Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Pat Green started making dolls to play with when she was 5, by sewing together acorns, popsicle sticks, spoons and whatever spare fabric she could find around the house.
The now-52-year-old doll maker jokes that she learned to sew before she started going to school.
Now, Green operates her own doll store, called Dollmaker's Delight, out of the basement of her Jonesboro home. Clients come, by appointment only, to buy her hand-made, African-American dolls. The difference, though, between her earliest dolls, and the ones she now sells, is that she now uses doll arms, legs, heads, and eyes -- as well as fabric -- that she buys on the Internet.
As Green sees it, she is making a living from something she did for fun as a little girl. "To me, it's like I never stopped playing with dolls," she said.
Green said she is in the midst of her busiest time of the year. Throughout most of the year, she said she sells an average of six dolls per month, but business picks up around November as people seek dolls to give as Christmas presents. She has more than 100 doll orders for this Christmas, she said.
Her small store, which only takes up half of her garage, is filled with more than 50 dolls of varying sizes. The sizes range from dolls bout as big as a person's finger, to a 3-foot "Dance with me" doll, which has straps on the bottom of the shoes that a person can slip their feet into, for the purpose of dancing with the doll.
Green said she started making dolls for sale in the early 1980's, after seeing how popular the Cabbage Patch Dolls were. Her earliest dolls for sale were similar in style to the Cabbage Patch Kids, she said.
"I started making 'Cabbage Patch' dolls for people, and I was overwhelmed by the demand for them," Green said. "I had a store [also called] Dollmaker's Delight on Highway 85 in the 1990's, but I closed it down and moved the operation into my home for cost reasons. This is basically the only job I ever had."
There are cloth dolls, and reborn dolls for sale, with prices ranging from $15 for a small, baby, cloth doll, to $250 for a toddler-sized reborn doll. Reborn dolls get their name from that their early history, because people would take old dolls and refurbish, or "rebirth" them, according to Green. All of the dolls depict African-American children.
"I truly love dolls, but I guess my reason for doing this is two-fold," Green said. "First, it's very hard for us to find pretty African-American dolls that have very realistic features. With some dolls out there, they just take a white doll and put a coat of brown paint on it, but our skin is not just one shade of color. Also, I wanted to be able to make dolls available for every price."
The creation of one doll can be a time-consuming process, she said. A reborn doll, for example, can take up to 30 hours for Green to make from scratch.
The process begins with Green painting the vinyl head, arms and legs of the doll with brown paint, mainly using a sponge to dab the paint onto the vinyl. She then "cures," or dries, the paint using either a heat gun, or by warming the vinyl body parts in her oven at 265 degrees for no more than eight minutes. Then, she repeats the process a few more times to continually add texture to the doll's skin tone.
She uses a narrow paint brush to paint the lips, followed by dabbing with a sponge to even out the lips.
While the paint on the vinyl is being dried, Green said she cuts out, sews and stuffs the fabric body of the doll. Once the vinyl is painted, she inserts the dolls eyes, and she roots the hair into the head, one strand at a time. Depending on how much hair the doll needs, it can take up to three hours to root the hair, she said.
She then fills the head, arms and legs with tiny craft beads to add weight to the appendages before sewing the body together. The baby dolls weigh between 4 and a half, and 5 and a half pounds.
Anita Walker, a neighbor of Green's for nearly 20 years who owns a handful of the hand-made dolls, said the dolls are "conversation pieces," because of their "lifelike" features.
"I can remember once coming over and seeing some dolls sitting on her couch, and they were so lifelike," Walker said. "I had to stop for a minute because I thought she was baby-sitting someone's children."
Green said her dolls can be purchased on her web site, http://www.dollmakersdelight.com, where people can also make appointments to purchase the dolls.
"I'll take orders until Christmas Eve, and then I'm going to take a break until Jan. 15, so I can relax and asses how things went," she said.