One, Two, (Three) Buckle My Shoe


Can you tell from my recent posts that I have plenty of time at home right now to catch up with my creative work—both sewing and writing? Today’s small project was switching the buckle from the single brown antique child’s shoe to the blue pair to make a match.

I found this adorable pair of Victorian blue leather child’s shoes several years ago. When I bought them, the left shoe was complete with soft metal buckle and original lacing. The right shoe had no buckle and was laced with a modern cream colored narrow ribbon. Wanting to improve the pair closer to original condition, I diligently searched for an antique replacement buckle, or for single shoes that would supply the needed buckle. Eventually, I found a sale-lot of single antique doll shoes, including one with the buckle I needed. Unfortunately, when I received them, I found that the buckle, though the same style, turned out to be smaller than the one on my blue child shoe. I sewed it on anyway, and made a new twisted crochet cotton lace for the right shoe. As you can see, the lace that I made is too light in color. Perhaps a tea bath could solve that problem. . . .

Finally, after another year or so of not really searching, I came across this single brown child’s shoe with the same style buckle. This time, I made sure that it would be the right size before purchasing. Since the shoes themselves are similar, but not identical, they make for an interesting comparison of this type of Victorian children’s shoes. These shoes are a common style for children that were made from around 1860 to 1900.


Shoes were not shaped to fit the right and left foot until the 1850’s and later. Before that time, people shaped their leather shoes and boots to their feet by soaking them in water, then wearing them until they were dry. On my shoes, the sole of the single brown one shows minimal, if any, shaping as a left shoe. The larger blue shoes are just discernible as right and left.


My camera is not capturing the true colors. The brown shoe is slightly lighter than shown here, while the blue pair is also lighter; more of a cadet blue.

The brown shoe is 4 1/2 inches long at the sole, and the blue pair is 5 inches long. Both shoes here are machine stitched. A machine for sewing shoe soles to the uppers was patented in 1858. Before that, making shoes was a craft, as they were made by hand, and sewing a hard leather sole to the upper took much effort.  Remember the visit of the shoe cobbler to the Wilder farm in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, Farmer Boy? Wilder describes in detail how the cobbler made shoes for the family right there in their home.

Both of these shoes (above and below) have decorative variable zig-zag stitching surrounding the lacing and tops. Metal grommets are used for the lacing holes. Also of note is that the brown shoe is higher in front at the top, while the blue pair is slightly curved across the top. The brown shoe has a two part upper, while the blue shoes have a third part for the toe.


Another intriguing difference is that the brown shoe has a tongue, while the blue shoes lace without a tongue underneath. I could not find a reference about when shoes for children in the 19th century began to have tongues. It is my understanding that laced shoes without tongues are generally earlier than those with tongues. However, other features of the brown shoe would indicate that it is earlier than the blue pair.


Here is the pair of blue shoes with the right-size matching buckles. I like how they display much better now.   —And what to do with a single brown Victorian child’s shoe?


Fear not! A single shoe (sans buckle) can be brought to good advantage in a home filled with Victorian antiques and dolls!

Carte-de-Visite toddler girl wearing white lace shoes (2)

This Late Victorian to Edwardian era girl wears white shoes similar to the ones I have shown. Hers appear to have hard leather soles with a low heel.


A Journey for Miss Ruby, Chapter Seven: A Connecticut Kind of Summer


Everything about Ruby’s journey had been delightful! Yet, she couldn’t think of a better reason to travel than to visit family. Even though she was “born” in Connecticut, she was now a “West Coast” girl. How fortunate she was to have an “East Coast” clan to welcome her back! Ruby thought that Oregon City where she lives was incorporated a long time ago, in 1844 (as the first incorporated town west of the Rocky Mountains), but the town where she was staying, Colchester Connecticut, received its charter in 1698–almost 150 years before Oregon City. My, that is old!


This house has been sold since this photo, and is no longer a shop. Miss Jennie wishes she was the buyer!

Of course many of the houses and buildings in Connecticut are older than in Oregon, too. Ruby liked looking at all of these old buildings.


A historic Colchester house, facing the town green.


This interesting Victorian is near the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.

August 2014 18 Airline Trail bigger stone wall 5 conjunction

Connecticut is also noted for its beautiful stone fences; even like this one that is unused and hidden away now along Judd Creek.


After shopping for awhile, Ruby stopped for a rest on this stone wall in Old Mystic Village.

Shopping is always interesting in Connecticut. Everyone likes stopping at Nature’s Art along the way to Old Mystic Village.


Ruby was quite taken with this large malachite stone. She found that it soothed her spirit.


“This room with dinosaur skeletons is a little bit scary–it gives me the shivers. But I still like the fish.”


“What do you mean, we already have Citrine at home? I want to put THESE in my suitcase!”


Harry’s Place doesn’t look quite like this any more, but it’s still THE place to hang out on summer evenings in Colchester! (Photo by Dave Stewart)


Burgers, chili dogs, and onion rings were the favorites with all of these Stewart girls. (Photo by Dave Stewart)


And of course ice cream for the whole family is the perfect ending for a summer evening. Coneheads had Miss Jennie’s favorite–espresso bean! (Photo by Dave Stewart)

DSC03531 (2)

Ruby liked dressing up in her white summer dress for church in Manchester.

Even this delightful journey eventually came to an end. The dolls in her bedroom were beginning to miss Ruby most dreadfully. When she came home, she petted the housecats, then she sat on the little Windsor chair next to Little Davie. Now all the bedroom dolls could sit or stand for days and days listening to Ruby share story after story about her journey to the East Coast.

THE END . . . is just another beginning!

Red dress girl with flag circa 1850s

East or West, Home is Best




Knarls and Twists


My restored ningyo, found in Nagoya, 1989

Sometimes the knarls and twists of life just keep me from writing and sewing for the dolls. The past year has been full of twists, mostly good, that have kept me occupied away from my blog. It included a won trip to Hawaii, a move to a new apartment in a new city, a short trip to visit my son and his wife in St. Louis, and most recently, a 3 week bout of that awful flu.


My daughter and me on Hawaii, 2017

My apologies to my faithful followers for my inconsistent posting over the past year, and thank you to my new followers for your vote of confidence in my blog as a whole.

I have worked on a few doll projects over the year, and have taken some photos along the way. So now I am preparing a new blog post about a personal story and a long journey (literally and figuratively) to learning about Japanese dolls, or ningyo. I am hoping to have this post ready for you within the week–we’ll see if I can get some good photos in our near sunless Pacific Northwest climate at this time of year. Additionally, the Portland Crossroads Doll and Teddy Bear Show is tomorrow, so perhaps I will find a story there. Then, I have another doll restored and waiting to be dressed that I would like to share with you soon.


Doll restoration with a Kling shoulder head

I am offering my gratitude for all of your interest in my blog, and blessings for your health and prosperity in the coming year. Take joy in the beauty of antique dolls!  ~Jennie

Antique photo may 24 1927 Japanese dolls for American children

Ningyo being prepared to send to American children, 1927


Synchronicity and Art

Japanes Miroir-du-desir-woodblock-print-musee-guimet-paris-5-1024x530

Women in Japanese woodblock prints at Mussee Guimet. Miroir du Desir

I am constantly astounded by synchronicity in the way ideas present themselves into my sphere of being, even though I know that is how the universe works. I inevitably am reading three or four books of varying types at a time. Today, while resting my legs, I picked up Between Form and Freedom by Betty Staley,  which I have been reading for spiritual and practical ideas for working and living with my late-teen-years daughter. This book is written with the perspective of Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy or anthroposophy. It was serendipitous, after just posting about art, that the chapter I came to in my reading was about art. I want to share some excerpts that were particularly meaningful to me:

We live in a world that is splintered. The spiritual life is separated from scientific and artistic life. We classify knowledge and experiences into neat compartments, but the soul of the human being fights against such fragmentation and cries out for unity, for interrelationship. . . . Art is the healing remedy for fragmentation. . . .

Art becomes the saving grace for human beings cut off from their spiritual origins and suffering from the loneliness of the human condition. . . . When human beings feel whole once again, they are able to use their energy to enliven and transform social life. . . .

When we engage in artistic processes, we have a conversation with our inner being. We are not so concerned with the product of our work as with the process, which puts us in touch with the spiritual in us. In most activities of daily life, we respond to the outer world, but art allows us to awaken our inner eye and inner ear to imagination and inspiration. It helps us understand our thinking, feeling, willing and to gain insights into who we are and who we are not. It helps us explore the qualities as well as the quantities of life.

As [we] experience the many-textured levels of artistic process, the diverse ways of coming to an answer, the richness of metaphor in language, of rhythm and melody, of the living quality of form and space, [our] capacity for imagination deepens and [our] inner soul-space expands. A transformation of the common place stimulates [our] consciousness and sense of existence. . . .

When we create something artistically, we stand before a mystery, something unknown. We feel that  something alive is present and that we are the means for it to come into physical form. . . . [We] experience the artistic process as a time of quiet contemplation and communication. It resembles a conversation between lover and the beloved. This is the power of art. . . .

When the artistic approach is applied to the everyday world, to the dishes we eat from, the clothes we wear, the furnishings in our homes, we imbue our surroundings with beauty and care. . . . To make a well-formed plate of clay and take it though the entire process until it is ready for the table; to card, dye and spin wool, and then use it for knitting or weaving an article of clothing or household item; to make a bookcase or a chair; to print calligraphic invitations; to bind a book; to make a stained glass window; or to do any one of a variety of other crafts is a major accomplishment. . . .

The word craft once meant power or magic. It is not surprising, then, that those who take hold of a craft develop power in their lives.

Staley, Betty. Between Form and Freedom. Stroud, UK: Hawthorn Press, 1988.

writing by candlelight

These observations from Rudolf Steiner’s worldview that Betty Staley so aptly lays out illustrate the meaning of art and craft in my life. My home is significant and spiritually satisfying because I have infused it with artistic beauty. Antique dolls and Depression Glass are a considerable part of the heart and soul of my home. I have a deep sense of satisfaction, and perhaps of power, when I create something artistic; a handmade dress for an antique doll, a crocheted shawl made from soft natural fiber, a delicious and nourishing meal, a poem, a well written blog post. And I usually spend time in contemplation and communication with the physical form of what I have brought to life.


Hand sewing Mary Morgan’s 1860’s style dress.

Much more observation and contemplation could be written about the spirit and meaning of art and craft in our lives (and indeed has). I welcome your observations and comments here.


Spice Mice cookies on a Ruby Red plate.

Ruby Red

In the shop fluorescence frames

Substance of years past

In shades of daguerreotype

Until on a shelf, on paper doilies,

Gleaming abreast of crystal twinkle lights

I behold a red glass cup

Shimmering in that clutter of decades

Like a garnet embedded in a cavern wall

Millennia past compressed of primordial vegetation

A gemstone hiding in darkness

Facets beckoning to be sought.

The cup flows, curves like a womb

Lifeblood of grandmothers and great-grandmothers

Immutably setting tables with gossamer lace,

With Ruby Red glass

Boasting warm cookies, hot tea,

Tinkling sounds like echoes of laughter.

Rotund glass glows within from twinkle light

Embodied like an embryo

Fecund with viability, filial love, felicity

Apposing danger red, war red, depression red.

I take the red cup from its insipid shelf

Exchanging only a few paper bills and clinking coins

For its florid rubescence.

I take it home

To hold my hot tea, my laughter,

My flame

To glimmer like a garnet

On cotton lace.

~~ Jennifer Anne Stewart 1997

Royal Ruby cup Anchor Hocking

On the Demise of a Mechanical Companion

writing by candlelight

Okay, so I’m a hopeless sentimental. I also adhere to strident Scottish thriftiness and ingenuity. So I don’t easily let go of the old to be replaced with the latest and the greatest new gadget or machine. You already know of my reverence for history and old things. Here’s a little family anecdote as illustration: My oldest son and his partner, Sarah, spent Christmas with me in my little apartment. When I went to light some candles for ambiance, I found that the wick of one of them had stuck into the melted wax the last time it was burned, so I asked my daughter if she would get a knife and dig the wick out of the wax. Sarah, though, ever the pragmatist, said, “Just throw it away!” I replied with reverence that 200 years ago, people relied on their candles as the only source of light after the sun went down. Candles were valuable! And Sarah countered that they are not valuable any more. So I threw that candle away in acquiescence to her.

candles with dripping wax

Up until a few years ago I was driving a 1992 jade green Honda Accord. This car, who I named Harmony Jade, was a classic, being 20 years old by then. She was all paid for, and she belonged to me alone. Sure, there were a few problems, like the driver’s side window that would no longer open, and the dash lights were finicky. But this car was reliable. She got me to work every day, and she was waiting to take me home again every night. She was made before car alarms were standard issue, and you still used a key to open the locks. Because this model car was desireable prey for car thieves, I used a club on the steering wheel. I promised myself that I would drive this car until she fell apart from old age.


One Friday night in November, Harmony Jade’s engine cut out and would not re-start as I was driving home from a late shift at work. I had to park her a couple of miles from home and wait for Monday to get her to the shop. When I got to her again she had been vandalized. The thieves cut the steering wheel to get the club off. Apparently they were furious when they found that they could not steal her because she wouldn’t start. They stole the battery and cut every hose under the hood. My Harmony Jade had been murdered! Yes, I cried at this outrage to my reliable and trusty car. While insurance did reimburse me for my car’s monetary value, this summed up to one tenth of the price of my new used car. And of course my insurance rate is higher now too. I now drive a 2006 garnet colored Honda Civic with a sun roof, and I am just as fond of her now as I was of Harmony Jade, even if she is standard transmission and not five speed. And the car payments every month are not fun–that money could have been going towards a European doll tour!

2006 garnet honda civic

As you can see with my car choices, I like to shop for quality, even if they are (as they say now) “pre-owned.” In 2006 I finally needed to buy my own computer, since I was no longer in the position to share one with a husband or to use my brother’s. So I shopped for quality and bought a Dell laptop. And I have been happy with it. It’s good quality and–barring theft–it should last for years, right? After all, I have some electric kitchen appliances from the 1940’s and 50’s that still work. Wrong again! Over the past few months, my trusty Dell (who I did NOT name) has become slower and slower in operating with more and more glitches. A major transgression is that I can no longer download photos from my camera. This really puts a kink in my efforts to create beautiful and personalized blog posts! And so now you know the number one reason why my blog site has been silent this past Autumn and Winter.

1940s hand mixer

According to my son, one can expect a laptop to last about four years. Mine is coming up on nine years, so maybe I need to loosen up on my Scottish thriftiness and put the Dell out to pasture, or wherever one puts old computers. After all, tax return time is coming up to finance a new one. But wait! It’s not completely broken! Maybe I could make it last longer!

laptop image

So it goes . . . But you see, being frugal with “necessities” is why I have been able to acquire a few antique china dolls, which I adore!, on my rather small budget. A computer may be a necessity in the 21st century, but I just do not adore my laptop (sorry, old girl) like I adore my china dolls, or even my trusty steed (aka car). So that means blog posts may be few and far between until I talk myself into this new necessity. Until then, I am grateful for your continuing views. ~Jennie

Antique photo 19th century girl with china doll

Dwelling in the Present

While it has been my intention to post an article on my blog about twice a month, two whole months have gone by since my last post! I can only plead that I have been dwelling in the present-time instead of in the past. If I had been dwelling in the time of my own teenage years, I would be remembering that I worked through my high school years, not participating in much of anything outside of the chess tournaments that my college-age boyfriend was obsessed with. So, in the present, I have been involved with my teenage daughter and her high school events over the past months.

We spent a day at Canon Beach with a friend in March.


See any whales?




It’s cold and windy, and FUN!


Prom was in April, and Brighde went with two friends.


No date is better–I can dance with ALL the boys!



My fancy hair style–just like the china dolls!



In May, we had the Spring Choir Concert and the Drama Musical. Generations was dramatic with it’s music and social issues in the decades from the 1960’s to–yes, the present. “Stayin Alive” was the fave dance! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to take photos during the show with all the cool vintage costumes. Brighde wore two dresses of mine from the 1970’s, including a garish polyester sizzler dress that was perfect on stage for dancin’ with John Travolta! (Okay, it was really Alex.)


Yes, this is my favorite guy!



In June was the Dance Recital. Brighde’s dance was “Welcome to the Madhouse” where her role was, of all things, to portray a creepy doll!


I’m not in my usual sweet/sophisticated style today!



And then, to top it all off, we had a sweet sixteen birthday party!


Waltz first, then punch and cakes!

July is the time for us to take a trip to Connecticut, with a side trip to Brimfield MA for that fabulous Antique Fair! Time to delve into the past again . . .


Brimfield may not have much dating back this far, but Plimoth has some fantastic reproductions!

When I finally take some sweet repose by myself, I can gaze upon my serene dolls once more. Then I think about their original mistresses when they were young. Those young mistresses had their time in the present, too. Did Abagale Brounell arrive at a much anticipated birthday party with family gathered ’round? Maybe Irene stayed in the bedroom to watch the preparations as her mistress dressed up for a night out at a dance. Could Dorothy have been a silent sentinal as her mistress’s father or brothers went away to war? Maybe Mary Morgan was still at home when her grown-up mistress brought a new baby for her to see.

Time is a funny thing. Our dolls have been in the present time for a very long time. My dolls will wait and watch as I dwell in the present with my daughter as she grows up. Gee, wasn’t I just with my sons, enjoying the moment with them as little boys? My oldest is coming up on his 30th year now! So, I do not apologize. The past is always there to contemplate. The present is but a fleeting moment. Enjoy yours.




The Story of the Dresden China

Since I have added a page about the History of China Dolls, which includes a section on the History of Porcelain Production, which includes a photo of my heirloom Dresden China, I would like to share with you the story of how this absolutely precious set of porcelain china came to me.


This is also another story about Lucile, and about what a positive influence she has been in my life. There were several times during my 18 year marriage to John and Lucile’s son that I lived with them in their five bedroom Nebraska craftsman style home for a few months. These were times when my husband and I were in transition during our eight years living abroad. They were quite welcoming to me, and I felt right at home with them.

Lucile often made a quick soup for lunch. One lunchtime, not too long after Grandma Hazel had passed on, Lucile decided she would get out her china soup tureen and cream soup bowls to use for lunch. When she brought out this gorgeous cream colored set, with pink and blue flowers and silver trim, from the bottom of her bell collection cabinet, I was astounded by its beauty! Now, Lucile had a variety of ordinary dishes for every day use, and a comprehensive set of blue snowflake Corelle dishes for large family gatherings and entertaining, but I had never seen this elegant soup set before!


I said as much to Lucile, and she told me of it’s origins: Her younger brother, Vernon, was a paratrooper, stationed in Europe, during World War II. He sent this lovely set of Dresden china to his mother during The War. The china made it to America safely, but Vernon did not make it home alive.  He landed on a cliff with his parachute. The wind caught the ‘chute enough to pull him off the cliff, but it did not open enough again to break his fall. He was killed.

Lucile brought the Dresden china from her mother’s home in Lawrence, Kansas after Hazel’s death.


Now, when Lucile made a pot of soup, there was way more than would fit into an elegant European soup tureen! But we set the tureen in the center of the table to admire as we ate our German carrot and sausage soup from the pretty bowls, and thought about Hazel–grandma and mother–and Vernon–son and brother.

The scalloped rims of this set are unglazed, and the knob on the lid of the tureen is like a little fancy pot itself! Eight bowls accompany the lidded tureen. The pieces are stamped on the back: Rosen-thal with crown and crossed swords in the center of the word, and a cursive “e” at the end of the word. Under, is SELB GERMANY, then POMPADOUR (the name of the whiteware pattern), then US. Zone. My research shows me that “US. Zone” indicates a specific short period of production (WWII), and that Pompadour came in a number of painted styles, including the popular Moss Rose, but I have not found a reference to a style like this set.


When Lucile left this Earth in 2002, my former husband was remarried, and I was not in line to receive any inheritance from my former in-law’s estate. It was Vicki, my angel of a “sister,” who asked me if there was anything I wanted from the house as they began to clear it out to ready it for sale. Of course, my number one choice was that set of Dresden china–if no one else had claimed it yet. I told her where to find it in the bottom of the bell cabinet.

A few months later, my sons brought a box into our house in Washington, that came by way of their father, from Vicki. It was the Dresden china. Vicki said no one else in the family–not her, nor her three brothers–even knew about this china. (Perhaps Vicki’s older sister, Karen knew, but she died before Lucile did, and Karen is another story.) They didn’t know the family story connected with this china, nor where to find it in the house. Vicki said that it was meant to be mine because Lucile had shared it with me, and I knew its story and its history.


Once in a while, when I’m feeling cranky, I still have short bouts of resentment for what I missed out on monetarily from my former marriage and my in-laws’ estate. (Remember, I had nothing to inherit from my own family. “Why can they afford to add on a music room and remodel the kitchen when all I have is this small apartment that I have to share, grumble, grumble.”) But I continue to be amazed at the way the universe provides that which we imagine. My heirloom Dresden china is another example of how something that I truly admire, from someone I care about imensely, found its way to me.

Thank you, Vernon.

Thank you, Lucile.

Thank you, Vicki.

I Implore You! Don’t Throw Out That Turkey Carcass!

This is an impromptu post that I am inspired to write as I prepare my Thanksgiving menu and shopping list.

I take my Scottish thriftiness seriously, and cooking is no exception. As long as I can remember, I have saved poultry bones to make broth for soups. This practice is nutritious as well as thrifty. Homemade broth tastes SO much better than what you can buy in cans and cartons, and it is easy to make! Sally Fallon informs us in Nourishing Traditions that bone broth is one of the best sources of protein, as well as usable calcium. Bone broth includes all of the macrominerals: sodium chloride, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sulpher, as a true electrolyte solution. It’s like a free superfood! So here is how to take advantage of all those nutrients just hanging out in your post-holiday-dinner turkey.

Turkey Bone Broth

**Before you start the broth, pull out the turkey wishbone for a nifty vintage crochet project! I’ll post this one soon.

Place all of your turkey, or other poultry, bones (except the wishbone)  in a pot large enough to hold them comfortably. You may add onion and celery chunks for flavor, but I use just bones. Cover with water and heat on high until boiling. Reduce heat so that the pot remains at a low simmer. Simmer for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, adding more water as needed. Cool slightly, then strain broth with a colander. NOW you can discard the bones.

At this point, the broth is great to make Turkey Noodle Soup, using some of the leftover turkey, or divide it into 2 cup containers and freeze for future use in soups and sauces. Third alternative, make this yummy Cream of Celery soup! My teenage daughter and her friend asked for seconds when I served this soup (made with chicken broth) for lunch today.


Cream of Celery Soup

Stage 1:

  • 4 cups celery in 1″ chunks
  • 3 cups potatoes in 1″ chunks
  • 4 cups poultry broth (If the broth is heavy, use 2 C broth and 2 C water)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Bring to a boil in a pot. Cook until soft. Blend with a submersion blender. (Or blend and return to pot.)

Stage 2:

  • 1 cup very finely minced celery
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons butter

Saute onion in butter until translucent. Add celery and celery seed, and saute until tender. Add to soup in pot.

Stage 3:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup (or more) sour cream OR heavy whipping cream
  • White pepper

Whisk into soup about 10 minutes before serving.

Heat soup gently–don’t cook it at this point. Serve as soon as it is hot. Crusty bread goes well with this!

Soup recipe adapted from Mollie Katzen’s The Moosewood Cookbook.

In true Scottish American and Native American style, may you use every part of the buffalo–um, turkey!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing You A Simply Bewitching All Hallow’s Eve


Anne Estelle and Georgia are much too young to belong to the category of antique dolls, but they begged me to show you their costumes! Aren’t they just bewitching?

Did you know that the American holiday of Hallowe’en comes to us from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain? This festival was held on October 31st, the Celtic New Year’s Eve. It is a magical time when the veil between the worlds is thin. On this night, the ghosts of the dead could visit their former homes for a brief reunion. Supernatural creatures, such as fairies and goblins, walk abroad on this night. Be Scareful!

Of course, All Hallow’s Eve is the precursor of All Saint’s Day on November 1st, and All Soul’s Day on November 2nd. For centuries, the souls of the dead have been remembered and prayed for on this day. This was the day Victorian families visited the cemetery, offered prayers, and reflected on the sweetness, or shortness, of life.

On a different note, Here is a quick preview of Mary Morgan’s blue raw silk frock in progress:


And, it will soon be time for me to introduce to you an amazing American folk doll.

Wishing you a most nostalgic Autumn holiday!

Broken is Still Beautiful (Featuring Two Broken Flat Top China Dolls)

Last weekend, I attended a small Women’s Retreat led by Sweet Medicine Nation at Dear Haven, near Sisters, Oregon. I brought out my little tent after 13 years (!?) of not camping and spent two lovely nights by myself under the stars and the moon, under a Juniper tree, and with a lovely little round eared brown rabbit as my morning companion on both mornings.Image

Sweet Medicine’s teachings are gentle, yet profound. The ceremonies, which included 18 unique and magnificent women, were imbued with insightful Native American spirituality. I am anticipating with much joy the scheduling of a Grandmother’s Retreat. Though I do not yet have my own grandchildren, I am of the right stage in life for this one.Image

An aspect of one of the ceremonies was an altar where each woman placed an object that had special meaning for her. It would not be hard for you to guess that the object I placed on this altar was an antique china doll.  My little dollhouse sized flat top, Rowena, came with me, wrapped in a quilt scrap. I will tell you why I chose her as my altar offering.  But first, I will tell you a bit about her.

Rowena is a German antique china shoulder head, almost 8″ tall, with flat top hairstyle, and no markings. She was probably made by the AW Fr. Kister factory around 1870. Rowena has two petticoats that button with white glass buttons.  One is plain muslin, and one is large patterned cotton eyelet lace.  She wears a new dress that I made, all hand sewn, in an 1860’s style from a blouse I used to wear. She has an hourglass firm stuffed cotton body with china arms and legs with flat low black shoes. The right side of her shoulder plate is broken off in a crescent moon, and this was sewn onto her body after the break occurred. Image

Dolls have been part of the human experience as far back as history can recount. Made of clay, stone, wood, bone, ivory, wax, and cloth, dolls have been found in Egyptian tombs dating to 2000 BCE, in Japan dating to 800 BCE, Greece, and Rome, with Roman rag dolls dating to 300 BCE. “Traditional dolls are sometimes used as children’s playthings, but they may also have spiritual, magical and ritual value. There is no defined line between spiritual dolls and toys. In some cultures dolls that had been used in rituals were given to children. They were also used in children’s education and as carriers of cultural heritage. In other cultures dolls were considered too laden with magical powers to allow children to play with them.”  (Fraser, Antonia (1973). Dolls. Octopus books.)


(Venus of Willendorf, estimated to have been carved 24,000–22,000 BCE)

I brought Rowena as my altar offering because dolls represent humans, they have spiritual, magical, and ritual value, cultural value (though I relate more to my Celtic and Native American heritage, I am racially mostly German, like my china dolls), she is dressed in something that I stitched by hand, in something that I once wore, and, like me, she is broken.

Many doll collectors want only pristine, perfect, and if possible, un-played with dolls to collect. This is the type of antique doll that brings the highest price, and retains value the best. But it is not usually the type of doll that finds its way into my collection. There are several reasons for this. First, and not least, is the fact that my income is near poverty level as counted by USA standards. If I am to collect antique dolls, I must search for bargains, and not perfect dolls. But there is another reason that I like dolls that come with scuffs and broken parts. It is because their brokenness is evidence that they have been played with and loved. They have experienced life. Like The Velveteen Rabbit, they are REAL.

Do you ever wonder, when you view dolls and toys in a museum, if the curators take them out to play after closing time? Some dolls seem that they have a life, and others seem too perfect and pretty to handle. While there is a place for preserving the heritage of our past with these special rare and perfect dolls, I tend toward the shadows of collecting, and I like dolls I can handle and dress.Image

Winnifred is another such doll. She is a 12 ½” antique china shoulder head modified flat top with white center part, and original factory brown cloth body stuffed firmly with cork or sawdust and cotton.  She bears the traits of a Kestner factory doll. She has lovely detailed china hands, (which is why I wanted her for my collection) and china legs with flat shoe. Her right leg is broken off at the ankle. She was probably left on a stove or radiator at some point. Her chemise has a missing portion on the right sleeve where a burn happened, and her right arm has a brittle patch from the burn.  ImageImage

We women are broken, like these dolls. If we have lived, and not been kept on a shelf, behind glass, only to be looked at and not touched, then we have most likely been broken in some way by what life has offered us. But like these dolls, living has made us REAL. Our experiences may have left the scuff marks and mended places on our bodies and our spirits, but we can live more fully now because of our experiences of having been loved, played with, and maybe even abandoned, and chosen again. In the words of my daughter’s favorite song, that’s what makes us beautiful.Image