|The poinsettia dress one of my Barbies now wears|
Sylvia, when I discovered your handkerchief Barbie dresses on Pinterest, I was in awe. I have a whole curio of Barbies in my office and a tote full in my storage room. I adore vintage hankies—have loved them since I was a girl, when my grandmother used to buy new ones for me. I have several that were my grandma’s and my aunt’s, and I add to my collection often. Seeing how you’ve blended two of my passions sent me over the moon! I’m now your biggest fan-girl.
Cheryl: Did you play with Barbie as a girl? How many Barbies do you own now? Do you have favorites?
Sylvia: I actually didn’t own a “Barbie” doll as a child. Between my sisters and I, we had Midge, Skipper, Ken, and Julia (from the TV show), and a few assorted no-name dolls. However, in the past year, I’ve made up for that. Don’t tell my husband, but I now own 71 Barbies (and counting). I started with the Barbie Basics dolls, which are the lowest priced line of Barbie collectible dolls. I love their faces because they don’t look like your typical wide-eyed Barbie and they have the model muse body type, which is more long and lean than your typical Barbie.
Unfortunately, I was a little late to the game and most of the Barbie Basics dolls were already sold out when I started collecting. So I resorted to eBay, Amazon, and treks to Target, Toys R Us, and Walmart stores around the country to find some of the discontinued models at reasonable prices. Since then, I’ve branched out to some reproductions of the original 1960’s era Barbies that I’ve found online and in antique stores, some more recent collectible Barbies, and now, the Silkstone Barbies. Silkstone Barbies are made of heavy composite material that feels like porcelain but is more durable. I think the Silkstone Barbies have only been around since 2000. (Visit www.barbiecollector.com to view all of the wonderful collectible Barbies!)
Cheryl: I can not allow myself to do a search for Barbie on ebay. But I’m a vendor in my local Brass Armadillo, so I can’t help but see a few vintage dolls. How did you get started making the dresses?
Sylvia: Last spring I was trolling JoAnn Fabrics (as I love to do) and came across the book, Hankie Couture, by Marsha Greenberg. Marsha has been making Barbie dresses for years from vintage hankies and this book was chock full of charming little dresses. It was love at first sight. I started flipping through the book and the next thing I knew I was at the check-out line with it. Then I directed my husband to nearest antique store and started stocking up on vintage hankies so I could make my own Barbie dresses.
Cheryl: I love that story. I would be terrified to cut the hankie. About how long does one of your creations take to make? Can you describe the process?
Sylvia: It is terrifying at first, and I’ve had to throw out a couple hankie dresses that were just beyond salvageable. But the good news is, hankies are pretty cheap, so I just pick myself up and start on another one.
Most times, I start with a hankie I just love. I drape it around a Barbie doll every which way trying to figure out how to make the best use of the fabric at hand. Once I have a picture in my head, I pull out my patterns, pin them to the fabric and just start cutting. I try to use the edge of the hankie as the hem for the dress whenever possible. Many hankies have beautiful rolled or cut work edges, so this shows them off to the best advantage and saves me from sewing a teeny tiny hem. Because many of the hankies are thin or sheer, I line every dress in cotton fabric. I use the selvage edge of the lining fabric as the hem of the skirt lining – a tip I picked up from Marsha’s book.
I have a full-time day job, so I sew in the evenings while I watch a movie or TV. Each dress is sewn entirely by hand. I have a sewing machine (or three), but I much prefer hand sewing with my cat on my lap. So depending on how engrossing the TV show is and how intricate the pattern may be, an outfit can take a couple days or up to a week.
Cheryl: The photographs of your dressed dolls, with scenery and props, are as stunning as the dresses. Are you the photographer? Do you have a special camera/ lens/use special lighting?
Sylvia: I take all the photos of my dolls myself with my 35mm camera (sorry, I don’t remember the brand off the top of my head). I’ve always been a photography buff and love to take pictures when we go on vacation. But outdoor pictures have been my specialty. So taking shots indoors was a little challenging for me at first. I tried using a flash, then using a clip-on light, but both created harsh shadows and I ended up with a yellowish cast on the photos. Then for Christmas this past year, my husband bought me some photography lights on stands (you know, the ones with the white screens in front of the light). I had no idea what a difference those lights would make in my photos! The colors are much truer and the harsh shadows are all but eliminated.
Now I have a bookcase in my front room set up as a mini photography studio. I make back drops from foam core board, scrapbook paper, and miniature woodwork, or just tape up a long sheet of white paper. I’m an avid antiques buff, so on weekends I troll antique shops and the dollar store looking for little items to use in my dioramas. I’ve made lamps from old perfume atomizers with a shade from a dollar store air freshener. I’ve collected old Barbie furniture and painted it. I’ve found little flower arrangements at a craft show. I just always keep my eyes peeled for something tiny that I could make into something realistic looking for Barbie.
Cheryl: Something else that fascinates me are miniature items, like doll furniture. I want to come to your house. Do you have a passion for any other vintage linens or items?
Sylvia: I’m a huge vintage linens fan. I’ve been collecting antique lace for the past 20 years or so and I’ve used it on pillows, clothing, home décor, and more. For a while in the 90’s, I was making cloth dolls from vintage linen toweling and cross stitching their faces. And I have a small collection of vintage buttons that I’ve used in a variety of crafts. I’ve even used vintage tablecloths to make cute little jackets. Oh, and did I mention my vintage pattern collection? I think you get the picture…
Cheryl: I’m swooning here. Do you do any other crafts or sewing projects?
Sylvia: My paternal grandmother taught me to knit, my maternal grandmother taught me to paint, and my mother taught me to sew. So the question is really, what haven’t I done? But sewing is my favorite past time. I’ve made dolls, teddy bears, Christmas stockings, pillows, cross stitch samplers, clothing for me (when I was slimmer), Halloween costumes … you name it, and I’ve probably done it at one time or another. The challenge for me is finding the time. I have a full-time job, so all of my crafting is done in the evenings or on weekends when I’m not antiquing.
Cheryl: I’m amazed by the patience and talent it takes to do any one of those things. Where can we see more of these dresses and how can we buy them?
Sylvia: You can find photos of all of my Barbie dresses on Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/sylviabittner. Check out my Pinterest boards, Stuff I’ve Made and My OOAK Barbie Dresses. To purchase my Barbie dresses, visit my Etsy shop at www.Etsy.com/shop/hankiechic/.
When I first stalked Sylvia online, I had to ask what OOAK meant. It’s One Of A Kind. Duh. But I had no idea.
I am the gleeful owner of two of Sylvia’s beautiful creations, and I can admire them by swiveling in my desk chair and ogling my curio, which I do often.
So, what about you? Did you play with Barbie as a girl? Are you in awe of these dresses and Sylvia’s talent?