Friday, August 7, 2015

Cloudland Play Dolls: Lulie Gets A Dolly Named Edie

Lulie and Edie
I'd been collecting dolls for about twelve years when Tonner Doll Company entered a joint venture with NIADA artist Shelley Thornton, to produce Shelley's Cloudland Play Doll line.  During these years Tonner was also releasing dolls like the 18" Kitty Collier and Ann Estelle to the public.  I was primarily, as usual, collecting dolls with trunks and wardrobes, so the delectable fifties fashion shop owner, Kitty Collier, was very present in my home.  And, for this, and only this reason, did I miss the debut of Cloudland Play Dolls.

I'm guessing that a few years after Shelley's dolls were on the market, one of them, Lulie, with her short blonde hair, showed up on the secondary market, and I fell in love.  I bought her.  I'd never been into art dolls before, but there was something so dreamlike about Lulie, that I couldn't resist.  Shelley designed the Cloudland Play Dolls from 2001-2005 and seven dolls were produced. 

Genevieve, Lulie and Nora
One of the most remarkable things about these 21" cloth body and hard vinyl dolls, was their unique wardrobe.  All the pieces were reversible!  Her jacket, smock or dress, even her bloomer pants could be turned inside out to reveal a beautiful new look for your doll.  Shelley and Robert did produce a few clothing sets, but nowhere near enough to satisfy me, and I guess the line was short lived.

I did collect the clothing sets, mint, on the second hand market, and my very favorite was called "I Can Fly".  Advertised, it showed Lulie in a cloud printed blouse with bloomers in a sky view, cityscape print giving one the impression you were in the clouds looking down on a verdant township.  The costume set also provided you with a fabulous bluebird cape complete with a tail, and lovely golden felt slippers.   To me, these dolls were like surreal children come to life.  I could not get over how happy they made me feel.

Lulie sat on a rocking chair in my studio for many years, and Cloudland Play Dolls all but disappeared from the mind of collectors.  Today they are so rare to come by that collecting them seems like an elusive treasure hunt.  Perhaps those who have one, or are lucky enough to have a few, simply cannot part with them.  And, that is the way Shelley would have wanted it.  I met her once at my first UFDC doll convention.  She had an entire room showcasing her work, and not one Cloudland Play Doll was among the art dolls she showed.  A little disappointed, I went up to her and introduced myself as a big fan of her dolls telling her I had Lulie and loved her.  I asked her if she had plans to make more, but the joint venture had been over for sometime.  She was showcasing some very unusual dolls and none of them could be played with.  This was actually my introduction to art dolls.  I do believe that Shelley Thornton was a pioneer in the sculpted surreal look of the art dolls you see today.

Edie as the souvenir doll.
So a few weeks back, I was browsing Ebay as I often do, and chanced on a search for Cloudland Play Dolls, Up came a funny little 10" doll called Edie!  She had molded red hair that looked just like Shelley's illustrations.  She wore a dress with a bold print and little black boots with purple bows.  She had been a souvenir doll for a NIADA luncheon Shelley had given some time back.  I bought her.  I thought she'd make a wonderful little doll for Lulie. 

I was corresponding with the seller who told me patterns were available for little Edie on the NIADA website, so I went to have a look.  Sure enough Shelley had provided us with a pattern for a dress, and one for a pair of overalls and a blouse.  I printed them out.  And, there they sat for awhile as I gave it all some thought.  I don't like using other people's patterns, but I really wanted to sew something for Edie.
Beautiful body sculpts.
Edie in Desert Skies
When Edie arrived, the first thing I did was undress her.  Which was difficult to do.  She was not made as the large Cloudland dolls were.  She was completely molded of hard vinyl.  And, her underwear was painted on, and so were her shoes!  What to do...?!  Well, I knew that I wanted to make something with the theme of clouds, so I began looking for wonderful quilting fabric (which her green dress was made of), and found lots of choices with planets, galaxies, moon and stars, and quite a few sky and cloud prints.  I purchased several pieces just so I could drape them on her and against each other to see what might work best.  I wanted a soft cloud play outfit, but also something with moon and stars.  So the first outfit I made was one I'll call Desert Skies.

Crescent moons and Forever Skies
After having looked at Lulie in her elephant toy smock for so long, I really wanted to do something like that for Edie.  I began reworking Shelley's patterns until I had what I was looking for.  Blouse, bloomer pants, and smock.  The cutest thing of all, was that Shelley provided us with a bow for her hair. I was not happy with the molded shoes that could not come off, but felt I needed to work them into the outfit I was creating.  I made a blouse and bloomer pants in the black night sky print with dot stars and crescent moons.  To tie in the shoes, I put purple buttons down the front of the blouse, just in case she wore this without the smock.  I chose the darker of the two sky and cloud prints to make her a smock and bow.  I had fun positioning the reworked patterns on the print to get just the right clouds where I wanted them.  I did the same for the bow, and now Edie had  a new outfit.  Dollies do not enjoy staying in the same clothes year after year, especially if they've been sleeping a box in someone's storage cabinet!

The light version, no collar.
I actually started loving her funny molded hair that flies away as in Shelley's illustration, too.  I was really getting into the whole idea of the art doll.  Shelley is also an incredible textile artist using colors, prints and textures taking them to another level altogether.  She was always in the back of my mind, like a muse guiding me, as I began thinking of one more outfit.  One I might like even better.  So I began again, this time with a vintage toy print I'd had in my stash for ages.  I would work with the lighter cloud print as the base of blouse, or jacket, with bloomers, and see what happened.  I can't tell you how uplifting it is to work with a cloud print!  Its like living in a sunny sky on a perfect day.  It just felt great!

Vintage Toy Smock and Bow
While I was beginning this second set, I was looking at how Lulie's smock was made because I remembered that it was reversible.  I will never figure out how the seamstresses actually made them, but I did my best with a little one for Edie.  Edie was not easy to dress and undress as her hard arms are stiff and getting them through arm holes was terribly difficult.  What were you thinking Shelley?  Sorry, but it was a real pain to pull them back, try to pinch them together, just to go into the sleeves and up to the shoulders.  But, I did notice, as it had been quite awhile since I'd played with Lulie, that even her pants were reversible.  So I thought I'd give that a try, too.

Careful placement puts a monkey on her shoulders.
I chose an tiny autumn leaf print whose colors coordinated with the vintage toy print.  This way Edie could have an autumn outfit like her mommy, Lulie's.  So far so good.  This was actually a better way to handle the making of the smock, since I didn't line the first and I think it would have been better lined, than faced.  My biggest problem was deciding how to close, or fasten the front.  With a reversible outfit, you can't have the normal thread loops and hooks beneath, with buttons sewn on top.  I would have to brave buttonholes. 

Lulie and Her Edie
I do not like machined buttonholes.  The process makes chunky edges and if you don't get it placed just right, you've ruined the entire outfit and have to start all over again.  So I sat on this for a day or two.  I looked at Lulie's smock.  It seemed the only way to get this look to work was buttonholes after all.  I went online, and found a Youtube for handmade buttonholes.  I did this only once before with something for Lettie or Polly, and wasn't thrilled about it.  But, with a little more confidence in my experience, I gave it a go again.  My way, of course.  Well, guess what?  The buttonhole stitch is exactly the same stitch as the thread loops, only you do it into the fabric instead of "in the air". 

An Autumn Duo
The first one was a disaster as I used two threads.  The second one was great, so I decided to rip out the first and redo it.  By the time I did the third one I knew it would be silly not to have buttons and buttonholes on more doll clothing in the future.  So I grew.  I challenged myself, learned something new, and it was a good thing.  The buttons would be sewn back to back just like Shelley designed the smocks for the large dolls. 

Reversible Smock and Pants for Edie
Make no mistake that the look of her smock was an accident.  I carefully planned the pattern placement of each piece to get the toys I wanted featured.  I even did this with her bow, which boasts the dolly face in the center.  These bows took a lot of fiddling since you had to turn them inside out and stuff them.  They're really neat though, and go over her "hair" with a piece of elastic.  I made them exactly like the one Shelley did, and Edie now has two.  Now Lulie and Edie have matching toy smock outfits.  They also have a pretty outfit for autumn, my favorite time of year.

As I was taking these photos, dressing and undressing both dolls, It came to me that Lulie had not flown in awhile.  So I dressed her in I Can Fly, and did a mix and match with Edie's new outfits.  Now they can both play among the summer clouds and gaze with wonder at the tiny houses, animals and streets below.

In the catalog Tonner Doll Company produced that introduced Cloudland Play Dolls, there was a lovely quote from Shelley Thornton.  She wrote, "My intention is to give children the spirit-enhancing experience of owning and treasuring objects with captivating aesthetic value.  I know from my own childhood how much a doll can inspire love and imaginative play, and have psychological content.  I hope my dolls will be worthy of love."  They are Shelley. 

If you'd like to see some amazing art dolls by Shelley Thornton, just click on this link:  Its  her website.

Miss E. Mouse

Shelley's Bluebird Cape

So Happy Together

One of Shelley's Art Dolls

Fabulous Costuming

The Night Sky Set With Purple Buttons

We Can Fly!

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written, beautiful dollies and gorgeous, professionally made outfits !