Sunday, September 13, 2015

Vintage Vinyl Glamour Dolls

I don't set out to find 20+ inch dolls from the 1950's. I prefer to work with dolls 8 to 12 inches. Still, I have ended up the owner of more than one tall lady doll.

My first Revlon was an 18-inch pity buy. She was in the window of a 2nd hand store for months. I recognized her. I could afford her. The fact that she was in original clothing and nearly pristine dolls in original clothing left me cold should have stopped me. We failed to bond.

An 18-inch doll with fried hair and chewed hands excited my imagination. After my mother had had her for 2 years and done nothing, I asked for her. Hot water helped me push the vinyl back into place on the gnawed fingers. I tested several wig-making methods involving deconstructing wigs for people and sewing them to a cap. The former sandy blonde has two dark brown wigs and looks mysterious and French. Her dress is vintage 1960's fabric sewn from a commercial pattern.

 A 22-inch doll  spoke to me. Her hair was matted and thin in places, but this could be fixed with a crochet hook and some curly doll hair. I bought her for experimental purposes, and she nagged until she had clothing of her own. My drafting skills are minimal, and I had 3 different poly/cotton dotted swiss fabrics.


A Canadian doll saved a vacation. We'd gone to Canada for July 4, forgetting that Canada celebrated Independence Day July 1. Nothing was open, and nothing was going on.There were, however, garage sales. This lovely Earl Pullan doll has luminous skin tones and great hair. She's just tall, and different enough in body from Revlons that I need to work on my drafting skills. In other words, she's still waiting for clothing of her own. When I found her, she was wearing a baby dress and bonnet of  dark blue that had begun to stain her body.

One day at Goodwill a familiar foot shape poked up from a bin of assorted stuff and stopped me where I stood. I reached for the doll I could not see. I pulled her out to discover that she was a pink-haired lovely, an 18-inch Revlon I had only read about. And that the metal glitter on her tutu was staining her body.

My latest large acquisition is a 24-inch with a stuffed vinyl body. I bought her because there were no dolls where I was staying, and because she was available. Remarkably, this grocery store lady has good hair, both her earrings, and uncloudy eyes. Most grocery store lady dolls wore long formal gowns, but this one was quite clear in her instructions to me: She wanted  a day dress in a cotton print. The muslin almost works.  

I don't set out to buy large dolls. I cringe when I think about it.  But large dolls seem to have acquired me.

Shoes for high heeled dolls

Funny how things work out. I made my first pair of doll shoes when I was 10, from cardboard bent to fit Little Miss Revlon's  high heel feet. I was less than thrilled because the heels didn't work that well. Had I just kept painting them with white glue, they'd have hardened. In the time-honored tradition of kids everywhere, I abandoned the enterprise and tossed the visible results.

In the intervening decades, I've tried bending and folding and cutting a cardstock template for Gene with surprising success, and attaching cut-down golf tees to cardboard for a 22 inch Revlon clone, also surprisingly successful. The white plastic generic shoes from doll catalogs looked fine, and within months fell into brittle pieces. I saved the pieces. Who knows, glue and fabric and elastic may revive them.

Today I am bending cardboard to LMR's feet, attaching a heel support made with a bead roller, and building it up with bits of toilet paper and glue. I saw similar shoes built on MyFroggy.

The first outline of the doll's foot is inevitably too wide and too long. It enlarges when I trace my template. Cutting inside the lines helped. I use 4 layers of thin cardboard from a Coca-Cola box per shoe. Glued layers make a nice sturdy shoe base, but 4 is too many. Next attempt, use one layer, wet it, bend it.

I carefully measured the height of real LMR heels, cut a paper strip that wide by 5 inches long, and wound it in a paper bead roller from a kit by Creativity for Kids. I paid about $5 for this at Joann Fabric. Bead rollers from eBay can be pricey, and take time to get to you.

It is tempting to glue the heels to the sole early in the process. I really shouldn't have. I will be gluing the top of the shoe to something. It's not a disaster.

My Froggy advises us to cut the heel at a slant. Good luck with this. I do better with a single layer of cardboard at the back of the heel. After the heel is glued to the sole, I check to make sure the doll can stand. Sometimes my measuring is off, sometimes the doll's legs no longer are even.


Shaped soles and paper bead heels will work. It would have been better to have cut a fabric insole. It would have been better to have cut bits of cardboard and shaped them over the doll's foot, gluing them to the bottom of the sole. Was shaping the sole really necessary? Full of  shoulda-couldas, I abandoned the project until a barefoot doll looked at me accusingly. What would it take to turn them into wearable shoes? 

 A bit of white elastic sewn into a ring, a bit of white nail polish to finish the edges, and the barefoot doll had shoes with definite right and left feet.The doll can sometimes stand on her own.