Restored dolls and toys revive memories
By Carole Townsend
Linda Blase isn’t a “doll” person. It’s one of the reasons that she’s so very good at restoring them. Being able to look at a doll and see all its separate parts is difficult for someone who loves dolls.
A doll aficionado usually sees the doll itself – its beauty and its charm. Linda is an artist, mechanic, engineer, seamstress and psychologist; she wears all these hats and more in her business, and she’s done it for more than 40 years.
The Atlanta Doll Clinic got its start long ago, after Linda worked for a time in a doll shop. “I wasn’t able to have children, so my husband and I adopted. Back then, (adoption agencies) wanted to see stay-at-home moms, so that’s what I did,” Linda said. As her children got a little older, she took jobs here and there, making whatever money she could. Then, she found a job working in a doll store, selling dolls. The owners also restored dolls on the side, though according to Linda, they didn’t do a very good job of it.
“They’d put all the dolls they restored in the same dress, and the work they did wasn’t the best,” she said. One day, she decided to do a little research. “I said to myself, ‘I can do that!’” And the rest is history. Linda has gotten so good at restoring dolls, stuffed animals, toys, and pretty much anything that isn’t glass or furniture, she has made quite a name for herself. Atlanta Doll Clinic has been featured in Atlanta Magazine and on CNN, just to name a couple of media stories done over the years. “Oh, the story that CNN did resulted in about nine hundred calls,” Linda remembers, laughing. “Good thing all those calls had to go through CNN first!”
It was a good thing, because there’s a lot more to restoring a doll or stuffed animal than most people realize. Full restoration back to the toy’s original condition can take weeks, months or even a couple of years, depending on what has to be done. For instance, if a child marks on a doll’s vinyl hand or leg, just removing the ink alone can take days, or it can take months. “You have to be very careful, because a lot of chemicals can melt or eat right through these materials. I use a chemical that is intensified by the sun’s rays, and that can be a time consuming process,” Linda said.
Dolls and stuffed animals come to Linda in various stages of disrepair. Many are barely recognizable. Pen marks, gouged eyes, chewed hands, soiled clothing and hair, and damage that has occurred simply by the aging of a toy are all rectified in different ways, using different processes. There are times when Linda must actually rebuild the inner workings of a mechanical doll. Sometimes she has to carefully open seams and remove stuffing to wash stained stuffed animals. If clothing has been ruined, she looks in old catalogs to see what outfits or costumes the doll or animal wore, and she makes new ones. There is hand stitching and machine stitching that has to be done.
“Once, a woman brought me a ballerina doll that had been made back in the 50s or 60s. There was a part missing in the doll’s torso, one that helped the doll turn and bend at the waist. I had never restored a doll just like that particular one, and I couldn’t find the exact part required to fix her, so I made one out of PVC pipe,” Linda said. A self-described out-of-the-box thinker, Linda can do amazing things with a cherished doll or beloved toy. Sometimes, it’s an adult who wants the doll restored. Sometimes, it’s a child. “When it’s a child who is waiting for the doll to be repaired, that can be a high anxiety situation. I make it a point to take pictures of the restoration process and send them to the child. That takes a lot of the anxiety out of the waiting,” Linda said.
It’s not always a child who aches for the return of a prized doll or toy. Very often, such a toy is passed from one generation to the next. Sometimes, it’s just the fact that a childhood friend needs some TLC. “I’ve seen an increase in business ever since 9-11 happened,” Linda said. “People want to remember a kinder, gentler time. And today, with terrorism in the news so much, people are scared. They turn to their childhood friends to soothe their fears and anxieties.”