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In the Land of Tarty Barbies

Dear Kay,
OK, y’all, we are now going to talk about Barbie.
When I was growing up, I loved Barbie. I didn’t have a thousand Barbies like the Barbies of today. There was no Wizard of Oz Barbie, no Audrey Hepburn Barbie; there was just Barbie, in a swimsuit, with high-heel pink shoes. You bought outfits for your one, or two, or three Barbies if you were kind of spoiled. Maybe your sister had a Barbie that you would play with, but if your sister was like mine, her Barbie had chopped-off hair, tempera-painted makeup, and the permanently high-heel arched feet had the toes snipped off. I felt kind of sorry for my sister’s pathetic Barbie. I still have my two Barbies, with their friend Malibu Ken with Plastic Hair, along with their wardrobes, circa 1971.
On Presidents’ Day (this past Monday to our friends abroad), I had an emergency holiday playgroup which at one point involved seven minivans, eighteen children, a group of desperate mothers, and three pots of coffee. Included in this group were a bunch of little girls, and when it became apparent that a house with two boys meant no toys for girls, I brought out my Barbies.
Off the girls went to the playroom, where they put together many different outfits for Barbie: Hooker Barbie, with see-through negligee and thigh-high silver lame boots. Pam Am Stewardess Barbie, complete with Bonne Marie Bucket o’ Chic hat. Gigolo Ken, with a blue satin tuxedo jacket worthy of any 1972 prom.
Any mom who worries that the new Bratz dolls are kind of slutty needs to come see my Barbies.
As I cleaned up, at the bottom of the pile of Barbie clothes I found this:
barbiecardigan.jpg
A raglan-sleeve sweater my mother knitted for Barbie. I want to show you this for several reasons: a) It’s so teeny and cute. b) It proves once and for all that my neverending love of bland color is genetic. And c) It makes me laugh to think of my mom seeing my boxful of tarty Barbie clothes and thinking, What that doll needs is a cardigan.
My mother, who died twenty years ago, was a sucker for anything crafty: knitting, needlepoint, watercolor, embroidery, sewing, macrame, quilling, furniture refinishing, upholstery, decoupage, photography, graphic arts. I would go to sleep and wake up to find that she had finished the dress she had just been starting when I went to bed. She figured out (as I have) that late nights are often a delicious time for making something, after everybody else has gone to bed.
She was a funny kind of person. At one point she would spend mornings in our neighbor’s weird Japanese garden, painting watercolors. I remember coming home one day to find her curled up with a ball of impossibly thin thread; she decided she wanted to figure out tatting, a dreadfully tiny kind of lace.
I have a massive urge to make a tiny raglan-sleeve cardigan for a Barbie.
Love,
Ann

27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Ann,
    What wonderful memories to have of your mom! Because of recent move to the flat state of Kansas, I was forced to go through many things. I found an organizer that my paternal grandmother had given me for a wedding shower gift. She has been gone for almost 18 years. Anyway, the organizer was to help you remember special dates. She had included Hallmark cards for various special occasions. There was one for Valentine’s Day, which I sent to my daughter (Kay’s niece-still living with my parents in Nebraska). I wrote a note about how I found it, how the card was special–look at how much cards cost 22+ years ago… Yes, Kay’s little brother, Guy, and I celebrated our 22 anniversary in January. So far she hasn’t mentioned getting the card. Wonder if the younger generation is appreciative of all the cherished memories/sentiments???
    Kim
    Kansas Connection

  2. LTT–Laughter Through Tears. (As Dolly Parton says in Steel Magnolias, and as my pal Pam frequently reminds me, it’s My Favorite Emotion.) I haven’t cried so much since Sunday night, when I was watching The English Patient for the first time, and I truly envied Kristin Scott Thomas for getting to freeze to death in a dark cave, just because her lifeless body got to be carried out by a weeping Ralph Fiennes, with her parachute silk shroud billowing over the desert. I cried so much I got my afghan square all wet.
    In fact, since it’s our dang blog, let’s just make Laughter Thru Tears the Official Emotion of Mason-Dixon Knitting.
    I will stop making fun of your dirt-colored raglan disorder. You can’t help it. You come by it honestly. Personally, I trace my odd collection of custom-made Trapeze Jackets to my own Early Barbies, which were Earlier than your Early Barbies. My old Barbies, if they could be unearthed, had white gloves, pillbox hats, smart navy-blue suits and sensible pumps. In fact, my first Barbie was a first-edition Midge. Remember Midge? She would have been played by Paula Prentiss in the Barbie version of Where The Kens Are. She had red hair in a flipped-up do. She had freckles. She was discontinued in favor of Barbie Pals with better names and no freckles.
    Did anybody ever tell you that you should Write Something?
    I love your mom.
    Unworthy to touch the hem of your Barbie Cardi,
    love, Kay

  3. Hearing about your mom is so touching. I certainly think you should knit something to augment Barbie’s wardrobe. Since you seem to like a good challenge, maybe you can scale down a Rowan pattern, perhaps something Kaffe.

  4. In our house it was Action Man – or rather Men – as I had two boys followed by two daughters, they usually wanted what the boys had. I remember making an aran sweater for Action Man – and a duffle coat (?) and we made the toggles out of match sticks painted dark brown. Later on the girls became addicted to Sindy, and they would wind their brothers up no end by dressing their Action Men in Sindy’s clothes……
    I think I would get on very well with your Mum – just what Barbie needed, a nice sensible cardigan in a colour that won’t show the dirt!

  5. Tears here, too, at the Office! I had a Francie; not sure where she fit in the pantheon, but I recall my cousin had Skipper. And I was blessed with a crafty Mom, whom I’ve just reminded how to knit, now that she’s wheelchair-bound. Thanks for sparking my own good memories ~

  6. If you do get into Barbie cardigans Ann – can you send some here ? In our house, Hooker Barbie has transformed into Lapdancer Barbie who spends most of her time wearing nothing but a pair of printed on lace knickers (except when visitors come and she gets to wear a sarong made from a hanky !)
    I was a Sindy girl myself and still have the sensible tweed knitted suit my mum made for her wardrobe – not appreciated at the time sadly as not nearly glitzy enough but good memories now. I wouldn’t part with it.

  7. Ann & Heather, and anybody else who has precious handknit-by-Mom/Mum Barbie clothes, here’s a thought: CHRISTMAS TREE ORNAMENTS. (The see-thru negligee is also quite festive, if not as rich in handmade memories.)
    Still marveling at the tiny stitches and perfectly-aligned stripes on the Barbie Cardie.
    Don’t mind me, Kay

  8. Ann, Thanks for sharing that lovely story and cardigan – definitely laughter thru tears worthy. I work in a senior apartment building and we are currently exhibiting dolls. One of our senior knitters contributed two Barbies in sassy knit dresses and another two American Girl type dolls in respectable knit dresses.
    Love the ornament idea. My mother’s Christmas tree, before the age of toddling grandchildren, was decorated with nothing but crocheted and embroidered ornaments. When she died six years ago, we were able to give one of her handmade ornaments to all her relatives and friends – nice way for Mom to be with all of us at Christmas.
    Thanks for sharing, Ann. Pam

  9. This reminded me of MY Barbie – which wasn’t a Barbie, but a generic hand-me-down from my mother, who had made all the clothes for it when she was 12! Not all were knitted – a lot of them were sewed, but some of them were quite amazing in their detail. She also apparently had a dollhouse that she had made for the doll (out of shoe boxes, but wallpapered, etc), which she left behind when the family moved. *sob* Thanks for taking me back!

  10. Ann, I love this post. I loved Barbie, too, and inherited Barbie dolls and clothes from my cousin, who was 15 years older than me. In the ’70s, my Barbie was wearing a vintage red velvet cape over her Malibu swimsuit. I still have one Barbie (with a haircut, straight-pin-through-the-head earrings, and blue-felt-pen eyeshadow that has since bled to form a single forehead bruise), two or three of the vintage items of clothing, and a few items that my aunt knitted: a burgundy raglan pullover with a white stripe; a slim pink knee-length skirt and matching sleeveless shell with a mint green stripe; a slim mint green raglan-sleeve dress (knee length); and a navy mohair coat, hooded, with three buttons to close the front.
    And they are marvelous.
    And it sounds like your mother was, too.

  11. Why, oh! why, didn’t I save the royal blue turtleneck sweater my Aunt Rita knitted for MY Barbie about 40 year ago! Knowing my dearly departed mother, she probably asked my Aunt to knit something to cover up that slutty doll I just had to have! Thanks for the memory! Melissa

  12. Lovely blog entry, lovely Barbie raglan sweater. My own Barbie dolls must have been a couple of years older than yours.My mother doesn’t knit but she did crochet a below-the-knee length dress and cape for my Barbie circa 1969,when Yves Saint-Laurent made “maxi skirts” the hot style and dark brown the trendiest color around.
    Get that fantastic Nicky Epstein book of Barbie patterns! You can justify it as the best way to use up all those odd yards of sock yarn and sportweight yarn — besides knitting log cabin afghans, that is.

  13. Wow! My Barbies never had hand knitted clothes. That sweater is amazing — your mom sounds wonderful. I eagerly await another tiny Barbie creation…
    And speaking of Bratz…I’m not a mom, but they do worry me. Their heads scare me. Why are they so big?

  14. I love this post. I love it so much that it made me cry- thinking of being a little girl at my Gram’s house, pulling out my Mom’s old barbie dolls with straight pins for earrings and crocheted barbie clothes.
    I eventually stopped crying and called my Mom.
    Great post!

  15. Hey, y’all. Thanks so much for all the great Barbie tales–I’m not at all surprised at how vivid your memories are. There’s something about those little bitty clothes that captures a girl’s imagination.
    Kim–The more we show tender sentimental things to our children, the more they’ll understand them.
    Angela–A teeny Kaffe is brilliant. Grand total of 800 stitches. I might be able to handle that.
    Jill–I love thinking of Action Man in a duffel coat. So cute and NON-action.
    Thomas–Thanks for the link! I had no idea this was such a universe.
    Heather–I’m sure Mattel started printing on panties because of the shameless Barbies worldwide running around with no knickers.
    Katie–Why is it so poignant to think of our mothers making things for us? I didn’t even show you the Barbie that Mom made: an 11 1/2″ rag doll with a little face stitched on and black yarn hair. She made a granny dress and bonnet for her. I’ll go find her. BOO HOO!
    Allison–Such a stylish Barbie you had.
    Melissa–Have a playgroup at your house, and that turtleneck sweater will magically reappear.
    Laura–Maxi skirts! I would have died to have a maxi skirt, but my mother nixed it because I was too young, the same way she nixed penny loafers because she claimed they would slide off my feet. I never got over these things and come to think of it, to this day like a long skirt and loafers . . .
    Carrie–I think Bratz doll heads are so big so you CAN PUT ON MORE MAKEUP.
    And Christy–SO glad you called your mom. Makes my day to think that you would do that.
    And finally, Kay–Cannot believe we haven’t discussed The English Patient. My sister-in-law, the fabulous Mary Neal, and I saw it years ago, and upon emerging she declared it “the ultimate chick flick of all time.” Truly. Who wouldn’t want to be stuck in a sandstorm with Ralph Fiennes?
    Doomed Love is just the greatest, don’t you think? I had hoped that Cold Mountain would fall into the chick flick pantheon–it has all the elements that director did so well: miserable wartime background; seriously starcrossed lovers, a book that gets carried around until it’s worn out. But really, it was more Doom than Doomed Love. At least Kristin Scott Thomas’s frosty character had a pulse; Nicole Kidman was a Civil War glacier.
    x0x0 A.

  16. That is the sweetest little cardigan. I had a great-aunt who knit me outfits for my Barbie. I even have a wedding dress complete with veil! LOL

  17. I have to enlarge on the English Patient story. We went to the Belcourt, leaving the babies and Wilson (about age 6?) in Bertha’s care. We came out of the movie, completely stunned. I can’t explain the feeling–just that I had no connection with the reality of Nashville. We went home, in a daze, and Wilson had fallen asleep on the floor in front of the refrigerator. Bertha, sensibly, had let sleeping ADHDs lie. It was a rude return to reality to have to wake him up (NOT a cheerful waker) and go back to real life. I didn’t like it a bit. Better to die in the cave.
    And to Ann: Do you remember Grommy saying “Has it been that long?” when Clif did the math and pointed out that Mr. Aubrey had been dead 17 years? We become our older relatives and all that. My response to your mother being gone lo these 20 years? “Has it been that long?”
    Finally: My mother used to knit pins for school bazaars (in Julia Green’s school colors: green and gold). She would knit a striped square on tiny needles then transfer it to toothpicks attractively angled, wind up a tiny ball of yarn and sew it onto the square. Attach a safety pin and you have a fabulous brooch telegraphing both your school spirit and your craftiness. She never made clothes for Barbie, though, not that I count this a deficit of any kind, since she is so clever in so many other areas.
    Thanks for the welcome home. My dishes are energetic.

  18. Mary Neal, Not actually knowing you, I often imagine you flying around in an open 2-seat prop plane, a silk scarf trailing behind your impossibly long red hair. And Ralph in the front seat of course. Assuming you have a posh British accent, please don’t burst my bubble, Kay

  19. I’m struck by all the knitting/crafting mothers and aunts you all have. It reminds me of an expression I’ve heard about gardeners (gardening being more up my and my mother’s alley, although I, too, have few miniature Barbie clothes) —
    “How do you become a gardener? A. Someone you love was a gardener.”
    Diana (non-knitting mother of Rosie)

  20. I don’t know you two do it, but every single entry is a gem. This one, however, is the gem to top all the gems.
    I was thinking the same thing about Barbies while shopping for one for my niece. I was overwhelmed by the many Barbies that were available. Too many, too frou-frou. Which one did I end up getting? The retro boutique Barbie where she’s wearing a striped sweater, straight pink skirt and matching shoes. No accessories, no plastic bits to get lost, no puffed up mile-long hair. Just. The. Barbie. Viva les 70s!

  21. Oh how sweet of your Mom….such a nice classic piece!
    I love the teeny Barbie cardigan–that’s exactly what my daughter’s Barbie(s) needs too. Let us know if you create a pattern for one.

  22. Well, Annie, looks like my point of cutting off my Barbie toes to make clear which Barbie’s were yours and which mine has been effective , and your niece, Ann, has my amputated Barbies and the hairy Ken in her closet now (the peel off mustache and side burns are lost, I’m afraid). If you feel an urge to knit a tiny Raglan sweater, I would love for Ann’s lady of the evening to have one. I now know where Mom was coming from. I also have a long, off-white, knitted robe that she made for our dolls. Such treasures.
    XOX
    Love,
    Buffy

  23. Oh, at comment #24 I am just piling on, but I can’t help myself. The Nicki Epstein book is scary inspirational. Why does Barbie need a pale yellow, exquisite belted cashmere/silk/kid mohair cardi-coat? Maybe some fantasy version of myself does, but she doesn’t. Sane people do not knit these kinds of yarns into Barbie clothes. But, in a household of boys and needing a break from “can it withstand washing after every single wearing,” I knit the cover cardigan as fun little gift for my oldest niece. (I am practising my short row technique, I told myself.)
    Her thank you note read (largely verbatim): “Thank you so much for the pretty coat. It is so pretty and soft and all my Barbies are fighting over it.”
    A Barbie catfight. I think your mom would agree, that is worth knitting for.

  24. Evelyn–LOL. In a Barbie Catfight, I’m putting my money on Buffy’s Barbie. That girl can go a few rounds, no problem. xox Kay

  25. I am a little late on the Barbie thing but I loved your playdate and your groovie Barbies. I still have all mine–in a sneaker shaped shoulder bag. We have many a fine knitted garment for ours. None as trendy as Nicky Epstein’s but fab nonetheless. I love those boots. I had the orange negligee but not those beautiful boots.

  26. Great post – I just found it and was so happy to see that others have such fond memories of Barbie.