Doll ‘doctor’ revives antique dolls and preserves memories

Ipswich resident Stella Brown spends her days making fingers, implanting hair or rebuilding various body parts.
Her tools include forceps and her hospital often suffers a bedding shortage. 

Mrs Brown restores antique dolls to their original condition. She researches what the doll would have looked like, how it dressed, what colour it should be, before she goes about meticulously restoring it.

“I was given a doll from my mother. It was given to her by her mother,” Mrs Brown said.

“She was in a bad way and I wanted to repair her. So I enrolled in a course in America. I packed her in my suitcase and went over there to learn.

“She was my first doll that I repaired. ‘Jess’ was a Jessica McCutchen doll made in 1917. I had to strip her all back and remould her fingers, hair and hair clip. It took me about seven full days all up.”

BEFORE: ‘Jess’ before her restoration.

AFTER: ‘Jess’ as she is today.

Restoring dolls is an artform and Mrs Brown said there should not be any visible signs of work done, once it is completed. This is done by having experience, technique and it’s important to use correct materials and processes.

“I repair dolls for other people mostly because I have a love of dolls. It’s not something you do for money,” she said.

“I get enjoyment from seeing a customer’s face when she sees her restored doll for the first time.

“Some cry and it’s really emotional because it looks like how they remember them from childhood.

“It makes me feel good to see that they are happy.”

Dolls have changed a lot over the years and Mrs Brown’s collection includes some from the 1820s. Back then dolls were made out of wood and were used by French fashion houses to send a small sample of their latest fashions to England.

Porcelain then became popular until 1900 before wax dolls were created as the bisque would be easy to smash.

The wax dolls proved a bit of a failure as the European homes most dolls were kept in used fire for heating the room and they would melt.

By WWI composite dolls became popular as they were marketed as unbreakable compared to the more fragile bisque dolls. Composite is a material made up of sawdust, glue and other materials that is then pressed.

“Manufacturers mainly made dolls around what was trending at the time, so if a prince was born, there would be a doll in his image. Movie stars were big, characters from advertisements and nursery rhyme characters,” she said.

Mrs Brown and her dolls will be at the Ipswich Doll Bear and Craft Fair on Sunday 30 September.

Milliners doll dressed in the last fashion back in the 1820s.
Wax doll from around 1860s.
German made wooden doll from the 1800s.
Wooden doll from the 1820s.

Fair organiser Val Metcalfe said collectors and visits come from all over Australia and even overseas to see what comes out of the woodwork.

“It’s amazing what comes out of people’s closet. There are some amazing old dolls. They are often passed down from generation to generation,” Mrs Metcalfe said.

“We have lots going on, Cassandra Booth is doing a demonstration on painting Monster High dolls and Keith Rose will be doing evaluations.

“There are all sorts of dolls there from antique, to reborn dolls.”

It’s a busy day for Mrs Metcalfe who has been wearing the same pink outfit for the past 15 years that she has been running the fair.

“Everyone says it’s always easy to find me in the pink dress, but I’m sick of it. So for the first time this year I will be wearing a black dress with a diamante brooch,” Mrs Metcalfe said.

Ipswich Doll Bear and Craft Fair Fact File


When: 9am – 2.30pm, Sunday 30 September 2018

Where: Ipswich Civic Centre, corner of Limestone Street and Nicholas Street, Ipswich

Tickets: Tickets must be purchased at the Ipswich Civic Centre on the day.

Adults $10.00
Concession $9.00
School Children $2.00
Under school-aged is free


Dolls, bears and crafts will be on sale. There will be free antique doll and bear valuations and raffles will be run with the proceeds going to support the Ipswich Hospice Care.

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