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Brown is Beautiful: American Girl Doll of the Year 2017 Gabriela McBride

Meet Gabby!

Hello there, Friends! A Doll’s Picnic is back! Today I’d like to share my thoughts about a very beautiful doll of color: American Girl of the Year 2017 Gabriela McBride! There are many wonderful reviews of Gabby already available, including some great Youtube reviews. So instead of a real, in-depth review, I just want to share some pictures and my opinion of this beautiful doll.


First, I want to apologize for the quality of the photos. I took them on a very stormy day when my camera wasn’t cooperating with me, so they’re not as clear and well-lit as I’d like. It’s a little frustrating because Gabriela has such a stunning face and lovely coloring. Hopefully I can get some better outdoor photos in the days ahead and share those with you sometime soon.

Now for the background: It took me a little longer than usual to bring this doll home because lately I’ve been feeling very annoyed with American Girl. The news that modern AG dolls are now being manufactured with permanent, sewn-on undies that are part of the doll body, as well as a gradual overall decrease in the quality of AG dolls at the same time that their prices have steadily been rising, has really disappointed me. Besides this, I am not happy about the way AG handled Gabriela’s collection and debut. Unfortunately these issues have affected my enthusiasm for one of my favorite lines, the American Girl of the Year.

However, I knew I wouldn’t be happy with myself unless I bought the Gabriela doll. As little as I want to support AG right now for their marketing decisions and product changes, I do want to show my support for them at last producing an African American Girl of the Year character. And all my issues with the company aside, I’m glad I bought Gabriela, because she is truly a stunning doll. My photographs simply do not do her justice. It’s not that she’s not photogenic, because she is–she’s just so much more beautiful in real life. Frankly I don’t think most of the stock images of Gabriela in the catalog or online do her justice–but then that’s not anything new.

So beautiful.

The Gabriela doll is a redressed re-release of the American Girl Truly Me #46 doll, who was retired specifically for this purpose last year. I’ve never had #46 before; the curly hair scared me and the Sonali face mold is not my favorite. So I knew Gabriela was going to be new to me, even if she was a major disappointment for many collectors. However, it upsets me that American Girl took the short-cut of pulling one of their modern dolls out of the line-up and redressing her to sell as a Girl of the Year character. Previously every single Girl of the Year has been carefully designed to be unique from her predecessors in some way. The #46 doll is no longer available in the Truly Me line, but Gabriela is identical to the #46s already existing (any slight differences of coloring, hair length, etc., are simply production batch differences). This gave her debut a half-hearted feeling, which comes across as incredibly disrespectful for the first-ever African American Girl of the Year character. When combined with her unorginal collection which merely recycles ideas already used in Marisol’s (2005), Saige’s (2013), and Isabelle’s (2014) stories and collections, it seems clear that AG simply did not care to put a lot of time, money, and effort into the development of this doll.

Furthermore, it seems apparent from the unoriginality of the doll and the skimpiness of her collection, as well as the debut of Tenney Grant only two months later, that Gabriela was not originally intended to be Girl of the Year 2017. It could just be a glaringly obvious marketing strategy that Tenney Grant was given the original story and features and all the big ticket accessories and fancy outfits. Did AG simply not want to put all their eggs in one basket with Gabriela? Or was Tenney originally designed to be the Girl of the Year 2017, and only demoted to “Contemporary Character” status when the customer outcry over the lack of diversity–and specifically the glaring lack of an African American character–became too loud for AG to ignore any longer? Either way, American Girl needs to know that their fan base has noticed. It doesn’t look good.

However, American Girl has finally managed to create an African American Girl of the Year character. Whatever the disappointments and shortcomings involved, I am able to separate the doll from these issues and appreciate her for what she is: a beautiful and enjoyable doll. Gabby’s character is a poet in addition to a dancer and artist, which is a new idea. I love poetry and the arts, so there’s no reason for me to not like her collection. I also have most of Isabelle’s outfits, so I was hoping Gabby might commandeer those in addition to her own (I have ordered one of Gabby’s outfits, which was on back order and has just shipped). There are currently only four outfits in Gabby’s collection, including the one she arrives in, so I do hope they release a few more outfits for her before year’s end. Right now I just have the doll and her Showtime Kit accessory set. I would normally have purchased the regular accessories, but I think Gabby’s accessories are pathetic and over-priced, so I skipped them.

I actually have had two Gabby dolls. The first was ordered online along with another doll. When the order arrived, though, there were two problems. First, Gabby’s lips were painted so crookedly that they were about a quarter of an inch askew. Secondly, I ordered Gabby with pierced ears but the other doll in the order arrived with pierced ears instead. That’s the first time I’ve had two problems like this in one order. Fortunately, we had to make a trip down to the Bay Area anyway, so we were able to go to the San Francisco store and exchange both dolls. That meant I was able to choose my Gabby doll in person! Yay! I looked at every single Gabriela doll in the store (there were probably thirty boxes or so out on display). I found several I liked, but I was a bit disappointed because none of them evoked a special response. The very last doll was tucked in an awkward corner under a display case facing the store windows. I picked her up, looked at her face, and spontaneously cried, “Ooooooh!” I knew she was the one. And here she is:

Gabby, fresh and shiny.

My Gabby has a breath-taking face. I think it’s a combination of her head-tilt and her sweet, peaceful, earnest, kind expression. I wish I could capture it better on film.

Her head was turned slightly to the left originally, which exaggerated her head tilt and sweet expression, but the store employee straightened it in order to pierce her ears.

You can see that my Gabby’s teeth are painted a bit crookedly, but this doesn’t bother me. I wish I had a picture of the first Gabby’s lips–they were painted about a quarter of an inch off her mouth to the right side.

I just love her expression and coloring, which was accentuated by her arrival outfit and the beautiful interior of her box. The Sonali-mold has large, deep eyes which make her seem extra thoughtful and sincere. Her coloring is rich and rosy. She has a serene quality about her.

Hair in the net.

Here’s a picture of her out of the box with her hair net still on. In the sunlight you can appreciate her rich, chocolate brown, and yet golden coloring. You might think that a doll with deep brown skin, dark brown eyes, and dark brown hair is a bit monotonous, but Gabby isn’t at all. Her hair has a golden glow (which my camera doesn’t capture very well) and her skin tone has almost a rosy hue.

Hair loose.

Here she is with her hair loose for the first time. A note about the hair: Gabby’s wig is exactly the same as that of Truly Me/ My AG / Just Like You #26 and #44. It is exactly the same as my brand-new #26 doll that I picked out at the same time: same length, same color, same curl style. Her hair is reasonably thick and short hairs cover the wig cap well.

From the back.

This wig style has evolved over the years and the curls are now much looser than the tight, perfect corkscrews it used to feature. It’s a bit longer and the curls droop lower on the dolls’ shoulders, and to me they look more natural. Honestly, I like this new wig much better than the original. For some reason I am less afraid to mess it up.


Many parents and collectors shy away from dolls with curly hair because they think it has lower play value: that it will be difficult to keep the hair looking nice or that it can be messed up more easily than some other hair styles. It is true that it is impossible to play with this kind of wig and keep it in pristine condition. As I have (gently!) changed Gabby’s outfits her hair has inevitably loosened up and frizzy fly-aways have appeared. But it is totally untrue that you can’t play with this type of hair. It can be put in all kinds of styles, including braids, and all it takes is some water or braid spray and finger curling to neaten it up again after play. It can even be brushed (gasp!), though you won’t want to unless you deliberately want to restyle the entire wig. What many parents and collectors don’t realize is that the hair on this wig wants to return to its original curl formation. I know because I once had a #26 doll whose hair was like-new but extremely dry. I brushed the entire wig out into a fluffy mass. It wasn’t a matted mess, like people will claim; it was actually soft and pretty. Then I used braid spray and my fingers to reform the curls. I was surprised to find the strands of hair jumping back into their original position. There are Youtube videos that will show you how to recurl hair of this kind. It isn’t difficult, but it can be time consuming–and to reiterate, the hair when played with will never look exactly as it did when the doll was new. It is a mistake to let this wig keep you from buying or playing with your doll! Play dolls aren’t meant to be perfect.

So lovely.

I love Gabby’s arrival outfit–except the shoes.

Goofy shoes.

Um… do kids actually wear shoes like this?? Are they supposed to be dance shoes? I would have preferred a pair of Converse-style sneakers or even ballet flats.

But her outfit is gorgeous. I love the layers, I love the cool, jewel-like colors (they’re some of my favorites!), I love the “dream” logo, I love the stretchy fabrics.

Pretty shirts.

I love that either shirt can be used alone. The layers also give her outfit a little more value. According to AG the tee on top is a “sweatshirt,” but it is not made out of traditional sweatshirt material. It’s a nice sturdy fabric, though.

Under tank.

Oddly, the tank underneath doesn’t close with velcro–it has to be pulled off over the doll’s head. Which is fine, except that repeated changes can stretch out the shirt and will definitely mess up Gabby’s curls. I would have preferred the usual closure. It’s so pretty, though.

What a pretty girl.

Gabby looks fabulous in both the rich plum of the upper tee and the serene aquamarine of the tank top.

I do wish they had given her a decent hair accessory, though. The stretchy pink double-ribbon hair band she comes with doesn’t match her gorgeous outfit and is cheap. Come on, AG–this is the Girl of the Year! In some of the pictures here I’ve used the braided silver hairband that comes in her Showtime Kit accessory set to hold her hair back, and this is the kind of thing she should have come with. (And a bracelet! Tenney gets a bracelet–why not Gabby? Argh).

She should have come with this.

Anyway, to the earrings.

Musical notes–for a poet??

Here are the special earrings that Gabriela (and Tenney) get, if you want to have their ears pierced. But the musical theme of the earring set, which is the same set for both dolls, makes it clear it was intended originally for Tenney, not Gabby. I so wish they had seen fit to give Gabby her own special earring set–maybe with a little silver pen for a poet? Or paintbrush for an artist??

Songbirds–for a poet??

The final pair of earrings are small, pale aqua roses, which are beautiful, but also one of Tenney’s motifs. I couldn’t get my camera to take a good picture of them.

Gabby’s artistic box.

I haven’t talked about Gabby’s box yet. It is a new box style and initially I was not happy about this change. The traditional lift-top box has become to me almost a part of the AG doll–it has always been an important part of the doll-buying experience, anyway. It feels precious, it stores well, it’s easy to return the doll to, it’s nostalgic, and there aren’t many dolls on the market with that style of box. That being said, when I saw the new boxes in person I was surprised to find that I disliked them a lot less that I expected. The main thing I noticed is that the new boxes still present the dolls in a beautiful way. The only thing I really don’t like about them is the glaring product warning printed right on the front. Why couldn’t that have been printed on the side? Otherwise the boxes are sturdy, attractive, and well-designed. The dolls are held in securely and I like how the boxes are specially decorated for each character. It doesn’t take significantly more time to take a doll out of the new box style, although the wrist straps seem totally superfluous.

Artsy for an artist!

Anyway, I love the colors on the inside of Gabby’s box. They echo Gabby’s arrival outfit, and I especially love the mosaic motif. I think the interior of Gabby’s box is far more attractive than Tenney’s.

Gabby is such a beautiful, pleasing doll that I was hoping she would prove versatile as far as what kind of clothes she looked good in. I was particularly hoping that she would claim the Isabelle mix-and-match pieces I love, but which my other dolls don’t seem to like. I spread out a bunch of artsy separates on the floor.

Artsy doll clothes.

These are all modern–I wasn’t ready to try any historical styles yet.

More clothes.

Gabby quickly put together a string of outfits, which I’m happy to share with you:

Spiffy Gabby.

I found that she looks best in rich colors.

Sporty Gabby.

She seemed comfortable in a range of looks.

Snuggly Gabby.

Here are the Isabelle ensembles she created:

Creative Gabby.

I can’t get anyone else to wear those funky pants!

Peachy Gabby.

She especially glows in peaches, purples, and lavenders.

Dancy Gabby.

She looks best in more saturated colors, though–some of her choices seemed a bit too pale.

Lilac Gabby.

I found she never really strayed too far from the palette she arrived in.

Mix-and-match Gabby.

Gabby dressed up as Isabelle:

Dance-star Gabby!

But she prefers to be herself, rather than imitating someone else.

Sparkly Gabby.

Finally she settled on a casual pairing of an AGSF store tee and her own stretchy jeggings:

Cute Gabby.

A note about Gabby’s body fabric: Some collectors are up in arms over the change in AG’s body fabric. My Gabby does have the new fabric, which is slightly thinner and more shiny than the previous fabric. However, I want to point out that AG’s body fabric has changed several times over the years, and some of those changes weren’t for the better. From the white muslin of the original dolls, AG went to tan, and then to a horrid orangey-beige sometime during the mid-90’s. In the mid-2000’s they went with a fairly stretchy fabric, and then it changed back to a nice, sturdy muslin again. This latest change doesn’t seem particularly significant to me. I’m much more concerned about the squishy vinyl that’s been showing up in some of the dolls (my Gabby is normal). The perma-panties looming on the horizon, though–that’s a whole different thing.

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures just in case you were still on the fence about Gabriela.

There is a special, intangible quality about her beauty.

She’s not just another pretty AG doll. She has soul.

Thanks for reading! Happy Spring from A Doll’s Picnic!

LunaScapes: Luna and the River

Meet Luna

Meet Luna. Luna loves to explore. Luna is originally from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Though Luna is small, which makes her a bit shy, she is full of curiosity. She loves to see and do everything!

Today Luna traveled to the Sacramento River with Ali.

Don’t fall in, Luna!

It is March, and the river is full. Luna loved to watch the current splashing by. Though she easily could have been swept away if she had fallen off her rock, Luna wasn’t afraid.

The shore of the river was full of textures, light, and shade.

Luna’s nest.

Luna found a place to perch on a riverside tree. Some time ago high water lodged grasses and twigs in the crook of the branch to form a kind of nest. Luna liked to imagine she was a colorful little bird.

Next, Luna found a big alder tree and climbed up on a stump.

I am Luna.

Have you noticed Luna’s excellent balance? The tree gave Luna a bird’s eye view of the river.

Luna couldn’t get enough of climbing!

We love you, Luna.

Though Ali was a bit nervous, Luna clung tenaciously to her branch and surveyed the river’s domain.

Next, Luna explored the rocks along the shore.

Pretty colors, Luna!

This was Luna’s favorite rock. It had almost as many colors as Luna does!

Luna likes rocks.

Luna liked this blue-green rock as well.

Luna was soon captivated by the moss that decorated many rocks and boulders along the shore.

Mossy spot.

The moss felt like a soft, cool carpet, and Luna loved its bright green color.

More moss.

How many mossy rocks could she find?


And another! So much moss!

Luna was getting a little tired. She decided to take a nap on the cool moss.


That’s better, Luna. Whoops, a squirrel rushing by woke her up. What more was there to see?

Luna walked along the river until she found a perfect fairy spot.

Where’s Luna?

Can you find Luna?

There she is!

The sun was getting low. Ali said it was time to go home and have tea. Oh boy! Tea!

Luna took one last look around and then said goodbye to the river… for now. Adios!

Luna is a handmade Mexican rag doll from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Photos by Ali.

Favorite Pictures, Part 1

Hello Readers!

A Doll’s Picnic is back! It has been a long time since my last post, I know. Last fall I decided to return to school as an online student in order to finish my undergraduate degree, and I was accepted by Antioch University. I’m happy with my decision and the program so far. It seems to be the perfect way for me to return to school; I love my freedom and I’ve always struggled to accept the restrictions inherent in pursuing a traditional college education. As an online student I can set my own schedule and work at home, while still being able to pursue my skating and other important activities. However, the class load turned out to be much more intense than I expected! The full-time load was so time consuming, in fact (more than 40 hours a week!), that during my second term I had to drop a class and accept that a part-time course load works much more harmoniously with my life. In any case, that’s why my blog has been completely neglected for the last several months. I’m hoping to be a bit more active here now that I’ve become accustomed to the pace of being a part-time online student. This week I’m on break between terms, so we’ll see what I can do.

A few days ago I found myself going through my folders of hundreds of doll pictures here on my computer in order to revisit my favorite photographs. They were so fun to look at that I’ve decided to share my very favorites here. Because I have quite a few favorite pictures of my dolls, I’m going to share them in parts. This first group is composed of single portraits. Next, I hope to share some of the first photos I took of my first dolls (on real film!). Finally, I hope to share some of my favorite photographs of my dolls in groups. Of course, half the fun of having a doll blog in the first place is in sharing photographs of my dolls, and some of my favorites have already been posted here, so I’ll skip those. What follows is just a collage of photographs in no particular order.

I’m not sharing these because these are fabulous photos–I’m by no means an experienced photographer. These are just pictures that I simply love and make me happy. Sometimes I remember a photo because I captured something quintessential about how I felt about a particular doll; sometimes the picture really captured something of the individuality of the doll; sometimes I like the composition or the lighting; and sometimes they just make me happy without me knowing why. I hope they bring you joy as well–and most of all, I hope my pictures encourage you to go out and take pictures of your own dolls! What’s the point of having dolls if we don’t play with them? Taking pictures is one of the primary ways adult collectors play. 🙂

In the ten years that I have been collecting dolls, many dolls have passed through my home. Most of them have stayed with me for a while, been loved and enjoyed, and then have gone on to find homes with family members, charity recipients, or other collectors. For whatever reason, I don’t tend to hold onto most of my dolls for more than a few years, so many of the dolls in these pictures are now just loving memories. That’s part of the joy of revisiting these old pictures. They are reminders of special friends I spent time with, and I think I love them all the more for being so willing and able to let them go.

Pepper Robert, aka Maggie Amanda, aka Emma Jo

Emma Jo… aka Maggie Amanda… aka Pepper Roberta, aka “Kit.”

This is Emma Jo with Muir the Bear (I love dolls with bears!). Emma has had several name changes in the years she’s been in my/our collection. She was purchased in 2009 as an  anniversary gift, and I gave her the name Pepper Roberta. After hanging out in my collection for a couple of years she joined my husband’s collection where she was christened Maggie Amanda. Now she has once again joined my collection and I felt it was time for a new name in honor of discovering her all over again. This time I’m christening her Emma Josephine, or Emma Jo for short. Emma has always been a wonderful doll to photograph, and this is one of those very favorite pictures that just makes me happy.

Addy Walker times two. Left: Elinor, right, Abby.

Addy Walker, times two! Left: Elinor, right, Abby.

This picture is special to me for a couple of reasons. First, I think it is a wonderful portrait of two different Addy dolls whom I have loved. Second, it shows how different two individuals of the same type of doll can be. On the right is Abby, my first Addy doll. Abby was just my second American Girl doll as a collector! She joined my collection in 2006 and was originally named  Violet until she joined my sister’s collection later on. Abby was what I would call a mid-Mattel-era Addy doll. Compare her face to Elinor, on the left, and you will see how much the face mold evolved in just a few short years. Elinor was purchased in 2010, when I began missing Abby/Violet. She had a whole different look and expression. The dolls were also different heights, and even had slightly different skin tones. I find these differences fascinating!

Surf's up, Paulina and Kamea!

Surf’s up, Paulina and Kamea!

This picture just makes me giggle! We were hosting a tropical-themed party to welcome Kamea (American Girl of the Year 2011 Kanani). Paulina couldn’t help hamming it up! Though Kamea spent only a couple of years with us before continuing her dolly adventures elsewhere, Paulina is the doll who started my adult collecting. She’s actually my husband’s doll now, and she’s a permanent fixture in our household!

Marjorie Mae

Marjorie Mae

I’ve had several Molly dolls over the years, including this little Mattel sweetie. I just love the lighting in this picture, as well as Marjorie’s outfit and the way I did her hair.

Doll hugs.

Darling Melanie… and doll hugs.

This is a doll I’ve been missing lately: Melanie Roxanne, Just Like You/My American Girl #26. Melanie gave fabulous hugs. I loved her amber eyes and sweet expression, but I found her curls a little off-putting because they made me nervous (I was so afraid to mess them up). What a beautiful doll, though.

Umeko Patience and a daffodill.

Umeko Patience and daffodil.

Every now and then, a doll has come along who was just exactly what I needed at a certain time. I found Patience on eBay, after being inspired by the fabulous blog Lissie and Lilly to find a Just Like You #4 doll. I couldn’t really tell from the pictures what condition the doll was in, but when Patience arrived, it was clear that I had a fixer-upper project on my hands. This project gave me something to do during a very tough time. Patience’s sweetness, sympathy, and cheerfulness helped me through, and she and I are now best friends. By the way, her favorite color is yellow. 🙂

Harriet Eloise!

Harriet Eloise!

This is Harriet, another extra special doll. Harriet (American Girl of the Year 2008 Mia) came into my life just after I learned how to skate as an adult, and even traveled with me to my first competition where we performed together! Although she eventually continued on her way into the world, I have many fond memories of Harriet. This picture just makes me happy.

American Girl Kaya and Julie dolls by the lake

Ursie and Joannie at Lake Siskiyou

I don’t often take dolls with me to the lake as I’m afraid to leave them on the shore while I swim, but I guess on this particular day I was feeling just a bit bolder than usual.

Katrin in the snow

Katrin in the snow

Here, lovely Katrin was exploring one of our rare snowfalls. I just love the sunlight and her warm winter sweater!

Harriet and Hobbes

Harriet and Hobbes

Dolls like cats. Cats like dolls. 🙂

Amy Gratitude Octavine Taylor

Amy Gratitude Octavine Taylor

This is one of my very favorite doll portraits. Amy was so beautiful and confident and strong. She was a retired, MCM sale Just Like You #1 doll I found on eBay in new condition one Thanksgiving Day. She’s no longer in my collection, but this picture gives me fond recollections.

Guess where Melita is standing???

Guess where Melita is standing???

Right outside of American Girl San Francisco, that’s where! Melita (My American Girl #55) traveled down with me for the Beforever debut weekend; here she’s modeling Rebecca’s Beforever Meet outfit.

Taking outdoor pictures with dolls is so much fun!

Taking outdoor pictures with dolls is so much fun!

I loved walking with Melita (and my sister and her Kaya doll!) through the outdoor mall where the American Girl San Francisco store is situated. No one there seems too startled at seeing a grown-up lady with a doll under her arm, because everybody knows the AG store is right around the corner. They have such beautiful summer flowers in Palo Alto.

Melita loved flowers

Melita loved flowers

One last picture of Melita. Melita is an example of a doll that I ended up selling and then missing so much that I recently replaced her! That happens sometimes. 🙂

Melanie and Pooh Bear

Melanie and Pooh Bear

Okay, here is one of my more artsy shots. I just love this picture… and I do miss this doll!

Jane goes raspberry picking

Jane goes raspberry picking

Jane (My American Girl #53) was such a lovely and sweet doll. I didn’t end up keeping her for very long, but I sure had fun taking pictures of her sweet self. This picture makes me want her back again!

Emmie in the window

Emmie in the window

This doll was such a fun eBay find: a truly excellent condition Just Like You #2 doll. She didn’t end up fitting my collection, but she had such a perfect, mid-Mattel-era classic face. She always seemed so up for anything.

Grania--looking gorgeous

Grania: looking gorgeous

This is Rebecca Grania, a fabulously gorgeous doll I don’t think American Girl should have retired: My American Girl #45. I just loved everything about this beauty’s looks.

Patience and more daffodils

Patience and more daffodils

Patience loves the spring, and adventures, and traveling! Here she accompanied me to nearby Ashland, Oregon, to look for all the spring flowers. She looks awesome in Grace’s coat, too!

Ashleigh Carolina

Ashleigh Carolina

This is another doll I missed so much that I had to replace: Ashleigh, aka American Girl of the Year 2014 Isabelle. Everything about the Isabelle doll just looks so classic to me. Ashleigh was a very modern, artsy sort of person, and looked like a model.

Melanie in the morning

Melanie in the morning

One last picture of Melanie looking adorable in the morning light. Man, I miss this doll. Okay, eBay, here I come!

Melita Danielle... and Arthur bunny

Melita Danielle… and Arthur Bunny

And one last picture of lovely Melita with Arthur the Bunny! My American Girl/ Truly Me #55 is such a lovely and unique doll. If you’re on the fence about her… get her!

Katrin and the violets

Katrin and the violets

Katrin and her spaniel are keeping guard over the spring violets. Let’s hope her puppy chases away the deer!

Sylvie-Anne enjoying the fresh powder

Sylvie-Anne enjoying the fresh powder

Sylvie-Anne (American Girl of the Year 2015 Grace) was as excited as I was when we received an inch or two of fresh powder last December! (Clear elastics helped her hold the snowball for the picture).

Pleasant Company dolls are special

Melinda: Pleasant Company dolls are special

Melinda was a Pleasant Company Felicity doll who spent a while in our home. Melinda worked as a model for a doll-clothes store for the first twenty years of her life. I carefully restored her, enjoyed her for a while, and then sent her on her way. She had the loveliest, rosiest complexion I’ve ever seen on a doll, and the quintessential, sweet, old Pleasant Company face.

Dolls and roses go together

Dolls and roses go together

I didn’t keep this My American Girl #27 doll long, but I sure enjoyed taking pictures of her! She was just lovely, and was delighted by my modest little garden.

So photogenic!

So photogenic!

She wanted to look at every flower.

Especially the asters

Especially the asters

She seemed especially bewitched by the purple asters.

Dolls and bugs

Dolls and bugs

Okay, this is going to seem a bit random, but I just love this picture! Harriet skated with me at my first (and so far, my only) competition. We were taking a break outside the rink in the sunshine and we found this cool beetle on her tights. It’s kind of a ladybug, but not.

Beverly and the queen anne's lace

Beverly and the queen anne’s lace

I love this portrait… I have this thing about American Girl Gwen dolls. They are just so sweet and lovely, and I love the swoopy hair.

Molly modeling

Molly modeling

This lovely Molly doll was modeling a dress by The Dollies’ Dressmaker for a blog post last spring. I just love this shot from above.

Lydia--what a beauty

Lydia: what a beauty

All Josefina face mold dolls are gorgeous, and Lydia (American Girl Felicity’s best friend Elizabeth) was no exception. She just came alive out of doors among the spring bulbs.

Regency regal

Regency regal

She also looked fabulous modeling this Etsy Regency ensemble. I don’t tend to bond well with blue-eyed blondes, so Lydia continued on her way, but she was a gorgeous doll and very fun to photograph.

Marie Faith... a quiet beauty

Marie Faith… a quiet beauty

Sometimes I sell a doll and later I think: why did I do that? That’s part of the adventure of collecting, I guess. Marie, My American Girl #34, is one of those dolls. This is a fairly rare doll, as she was only around a few years, and she had a unique color of dark auburn hair. I miss her.



But then, in a way, I miss all the dolls I’ve had, including lovely Addy (in this case, Elinor).

Sophie--a rare sweetie!

Sophie: a rare sweetie!

Here’s a truly rare sweetie-pie I was delighted to find on eBay: Girl of Today #6. She is one of the original 20 Girls of Today, and was only available for a couple of years before she was replaced by the blonde haired-green eyed girl. Sophie didn’t end up fitting my collection, but I had fun restoring and photographing her.

Beverly in the garden

Beverly in the garden

One last picture of lovely Beverly in the garden. I hope to share more favorite doll photos soon. Until then, enjoy your dolls, play, take pictures, be yourself, and enjoy March!

Much love,

from your friends at A Doll’s Picnic.

Secret Garden Friday: Natalie and the Milkweed

Via E Alexis Christine O'Shay dollfriend in garden

Hi Friends! It’s me, Natalie Alexis Christine! I know, I haven’t written in a really long time! Ali said I could have the honor of introducing our new Friday feature at A Doll’s Picnic–oh boy! So welcome to our first Secret Garden Friday!

I love the book The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Have you read it? It’s one of my favorite books to curl up with and get lost in. I think it’s because Burnett is such an amazing story teller, and also because most of the story takes place outside, in nature, which is what I like best! There are plants, and gardens, and animals, and really compelling (that means fascinating) characters, and mystery and magic. If you haven’t read it, we recommend that you go to your local library and check out a copy right away!

We think any garden can be a secret garden, if you are willing to look at it with wonder and imagination. I think the gardens here at A Doll’s Picnic are very wonder-full places. I think it’s because we don’t keep them too neat and perfect… we let wildflowers–like queen anne’s lace–come up and grow, and we like plants to self-propagate–that means that they seed or spread naturally, all by themselves. Also, the deer and squirrels and raccoons and quail and lots of different kinds of birds come in our yard and keep it messy and interesting. Sometimes Ali gets frustrated because it’s a big yard and she feels like she never gets it under control, but I think that’s part of what makes is so special.

Today, I wanted to show you around our secret garden a little bit. Here’s a really neat cactus that Ali brought home from her parent’s house:

Bishop's cap cactus

It’s called a Bishop’s Cap. Can you imagine it as a hat? I like how it is all leathery and wrinkled, like an elephant’s foot! It grows in an amazing way, from the center out. See those lines of dots? Each of those dots used to be a bloom at the center of the cactus! The flowers are yellow and very fragrant, but they don’t last very long. It’s bloomed once for us, but soon it will be time to bring it for the winter. You might think cactus are tough, but they’re actually pretty picky. They don’t like to be too cold or too hot, too wet or too dry! Isn’t that funny? Do you see those pinkish areas? That’s where the cactus got sunburn, just like a real person!

Bishop's cap cacuts 2

I think it’s amazing to look at plants really closely. Look at all those tiny white dots!

Now I want to show you one of my favorite plants in our secret garden.

Via E Alexis doll milkweed

It’s called milkweed, and it grows wild all across the United States. It’s usually considered a weed, but it’s actually a really interesting wildflower and doesn’t act like a weed at all.

Vie E Alexis doll and milkweed

Milkweed grows from seed into a perennial. (Perennial is one of my favorite words! It means something that comes back, year after year). Milkweed is special in lots of different ways, which you can read about on Wikipedia. Did you know it has really beautiful and complex flowers? They smell good too! But the reason why we have it in our garden is simple: butterflies! Milkweed is the only food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars! The adult butterflies lay their eggs under the leaves, and when the caterpillars hatch they begin to munch holes in the leaves right away! One of our favorite secret garden activities in summer is to go out and look for monarch caterpillars on the milkweed plants. Sometimes they’re so tiny they’re hard to find, but eventually they grow up to a couple inches long!

Milkweed has a white, milky sap that is toxic to most creatures, which is why the deer don’t eat it. But the monarch butterfly has evolved to depend on milkweed. As the caterpillars eat the plant they absorb the toxins which make them taste bad to predators! Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

milkweed plant

But it’s fall now, and the caterpillars have all grown up and left. Milkweed is beautiful in the fall: it turns golden, and then the really special milkweed magic begins.

milkweed pod

Do you see that pod? Do you know what’s inside? Can you guess??? Fairies!

milkweed pod splitting

Well, that’s what I like to call them, anyway. Actually it’s seeds, all packed inside, each one attached to a silky canopy of threads, kind of like a tiny hot air balloon.

Milkweed seeds

When the pods start to dry out in the autumn, they split open and all the little fairy-seeds start to fluff out and separate from each other. When the autumn winds arrive, the seeds blow out and float all over the garden and neighborhood!

milkweed pod opening

The pods are beautiful when they split open!

milkweed seeds

Don’t worry–they don’t sprout wherever they land! Milkweed likes water; that’s why you often see it growing in drainage ditches or by irrigated fields. Where we live it’s very dry, and in our garden we’ve found that milkweed seeds only sprout where we water regularly. (It’s also a slow-growing plant, and easy to spot and pull out when it’s young). Still, we like to think we are helping to spread monarch butterfly habitat in our neighborhood. 🙂

milkweed pod dry

Look how neat the milkweed pods are when they’re empty! What do you think they look like?

Empty milkweed pod

Let’s look at a pod up close. Here’s one that fell on the ground:

Via E Alexis doll milkweed pod

It’s a treasure! Ali has one of these in her writing room–she’s had it for years, and it is still perfect!

Via E Alexis doll milkweed

It almost looks like a little elf shoe…

Via E Alexis doll and milkweed pod

…Or maybe a canoe!

Via E Alexis doll and milkweed pod

The seeds are really beautiful up close, and it’s amazing how many are packed inside one single pod–dozens and dozens!

milkweed pod with seeds

The seeds are so soft and fluffy and delicate.

Via E Alexis doll milkweed seed

They’re fun to blow and to try to catch, kind of like dandelions!

milkweed seed

At the base of the silk (also known as the coma) is one oval, dark brown seed, which easily falls off of the silky fluff.

milkweed seed

I think nature is a pretty amazing gardener, if you ask me! She has very creative ways of spreading her seeds!

Via E Alexis doll with milkweed seed

How about you? Do you have a secret garden you can visit and explore? What treasures can you find there?

Via E Alexis doll and milkweed seed

Happy Secret Garden Friday from A Doll’s Picnic!

Teddy Bear Thursday: Christabel Bear (and Crew)

Teddy-bear with American Girl of Today doll #11 makie zelfs

Hi there, friends!

Hello friends! It’s Teddy Bear Thursday at A Doll’s Picnic!

I figure that by this point in the week, we could all use a hug from a teddy bear. I don’t have a lot of time on Thursdays for writing as it’s a big skating practice day for me, but I also figured I can grab a few moments to take a picture or two of a friendly bear. So here’s a big friendly hug and squidge from Christabel Bear. Christabel is a very special, one of a kind, handmade teddy bear sewn from satin and recycled chocolate-colored sheepskin, and she’s one of my treasures. She’s quiet, calm, peaceful, hopeful, very loving, thoughtful, and consoling–just the kind of person you’d want to spend some time with if you were having a hard day. She loves chocolate cookies and chocolate tea cake and chocolate covered raisins and chocolate brownies and chocolate fudge sundaes… well, you get the idea. 🙂

But who’s this on her lap? Oh my goodness, how did she get there? Well, anyway… yes, this is someone entirely new to A Doll’s Picnic!

Moonlight Makie

I won’t say much about her now, because I’m looking forward to sharing much more about her in the future, but I’ll give you a few clues: her name is Lucy, and pixies love to have their photos taken!

Sitting with Christabel this morning is my newest American Girl doll, a very lovely treasure I recently rescued from eBay: an original 1995 Girl of Today #11 doll. I haven’t named her yet, but I’d like to use the letter “M.” Any ideas? I’m thinking of  “Morgan” or maybe “Marissa”… but I’m definitely open to suggestions. By the way, you may remember my first #11 doll, Elodie Rain, whom I found on eBay last autumn, and who appeared here on the blog a couple of times. She was beautiful and unique, but didn’t end up staying with us long, since I just didn’t bond with her. And now I know why! This lovely, special Pre-Mattel lady was in my doll-collecting future! I adore the original Girls of Today, though I’ve never (yet) had one become a permanent part of my collection. I’m hoping this girl will be a keeper, because she’s truly amazing:

American Girl of Today #11 doll

Her rosy coloring is so fabulous. And her eyelashes! I could go on, but soon I’ve got to run, so let me introduce you our two other little friends.

This is Bella Blossom, a cheery cherry blossom Zelf whose zelfie power is learning!

Bella Blossom Zelf

She’s perfect company for me as I begin my latest adventure: finishing my Bachelor’s degree in literature and creative writing online!

And this is Joy Drop. If she doesn’t make you smile… I’m afraid there’s not much I can do for you.

Joy Drop Zelf

She specializes in joy… and who doesn’t need more joy?! She may well be my favorite Zelf so far!

I hope you’re feeling better after these virtual hugs from teddy bears, pixies, dolls, and zelfies!

Handmade teddy bear

Here’s wishing you a happy Thursday! Love and hugs from Christabel Bear and all your friends at A Doll’s Picnic!


Tasha Tuesday: Looking at what is around us

Hello again! I’m beginning a new feature on my blog, which will hopefully turn out to be a way of keeping me playful and creative by giving me specific assignments. I’m planning a special doll-related feature linked to each day of the week. I won’t say here what they will all be–for one thing, I want it to be a surprise, and for another, I have so many ideas that they may have to alternate (there are only seven days of the week, after all, and I have more than seven different kinds of dolls). Also, let me state right here, to be kind both to you and myself, that I’m not expecting myself to actually do a blog post every day of every week! This is just an idea to help me post more creatively, more often!

Well then, without further ado, here’s introducing Tasha Tuesdays. Tasha, you may know, is my Maru and Friends Jamie doll, whom I reviewed last spring (click here for the review), and who I’ve named after American children’s book illustrator Tasha Tudor. There’s a special reason behind this association: My first Tasha Tudor book is a very dear book indeed. It’s called Becky’s Birthday, and it’s special because I bought it for a dime from a library sale somewhere in the midwest (I think Ohio) during a cross-country trip I took with my family when I was very little. I didn’t know anything about the author-illustrator then, but it is a beautiful book I’ve loved ever since I picked it out from that sale myself, and evokes many poetic feelings and associations. As an adult, I’ve begun collecting Tasha Tudor’s other books, and when I bought Jamie, she immediately reminded me of Tudor’s illustrations, especially of Becky herself. So it was a simple matter to name her Tasha. Tasha loves reading, everything old-fashioned, simple, hand-made and artistic, especially drawing, just like her namesake. She’s quiet, very thoughtful, and rather shy, but extremely photogenic. Here’s a portrait I took of Tasha last year in our little rose garden:



I can’t tell you how amazing these Maru and Friends dolls are. To me, it’s because they feel like heirlooms. They have a silky, delicate, porcelain quality, and their height, size, childlike proportions, and especially their faces, expressions, and wigs are absolutely exquisite. Best of all, despite their beauty, they’re actually very sturdy and made for play. I have two Maru and Friends dolls so far, Jamie and Savannah (I’ve named them Tasha and Merida) and I’ve got my eye on Maru herself, especially, as well as gorgeous Tanya.

Anyway, I think it’s Tasha’s heirloom feeling that makes me think of Tasha Tudor’s artwork so much. Tasha feels to me like the very incarnation of Anabelle, from A is for Annabelle. (By the way, if you haven’t read A is for Annabelle, you should! What can possibly be more beautiful than a children’s book about a doll?).

A is for Annabelle pg 1

Here are the first two pages scanned directly from the book.

A is for Annabelle pg 2

Today, Tasha, who loves being very quiet and still and noticing everything around her, wants to show you the bright yellow rabbitbrush that is blooming in our yard, all around our neighborhood, and across the hills and valley where we live.

Maru and Friends Jamie doll with rabbitbrush 1

The yellow rabbitbrush blossoms are an emblem of the end of summer and beginning of autumn for us. They bloom every September, turning the silvery, round rabbitbush shrubs into cascades of honey-scented and bee-attracting bouquets.

Honey bee on rabbit brush blossoms

The color, the fragrance, the texture… Tasha is attracted to them just like a honey bee.

Maru and Friends Jamie doll with rabbitbrush 2

While I was photographing her this morning, Tasha encouraged me to look closely at the flowers.

Maru and Friends Jamie doll with rabbitbrush 3

She said we’re often so busy that even though we see lovely things, we don’t slow down enough to really see them. Sure enough, I realized I’ve never actually studied the rabbitbrush blossoms up close. They surprised me with their strange and intricate structure, which is crisp and distinctive, and quite different than the feathery impression they give from afar.

Rabbit brush blossoms

Unlike many people, Tasha is not afraid of bees. She loved watching their industrious and besotted absorption with the blossoms.

Honey bee on rabbit brush blossoms 2

Bees are incredibly important in nature and agriculture, and are often misunderstood. We should rejoice, not shriek, when we see a bee! Tasha told me that as long as you are quiet and respectful, a honey bee will never hurt you. We felt perfectly safe crouched quite near the humming bush, watching the bees gather nectar for the last wildflower honey of the year.

Maru and Friends Jamie doll with rabbitbrush 4

I never intended to be a busy person, so preoccupied with the business of the day that I would rush by what is beautiful! Quite the contrary! But somehow, life has a way of taking over, if we don’t set priorities. Tasha’s gentle lessons are a good reminder for me to take time out for what is most important: creativity, beauty, art, poetry.

Maru and Friends Jamie doll with rabbitbrush 5

The sources of creativity, art, and poetry, are all around us all the time, especially in nature. Tasha knows this–but being a doll, she’s never forgotten.

Maru and Friends Jamie doll with rabbitbrush 6

Tuesdays can get lost in bustle, I know! Tasha and I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to nurture your creative spirit.

Maru and Friends Jamie doll with book

Tasha Tudor would have encouraged you as well. 🙂

Maru and Friends Jamie doll with Tudor book

Happy Tasha Tuesday from A Doll’s Picnic!

The Night Picnic

Dolls around campfire 2

Who are those figures gathered around a campfire?

One mild September evening, moonlight shines on the quiet waters of a hidden lake. Out of the darkness cloaking hundreds of miles of woods and craggy hills, a speck of light gleams unevenly. As we move a little nearer, we see it is a campfire, built on the rocky shore of the moonlit lake. The flames flicker and leap, throwing eerie shadows across the trees and water. It almost looks as though figures are stirring in the half-light around the fire. Let’s slip a little closer and see….

The water laps gently in the moonlight and the flames crackle...

The water laps gently in the moonlight and the flames crackle…

Yes, now that we’re nearer, we realize we recognize these figures. Why, they’re some of our friends from A Doll’s Picnic! But what are they doing here on a balmy mountain night, instead of snuggling up in bed at home? It looks… yes, it looks as if they’re roasting marshmallows! A perfectly natural thing to do around a campfire, after all. Hmmm… we don’t see a tent; they can’t be camping. Ohhh, of course. It’s a picnic. A night picnic. Picnics don’t always have to be in the day time! Maybe if we settle down here behind this big rock we can watch them without being seen and hear what they’re saying….

“I just heard a fish jump,” announces Jade, glancing toward the water. She’s deftly roasting a marshmallow with one hand and cradling a cup of cocoa with the other.

Maplelea Jenna doll by campfire

“I heard it too,” agrees Sophie, turning her hot dog. “Do you think the fish can see our camp fire through the water?”

American Girl of Today doll #6 Schildkroet doll blonde

“If they do, maybe they think it’s a star that’s fallen and landed on the shore,” suggests Betsy, her hazel eyes twinkling with fun in the firelight.

American Girl doll #55 with marshmallow

“But maybe they can hear us talking,” says Emma. “Stars don’t talk.”

American Girl doll #27 #55 with marshmallows

“Maybe the fish think they do, though,” says Betsy. “What do fish know about stars, anyway?”

Schildkroet doll blonde

“If stars did talk, I wonder what they’d talk about,” muses Amy, sipping her cocoa and carefully turning her marshmallow. “Do they talk about each other? Like, ‘Hi friend! How are things going in your solar system?’ ‘Not so good, pal, I’m getting sucked into a black hole.'” Everyone laughs.

“Paulina, you hang out with astronomers. What constellations are up right now?” asks Merida from the hammock, where she’s hugging a teddy bear and gazing at the sky.

Dolls in firelight

“Well, it’s a bit hard to see the fainter ones when our eyes are dazzled by firelight, but that’s the Big Dipper,” says, Paulina, pointing.

American Girl Josefina doll

“And if you follow the trajectory of the handle over to there, that’s Arcturus. And there’s the North Star.”

Maru and Friends Savannah doll

“The skies are so clear and so dark at night here,” says Merida. “Even with the moon up you can see the Milky Way. I’m grateful to live someplace with such clear skies.”

The other dolls agree, and take a break from staring into the flames to gaze up into the sky at the brilliant first quarter moon and the glittering stars appearing more thickly as the darkness deepens. After a pause, the fire snaps and hisses and everyone jumps and checks their marshmallows to make sure they’re not scorching.

“Your marshmallow is almost ready, Paulina,” says Emma. She’s been roasting two marshmallows, one for herself and one for a friend.

American Girl doll #27 with marshmallows

Paulina thanks her, and then Emma turns to Sharon and Poinsettia, who are talking about famous Canadian astronomers and scientists. “Are you sure you guys don’t want one? I can make another.”

Maplelea dolls Taryn Alexi in moonlight

“No thanks,” smiles Sharon. “We’re fine with the ginger cakes and brownies and sandwiches and apples and oranges.” Everyone laughs again.

American Girl doll #4 with marshmallow

“Why do you think food tastes so good at night?” asks Patience, getting ready to slide her marshmallow off the stick. “I think I like picnics even better after dark than in the afternoon.”

American Girl doll #4 Maryellen in firelight

“Maybe it’s all the energy it takes to build a fire and fend off the night-time monsters,” laughs Millie, sipping her soda.

American Girl Today doll #6 in firelight

“Or all the energy it takes to stay warm,” agrees Sophie. “Though it’s not cold tonight–it’s perfect. It’s practically warm enough for a swim.” Her dark eyes sparkle with daring.

Schildkroet doll blonde with marshmallow

“Oooh, not me,” shivers Paulina. “I’d be certain a lake monster was going to come up and swallow me.”

Schildkroet doll blone with mug

“Me too,”adds Amy, giving her marshmallow one last turn. “I’m glad Ali won’t let us get wet.”

Dolls in firelight

“Speaking of monsters,” suggests Jade mischievously, “does anyone know a good story?”

“One dark night, by a little lake, far from civilization, a group of friends sat roasting marshmallows around a campfire…” begins Betsy, in a mysterious whisper.

The dolls giggle and huddle closer to the fire, listening to the lake water slapping against the rocks in the dark.

Doll camp fire

Happy Autumnal Equinox, from A Doll’s Picnic!

Zelfie Thoughts: Summer’s Ending… Let’s Go Outside!

Luna Zelfie says take in a view!

Luna Zelfie says: make a discovery–take in a view!

Don’t you love the word September ? I do… and the month that bears the name, too. September has so many poetic associations: cooler nights, chilly school mornings, the end of summer, new beginnings, new adventures, the first turning leaves, the first rains of autumn, the first powder-sugar snows on the mountain peaks. The sunshine is still warm and strong, but the angle of the sun is rapidly changing now, and the days are suddenly growing shorter.

You may have noticed that A Doll’s Picnic took a bit of a sabbatical this summer. A summer full of change has given me an opportunity to rethink my collecting, among other things. It’s always been important to me to love each doll in my collection equally; I can’t bear to just have them sitting on my shelves gathering dust when they’re meant to be played with and loved. From the very beginning of my enthusiasm for dolls I’ve released those I don’t feel as excited about or bonded with–originally giving them away to family members, and more recently, selling them on eBay. These last few months I’ve reduced my collection quite a bit. I’ve been collecting, too, however… I just can’t help it! I’ve been moving back toward my first love, American Girl dolls, just in time for Maryellen’s debut. I’m bonding more with the dolls in my collection more than I have in several years, and I look forward to sharing them here as I have always planned to do–through reviews, doll brand comparisons, and photo stories. So please be patient with me and stay tuned! More doll magic is on the way!

More than anything else, though, the end of summer is a reminder to me to appreciate the place we live, droughty though it is at present. The clean, pure air (once again free from wildfire smoke!), our quiet, peaceful neighborhood, the change of seasons… these are all things to be deeply grateful for. Somehow it is too easy to get caught up in the obligations of daily life and forget that we have so many natural wonders at our fingertips, so to speak. This Labor Day weekend is a refreshing opportunity to get back outside and reacquaint ourselves with our first love, nature.

Flitter Zelfie counsels: find some waterfall spray and some soft moss and let your imagination take flight!

Flitter Zelfie counsels: find some waterfall spray and soft moss and let your imagination take flight!

Three of my favorite Zelfies accompanied us on a short trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park in August for the annual Dark Sky Festival. Lassen Park is one of the secrets of Northern California, and one of my favorite places on earth. We camped; we hiked; we gazed at waterfalls; we built campfires; we looked at the fabulously dark sky.

Elfa Zelfie advises: find yourself a clear stream rambling through a meadow and

Elfa Zelfie advises: find yourself a clear stream rambling through a meadow and take off your shoes and socks!

Thank you, Never Grow Up, for introducing me to the Zelfs! I love these bright, quirky, whimsical little friends. They remind me of childhood, My Little Ponies, colorful pens and pencils, and the realm of the imagination. They are also the perfect size to slip into a purse or bag, and are refreshingly inexpensive to collect! Best of all, they love to pose for photos!

Elfa Zelfie teases: go climb a tree--get a new perspective!

Elfa Zelfie teases: go climb a tree–get a new perspective!

Wishing you fresh air, pure skies, pine-tree-hugs, Zelfie grins, and campfire dreams. Happy beginning-of-September from A Doll’s Picnic!

A Very Special Gift: Meet Holly!

Hi there! Between one thing and another it has been a full last several months, and I’m having a hard time believing that it’s really May! The girls are all excited because May means summer is coming, which of course means outdoor picnics galore! It’s been a long time since I’ve written a doll review, and it isn’t because I don’t have several special girls that I’d like to share–I do!  It’s just that sometimes in reviewing first things have to come first, and there is one review I’ve been needing to write since the 25th of last December. Today, at last, I’d like to introduce you to someone very very special… one of my very favorite girls… an extra-special dear doll-friend who joined our family last Christmastime. Without further ado, please meet Holly!

Handmade Waldorf style doll red-head

Holly on Christmas Day!

Holly is the most special Christmas gift I think I’ve ever been given–even including that first Pleasant Company American Girl doll, Molly, who in a way started it all, given to me by my grandmother when I was a girl. It all goes back to my love of yarn hair (which I suppose might be traced to the Cabbage Patch doll I had when I was little). Yarn hair, rag dolls, embroidered eyes and mouths, handmade doll clothes… these things are the stuff of happy doll dreams, dreams of a simpler time when toys were few and precious and all the more dear because of their handmade uniqueness. You might think it odd that after collecting high-quality, expensive play dolls for a number of years, I would still yearn for a handmade rag doll. Yet for years that’s just what I’ve longed for. I’ve even wondered about learning how to make a doll myself, but doubted my beginner-level sewing skills. I once saw a handmade rag-doll-style mermaid with the most incredibly gorgeous aqua (or was it lavender? or both??) mohair yarn hair at a craft show, and I’ve regretted ever since that I didn’t buy her when I had the chance! (I’ve never seen another like her, even on Etsy, though I still hope to one day). And once I saw a beautiful handmade doll sewn out of handwoven fabrics by South American women (I don’t remember the country) at the Global Exchange store in Berkeley–another doll I’ve since regretted not buying! So I have this soft spot for what I call “cloth dolls,” and for many years now I’ve longed for one of my own.

Well, the long and the short of it is that hubbies are wonderful. My husband, knowing of this yearning, thought of me one day when a coworker brought a gorgeous handmade Waldorf-style doll into the office early last fall to share with her colleagues. This doll (with purple yarn hair!!!!!) was made using simple, natural materials, including alpaca fiber from her own alpacas. Well, naturally, my husband, being the tuned-in-to-special-things kind of person he is, was enthusiastic about this doll… and somehow, without even specifically having to commission her wonderfully creative doll-maker, Cindy, it was understood that she would make a doll for me as a surprise for Christmas! (All without telling me! How does he do it??? We don’t even keep secrets well!). All autumn long, Cindy would tell him how the doll was advancing, asking what color hair I’d like best (!!!) and sharing the latest progress–without me knowing a whisper of the matter (which is the real wonder of it).

You want to know something else? For a long time I’ve wanted to name a doll Holly, especially one who came at Christmastime. Yet not one of my dolls has ever claimed the name Holly (and you can’t force these things).

Well, you know what happened. Christmas afternoon I was presented with a large, but surprisingly light-feeling, doll-shaped box. I opened it to discover my first-ever, one-and-only, gorgeously handmade, red-yarn-haired cloth doll, named, that’s right… Holly! Without even asking my husband if there was a special name in mind, Cindy had already named this dear creation Holly. Needless to say, this dear, heartfelt gift brought many tears and much gratitude and wonder and made a special day even more wonderful.

Holly and Christofur.

Holly and Christofur.

She has such a peaceful, meditative, kind expression; so thoughtful, as if she’s pondering interesting, poetic thoughts. It just won me over instantly. I soon discovered that, like me, Holly loves to color!

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head coloring

Especially using red pencils!

She’s actually very creative and inquisitive and thoughtful–the perfect companion for a writer and artist. In fact, I decided Holly is more than a doll; she’s a muse.

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

Holly is perfection down to the last detail, and completely snuggly too!

So today I’m going to share in detail Holly’s wonderfulness with you! This isn’t a proper review, exactly, since this is a one-of-a-kind handmade doll who certainly isn’t available anywhere else (and isn’t going anywhere!). But perhaps you will be inspired to seek out a handmade cloth doll of your own, or even to learn how to make one yourself! Please go and peek at Cindy’s wonderful website Lulu Magoo and Friends to find out more about these special doll-friends!

To start with, let’s take a look at Holly’s complete ensemble, as she arrived:

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head1

All dressed up and ready to go… to a Christmas party!

Holly stands approximately 16 inches tall. She arrived all dressed up for a holiday celebration! I would like to emphasize the fact that every single part of her arrival outfit (except her tights, which you can’t really see) is handmade by Cindy–right down to her fancy dancing shoes. The first thing I noticed, after oohing and ahhing (and sobbing) over her adorable face and her brilliantly red yarn hair, was her little handmade purse and shawl.

A doll should never be without her purse...

A doll should never be without her purse…

Her purse features sparkly, fancy black yarn and an adorable heart-shaped button…

Handmade doll purse

Buttoned up…

… which secures the flap! Yes, Holly really can tuck a hankie or a piece of holiday candy into that purse!

Handmade doll purse

Open me!

Her fancy shawl matches her purse:

Handmade doll shawl

Such a pretty, lacework shawl.

I think the purse and shawl are knitted (not crocheted, but I’m not an expert). In my beginning-knitter mentality, it seems incredible that Cindy can just sit down and knit up from scratch the finishing touches for Holly’s arrival outfit! Cindy clearly understands it’s the details that make an outfit.

Holly’s shoes are very appropriate for a fancy occasion, and put me in mind of the dancing slippers of the twelve dancing princesses (you know, the ones that got worn out each night?):

Handmade doll shoes

I love the little ties!

Holly’s holiday dress features a pretty red rosette…

Handmade doll dress… and a black waistband. It is made out of ruby-red velour, and has a pretty overskirt of see-through material (my camera has trouble with all this red).

Handmade doll dress

Holly isn’t shy among friends, and I’d like to share the adorable cloth-body construction I found underneath her dress, since it is an important part of what makes her so dear. (Family legend has it that as a child, the first thing I did when I was given a new doll was undress it. I remember that I just wanted to know how the dolls were made and how their clothing worked. So you see, I haven’t changed much :).

Underneath her dress, Holly was wearing a pair of handmade bloomers and black tights (the only part of her outfit that wasn’t made by hand). Here she is, modeling her bloomers (and hoping for a tan?):

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

The sun feels good!

I squealed when I discovered she has a little red heart printed on her left side (reminiscent of Raggedy Ann)!

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

I love you.

love Holly’s squidgy little body, especially her satisfyingly shaped arms–and hands!–and legs. Holly is sewn from a sturdy, creamy cotton knit fabric, and stuffed with wool. The hand-sewn contours and stuffing give her a life-like dimension.

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

I love her little elbows!

I think I am extra fond of her arms and hands. They have so much life!

I think I am extra fond of her arms and hands. They have so much life!

Hold me!

I love the seams running down her legs!

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

Kickin’ back.

Her feet are a simple “L” at the end of her legs:

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

Heirloom style.

I just love her simple rag-doll style construction! She can sit on her own, as well as stand if she’s supported from behind (that hair is heavy!).

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

Hugs, hugs, hugs!

Speaking of behinds, I couldn’t help delighting in Holly’s! (You’re all friends, right?)

I think I'll try standing on my head...

I think I’ll try standing on my head…

And speaking of heads, it’s time to take a closer look at Holly’s wonderful head of hair. Holly came with her gorgeous yarn hair braided in a beautiful, lady-like style perfect for a fancy occasion, complete with a sprig of holly tied in back!

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

A real lady!

adore this hair-style, and waited a long time (and not till I had taken lots of pictures) to change it.

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

Holly’s hair is incredibly long and luxurious! Cindy wanted to be sure that I had plenty of hair to play with! She has so much, in fact, that in some poses it can pull her down! Yarn is heavy stuff!

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

Holly’s hair is a mixture of two different 100% wool yarns that Cindy purchased at a local craft store, ingeniously sewn/tied onto a hand-knitted wig cap. A line of sturdy stitching gives her a central part. Often Cindy will use her own handspun alpaca yarn for her doll’s wigs, but in this case she needed a variety of bright reds! I absolutely love all the rich tones of red, ruby and berry that make up her mane. Holly is easily the reddest-haired doll in my collection!

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

Such a pretty little lady…

Another very special feature of Holly’s wig are the little curls that frame her face–two on each side. (How did Cindy curl the yarn??? Inquiring minds want to know!).

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head


But best of all, or I should say the culmination of all, is Holly’s exquisite little face.

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

Simple… expressive… imaginative… delicate… poignant… pensive… heart warming…

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

… Charming… photogenic… adorable… loveable… heirloom…. Words really don’t do her justice.

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

Holly even has delicate, hand-painted freckles. I just love everything about her face.

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

Handmade perfection.

She reminds me strongly of a children’s book illustration, especially the drawings of Joan Walsh Anglund. This connection to children’s books makes her all the more precious to me.

It’s really not surprising that Holly gets along swimmingly with my other dolls, especially my teddy bears.

Holly and Christabel: a handmade doll and a handmade teddy bear!

Holly and Christabel: a handmade doll and a handmade teddy bear!

Her soft, simple appearance harmonizes with their heirloom appeal.

Christabel, Holly and Hattie.

Christabel, Holly and Hattie.

Like all my dolls, she loves picnics (indoors or out) and tea parties (somehow she always seems to get ahold of the plate of cookies).

Thomas, my Charlie Bear lion, Holly, and Tilney, my Ragtales bear.

“So, are you going to eat all those yourself?” Thomas, my Charlie Bear lion, Holly, and Tilney, my Ragtales bear.

It is so much fun to take pictures of Holly–she’s naturally artistic and so pleasing to the eye and camera. She and Thomas, another Christmastime treasure, seem to get along especially well (maybe it’s because Holly is so calm and Thomas is so mischievous).

Charlie Bear lion Handmade Waldorf doll red-head Ragtales Darcy bear

“So, what should we do now?”

I feel like I haven’t even begun to really play with Holly yet. At first I was very careful of her, because she’s the first cloth doll I’ve ever had, and I’m used to durable vinyl. But I’m beginning to realize that part of the charm of a cloth doll is that she gradually takes on a bit of the person who loves her, her home and family. Play dolls are not meant to remain in “perfect” condition. Accordingly, I’ve rearranged her hair into what the English call “bunches” (pig tails), and tried her in some of my doll outfits. I was so excited to discover that she can fit both American Girl doll and Bitty Baby/Bitty Twin sized outfits, though the only one I have a picture of so far is Serena’s Poinsettia dress:

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head

Holly wearing a Bitty Baby dress.

Her waistline is actually very similar to a standard 18 inch doll (and slimmer than Serena, my Bitty Twin doll). The main differences are that she is two inches shorter (so hemlines tend to droop a bit low on her), her head is much larger, her chest is a bit thinner, and her arms, especially her hands, are thicker, requiring larger or stretchy cuffs on sleeves. Most importantly though, I have discovered that Holly doesn’t like commercially made doll clothes–they just don’t look right on her. She will only be happy wearing handmade doll clothes. Holly says her favorite colors are deep marine blue, forest green, and red (of course). I think she would also look charming in yellow and pink, and she’s wearing a light blue dress right now, which looks adorable. Holly’s biggest wish? To have a summer sailor-style middy dress!

Handmade Waldorf doll red-head Ragtales Darcy bear

Holly and Tilney.

For now I have a few dresses from the Dollies’ Dressmaker that fit her, and I will probably be able to find others on Etsy. But what I’d really love to do is begin to make dresses and knit sweaters for her myself. As a handmade creation, the product of one wonderful woman’s talent and loving, creative spirit, Holly just inspires creativity. What better gift could there be?

Happy beginning-of-May from all our hearts here at A Doll’s Picnic!

Happy Earth Day! A Surprise Mystery package from Australia!

A Little Mo Surprise Mystery package from Little Mo and Friends!

A Little Mo Surprise Mystery package from Little Mo and Friends in Western Australia!

Did I mention that Etsy is wonderful?

It is! I turned to Etsy recently to find a new notebook. I’m a bit picky about notebooks: I like blank pages, recycled paper, room to write and stretch out in, a small enough size to fit in a bag, and preferably a soft cover or binding (versus a rigid hardcover-type binding). I’ve used various notebooks over the years, my standby of late being the recycled leather Paperthinks notebooks, but for various reasons it was time for a change. My search brought me to a wonderful Etsy shop that had A Doll’s Picnic written all over it: Little Mo and Friends! Illustration, whimsy, playfullness, imagination, nature, kindness, earth-friendliness… it was all there! Helena Tay, the shop owner and artist, obviously loves drawing as much as I do, but what is even more amazing is that she doesn’t let anything get in the way of her creative spirit. She has even published her own hand-drawn coloring book (she says it took a whole year to ink!)! I truly felt I’d discovered a kindred creative spirit. I love that her stationery line features recycled materials and “clean green printing processes.” This makes it seem especially appropriate to share this sunny burst of creative inspiration for Earth Day. 🙂

There were so many fun goodies to ponder that it was tough to decide, but in the end, I ordered a notebook, a copy of Helena’s Botania coloring book, and a set of pretty stationery. But I was also delighted and intrigued by the listing for a Little Mo Surprise Mystery Bag. Surprise art goodies in the mail? How could I resist? I added one to my order as a special inspiration present for myself, and waited eagerly for it to arrive. At long last Saturday’s mail brought me a package all the way from Western Australia! Yay! Here’s a peek at what I found inside:

Look at all those wonderful art goodies!

Look at all those wonderful earth-friendly art goodies!

I was so touched and pleased by how beautifully everything was arranged, how carefully it was gift-wrapped and packaged, and how lovingly the surprises were personalized for me (Helena had even asked if there were any favorite colors, animals or other symbols to help make the surprise package special). The value of the contents of the surprise mystery bag were far over the retail cost of the package, and the whole order just showed so much spirit and heart. Thank you so much, Helena!!

My surprise goodies!

My surprise goodies!

Since this is A Doll’s Picnic, though, and since there are two eager artsy girls here begging to take over this post, I’m going to go brew a cup of tea and hand over the keyboard to Umeko Patience and Mei-mei (all right, all right, quit pushing you two, I’m finishing, here you go!)…

American Girl Just Like You doll #4 Maplelea Friend KMF10

Drumroll… introducing Patience (left) and Mei-mei (right)!

P: Hi! I’m Patience!

M: And I’m Mei-mei!

P: We’re here today to share some wonderful art goodies that Ali bought for us from an Etsy shop called Little Mo and Friends!

M: (There’s a link to the shop near the top of this page, and here’s a link to her adorable website as well).

P: Anyway, Ali bought us these great art and stationery goodies so that we can share playful inspiration and the spirit of creativity with all our friends and the whole world!

American Girl Just Like You doll #4 Maplelea Friend KMF10

M: Patience, are you sure Ali bought these for us? Didn’t I hear her say when the package got here, “My surprise is here!” ?

P: Details, Mei-mei, technicalities. Everyone knows that whatever makes its way into the house belongs to us dolls. We have the majority, you know, 30-something to 2.

M: Well, if you say so. What should we share first?

P: Let’s show them the stationery. That’s how Little Mo and Friend’s Etsy shop began, after all, says so on her “About” page.

American Girl Just Like You #4 doll Maplelea Friend KMF10

M: You see here the stationery set that was included in Ali’s–

P: You mean our–

M: *ahem*–Surprise Mystery Bag. There are four sheets of violet-blue stationery and four sheets of lilac stationery, and two each of the matching envelopes.

P: All of these adorable pieces feature a hand-drawn illustration created by Helena Tay which is printed on recycled paper using earth-friendly processes!

M: So you can not only be happy about sending a smile to a friend’s mailbox but feel good about helping the Earth too!

P: Let’s show them the cute envelopes, Mei-mei.

Little Mo and Friends stationary

M: The front of the envelope features the same illustration as the stationery…

P: …And the back includes a special spot for writing the addresses!

American Girl Just Like You #4 doll Maplelea Friend KMF10

M: Patience, do you think the Post Office will be confused by the different format?

P: I think as long as we write clearly, they will be able to figure it out. The stationery set comes with four adorable stickers, too!

Little Mo and Friends stationary

P: You can use these stickers on the envelopes, in your journal, or use them as temporary tattoos!

M: I don’t know if we should recommend them as tattoos, Patience. We haven’t tried them out that way.

P: There’s always a first time!

M: Nooo… I think we should at least wait until we can ask Ali what she thinks. Should we show them the brooch now, Patience?

Little Mo and Friends brooch

M: This stunningly adorable brooch is created by inserting an illustration of Twig, the Little Mo and Friends bluebird, under a glass cabochon and setting it in antique-bronze-finished metal pin.

P: And it looks stunningly adorable on my spring dress!

American Girl Just Like You #4 doll

M: Just make sure you put it back in its little box before Ali sees you, Patience. You know she hasn’t even tried it on herself yet!

P: Yes, well, she bought it for us dolls, remember?

M: Um…. Anyway, I think the glass cabochon makes the illustration really pop! What a great idea for a piece of original artwork! Worn on a blouse, sweater or bag, this is sure to make someone smile.

P: Well, they’re smiling now, right?

M: Maybe we should move on to the coloring book, Patience, before Ali sees you.

American Girl Just Like You #4 doll Maplelea Friend KMF10

The incredible hand-drawn Botania coloring book!

M: Ali loves coloring…

P: We all do… dolls have to do something while their people are away, you know.

M: Yes, well, anyway, she’s never before had a coloring book like this! Can you believe how much time this must have taken to draw Patience? Even you couldn’t possibly have that much patience!

P: That’s what makes it so inspiring! It shows how much Helena loves to draw!

American Girl Just Like You #4 doll Maplelea Friend KMF10

M: Which one is your favorite page?

P: This one! I love the little girl lying on a lily pad, watching the swan! That’s me, I think.

M: But, Patience, Helena doesn’t even know you.

P: Well, it certainly could be me. I look a lot like Little Mo, you know.

M: So do I.

P: You’re missing the point.

M: Um… Is that everything?

P: We haven’t showed them the special post card or conversation cards, remember?

Maplelea KMF10 Friend doll

M: These two adorable “conversation cards” were included in Ali’s–

P: You mean our–

M: —Ali’s surprise package. They feature a hand-drawn illustration printed on a single sheet of cardstock, and include a little envelope, so you can write a cheerful message and send them to your friends!

P: Or you can hang them on your door, glue them in your journal, slip them on your dashboard, give one to the mail lady…

M: I think they get the idea, Patience. Why don’t you show them the postcard.

American Girl Just Like You #4 doll

P: This wonderful postcard shares an illustration of Little Mo climbing up to her fanciful tree house!

M: You can also find this same illustration on one of the Little Mo and Friends notebooks sold in the Etsy shop. Is there anything else we should share?

P: I think that’s enough for now. We don’t have a picture of Ali’s new notebook (yes, I know that was meant for Ali, Mei-mei), and it’s getting late. I’m ready for some tea!

M: Until later, then, Happy Earth Day from A Doll’s Picnic!

Little Mo and Friends brooch