The Love Factor of Dolls

(Cross-posting this on The Family Kalamazoo under a different title)

Thanks to a comment by Robin (be sure to check out the stories on her blog), I was reminded how handmade doll clothing can be more meaningful than the dolls themselves. Sewing doll clothing for me is how my grandmother Marie stirred my love of dolls. Grandma was the Head Fitter of the 28 Shop at Marshall Field’s flagship store in Chicago for years and an artist with a needle.

From the time I was born, Grandma sewed me beautiful dresses. But I first paid attention to her sewing on Christmas the year I was four. As we opened gifts, Grandma leaned down toward me, with her pearls swinging, and handed me a huge box.  The blue eyes of a doll my size stared back at me when I pulled up the lid.  I named her Bonnie, after one of my favorite records, “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.”

Grandma handed me another large, but more beautifully wrapped, box.  I untied the grosgrain ribbon and discovered she had sewn an array of beautiful dresses trimmed in selfsame bows and flowered beads.  The beret Grandma created for Bonnie matched the pink satin-lined pale blue velvet coat.

Bow on back of Bonnie's velvet coat

Bow on back of Bonnie’s velvet coat

Pearl button closures on Bonnie's velvet coat

Pearl button closures on Bonnie’s velvet coat

When I was eight, Grandma sewed me a glorious trousseau of clothes for the imitation Barbie (Miss Suzette) my parents had given me.  My doll didn’t have the requisite zebra-striped swimsuit or the Enchanted Evening gown and fur stole, but she had a copper satin cocktail sheath covered with a copper rose point lace outer skirt.  Both were trimmed in copper seed beads.  The wedding dress of white satin was heavily beaded with real seed pearls. A lace trimmed slip fit underneath and the veil was matching lace and beaded with the pearls.  I looked for stitches to see Grandma’s tricks, but they were invisible as all good magic.

When I was away at college, my mother gave the Barbie clothes away. While Bonnie has always sat on a chair in my bedroom, for a long time I kept Bonnie’s clothes in a small suitcase in my closet, away from dust and sunlight, and reveled in the knowledge that I had preserved these treasures.  After moving to my last house, I decided to put them away more securely.

Then I forgot where I put them! For years I thought they were lost. Finally, last year, I found the clothing. The only piece missing is the velvet beret.  All I have left of the Barbie clothes are the memories as I don’t have a photo of them.

All these years later, my parents have given me my grandmother’s German porcelain doll and the clothing she made for her.

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These doll clothes represent all the beautiful clothing my grandmother designed and sewed over the years. Clothing, Art really, which is long gone.


My recent doll posts:

The Creep Factor of Dolls

The Historical Factor of Dolls


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Dolls, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs, Vintage American culture, Writing

17 responses to “The Love Factor of Dolls

  1. What a great feeling it must have been to discover the clothes. Your grandmother was very talented!

    • Luanne

      Thanks, Jill–on her behalf! She was so talented! I regret that the most intricate, detailed, work-intensive pieces (the Barbie clothes) are gone. Thanks for reading!

  2. The doll clothing is exquisite and to think that your Grandmother handmade them for you, makes the clothing all the more special. I love stories of love, Luanne! You were wise to pack the clothes up and stash them away to be rediscovered. My Barbies and their clothing were given away as well. I wish that I still had them.

    • Luanne

      Aw, I wish you still had them, too! They are all so special! I wish I had saved some of the clothes she had made for me, too!

  3. Luanne, thank you for including my name as an inspiration for your post. Your grandmother was an excellent seamstress and held a very prestigious job in those days! I really love the details you included in this, including your opening the gifts that enclosed handmade clothes and a special life size doll, Bonnie. I also like your wardrobe description of Miss Suzette with her copper sheath and finery. I always loved my Mom’s sewing, she would make the two of us matching outfits. I had a corduroy skirt with a vest that had a nice bandana, quilted print. I think the skirt is with my oldest daughter. She loved to make her grandchildren Barbie dresses. I put my oldest grandson in a jacket made of terry cloth, to wear at the pool, this summer. It had been my youngest brother’s with anchors and ships, red, white and blue.

    • Luanne

      Do you have pix of the two of you wearing the matching outfits? You are so lucky to still have some of the clothing items! Thanks for making me think of this subject, Robin!

      • You are so lucky to have the doll with her wonderful clothes! I still have the outfit with the red bandana and cordury skirt, but my parents only took rare photos, mostly on holidays. I have some where my brothers wore the same vest for a Christmas picture and one with my grandson in that terry cloth jacket for after the pool or beach. You are most welcome, by the way! I like to read what you share in your posts

  4. If you can be Fresh Pressed three times, this should be number three.

  5. What a wonderful post, Luanne! I have a friend who has sewn doll clothing for her granddaughter as well as upholstery for her doll house! I can only hope that her granddaughter will come to appreciate these gifts as much as you’ve appreciated yours. Thank you so much for sharing these memories and the photos.

    • Luanne

      How marvelous! I love the idea of the upholstery, making it so special! I hope your friend’s granddaughter will, too, and that her son or daughter will make sure that they aren’t gotten rid of when the child gets older.

  6. Beautiful gifts from your grandmother! A lovely post.

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