Sunday, July 31, 2011

How to Make a Bistro Set

I’ve been remiss about posting lately because I’ve been trying to step up my game and develop some video content.  When I first started blogging back in April, I wanted to become a big time doll video producer like Vanessa over at Van’s Doll Treasures.

Technical difficulties uploading to You Tube delayed my first video offering and it is a tutorial rather than a story but it does show that Pepe and Eloisa, who went salsa dancing in “If They Could See Her Through My Eyes,” have been spotted keeping company again.

I hope you will enjoy the first Limbé Dolls video:

À Bientôt

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Breast Milk Baby

Animatronic baby dolls that coo and chortle when their sensors detect motion nearby often startle me when I wend my way through the toy department in Wal-Mart or Target.  These “lifelike” dolls strike me as creepy and I scoot into the Barbie aisle as quickly as I can with maniacal laughter echoing in my wake.  When I was a girl, my neighbor across the street had one of the first “Baby Alive” dolls, but I thought a doll that “’eats’ and ‘poops’ just like a real baby!” was just gross.  Today there are a number of potty training dolls on the market but the arrival of educational toy manufacturer Berjuan’s Breast Milk Baby has sparked controversy among American parents because the doll encourages children to imagine breast-feeding rather than bottle-feeding their babies.

Indeed, Berjuan created the doll, which has been a best seller for several years in Europe, to promote breast-feeding.  Supporters point out that the bottles typically supplied with baby dolls are not neutral but actually teach children that bottle-feeding is the norm despite the fact that breast-feeding is much healthier for infants.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 “Breastfeeding Report Card” notes that "3 out of every 4 new mothers in the United States now start out breastfeeding.”  Unfortunately, “rates of breastfeeding at 3 and 6 months remain stagnant and low.”  The report finds that the majority of mothers want to breast feed but still face multiple barriers such as stigmas or prohibitions against breastfeeding in public or in the workplace.  Hopefully, the puritanical attitudes that class the subject of breast-feeding in the realm of sexual taboo will fade long before today’s six-year-old dolly mamas grow up and have their own infants.  Thus the Breast Milk Baby is an educational toy with lessons for adults as well as children.

Here is a link to the European version of the commercial for “The Breast Milk Baby.”  FYI it includes scenes of a real infant nursing which probably won’t appear on TV in the U.S.  

Berjuan’s website currently offers six different models of The Breast Milk Baby for $89 a piece.  I was pleased to see Jeremiah and Jessica, two black dolls, included in the line-up.  Re-sellers on have already marked the price up to $118 and warn that they won’t have any dolls to ship until November 2011 so place your order now if someone on your list wants one for Christmas!

 À Bientôt

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Beautiful Ones

After a long day of sightseeing in Saint Louis, Senegal, Jamal and Jameelah have kicked off their shoes

and stretched out to rest. 

“Wake up Mrs. Johnson,” Jamal called first thing that morning, having donned the new robe and wooden beads he bought in the market the day before. 


The long flight from Houston following their wedding reception had wiped Jameelah out, but she put on her matching boubou, head wrap, and necklace of brightly colored wood beads and joined her husband on the veranda for breakfast. 

“It’s still hard to believe he’s mine,” she mused, stretching out a dainty wrist adorned with beads to touch her man.

Vanessa of Van’s Doll Treasures has forced my hand again by introducing her “Auntie Paulette” doll and including a link to my dormant Yatimi store so I thought I would take the opportunity to explain how the doll I gave her came to be.

I saw a pressing need for dolls that would reflect a positive self-image for little black girls. Rather than one of a kind art dolls that might sit on a girl’s dresser and never be touched, I wanted to make play line dolls that little girls could dress up and play with in all kinds of scenes.  I set out to design a line of African inspired fashion dolls and quickly ran up against the problem of how to produce them at an affordable price.  I could not pay myself even minimum wage for the hours and hours I invested in sewing clothes and making wigs, but even when I undercut myself, parents were reluctant to buy the dolls I had produced for young girls who would likely tear the doll up and loose the lovingly detailed little shoes and accessories I had made.

Then the notion of outsourcing the production came to me.  I made an arrangement to have African-style outfits hand dyed and sewn on the mother continent and sent a doll dressed in a model outfit to a women’s artisan collective in Ghana.  In my instructions I said
I would like twenty four (24) outfits like the doll is wearing.

Each outfit consists of three pieces – boubou (over dress), lappa (under garment), and head wrap.  Thus there are seventy-two (72) pieces in all.

I would like the outfits made up in cotton fabric with a purple fern batik print on six different colored backgrounds (pink, blue, yellow, purple, green, and orange).  See the attached swatches.  

I got four or five different colors, none of which matched the swatches.  To my eye the colors also did not coordinate well.  In art class I was taught to think in terms of complementary and analogous colors.  I had intended for the outfits to coordinate pieces in complementary colors (i.e. pink and green, yellow and purple).  My go between explained that for Ghanaians, if two garments have the same pattern (i.e. the repeated fern print), then they match, regardless of what color they are.

My go-between had also explained that Ghanaians don’t use sewing patterns, but I had attached a copy of my patterns anyway, hoping the supplier could at least use them for reference.  Further, I had designed the outfits so that they would be simple to sew, even without electric powered sewing machines.  The sewing students ignored my pattern and cut the garments in a wide variety of sizes.  I ended up using some of the boubous for male dolls because they seemed too large for the women.

The batik pattern I designed for the fabrics is based on the adkinkra symbol known as Aya, the fern.  Ferns can grow in any kind of soil so the Aya symbol stands for persistence, which has been an essential theme in my life.  In order to keep the pattern in 1:6 scale, I specified that “The ferns should be no larger than one inch (2.5 centimeters)” but the ferns on the fabric I got back were larger than I had indicated they should be. 

Additionally, I had suggested that it would be simpler to use purple thread matching the purple ferns for all the seams – “Then the thread will add a decorative contrast note to the garments,” I explained. The sewing students used a variety of different thread colors, which do not “match” or complement the color of the garments.  It appears they simply used what was on hand.

Thus, despite black nationalist assumptions that Africans on the continent and in Diaspora share the same culture and consciousness, my effort to have African style dolls made on the mother continent as a means of de-colonizing African American perceptions of beauty encountered many difficulties in cross cultural communication.  My target market and I share a positive stereotype of Africa as “authentic.” The Ghanaian women see all Americans as rich.  Indeed I suspect they may have known that they could not produce what I asked for at the price I offered, but they may not have been willing to say so for fear of losing the contract. 

In the end, I was pleased with the Ghanaian outfits.  I felt that the outfits I made reflected a romanticized “Africa of the heart” while the outfits they made represented what ordinary people might wear on a day-to-day basis.  In this sense I could see the end product as a collaboration with the Ghanaian women in which they asserted their own aesthetic vision and thereby enriched my idealized designs.

À Bientôt

Sunday, July 17, 2011

If They Could See Her Through My Eyes -- part 2

“If you can’t beat ‘em, sue ‘em” was Mattel’s response when MGA Entertainment’s Bratz began to erode Barbie’s market share.  Yet, after years of litigation, the Bratz line is now celebrating its 10th anniversary.  I never thought I would buy one of those hydro-encephalic, whorish-looking little creatures, but after noting the quality of the fresh fashions and accessories that come with MGA’s Moxie Teenz, I started looking at the Bratz with new eyes.  In particular I noted that recent models have scaled down versions of the Moxie Teenz’ articulated bodies.  So, frustrated in my quest to find the Clawd Wolf and Draculara gift set, I left Toys R Us with a Bratz Party Yasmin. 

First thing I did when I got her out of the box was pop off the grotesque head.  I tried to match the body with a proper 1:6 scale child’s head, but the womanly hips didn’t look appropriate for a young girl so I had to get creative.

The skin tone matched one of my off brand Latinas who was still awaiting a body upgrade and thus the Eloisa character was born.

Pepe was quick to stake his claim before the Joes could find out about this rare 1:6 scale lady who will never tower over them in heels.  Meanwhile the Garoul sisters were just as quick to claim the two outfits that came with Yasmin. 

Claudia snagged the fringed bag

and paired Yasmin’s tiered top with a flirty, gored denim skirt.  Then she bullied Gloom Beach Cleo De Nile into giving up her green platform sandals.

Glamour girl Claudine went for Yasmin’s sparkly raspberry ruffled top over skinny leg jeans.  

She also grabbed Yasmin’s faux suede cap

and faux fur vest.

Tomboy Claudette grabbed the denim shorts and the clingy pink t-shirt.

They would have taken Yasmin’s gold tights too, but couldn’t get their big feet through the ankle cuff.

Speaking of big feet, the one drawback of this articulated Bratz body is that the legs end in pegs and all the Bratz shoes made to fit them are as out-sized as the Bratz heads. 

I spotted some bare feet designed for Bratz in an eBay lot but it could take me some time to find a pair that match Yasmin/ Eloisa’s complexion.  In the mean time Eloisa can stand un-supported in a wide variety of Barbie boots that are more in proportion to her diminutive height.

My one regret is that Party Sasha, the black Bratz character, was nowhere to be seen but if I find her, she may make some vertically challenged Hasbro action figure very happy.  He will just have to buy her a new wardrobe since the Garoul sisters will probably gang up on her and take every stitch she owns!

À Bientôt

Thursday, July 14, 2011

If They Could See Her Through My Eyes

Pepe has been holding out on his bunkmates at the firehouse because his new lady is different.  She hails from Nicaragua where 27% of the population is chronically undernourished.  Eloisa didn’t get enough to eat at critical points in her childhood and therefore, though she is a strong-willed young woman of 23, she stands only 4’6” tall.


In Pepe’s eyes, however, she is a Titan.  He met her when he drove his abuela to church for a mission society meeting.  Eloisa spoke movingly about impoverished Nicaraguan mothers’ struggles to get health care for their children.  Pepe approached her afterwards to ask if he could donate some money, but in addition to a fat check for the mission society, Eloisa extracted a promise that he would donate his time.  Pepe didn’t mind volunteering since it meant seeing Eloisa again.  Finally, after a few weeks, he asked her to go salsa dancing with him and she said yes.

Pepe spent hours detailing his car.

In his spare time he restores vintage vehicles and re-sells them at a tidy profit.  He was just about to list this Ferrari for sale when he met Eloisa. 

When he pulled up outside Eloisa's apartment, he was very glad he had been too busy with the mission society to put the Ferrari on the market.  Eloisa isn’t much impressed with material things but her brothers decided he must be a man of substance and character since he had such a nice car. 

 Maybe they won’t break his legs for talking to their sister.


People stared in amazement when Pepe and Eloisa took the floor, but not because of Eloisa’s size. 

They moved so well together that space magically cleared around them as all the other dancers stopped to admire their passion and skill. 

In the world of salsa, men lead and women follow, but a good dancer can make her caballero look masterful or oafish.  Eloisa responded to Pepe's slightest touch...

He twirled her in and out, across and back...

Her supple body bent gracefully to his will...

By the end of the evening, it was plain to see they were a perfect match.

À Bientôt

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sewing for Skipper

I have a job interview coming up so I spent part of the holiday weekend making a new outfit.  Since my current job doesn’t pay very much, I am thankful that I learned to sew as a child.  When I was growing up, my parents bought me just about every Barbie I wanted for Christmas and birthdays.  They would not buy clothes, however.  Thus, my first motivation for designing and making clothes was to create wardrobes for my dolls.  

When I was in the third grade I took a sewing class at school.

We made a simple skirt and I used scraps from that fabric to make the skirt for the dress above.

I was very proud of the hand-stitched buttonhole that I made to fasten the dress in the back.

I was about ten years old when I made this dress. It was an approximate copy of a dress that I liked in the Sears catalogue.  Skipper’s redheaded friend, Tiff wore it the most.  I didn’t find a black Skipper or Skipper-sized doll until sometime in the 1990s so I asked Jaquelle to model these outfits and gave her an Afro-puffs hairstyle, which was popular in the early seventies.

My Skipper was a tomboy like me.  She wore jeans most of the time, but I made this outfit for her twelfth birthday party (I was twelve that same year).

One of my first adventures with using the sewing machine instead of sewing by hand was making a pair of pajamas from this fabric.  Of course my dolls had to have pajamas too so here is Jacquelle on her way up to bed.

I designed and made this ensemble when I was about twelve.  The coat was one of my first attempts at set in sleeves.

Sewing skills were just one of the benefits I got from playing with dolls.  My first year out of college I realized I needed a dress coat.  The coats I liked started at $300.  I only had $100 to spend so I caught a sale at the fabric store and invested in some heavy beige wool and a simple pattern.  I learned that the seam ripper is the most important tool in the sewing box, but the coat came out so well that I gained confidence to create wardrobes for myself.   

À Bientôt

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Wigging Out -- Natural Textures

My Franken-Liv was very lonely being the only big girl in my collection.


I thought my Daniela head might match the Moxie Teenz Arizona body but as it turned out, Arizona was slightly darker than Alexis but still close enough for the second Alexis head to become Franken-Liv’s twin sister.  I didn’t have a Liv head that would match Bijou, the “black” doll in the group but I figured she could be a cousin.  Here she is in the hat and wig that came with Arizona: 

These wigs don’t stay on and the fiber feels very cheap so I couldn’t rest until I made some decent wigs for Bijou.  Having already explored braids, twists, and Afro styles as options for my re-bodied Alexis, I decided to play with color and texture in the wigs I designed for Bijou.  

The Arizona character is supposed to be a dancer so Bijou adopted a dance pose to show off the necklace and earrings that accessorize Arizona’s ensemble.  A single thick braid gathers her natural texture hair at the top of her crown.

I wish the lacey tights weren’t attached to the skirt, but the matching bag would definitely serve for transporting leotards and dance shoes in style.

The low quarter boots are also very chic.

Next Bijou opted for soft, loose waves cut in a sassy bob.  This auburn shade complements her green eyes well.

As always the Moxie Teenz dolls come with plenty of bling and I especially like the crocheted cap.

Skinny-leg jeans and high-heeled riding boots with fringe down the side complete the look.

Of the three textured wigs I made for Bijou, my favorite is a wispy shag in warm brown.  I separate the strands of four ply yarn and stitch them to the wig cap individually.

This process takes just as long as twisting dreadlocks, but Bijou thinks the results are well worth the effort. 

(Here I must confess that I bought two Bijou’s.  The second one is awaiting a suitable 1:6 scale head so that she can begin her career as the 6’6” star center of a WNBA team.  A certain gentleman in my collection desperately needs a lady who can stand up to him…)

The third ensemble came with yet another killer bag.

It also accentuates Bijou’s mile long legs with pink lace leg warmers tucked into fringed boots.

I love the hat that came with this doll but did not judge her abbreviated denim shorts suitable for public display so for this shoot, we borrowed a pair of khaki shorts from my Kens.

In a pinch, Moxie Teenz can also borrow Ken’s shoes. 

If you are an animal lover like Bijou, the best accessory of all is her puppy.

This little fellow is fully jointed and can assume a wide variety of poses.

À Bientôt