Flashing Way, Way Back: American Girl doll clothes


While I was at my parents’ house for the holidays I pulled out my old American Girl doll (Kirsten) and her trunk full of clothes and accessories, just to reminisce a little and see if my daughter would be interested in playing with them. I didn’t have a ton of the Pleasant Company outfits– too expensive at the time– and there weren’t nearly as many off-brand options as there are today, so I generally sewed my own.

Just for fun, here are shots of some of the outfits I hand-sewed between the ages of 10-13:

Continue reading

The (Not) Mean Doll: Emily

doll trunk complete

So here’s the finished project– one 12″ doll with custom wig and eyes, ten custom-fitted dresses, coordinating shoes, socks, hats, undies, hair accessories, purses, and a customized trunk to hold it all. And yes, I realize that having replaced the original doll, clothes, and trunk, I essentially used my childhood toy solely as inspiration for a much more elaborate project (which could’ve been accomplished without the extensive eBay search or actual purchase of the doll).

As I was working on this, though, the foremost inspiration had to be Sara Crewe’s “Last Doll” from Francis Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess. Reading this book as a child, I always loved the idea of having a doll as elaborate as that one, and honestly it was probably what made me want the original doll in the first place. Here’s the relevant passage:

Sara laughed, but she turned to the biggest box. When she took out the Last Doll it was so magnificent that the children uttered delighted groans of joy, and actually drew back to gaze at it in breathless rapture.

“She is almost as big as Lottie,” someone gasped.

Lottie clapped her hands and danced about, giggling.

“She’s dressed for the theater,” said Lavinia. “Her cloak is lined with ermine.”

“Oh,” cried Ermengarde, darting forward, “she has an opera-glass in her hand—a blue-and-gold one!”

“Here is her trunk,” said Sara. “Let us open it and look at her things.”

She sat down upon the floor and turned the key. The children crowded clamoring around her, as she lifted tray after tray and revealed their contents. Never had the schoolroom been in such an uproar. There were lace collars and silk stockings and handkerchiefs; there was a jewel case containing a necklace and a tiara which looked quite as if they were made of real diamonds; there was a long sealskin and muff, there were ball dresses and walking dresses and visiting dresses; there were hats and tea gowns and fans. Even Lavinia and Jessie forgot that they were too elderly to care for dolls, and uttered exclamations of delight and caught up things to look at them.

In honor of A Little Princess, and since the Last Doll didn’t have a real name, I’ve named this doll Emily. Fans of the book will know why.

For what it’s worth, my 3-year-old had a wonderful afternoon playing with the original porcelain doll (the not-cute one), which is apparently named Cinderella and is no longer “mean.” So I guess it didn’t go to waste after all…

The Mean Doll, Part V: The Trunk (inside)

doll trunk inside after

Once the outside of the trunk was finished, it was time to tackle the inside. The original paper was yellow with tiny flowers on it, and was stained and even slightly ripped in places. I knew I could do better, but while scrapbook paper and dollhouse wallpaper were both available, neither of them came in sheets large enough to fit the 13″ height of the trunk. This was only a problem in two of the compartments (since the other two had drawers to take up vertical space), but I really wanted to avoid horizontal seams, so I had to think of something to take up space either at the top or bottom of the trunk’s walls. Continue reading

The Mean Doll, Part IV: The Trunk (outside)

Now that I had a new doll with a collection of clothing, I needed a place to put it. The original wooden wardrobe from the eBay auction was too small to fit everything, so I went searching for something else. Most of the available trunks, however, were sized for 18″ American Girl dolls– too large for my small doll, even with her ever-growing wardrobe. (it did occur to me at this point that since I was replacing the clothes anyway, there’d been no need to get a 12″ doll and I could’ve saved myself a lot of alteration and trouble by just selecting a bigger one)

Continued searching turned up pictures of what seemed to be the perfect trunk– a double-wide case with a compartment for a doll up to 13″ tall, a compartment for her clothing, a Murphy bed, and a vanity table with mirror. Unfortunately, it was a vintage item that had originally been sold at Cracker Barrel, and was very difficult to find on the secondary market.

doll trunk beforedoll trunk before inside

Finally, I found one for sale on eBay and managed to win the auction. It wasn’t in perfect condition, but since I planned on totally revamping it anyway that wasn’t a deal-breaker. Not shown in the above picture is the Murphy bed, which I removed from the left-most compartment to make more space for clothes. Continue reading

The Mean Doll, Part III- Clothes and Accessories

So now I had a very nice doll, but no clothes that fit her (the outfit she came in was ugly). What to do? Again, eBay was the answer. In all my searching, I’d seen scores of dolls with beautiful clothes selling for practically nothing. Despite what people might have believed upon purchase (and despite what the boxes emphatically proclaim about their heirloom value), porcelain dolls just aren’t worth that much on the secondary market unless they’re limited editions or “special” in some way. So there were many dolls to choose from, with gorgeous clothes, but two problems:

First, shipping costs were often more than the dolls themselves. What I ended up doing was emailing the seller and asking if they’d be willing to ship just the clothes for a reduced shipping cost, so long as I paid the full auction price. Most were happy to oblige– after all, they’d still be getting their money and might even be able to sell the naked doll later for more. Some weren’t, but the price was so low it was worth it. I just discarded the dolls into the Goodwill pile (after they were soundly rejected by my daughter, who still insisted they were “mean dolls”).

Second, just as smaller dolls often had less detailed faces, they also had less detailed clothes. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to size down doll clothes, so as long as the original dolls aren’t more than 16″ high this wouldn’t be an issue. While not all of the clothes had to be altered in size, I did remove all of the velcro on the pieces and replaced them with snaps to avoid messing up the doll’s hair when dressing and undressing.

I wish I’d taken before and after pictures, but I wasn’t thinking of it at the time. Here are the outfits I ended up with: Continue reading

The Mean Doll, Part II: The Replacement

When we left off, I was searching on eBay for 12″ porcelain dolls to use instead of the non-cute doll I’d bought. They had to be 12″ so they’d fit into the existing clothes, and that narrowed the field a bit– most dolls of that size were (perhaps unsurprisingly) not very detailed facially, and kind of haphazardly painted. It made sense, since smaller dolls generally sell for cheaper, so why bother making them pretty? I had a hard time finding one to my specifications– I still wanted dark hair and blue eyes– and there are a lot of scary, scary dolls being sold out there.

Then, in the course of my searching, I saw a listing for a doll wig. At that point it occurred to me that I could easily buy a doll wig of the appropriate color for whatever doll I bought, so it wouldn’t matter much if the doll had the right color hair. From there it was an easy jump to conclude that since doll eyes were also available, it wouldn’t be much trouble to replace those as well… so really what I was looking for was a nice face mold and paint job. (I was NOT about to tackle repainting porcelain) The search went on, and finally I found a doll that I thought would work. I don’t have a “before” picture, but she had brown eyes and a pretty seedy-looking auburn wig with braids. Definitely needed some upgrading, but she did have real eyelashes, which was a plus.

Of course, hedging my bets, I also kept an eye out for other dolls, and even bought a separate doll head because it had a reasonably nice face. I figured that if worse came to worst, I could pop the head off of the first doll and put on the new head (again, instructions online made this look easy) and I’d be all set.

Have I mentioned that there is nothing creepier in this world than an eyeless, hairless, disembodied doll head? Brrrr… Continue reading

The Mean Doll, Part I: The Original

This begins the story of the Mean Doll (so named by my toddler). It’s probably also one of the projects that my friends have dubbed the creepiest, likely due to the involvement of disembodied doll heads sitting on shelves. But I’m getting ahead of myself– the story begins a long time ago…

Back when I was about ten years old, I collected porcelain dolls. They were a lot more popular back then, and were available in all stationery stores and most department stores, invariably dressed in some impractically lacy outfit and usually on shelves too high for children to reach. There was even a kiosk in my local mall that just sold dolls, and every time we went shopping I would spend a good hour (at least) hovering around, looking at the dolls, making a nuisance of myself, and planning which doll I would buy once I got my anticipated Christmas money. At the time I liked to think that I was keeping the salesgirl company, but in retrospect I was probably really annoying. Anyway, I decided on a small doll with dark hair and blue eyes– she came with her own wooden wardrobe, three extra outfits, and two pairs of shoes. I’d never had a porcelain doll with changes of clothes before, and I liked the idea, even though the doll itself wasn’t actually all that pretty or cute. It was totally just the clothes that I wanted, I know…

Christmas came, I collected my loot, and happily went to the kiosk, intent at last on spending some money there instead of just hanging around. But then I had a moment of doubt. Why buy the doll if it wasn’t even that pretty? My display area didn’t have room for a wooden wardrobe. And what about that other doll in the corner with the cute face and curly hair– wasn’t she prettier? I ended up buying the curly-haired doll instead (she was dressed as a cowgirl, if I recall correctly), and leaving the original doll and her wardrobe behind.

And I regretted it.

But eventually I grew up. And got a job. And disposable income. And as all adults do at some point, I set out to purchase “the toy that got away.” Except it’s really difficult to find a particular porcelain doll when you don’t know the manufacturer, the name given to the doll, or really anything other than the eye and hair color and the fact that she had an accordion-pleated dress and a maroon velvet coat as part of her wardrobe (I distinctly remembered those two items).

But eBay is a wonderful thing. And wonder of wonders, I actually found the doll! And she had her whole wardrobe, just as I’d remembered it! And she was priced at about 1/3 of the original price I remembered! So I snapped her up, eagerly awaited the arrival of the box in the mail, was very excited to open it up, and… the doll was just as un-cute as I’d remembered. My 2-year-old daughter took one look and dubbed it “the mean doll.” (though to be fair, she thought all porcelain dolls were scary at the time)

small doll face small doll

Yup, the doll really wasn’t all that pretty and I was kind of regretting the purchase, since now I had this mediocre doll and her bulky wardrobe of clothes (which didn’t even fit all that well) sitting in my house and scaring my toddler. At this point, most people would’ve chalked it up to experience, given the doll away, and gone on to lead normal, productive lives. Not me. Oh, no– I was still fixated on having a porcelain doll with her own tiny wardrobe. And if this one wasn’t it, then I was going to make one! Even if this doll wasn’t that cute, there were other 12″ porcelain dolls in the world, and they were easily findable and buyable on eBay…

Next up: The Replacement.