Last month I went to my dad’s place and helped to clear out things that belong to me that he’s been storing for… well, decades. It’s time for Dad and my stepmom to downsize from a massive 3,500 sq ft home to something more manageable with less land to look after. Among the various board games, books, record collections, etc. was my childhood Sasha dolls.
Sasha dolls were originally made by Swiss artist Sasha Morgenthaler, who designed them to represent children of the world in a state of innocence and curiosity. They have been produced by the Trendon doll factory in England (where mine came from) and the Gotz toy factory in Germany over the years. Each one has a hand-painted face so while they may look very similar, none are entirely identical.
My Sasha dolls come from the 1979-1982 period. As a child, I was given three “big” Sashas and a “baby”, along with an impressive collection of knitted and sewn clothing for them to wear. I played with them periodically but for some reason I thought they were “extremely breakable” so probably they didn’t get as much play as they would have if I’d known they were made from hard vinyl, not porcelain. The last time I remember playing with them, I would have been about 14-15 years old. Then they went into storage, to be seen only a few times now and then for nostalgic reasons. My nieces played with them on and off at my dad’s place, and the baby ended up at my brother’s place for my nieces but she (the baby doll) didn’t see much action. I have reclaimed them all now… and set about to update them!
The first step for two of them was restringing – replacing the elastic that holds their limbs together. It is pretty dramatic surgery as it entails dismembering them completely, pulling the worn-out elastic out of their necks, then putting new paracord-like elastic into their heads (through the neck) and hooking up their legs again. Once complete, the dolls are balanced enough to stand entirely on their own and hold various postures.
While this new obsession was at its hottest, I found another doll being sold on FB marketplace by a woman who, it turns out, is the sister of someone I’ve known for almost 30 years through work circles. She was selling her daughter’s doll to raise money for a school trip – it was still in the original box and has all her “birth certificate” details – limited edition from the Trendon factory! She is 1 inch shorter than the other “big Sashas” but otherwise roughly the same size for clothes-making.
Now, as this is a sewing blog, I expect you’re wondering about what I’ve been sewing for these dolls. The first thing I did was search online for sewing patterns. I found some from Phoebe and Egg and used their dress pattern to make Katrine a new dress. (She was the only one of my original Big Sashas that didn’t need restringing).
I learned a few things through this project – first, although hand-sewing seems more authentically vintage, I ain’t got time nor patience for that. I switched to sewing on the machine but now I can see there are some real tricks to sewing doll clothes in terms of order of operations. You cannot do sleeve hems or pants hems last in construction, for example, because the spaces are just too small.
Next up it was time to play with some pattern improvisation. I began with a capri pants pattern (no side seams) and modified it to create overalls, then a basic t-shirt to wear underneath. This gave me strong “gardener” vibes so I went with it, posing Katrine with one of my baby dahlia plants.
By the way, all the dolls have been given new names… since previously the girls were both “Sasha”, the boy “Gregor” and the baby just “baby Sandy”. I’ve been binge-watching the Netflix show “Borgen” so my dolls have been renamed to Katrine, Birgitte, Kasper, and baby Laura. The new one was going to be named after the woman I knew from the family who she came from, but she’s also telling me she wants to be called Velvet. We’ll see… it sometimes takes a while.
Next up for the family, after the restringing was finished, were some Pride outfits. And this is where things got a bit errr… obsessed? I decided to use this whole doll clothes-making thing to learn how to do pattern design and manipulation with Affinity Designer software so that I can learn how to do that sort of thing.
First though, there were tutus… no patterns. Just the minimum allowable purchase of the 7 rainbow colours, and some white extra-wide double-fold bias tape. I cut two tutus out of this – probably could have made three actually. On the first, the purple and blue layers are a bit too short but the second one is pretty perfect! I also created a leotard pattern using my basic bodice block and extending it. Those are made from Breathe Tek Athletic scraps from my scrap bucket!
From there I went into pattern design mode, adapting the first set of overalls into a second pair for slightly better fit for Velvet. Then Kasper got himself a nice new pair of pants with a fly opening (complete with fly shield as well – no skimping here!), a vest, and a delightfully hoochy white tank top.
And finally, I remade the basic block for the baby Sasha’s body measurements and created a romper/playsuit. This is where I accidentally saved over top of my file with an earlier recovery version and had to spend two nights rebuilding all my patterns built to date. Sigh.
Anyways, here is the whole family in their Pride finery and some detail shots:
My next project for these little darlings is going to be a Chanel-inspired suit (or overcoat – I haven’t decided which yet). But I am probably going to do some grown-up clothes before that!