My Vintage Gals

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I’ve been collecting Barbie Dolls since I was a teenager. It started with Special Edition Holiday Barbies and then grew to include more exclusive limited edition dolls. In recent years, I find myself fawning over vintage dolls or vintage inspired style. I love the Barbie Fashion Model Collection for its elegant nod to vintage fashion, while also leaning towards a modern aesthetic. It’s a nice substitute for actual vintage dolls and clothing which can be very expensive.

While vintage is usually out of my price range, I’ve still managed to collect three beautiful vintage dolls. Condition-wise, they are far from perfect, but I love them just the same.

My first ever vintage doll is a Bubble Cut Barbie, (1964-67). I found her on eBay almost 15 years ago. Some of her face paint was gone, her body was dirty, and she’s missing a pinkie finger. However, she doesn’t have green ear and her hair is perfect! Because of her faults, she was the perfect starter doll for a new vintage collector. I paid just $40 for her and the seller threw in a vintage yellow dress for free.

All she needed was some TLC. A little soap and water cleaned off the dirt. I touched up her face with some latex paint and made her some new clothes (using actual vintage Barbie clothing patterns I had in my sewing chest). Before I knew it, I had a pretty nice looking doll!

Bubble Cut Barbie

Bubble Cut Barbie, 1964-67. Handmade dress, vintage pattern.

It was at least seven years until I got my next vintage doll. While perusing tables at flea market in Northern Wisconsin, I came across a Midge Doll. She was buried under a bunch of other well played with Barbies (likely from the 80s), but as soon as I saw that distinctive flipped hair and vintage body style, I knew she was something special. A quick check of her markings told me she was an original 1964-67 Midge Doll. The seller and I haggled over the price until we arrived at $45. Her face paint is nearly perfect (only her lips are a bit faded), her hair is intact, there was a little dirt on her body, all limbs and fingers are perfect including toe and nail polish. All in all, I got a great deal.

Midge cleaned up beautifully and stands proudly next to her Bubble Cut friend. I made her some vintage style clothing as well.

Midge Pic

Midge Doll, 1964-67. Handmade shorts and shirt, vintage pattern.

While on vacation this year, I was lucky enough to receive a Twist & Turn Barbie (1966-67) as a gift. She was a little rough around the edges at first – her face and arms were greasy, the rest of her body had stains, and she’s missing some eye lashes. However, her hair and face paint are absolutely perfect. A little diluted rubbing alcohol took care of the grease, while soap and water took care of most of the stains. A cute modern dress finished off her new look and she’s absolutely beautiful!

Twist and Turn Barbie

Twist & Turn Barbie, 1966-67. Modern dress.

I’m in the process of making her a dress of her own using vintage fabric and patterns. I’ll post pictures when its done!

The doll case behind each of my dolls is another new addition to my collection. It too was a gift. After doing some research, I found out it’s from 1965 and the graphics depict American Girl Barbie wearing the outfit Fashion Shiner. Since these pictures were taken, I cleaned the case using warm soap and water and a toothbrush to wash the dirt out of every groove. Sadly, the case cover is almost completely detached, (one small piece of vinyl is holding it on). I used some sticky white auto vinyl to temporarily repair the damage. The clasp still works, so I’m using it as storage for Barbie Clothes and as a display piece.

Group Picture! Here are my vintage gals hanging out together…

Barbie Pic 1

My vintage gals hanging out with their handmade vintage style wardrobe. What will they wear??

Aside from new clothes, they are in for another surprise. Yesterday, I won an auction on eBay for a vintage brunette Bubble Cut Barbie, (only $19!!!). She’s on her way and I can’t wait!

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c.b.w. 2016

Favorite Thing Friday: Stitches

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With a muse as active as mine, the world around me is full of inspiration. Wherever I go something always catches my attention or inspires a mode of creativity. Sometimes I end up with an interesting project and other times something just makes me smile. I figured it might be fun to start a series that documents the things that bring me joy or trigger a mad need to create. Thus, begins Favorite Thing Friday.

This week it’s all about sewing! Recently, I found an interesting book called Design-It-Yourself Clothes: Patternmaking Simplified by Cal Patch. I’ve been intrigued with the idea of making my own clothes for a long time, but I never considered the concept of designing my own patterns. Until now.

Sewing my own clothes ties in quite nicely with my new love of knitting. Not only can I knit myself a cute cardigan, but I can pair it with a pretty top I created with needle and thread. Sewing is nothing new to me, so the learning curve lies in crafting accurate patterns.

I’m starting the process of patternmaking with a little reverse engineering. I picked up a few Simplicity Patterns of various skill levels to get a sense of how a pattern works and how to modify them. The fun part is I’ll get some cute new clothes as I pick apart each pattern. The first piece I made is this little floral top:

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Tailored to fit just right!
Photo and handiwork by: c.b.w. 2013

There are a few little mistakes, (I’ll never tell where), but I think it turned out pretty good. I even got to use my knitting skills to make i-cords for the draw strings in the sleeves. The fabric is Indonesian hand-dyed batik and I got it for the bargain price of $6 a yard, (what a steal!). For those looking for a project, the pattern is Simplicity New Look #6891.

As my day job winds down for the summer, I’m looking forward to more sewing and knitting projects. When I’m not writing, I’ll be stitching!

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2013

Sewing With Grandma

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One of the most precious memories I have of my Grandma is how much she loved to sew. She made beautiful patchwork quilts, pillows, and placemats out of calico prints and scraps of fabric. I loved watching her choose a color scheme, trace the pattern, and cut out the pieces. It was like watching an artist create a masterpiece.

One summer, my Grandma decided to make the most difficult quilt she’d ever attempted.  The flower basket pattern looks simple enough, but the difficulty lies in making sure each and every corner meets up without a gap. There’s about three dozen geometric pieces in each block! On top of that, she wanted to cover the borders and empty spaces with intricate stitch designs.

For most sewers this is a challenge, but my Grandma added a bonus challenge. She believed that patchwork quilts were best when made by hand. That meant tracing and cutting each piece individually and hand-sewing every single stitch. I remember watching her at the kitchen table with stacks of fabric and quilt templates. And how could I forget her sewing blocks together while in the car (it was a looooong drive into town) and even when flying (back in the days when it was okay to bring scissors on a plane).

A few years ago, my Grandma passed her crowning achievement to me. I’ve always treasured it, but now that she’s gone, her flower basket quilt is absolutely priceless.

Grandma's Handiwork: Flower Basket Quilt

Grandma’s Handiwork: Flower Basket Quilt

I love how I can still see her pencil marks and that I can remember her sewing some of the petal stitches. In particular, I have a distinct memory of her using pink thread to make the flowers in the upper right corner.

Grandma's stitched flowers and swirls.

Grandma’s stitched flowers and swirls.

As soon as I was old enough to hold a needle without hurting myself, my Grandma started to teach me how to sew. She taught me how to make invisible knots and how to evenly space stitches. Just like her, I learned how to do everything by hand. To this day, I make my quilts the traditional way.

I made my first micro-quilt when I was about nine years old.  While she was working on a larger Tumbler pattern quilt, I used a few scrap pieces to make a smaller version:

Tumbler Quilts. Grandma made the big one and I made the little one.

Tumbler Quilts. Grandma made the big one and I made the little one.

The bright yellow piece on my quilt was actually sewn in on purpose. One of the special things my Grandma taught me was to make sure there was an “oddball” piece or a mistake in every quilt. This was important because it paid homage to the pioneers who used nothing but scraps to make quilts. They didn’t have beautiful fabrics or the luxury of perfectly matching colors and we shouldn’t forget that tradition. Can you find the “mistake” in her quilt?

One of the last projects we ever worked on together was a quilt I started when I was sixteen. It took ten years for me to complete all the blocks (college kind of distracted me), but she was still there to help me lay out the border and trace the quilting lines. Then, there was one evening when we were both on the floor rolling out the backing and pinning all the layers together. I couldn’t have done it without her!

Another few years went by before I finally finished the quilt. I am so grateful that she got to see it before she passed away. Along with her flower basket quilt, my eight-point star quilt holds memories that will stay with me for a lifetime.

The last quilt I worked on with my Grandma.

The last quilt I worked on with my Grandma.

Yes, there are a few on-purpose mistakes in this quilt! Can you find them?

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c.b.w. 2013

How To Make Your Own Flag

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Why not celebrate the Fourth of July by making an American flag?  All you need is a little patriotism, a few supplies, and a simple layout.

I made my flag about ten years ago without a pattern and in the folk art style.  Thanks to a previous project of making curtains, I had plenty of red and blue plaid scraps, so I put them to use.  The beauty of this project, however, is that any print or style can be used to make a flag.  Search your craft closet or visit your local fabric store to find the perfect print to fit your taste.

Photo and handiwork by c.b.w.

Finished Size:

  • 31″ x 24″

Supplies:

  • 7 red, 2″ x 31″ strips
  • 6 white 2″ x 31″ strips
  • 1 blue square 13.5″ x 13.5″
  • Red DMC embroidery thread
  • 50 1″ star studs
  • Spray paint (optional)
  • 31″ x 24″ piece of fabric for backing
  • needle and thread or sewing machine
  • Steam iron

*Special Note: All measurements do not include seam allowance.  Be sure to add your chosen seam allowance to each measurement.

Steps:

1) Cut out red and white stripes.  Sew them together, (start with red at the top), by hand or by machine. Press seams open.

2) Cut out blue square.  Place it in the upper left hand corner of the stripe block and pin into place.

3) Count out 50 star studs. These stars come in gold and silver, but I decided to paint them white with spray paint.  Paint or no paint, place star studs in alternating rows of six and five, (starting with six at the top) until evenly distributed.   Pierce the brackets through all layers of fabric until every star is firmly in place.  Carefully flip the flag over and bend all brackets to secure the stars.

4) To give the blue section a folky look, fray the right and lower edges of the square.  Then, use red (any shade) DMC embroidery thread to stitch the right and bottom edge of the blue square to the stripes.  Use large stitches for that extra folky feel!

5) Cut out fabric backing (an old sheet works really well!).  Layer flag and backing right sides together and pin along all four edges.  Leave a four inch gap to allow for turning right side out.  Sew along all edges and then turn right side out.  Press in the four inch gap and seal with a hidden stitch. Press the entire flag, paying special attention to the newly sewn edges.

This beautiful flag is can be displayed in a number of ways.  Throw it on a table, tack it to a wall, or lay it over the arm of a chair to add a beautiful bit of patriotism to any home. The best part is, you made it yourself!

Happy 4th of July!

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c.b.w. 2012

Penny Rugs: Boot Scrapers to Placemats

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The penny rug has humble beginnings, but the beauty of this textile art has endured for more than 200 years.  Homemakers in the 1800s never let anything go to waste, so old clothing, hats, and blankets would be recycled into mats or rugs.  They would use coins as templates to make circles of different sizes, (hence the name “penny” rug) which were then sewn together in a variety of designs using a blanket stitch.  The name “penny rug” also has roots in the practice of sewing pennies inside the rug to make it lie flat.

19th Century Pennsylvania Penny Rug, Photo from J.Compton Gallery

Initially, penny rugs were used as door mats. Concentric circles were layered in stacks of three to give enough texture to clean the bottom of boots.  Burlap bags or feed sacks would also be reused to served as a backing to the rug to make it sturdy.

However, as time went by the penny rug evolved from a boot cleaner to a beautiful way to decorate the home.  Circle designs became more elaborate and were often fused with traditional folk art images, (i.e. quilt patterns, animals, trees, flowers, etc.).  Penny rugs got up off the floor and started adorning everything from tables, dressers, mantles, and even beds!

I started making penny rugs about six years ago.  They are a fantastic alternative to buying placemats that no one really likes and searching endlessly for a table runner that never truly fits the table!  In addition, penny rugs are a wonderful decorative touch for holidays and changing seasons.

Here are some of the penny rugs I’ve made over the years, (with exception to the 19th century Pennsylvania penny rug):

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While penny rugs look to be very intricate, most are actually very easy to make.  The most traditional layouts consist of nothing but circles, so the most difficult part of the entire process is deciding what colors to use.  Thick wools and flannels come in a variety of colors and patterns.  Raid the closet for fabric scraps or visit a local fabric store for a wide selection of wool felt.

The tradition continues to evolve as penny rugs now come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and patterns.  Modern motifs and folk art mainstays combine seamlessly with the classic penny design. Get those needles out and start stitching!

Penny Rug Wisdom:

  • When using felt, be sure to use 100% wool, (or at least a 70/30 blend).  The acrylic stuff warps easily and pills, while the real thing is incredibly sturdy. Besides that, wool felt has a more traditional look that befits a penny rug.
  • DMC Pearl Cotton #3 is an ideal thread to use for stitching.  It’s thick without being chunky and strong enough to handle the weight of wool felt.  When working with smaller pieces, use 2 strands of DMC embroidery thread.
  • Tapestry needles are perfect for wool appliqué.
  • The only stitch you’ll truly ever need is the blanket stitch. I love this stitch because it’s simple and it hides little mistakes.  Stitch School has a great tutorial on a blanket stitch, here.
  • Always work in layers.  Complete the rug one layer at a time in a way that allows stitches to be hidden and protected by subsequent layers.
  • Always put a backing on a finished piece!  It makes the penny rug more stable and it protects/hides all knots and stitches under the design.
  • Use a tiny dot of Aleene’s craft glue to hold a piece in place prior to stitching. This may sound like cheating to some, but I’ve found it be a lifesaver when laying out pieces. Trust me, it works!
  • The best way to transfer a pattern to wool is to use freezer paper that has one side coated with plastic. Trace every piece of the pattern (if the pattern calls for 26 circles, trace 26 separate circles).  Cut out the pattern pieces and lay them on the wool plastic side down.  Press them down with a hot, dry iron until all edges are completely bonded.  This makes it so much easier to cut out each piece without the pattern slipping.  The freezer paper will peel right off when no longer needed.
  • There’s no such thing as making too many penny rugs!

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c.b.w. 2012