instructons in Mr. Roberts instruction book, the dolls would all have had six fingers.
    I have to laugh to myself. It’s the sort of thing a man might do. Five fingers, ergo five stitching lines. I made and sold a bunch of these dolls – although mine had five fingers.
    I believe I still have one, dressed as a ballerina. And I have a preemie with a pacifier in it’s mouth and wearing a hand knit gown and bonnet. Gosh that was a long time ago.
    Marge Daboll

    Comment by Marge Daboll | Thursday, February 28, 2013 | Reply

  2. Hi Mimi – I’m enjoying your journey and looking forward to reading more. Love Bronwyn

    Comment by Bronwyn McDougall | Thursday, February 28, 2013 | Reply

  3. Hello, Mimi. I am so glad you thought of putting your memoirs in print (so to speak) like this.

    Reading this section of them took me back to my early days of dollmaking (also in the early 1980’s). Although it was just a small pastime for me since I was in college, working full time and just married, many of the things you said brought back long-forgotten memoirs. I have one of Xavier Roberts’ pattern books (the one with him and a tuxed bear on the front). I also believe I remember a pattern book for Foster Children as well.

    I think I can speak for everyone when I say “Thank goodness Bobbie was a pest!” and kept pushing yo to make that first doll.

    I look forward to the next installment.

    Comment by Sandra Bejster | Friday, March 1, 2013 | Reply


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