Doll reviews

Doll Review: Dolls From Heaven St. Therese

The stunning Dolls From Heaven St. Therese doll.

Hello Friends!

It’s May! Yay! All the dolls–and humans–at A Doll’s Picnic just love the month of May. It’s such a relief after a long, cold, brown-and-grey winter and a fickle and temperamental April. April gives us gorgeous glimpses of the year to come–and then pelts us with hail or frowns under chilly northern cold fronts. May, on the other hand, is truly the month of green: buds, new leaves, new growth, new grass. It also gives us abundant flowers, the first really warm days and nights, and most importantly of all–the first outdoor doll picnics! So once again, hurray for May! Ahem. (I really love May).

I have a treat for you today: a review of a truly unique, remarkable, and beautiful doll: Dolls From Heaven St. Therese. I found out about Dolls From Heaven around Easter (I honestly can’t remember how) and once I saw the St. Therese doll’s unique face and American Girl style construction, I knew she had to wing her way to A Doll’s Picnic. Dolls From Heaven is a Catholic family-run-and-owned doll company that hopes to inspire children to become modern-day saints. Their first two dolls are St. Therese and St. Joan of Arc, and their third doll (and first boy doll) is John Paul and is currently available for pre-order. All three dolls arrive with a chapter book that tells about their character. I am not Catholic and am totally unfamiliar with the concept of canonization. Yet despite my religious differences, I felt drawn towards this company because of their concern for the moral welfare of today’s children and their earnest, unpretentious approach to developing a totally unique line of character dolls. Their website is simple and neat, their blog is pleasant, and their dolls are simply stunning and represent fascinating characters, so I felt comfortable supporting this company. I ordered St. Therese and her extra outfit. St. Therese’s Accessories looked beautiful and fascinating, but I knew my Therese doll was not going to remain a nun so I decided to give them the pass.

As always with a non-American Girl doll, I felt excited but also trepidatious about her arrival. From the photographs on the Dolls From Heaven website and various reviews, I could see that she would be quite different from the other dolls in my collection. Would I like her? I was so curious to see her in person. From the moment I lifted her simple but beautiful box out of the shipping package, I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointed. Therese looked like a sleeping angel.

Asleep in her box.

She looked just as amazing and detailed as the photographs had shown her to be. As always, I first studied her inside her box. I was so struck by her detailed face.

Sleeping beauty.

Then too, her nun’s habit was amazing!

Awake!

When I stood the box upright, I just about gasped aloud. Two giant warm brown eyes stared gently back at me. The way Therese’s habit complimented her big brown eyes was truly divine.

What a face!

At this point, I couldn’t wait to take Therese out of her box.

Free at last.

I noticed several things about her right away. First, Therese is heavy–very solid and valuable feeling. Second, her outfit is incredible. There are so many pieces, and all are just beautifully designed and made.

Innocent and loving.

Her face captivated me right from the first. Therese’s face has several significant differences from an American Girl face, but there are also several similarities. Mostly I was struck with her loving and gentle expression–so earnest and innocent. I couldn’t wait to study her details more closely, but first I turned my attention to her ensemble.

Threads to be clipped?

When I turned her around, I found a large “x” of black thread pinning together the back of her veil. Assuming this was meant to be clipped, I did so, and her veil swung free.

Stitches cut.

I was so impressed by how neatly all the components of Therese’s ensemble fit together. I found them very simple to disassemble, and also very interesting in and of themselves.The veil attaches to the coif by means of a snap on either side and is very simple to remove.

Easy to disassemble.

As I removed each layer, I saw a little more of Therese’s unique spirit and beauty.

At this point I could see Therese’s hair and free it from the hair net.

Hair!

The Therese doll has gorgeous hair. It is such a unique color: a rich chestnut brown with strong red overtones–almost an auburn. Her hair is styled in layered, loose curls, with the top pulled back into a small ponytail. The fiber is very silky and fine and seems identical to the fiber used for Bonnie and Pearl dolls. Her hair is a wig.

Messy curls.

Aside from the stunning color, the first thing I noticed about Therese’s hair was how messy it was right out of the net. Her hair fiber is slick and fine, which is lovely, but the texture also allows it to frizz and tangle very easily. Normally this is no problem because a quick brushing will tidy up a case of box-hair in no time. But Therese arrived with a rather puzzling sheet of hair advice. The sheet recommends “a wire hair pick” or finger styling for maintaining Therese’s curls, and goes on to expostulate that  “Using a regular brush will comb out the curls and ruin the hair.” Now the word “ruin” puzzled me because Therese’s hair is by no means the densely-curled type of wig that can be ruined–or at least frizzed–by attacking it with a brush. Therese’s curls are exceedingly loose and free-form, as can be seen, and even with very gentle play the slick fiber will cause her curls to lose their clumped form on their own. As I took photos for this review, her curls became more and more tangled. With rougher play–such as I imagine an eight year old girl likely to administer–Therese’s curls could become a rat’s nest. Finally, after changing Therese’s outfit, I decided to ignore the instructions and treat Therese’s hair as I would any gently curled or wavy hair. I misted it with water and brushed it with a wire wig brush. This is how it looked when I was finished:

I don’t think I ruined her hair.

You can see that the clumpy curls have been brushed out into glossy waves, which I much prefer anyway because to me it looks more natural. In fact, Therese’s hair brushed beautifully. And it needs to be brushed often! Despite my extreme care, as I was changing Therese into the different outfits shown at the end of this review her hair quickly became messy. I think the long layers exaggerate the tangle-prone texture of her hair. Without brushing, Therese’s hair would quickly become unmanageable, so the instructions provided with the doll are simply impractical. Finally, it is easy to finger-curl her hair if I wish to make the curls look the way they did when she arrived. There are Youtube videos that show how to do this, but basically all it takes is separating her wig into layers and misting and finger-curling sections until all the hair has been curled. I reiterate that the nature of Therese’s hair fiber will resist holding a tightly curled shape.

Anyway, back to the doll. Here is the way she looks sans headpiece.

Therese has two loose (and messy) pin curls on her right and one on her left.

I am fascinated by Therese’s face. It is so much more realistic looking than the dolls I’m used to playing with. Her three-quarter view and profile are amazing!

My Therese doll does have eyes that are set just slightly off-center. At times this can give her a bit of a “doe in the headlights” look, but at most angles it’s not particularly noticeable. She also has some metal showing at the very edge of her eye sockets. The rest of the doll is such fabulous quality that I can overlook this.

Hand-painted mouth.

Therese’s eyelids and mouth (and maybe eyebrows?) appear to be hand painted, which is amazing. She has two front teeth showing, like an American Girl doll, but her lips are wider and more pronounced. Note the beautiful philtrum above her top lip. She has blushing applied to her cheeks, chin, and forehead, which gives her beautiful coloring in addition to her pleasant olive-y tan vinyl tone.

Top half.

Her eyebrows are long, light, and neatly painted. Her eyelashes are very similar to those of an American Girl doll. I love her nose! It isn’t pugged like the American Girl doll classic mold, but slopes gently downward. I especially love it in profile.

Larger ears.

Her ears are also larger and more realistic than an American Girl’s. Her hair is too silky and thick to tuck behind them, though.

I just could not get over her stunning and realistic face, especially at three-quarter view. Therese is extremely photogenic!

Therese has a basic copyright printed on the back of her neck. Also, her head is attached to her cloth torso with a zip tie. Now for the body and overall construction:

Skivvies.

As you can see, Therese’s construction is very similar to an American Girl doll’s (in this case, a Pleasant Company GOT #5 doll). Her shoulders are about as broad as the older Pleasant Company dolls, but her waist is narrower like the more recent dolls. Her muslin is a nice tan shade that matches her vinyl well. The major differences are subtle, such as the fact that Therese does not have as much freedom of movement in her joints, due to a difference in the way her limbs are designed. Also, her arms and legs are just a touch slimmer. Her vinyl has a hard, smooth, porcelain feel that reminds me of the vinyl used for Bonnie and Pearl dolls. The mold of her limbs and hands is not quite identical to American Girl’s design.

Hands.

Her hands are a touch smaller, with beautiful blushing on the back and real French manicure nails! Yay!

More hands.

Her feet seem very similar, but again she has real painted toenails! So fabulous. She also has blushing on the tops of her feet and knees. I love this extra attention to detail. It makes me feel so good about my purchase, and it makes the doll seem extra special. Wouldn’t it be nice if American Girl would do this?

Pretty knees and toes!

Like American Girl dolls, Therese has dimples on the backs of her knees and elbows.

Dimples.

Her elbows also received some blush.

And more blushing.

Finally, her cloth torso construction is identical to that of (the original) American Girl dolls.

Bum.

The cloth (muslin?) is extremely sturdy feeling and stuffed very firmly, which adds to Therese’s weight and substantial feel.

Let’s compare.

While we’re at it, let’s compare her face with the classic American Girl face mold charmingly modeled by Judy. You can see that Therese’s head is larger and oval in shape, with a much more pronounced chin. Her eyes are also larger and set proportionably farther apart. Her lips are more deeply molded and her nose turns under instead of being snubbed upward. Her forehead is higher. Overall, Therese’s face has a classic oval shape and very beautiful detailing which are very attractive.

Hair color comparison.

Also interesting to note is the similarity in the color of their hair. Judy’s hair is what American Girl originally sold as “red,” though it is really auburn. Therese’s hair is just a tad browner but has a very similar red tone (my camera did a really crummy job of capturing these subtleties). Therese’s hair could justly be called auburn.

One more note about Therese’s wig. It has a sprinkling of oddly spiky short hairs at the crown:

I’m not sure why they’re so visible, but they form frizzy bristles right on top of her head. If there was one change I could make to this doll, it would be to give her a center part. For me, this would make her wig more realistic and would do away with these weird short hairs. Fortunately they’re not really very noticeable.

Here are a few more pictures of Therese’s amazing face:

She has a natural, real-girl look to her.

Sometimes it looks as if she’s about to say what she’s thinking about.

I love her face. Sometimes, though, I notice something a little odd about it–something a little other worldly or elfin. I think it’s a combination of factors: the fact that her eyes are closer to the sides of her face, the dramatic slope of her jaw, and the difference between the flatter side view and the round front view of her face. Sometimes she seems just a little bit other. Always in a nice way, though.

Brunettes.

Here’s my Maplelea Taryn doll along with Therese and an American Girl #13 doll. This comparison brings out another important difference between Therese and her peers in the doll world: her chin. Therese’s head is taller, but her neck isn’t any longer to compensate. When posed with other dolls this can give her a bit of a neanderthal look at times. On her own, her proportions seem perfectly reasonable.

Now the dress I’ve been showing Therese in is the second outfit I purchased along with the doll, her “Sunday Best.” Whenever possible, I believe in purchasing an additional outfit with a doll. It gives her something special that’s all her own, as well as a much needed change of attire. In this case it was doubly important, since I didn’t want Therese to remain a nun if she didn’t feel like it. Therese’s outfit arrived in a simple but attractive box.

Pretty ribbon.

I really appreciate the attention to detail as shown by the ribbon decoration and sticker.

All boxed up.

The dress is Victorian in style, and made from a soft, satiny, stretchy fabric in the most beautiful rich blue hue with cream ruffle details.

It has cloth-covered buttons up the front, and comes with lovely matching boots, white tights, a hair bow, and an optional sash. It closes in the back with Velcro.

The whole outfit is gorgeous. It has a hand-crafted feeling, and the details are exquisite. The tights are actually a real legging material. The boots are one of my favorite pairs of doll shoes ever.

They have an ingenious flap closure that is lined with hook-and-loop tape which makes them very easy to take on and off. They are simple but beautiful. Speaking of shoes, I have to show you the sandals that Therese arrived wearing!

Sandals.

Again, they are simple but so pretty. I like that they can be worn equally well with her nun’s habit or with a secular sun dress or even shorts. I especially love the way they show off her pretty toenails!

Therese looks wonderful in her second outfit. Since my Therese doll is going to be freed from her sainthood (in fact, none of my dolls ever remain as their original characters), I tried her in a variety of historical dresses from American Girl and various Etsy artisans. I think she looks wonderful in most historical styles, especially Victorian and Edwardian era dresses. She is even comfortable going modern, as long as she’s not forced to wear anything too up-to-the-minute trendy. Here is a quick sampling of dresses that I thought looked especially nice on Therese:

This gorgeous dress was made by Lily Kay doll clothes.

Therese looked wonderful in Regency fashions.

She even surprised me by looking sweet in this American Girl Beforever Samantha dress.

Here she is in my favorite Pleasant Company Kirsten dress.

Another Beforever outfit, this time Rebecca’s.

I cooed when I put her in this Samantha tea gown!

She really liked Samantha’s wardrobe.

But I really liked her in Rebecca’s.

And just to prove that she can go modern….

Both of these last two outfits are older American Girl outfits. Therese likes them because they’re not too trendy.

“I’m in the garden!”

After modeling for me very patiently, Therese was excited to explore the garden. She looked so at home in the garden that she kept reminding me of Mary Lennox from A Secret Garden as I snapped pictures.

Why are they caged?

Therese wanted to know why the tulips were in cages. I told her that when she watches the deer leap the four-foot fence, she’ll understand.

At least the wire cages gave her something to climb up on so she could look at the flowers up close.

She was fascinated by their forms and colors.

I showed her the pansies and she was charmed by those as well.

Therese is so beautiful that she reminds me of a flower.

Finally she stopped in the middle of the garden and took a survey of all the new growth that May was calling forth.

She seemed happy and peaceful in her new home.

Yet she has such an inquisitive expression at times that I expect her to ask a question!

This is truly a special doll. I am so happy to have taken the plunge and supported this company. Now that I’ve seen how special the Therese doll is I’ve started wondering about Joan of Arc…. But for now I’m happily enjoying the company of my sweet, earnest, gentle new doll-friend. In her nun’s habit she reminds me of Ingrid Bergman’s character in The Bells of St. Mary’s. Out of it she is a thoughtful, charming, curious, and kind girl. I’ve named her Josette Dorothea, or Josie for short. She is an inspiring and wonderful spring-time companion, and I can imagine that for a Catholic child this doll might well provide inspiration for a lifetime.

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.

Gabby.

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.

Pig-tails.

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!

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

Awwww….

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!

Only Hearts Club dolls forever!

Only Hearts Club dolls 3

The best in nine inch play dolls.

So far in our doll reviews A Doll’s Picnic  has shared only large play dolls. I have very few dolls in my collection shorter than 18 inches. Gaby, my red-headed Schildkroet doll, is about 17.5 inches tall; Matilda, my A Girl For All Time doll, is 16 inches tall; and Kisa Violetta, my Vestida de Azul doll, is the most diminutive at 13.5. As an adult, I definitely prefer large, huggable dolls to their smaller, fashion-doll counterparts. However, the very first doll I “collected” as an adult was a nine-inch fashion doll from a (then) brand-new company just becoming popular: the Only Hearts Club. These adorable dolls caught my eye one day when my husband and I were strolling through a toy store. I loved them right away because they looked so friendly, cute, realistic, wholesome and pretty–like real miniature girls, not pumped-up fashion models. My instinctive measure of a doll’s wonderfulness is how much I would have loved her when I was a child. The Only Hearts Club dolls had all the qualities I longed for when I was little, especially a soft, satisfying poseability that would have delighted my childhood self. That Christmas my wonderful husband gave me my first Only Hearts Club doll, the blond dancer Karina Grace; and I, in turn, gave the red-headed Lily Rose to my sister, knowing she would love these special dolls as much as me. Karina Grace soon had a little masonite house built for her by my husband, and she appropriated the few Barbie-sized accessories I saved from childhood, including a wicker settee and chair, and a gorgeous doll bed made by my mom and dad. Eventually Karina (I named her Annabelle) got a sister, too; I bought the chestnut-haired Olivia Hope, who became my favorite of the two. A couple of wonderful poseable horses, an exquisite white unicorn (my treasure!), several adorable dogs, and a modest wardrobe followed. When I began collecting 18 inch American Girl dolls, however, my interest in the Only Hearts Club line faded into the background, and for the last several years they’ve been hanging out in their hand-made doll house with their pups, doing what dolls do best: patiently waiting.

Then–I’m not sure what the trigger was–a couple of months ago my interest suddenly revived and I started poking around on the internet to see what had happened to this delightful company. I was dismayed to discover that purchases are no longer possible through their online webstore, and that the Only Hearts Club range of products is apparently no longer in current production. That did it. I was determined to finish my collection and write a review that would do justice to a unique and brilliant line of play dolls that should NOT disappear. I immediately set out to find where these dolls can still be found. I was somewhat relieved to discover that they are still (for now) readily available for reasonable (often ridiculously low) prices on Amazon, eBay, and the occasional on-line toy shop. The only exception is the Asian doll Hannah Faith, who, unfortunately, is very difficult to find for a good price. After some scrounging around, I bought Brianna Joy for $13.99 and Lily Rose for $11.72 on Amazon, and was fortunate enough to find Kayla Rae on sale for $8.95 at the Toy Hunt. Getting these three dolls in the mail was so fun and completely revived my love for the Only Hearts Club! I’d like to eventually find Anna Sophia, Taylor Angelique, and Hannah Faith, to complete my collection.

Today I’m going to share the beautiful Kayla Rae and compare her to her older sister, Brianna Joy. Brianna Joy is the African American doll from the original group of six dolls that began the Only Hearts Club line.

Only Hearts Club pamphlet 2

When we were young.

She has a medium brown skin tone and lovely curly light-brown hair. I always thought she had a very sweet expression. Kayla Rae was introduced several years later along with Hannah Faith, to fill out the line and increase its ethnic diversity. She is also African American, with much darker brown skin and glossy black hair.

Only Hearts Club dolls 1

Now we are eight.

I remember how excited I was when these two girls debuted and how I wanted to collect them both–and now, given Hannah Faith’s high prices, I wish I had. Here’s Kayla Rae in her box:

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 1

This is the first time I’ve gotten a close look at these later boxes. They’re a bit brighter and pinker than the original yellow and orange Premier Edition boxes, with heart-shaped cut outs in the plastic around the doll’s face. The back of the box talks a little bit about her character’s personality:

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 2

That’s my kind of a girl… well, except the fashion part. But, Spanky?

And here is Kayla out of her box:

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 3

I love the outfit she’s wearing, despite the pinkness: the layered-look tee, the sparkly jeans, and the warm plaid scarf. Seeing as I bought this doll in fall, this seemed like an appropriate arrival outfit.

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 4

Kayla has a bright, cheerful, friendly, intelligent expression. She looks excited to start doing things! One of the things that make Only Hearts Club dolls so special are their beautiful inset eyes, and Kayla is no exception.

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 11

Her light brown eyes are very clear and lustrous, and they give her face sculpt a realism I’ve never seen equalled by any other comparable brand. I also love her dimples, her beautiful smile, and the sculpting above and below her mouth. None of the Only Hearts Club girls have eyelashes, either painted or glued, which gives them a fresh, natural, youthful look that is unusual among dolls of any size. Like all the dolls, Kayla has exquisite facial coloring and painted details, including shading at the corners of her eyes and a healthy blush.

I attempted to get Kayla to stand upright for a photo, which took some doing. The cloth-and-wire body design of these dolls allows them to pose beautifully, but combined with their small feet and large heads of hair it also makes it difficult to get them to stand upright without support.

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 9

Plus I’m holding a cat.

Like all Only Hearts Club clothing, Kayla’s outfit is very detailed. I was especially struck by the tiny seed-beads adorning her braids:

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 8

One thing I’m not crazy about is how many stitches and threads have to be snipped to liberate each doll. Kayla was sewn to her cat, her scarf, her box… well, you get the idea.

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 12

We’re really attached.

These stitches have their use, however. Once detached, there is no way Kayla’s cute hat will stay on by itself:

Before...

Before…

...and after. It's perched.

…and after. It’s perched.

Luckily none of my dolls really care about hats, anyway.

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae Brianna Joy dolls 2

Kayla Rae and Brianna Joy share the same face sculpt. Thanks to the inset eyes, though, each doll is an individual, so besides differing in coloring and hair texture, they each have a unique expression. Even though Brianna is advertised as the sporty, energetic girl, my doll has a warm, gentle expression that is quite endearing. Kayla seems like the more vibrant one. I purchased Brianna in her soccer outfit. I’m not a big sports fan myself, but the doll was a great price in this ensemble. The dolls have been offered many different ways over the years, including with pets, in fashion outfits, in activity-oriented outfits, with books, in swim suits or sleep wear, ballet leotards and riding outfits. I tend to gravitate to the original “club doll outfits,” but these days you have to take what you can find.

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae Brianna Joy dolls 1

Brianna’s tightly curled hair is exquisitely arranged. I love the little curls on each side of her face and her delicate fringe:

Only Hearts Club Brianna Joy doll 2

The front part of her hair is twisted and tied back in a very pretty half-pony style:

Only Hearts Club Brianna Joy doll 3

Her curls have an auburn glow in bright light, and are very soft. They should under no account be brushed, however! Kayla’s hair, on the other hand, invites brushing. She has two large braids framing the sides of her face, but otherwise her hair is unstyled:

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 14

It is very black, with just a slight wave:

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 13

The only thing I don’t like about her hair is this odd short fringe that sticks out of her hairline where bangs would be:

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 15

I think this must be an unintentional by-product of how her hair was sewn.

After playing with Brianna for a little while, I decided to experiment a bit with her hair. I’m not a fan of thread-tied styles; my child-self wants complete freedom and control over my doll’s hairdo. So I snipped the thread holding back Brianna’s hair to see what would happen.

Only Hearts Club Brianna Joy doll 9

A hair-raising experience.

Her curls have a lot of life! This would be fine with me, and I would much prefer to have her hair loose so that I could put it in pig tails or fluff it out. Unfortunately I discovered she has large bald patches on the top of her head. It looks like her hair style was not meant to be changed.

Only Hearts Club Brianna Joy doll 10

I took a small clear plastic band and twisted her hair back into the original style. Many, perhaps most, collectors and children wouldn’t mind her hair’s limited style-ability, but it is a definite detraction for me. Brianna’s mane is beautiful, but Kayla’s has far more options for hair-stylists.

Here’s the satisfyingly simple Only Hearts Club doll construction:

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae Brianna Joy dolls 5

I love handmade cloth dolls and rag dolls, so maybe that’s why I like the Only Hearts Club body construction so much. They have a flexible wire armature that allows them to be bent into almost any pose. One of the differences between the original dolls and the later dolls are the feet. Brianna Joy, on the right, has simple cloth nubs for feet, while Kayla Rae has real plastic feet. Some collectors might feel this is a great improvement, but I’m indifferent to it. The fact is that I was always fond of the little round nubs.

Only Hearts Club Brianna Joy doll 4

The original foot.

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 16

The later edition foot.

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae Brianna Joy dolls 4

I’m not sure when this change occurred, and whether or not all Kayla Raes and Hannah Faiths have the improved feet. Either way, all the dolls can fit all the shoes. Here’s Brianna’s foot in Kayla’s shoe:

Only Hearts Club doll shoes 2

And Kayla’s foot in Brianna’s sneaker:

Only Hearts Club doll shoes 1

All the dolls have cute little stuffed torsos with an added seam to give their bums some shape:

Only Hearts Club Brianna Joy doll 6

Only Hearts Club Brianna Joy doll 7

Brianna has a very narrow tag with a 2004 copyright date.

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 17

One of the issues with a rag-style body is a high degree of possible defects. My Kayla has a rather unevenly stuffed bottom.

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 18

Kayla’s tag is much larger and more intrusive. She has a 2010 copyright date.

Another difference between the two dolls is the texture of the body fabric. Kayla’s is a beautiful color, but has almost a fuzzy, teddy bear-ish feel to it. I prefer the original material.

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae Brianna Joy dolls 3

Both original and later dolls have plastic molded hands. The hands have a high degree of detail, including tiny nails and creases.

Now I’d like to share Kayla and Brianna’s family. Here are Lily Rose and Olivia Hope:

Only Hearts Club Lily Rose Olivia Hope dolls

These girls have my favorite Only Hearts Club face sculpt (at least of the ones I’ve seen so far). To me it looks strong and sweet, and I really like the face shape. Lily Rose’s freckles and strawberry-blond hair have completely won me over, but Olivia Hope has always been special.

Karina Grace and Taylor Angelique also share a face sculpt. So far I only have Karina Grace. Like Kayla and Brianna, she has lovely dimples. My Karina has a brown smudge on her left cheek, which she won by coming into contact with a breyer horse’s hoof during moving some years ago.

Only Hearts Club Karina Grace doll 1

Anna Sophia and Hannah Faith both have unique face sculpts. Anna Sophia is the only one in the line with a closed mouth. I’d love to see these girls in person.

Only Hearts Club dolls 4

I love how much variety there is in the Only Hearts Club doll coloring. Kayla has a dark brown skin tone; Brianna has a cafe au lait skin tone; Olivia Hope has an olive skin tone; and Lily Rose and Karina Grace have a fair skin tone. I look forward to seeing how Anna Sophia, Taylor Angelique and Hannah Faith compare. The only concern I have is how some of the dolls hands have tended to fade over time. Olivia Hope’s hands in particular have a greenish cast. Thankfully this hasn’t happened to any of the doll’s faces. Their hair hasn’t faded either, from what I can tell.

Of course, these are fashion dolls, and Only Hearts Club has always done a great job of making cute and trendy fashions that are up to date and girl appropriate. I especially love the tiny stitching, real pockets, and high level of detail on most of these outfits.

Only Hearts Club Kayla Rae doll 20

My Kayla’s arrival outfit is a great example. Her jeans don’t have real pockets, though.

Only Hearts Club Brianna Joy doll 8

Brianna’s socks have real shin guards sewn in, and tiny cleats on the bottom of her sport shoes.

Only Hearts Club pamphlet 7

All of the outfits that the dolls come in, that I know of, are (or at least were) also available separately, which is really nice if you want to buy a particular doll but like another outfit better. And Only Hearts Club made a fairly large range of fashion outfits available separately as well. I’m not familiar with all of these, but from what I’ve seen on Amazon and eBay, many of these outfits are still easy to find, though some of the older ones or specialty ones are more rare. They include fantasy outfits…

Only Hearts Club pamphlet 4

Swimming gear…

Only Hearts Club pamphlet 5

Sleep wear…

Only Hearts Club pamphlet 3

And riding ensembles.

Only Hearts Club pamphlet 9

The Only Hearts Club has had a lot of fun ideas over the years. The Horse & Pony Club, which introduced full-sized poseable horses of different breeds, matching foals, and even miniature horses, was one of my very favorites. I have the chestnut mare, and at one time also had the brown and white paint. I’ve always had a hankering after the big black stallion. Again, I love that the horses, like the dolls, were soft and poseable, with long brushable manes and tales. I would have adored these as a child!

The Big Sister-Li’l Sister idea was also fun, though I haven’t yet collected any of the little sisters:

Only Hearts Club pamphlet 8

You can still find the occasional double-doll set of a big sister with her matching little sister on eBay. The little sisters were also available separately, with accessory sets, and even with fantasy unicorns. So cute.

The Only Hearts Club also offered coordinating accessories that were sometimes quite elaborate: a sofa and floor chair for the “club room,” a stable for the horses, and even a ballet studio!

One of my favorite offerings was the Only Hearts Club line of pets. These soft little dogs (and later, cats) have so much personality! I was so excited to recently find a two-dog pet set with the only dog I was missing–the fluffy little mop called Bubulina, that belongs to Anna Sophia.

Only Hearts Club dogs

The simplicity of these dogs is charming. The dauchsund is one of my favorites:

Only Hearts Club dog 1

But I also have a special place in my heart for the dalmation (I have two):

Only Hearts Club dog 2

Over time the glue holding together the two strips of material that make up the tails and ears has yellowed and separated. I can easily re-glue the pieces, and for me the yellowing is a minor issue.

Kayla and Hannah Faith broke the previous pattern of the original six dolls by coming with kitties instead of puppies. Kayla’s kitty is a little vacant looking, but still pretty cute:

Only Hearts Club cat 1

I think it’s the messy nose-stitching and green knot eyes that make him not quite as successful as the pups. But cats are hard for manufacturers to capture successfully, as I’ve often noted in the toy world.

Only Hearts Club cat 2

He was a bit over-balanced by his enormous tag, so I cut it off:

Only Hearts Club cat 4

That’s better.

Just like their character counterparts, my Only Hearts Club girls love to play with their animal friends.

Only Hearts Club dolls Brianna Joy Lily Rose

I’m so glad to have rediscovered these wonderful toys. They have a kind of magical ability to make me smile every time I hold them or look into their tiny, detailed faces.

Only Hearts Club dolls 2

I would love to see the Only Hearts Club line revive or be bought by another company willing to retain the original vision. The simplicity, un-plasticy-ness, wholesomeness, and quality of these toys is unrivaled in their field. I love the tiny detailed outfits, the fun accessories, and the beautiful horses. I really feel these dolls hold an important niche in the toy world, one I would hate to see disappear. For now, these special girls and their accessories are still relatively easy to find at good prices. Their ethnic diversity, responsible portrayal of healthy, normal girls, and high level of quality make them a treat for the collector and a wonderful gift for the children in your life.

Tabitha, the friendly witch: A Bonnie and Pearl doll review

One of the brands of play dolls I was most excited to discover this year is Bonnie and Pearl, a recently emerged British company based in Wales. I wanted to be the first to introduce their lovely dolls to parents and collectors everywhere, and accordingly, I have been meaning to write a review since receiving my Bonnie and Pearl doll in May! But one way and another life got in my way, and lo, I look up to find it’s now fall and one of my favorite blogs has beat me to the task: Swish and Swirl has written a lovely introduction filled with eye-pleasing photographs. All I can do now is offer my own perspective in the hopes that between us we will do these beautiful dolls justice. So without further ado, meet Tabitha, my Welsh doll from Bonnie and Pearl:

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 1

Tabitha is one of seven 19 inch dolls currently in the Bonnie and Pearl line. There are three brunettes, two blonds, a red-head, and one black-haired doll. All of the dolls share the same face mold, and five of the dolls have light skin, but one of the brunettes and the black-haired doll have brown skin. Except for the black-haired doll, who has a wonderful (‘s marvelous!) curly wig, all the dolls have exactly the same hairstyle: long and straight with a side part. I had a hard time choosing which doll would join our family. They’re all lovely… and my choice was made especially difficult by the scarcity of owner photos available on the internet. I would have been happy with any of the dolls, but I finally settled on the brunette with blue eyes because 1) I always find this an attractive combination, 2) I was in need of blue-eyed dolls in my collection at the time, and 3) she looks so Welsh! As it turns out, I’m glad I did because this way I can warn you about the, um… rather special blue eyes, which I otherwise might not have discovered. But let me not get ahead of myself: first things first.

I purchased Tabitha directly from the Bonnie and Pearl website. She cost seventy nine pounds, which is roughly equivalent to $128. The tricky part was arranging shipping. At the time, the United States was not on their list for overseas destinations, which meant I had to send an email to customer service detailing my order, which was then finished by phone. I want to add that the dolls are now available from other UK retailers, among them the online doll shop Petalina, and they do ship internationally. Their price is also quite a bit lower: sixty-six pounds, which is about $106, a much better deal for overseas customers. Anyway, the customer service at Bonnie and Pearl was excellent and friendly, and I received the parcel in very good time. The packaging was just lovely. Everything was wrapped beautifully in tissue with great care, and there were even little Bonnie and Pearl stickers taping things together! And unlike Swish and Swirl, I adore the Bonnie and Pearl boxes! I love the color, the beautiful artwork, the details, the sturdy cardboard and smooth matte finish… everything.

Bonnie and Pearl boxes 2

Oh those tantalizing boxes!

Bonnie and Pearl box

Of course I focused on the big box first…

And when I removed the beautiful tissue, here’s what I saw!

Bonnie and Pearl doll in box 1

Ta-da!

(Actually, the doll’s face was partially covered with her hair net which had slipped down in transit and obstructed her eyes. So I reached in and pulled it up for the pictures, which is why her hair looks a tad messy here).

I was so delighted by the doll’s presentation that I spent a long time savoring the moment and admiring her box. I just love all the imaginative details. Every side of the box is beautiful:

Bonnie and Pearl box detail 1

Detail on the box front with the Bonnie and Pearl emblem of a girl holding a doll (note the British button!). I like that the girl and doll don’t have the same color hair.

Bonnie and Pearl box detail 3

Description on the back of the box. It sounds so fun!

Bonnie and Pearl box 2

The side of the box lists what to expect inside: a decorate-able cardboard bed and a white pillow.

One of the things I like best about Bonnie and Pearl is their emphasis on creativity and imaginative play. Every detail of their lovely packaging reflects this. I love the little birds, buttons, “stitching” details, and ribbons, butterflies and flowers adorning their boxes. Maybe it’s a little girly of me, but hey–it is a doll!

Bonnie and Pearl box detail 8

Bonnie and Pearl box detail 10

Bonnie and Pearl box detail 9

The boxes containing the outfits are equally attractive:

Bonnie and Pearl box 3

Bonnie and Pearl box 5

Bonnie and Pearl box 4

Bonnie and Pearl box detail 7

I love the emphasis on sewing (creativity).

I even received a complimentary wire brush:

Bonnie and Pearl package

Bonnie and Pearl brush

Well, back to my lovely doll! After gazing at her in the box for a while, I finally opened it up and found a free voucher for an appointment at the Bonnie and Pearl doll hair salon resting on the top of the bed that doubles as the doll’s box. I only wish I could use it!

Bonnie and Pearl box detail 6

Here is the end of the bed-box:

Bonnie and Pearl bed detail 1

It’s a tight fit and was a bit difficult to slide out…

Bonnie and Pearl doll in box 2

…but at last she emerged! The details of her outfit, the cute bed, her lovely face… she took my breath away.

Bonnie and Pearl doll in box 3

Bonnie and Pearl doll in box 4

I was so pleased to find she was tied in with ribbons! This is such a nice touch, which in my opinion should be adopted by every doll line. Not only did my doll look wonderful, but she smelled good too! She had a light, fresh cherry-ish scent. I couldn’t quite tell if it was emanating from her, her outfit, or her bed, but five months later I still catch at times a very light scent when handling her. I don’t think it’s strong enough to bother anyone with sensitivities, but I might not be the best judge.

All the Bonnie and Pearl dolls arrive in the same outfit, which I love: a flowered skirt with attached tulle petticoat, a white blouse with a Peter Pan collar, plain white undies, matching flowered slip-on shoes, a pink bow barrette, and a pink cloth purse. Honestly, this arrival outfit is one of the things that sold me on this doll line. Today it is still my very favorite outfit for Tabitha. It just looks so pretty, like something a little British girl would wear to a tea party.

I was particularly struck by the adorable shoes...

I was particularly struck by the adorable shoes…

I finally removed Tabitha from the box…

Bonnie and Pearl doll 1

Such a sweet girl!

…and removed her hair net:

Bonnie and Pearl doll 2

Wow.

Here on out I’m going to share pictures that I took of Tabitha outdoors at different times in better light. Here she is as she arrived:

Bonnie and Pearl doll 3

Very much at home in a garden.

She sits well on her own:

Bonnie and Pearl doll 6

She has one hand behind her to keep her from toppling over into the flower bed.

Bonnie and Pearl doll 5

She just loved this stone wall.

Now let’s get down to business and look a little more closely at this special girl. To me, the Bonnie and Pearl dolls have one of the most unusual and beautiful face molds on the market.

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 7

Her expression is neutral (unsmiling) without being somber, alert, innocent and thoughtful. Her face is very pretty: a lovely classic oval shape and not too made-up, with the exception of her rather dark lips. According to the Bonnie and Pearl website, the facial details are hand-painted. I would prefer her lips to be lighter, but over all I feel she is one of the loveliest play dolls I’ve seen. One of my very favorite things about this face is the distinctive profile, which is stunning:

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 8

Graceful ski-slope nose and slight pout.

This is a good place to address Tabitha’s most distinctive feature: her blue eyes. Take a good look:

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 9

Yes, she has slight stray-eye on the right side. But notice anything else unusual? Yep, the blue is reflective. Here’s a close-up, (which also shows the exquisite detailing around the eye):

Bonnie and Pearl doll eyes 2

Both the pupil and the iris are reflective, making Tabitha’s eyes glow in an uncanny manner in most lights. Initially I found this off-putting, but Tabitha was so beautiful in all other respects, that I decided to accept it as one of her special characteristics. It soon became quite clear to me that she is, in fact, a witch–but a good one. What her magical eyes do I haven’t decided (or she hasn’t told me) yet. At any rate, I’d very much like to see a review of a brown-eyed Bonnie and Pearl doll, because it looks from pictures as though they have non-reflective eyes and I would be interested to know if this is true. Besides the reflectivity, I think Tabitha’s eyes are gorgeous: large, almond-shaped, with long feathered lashes and delicate painting, which includes a line of black on the inside edge of her upper eyelid and soft brown painted lashes all around. Even the eyelid line is enhanced with shading. I’m not sure why, since I don’t put my dolls to bed anymore, but I’m a big fan of sleep eyes in a play doll. Tabitha’s eyelids are glossy, which you can’t tell from this picture.

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 18

And here is what her ears look like. They hide pretty thoroughly under her hair.

Tabitha has an exquisite skin-tone and she is made with one the nicest quality vinyls I’ve seen so far. I love that she looks truly fair–this is part of what makes her seem so British to me–and that her coloring has a healthful, slightly pinkish radiance. I am very curious to know if the two brown-skinned Bonnie and Pearl dolls have equally lovely coloring. The vinyl is hard and smooth, and has a matte finish that reminds me of porcelain. Actually, one of my first feelings upon opening her box was that she is too beautiful to be given to a child! The perfect, delicate porcelain appearance and silky-smooth tresses seemed so precious that I mentally cringed to imagine giving her to a careless child. Let’s take a look at her wig:

Bonnie and Pearl doll hair 2

Tabitha is a rich brunette with yellowish tints in full sunlight. Her hair provides a gorgeous contrast to her skin tone and light eyes. The hair material is extremely fine and smooth, almost delicate feeling. I am not usually nervous about doll hair, but at first I was afraid to play with hers. The only flaws I could find were: a tiny clump of glue sticking together a few of the fibers; a hidden bump on her wig cap which isn’t visible but can be felt; and a few long hairs reaching below the longest part of her hair. The wig does come to a slightly off-center point in back, which might be due to the orientation of the part. The wig strikes me as neither thin nor thick, and there are plenty of short hairs along her scalp which make it versatile for styling.

Bonnie and Pearl doll hair 1

As far as care, the Bonnie and Pearl website recommends misting and brushing only with a wire wig brush, as well as no use of hair products and absolutely no heat. I don’t usually find it necessary to mist my dolls’ hair during styling, but I have found Tabitha’s fine hair to be very prone to snagging even with the very slight, gentle brushing I have done so far. It also seems prone to fly-aways and static in our dry climate, so the misting is probably a good plan.The only thing I do not thoroughly like about Tabitha’s wig is that the hair color appears to not have any highlights or lowlights, and has a yellowy glow in sunlight. The one-toned appearance of Tabitha’s wig makes it seem a little less lifelike to me, but the amount of hair, the way it drapes, and the fine texture are all realistic.

Let’s take a look at Tabitha’s hands. Her right and left hands are slightly different, which is always a nice touch (no pun intended):

Right hand...

Right hand…

...left hand.

…left hand.

Tabitha’s arms are fairly straight, which gives her a less natural, more doll-like look, which I think is charming. She has dimples on her elbows!

It's a bit difficult to get my camera to see the dimples.

It’s a bit difficult to get my camera to see the dimples.

Her legs are also quite straight and just a little on the thin side. She also has dimples on her knees:

Cute knee.

Cute knee.

Her feet are simple and quite flat underneath:

Bonnie and Pearl doll feet 1

Bonnie and Pearl doll feet 2

Overall, I really like Tabitha’s proportions. Her arms and legs seem both childlike (a bit on the skinny side) and doll-like and nicely proportioned to her height. One of my favorite things about Tabitha is her body construction. I didn’t take any pictures of her nude, but both the Swish and Swirl review and the Bonnie and Pearl website show her 3/4 cloth and 1/4 vinyl body construction. In my opinion, this construction is the best of all possible worlds. The doll is soft and cuddly to hold, but has a lovely chest and neck area for modeling all different sorts of outfits, and best of all, she gains a tilting head. The tilting head is my single most favorite feature in play doll construction. It gives the doll so much expression and poseability, and makes photographing her a treat.

To demonstrate: Tabitha can look down…

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 14

…and up…

Her sleep eyes tend to close a bit in this position, though.

Her eyes tend to close a bit in this position, though.

…and to the side.

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 17

Her poseability gives her such a range of thoughtful expressions:

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 13

Musing…

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 10

Inquisitive…

Questioning...

Questioning…

Introspective...

Introspective…

The only disadvantage to Tabitha’s body construction that I have found is the limited movement of her shoulder-arm joint area. Her arms move freely in a circle from front to back, but the sideways movement (lifting up from a resting position at her sides) is surprisingly limited. This means she would not be able to hold more expansive poses that require more flexible arm movement, such as some gymnastics moves or ballet positions.

Now let me show you Tabitha’s arrival outfit in a bit more detail. The details are what really make this outfit sing. I love the little pink (doll-scale!) buttons under her collar:

Bonnie and Pearl doll outfit detail 1

The petticoat is such a pretty touch:

Bonnie and Pearl doll outfit detail 2

Notice how well she can hold her skirt!

And the purse has a tiny seed-bead button, a real snap closure and a satiny lining:

Bonnie and Pearl doll purse 1

Bonnie and Pearl doll purse 2

Tabitha can’t wait to put tiny treasures in there! Tabitha’s hair bow is on a simple barrette, which makes it easy to slip into her hair:

Bonnie and Pearl doll barrette

This is a cute look, even if a real bow would have been more versatile for hairstyling. Here are her adorable shoes:

Bonnie and Pearl doll shoes 3

They are very simple cloth slip-on ballet flats with an elastic strap. The only thing I do not thoroughly like about her arrival outfit is that the soles of the shoes are foam:

Bonnie and Pearl doll shoes 4

Foam is a cheap alternative to plastic that scratches and dents easily, is not damp-proof (not so good for outdoor posing!), and gets dirty easily. Contrasted with the other lovely details of her outfit, foam seems like a strange choice. If they were plastic soles, these would be one of my favorite pairs of doll shoes ever. Anyway, overall I am really happy with the quality of this outfit. I love Bonnie and Pearl’s use of snaps (on the skirt closure and purse). The shirt closes in the back with velcro, and the skirt also has a strip of velcro below the snap, to avoid unsightly gaps.

I indulged myself with the purchase of three Bonnie and Pearl outfits along with Tabitha (it was expensive, but I figured I wasn’t likely to make overseas orders very often due to the steep shipping charges. Hey, any excuse will do). Bonnie and Pearl currently has a nice little range of doll outfits that truly reflect their British heritage and very much appeal to my own sense of doll-aesthetics. I chose my two very favorite outfits and a pair of pajamas. I am every bit as pleased with the quality and appearance of these outfits as I am with the pink arrival outfit the dolls come in. Here is Tabitha in her smashing School Uniform:

Bonnie and Pearl doll school outfit 1

Gazing at the river through the forest.

This is a great ensemble! It comes complete with a snap-front jacket, a white blouse, a plaid pleated skirt, high knee socks, black mary jane shoes, a red bow on a barrette, a black school bag, and even an extra pair of undies for modesty. I was delighted with the quality, and again, the details. The jacket is finished with a satiny lining that makes it easy to slide on over her hands and arms:

Bonnie and Pearl doll outfit detail 4

Bonnie and Pearl doll outfit detail 5

Sorry about the color… my camera struggles with red.

It has real pockets on the front, doll-sized buttons positioned over each snap, a crisp fold-over collar, top-stitched ribbons at the cuffs, and a little Bonnie and Pearl embroidery on the left front:

Bonnie and Pearl doll outfit detail 6

Bonnie and Pearl doll outfit detail 3

The white blouse has a Peter Pan collar and tiny seed-bead buttons on the front. It closes in the back with velcro. The skirt closes with a combination of a snap and velcro. The shoe straps close with velcro.

Bonnie and Pearl doll shoe

The bag is pretty basic, but nice-looking and fun for imagination play. The flap closes with velcro and Tabitha could actually slip a couple of slim notebooks inside.

Bonnie and Pearl doll bag

Tabitha just loves wearing this outfit. The bright cherry red looks amazing on her, and we are both a big fan of plaid. Here’s another picture of the jacket, just to show off how beautiful she is:

Bonnie and Pearl doll school outfit 2

The other outfit I ordered is the Green Walking Outfit. I loved this outfit the minute I saw it on the Bonnie and Pearl website:

Bonnie and Pearl doll green walking outfit 2I really don’t have words for how cute this outfit is. I am a big fan of green, and it doesn’t come up often as a color for dolls. This outfit consists of a wool jacket and hat, a plain white tee shirt, jean shorts, thick brown knit tights, brown lace-up boots, and a scruffy pup on a leash. The ensemble is refreshingly unique, fun, practical, and nicely non-trendy (most of my dolls and me aren’t really into “trendy”). The jacket in particular is just beautifully constructed. Once again, it is fully lined and boasts an amazing amount of detail. It closes with three snaps in front. I love the four doll-scale buttons.

Bonnie and Pearl outfit detail 9

It has a lined, fold-over collar:

Bonnie and Pearl doll outfit detail 14

The cuffs snap closed around the doll’s wrists, and there are swingy pleats in the back:

Bonnie and Pearl doll outfit detail 12

The matching green wool hat is also fully lined, sports a brown ribbon bow on the side, and ties under the chin with brown ribbon.

Bonnie and Pearl doll outfit detail 13 The shorts have real pockets in front and back and real belt-loops.

Bonnie and Pearl doll outfit detail 11

There are tiny decorative buttons at the cuffs:

Bonnie and Pearl outfit detail 10

The tights are warm and snuggly. The only complaint I have about them is that the brown is a little yellowish, and the seams at the feet are designed in such a way that they have to be aligned down the bottom middle of the dolls foot in order for each leg of the tights to not be twisted (if that makes sense–I don’t have a picture), which makes fitting boots or shoes awkward. Anyway, the boots are awesome:

Bonnie and Pearl doll boots 2

I love the metal eyelets, the rich brown color, and the fact that the boots really lace up. The toes are quite pointy, and since Tabitha’s feet are pretty round, it is a bit of a scrunch to get them on. Once on, though, they look charming.

Bonnie and Pearl doll boots 1

The addition of a soft plush doll-sized puppy is a cute touch, though one probably more aimed at a little girl than myself. The dog is cutely scruffy (must be a terrier somewhere in there). I wish that he had real black safety eyes, instead of the embroidered eyes which look rather flat and un-lifelike. His leash is attached to his collar, and while the collar isn’t sewn to his body, it isn’t easily removable. A velcro or snap closure would have solved this problem and would increase playability.

Overall, this is an outfit for a doll to be proud of. Tabitha is excited to be all bundled up as our mountain fall comes on (we’re both hoping it cools down soon!), and I love that she looks ready to go for a brisk walk!

Bonnie and Pearl doll green walking outfit 3

Her puppy is ready too, but it looks like he wants to head in the opposite direction.

Last, but not least, Tabitha has one of the cutest pairs of pajamas (or pyjamas, according to the Bonnie and Pearl website) in all dolldom. If anything could make her look even more huggable, it’s this Stripey Pyjama set:

Bonnie and Pearl doll in pajamas

Seriously, I want a pair just like these. I love the color, the stripes, the little bows at the shoulders and hem.

Bonnie and Pearl doll outfit detail 7

Bonnie and Pearl doll outfit detail 8

The area above the empire waist on the bodice is lined with satin. The top closes in the back with velcro; the shorts have an elastic waist. Unfortunately, the adorable slippers feel a bit cheaply made to me. They’re cute to look at, but the leather-like material isn’t lined, and while the faux shearling is a cute touch the soles are made from foam, which gives them a light, flimsy feeling. The set also includes an adorable little teddy bear:

Bonnie and Pearl doll teddy

His arms and legs are thread jointed and can rotate, and he has a clear loop of stretchy elastic on the back of his neck that allows Tabitha to hold him quite convincingly.

The pale blue color of this set makes Tabitha’s complexion glow. I think she looks irresistible:

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 22

So that’s about it! This is a wonderful and unique brand of play dolls that is filling the 18-19 inch niche in the UK to admiration. I love my Tabitha, and there are very few things about these dolls that I would change. These things are: 1) replace the reflective blue eyes with more natural-looking blue eyes, 2) lighten the lip shade to a more appropriate tone for a young girl, and 3) improve the shoulder-arm joint flexibility so that little girls can pose these dolls in the active positions they love. I love the outfits, and only wish the rest of the Bonnie and Pearl selection was more readily available stateside. Steep overseas shipping aside, I hope to see Bonnie and Pearl dolls showing up in more families and collections in the U.S. Not only is this a play doll that deserves a lot of attention, but a genuinely caring company with good values, focused on the best in imagination play. I very much hope they are a huge success.

Just for fun, here are a few last pictures of Tabitha exploring. She really comes to life out of doors, and is a joy to photograph. She loved wandering through the Dunsmuir Botanical Garden:

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 19

Tabitha adores flowers.

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 21

She knew not to pick the flowers, but wanted to gently touch and smell them:

She had just as much fun exploring the forest near the Sacramento River.

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 2

She feels quite at home among the green vine maple leaves.

Sitting on this boulder she reminds me longingly of Scotland and "the old country."

Sitting on this boulder she reminds me longingly of Scotland and “the old country.”

Bonnie and Pearl doll portrait 5

Together we wish you Happy Autumn!


Garden and river-side pictures were taken at the Dunsmuir Botanical Garden in Northern California.

 

Introducing Alexis: A Via E Alexis Dollfriend Review

Do you like to surprise yourself with new doll loves? I do! I love the challenge of expanding my appreciation to include new approaches to the classic 18 inch doll, even when that means learning to love new shapes, sizes, facial expressions, and appearances. One of my new dolls that I’ve been having the most fun with was a total surprise to me. I discovered the Via E Alexis doll through–who else?–My Doll Best Friend (a wonderful UK-based online doll shop that really is an excellent source of information and pictures of play dolls). Between the My Doll Best Friend webshop, blog, and Facebook page (which is open to viewing even if you are not a Facebook member) I’ve been introduced to many different play dolls, and found several new doll loves. Alexis was the most surprising of these, because she is the first doll in my collection to have a full, open-mouth smile! This is a big deal for me, after having been used to the more conservative, quiet American Girl smile for so long. I have to admit that when I first saw pictures of Alexis, I found her grin to be off-putting. Yet I soon found myself being attracted to her unique individuality. She looked so, well, personable. I also really liked everything about the way Alexis is presented: she is advertised as unique, realistic, poseable, durable, versatile, and representing positive values and educational play. I love taking dolls with me places, and it was a big selling point for me that Alexis is intended to endure rigorous play, even in or near water! When I envisioned happy summer day-trips playing with Alexis at the lake, how could I possibly resist? I’ve had Alexis for about a month now, and she has surpassed my initial expectations, allayed my prejudices and concerns about having a doll who smiles so broadly, and easily become one of my favorite dolls in my collection. Alexis immediately asserted herself as a kindred spirit and a writer, and you may have already read her own posts. Now I’d like to introduce Alexis to you by way of a review. This is a truly unique doll from a truly special company, and it’s my hope that this review will help introduce her to a wider audience.

My Via E experience started off on an excellent note with an exchange of emails with Ellen Callen, the founder of Via E and Alexis’ creator. I’ve heard Ellen described as one of the nicest people ever, and it’s true!  I was so impressed by Ellen’s customer service, and it is one of the major recommendations for buying from Via E. In addition to graciously clearing up a computer glitch that affected my order, she kindly offered me my choice between a first production or second production Alexis. Ellen explained that the second production dolls have a couple of minor improvements, including a slightly darker scalp and a small drainage hole placed inconspicuously under the hair to allow water to drain safely from the head. As a collector I preferred one of the limited edition first production Alexis dolls, and I was so grateful I was given the choice. The first production dolls arrive in boxes signed and numbered by Ellen, with hand-signed certificates of authenticity that describe the special characteristics of a first production Alexis Christine O’Shay Dollfriend. Each first production Alexis doll also has her number written on the back of her neck.

Via-E Alexis doll review 1

Oh boy! (Pug approved).

What is better than a brand new doll arriving in the mail? I am fortunate to share a home state with Alexis: she hails from San Clemente, California, so she didn’t have to travel far. She was shipped via Priority Mail, so she arrived within days!

I love the label on the box (in fact, I carefully peeled it off to preserve it in my journal). These little personal touches go such a long way in making a customer feel happy with a purchase.

Via-E Alexis doll review 2

Just for me!

The box was absolutely beautifully packed by hand with sparkly tissue paper (which will be recycled as an art journal supply), pink shredded packing, and a hand-written thank you note included with the packing slip and my Alexis doll’s certificate of authenticity. Here it is with the tissue paper and packing slip removed. You can see the glued-on label on the doll box, which is one of the features of the first production Alexis dolls. The box originally read “Alex,” which is Alexis’ nickname, but due to legal issues this had to be changed to Alexis. The new boxes have Alexis’ full name, Alexis Christine O’Shay, at the top.

Via-E Alexis doll review 3

Alexis’ hair had lodged across her eye during transit, so I reached in and gently moved it aside before I took any more pictures.

This is the first time I’ve bought a limited edition doll like this, so this was very exciting:

Via-E Alexis doll review 4

I love that, “Not Just Any Girl.” Alexis is not being sold as a “just like me” doll, which makes her stand apart from much of the 18-19 inch doll market. Alexis is herself, no more, no less. Just like each of us, that’s the most special thing she can be. In order to honor Alexis’ uniqueness, I won’t be comparing her to any other dolls in this review. I’d also like to state right away that Alexis is a play doll intended for little girls. None of the minor imperfections or areas where I feel there is room for improvement detract from her appeal for little girls and their moms. When possible, I do try to embrace the little “flaws” that make each of my dolls unique. I choose to see them as individualities that don’t take away from the doll’s loveability. Finally, I’d like to remind my readers that Via E is literally a brand-new start-up company working to get things just right, which is not a simple process! I imagine being the founder of a new doll company is something like being President: it is impossible to please everyone, and you get blamed for everything! Personally, I think Ellen is doing a wonderful job at introducing a unique product to the market, and I wish her every success.

Here’s what it says on the back of Alexis’ box. Love it!

Via-E Alexis doll review 7 And here is my charming new Alexis doll peeking a little shyly out of her window:

Via-E Alexis doll review 6

Right away she felt like a real person to me, which is one of the things that attracted me to this doll in the first place.

In looking at Alexis in the box, I noticed that her right eye was a tiny bit stray. I mention this because some collectors are very picky about “wonky” eyes. I’m not as picky, though I probably notice little things like this more than a little girl of the target age range would. When possible (which is almost always) I embrace the little idiosyncrasies that make each of my dulls unique. Initially, I was a teeny bit disappointed that Alexis’ eyes were not perfectly straight, but I decided that I wouldn’t let it detract from her individuality. Via E’s customer service is so excellent that I have no doubt Ellen would have gladly exchanged dolls if there was anything about my Alexis that really bothered me.

Via-E Alexis doll review 8

Such a cute nose!

I was struck by her pretty profile, lovely coloring, and of course, by her happy smile!

Via-E Alexis doll review 10

Not feeling very patient, I soon removed the insert that contained Alexis from the box, so I could see her better. You can see some of the values Alexis represents printed on the inside of the insert:

Via-E Alexis doll review 13

Alexis started to win my heart right away. She looks alert, intelligent, caring, cheerful, and very, very friendly. She’s pretty too–at least I think so. 🙂 Her wide smile is certainly different than I’m used to, but I quickly began to find that it made me feel happy to look at her!

Here she is removed from the insert (she was held in with metal twist-ties).

Via-E Alexis doll review 14

You can see how happy she is to be out of her box in her new home!

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Her hair is just gorgeous! It was wrapped in tissue to protect it during travel, and the feathered layers in front were tied back with ribbon. Alexis has rooted hair made of nylon. It is the very nicest quality nylon hair I’ve seen so far: very shiny, soft, and extremely thick. It is also a lovely color: a rich caramel blond or light brown (one of my favorite colors for hair). It really shines in the sun, and has a nice feel in my hands. From what I’ve read, collectors usually seem to view nylon as a lower quality material, preferring acrylic wigs. Alexis, however, is designed to be a durable and water-friendly toy, so I think rooted nylon was a wise way to go. Here’s her hair with the tissue paper removed:

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Her hair is long, but it doesn’t seem to tangle much. She has chunky layers that add interest to her hairstyle, and make her hair sit very prettily even without styling. Alexis’ hair also brushes out very easily.

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You can see here how thick my Alexis doll’s hair is! In fact, my Alexis has as much hair as a real girl might have! The nature of rooted hair is that the “plugs” and scalp will inevitably show in certain styles. This is why the second production Alexis dolls have a slightly darker tinted scalp, to help reduce this appearance. However, I haven’t noticed any problems with my Alexis doll’s scalp or roots showing too much. I haven’t tried pig-tails yet (I will), but I haven’t had any problems so far with her hair smoothing down evenly over her head. Here is her hair from the front:

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Notice Alexis’ delicate brushed eyebrows and beautiful facial sculpting.

And from the side:

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She has a uniquely realistic profile, with a real nose! I love this.

Underneath her gorgeous hair, on the back of her neck, is her official identification number.

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Her hair plugs are small and finely spaced.

Here is Alexis all unwrapped as she arrived:

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You can see how happy she is to be home!

Alexis’ arrival outfit consists of knee-high fringed boots, short jean skirt, pink t-shirt, and undies. I would describe the overall quality of her outfit as basic, but nice. It isn’t a very interesting outfit for me, but the pieces are cute and hold mix and match potential. The t-shirt has a sweet kitten graphic, and closes in the back with velcro. The elastic-waisted skirt has real pockets, which is a big plus! I can’t say the boots are my style, but they are fun and different. Overall I think a girl of the target age range would be perfectly happy with this outfit. My only suggestion is for Alexis’ arrival outfit to include a pair of tights or cropped leggings for modesty, as her skirt tends to slide up on her smooth torso, revealing her undies when she sits down.

My only disappointment with the outfit is that the soles of the boots are foam instead of plastic. Also, the boots on my Alexis have experienced some separation at the back of the sole:

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Some glue and clamping might fix this.

This is the only thing that gives her arrival outfit a bit of a “cheap” feeling for me. For the record, I’ve seen foam soles on other high quality dolls’ shoes too, so Alexis is certainly not alone here. I prefer the more realistic plastic or rubber soles as being nicer and more durable for play.

Alexis also arrived with this cute little tote bag that can be worn as a back-pack:

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It has a draw-string closure under the flap so that Alexis can store her goodies and treasures inside.

Alexis has numerous features that make her realistic and very person-like. Let’s start with her face:

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Alexis has closing eyes that are a dark turquoise blue, with black lashes and molded eyelid creases above her eyes. I think her eyes are a very pretty shape and color and have a pleasant expression. I soon discovered that the reason her right eye is sometimes stray is that it is a little looser in the socket than her left, and tends to jiggle a little bit while Alexis is being posed. I can straighten it by gently tapping it (which is why some of the pictures show her eyes perfectly straight, and some don’t).

Alexis’ eyebrows are very nicely painted on, and I love how they taper to a point at the ends. The best part of her face for me, though, is her beautifully sculpted nose. Most dolls don’t have a real nose bridge, and Alexis does, which gives her such a beautiful profile. I also love the indentation between her nose and her mouth. Here’s her profile:

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Alexis has such a lovely face sculpt with realistic cheeks, mouth, and chin. The shape of her face really supports her happy smile. If you’ve ever tried to draw a smile, then you know how difficult it is to make it look right. I can only imagine how difficult it is to sculpt one three-dimensionally! Ellen has done a beautiful job with Alexis’ smile. You can’t see it very well in these pictures, but her chin even has a “smile line” underneath!

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Such a sweet, happy smile!

Alexis has a tilting head, which is one of my favorite features. This gives her so much expressiveness and enhances her poseability. My Alexis doll likes to tilt her head to the left a little more than to the right. Alexis also has very realistic ears:

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Her ears are actually sculpted out from her head, meaning she can tuck back her hair! My Alexis doll has such thick hair that not much of it will stay back, but I love this feature. It is one of the many things that make her feel like a real person.

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She’d need really big ears to tuck back all that hair!

One of the features advertised on Alexis’ box are that she has realistic hands and feet with a French manicure/pedicure. Let’s take a look:
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Left hand.

I was not disappointed. Look at those tiny nails!
Right hand.

Right hand.

You can see that her hands are also slightly different–her right forefinger is more separated and extends out a bit further. I love this touch, because it adds realism and versatility when posing Alexis. Ellen explains that Alexis’ hands were designed to be large enough to hold a girl’s finger, and were posed to allow her to wave, hold back her hair, and even hold hands with other doll-friends. The only defect I found  on Alexis’ hands is that her right thumb nail is missing a bit of paint, making it look like she’s been chewing her nail. It’s okay, Alexis, I do this too. 🙂

 

Her feet are even cuter:
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Alexis has a separation between her big toe and the rest of her foot, allowing her to wear thongs! Sooooo cute! She also has ankle bumps, little arches, and gently sculpted soles:
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I love that her feet have little creases underneath her toes. I also love how it says on the Via E website that Alexis can make footprints in the sand! I tried it at the river, but the sand was too coarse and dry.
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I’ll have to have Alexis try making footprints next time we visit the ocean.
Now I’d like to show you Alexis’ construction. She won’t mind me sharing these pictures between friends:
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Now that she’s seen the deer, Alexis understands the rose cages.

Alexis stands 19 inches tall, and is molded from hard, smooth vinyl that is a pleasant tan tone, with blushing added on the tops of her hands and feet. She is quite heavy, and the smoothness of her vinyl makes her a bit slippery, so it’s a good thing she’s durable! (Via E now offers a cream for smoothing away any “owies” that an Alexis doll might incur during her daily adventures, which I think is an excellent precaution. My Alexis has taken one hard fall already, so I might just have to try it out). Alexis’ body is delicately molded with realistic contours and the gentle beginnings of grown-up girl attributes. She even has a little belly button! One of my favorite features is her beautiful neck and shoulder area with a slight “collar bone” indentation. She looks so pretty in wide necklines and strappy tops!

 

Alexis has elbow and knee joints in addition to shoulder and hip articulation and a tilting head. These joints allow her limbs to make gentle bends. Ellen explains that in researching what little girls want in their dolls she discovered that the average girl is not interested in GI Joe-like articulation, so she tried to design a happy medium between joints and no joints. I think it works well. Alexis can be put into many poses during play, but her joints do not hold anything more than a very slight bend on their own.
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She seems fairly sturdy on her feet, but her joints do make her a little tippy on uneven surfaces. I’ve had her fall a couple times during photo shoots, but she always gets back up with a smile. 🙂

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The construction of her hip joints makes her legs spread a bit to the side when she sits down on a flat surface like this. On a chair or bench, she can pull them a little more closely together.

Altogether, I am very happy with the way Alexis is designed. She has a pretty build and an effective construction that is very playable. She is a bit on the heavy side and not as huggy as she might be with a soft body, but then her all-vinyl construction allows her to be played with in water, so I think it is a successful design. The only thing I am not crazy about in her overall appearance is that her arms seem just a little bit too short to me. My husband doesn’t agree with me here, so this is a matter of personal opinion, but if it were me, I’d lengthen them by another half of an inch or so.

Note: Ellen explains that the length of Alexis’ arms was purposefully designed a little bit short so that Alexis can put her hands into her pockets and reach her own face and hair–in other words, to make her as poseable as possible. I’ve completely adjusted to the length of Alexis’ arms and I no longer notice them seeming short when I look at her.

Here are a few more pictures of Alexis’ face and hair.

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Her layers fall over her right eye when her hair is loose.

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Her layers blend in a bit when her hair is brushed out.

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Notice the high shine her hair picks up in the sun. You can also see a slight separation of hair toward the back of her head (due to the way I’ve braided it) allowing her scalp to show through.

Now I’d like to talk a little about clothes, which is a huge part of the life of any doll. Alexis is advertised as being able to fit most fashions for 18 inch dolls, but Ellen acknowledges that she will need a belt for some of the pants and skirts/dresses because her waist is thinner than most cloth-bodied dolls (Via-E provides a special belt on their website). Based on my experience, this seems true. Alexis can wear American Girl brand t-shirts and tops, since they look fine even if they are a bit loose, as well as hats, but only pants and skirts with a tight elastic waist will stay up on her torso without assistance. For example, I’ve had success dressing her in American Girl pajamas and leggings, which are naturally made from material with quite a bit of stretch. Alexis also fits the pants designed for Gotz Hannah and Gotz Happy Kidz (they use elastic waists anyway, but Alexis has a similar waist size to Hannah and the Happy Kidz). Since I was eager to give Alexis a wider range of choices, I purchased three outfits from the Via E website. Again, I received stellar customer service, and the outfits arrived by Priority Mail, beautifully packaged. Alexis was very excited!

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We both love the Via E boxes, with their pretty flowers and pink and orange stripes, as well as the motto printed on top. I also love the little stickers taping each box shut (which are perfect for saving in my journal!) and appreciate how beautifully each item is wrapped and packed:

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Just for me, again!

The outfits I chose from the five that are currently available were the Alexis Goes to Brazil outfit, the Loving Sao Paulo outfit, and the Saturday Nap outfit. I love how Via E encourages creativity by designing outfits that invite mixing and matching. The first two outfits arrived with a story card telling a little bit about Alexis, and suggesting options for designing different outfits. These story cards can be slipped into the ring-bound Clothing Activity Book (sold separately), which was included free with my order of Alexis (thank you Ellen!). The website states that all of Alexis’ outfits will include a story card, but the Saturday Nap outfit did not arrive with one, so I’m not sure if this idea has been dropped. I hope not, because it’s a fun addition to Alexis’ playability.

Alexis first wanted to try on the Goes to Brazil outfit, which was my favorite from the pictures. It includes four-pocket jeans, a pink lacy camisole, a two-tone long-sleeved tee, and strappy sandals:

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The t-shirt graphic says “Oi!” which is Portugese for “Hello!” and closes in the back with velcro. The pants have real pockets and a front velcro closure and an elastic waist. The camisole has a pull-on construction and an empire waistline. This set even includes a special passport for Alexis!

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The passport is printed on cardstock for a child to cut out and fold.

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I love this fun, educational touch! The things I like best about this outfit, besides the passport, are the pretty color and sturdy material of the jeans, the wide neckline of the t-shirt that shows off Alexis’ shoulder-line and allows the camisole straps to peek through, the blue contrasting sleeves of the t-shirt, and the pretty pink camisole itself.

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I’m not crazy about the heavy jersey knit used for the body of the t-shirt (I love the material used for the sleeves, though). Also, a snap closure would make this shirt more versatile. One of the options on the story card shows the shirt worn back to front, with the upper edges turned under to form a v-neck (sort of like a cardigan). In actuality this option is not possible if Alexis is wearing the pink camisole underneath, because the velcro would turn in and snag the material beneath. Snaps would remove this problem. The jeans are a nice color and material, and they look fine and are very sturdy, and I like how the cuffs can be left down or rolled up. However some of the white stitching seems a bit sloppy, and to my eye it seems like the front closure is a bit off-center:

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The sandals were packaged separately in an adorable box which Alexis and I just love (she wants to use it to store her treasures):

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The sandals feature thongs that slip between Alexis’ toes, and close around her ankles with velcro. I like the shiny silver, and the way the thongs accentuate Alexis’ special toes.

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My only issues with the sandals are that they are a bit tight to slip on, which might prove difficult for a child, and that the construction does not seem quite top-notch. The soles are plastic, which I appreciate, but the way the side straps are compressed between the upper footbed and sole seems a bit awkward, and like her boots, there is some separation happening in the sole area. I also noticed some scratches on the shiny silver footbed.

Overall this outfit is really cute and has a nice look, and I think most little girls would love it. The things I’ve mentioned that might be improved are small issues that can be worked out with time and experience; they’re only important because little details add up to an overall impression. Again, I’d like to emphasize that there’s nothing about this outfit that would keep a child of the target age range from enjoying it.

Alexis and I were both really excited about the Saturday Nap outfit because it looks so cute in the pictures, and because as writers we love the name! It is a very sweet outfit, with lots of mix and match potential, and it looks adorable on Alexis:

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The outfit includes a lacy white camisole with contrast pink stitching, grey shorts, pink-striped leggings, white bunny slippers, and a blue stuffed animal that Alexis can cuddle as well as use as a pillow. I’m not sure what kind of animal it is supposed to be (maybe a dog?) but it’s cute and a fun idea, and Alexis loves it.

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Our favorite things about this outfit are the bunny slippers, the layered look, the coziness, and the subdued colors. The camisole is similar in design to the pink one that came with the Goes To Brazil outfit, but this one closes up the back with velcro.

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The fit is not quite as nice as the pink one, but it’s perfectly adequate. The grey knit shorts have an elastic waistline and a small embroidered emblem near the left hemline:

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They’re very sturdy and cute, and look nice and cozy on Alexis. The striped leggings are adorable, especially layered under the shorts. However, our pair had a defective waistband. When I went to put them on Alexis for the first time, the elastic sort of internally “fizzed” and lost all its stretch. Luckily, the knit material is stretchy anyway and they stay up even without elastic, especially with the shorts on top:

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Just a little bit loose.

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This elastic problem seems to me like a freak quality control issue. Since the leggings stay up anyway, it didn’t seem worth the hassle to bother returning them, especially since I can cut open a seam and insert new elastic if I really want to. Again, Via E has such excellent customer service and product support that I have no doubt the item would have been promptly exchanged if I had wished. Everything else about this outfit seems fine, and I’m sure little girls will love it. My only concerns with this outfit, besides the elastic issue, are that the lace straps of the camisole seem a bit delicate to withstand rough play, and that the velcro closure can get caught in the lace edging if care is not taken while dressing Alexis. The bunny slippers, which stay snugly on Alexis’ feet with elastic straps, and the cute stuffed animal are special touches that make this a fun set.

I’ve saved our favorite outfit for last: the Loving Sao Paulo outfit.

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Yep, the honeysuckle is caged too.

This is a gorgeous outfit that any little girl or collector would love! It includes a ruffly, no-sleeve cotton sundress, a reversible vest, and a red bandana-scarf, as well as a pair of “barefoot sandals” with included instructions (which we haven’t tried yet, but look really fun!):

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This outfit, like the Goes To Brazil outfit, also comes with a story card describing four different creative ways of wearing the pieces. I love this dress on Alexis! It accents her beauty so perfectly, setting off her golden-tan skin tone and showing off her pretty shoulders:

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I would wear this dress if it came in my size!

The bodice of the dress features a ruffle, pintucks and lace, and the skirt is a two-tier ruffle.

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The sash is cotton lace, attached in front. The back of the dress features smocking, which helps the dress hug Alexis’ smooth torso and forms an excellent fit.

Via-E Alexis doll review 89The straps actually close with snaps at the back shoulders, which makes the dress very easy to slip on and off.

The vest is simple but nice; it features black buttons up the front (though it closes with velcro) and a blue contrast lining on the inner back, so that you can reverse it and wear it back to front to get a whole different look:

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The only things I would change about this outfit would be to use snaps instead of velcro on the vest closure, and to line the entire inside of the vest with the blue fabric, instead of just the inner back. Since the vest is fully lined anyway, this wouldn’t increase production costs, and it would make the vest even more versatile, since it could be worn four ways: black side out closing in front, black side out closing in back, blue side out closing in front, and blue side out closing in back. All in all, this is a lovely outfit, and Alexis and I both love it!

Overall, my impression of Alexis’ collection of outfits is positive. I am happy with the outfits I have purchased so far, and I am looking forward to adding more to my collection. Alexis and I are particularly interested in the Fun in the Sun Waterplay outfit–we’d love to try it out at the lake! I can’t wait to see what new ensembles Via E dreams up (I’m crossing my fingers for a pair of really cute pajamas)! I love that the Via E Alexis fashions are focused on versatility and creativity, and are cute and interesting without being too trendy. I hope the story card idea continues because I think this is an original and clever touch that encourages both creativity and learning.

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Alexis enjoys the scent of honeysuckle blossoms as much as I do!

Alexis is a wonderful doll: original, beautiful, fun, versatile, and durable. She feels like a real person, and has quickly become one of my very best doll-friends. I adore her all her beautiful, special details, and I’ve come to love her friendly, caring smile. Perhaps one of the things that makes her the most special is that she makes me feel happy when I look at her. Even the little things that I wasn’t crazy about at first have become dear to me because they are part of Alexis’ unique individuality.

In short, if I enjoy Alexis this much, I can only imagine what a special friend she would make for a little girl. I know I would have loved her when I was a child! One of the biggest things that sets Alexis apart is that she is supported by a conscientious company providing amazing customer service and focused on positive values and education. As Ellen has said, Via E strives to be more than a company: they are a family. I hope with all my heart that Via E grows and prospers, and I wish them every success. I am so glad to have this special doll in my collection, and to be part of Alexis’ family.

Introducing Maru and Friends Jamie

When I first saw pictures of the Maru and Friends dolls on the My Doll Best Friend Facebook page and read the excellent review of Savannah at The Toybox Philosopher, my original impressions were that the dolls looked very beautiful, but were also a little, well, odd. Being a collector of soft-bodied 18 inch dolls for so many years has somewhat warped my view-point, I know. The Maru and Friends dolls have lovely faces, but their taller height (20 inches), lanky limbs and tubby little all-vinyl bodies seemed strange to me at first. Thankfully, a huge part of the fun of collecting dolls is revising our first impressions, which are often far from impartial. I’ve found my initial responses to a new kind of doll to often be based on prejudice against anything different than what I’m used to–embarassing to admit, but there it is. I’m happy to add that as I’ve expanded the range of my appreciation of dolls, I’ve gotten quicker at seeing beauty and charm in the differences and unique qualities that each kind of doll offers.

Anyway, it wasn’t long before I began to be captivated by the beauty and sweetness of the Maru and Friends dolls, despite their lanky proportions and what I thought might be awkward neck joints–and I soon found myself falling in love. My usual way of going about adding a new doll to my collection is to troll the internet for candid photographs of the doll(s) I’m interested in. I found there have been several good reviews of Maru (such a beautiful doll!) and the cute red-headed Savannah, but not so much of Jamie, the hazel-eyed curly honey-blond who was my immediate favorite. So I decided to buy Jamie to review. Oh my goodness. Little did I know where this would lead! I saw a comment somewhere about the Maru and Friends dolls that said something in effect: “For me, the only dolls in the world.” At the time I read this, I thought this was going a bit far. I have had Jamie for about two weeks now, and since opening her box there have been moments when I have seriously considered selling all my dolls and collecting only Maru and her friends from now on. I really love all my dolls, and I love the variety in my collection, but I have to say, I now know what that comment meant.

Maru and Friends doll box

What will she be like?

Opening the box that held my Jamie doll turned out to be the most special doll-opening experience I’ve had so far. I love opening new dolls: it’s exciting, but also a little scary, because there’s no way of knowing exactly what they’ll be like and whether I’ll really like them as much as I think I will. The perfect doll-opening experience has a lot to do with everything coming together: the time, the place, the doll, my expectations. But it also has a lot to do with how the doll is presented. I give Maru and Friends an A+++ for their beautiful, thoughtful packaging, which is as tasteful and lovely as the doll herself. This was a big part of what made this a truly special experience.

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The exciting and scary moment when I lift the lid…

Peeking inside....

…and peek inside.

I could tell this was a special doll from the moment I opened the cardboard box in which she arrived.

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Ohhhh….

This little card in its pretty transparent envelope made a big impression:

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Talk about making the customer feel appreciated! What a beautiful phrase: “Made with lots of love, for hours of joy.” Wow.

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Oh my goodness.

I have to take a minute to rave about the beauty of the Maru and Friends doll boxes. In my opinion this is the most beautiful box I’ve seen so far (although Bonnie and Pearl runs a close second!). Orange is not my favorite color, but it is happy and sunny, and the flowers and lady bugs are so tastefully and simply arranged around the window area. The box material has a glossy finish too, which feels lovely. Everything about this doll, in short, said “high quality” and “attention to detail” even before I opened her up. Here are a few details from her box:

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It’s playtime!

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I love the ladybug!

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I really took my time opening this doll and just savored each moment.

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Yes, those are some of my other dolls watching in the background.

I couldn’t get over how beautiful Jamie is. I kept staring and staring at all the details.

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Finally I opened her box and removed the extra package of outfits I ordered with the her. It was wrapped in personalized printed tissue paper, another special touch:

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More ladybugs!

When opened, this package revealed the outfits I ordered: the adorable ladybug pajamas (there’s definitely a ladybug theme going on here!), pretty spring dress, and priceless gingham shorts outfit:

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Back to Jamie: here are some pictures of her in her box. She was tied in with ribbon, for which I’m so grateful! This seems to be a new trend in doll packaging shared by several of the main doll brands, and I am very much in favor of it! Jamie was held in quite securely and safely, yet the ribbon ties are so much easier to remove, and gentler on the doll as well as my fingers. She had a hairnet over her perfect face and hair:

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After a little while I slipped the insert out of the box and continued to gaze at her in wonder and admiration.Maru and Friends Jamie doll in box 8

I couldn’t get over the beauty of her eyes, the delicate painting of her eyebrows and eyelashes, and the minuscule little sprinkling of freckles across her nose:

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Look at that face!

Not only are her eyelashes individually painted, but there are light, shorter painted eyelashes in between each longer painted eyelash. Then she has real glued-on lashes as well!

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What a doll!

Her arrival outfit too, which consists of a white quilted ski parka over white athletic pants and a jersey-knit blouse, is of the highest quality. Because I bought this doll in spring, this outfit hadn’t really caught my imagination, but it is so much nicer and cuter than I expected, and now I am looking forward to winter again when she can pull the plush-lined hood up around her face! I was struck by the detail of the zipper, the quilting, and the cute pom-poms.

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Jamie also comes in pink snow boots, and includes the Blue Moon Over New York hardcover storybook, featuring the continuing story of Maru’s adventures in America (Maru is the central character in this series of dolls). I haven’t read the book yet, but it looks sweet. Also in the box was Jamie’s certificate of authenticity.

After savoring her perfection for a long time, I untied Jamie and brought her to life.

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My husband can bear witness to the fact that I kept exclaiming over the beauty and quality of this doll at every point in this process. At this point I was particularly struck by the perfection of her glossy hair.

Maru and Friends Jamie doll hair in net

Jamie has the most beautiful-looking hair I’ve seen so far. The colors, highlights, softness, amount of curl, and especially the high shine, are truly divine. Here it is free of the hairnet:

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It was so perfect I was almost afraid to touch it. In fact, at first I was actually wincing at the idea of giving a doll this exquisite to a child! I know that Maru and Friends dolls are made for children to play with, and that although they look delicate, they are made from sturdy vinyl. It’s just a little hard to believe this doll is appropriate for an eight-year-old when you see how beautiful she is.

Jamie’s hair is pulled back from her face with a small loop of stitches on each side. I am planning on removing these stitches so I can style her hair as I like, but it is a very pretty style:

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Look at her precious little profile!

I just love the warm, golden-honey color of her hair; it’s such a pretty shade of blond. I also love the amount of curl. Some of the Jamie dolls shown on the Maru and Friends website have really curly hair (perhaps this is what the first edition dolls looked like?). I love the amount of curl in my Jamie’s hair–just enough for beauty, without being so curly to make me afraid to play with it.

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At this point I took Jamie’s ski parka off, since it seemed a bit warm for our mild May weather, and I posed her with two of my American Girl dolls, my custom hazel-eyed Caroline doll and my #24. I usually don’t compare dolls for the purposes of a new doll review, because I like to consider new dolls as individuals, and would rather save comparisons for a separate occasion, but in this case I was curious how much taller Jamie would look than a standard 18 inch doll.

Maru and Friends Jamie doll with American Girl dolls

You can see that the height and body proportions are quite different. Not so different, however, as to make me not want to play with her with my standard 18 or 19 inch dolls.

Notice the adorable embroidered flower applique on Jamie’s blouse. These little details are part of what makes her so special:

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I was excited to try on the other outfits I bought for Jamie to wear. Maru and Friends has a diverse little range of outfits available for their dolls, and I thought some of them were exceptionally cute when I was looking at them on the website. But I was thrilled with how they turned out in person. The detail and quality are stunning! I also love that the styles are fun and different, without being too popular or trendy-looking.

In undressing Jamie, I found she takes the prize for the prettiest pair of socks ever to be hidden by pants and boots!

Maru and Friends Jamie doll 10

Wow! These are too pretty to hide!

Also, her blouse closes in the back with real snaps!

Maru and Friends Jamie doll 9

Here is Jamie sans arrival outfit. She came in nice little undies:

Maru and Friends Jamie doll 11

Her body proportions seem more natural and her joint construction seems less odd to me in person than on The Toybox Philosopher’s review. I don’t actually find the hip joint area as distracting as I thought I would, and I really like her little torso. The way her joints are constructed actually gives her quite a range of poseability, which is a good thing! Her arms have a fairly significant bend at the elbows which gives her a very life-like look. Though her legs are long and unbent, they don’t seem too straight or unnatural to me (maybe it reminds me of the Barbies I played with as a child?). And I’m most surprised by how much I actually like the construction of her neck joint. I don’t find it at all awkward, actually, and I really enjoy tilting her head for poses.

Here are her little hands, which are just slightly different from each other (another nice touch that I’m really beginning to appreciate in dolls):

Right hand.

Right hand.

Left hand.

Left hand.

It’s hard to see the difference in the pictures, but it’s there (her fingers, especially the forefinger, are slightly more bent on her left hand than on her right).

And here are her pretty little feet:

Maru and Friends Jamie doll feet

Her feet are simple, but very pretty: small, delicate, with nicely sculpted toes, little arches, and even gentle ankle-bumps. The bottoms of her feet are flat, but her toes are lightly delineated.

My favorite outfit in the pictures was the “Fancy Shorts” outfit. I’ve just got to share the details on this outfit:

Maru and Friends doll outfit detail 1

Look at the pearly buttons!

The outfit consists of a short-sleeved blouse and blue gingham jumper-style shorts. I adore gingham! I am so impressed with the beauty of this ensemble. Look at the pleats and embroidery on the blouse:

Maru and Friends doll outfit detail 7

There is lace on the cuffs of the sleeves:

Maru and Friends doll outfit detail 8

And the buttons on the shorts match the blouse:

Maru and Friends doll outfit detail 2

One of the things I was most excited about is that this outfit closes with, that’s right, more snaps!

Maru and Friends doll outfit detail 6

Maru and Friends doll outfit detail 5

The inside of the waistband and the flaps of the (real!) pockets of the shorts are lined with satin, and the pleats are lined with contrasting gingham:

Maru and Friends doll outfit detail 3

Look at the pleat detail on the pocket: also lined with contrasting gingham!

Maru and Friends doll outfit detail 4

The outfit includes tall knee socks and the most adorable pink moccassin-style shoes:

Maru and Friends doll pink shoes 1

Maru and Friends doll pink shoes 2

I love these shoes!

Maru and Friends doll pink shoes 3

Here is the complete ensemble on Jamie:

Maru and Friends Jamie doll 14

That is an outfit to die for.

Jamie’s ladybug pajamas are also too cute for words, and I might add, they are my favorite pajamas ever for a doll (so far):

Maru and Friends Jamie doll in pjs 1

These too have wonderful details:

Maru and Friends Jamie doll pj detail 3

Maru and Friends Jamie doll pj detail 2

Real pockets!

Maru and Friends Jamie doll pj detail 1

love these pajamas. In fact, I want a pair just like them! Jamie seems to love them too:

Maru and Friends Jamie doll in pjs 2

I only wish slippers came with the pajamas (they are available, but they have to be purchased separately).

The last outfit I bought is the “Spring Bloom” dress and hat set, because it looks so May-ish:

Maru and Friends Jamie doll 16

This is such a pretty dress. The sandals are very cute, and so is the hat, though its a bit difficult to get–and keep–on Jamie’s smooth head. A little chin strap might possibly help this problem. I love the details on this outfit too; my only disappointment was that this outfit closes in back with velcro instead of snaps.

Maru and Friends doll outfit detail 10

Cute little buttons, crisp pleats, and a ruffle.

Maru and Friends doll outfit detail 9

Maru and Friends doll red shoes 2

All in all, I am tremendously pleased with the Maru and Friends outfits and eager to collect more! I like almost everything in their collection, which is unusual for me.

Here are a few more close-ups of Jamie’s precious face.

Maru and Friends Jamie doll 17

I also love her ringlet bangs/fringe.

She has a very pale flesh-tone, which does indeed resemble porcelain, as advertised, and is incredibly beautiful. She has a soft blush on her cheeks. Her eyes are a unique shape: long, lyrical almonds that reminds me of a cat’s eyes. Her irises are an amazingly realistic hazel, which is part of what drew me to her (I have hazel eyes, and I love dolls that have hazel eyes too).

Maru and Friends Jamie doll 2

She has a very cute little snub nose and an impish little mouth. Her neutral expression looks like it is just on the verge of a smile.

Maru and Friends Jamie doll 13

To me she has a thoughtful look, and seems like a quiet, observant sort of person–someone who might be a little shy, but funny once you get to know her.

Maru and Friends Jamie doll 22

I am delighted with Jamie’s beauty, poseability, elegance, accoutrements, and overall charm.  She is a pleasant weight and very nice to hold, and she actually cuddles up nicely in my arms. 🙂 She is as poised and as graceful as a princess, but she is playful too. She strikes a wonderful balance between childlikeness and dollishness. I love dolls to be dolls, and there is something almost quaint and antique about her that is very satisfying and appealing. There is something storybook-ish about Jamie; she puts me in mind of the dolls Sara Crewe might have seen with her Papa while searching for Emily in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, as well the dolls in Tasha Tudor’s A Doll’s Christmas. At first Jamie seemed almost familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on whatever it was she reminded me of. Then I remembered these illustrations in a beautiful storybook called Becky’s Birthday by Tasha Tudor:

Tasha Tudor illustration 2

Tasha Tudor illustration 1

Jamie reminds me so much of Becky!

So I’ve named my Jamie doll Tasha, after the beloved children’s book author and illustrator. Tasha is a treasured family member here at A Doll’s Picnic, and I very much hope to have her friend Maru join our family sometime as well. This is the first doll I’ve owned who truly looks like she was made by an artist. I am in awe of her, and cannot recommend her highly enough. My only reservation is that I would hesitate to give Jamie to a girl younger than eight or nine, on account of her delicate curls. These dolls are sturdier than they appear, but they are so beautiful that it would be a shame to see them abused by a careless child. This is a doll that a loving child would treasure for years, and is certain to become a precious heirloom. In all, I am amazed and delighted by these exquisite dolls, and I hope Maru and Friends will be available to children and collectors for many years to come.

Maru and Friends Jamie doll 21

A Schildkroet Doll Review

Today I’d like to introduce a very special little doll who joined my collection a few weeks ago:

Schildkroet red-head doll 52

Hello there!

She came all the way from London, from the My Doll Best Friend webshop, but she’s actually German. She’s a 17 inch jointed all-vinyl play doll made by the German doll manufacturer Schildkroet, and she’s relatively new on the market, having first appeared with her two sisters in 2012.

Schildkroet is a very old company that has been making dolls since the 1890s, and they have an interesting history involving the development and production of the material celluloid for many products, including the first really durable play dolls (read more about their history on the My Doll Best Friend blog). These days they make a wide range of play dolls from plastic and vinyl, including reproductions of some of the original celluloid dolls. So far there are just three dolls in their 17 inch jointed line: a red-head, a brunette, and a blond. They share the same light complexion and lovely turquoise-blue sleep eyes.

When I first saw these dolls on the My Doll Best Friend Facebook page (a great way to keep track of what’s happening in the doll world!) I was caught by the expressiveness of their little faces as well as by their poseability. When I found that the 2013 Schildkroet dolls were on sale at My Doll Best Friend, I decided to take this opportunity to add the lovely little red-head to my collection. It took her a while to make it through customs, but she finally arrived safe and sound and is just as special as I thought she’d be! So here’s a review of a very special and unique little doll.

She arrived in a sturdy and very simple cardboard box decorated with the Schildkroet “turtle” logo. (I actually really like the box but don’t have a good picture of it). She was attached to her box via a single tight rubberband around her neck and though her packing was minimal, it was quite adequate to keep her safe on her journey. Here she is released from her box, as she arrived:

Schildkroet red-head doll 1

From the side:

Schildkroet red-head doll 4

Schildkroet red-head doll 7

And from the back:

Schildkroet red-head doll back view

As you can see, her hair is a lovely rich rust-red shade and she has voluminous bangs and wavy curls. The hair is rooted nylon, has a nice glossy feel, is fairly fine, and is quite thick. However, as I experienced with my Paola Reina Lidia doll, the nylon lost much of its curl after a few hours in our dry climate. After releasing it from the ponytail and braid that it arrived in, I carefully misted her hair with water and brushed it out gently in sections (which was quite necessary as there were some pretty severe tangles) and by the time I was finished, she had only gently waving hair. This was a little disappointing, but it is still lovely and I like it almost as well as in her stock pictures. Perhaps I can be brave and learn to re-curl it? This problem of losing curl seems to be unique to the nylon fiber, as I’ve not had the same difficulty with any of my curly haired dolls that have Kanekalon wigs (American Girl dolls, for instance).

One of the things that makes these dolls unique is their very slim little bodies and limbs. Frankly, I think this slimness is charming paired with her round face and bushy hair, and every time I look at this adorable doll I think of a little elf! Her face has something very pixie-ish or elf-like about it, I think:

Schildkroet red-head doll 11

Schildkroet red-head doll 10

Schildkroet red-head doll 12

Schildkroet red-head doll 13

She’s very photogenic, and her face is so expressive! Her expression seems to change a little with every pose. They’ve really caught a lot of character in a very simple face. Her facial coloring is gorgeous: very rosy with brightly blushing cheeks, and softly painted lips. The lip paint actually has a soft shine and almost a “moist” feel to it. Her eyebrows are just delicate crescents hidden under her bangs. Her head is made from a very soft vinyl that “squeezes” easily. The material, as well as the style of her little face, reminds me a lot of the early Pleasant Company American Girl dolls, actually. Her head turns and tilts easily. She has the Schildkroet logo on the back of her neck:

Schildkroet red-head doll 26

Her eyes are a lovely bright blue shade with a very detailed pattern in the irises (which is hard to see in pictures). They are slightly different from each other, both in how they’re set and how the eye-holes are cut. Somehow this slight asymmetry works for me on this doll; it adds to her individuality and charm. However, if you are concerned about “wonky” eyes, you might want to choose one of these dolls in person, or have one chosen for you by a friend.

Schildkroet red-head doll 2

I think it’s the eye on the left that isn’t quite straight.

The outfit she arrived in is just adorable. And I’d like to add here that one of the nice things about these little dolls is that the outfits they come in are also available separately, so you can buy the doll and outfit you like best, even if the doll you chose didn’t arrive in it. This also means that if you buy a 2014 doll, it’s not too late to buy the 2013 outfits separately, and vice versa, which is really nice!

Her hooded jacket is very detailed and unique. The fabric is an interesting textured plush, and the sleeves are lace-mesh decorated with rosettes. Here is a close-up of the materials:

Schildkroet red-head doll sleeve detail

The outfit also includes plaid flannel shorts, thick leggings, a cream-colored sweater, and knee-high boots. All the pieces are beautifully made and very sturdy and high-quality. Here is a close-up of the boots:

Schildkroet red-head doll boots

Here are her tags (and look at that beautiful little hand!):

Schildkroet red-head doll tags 1

Schildkroet red-head doll tags 2

Now let’s take a closer look at how this special little doll is made. She has nine joints (knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, and head), and the way she is constructed makes her highly poseable. She can sit and stand quite easily on her own. Her arms and legs hold their position when posed, and they stay bent, which is exciting if you are really into posing dolls for pictures (or play!).

Schildkroet red-head doll 15

I’ve removed her clothes so we can look at how beautifully she’s made. This doll has one of the prettiest bodies I’ve seen. Her complexion is so light and rosy and healthy-looking. Her limbs are beautifully sculpted and her joints work well without being too obvious. And I think her torso is particularly graceful. The vinyl of her body and limbs is much harder and a bit smoother than that of her face, but the skin tone matches perfectly.

Schildkroet red-head doll 27

She does have a bit of trouble balancing on her bare feet–she tends to lean forward a little to balance her large head. It is much easier to stand her up when she is wearing shoes.

Schildkroet red-head doll 28

I love the graceful curve of her back and neck.

Schildkroet red-head doll 30

I’ve put her into a few poses so that you can see how well she holds them:

Schildkroet red-head doll 32

Schildkroet red-head doll 39

Schildkroet red-head doll 40

I’m particularly impressed with how well she sits. She looks so natural!

Schildkroet red-head doll 35

And look at that exquisite little back (and ear!):

Schildkroet red-head doll 36

Another favorite thing of mine about this adorable doll is her beautiful hands and feet! I’m starting a “beautiful hands and feet club” here on A Doll’s Picnic, and this little girl is definitely a member!

Schildkroet red-head doll feet 2

It’s a bit hard to capture in photos, but she has lovely arches and very detailed toes.

Schildkroet red-head doll feet 1

Her hands are even prettier! Her right hand is different than her left hand, which adds to her life-likeness.

Schildkroet red-head doll hands 5

Left hand top.

Left hand bottom.

Left hand palm.

Another view of her left.

Right hand palm.

Here’s one last picture of her hands. She can hold them together very nicely:

Schildkroet red-head doll hands 6

Here are a few more poses. She can’t balance on her own in this one, but I wanted to show her flexibility:

Schildkroet red-head doll 41

I’m working on this position for my back spin in figure skating!

Schildkroet red-head doll 42I haven’t shown it in the pictures, but she actually has a wide range of flexibility in her hip joints. She can stand with her legs apart up to a fairly wide angle, as well as do the splits.

Here she is with her original outfit back on, so you can see a little more of the quality of the pieces. I took these pictures on a dreary afternoon, making the lighting difficult.

Schildkroet red-head doll 43

Is it going to rain or not?

The shorts and tights have elastic waistbands, and the sweater closes up the back with velcro. You do have to be careful not to let the velcro snag the material of the sweater!

Schildkroet red-head doll 44

I had to hold her feet down with one hand for this one:

Schildkroet red-head doll 48

Sit-ups.

Schildkroet red-head doll 49

Nap time!

Now she would like to show you the adorable little bag that came with her arrival outfit:

Schildkroet red-head doll 50

It closes with a little velcro tab, and it’s big enough to put small accessories inside!

Schildkroet red-head doll 51

So fun! And look at the detail in the stitching.

I bought a second outfit along with my doll so that she’d have a change of clothes, and the quality is just as good. This is the outfit that came on the blond doll in 2013.

Schildkroet red-head doll 19

The pink shoes also came on the blond doll, but have to be purchased separately if you buy only the outfit. They’re way too cute, and so well made!

Schildkroet red-head doll pink shoes

I love the puppy-dog applique on the tunic-sweatshirt, but if she wants to, she can wear the polka-dotted turtle-neck all by itself:

Schildkroet red-head doll 25

By this time she was pretty tuckered out from a long afternoon of modeling!

Schildkroet red-head doll 24

I would like to see Schildroet debut some pajamas for these adorable dolls, in addition to the six outfits now available. Their clothing is so cute and well made!

Schildkroet red-head doll 21

This is an adorable, dear little doll with exciting poseability for either a child’s play or an adult collector. She seems very sturdy and well-made; however, because of her slimness and delicate arms and legs, I would wince a bit at giving her to a child younger than eight. I’m not sure what the target age range is on these dolls, but I think a careful child or older child could take care of her safely.

My favorite things about this doll are her face, complexion, the color of her eyes, the color of her hair, her beautiful hands and feet, her graceful little body, and her poseability. I really don’t have any faults to find with her, aside from the nylon hair fiber losing its curl (and my hair does the same thing in our climate!) and the slight difference between her eyes, which will bother some people more than others. She has an old-fashioned, heirloom feeling, and yet she is perfectly modern, and perky enough to go everywhere and try everything! I think she would make an excellent traveling doll, as she is so slim and poseable that she doesn’t take up much room.

Now she just needs a name! I’m a bit stumped on this. I wanted to give her a real German name to celebrate her heritage, but neither Irmengard, Ingelore, Hannalore, Morgen (which literally means “morning”!), Brigitta, nor Babette have seemed quite right. Perhaps I should give up on the German and try Bernadette, Bernie for short. Any suggestions?

Schildkroet red-head doll with Gotz FAO Claudia doll

Rosa (Gotz/FAO Claudia) makes our new girl feel at home.

Thank you Schildkroet and My Doll Best Friend in the UK for bringing us another wonderful German treasure! She will be loved!

Schildkroet red-head doll 55

Adieu from Northern California!


Pictures taken at the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens in the Dunsmuir City Park, and at home.

 

Meet Rosa: A Gotz treasure in disguise

I have a couple of new dolls to introduce to you, before they can take a proper place in our doll-family, and several more on the way! (Oh boy!!! There’s nothing I love doing quite so much as opening up a new doll! And I’ll just hint that the ones on their way are going to be really special!). I’ve been working hard on doing some catch-up reviews, so that I’ll be ready when the newest girls arrive. Today, let’s look at the treasure I found on “BROWN Clearance” sale at Toys R Us a couple of weekends ago!

Gotz FAO Tess Claudia doll in box

A doll-lover’s treasure!

I’ve been researching different brands of play dolls on the internet for the last several months. The door to the world of play dolls has been opened wide to me after years of focusing entirely on American Girl dolls, and I have quite a bit of catch-up collecting to do! 😉 After buying my first Gotz dolls, Happy Kidz Sophie 2012, Emily 2013, and Katie 2013 (all discontinued, and therefore allowing for no delay on my part, besides which two were on sale), I’ve become interested in the beautiful Gotz Hannah line. The Hannah dolls are similar in size and build to the Happy Kidz line, but don’t have articulated elbow and knee joints, and have different face molds. In reading about these dolls on Doll Diaries (an excellent internet doll resource) I found that Gotz made a line of Hannah dolls available in the US a while back through FAO Schwarz. FAO marketed these dolls as their “Classic” doll line, under the names “Tess” (blond), “Claudia” (medium-skinned/latina), “Nina” (african-american), and “Avery” (asian). These dolls, which were nearly identical to the Gotz Hannah’s sold in Europe, were sold through FAO’s own store and through Toys R Us. Last year the dolls were discontinued and Toys R Us was offering them at a discount price of $59.99, which is an amazing deal for a doll of this quality!

Well, I haven’t been in a Toys R Us store in years, but when my husband and I were visiting an urban area recently, we decided to stop in and look around at the toys and dolls that are popular today. My ulterior motive, of course, was to check and see if by any chance, there were any “Tess” dolls left on the shelves. Several weeks ago I actually had a dream about finding these dolls in a store! (I dreamed I found them on sale in an American Girl store, and though this was a bit of a stretch, it still turned out to be prophetic!). So I just had to look and see. When we got to the FAO Schwarz section of the store I was thrilled to see there were several Ninas and Claudias still on the shelves! Not only this, but they were on clearance sale! Of course I had to buy one! I’ve never bought a quality doll in a (forgive me, but it’s my opinion) cheap toy store since becoming a doll collector, so it felt a little weird. But I knew these dolls were special, so I did my best to separate them from the ambiance (if you can call it that) of the box store experience.

It took me quite a while to choose my Claudia doll (I actually didn’t end up caring for the Nina face mold, though I still think she is a wonderful opportunity at this price!). I lined up the three Claudias and carefully compared them. Right away one of them spoke to my heart with her lively expression, but she also had several shine marks on her face and legs, and it looked like she had either been incorrectly packaged or re-packaged in a Tess box. After waffling back and forth, I finally noticed two things that helped me decide: my favorite of the two others had eyes that weren’t straight, and the one with the lively expression and shine-marks actually had superior facial coloring. When I saw she had color at the inner corners of her eyes and the others did not, my decision was made. Clearly she was the superior, and probably older, Claudia. So she came to the register with me, and guess what she cost??? $39 including tax! I was shocked to walk out of a Toys R Us store with a special treasure of a doll for less than $40. I’m still amazed every single time I look at her beautiful face, and every time I pick her up and feel what a special doll she is. The Gotz Hannah dolls sell for about 80 pounds (about $135) in the UK, so you can see what an incredible deal this is.

Even though she’s now discontinued, Claudia is so special that I have to share her with you. If you check the Toys R Us stores in your area, you may still be able to find one–or perhaps one of the other dolls in the line. So here’s a little review of my treasure-in-disguise. I’ve named her Rosa (short for Rosalind), after Santa Rosa, the city where I purchased her, and I’ve decided that she’s Italian. One of the nice things about this doll is that her skin tone is appropriate for several possible nationalities. As you will see, she is an interesting, lively little person with very winning ways!

First of all, some pictures of Rosa in her box:

You can see why my heart went out to her!

The box itself is a bit of a mystery to me: why was she packaged in a box labeled “Tess,” with pictures of the Tess ballerina doll? My husband says the other two Claudias were in boxes marked “Claudia” with pictures of Claudia, but I honestly can’t remember. Were all the dolls in the FAO “Classic” line originally sold as “Tess”? Was this Claudia mis-packaged? Was she returned and put into a wrong box? I may never know.

FAO Gotz Claudia doll in box

Here’s a close-up of her face in the box. You can’t quite see the shine marks or the color at the inner corner of her eyes in this picture.

FAO Gotz Claudia doll box price tag

Marked as a “Tess” doll. Amazing price even before the BROWN Clearance!

FAO Gotz Claudia doll box

Pictures of the Tess doll and outfit on the box.

FAO Gotz Claudia doll box

But that’s a Claudia doll in that picture, which makes it even more confusing.

At first, looking at her in the box, I thought perhaps her eyes were too light for her complexion. But here she is out of the box, and you can see how they come to life!

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

Free!–after how many months or years in that package?

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

Not the best arrival outfit… but it could have been worse.

As you can see, her arrival outfit consists of a short, red plaid pleated skirt, a white tee, a black sweater, white socks, black mary janes, and little red hair bows. She also comes in white undies, which she’s not showing in this picture. Whoever thought that black would be a good color for a doll’s sweater?! Why not white or red? I realize she is dressed in a private school uniform, but even so…. However, I purchased her for herself, not for the outfits.

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

This is a doll that truly comes to life out of her box. It is difficult for me to capture in pictures the life-like radiance, sweetness, intelligence, and real-girlness that just exudes from her in person. Her face is so real, it is startling!

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

I’m a real girl!

She has glowing, rich, warm brown fixed eyes, extremely long yet very delicate glued-on lashes, delicately feathered eyebrows, and a very bronzey mouth (which I prefer over pinker, more made-up looking lips). She has faint blushing on her cheeks (more on the left than on the right). The Hannah face mold is purposely asymmetrical, just like our faces are in reality, so that her right and left profiles are just a little bit different. Perhaps this is part of why she is so lifelike.

Her head can be tilted into many positions, adding to her life-like expressiveness. I love how easily her head can be posed!

Up and to the left...

Up…

Tilted thoughtfully...

Tilted thoughtfully…

And gazing down....

And gazing down….

She has deep, coffee-colored skin. The great thing about her complexion is that she can be a darkly-tanned or olive-skinned girl of European origin, or be Hispanic or even African-American. Her skin-tone is very warm and life-like. Her vinyl is a bit harder than the vinyl on an American Girl doll, with just a tiny bit of “give” under firm pressure. It seems like it would scratch fairly easily.

Now Rosa would like to show you some of the unique aspects of her build and body-design and her posability. She’s ditched the awful black sweater, and is looking much better, we think!

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

One of the special things about the Gotz Hannah line, is that the right arm and leg of the doll are different than the left arm and leg. This may take a little time to get used to after the symmetry of an American Girl (or similar) doll, but I think it is wonderful, and adds yet another life-like quality to these dolls. As you can see, her right arm has a deeper elbow bend and a different wrist position than the left, and her left knee has a permanent bend:

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

I think the left knee bend is adorable, but I’ve found it does make it more difficult to stand her up, even on smooth surfaces.

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

She can wave a little more naturally with her right arm than with her left:

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

She is easy to pose; her joints rotate easily and naturally. She can sit down too:

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

Now she’s going to show you her special little body (though she doesn’t really recommend going for nude walks in the woods!). She’s retained her undies for privacy:

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

You can see she has the healthy-looking body of a growing girl, and is sure to promote good body image in a child. Look at her strong little knees and ankles! I love that she looks like a healthy girl that runs around and gets lots of activity. Also notice the beautiful toes and the arches on her feet. Lovely, aren’t they?

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

Now let’s talk about her hair! At first I was disappointed that she had short hair, because I usually prefer longer hair I can play with–although I’m often too busy to do much hair-styling with my dolls! However, as soon as I took Rosa out of her box and removed her hairnet, I realized her hair is as special as the rest of her. It is an adorable length! It is rich brown, very glossy, and is advertised as being able to be washed. It curves under at the bottom with a lovely little flip, and is nice and thick. Like the Gotz Happy Kidz dolls, it is rooted rather than wigged. It had a little more volume when I took her out of the box, but like my Paola Reina doll, Emily, the nylon fiber seems to have relaxed in this dry climate. Oh well.

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

Now Rosa would like to change her outfit into something a bit nicer to finish this review. The FAO outfits (including the one that came on the doll and the one included in the box) are okay, but of an inferior quality than what I’m used to. The skirt is cute, but too short (in my opinion) and the way the elastic was done on the inside of the waistband was very cheap. The tee shirt is fine, but boring, and the sweater is ugly, with large white buttons up the front. The best thing about the outfit she came in are the white socks and black patent-leather-style shoes, which are actually cute! But the bottoms of the shoes are cut from foam, rather than plastic. The soccer outfit she also came with is of similar quality, and is not something Rosa, or any of my other dolls, are ever going to wear. A child interested in soccer might enjoy it, though.

Here’s Rosa in a little ensemble pieced together from items that my Gotz Happy Kidz dolls came in:

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

That’s better!

She kept her own shoes. 🙂 She can fit into the same outfits as the Happy Kidz dolls, but her thicker ankles and legs make the jeans a little bit more snug.

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

Aren’t I a special girl?

Here I’ve tried to do some close-ups of her special face so you can see the delicate details and coloring.

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

Look at the details of her eyes. You can also see the shine-mark on the bridge of her nose.

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

Right profile…

Left profile.

Left profile.

Notice the detailed ears, too.

FAO Gotz Claudia doll

It’s time to go!

And now Rosa is giving a wave goodbye!

You will be seeing a lot of Rosa in my future photo stories and blog posts! This is an exceedingly special doll, and she has made me more excited than ever about the Gotz Hannah doll line. I’d love to have a Hannah sister for Rosa to play with, but it’s awfully hard to choose… they’re all so cute! Maybe Hannah at the Design Studio? Or Hannah Princess? I can’t decide….

Anyway, lots of love from myself and Rosa! ‘Till soon!

FAO Gotz Claudia doll


Photographs taken in my (very needly and weedy) home garden.

 

It’s a small world after all: A Disney “Animators’ Collection” review

The first time I went to Disneyland I was already grown up and I didn’t yet know I was a doll collector. My favorite ride of all–even over Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion–was It’s A Small World. I loved all the different dolls, how they were all the same and yet all completely different. I loved how the basic doll form was embellished with different hair, skin tone, eye shape, costume, and language to make it Chinese, Hawaiian, Mexican, Dutch, or even Mer-person! I thought there was so much creativity expressed in this simple, yet lavish ride. And I was genuinely moved by all those audio-animatronic dolls dancing and singing the well known song. It really gave me the feeling of being part of one big global family. I felt a little embarrassed at first to admit it was my favorite ride, particularly because of the much-teased song. After all, it isn’t exactly cool to enjoy floating along on a little boat watching a bunch of dolls sing the same song over and over and over again. Yet I was also excited to discover another part of my individuality. Now, of course, it all makes perfect sense! Little did I know then that I would end up collecting play dolls, which are, like the animatronic dolls in the theme-park ride, infinite variations on a simple theme.

Last weekend my husband and I were visiting an urban area, and we took the opportunity to visit a couple of large toy stores. I’ve been reading a little about Disney dolls lately on a couple of different blogs, and I was curious to step into a Disney store again (I haven’t been in one for at least ten years). I’ll state right here that as a collector of high-quality play dolls I am a bit put off by the gaudy bright plastic-y-ness of many of the popular brands of play dolls, including Disney products. After looking at the sweet, simple faces of my girls for so long, it is rather shocking to behold enormous painted-on eyes, outrageous makeup, and, well, to put it gently, enhanced figures. I was a little disappointed by the cheapness of the products in the Disney store. Even the plush animals seemed to be of a lower grade than I remembered. I did think the cloth “rag doll” style princess dolls were a nice idea. But with sewn-on dresses, they didn’t have much play value.

We did find ourselves drawn to one large display, though. Being completely out of the Disney loop, I had never even heard of the “Animators’ Collection” (larger, toddler-style versions of the various Disney characters). What did we find but a display of 16-inch “It’s A Small World” dolls beaming their friendly smiles at us! Not only can you choose from eight of the different cultures represented on the ride, but these dolls even sing the chorus of “It’s a small world” when you press their bellies, alternating between English and their native language! Now that’s pretty cute! We listened to each of the dolls in turn, and eventually decided that the yellow-haired lisping little Dutch girl had to come home with us, where she could cheer us with her sunny smile and adorable voice. So here is a review of this refreshingly charming little doll:

Here’s our little Dutch girl as she arrives in her decorative box.

It's a small world Dutch doll

And here are some side views showing the details of the pretty packaging, reminiscent of the ride:

Disney it's a small world Dutch doll

Disney it's a small world dutch doll

Disney it's a small world dutch doll box label

Disney it's a small world dutch doll box back

The back of the box talks a little bit about the “Animators’ Collection”:

Disney it's a small world dutch doll box detail

Now let’s open the box and get a better view of our little Dutch girl. Here she is, removed from the box but still attached to the insert:

Disney it's a small world dutch doll on box backing

Isn’t she cute? And she sings!

And here she is, after having been painstakingly removed from all the wire ties. (During her unboxing she kept cheerfully singing each time I accidentally touched her button, until I discovered the on/off switch on her side).

I'm free at last!

I’m free at last!

Let’s take a closer look. Here she is with her arms up…

Disney it's a small world dutch doll

…and down:

Disney it's a small world dutch doll

On this soft picnic blanket and grass she needed help standing. The doll herself has a very large head, an adorably plump belly (where her voice button is located), and rather small feet, so even with her large Dutch shoes we had difficulty getting her to balance on her own. I took her plastic shoes off right away and discovered a pair of particularly adorable little feet:

Disney it's a small world dutch doll feet

Look at those toes!

I’m especially enthusiastic about the dolls in my collection with beautiful hands and feet, so I’m pleased that this relatively inexpensive doll can join that special group! I frankly didn’t expect this level of detail from Disney, especially for this price! At first I was even worried that her shoes might not come off at all!

She also has beautiful hands, and as you can see, the right hand is different from the left. Here’s the right hand, where the first two fingers are connected:

Look at my pretty hands!

Look at my pretty hands!

And here’s the left, where the middle two fingers are joined:

My hands are different!

They’re different!

I love this difference–it makes her even more special. She has an especially pretty fair complexion–“rose leaf” I think Anne of Green Gables might call it.

Moving on, let’s look at her dress. I was impressed again by the level of detail in her outfit. I especially love the eyelet sleeves and the lace edging on the hem of the skirt.

Such pretty sleeves, and rich colors, too!

Such pretty sleeves, and rich colors, too!

Here’s the skirt’s hemline:

Disney it's a small world dutch doll close-up of lace hem

Isn’t that pretty?

Here’s the back of the dress. It closes in the back with velcro, so it is completely removable, which means she could be changed if she had an alternate outfit made for her. I haven’t yet tried to take her dress off, but it doesn’t look like it would be challenging for a child. (Her yellow braids are enclosed by ribbons that close with velcro instead of being tied with bows, which would have been nicer):

Disney it's a small world dutch doll back of dress

And here is a picture of her shoes. They are made from solid yellow molded plastic, and slip easily on and off her pretty feet:

Disney it's a small world dutch doll shoes

Wood would have been better, but hey…

By now, you’re probably wondering what our little Dutch girl can do besides sing, so we’ll have her sit down:

Disney it's a small world dutch doll sitting

Because of the angle of her hip joints, she can only sit in the side-splits position, which is rather awkward. Also, because her bottom is small and she is top heavy, she has a hard time staying upright in this position. At least her dress covers her lap.

She can also tilt her head, though the range of movement is very limited:

Disney it's a small world dutch doll turning head

Disney it's a small world dutch doll turning head

So her five joints give her some limited poseability. Now, let’s take her lacy white hat off. Unfortunately it’s attached with plastic ties (yuck!) which have to be carefully snipped, and once the hat has been detached, it doesn’t stay on her slippery-smooth hair very well (there was some tissue paper wadded up in the point to make it poke up more stiffly too). Here she is bare-headed:

Look at me!

Look at me!

Isn’t she sweet? She has glued on black bristle lashes (rather heavy for such a fair person, I’d say?) in addition to her generous eye-painting, Disney’s specialty (she has painted on lashes too!). She has a cute little profile and rosy cheeks:

Disney it's a small world dutch doll side profile

Did someone say eye make-up?

Her face isn’t exactly the same as the dolls from the ride, from what I can tell, but rather has been done-up a bit (to say the least) to make her more appealing. I do really appreciate the simplicity of her smile–no big painted on lips!

Disney it's a small world dutch portrait

I can’t help it: she makes me smile!

On to her hair. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that it isn’t blond but bright yellow! Buttercups, canaries and bananas all come to mind when I look at her hair. It’s very gaudy and fake-looking, but oddly enough, there’s something charming about it anyhow. I was glad to find it is rooted pretty thickly all over her head, suggesting that her hair can actually be re-styled (I wasn’t expecting this much!). The hair itself is pretty cheap quality, needless to say. The only really odd thing (besides the color) are the two extra clumps of hair woven into her braids. They cross her head at the bottom and are in no way attached to her head. All I can figure is they were trying to “ploof” up her braids quite a bit. But wouldn’t it be disturbing for a little girl to take down her hair only to have whole clumps of it fall out?

Disney it's a small world dutch doll hair

Luckily, I checked underneath her hair “pieces” and found that her regular hair is rooted across the area, so she won’t have a bald patch.

Now let’s take a quick peak beneath her dress (she won’t mind). She doesn’t have real panties, but painted-on blue ones. It would have been more in keeping with the detail of her dress for her to have real bloomers. Oh well. Anyway, there’s her large “belly button”–no need to worry about finding it! And you can see the speaker area on her chest (a little weird, but I’m not used to these things).

Disney it's a small world dutch doll beneath dress

I’m not shy!

Her battery compartment is in her back:

Disney it's a small world dutch doll beneath dress back

I didn’t take a picture of it, but she has a tiny on/off switch on her side. It’s a good idea to turn her “off” while she’s being dressed or played with, as it’s almost impossible to avoid touching her belly!

And there you have her! This is a charming and surprisingly detailed little doll, and at a retail price of $29.95 she has a fair amount of play value. It’s hard to say how much she would appeal to a child; it seems to me she’s more aimed at the collector market. I wish she had real undies and a more natural color of blond hair, and maybe less eye paint. But overall I am impressed with the level of detail on her outfit, and very pleased with her rosy cheeks, simple smile and lovely arms, hands, legs and feet. (In fact, her arms and legs are almost too pretty–I have the feeling she might be a Disney princess when she grows up!). The best aspect of this doll, of course, is her singing. The way she lisps “It’s a small wuld after ahl” slightly flat is guaranteed to make you smile. And the Dutch is even cuter! To me she has the cutest voice of the eight dolls in her collection, but I’d give second place to the Hawaiian girl (you can hear their voices at Disneystore.com). I wish I had a transcript of the adorable Dutch she’s singing! It really should be printed somewhere on her box.

These dolls are currently on sale in stores and online for $20.00, a savings of $9.95. I hope this doesn’t mean they’re disappearing from the Disney line, because there really is something special about them, in an odd kind of way. I’d like to collect at least the Hawaiian girl before they disappear.

And now here are a few last shots of our little singing Dutch girl (who has yet to choose a name) to say goodbye. I hope she’s made you smile!

Disney it's a small world dutch doll sitting

I really am impressed by her pretty sleeves!

I really am impressed by her pretty sleeves!

Such pretty arms and hands!

Such pretty arms and hands!

I hope I've made you smile!

I hope I’ve made you smile!

Photographs were taken at the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens in the Dunsmuir City Park in Northern California.