Marsha Olson

First Place Winner of the Madame Alexander 2003 Convention Cissy Design Contest!

Living in northern Minnesota has its ups and downs. Literally in fact! Starting in the mid state plains, the further north you head, the higher the elevation until, just 8 miles north of home you come to the top of the mountain, the Laurentian Divide. It's one of those few places on the continent where the water flows south on one side of the peak and flows north on the other.

As with most folks up here, my husband and I live in what was and still is a mining town. Iron ore is the basis for our economy. Eveleth is small, about 6000 people, give or take. Chauncey, my husband, has lived here all his life, as did his parents and grandparents. I'm what they call a 'packsacker'; I've only been here 30 some years. I was born and raised 65 miles south in the Duluth/Proctor area.

Winters here can be harsh, with blizzards blowing in come January and February, dumping snow sometimes measured in feet rather than inches; but the summers are glorious! Autumn here is the best of all the seasons as far as I am concerned with the red and orange maples, copper oaks, yellow birch and elm all dripping vibrant color; every bit as beautiful as those lovely pictures they take of autumns out on the east coast. Summer heat during the day gives way to cool evenings with purple, rose, and turquoise sunsets to die for.

Click for Eveleth, Minnesota Forecast

We have a fairly large house with a gigantic oak dining table, so with the growing number of grandchildren the big holiday meals are usually here. I love to cook for company, so the family feasts are fabulous. Wish you could see all the decorations I put up for every holiday!

The down side is that we are so far from the bright city lights (malls, specialty shops, fabric stores, etc.). The Internet has helped a lot! There are fabric and craft stores within driving distance, but none of them carry much more than the basics unfortunately. At least now I can order what I need on-line or by phone and know I'll have it in a few days.

I guess you want to know how I got into the business of pattern making? I started designing young, the first original I remember making without using a commercial pattern was a Barbie dress made from a rectangle of white cotton where I smocked a couple of inches at one end to fit the doll around the bust and added a couple of crocheted shoulder straps. Simple but cute, I think I was 10 or 11 when I made that. After that I was always trying out new ideas. Not all of them turned out so great but I never gave up, it was my fun and relaxation even as a child.

I married right out of high school, continued my education sporadically, and had a family besides. We tried to stick it out, but unfortunately it didn't work. After the breakup it was up at 6am, at my day job as a teaching assistant 30 miles away by 7:30, home again by 3:00pm and off to my second job, which started at 7:00pm. It was a hectic and tiring way of life. I knew something had to change!

The change was meeting my dear Chauncey and moving to Eveleth. Teaching jobs were few and far between at the time, but I knew I had to find something to tide me over while I applied for positions. At my new husbands suggestion I took out a small loan from the local bank and opened a sewing shop in town.

I had always loved to sew and felt like I had a talent for it so a sewing shop seemed like something I could do. The shop did well and although I wasn't making as much money as I would have working for someone else...guess it was meant to be; no one ever called me in on any of the job applications.

I opened at the peak of the Cabbage Patch Kid craze and within a few months I was able to pay off the loan at the bank with money made from selling doll clothes made with a combination of what commercial patterns were available and my own designs. Soon people were bringing me other dolls that needed dressing and inevitably a few sad dolls that needed some tender loving care or a new cloth body. Believe it or not, that's how it all got started.

Word of mouth led a doll store owner from Duluth to my doorstep looking for someone to dress the porcelain dolls she was making to sell and things took off from there. Soon people were coming from all over with not only new dolls but also antiques to be dressed. So many of the antique dolls also needed restoration of one kind or another that I started doing some research to find out how I could help spruce up these wonderful old dolls. Research led to books and magazines and learning more with each doll that came my way. At the same time, my business had grown away from the general sewing for people in town and I was now a full-fledged doll store carrying many popular and famous brands of dolls. Local ladies groups were calling for me to come and give talks about doll collecting and doll restoration. This all took place over several years you understand, it didn't happen overnight. I always was a quick study though. Actually, more than 20 years went by and I was still having fun.

Also accumulated was more than 20 years worth of customer records that were starting to become confusing. Talk about paper blizzard! What I needed was a computer to help get all those records straightened out! Yeah right. Here I am years later and never did figure out how to make the computer do what I wanted it to. Stubborn things aren't they? I eventually did tame and collar the programs though.

In the mean time, a customer who had also become a good friend over the years and my top employee was outpacing me in talented doll restoration. I had been idly thinking of getting out of the business some day but hated leaving the dolls I loved so much when Linda, my ace restorer, offered me a deal I couldn't refuse. She wanted to move the business closer to her home and I was about ready to go on to something new so it worked out perfectly for both of us.

Like I said, I'm a quick study, so a few months after I got my first computer I had a website up and running and was selling bead jewelry and hats for Gene and other fashion dolls. I think I found eBay on my own just surfing around in the search engines. Even then they had little ads with every search engine going. It looked like a great place to play so I figured out how to get an auction going for some hat and handbag sets. I was positively floored at the prices people would give for these! It looked like I was on my way to that new something I had been looking for!

Robbin Runtas was one of my first ebay customers and seeing I had an interest in Gene, she told me all about her fan club. 'Here's Looking At You Gene' was my first contact with fashion doll collectors and I loved it. I had great fun getting to know people on the group list and listening to their raves and complaints about just everything. One of the biggest complaints was about how ill fitting the commercial doll patterns were. At that time there was only one pattern company putting out patterns for Gene, but there were several other 15" dolls on the market by then so the pattern company was trying for a more generic fit in their patterns. People didn�t much like that frumpy look on their little diva! She was a 'star'; she was supposed to have great star clothing! There was one other person designing and selling Gene patterns on the Internet, but the fit on hers weren't all that great either.

On learning that I had some experience with pattern making, Robbin asked me why I didn't try making some good fitting era patterns for Gene. I said I would give it a try if Robbin agreed to market them for me until I was more confident with working with people on the Internet. We formed a working partnership where I designed and drafted the patterns and she printed and shipped them to our customers. It worked out great until a major family crisis took Robbin out of the business. I was on my own then and very worried that I wouldn�t be able to do this by myself. I seriously considered giving it up for a while but then decided that if I could run my own business for more than 20 years I could probably do this too. I found out soon enough that I could. The pattern line has extended to include perfectly fitted patterns for 14 different dolls with more in the future.

One of the things that helped a lot was creating the group list at yahoo. Although Robbin was gone, I still felt like I had some backup. The people on the group were, some of them, great seamstresses and designers on their own and were more than willing to help when I needed to bounce an idea. We also were getting a lot of new sewers signing up that really needed basic tips on general sewing for dolls. With the advent of the free online sewing classes aimed at the beginners, we were in full swing and the patterns were off to a great start.

It will be six years on May 5, 2006 since Perfect Patterns offered it's first five patterns to you. We now have sales agents spread across the country selling at doll shows and conventions and Perfect Patterns will soon be available in select doll stores.

I feel that Perfect Patterns is something that people needed and I feel honored that so many love them. I hope I can continue to design for many years to come.

Marsha Olson
E-mail Me!

Read the article about Robbin and I in "Dolls In Print" Magazine!

Go on to read the bio for:
Michele Tibbetts

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