‘’Few’’ years ago, I went on a mission at Christmas: a vintage Barbie holiday for my 7-year-old.
I was especially focused on the carrying cases
When I was little, there were these amazing carrying cases, complete with cardboard drawers and tiny, tiny hangers for each garment. Oh, how I loved those hangers and my cases too!
I confess that I didn’t so much “play” with Barbie as “organize her closet.” That was the fun part for me, putting all the dresses and blouses and skirts on the hangers and organizing them on the racks.
I have such happy, happy memories of all those clothes, with their tiny buttons and tiny snaps and teensy seams and perfect, perfect smallness. I wanted to offer that to my daughter, as well–since the clothes I played with as a child, which would have been absolute heirlooms today, were lost somewhere along the way between moves. Maybe they might have been too precious to allow daughter to actually PLAY with today?... Anyway: Isn’t that a tragedy? Doll clothes too nice to let children pretend with?..but not for mine
Turns out, Barbie clothes are super, super collectible, which I think I knew on some level, but not to the degree that I discovered while putting the gift together. What I learned, fascinated me: the tagged Barbie clothes, produced by Mattel, are all catalogued and collectible and highly sought-after by people who love All Things Barbie. But the handmade clothes? The ones made from scraps by someone’s mother as a sacrificial act of love and devotion for a child to play with? Those seem to have very little value at all, and can be bought by the lot on eBay for ten to thirty dollars a gallon.
Lucky for me, those are exactly the Barbie clothes I most wanted! The ones that were of primary interest to me were the ones that were made with bits of lace and leftover fabric and unfinished seams and no tags at all. They fascinate me, and I knew that not only would they be fun to play with for my daughter, but that they’d be fulfilling their purpose in this world by coming into a little girl’s home.
So I bought. Giant lots, big bags. Some of them were…not up to snuff, let’s say. All of them had that odd thrift-store smell to them. And some of them... were heavenly!
It’s their hand-made-ness that I love the most. Their stains, their imperfections. These were made by someone who wanted to take the time to stitch teensy stitches just to see the joy on a little girl’s face. And let’s be honest: Some of our Barbies were not so pristine, either. And no one cares even a little bit in my house!
There are the teensiest little blouses, and sweet little cropped pants. You can tell that these clothes were made over the space of decades, mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, but a few in the 1980s, as well. With such careful details–bust darts and itty bitty collars and hand-sewn snaps.
They have trim and lace and button details on them that I can’t even imagine.
I have to guess that most of them were made from sewing room scraps. Something about that makes it EVEN BETTER to me. Since this is what I do everyday!
A lot of them are made so carefully–and others are a little amateurish. I can’t say in complete honesty that I love those the most. I really appreciate good craftsmanship, after all. But there is a great deal of charm in those little spots where a few handstitches were the only way to make it work.
Occasionally, I see a great idea applied on a small scale, like using ribbon to hem a full skirt. Or accenting with tiny zigzags at the edge of trims.
Not all the pieces I collected & bought are for Barbie, of course. There are some for Skipper's, KELLY'S and others for the bevy of non-Barbie ladies who are nearly the same proportions.
Genuinely the ONLY disappointment of the entire endeavor has been the rare occasion when a garment won’t fit a particular doll.
One day, we were having a super rough afternoon. Everyone came home so grumpy, and my girl and her daddy (aka my boyfriend) were snipping at one another over nothing. Out of nowhere, I asked my daughter if she wanted to play Barbie. She replied, “Will you play with me?” Uh, YES & yes again!
Next thing I know, my daughter and I–are on the floor of the play room, jammed up against the dresser drawers, dressing and organizing and searching for hangers and trying on tiny shoes. And it was so much fun, fun to re-discover these tiny treasures. Exciting to show her how to operate the itty buttons. And affirming to know that these things are meant to be played with and loved...and they are!
If you ever have a moment where you think, “Does sewing even matter? Does what I make MATTER?” The answer is YES, in so many ways you may not even know. Your stitches may survive you, your family, yard sales, eBay and storage lockers to someday land in the hands of a family who desperately needed exactly what you were making just to make it through the day. Keep sewing. Just keep sewing.