There is nothing like prowling through row after row of colorful bolts of exotic fabric, selecting just the right color, shade, hue, the finest texture, the correct weight, going through trim, buttons and other delicate frills, draping them around Gene and creating just the right look -- that is, if you are an aspiring seamstress, of course! Vogue and Simplicity have been creating patterns for Gene and similar-sized dolls for a year or so to the delight of many collectors who also like to sew for their girls. On the lists and boards, however, there was an increasing abundance of posts cautioning that the bust was too big/small, the pants were too short/long, the gloves didn't fit, the hats were too hard, etc. Why couldn't these hopeful seamstresses and desperate designers find patterns that fit, well, perfectly? What IS a girl to do?
Into the fray stepped two intrepid fashion doll collectors and seamstresses, both of whom had been sewing since childhood (between the two they boast some seventy-odd years of sewing experience. Marsha Olson and Robbin Runtas found themselves discussing the lack of quality patterns now on the market for any of the fashion dolls. They define quality as "patterns that are simple to use, aimed at beginning sewers, but still high fashion and true to the period". These discussions ultimately led to the launching of Perfect Patterns.
Both Marsha and Robbin felt that the commercial patterns currently available on the market were often a difficult fit so the designing duo decided it was time to offer patterns that even a beginner could understand and use with ease. Another goal was to create patterns that would fit the popular 15 1/2 inch sized fashion dolls well with little or no alterations to the pattern itself. Still another important step was to design a look that, in Gene's case, would fit in with the story line of a fictional Hollywood actress whose glamorous film career spanned the decades of the 1930's through the 1950's.
At the end of April, Perfect Patterns was introduced with five patterns designed to fit 15 1/2 inch fashion dolls like Gene, Tyler, and Franklin Mint's vinyl Marilyn Monroe. Within a few months the ladies offered more than fourteen patterns for Gene in categories including: Casual, Dresses, Evening, Evening II, Cocktail and Suits.
October found the twosome presenting their wares, including a special 2000 Gene convention package (six patterns for $49.00), at the 2000 National Gene Convention. This was the first public appearance for Perfect Patterns and the booth was filled with colorful patterns, delightful business cards with color sketches of the patterns, and more. "We wanted to offer something special to debut at the convention and after much thought we decided to offer a limited edition Convention Package of 6 patterns", Robbin told me.
"Each pattern represents a design from each of our pattern categories including the introduction of our new category 'Cocktail'. We wanted these designs to be like nothing we've offered to date. All preorders of the convention package received color covers on their patterns in lieu of the normal black and white sketches.
This limited color cover set was only available through December 31, 2000, when it was retired. The black and white version is still available.
I had the opportunity to meet both Robbin Runtas and Marsha Olson at their convention booth and see their merchandise up close and personal, and the experience was interesting, to say the least. "Our booth was the busiest one in the convention sales room for every hour the room was open. We were thrilled with the positive response to our patterns!" Marsha exclaims. Marsha claims the two gals never had the chance to even take a break whenever the sales room was open.
One attraction of the Perfect Patterns booth was the fact that popular doll artist Katharine Rayland shared a corner of the Perfect Patterns table along with Marsha and Robbin, and Katharine had brought seven extremely sought-after repaints with her.
While Katharine may have helped attract what Marsha calls "the thundering hoard of people RACING from the open doors" when the doors first opened, as well as the steady stream of people that came down the aisle from then on whenever the sales floor was open, the patterns held their own.
Marsha assures me, "our patterns sold like the proverbial hotcakes. We had them packed in boxes in back of the tables, and people were crawling under the tables to pick out their own because we weren't getting to them fast enough".
Marsha, who has already established a name for herself as a designer of fine millinery for Gene as well as other dolls, is in charge of the first half of the pattern production process; she drafts the pattern, does the artistic graphics for the pattern covers, and makes sure the pattern fits the doll. With each pattern disigned, a prototype is completed and the pattern pieces are finely honed to make sure the pattern is "perfect". The patterns are clear, professionally drafted pattern pieces that fit together perfectly. Each pattern is printed on good quality white stock copy paper and includes detailed written instructions for sewing each garment. The graphic drawing of the fashion design for the pattern is printed on a separate sheet as a black and white line drawing that customers can scan or copy in order to try out color combinations of their own choosing before actually getting down to the business of making the outfit. "We feel this gives each customer the chance to make each design uniquely their own", says Robbin.
To come up with an appropriate Hollywood vintage look for Gene and Marilyn or modern high-fashion look for Tyler, the duo surfs old vintage movie sites on the Internet, reads fashion design books, and pours through era paper doll books. "We are very interested in keeping our designs similar to the era which each doll represents", Marsha states. "We started designing our patterns for the 15 1/2 inch Gene doll from Ashton Drake because both Robbin and I are collectors of this particular doll". Now Marsha and Robbin are introducing more lines: Kitty Collier, Cissy, Robert Tonner's 19 inch models such as Bailey and more during the first few months of 2001.
They decided to move into creating patterns for other fashion dolls due to the many requests they received after publishing their first few patterns for Gene. Three patterns appeared on their website for the Madame Alexander Cissy dolls just in time for Christmas, with a different doll being featured for new patterns each month thereafter. "one of the new things we are going to be going to be doing in the future (a first time announcement) is that we will be offering purse and hat kits with detailed photo instructions on your choice of cd or floppy disk, Marsha revealed. The kits will include everything needed to complete the purse or hat which will be available in three different sizes for 15 1/2 inch (Gene, Tyler, Alex, etc.), 18 inch (Kitty, Coco), or 21 inch (Cissy) dolls. These kits should be ready to announce and ship by the middle of February. "These will be good winter time fun projects", Marsha adds.
Robbin takes care of the business side of the enterprise, handling all the advertising and PR for the company predominantly via Internet and email at present. Her responsibilities include: having the patterns printed, taking orders, and shipping the patterns world-wide to customers in a timely manner.
Perfect Patterns offers various additional helpful aspects such as a catalogue where all of the pattern cover graphics are printed on a single sheet so customers have a handy reference to keep track of which patterns they already have. The catalogue sheets also serves to let new customers know what is available and in what sizes and prices, and shipping information is also included.
In addition, there is a Perfect Patterns website located at http://www.perfect-patterns.com which started out as a place where people could take a good look at the designs offered. The site has grown to include many more services. A chat group called PerfectPatterns was launched where members can ask questions, help other members with sewing problems, and offer information on where to find fabrics, notions, and sewing supplies at reasonable prices online and off. "We found that a lot of our customers were interested in having a place where they could ask sewing questions not just about our patterns, but sewing in general", says Robbin.
Next, interactive sewing classes were instigated by popular demand as people began sewing with the patterns, and the resulting questions required a forum for answers, ideas, and advice. "Our patterns are easy to use, but for beginners there will always be questions that need to be answered", Robbin explains. The purchase of a pattern makes the buyer automatically eligible to join the chat. After the sewing chat group was well established, Marsha and Robbin initiated the first of many online classes to help their customers design and make an outfit using one of the Perfect Patterns as the base pattern. "Our first class included detailed photographs and instructions for making a pair of nicely fitting gloves from stretch faric as well as swimwear, a hat, and a dress". Robbin and Marsha will be holding many more sewing classes for new patterns in the future. In addition, they will also be offering kits for the classes that include everything needed to completely finish each class. "Professional results are easy to achieve through use of our reasonably priced kits and our online instruction pages that can be printed out and made into your own sewing manual", Robbin attests.
There is also a Tips page on the web site which includes such useful information as: how to make a small pressing ham from a toilet tissue roll, where to purchase a miniature ironing board, how to dye buttons, where to buy tiny buckles, how to sew easy small darts for dolls, a pattern scaling chart, and even a step-by-step method that shows how to make shoes for Gene! Hard to find items and sewing techniques were added to the Tips page, and there are links to several related member websites. The Perfect Patterns Gallery features completed designs that the Perfect Pattern editors and clients have created using the patterns. Numerous photos of completed designs are featured in the Gallery.
This pictorial aspect of the website allows others to view the designs in a three dimensional format with various fabric choices. The site's main page offers information on how to join the sewing discussion group. Ordering and shipping information for patterns are also located on the website. Prices per pattern range from $7.50 up to $9.50 at this time, and the plan is to keep the prices reasonable.
Perfect Patterns is not affiliated with any of the doll manufacturers or designers, and both entrepreneurs have expressed their delight in having fashion dolls in several shapes and sizes, spanning several eras to play with and sew for.
Marsha, who lives in northern Minnesota with her husband and two pomeranians, has had a doll store for twenty-one years, and is an expert in antique doll restoration. She is the proprietress of The Right Hatmosphere site on the web where she sells -- what else -- versatile hats for fashion dolls.
Robbin lives in southeastern Wisconsin with her husband of fourteen years, two boys ages thirteen and twelve and her Cairn Terrier, Happy. She works with her husband in the family pharmacy which they've owned for twenty-two years. She is the president of the HLAYG Club.