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?