Do you ever look back …

Do you ever look back at something you did and ask yourself “What the hell was I thinking?”

That’s how I feel about the last six months.

In September 2019 I suddenly had a whim to start making doll’s clothes again. They were among the first things I ever sewed, way back when I was small, but I hadn’t made anything for about thirty years. It’s also something I wanted to practise so that by the time I move to Tasmania with my cousins we could have an occasional handcrafts stall with doll clothes as one of the items (along with the usual decorated towels, napkins, aprons, tea cosies etc etc).

The dolls I had made clothes for all those years ago were the ones I had had since childhood: Sandra and Julie.

Little Beauty doll - Sandra
Little Beauty doll – Sandra

Sandra is a Little Beauty doll that my parents gave to me for Christmas when I was seven. I always thought she was 45 cm (18″) but she’s actually 42 cm (16½”) and very slim, with a slightly shaped waist. She has a hard vinyl body and legs, and slightly softer head and arms. Her hair is rooted and, as you can see, is in a typical 1960s style. No matter how many other dolls I acquire, she will always be my favourite. And yes, she does need a bit of a clean-up but she’s in very good condition for her age.

Julie - unknown brand
Julie – unknown brand

A few years later my grandmother gave me Julie, a 22″ doll, which she had obtained from a neighbour of hers whose daughter had grown up. Julie came with a set of homemade knitted clothes that were probably done by the neighbour. I don’t know what brand she is — I’ve seen similar dolls from time to time but never found one exactly the same, and I doubt she’s a bona fide collectible. Superficially she looks like a German porcelain or bisque doll, but she was made in England and feels more like Bakelite (a precursor to plastic, used extensively for telephones, appliances and toys in the early to mid-20th century). She used to say “mama” when she lay down but the voice box stopped working a long time ago and may have broken off as there is definitely something loose inside her body. Her hair is wigged rather than rooted, and is quite sparse and very coarse. When I got her, around 1973, she came with a feather cut which I didn’t like so I cut it shorter (if you don’t know what a feather cut is, it’s like a mullet for girls only more layered). She used to have teeth, but they’ve gone, too, and she has a crack in one hip. One of these days I’m going to take her up to the Doll Hospital in Sydney and see if they can restore her a little bit.

Given that today’s “standard” doll is 18″ / 45 cm, I knew that neither of them would do as a model, so I looked at several 18″ dolls on the market today. At first I was very sensible: I bought one each of the dolls that are available in local shops: Positively Perfect, My Sweet Friend, Design-A-Friend, Our Generation and Soy Tu. Of these, only the Soy Tu by Paola Reina was more than $40 — she was $125 (and, as it turns out, she’s only 42 cm in height so instead of being a clothes-for-sale model she’ll stay home as a sister for Sandra). I decided not to buy an Australian Girl or Florrie doll as they were $150 each plus shipping and I thought that was far too much to spend on a doll.

I had heard of American Girl dolls, of course, but I knew they were also expensive and not sold in Australia so at first I didn’t even think about buying one new. After watching some YouTube videos on washing doll hair and bodies, I found that there was a thriving second-hand market on ebay and, after a couple of weeks’ browsing to get a feel for the conditions and prices, I found a Truly Me #22 in reasonable condition with an opening bid of USD 16.

While waiting for the auction to end (six days; I eventually won her at USD 22.50), I kept on browsing and discovered Marie-Grace. Although she wasn’t new she was in pretty good condition, with her braids intact and dressed in her meet outfit and accessories, so I bought her for USD 85 (with postage and import duty it came to AUD202).

Then I saw a #25 and thought, “She will make a wonderful contrast to the #22 — like Snow White and Rose Red”. So I bought her as well. And then there was a Samantha …

This is where the madness starts. I have no way to explain it other than “I went into a shopping frenzy”. I found more dolls available on ebay and Amazon so I bought more dolls … lots more dolls. I’ve always been an archivist / completist, so it was easy to justify getting one each of all the available 18″ dolls (Journey Girls, Kindred Hearts, Sophia’s, etc etc). Within the American Girl range that compulsion extended to one of each mould, and then one of each skintone in each mould, then all the historical dolls. Over the next four months I bought 63 more American Girl dolls and 18 more non-AG dolls, including the previously too-expensive Australian Girl and Florrie. I spent about $6000. I didn’t bankrupt myself or go into credit card debt (thank goodness) but I definitely spent far more on shipping and import duties than I want to think about.

I have 90 dolls now.

Ninety dolls.

Seriously, what the hell was I thinking?

I don’t need ninety dolls. Of course I don’t.

Over the next year or two I’ll work on reselling some of the dolls and the outifts that came with them. Some dolls need hair washing and skin cleaning; some clothing needs repair. Given the current quarantine I’ll wait until much later in the year to start putting them up for sale (not that anyone will have much money for buying by then). A few may go to Christmas charity drives if non-new items are acceptable, though I suspect not. I’m not going to try to make a profit, far from it, but recouping even a quarter of the outlay would be great.