It’s the Shirley Temple sew along!
You might remember from the poll a couple of months ago that I had a ton of ideas for the sew-along this year and asked for your input but was going to leave it a surprise. Time for the big reveal! You had lots of good suggestions, but one person suggested Shirley Temple dolls. I sort of left that at the back of my mind, because the dolls are vintage, were made in lots of sizes, and can be hard to find. One point of the SSA is for lots of people to participate, so it didn’t seem possible.
Some of the things that really stuck out from the comments were that you wanted boy stuff, but also lots of other sizes, and Sasha came up often. I had some majorly ambitious plans for that, but as you might guess, it can take weeks-months to plan, draft, sew, take pictures, and pattern-ify everything for a major multi-week sewing series like the SSA. As I was starting this process, my stepfather had a heart attack, and instead of drafting and sewing, I spent spring break worrying and then driving home to be with my family. After that, my mom decided to move to Colorado, so then instead of sewing, my amazing husband and I have been spending all our weekends and after-work hours for the last month looking for a place for her to live, then fixing up said place. The next step that we’re currently in is to get everything downsized, then packed up and moved across the country.
There are times you need a break from all of life’s stresses and and just want to sew something that’s not too difficult but still gives you a nice sense of accomplishment of a completed project when you’re done. I thought I could handle resizing, but not drafting from scratch, and looking at my new Natterer Starlette doll something clicked into place…“starlet”…movie star…SHIRLEY!
My model is a Natterer Starlette, and I sized everything for her, but it will also fit Sasha and other slim 16” dolls, with some shortening of skirt hems if desired. Most things (although maybe not this week’s) should resize easily by copying at 77% for 13”-14” dolls like Hearts for Hearts. Just like last year, I’ll leave each pattern up for free download for a day and after that it will be available on etsy in both slim and AG sizes.
A major change this year:
In the past, the SSA has been “finish-it-post-a-pic-a-week” and then if you complete everything you get an additional pattern emailed. Things are different this year for a couple of reasons. The first is, my husband reminded me that as participation grows from year to year (yay!) the least fun part of the SSA for me has become emailing and re-explaining over and over how to upload pix, dealing with mis-typed email addresses, people missing deadlines, asking for extensions, etc. The other issue that’s pretty major is that we always used Flickr in the past. They have changed their policy recently and now you’re only allowed a limited number of photos on a free account, so people may not want to upload there anymore. You definitely CAN (here’s the link: https://www.flickr.com/groups/2825314@N20/ ) or you can post on Instagram, which my niece claims she’ll help me figure out, and tag it with #jenwrenne.
How popular were the Shirley dolls?
In the 1936 Sears catalog, she was called “The World’s Most Popular Doll” based on a claim that almost 1/3 of the dolls sold in the US the previous year were Shirley Temples. I’d be very curious to find out what her sales were in the rest of the world – probably not nearly that high but “World’s Most Popular” makes for good advertising, even if that claim is a little outrageous. 😉
The first Sears ad for her seems to have been in 1935, where she was advertised as the “Only Original Shirley Temple” and the same doll was sold in 4 sizes – 13”, 16”, 18” and 20”. That’s unusual today, but was common from the early days of bisque dolls with composition bodies through about the 1950s, for example, Toni dolls were made in P90-P93 sizes, with the bigger ones being more expensive. Shirley’s price was quite high at $2.89 for the 13” size and $5.79 for the 20”. As a comparison, some other composition dolls of about 12-14” in that same catalog started in price from about $0.25 and a 24” composition doll with a human hair wig on the same page as Shirley was just $1.98. Estimates around the internet vary, but the average yearly wage at that time might have been around $1600, which I divided up by 260 work days/year to give an average daily wage of $6.15. You could further divide that by 8 hours into about $0.77 an hour. So, using that math the largest Shirley cost maybe 7.5 hours of work for the average person.
What made Shirley so popular?
Mass advertising didn’t really come into its own until TVs invaded every American living room and convinced children to beg their parents for specific toys. But I’ll speculate on a few things that may have made Shirley dolls so popular. First was the novelty of movies. In a world where we can instantly stream hundreds of thousands of movies on our phones/devices anytime, it’s hard to imagine what movies were like in the 1930s. You may have had a radio at home to listen to in your jammies, but movies were something special – an exciting event you had to go to the theater to experience. In addition to being cute, Shirley was a talented little girl who also sang and danced! It’s interesting to note that a lot of the movies cast her as a child suffering a somewhat sad plight, for example, an orphan, but everything always finished well in the end. This probably helped evoke emotion in the audience, as they first felt sympathy for the poor little orphan, then happiness when things went well for her. I personally like movies with happy endings, and for a nation suffering through the Great Depression, this kind of movie would undoubtedly have raised peoples’ spirits.
Another contributor to the doll’s popularity was probably catalogs. Sears and other companies’ catalogs were the closest thing to internet shopping sites of the day, and they did their best to get those catalogs into as many homes as possible. That catalog might have had a prominent place in a farm home, as my great aunt recalled from her 1920’s childhood. When her doll’s head got broken by being stepped on by a cow, her mother “took down the catalog” and said they would “send for a new one.” This shows “the catalog” was a connection to all the material goods a family could need/want, even if they were far from a store that could supply those goods. When I think that the same catalogs with pictures of Shirley dolls were in millions of homes across the country, I don’t doubt that little girls or maybe even their parents, came home from the movie theater after seeing the latest Shirley Temple “picture” on the silver screen and wanted to hold on to some of that magic themselves. What better way than reenacting your favorite movie scenes with a doll?
Shirley’s popularity in the form of both dolls and movies remained strong for decades, and during that time several pattern companies produced patterns for Shirley dolls in many different sizes; if they didn’t specifically mention Shirley, they might have some kind of text saying they fit “Movie Dolls.”
Doll trousseaux, or complete sets of clothing, are not new; people have been creating them probably for as long as they’ve had time and resources to create them for dolls. Patterns for complete doll wardrobes were available from at least the Edwardian era on, and I love seeing what was considered an important part of a doll’s trousseau in different time periods! This particular one included:
- Combinations (one-piece undies and slip)
- Dirndl (jumper) and blouse
- “Beach Pajamas”
In this pattern set, there are some challenging elements to some of these garments that make them not quite “quick and easy.” I really enjoy vintage patterns, and although in come cases I’ve simplified the construction of these to bring them more in line with modern sewing techniques, it’s fun to see how details differed from era to era and experience that connection with the past by doing things in an authentic way. I’ll try to note the changes from the originals wherever it’s necessary. In the case of this week’s combinations, the original had a one-piece back with a slashed and hand-rolled hemmed opening, which I changed to a 2-piece for ease of construction.