So what do you think, too cool NOT to wear?
So what do I do in my SPARE time? I work on my vintage fashion doll magazine, of course!
Yes, I’m a guy and I like dolls. That being said, I really like vintage Barbie and family dolls and am considered to be an expert on the subject – really! Almost more than the dolls themselves, I’m drawn to the fashions. And there are loads of fashion dolls other than Barbie, with weird, wild and wonderful wardrobes that are at times both fascinating and god-awful. But there’s just something about those mini fashion mannequins and their tiny shoes, gloves, purses and hats that I just can’t get enough of.
Now several years ago, the Barbie doll collecting market had a bit of a melt down and the collecting magazines went away. Hard-core vintage collectors (like me) have always missed them. There’s a crazy thrill or rush of excitement at seeing a gorgeous, mint condition doll in a pristine outfit that’s been beautifully photographed, especially when the subjects are hard-to-find examples. Call it doll crack or call it crazy, but when you’re into it, it’s awesome! So the fact that the publications I loved and wrote for were no longer around was always bugging me.
Enter my friend Barry Sturgill. Barry is a Seattle area photographer who just happens to be one of the top toy photographers in the world, and he’s nuts about vintage Barbie dolls too. Well our little doll-lovin’ minds got together for lunch about a year and a half ago and decided we needed to bring back a magazine devoted to vintage fashion dolls in general, not just Barbie, but the whole enchilada. As we figured it, with all the technological progress in the last ten years, doing an online publication would be a snap, right? HA!
Figuring we’d “just have to learn a little HTML” and be on our way, we dove into the project. And about three months later we realized we were way over our heads. Too much stuff that sounded sic-fi and well, technical, made our pretty artsy heads hurt, and we hired a tech-savvy design firm to help us make it a reality. We started tracking down obscure dolls, fashions and accessories. We found some knowledgable collectors who knew loads of stuff about dolls we were just vaguely familiar with, and our project started moving forward much faster.
January 2013: our premiere, online issue is published! 68 pages chock full of Barry’s gorgeous photos and loads of vintage doll info to make a collector’s head spin: Ideal’s Tammy doll, vintage Barbie’s first evening ensembles, information on clone dolls (knock-offs made of the more expensive, brand-name toys, sometimes using pirated molds), obscure dolls like Bonnie Breck – this issue wasn’t just good, it was GREAT!
Our 2nd issue came out at the end of May featuring Dawn. A lot of people think my project – and me – are a bit weird, but I don’t really care about that. I’ve got a completed product that I’m really proud of and it does what I wanted it to do – entertain, educate, and get readers excited about toys we loved as kids. And even if we don’t get to hold them in our hands, we can still feel that same thrill we had walking through the toy department or ripping into a beautifully wrapped birthday or holiday gift bearing a tag with our name on it…FUN!
And now we’ve got our 3rd issue out – we’ve “embraced” online marketing and social media (to the best of our abilities) and have a Twitter account, a Facebook page and even use MailChimp for our marketing and email updates – how’s that for creative-type-meets-the-interweb?
Hey – even if you’re not into dolls, you might love seeing some gorgeous pictures and reading some humorous stuff about toys. It’s a mid-century vinyl love fest – check out or website and buy a copy – it’s just $5.99! Oh yeah – and it’s an online publication – we hope it will be in print soon, but right now you view it on your computer.
This past summer working on the RING cycle at Seattle Opera went beyond just another show to work – it was the 3rd time I’d done the production and that meant LOTS of favorite performers and friends returning – kind of like a family reunion, but with people you like! There was Greer Grimsley, Luretta Bybee, Margaret Jane Wray, Richard Paul Fink, Rosetta Greek and Stephanie Blythe.
Ms. Blythe is super talented, and even more fun to hang out with. My first chance to work with her was on the RING production in 2005. I’ve been on several operas with her since, but I’d never made her a sock monkey. I decided that THIS would be her year. If you’re not familiar with the RING, there are four separate operas in the “cycle”, and Stephanie sang more than one role/character, but her most iconic and gorgeous was Fricka, the wife of Wotan, King of the Gods. I decided Fricka was the right monkey for her.
Stephanie’s real Fricka costume* was a grey, wool jersey dress with a quilted silk coat appliquéd with metal tags in an abstract tribal pattern. But I had to figure out how to do it in sock monkey size! I started with the dress and figured the easiest thing to do would be to create it in wool felt so I’d have less finishing work on the seams. It didn’t drape as well as jersey, but I got it done in about an hour, including some decorative silver braid I used on the sleeves to replicate the actual embroidery. I found a small piece of the dress trim in our costume patch kit, cut it down to monkey size and fused it to the front closure. It looked great and Fricka was well underway.
The coat proved more difficult as it was an asymmetrical pattern that was part kimono/part coat with pieces turned back on themselves. I found a turquoise/teal silk similar to the real version and figured I’d save time just quilting the outer turquoise to the grey silk lining and trim the whole thing with bias tape rather than make two separate pieces and sew them together like in standard construction. Quilting all the straight lines was easy (and the kind of sewing I like), but it took almost two hours to do!
After the quilting was all done, my boss Ron stepped in to assist me with the pattern. I have to say once again how much knowledge and help he is. Professor of Costume and Design at Cornish College of the Arts, he can just “see” how all the parts fit together when I’m standing there thinking “Is this the front or the back?” So Ron mapped out my pattern pieces, we got it cut out, and I started making yards of bias tape.
I also had to make the little metal “God tags” to appliqué on the coat. I hit on the idea of using pin backs – I cut the pin part off, then put some antiquing/patina on them with a marking pen. After stitching them to the coat, I finished assembling it. It was so heavy on the monkey it kept sliding off, so I added some snaps to the coat and dress to make sure it stayed on. I mean, even for a sock monkey, it’s all about looking good, right?
The last step was the wig. Stephaine/Fricka had this beautiful, long hair in several shades of blonde/brown with braids, twists and ribbons worked into it. I knew mine would be less intricate, but thought I could give her a close approximation by using a couple different colors of yarn to start. I machine sewed the yarn onto a piece of bias tape so I only had the tape to sew to the monkey’s head, not individual yarn strands. I worked in some silk ribbons I made from my leftover coat fabric and I had a pretty good version going. But I didn’t like the white monkey head showing under the hair, so I took a large tapestry needle threaded with one of the yarns I was using and sewed it vertically across the back of her head to cover the white – perfect!
The finishing touch was the face. I used a couple of different buttons to make the blue eyes more interesting, and I gave her big, thick black lashes like Stephanie wears – so cute – and she was ready for her debut.
Stephanie was thrilled to receive her, and couldn’t believe she was being presented with one of my “famous” monkeys. I told her she was joining my inner circle of favorite opera singers and she rewarded me with a big hug and kiss, and a few tears of joy and gratitude. I thought she might squeeze the stuffing out of her little monkey as she paraded her around the foyer of the dressing suite showing her off…..
…..and THAT’S why I love making my monkeys!
You’re going to want to know more about Stephanie Blythe – check out this youtube video of her show “Stephanie Blythe Meets Kate Smith”. She’s got a fantastic new album out too – As Long As There Are Songs (you’ll find it on iTunes). She nails one of my all time favorites, “How Deep is the Ocean?” – trust me, you’re going to love it!
*The costumes for Seattle Opera’s production of THE RING, were designed by the super-talented, Tony-award winning costume designer Marty Paklidenaz. He passed away in 2012 from brain cancer, and his absence was sorely missed on this production. He was loved by all of us in the wardrobe department for his amazing work and wonderful humor…
HALLOWEEN is barely over, and I’m ready with a CHRISTMAS GIFT and I couldn’t be happier with it!
After finishing the beading on the beard and hair, I did the mustache, with dimensional bead loops. I wasn’t happy with how the nose outline and the cheek looked, so I took out the stitching and switched the colors so the cheek was the darker rose color and it looks much better.
I think I like this idea of starting Christmas projects way before the deadline – no rush and I’ve got time to jump onto a couple more ornaments that I’m doing without a kit or pre-purchased pattern: gingerbread men and women with lots of sequin and beaded bling, and snowmen heads I’m making from yarn and old thread spools. Look for those posts soon!
It’s so exciting to be on track with a project and know it will get finished WAY BEFORE the Christmas deadline!
I always think that I’m going to crank these things out in a couple of hours, partly because I never build in any “fix it” time. And I definitely needed fix it time on Santa’s hair and beard. I had finished two of the four sections and was cruising along on my third when I realized something was way off. I pored over the pattern and my work and couldn’t really figure out a way to “fudge” it with what I’d completed because it would affect Santa’s face, so I took out all of the stitching on the third section and started over – what a difference! Everything now lined up properly, and even though I was annoyed that it took a lot more time, it did give me more confidence in what I was doing.
Every year I have this grand idea that I’m doing a HANDMADE CHRISTMAS! complete with beautiful embroidered ornaments, stockings using my stash of vintage fabrics, baked goods, home-canned jams, jellies and pickles, tote bags, pot holders, knitted scarves and other amazing stuff that will inspire me to create things I haven’t even thought of yet. The problem with this plan is I always start thinking about it the day after Thanksgiving, which means I’m doomed to failure as I’m usually working 50+ hours/week on some holiday show that’s just gone into tech rehearsals and I don’t have a minute to think about what I’m doing, let alone make it.
Well this year is different! I finished up some really cute little beaded and sequined angel ornaments in August that have been in the “To Be Completed” pile for several years, and it’s lit a fire under me to keep on it. And so begins the tale of Emily’s ornament.
Every year since they’ve been born, I give my nieces and nephews a Christmas ornament. Remembering back to after college graduation and finally being on my own, I was flat broke and had absolutely no money to buy ornaments for a tree of my own. I figured if I gave each kid an annual ornament, by the time they left home they’d at least have enough to decorate something, even if it was just a tree branch. I also stick with one theme for each, so one has angels, another snowmen, reindeer, Circus, and Emily gets Santas.
I love old vintage craft kits, and even though I have a large box of unstarted/unfinished pieces, it didn’t stop me from picking up a little cross stitched and beaded Santa/Father Christmas face for $.99 at the thrift store earlier this summer. I’ve actually never done any cross stitch as I prefer embroidery, but thought this would be a quick and easy way to dip my toe in the water. My problem isn’t just that I buy too many of these things, it’s that my idea of how long it takes is way off. I’m always sucked in by the “Simple, easy-to-follow instructions with just a touch of embroidery/beading/crochet” ad banner on the package and figure I’ll just crank these things out in a couple of hours.
So at least I take the time to read the instructions, and after separating the floss and beads, the thing just sat on my desk. It suggested making an “X” on the hole-punched base to find my center point, but I didn’t get any farther than that. My pal EJ does lots of cross stitch and she said “The easiest way to start is to make a cross with a basting thread to divide your work into sections.” Bingo! That little tip suddenly made the whole thing easier to get moving. I also used a highlighter to divide the instruction graph without covering the pattern, and I got to work.
This particular kit is made in two pieces – a hat and then face. I started with the smaller hat piece first. I realized as I got going it was easier to do the cross stitch before the embroidery, especially since the beads were so tiny. If nothing else, this project demonstrated to me that I NEED NEW GLASSES (and I’m heading over to the eye doctor after I finish writing this to order a pair). It didn’t occur to me to take some progress pics until I’d done quite a bit of the hat, but here you go:
I’m getting a little bit done every night – it doesn’t make me feel like a complete slug while watching a bit of television. And until I get those new glasses, it’s easier on the eyes!
Stay tuned for the creation of Santa’s face…
My friend EJ and her husband recently purchased a new house circa 1961. The house needed work, but EJ is always up to a challenge and she had great ideas to modernize it while leaving a lot of the wonderful mid century details intact. She enlisted my help on the project, and we had a great time knocking out walls, painting, restoring wood floors and trim, more painting, and of course, SHOPPING for new stuff!
Many years ago some different friends of mine were putting new flooring into their old house, and unearthed that cool old linoleum they used to do with borders or to make into the appearance of rugs. It was all cracked and broken, but I saved a couple of the prettier pieces, squared them up and framed them, and gave them to them as found “art”, and a reminder of the old. So remembering that, I started “shopping” all the junk that we were ripping out and throwing out of EJ’s place. The kitchen ended up being a goldmine of project and crafting bits, I just needed them to reveal what they were waiting to be transformed into.
The previous owners had decided to “Victorianize” their very ’60s kitchen by applying layer upon layer of decorative moldings and trims to the cabinets. It might not have been so hideous if they’d actually finished the project, but they seemed to run out of steam and never bothered to PAINT the raw wood trim, and in some cases, didn’t bother to nail it up either, but “secured” it in place with blue painters tape – UGH. Well I knew some of the decorative trim was a definite keeper, and started squirreling bits of it away right from the start.
One cool thing about the kitchen was it still had the original countertops intact! They weren’t perfect, but they were a wonderful ’60s snapshot of decorator chic – white with tiny leaves of aqua, coral, chocolate and chartreuse with a sprinkle of gold across it all. Once those slabs of old formica were ripped out I knew I had to put a couple chunks into my treasure bag too.
The last bit of inspiration came from the electrical wiring. The kitchen had these bizarre and ultra-dangerous electrical outlets – a double plug per outlet that weren’t even grounded! In fact they were so scary, the building inspector told EJ he couldn’t sign off on the safety of the kitchen because the plugs had to be replaced – no questions asked. This was the perfect little bit of kitchen inspiration and nostalgia I needed to move forward.
The first item was quick and simple. My handy work friend, Marc, trimmed a piece of wood with decorative molding and we glued a piece of the formica on top to become a trivet. It’s really a decorative trivet because this old formica can burn or melt if something hot gets on it, but it looks pretty cute and I know EJ will find a use for it. I just needed to fill the nail holes with spackle, sand and paint – easy.
The second project I envisioned was a “shadowbox” to showcase the cool but crazy dangerous plug. Marc made me a little box,trimmed it with the decorative wood, and I had him back it with the formica. Some more spackle, sanding and painting and it’s a pretty dang cute little piece of art for the kitchen wall, isn’t it?
You could easily use these ideas as a starting off point for your own craft projects made from parts of the old house. I used the formica, wood pieces and an electrical outlet, but there are dozens of bits you could salvage for housewarming gifts or from a remodel project of your own: cabinet knobs or pulls, house numbers, old shingles, decorative wood trim and molding from baseboards or ceilings, fireplace bricks – the list is endless and your imagination is going to go crazy with it once you put your creating hat on. In fact I’ve got quite a few bits of decorative wood trim available and some small glass tiles – maybe a birdhouse?
I needed several little projects to fill down time backstage during my recent stint on Wagner’s RING Cycle, especially during the 5+ hours each of Siegfried and Gotterdamerung – oy! My strategy was to work on several unfinished projects, which was part of my GRANDER scheme of getting my basement back under control. I heard this great quote by Dr. Phil (yeah, I know), that was something like “…to be a better person, finish what you start…” or something to that affect. I took that to mean cleaning and organizing my basement by finishing up the multitude of craft/sewing projects overflowing from boxes and surfaces. So I made a list of the projects I wanted to work on, but in the general disarray could only find one of them. Anyway….
You know how much I love the old embroidery and craft kits from the ’60s and ’70s, right? Well I’d picked up this particular little gem about four years ago because it was one of my favorite styles – felt ornaments with a little embroidery and tons of bling with sequins, beads and braid trim. These old kits have great felt colors (and it’s not crappy polyester felt), they’re graphically cute and silly, they’re easy to pick up and put down when I’m at work, and I can give them as gifts, use them as package ties or on occasion, keep them for myself. When I find these kits at yard sales and thrift stores, they’re often opened with some of the contents missing. Using/substituting my own materials, trim, and sometimes even pattern pieces, is part of the challenge and fun of working on the stuff, and these little angels fit the bill.
For some reason the crafty, creative designers at Bucilla billed this charmer as:
Novel “MOBILE” may be hung from Mantel, Chandelier, Archway; or in windows and doorways – handsome decoration for Foyer or any room in the home. So gay, so cheerful, so decorative for the Holiday Season. A real conversation piece!
OK, let’s just examine that for a moment. Yes, it’s definitely gay, which is a good thing, because the cheerful kitschy quality is a conversation piece. However, there’s no way I could hang this from my mantel as the plastic ring the angels swing from is about 8″ across, so it would hardly hang “freely”. And the only chandelier I could see this dangling from is the crappy piece of junk in my dining room, which I definitely do not want to draw attention to. Add to this the fact that the tinsel garland and “velvetex” ribbon used for hanging were flattened beyond use after 40+ years in their package. So mobile was out, but ornaments were on.
I had to pick out some beads for those that were missing and some braid trim. I added purple beads to the original “color palette”, and I scrapped the directions to cut out and use this hard, gold vinyl to fill the opening of the skirts – I just couldn’t figure out how I’d attach it to the dress – hand sewing with felt isn’t really the easiest thing because the felting process makes it come apart when it’s manipulated too much. So I just ended up stuffing the body and sewing the skirt closed.
The ornaments filled up lots of time (although there was still plenty of time to read, write letters, do some clothing repairs, work on my magazine and make a SOCK MONKEY, which I’ll share in an upcoming blog) and they turned out so cute. My friend Anne wanted one (and I forgot to photo), and after deciding to keep the blue for myself, decided to give the hot pink to my awesome college pal LeAnn, and the green will go to my niece Nicole.
Oh, and the basement is back to a functional state! I owe this more to LeAnn’s help in the last few weeks, than decluttering by completing a few little angel ornaments, but I can actually work on stuff again and I see a busy fall of completion ahead! I’ve already found the other projects I wanted to do this summer that were MIA, and the parts for a few more Christmas ornaments that I’ll share soon – snowmen and some ginger boy and girls. Time to get crafting!
I just can’t help myself when it comes to throwing out useable cast-offs. I have a garage and basement full of stuff that I have no idea how I’m going to use, but it just seems too cool to trash. Sometimes that piece of junk ends up being the EXACT THING I need to finish a sewing or craft project, but it doesn’t reveal itself until another piece comes along to create that “Eureka!” moment.
Such was the case with the bird feeder I just made. I’ve been helping my friend EJ remodel a house she just bought, and it’s been a treasure trove of cool stuff. The people who moved out left TONS of crap behind – and a lot was crap – and there were a few gems I had to adopt and bring home. Among my new findings were some decorative woodworking pieces and an old lathe-turned spindle to a staircase. All they needed was for me to find the giant, over-sized vintage tea cup at a thrift store to know they were meant to be a bird feeder!
Now this was one idea that I couldn’t realize without the help of my handy work friend, Marc. He’s made and/or repaired great stuff for me over the years including a shelf for my laundry sprinkler collection, bookends from old bowling trophies, and a kitchen counter to help organize the clutter of my tiny 1940s kitchen. He has awesome ideas to make things easier and more sturdy than my concepts often are, and he has access to a huge shop full of tools and equipment at our workplace, which he’s a whiz at using.
So – the first thing he did was make a little platform to set the tea cup and saucer on, which would become the actual bird feeder. He trimmed the platform with some of the decorative wood pieces I had, then he attached that to the turned spindle. Although I hadn’t asked him to do it (but had thought about it), he added a metal rod to the bottom of the spindle so I could stick that part into the ground for stability.
The next part involved the “feeder”. I really scored the day I found that oversized cup and saucer while thrifting. I mean, it’s not just large, it’s HUGE, and I’ve never seen another like it. The fact that it has fancy/cheesy Rococo-style images and lots of gold trim on it make it that much better! My plan was to drill through both pieces so they could fit onto a threaded bolt inserted into the platform, then I’d hold them on with a gasket and wing nut. I wanted it to be removable so I could wash the feeder every so often.
Drilling through this tea cup was WAY HARDER than I thought it would be. I had my special drill bit for drilling tile and glass, but the pedestal portion of the base I was drilling trough was almost 5/8″ thick and it took for-freakin’ ever. Seriously, I must have spent an hour and a half on it and several battery recharges to the drill over a couple of days. Anyway, once I got through that, I tackled the saucer, which took five minutes at the most.
Now my garden is not exactly the most lush, verdant thing I’ve always hoped it would be (I used my neighbor’s yard for the picture) and I’m not entirely sure the feeder is going to be at home there – it may end up as a wedding present – but I like the way it looks among the leaves and flowers, and I hope the birds will like it too.
You can do this project easily – fancy tea cups and saucers are easily found at thrift stores and yard sales, and you could use any pieces of scrap wood for a stand. You might even want to make one that hangs and skip the stand part. Just get some decorative chain to attach to the base and you’re ready to hang it. I do think you’re going to want to anchor the cup and saucer to the base – if not with my method you could always glue it, but I like the ability to take it apart and wash it and maybe put it away for the winter months if there’s a chance it could freeze and crack if it ended filled with rain or snow.
It’s another summer RING at Seattle Opera (you can read all about that if you click here), and as this is the third one I’ve worked since 2005, lots of my favorite singers are back in town, including several who own my sock monkeys! You can click on the following to see my creations for performers Greer Grimsley, Gordon Hawkins and Rosetta Greek. But I’ve never posted pictures of the monkey I made for the super talented Luretta Bybee.
Luretta is a southern lady. She’s beautiful, charming, gracious, is a Chair of Vocal Arts at the New England Conservatory, has a wonderful sense of humor and she’s a mezzo-soprano opera star with a heavenly voice. A couple years back, Seattle Opera produced a new work, Amelia, and Luretta was cast as Amanda, a 1960s homemaker who was the mother of the show’s namesake, Amelia. I’d worked with her on several shows before this, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for her to get her own monkey.
Now you could put Luretta in a tin can and she’d look gorgeous, but she literally stepped out of a guest starring role on the Donna Reed show in her striped shirtwaist dress, pearls, and flip hairstyle – she looked amazing. The dress was pretty easy to do, but the collar was a little tricky on the smaller scale. I decided to cut it from felt and top stitch it to the dress rather than trying to do it “for real” – the notched collar was more work than I wanted to do and the felt gave it the same look as the costume. The apron was easy, but I added a hanky because my grandmother always had one in her apron or smock pocket and I think Amanda would have used one too. The character wore a locket, and I found the tiniest one I could for her. I put a little picture of her real husband – opera superstar Greer Grimsley – as well as her stage husband – the phenomenal tenor, Bill Burden – into the locket so she’d have them both close to her little monkey heart. Then I stitched on some “pearls” for earrings and got my friend Anne McGowan in the hair and makeup department to create the perfect little ’60s flip hairstyle for her. She’s awesome!
When I got ready to do the photo of her, I envisioned her standing at a stove with a pot holder in hand. Since sock monkeys don’t really have fingers to hold anything, I created an oven mitt for her, and posed her in front of my mom’s childhood toy stove from the 1940s. Let me tell you, this is no cheap Easy Bake oven, but an electric stove with a HOT hot plate and an oven with a working thermostat – my brothers and I used to make burgers in a tiny frying pan on it when we were kids. It was exactly what Amanda needed and the photo is perfect!
Luretta was so happy to get her little Amanda, and Greer told me later that it ended up costing him a lot of money because Luretta wanted to redecorate their music room to display his Wotan monkey with her. Now seriously, am I really responsible for that?