Door of Hope Dolls

A Door of Hope Doll

Learning a trade by sewing clothes for dolls

Male Door of Hope doll

A Male Door of Hope doll dressed in clothing of the times.











With all the beautiful dolls that come out of China today, I find it a bit ironical that some of the most beautiful dolls ever made came out of pre-industrial China, made one at a time by Chinese wood carvers, and dressed in the most beautiful doll costumes, hand-sewn and embroidered by rescued Chinese slave girls at the Door of Hope Mission school.

It was in the early 1900’s and the girls were being taught a trade. By learning to sew the clothing for the dolls, they were learning to sew the clothes for the people. So the dolls ended up being dressed in every conceivable outfit, from clothes for babies to clothes for mourners… everything. The girls were learning the skills that would enable them to support themselves after they left the rescue mission.

Imagine… rescued from slavery by Door of Hope’s Christian missionaries, being taught skills to support yourself in freedom… and dressing the dolls that would be sold by the missionaries to help fund the freeing of more slaves.

I think it’s one of the best stories ever in the history of dolls.

Book Review: Jonnesty by Winifred Mantle

Book cover for Jonnesty

The cover of Jonnesty by Winifred Mantle

Jonnesty is a 1970’s British children’s book featuring a doll made from an honesty flower by ‘the oldest Smith boy,’ together with Arabella, a paper doll made by his younger sister, and the various adventures the two dolls have over the course of a day.

What I liked about the book is that the doll is made by using an honesty flower seed pod and a lot of imagination! And those are two things that I like to encourage in children… first, ‘that you can make your own dolls,’ and second, ‘that dolls can be made from almost anything!’

Honesty Flower Seed Pod

As children’s literature  it is… let us say… “meh,” just so so. But the illustrations are excellent – black and white line drawings by Barbara Swiderska. The cover illustration above shows both Jonnesty and Arabella.

Bild Lilli and Barbie Dolls

Bild Lilli

Bild Lilli

a Bild Lilli Cartoon - can you see how she might have become Barbie?

a Bild Lilli Cartoon – can you see how she might have become Barbie?










It makes me sad when I read about folks using political correctness and/or feminism to bash children’s dolls; most often it seems, Barbie dolls.

Her measurements and makeup are usually the prime focus of the bashing, although she has also been used to bash consumerism, the environment, career vs stay-at-home mom choices, sexualization, racism and a host of other issues.

I know  that no simple post of mine is going to change anybody’s mind, but I hope that a little historical perspective may offer some comfort to mothers who are feeling guilty or influenced by this Politically Correct stuff.

In the years just after World War II, Germany was in pretty bad shape. Pardon my language, but they had just had the crap beat out of them. Into this darkness came a little ray of sunshine called Bild Lilli. Lilli started her life as a cartoon character, a brassy, sexy beautiful blond who wanted to put the misery of the war behind her and meet a man… preferably a rich man. Germany loved her.

And as often happens, this popular Lilli ‘character’ soon became a doll. The doll had the same ‘personality’ as the cartoon character, brassy, sexy and fun-loving. “Live for today for who knows what tomorrow may bring.” The perfect character for the the place and the times.

At that time in America most dolls for children were either baby dolls or toddler dolls… there were no adult dolls. When an American tourist named Ruth Handler saw Lilli dolls in a shop window, she immediately bought one for her doll-loving daughter, and a few extras to show to her husband, one of the founders of the Mattel Toy company. Ruth thought that there might be a market for a doll like Bild Lilli. Something different than a baby doll. It took her three years to do it, but she finally convinced her husband – and Barbie Dolls were born.

But of all the ways Barbie was like Lillie, in the most important way she was not: Lilli was a character – a woman who was frank, and adult, and had a well recognized personality. Barbie was not. Barbie was just a doll, woman shaped, with different outfits. A new toy for children to play with.

I think it’s pretty funny actually… how the circle turns, and how adults today have projected all these negative sexual characteristics onto Barbie. Bild Lillie was proud of her sexuality, but Barbie, as envisioned by Ruth 50 years ago, was as far from that as she could get! Somewhere in toy heaven, Bild Lilli must be laughing her ass off.

Black Doll versus White Doll

Is it okay to use the same face for a Black doll and a White doll? Is that the same thing as making a white doll and coloring it brown?

What if we ask: “Is it okay to use the same sculpt for an African American doll and a Caucasian doll?”

Or ask: “Does using brown plastic make a doll a Black or African American doll?”

At The Pattycake Doll Company we think about issues like this a lot. After all, we are the largest ethnic doll store on the internet, and the decisions we make affect the lives of thousands of children every year.

We’d be interested in what your answers are to these questions, really. But here’s our take on the issue.

The answer is a resounding “Yes!” to all of those questions… when looked at through the eyes of a child. You see, children love dolls unreservedly. It’s adults who quibble, and overthink and add political correctness and feminist and every other kind of ‘ism’ and righteousness to dolls.

You can take a tennis ball, draw a smile on it with a marker, drive a piece of dowel into the ball and wrap it in a rag… and if you present it with all your heart and love to a child, they will accept it with all of their heart as the gift of love it was meant to be. (And love it to pieces – because it came from you.)

But looking at these questions as adults and parents and the owners of The Pattycake Doll Company, we have a slightly different answer, and the answer is this:

If you are making a doll, and you give the doll realistic racial features, noses and ears and eyes and hair and skin tone etc., then you need to make a different sculpt for each ethnicity.

But if it’s a ‘Doll’s Face,” an artistic expression of the art of the doll, than once you’ve created the face, you’re fine.

To give you an example, we have posted two kinds of Doll’s Faces here. Adora Doll’s Kayla, which was sculpted to look like an African American child, and Paradise’s Lia doll, which was sculpted with what we would call a Doll Face.

Can you see the difference?

Black Doll Faces

Compare doll face designs. On the left a ‘realistic’ sculpt. On the right a ‘generic doll’s face’ sculpt