On Friday I shared some excerpts from an old travel journal. Today I’ve got some visual artifacts from roughly the same period of my life: handmade paper dolls! In my ongoing efforts to declutter, I’m taking photos of the paper dolls I made when I was a kid, so I can recycle the dolls themselves.
In a recent trip to my parents’ house, I discovered four boxes of paper dolls, each containing at least one doll and her entire wardrobe. So far I’ve documented two of these boxes. The first, at left, contains “Lois and Terri Williams” (embarrassingly named by myself), who I must assume were meant to be sisters. Terri must have been the neglected younger child, for while Lois has several striking outfits, Terri has nothing! Poor Terri will remain forever stuck in her underwear.
Her older sister, on the other hand, gets to choose from a selection of garments including two identical pantsuits, two other pantsuits that don’t look that different from the first two, a dancing costume (with daring sheer skirt), a princess costume, a stylishly oversized knockoff Mossimo shirt, and a ruffled blouse and vest ensemble. That ruffled blouse and the Mossimo shirt embarrass me because they can’t possibly have been made before I was in sixth grade… which means I might have been as old as twelve. To me as an adult, that’s perfectly acceptable, but my internal sixth grader totally cringes to think of my classmates finding out about me making paper dolls. Luckily, the present state of time travel makes it unlikely that I will ever have to face that particular shame. ;b
I’m not sure where I got Lois and Terri’s names; they’re a little weird even for me. I tended toward romantic, over-the-top names like Angelica Serafina (maybe because I thought my own name was too plain), or antiquated Victorian-type names like Emmeline (too much L. M. Montgomery). And yes, my dolls, and the characters I invented in stories, were rarely Asian, though my preferences were always for either dark or red hair… which might explain why poor Terri (a blue-eyed blonde) got so massively shafted while dark-haired Lois got to have all the fun.
However… in the second box I opened, I was surprised and pleased to discover an Asian doll! She boasts short dark hair, slanted eyes (I still have trouble making my drawings look Asian without relying on this caricature-like tactic), aggressively rosy cheeks, and a Heil Hitler-style right arm salute… and a wardrobe far, far more extensive than Lois’s mere nine outfits. She gets to choose from ballet outfits, historical costumes (copied from American Girl’s Felicity doll, who the website informs me will soon be discontinued! 😦 ), a long pink gown with matching elbow-length gloves, leg warmers, denim shorts, hats, and shoes… but unlike Lois, she has no name. Poor girl!
It boggles my mind to look over this doll’s wardrobe and think about how many hours I must have put into designing, drawing, coloring, and cutting out all these little outfits. And for what purpose? I loved making paper dolls, but I really didn’t like playing with them. They were too flimsy, and the traditional tab system for their clothing really drove me nuts (then and now!). The clothes never stayed on and the dolls’ necks got dangerously floppy after being bent again and again to fit those clothing tabs around the shoulders. While excavating this Asian doll’s closet, I even found a pair of jeans I’d never used: the tabs had never been folded. It’s clear that what I loved about paper dolls was the fashion design and nothing more. Now that I think of it, these paper dolls were a hands-on precursor to the sketchbooks I filled with fashion designs when I got a little older.
What I would have really loved, if only it had existed back then, is the fashion design software and dress-up games available to today’s young girls (confession: I’ve played both Jojo’s Fashion Show and its sequel with unabashed glee). Then I could have happily designed outfit after outfit without having to worry about wearing down my colored pencils or bothering with all those irritating little tabs! But I suppose making my own clothes probably gave me more creative license with styles and patterns; those computer programs probably rely on all kinds of templates and presets, all based on whatever the programs’ creators think preteen girls would find “cool.”
It’s fun to think that all these hours I spent on my childhood paper dolls have had some impact on my facility with colors and prints in my fabric crafting now! Until I found and sifted through these boxes of paper dolls, I didn’t even remember them, but it’s plain to see now that the things we love to do stick with us forever. 🙂
My watercolor class at the RAC begins tomorrow, so look for new paintings starting next Monday!