Sunday, December 28, 2008

Vintage doll furniture from my mom's childhood

When my husband and I visited my parents on Christmas Eve, my mom gave me a very special present: her doll furniture from when she was a child.

When I was a kid, my mom would occasionally allow me and my sister to play with her childhood dolls — including this doll furniture. I remember loving that the doll's dresser looked a lot like the one I had when I was growing up (which, incidentally, was my mom's when she was a kid).

The furniture set includes a matching dresser and washstand, a table and two matching chairs (one of them a rocking chair), and a bed. I think they are possibly from the 19th century, since the dresser is very Victorian, washstands haven't been used since indoor plumbing became common, and the painted style is similar to Pennsylvania Dutch.

My mom's childhood doll furniture

My mom's childhood doll furniture

My mom's childhood doll furniture

My mom's childhood doll furniture

The height of the dresser, washstand, table, and chairs are all about right for the 10 ½ inch fashion dolls and the 8 inch toddler dolls, if you figure that the latter are supposed to be children and therefore kind of small for the furniture. The bed is a little too big but will do, though I'll have to make a mattress for it.

I am planning on using them to stage some photos. Now all I need to do is come up with something for a background...

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Mattel's lawsuit against Bratz

While I was searching online for other Bratz stuff I could use as props for my dolls, I was reminded of the lawsuit that Mattel recently won against Bratz. Not only was Mattel awarded $100 million, MGM also has to discontinue Bratz after the holiday season.

I have serious issues with the outcome of this lawsuit. It was based ostensibly on the fact that the creator of Bratz, Carter Bryant, worked for Mattel (Barbie) when he came up with the idea... But we know the real reason for the lawsuit is because Bratz were causing Barbie's popularity to slip.

So what are we saying here? That when you work for a company, they own every creative idea you have while on their payroll? As a freelance writer, I believe wholeheartedly in a person's rights to their intellectual property, so to me this sounds like intellectual slavery.

And in any case, what entitles Mattel to total domination of the toy market?

I think a company's business practices have a lot of impact on how people — parents especially — view their toys. Mattel has pretty much sealed their fate: My kids will never own a single Barbie!

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bratz World house sets make great photography props

Last night, while I was shopping for Christmas presents for the kids I babysit for, I ran across the perfect props for my small fashion dolls: the Bratz World House Bath Set. The set includes a claw foot tub, a mirror, a coat tree (for hanging towels and robes on, I guess), a few little bottles, a towel, a washcloth, and a pair of fuzzy slippers — all the perfect size for small 1950s fashion dolls!

At the last doll show I bought a Toni. She's in good shape but needs a cleaning and restringing. I think she'll be the first one to try out the new bathroom set... Stay tuned for pictures!

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Props for doll photography

This is an area where I'm still learning, but I still have some ideas to share for finding props for doll photography.

Obviously there is plenty of doll-sized furniture to be had. My mom has some of her childhood doll furniture from the 1950s, and I plan to use it as props in some of my shots. Nowadays there are all kinds of other things you can get, though, from Re-Ment rooms (little display rooms that you can decorate and furnish yourself) and Re-Ment miniature food, to every little accessory you can think of.

I personally like the free or homemade kind of prop, because I spend enough on my dolls that I don't really have much money to spend on accessories too. One source of props that I've found for bigger dolls (such as 16-inch Madame Alexander Elise) are gift card wrappings. For instance, this year Whole Foods has a miniature paper shopping bag for putting gift cards in, and a few years back Old Chicago had miniature cardboard pizza boxes. You can see both of these used as props in my last post.

Homemade props are good, too. See the bed in the last picture of my last post? I made the quilt and pillow for that bed (it had a really ugly quilt on it originally), and I plan to also make a dust ruffle and mattress for it. I've been recycling old clothese for these projects: the quilt and pillow are made out of old flannel pajama pants that ripped at the waist, and I'm planning to use a white eyelet lace blouse (also damaged) for the dust ruffle. A couple of my husband's old white T-shirts will probably be sacrificed for the mattress.

I've also been scouring free sources such as Freecycle.org for things I can use as props. Just the other day I got an 18-inch Christmas tree, which I will use for holiday photos with my bigger dolls. I'm also looking for things such as wallpaper, which I can use to create realistic-looking backgrounds for my dolls.

Like I said, I'm pretty new at this prop thing, but I'm getting some great ideas from other doll collectors and from my own imagination. I'd love to hear suggestions from my readers. What do you like to use as props?

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

First attempts at professional-quality doll photography

Like anything you have to learn via trial and error, using a professional-grade digital camera for the first time was kind of frustrating. After taking these shots, I actually discovered how to use certain settings to improve the lighting and focus, so I hope to have even better photographs to show you soon.

In the meantime, here are some of my first attempts at professional-quality doll photography.

Close-up of a painted lash Cosmopolitan Ginger, c1954

Elise #1610-1957 going Christmas shopping

Elise posing for a Christmas portrait by the tree

Elise is ordering pizza and eating in tonight

For early attempts they aren't bad, but I intend to make the next batch even better!

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Monday, December 15, 2008

More links for doll photography tips

Recently I referred my readers to a very good article on doll photography, and promised more links and pictures in future installments. Since I'm not quite ready yet with new pictures, here are the promised links.

On About.com there is a fantastic four-part series of articles on doll photography:

Doll Photography Part I This article aids you in choosing a camera that will take good photographs of dolls. One of the cameras she suggests is a Nikon Coolpix, which I've been using myself (until I caught the doll photography bug, that is). I like the camera very much, and I think it's one of the best point-and-shoot cameras you can get, but it doesn't always pick up the detail as cleanly as I would like — and I am constantly having trouble with the color balance.

Doll Photography Part II This article discusses the camera requirements for taking close-ups of your dolls. The article claims that most digital cameras can handle this, but I've personally found that my point-and-shoot cameras tend to bleach out my dolls with the flash and/or screw up the color balance on the macro (flower symbol) setting. It is still possible to get a good picture, but you may have to take a lot of shots and upload them all onto your computer in order to find the best one.

I've started practicing a little with my husband's professional-grade Canon digital camera (a gift from his brother), and so far it seems much better than a point-and-shoot. There are a lot of settings to learn how to use, though, so it's not for the technologically clueless!

Doll Photography Part III This installment gives a lot of good advice about lighting, backgrounds, and focus. This is much more advanced advice, and will make more sense as you become more experienced at photographing your dolls.

Doll Photography Part IV Even the best cameras may require you to edit your photos a little bit, in order to restore the proper color (white balance) of the doll. The final article reviews a couple of major photo editing programs. I personally use Adobe Photoshop, but as the author of these articles notes, the software is pretty expensive. If you can't afford pricey photo editing software, you can always use Google Picasa for free.

Well, back to practicing with the new digital camera. I'll post some pictures soon so that you can see how I'm doing!

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Doll photography plans

After writing my last post about quick tips for doll photography, I became inspired to try to take better doll photographs.

Actually, technically what happened is I became even more dissatisfied with the photographs I've been taking. Many of the shots I take don't come out, and even the ones that do show considerably less detail than I'd like — particularly on my smaller dolls.

I have a few other articles that I want to blog about, with tips on doll photography. I'll post those links in the next day or two. In the meantime, I am going to learn how to use the professional-grade camera that my brother-in-law (an amateur photographer) gave my husband this summer. It has manual settings and a zoom lens that screws onto the front of the camera — very nice for taking detailed close-ups!

I'll blog again when I have new photos to share!

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Quick Tips for Doll Photography

As you can probably tell, I really enjoy taking pictures of my dolls. I am also getting into the idea of using props and backgrounds to make photographs look realistic — I'm sure you'll soon see some photographs of that sort on here, too!

If you are interested in taking photographs of your dolls, here is a great article on About.com with suggestions to help you out:

Top 10 Tips for Great Doll Photography

I could probably benefit from these tips too, as there are certain things — such as hiding the stand — that I tend not to do. I also need to practice a little bit with the professional-grade Canon digital camera that my husband's brother gave him. I am tired of the flash washing out my dolls' faces!

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Madame Alexander Elise in 1957 pants outfit

You can probably tell that I've been having a lot of fun lately with fixing up my dolls. Here is another project doll that has just recently been completed: a Madame Alexander Elise wearing a pants suit that was sold boxed in 1957 as #16-46.

Madame Alexander Elise wearing 1957 pants suit #16-46: black velvet pants, lace blouse that buttons in back, and a cumberbund sash

I bought this Elise about five years ago. Her legs and head needed to be restrung, but what drew me to her was her perfect red hair, still with the original barrette and hair net.

Redhaired Elise with original metal barrette and original hair net

I believe this Elise was originally a pink bride, which were produced in 1959. She had on original pink taffeta panties, original stockings with pink elastic at the top, and a pearl necklace that I think might be a little pink-tinted.

I was going to put a 1957 (white) bride dress on her, but I decided that wasn't quite appropriate and put her in this outfit instead. First, however, she donated some of her original outfit: her stockings to the doll who will be wearing the 1957 bride dress (another redhead), and her pink undies to my Elise peignoir set.

I got the blouse and pants outfit six or seven years ago with my Elise #1610. The lace on the blouse is unraveling in back, and the flower at the point of the V-neck is missing. However, the top still displays well, and the pants are in good condition. I found a pair of black Elise spike heels to go with it, probably also about five years ago.

Madame Alexander Elise with red hair and blue eyes, wearing pants outfit #16-46 from 1957

With most of the outfit assembled, Elise sat in storage for a long time, waiting for me to restring her. She is the skinny-hipped Elise construction, which confused me at first, so I had to take the time to research it. I finally strung her a few weeks ago, at which point I decided that I wanted her to wear the pants outfit.

I gave Elise a pair of vintage fashion doll stockings that are a little short on her, but that doesn't show with the pants on. I also had the same seamstress who made my Elise wedding doll outfit make a reproduction sash out of fuschia organdy, the same color and type of fabric that the original sash would have been made of.

This outfit is very similar to my Cissette #905-1957. Don't they make a pretty display together?

Madame Alexander dolls in matching outfits: Cissette in #905-1957 and Elise in #16-46 of the same year

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Cissette's new coat and shoes

When I photographed a bunch of my dolls the other day, one of the ones I photographed was my redhead Cissette, whose fancy hairdo I fixed.

Cissette is no longer barefoot, as I had someone make reproduction shoes for her. They are very close reproductions, as the woman uses a mold of an original Cissette shoe to make the plastic base, and then to finish them uses similar fabrics and elastic as Madame Alexander used.

Madame Alexander Cissette in her new reproduction shoes

I also did two other things with this Cissette: identified her dress, and added a coat to her outfit.

The outfit, I learned, is #918 from 1957, and did not come with a little shrug as I'd thought. (That one was virtually the same dress, but had the flowers at the V-neck instead of at the waist.) The other day, I was able to get a much better picture of Cissette in this dress:

Madame Alexander Cissette wearing #918-1957

I also decided to add to her outfit a tagged Cissette coat that I have had in storage. The green felt coat is a separate boxed outfit from 1957, #925, and would have originally had a little matching felt hat to go with it.

Madame Alexander Cissette wearing green felt coat #925, available in 1957 as a separate boxed outfit

The coat is perfect because it hides the faded dress — which is pretty enough, but I am a little embarrassed about it being faded. I also like that the matching felt hat is missing, because I wouldn't want anything to mess up Cissette's beautiful fancy hairdo, which I restyled. I got a better picture of that, too:

Madame Alexander Cissette with red hair and a fancy hairdo

The shoes also made me feel a lot better about the outfit, because they look so great — whether or not Cissette is wearing the coat over her dress!

Madame Alexander Cissette in a faded lavendar dress from 1957 (#918) and a green felt coat that was sold separately the same year (#925)

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Live blogging the doll show... again!

Once again, I am live blogging the doll show!

Today's doll show is almost over, and it's been reasonably successful. I've made slightly more than the last show; and although I bought a new doll and some accessories, I spent last than half than I did last time. I'll walk away with more money this time, which is a good feeling indeed!

Although this is a doll and toy show, and usually has only a few good booths selling dolls, today's show has many more dolls than usual. A handful of booths have mostly Barbie dolls (which my mom and I don't deal in), and perhaps twice as many have vintage dolls. There is a good selection, and I have enjoyed browsing the booths and chatting with the sellers — some of whom I have known for several years!

Here is a picture of our booth the way it looked when we first set it up, before we sold anything:

Our booth at a doll show in Denver, Colorado

Everything is winding down now, and I think we probably won't get any further sales today. I'll blog again later with the final tally, and of course with pictures of my new doll!

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

A doll weekend

I spent today "playing" with my dolls — photographing them and organizing my for-sale stuff for tomorrow's doll show. As per my usual, I got some really great photographs and some that will need to be redone.

Here are some of the best ones:

Madame Alexander Cissette in #918-1957

Madame Alexander Elise in black velvet pants outfit, sold separately in 1957 as #16-46

Vogue Jill models an outfit for Miss Ginger, and Ginger and Little Miss Ginger wear their matching outfits

Cosmopolitan Miss Ginger as a bridesmaid

I will identify and blog about all of these dolls in the coming weeks, but for now, enjoy the eye candy!

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Restringing dolls as a recession pastime

I can't believe I didn't make this connection the other day, when I blogged about collecting during a recession, but restringing dolls is the ultimate way to enjoy your hobby during a recession!

Knowing how to restring dolls can benefit you in two of the areas that article talks about. It gives you a way to enjoy your dolls, by allowing you to make repairs that perhaps get overlooked when you are able to buy more. Being handy with dolls also enables you to buy more of the fixer-uppers the article recommends buying when you can't afford as much.

And luckily, my ebook How to Restring a Strung Doll is only $2.99, which makes learning how to restring the perfect affordable way to maintain your doll collecting hobby during a recession! :o)

Alexander-kin 1955 outfit "Wendy Loves Her Ballet Lessons" - SOLD

The doll show is tomorrow, and once again I haven't photographed all my dolls and doll clothing for sale! I'm getting closer, though.

Here is an outfit for the Madame Alexander Alexander-kin or Wendy, the 1955 "Wendy Loves Her Ballet Lessons" #454-1955. All that is included here is the tutu and matching panties. The doll who is modeling is being sold on eBay as we speak, and I'm sorry to say I don't have either the ballet slippers or the plastic flower headpiece for this outfit.

For sale: Alexander-kins 1955 outfit Wendy Loves Her Ballet Lessons

For sale: Alexander-kins 1955 outfit Wendy Loves Her Ballet Lessons

The tutu and panties are in great condition. Both are made of white satin and tulle, which has turned a little ivory with age. The tutu has a felt flower at the waist. The outfit is tagged.

Tagged Madame Alexander outfit

You can see this exact outfit on page 55 of Patricia Smith's World of Alexander-kins. Although the book claims it is a one-piece tutu, my outfit is two pieces. I think it might be another of Patricia Smith's famous mistakes, as it is definitely the same ballet outfit, and the panties just as definitely match the tutu. (In fact, the panties are the same cut and style of the panties my mom has for her 1954 Alexander-kin ballet outfit, which she got as a child.)

The elastic is a little stiff and stretched out, but fits well enough to stay up quite well.

Matching undies on Madame Alexander Wendy Loves Her Ballet Lessons

This outfit goes to a straight leg walker Alexander-kin. It can be worn by a doll in the normal Wendy hairdo, but for a special hairdo doll (generally viewed as more desirable and more valuable) you could put the doll on a Wendy in the 1955 Juliet hairdo. Patricia Smith reports that dolls with the latter hairdo were dressed in this outfit, possibly to use up extra stock.

This outfit is in great condition, from the felt flower and the tulle, right down to the ribbon ties in the back. It's a great deal at $30. If you can't afford a new doll for Christmas, why not get an old doll a new outfit?

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Friday, December 5, 2008

New doll stands!

Not long ago, I blogged about the new doll cabinet that was my early Christmas gift from Michael, and how I ran out of stands before I could finish my new display. Well, I ordered a dozen Kaiser doll stands online, and they came this afternoon.

I put up a few more dolls this evening, but haven't had a chance to do much yet. Some of the doll stands will probably be used (and clearly labeled "Not for Sale") at the doll show on Sunday, so I probably won't finish arranging my display until Monday. Too bad!

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Collecting Dolls During a Recession

It's official now — we're in a recession — but that doesn't mean you can't continue collecting dolls. There are plenty of ways to collect dolls in a down economy, as this article on About.com reminds us.

I really like a lot of the suggestions on the list. The very first suggestion is basically to "play" with the dolls you already have by taking photographs, rearranging your displays, and sewing for your dolls. I "play" with my dolls all the time — as you can probably already tell from reading this blog!

I also already use several other suggestions on this list, such as adding clothing and accessories, getting fixer-uppers (my "project dolls"), and scouring eBay for bargains. I also collect certain dolls — in this case, Cosmopolitan Ginger — because they are easy to find at affordable prices.

Just because everyone else is pooh-poohing the economy doesn't mean that we can't continue to enjoy our hobbies!

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Madame Alexander Cissette #905-1957

Lately I've been fixing a lot of my project dolls that have been languishing in storage, such as my Kathy skater, whose replacement oilcloth skates I restored.

Shortly after that, I also restrung this Madame Alexander Cissette, outfit #905 from 1957, the first year that Cissette was made.

Madame Alexander Cissette #905-1957: A lace top with rhinestone buttons, black velvet pants, and a blue taffeta cumberbund

Cissette came to me as a project doll, missing her shoes and with her head detached. She is also a little pale in the face.

Madame Alexander Cissette #905-1957

Cissette's strong points are her original outfit, including her earrings, and her hair, which is still in the original set, pulled back into a cluster of curls at the nape of her neck.

Madame Alexander Cissette - original hair style

I found her authentic black Cissette shoes not long after I got her, but it wasn't until about two weeks ago that I finally strung her head.

Cissette and some other fashion dolls, such as Elise, have their heads strung to a hook anchored in their necks. Their construction is extremely different than the early hard plastic strung dolls, so I took pictures of my stringing job on Cissette. I am working on an expanded version of my ebook, which will contain chapters explaining how to restring dolls other than the standard hard plastic strung dolls. I plan to include a chapter on restringing just the heads of these dolls, with this Cissette as my model.

After all, isn't it worthwhile to be able to restring — and restore life to — pretty dolls such as this one?

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Madame Alexander Kathy skater

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about restoring stiff oilcloth doll shoes — in this case, a pair of red oilcloth doll skates for a 14-inch Madame Alexander Kathy skater.

My Kathy skater (circa 1949-1951) was another one of those lucky finds. I'm not sure why no one bid very high — because she had some play wear, or because the seller didn't identify her — but I bought her for what was a good price at the time (five or six years ago, before doll prices started going down). I think she's beautiful!

Madame Alexander Kathy Skater, circa 1949-1951

Kathy is wearing a red cotton bodysuit with three-quarter length sleeves, and a navy skirt that has faded to look more like a dark purple. The bodysuit is faded in the front above the skirt, probably where it was the most exposed to sunlight, as you can see in this picture.

Madame Alexander Kathy Skater outfit

Kathy has light brown floss braids. She has been played with, unfortunately, so they are a little fuzzy in places,but they are still braided, and the color is beautiful. Only two Maggie-faced strung dolls came with wigs in pigtail braids: Kathy and Polly Pigtails. Unfortunately, without their original clothes to identify them there is no way to tell them apart.

Madame Alexander Kathy - early Maggie-faced doll with pigtail braids

Kathy's bodysuit is tagged with an embroidered Madame Alexander tag. Recently I saw a doll in this same outfit (except with her original felt headband) that was tagged "Polly Pigtails." I believe she was mistagged, which happened fairly frequently, but until I see more examples of this doll (and check their tags) I'll have no way to know for sure.

Madame Alexander Kathy - bodysuit tagged Madame Alexander

Kathy originally would have worn brown leather roller skates, but when I got her she had on vintage navy oilcloth center snap shoes on her feet. (They later enabled me to complete my Arranbee Nanette or Nancy Lee, whom I will write a post about sometime soon.) I originally found white replacement skates for her, but eventually happened to find these MIB red oilcloth skates, which I softened with steam in order to get them on her feet.

Madame Alexander Kathy skater - replacement red oilcloth roller skates

Although the roller skates aren't techically appropriate, I have little hope of ever finding the correct skates, and I have to admit the red skates complement her outfit nicely. As for the felt headband — the seller of the mint "Polly Pigtails" doll took pictures of her doll's original headband, and I am going to try to copy it!

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Doll show coming up!

After my mom and I did our very first doll show in October, we decided to go ahead and do the next one. I also decided to do some more marketing this time, so here is the information for the doll show:

Collectors Supershow hosted by Dana Cain
Ramada Plaza, Northglenn, Colorado (Google map)
Sunday, December 7, 2008
10am - 3pm

These shows are always fun — and since it's a doll and toy show, there truly is something for everyone! For those of you who live in or near Denver, I hope to see you there!

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