Cindy is the Great Architect of the For the Love of Blythe project. She had a dream and has such a beautiful personality that everyone jumped on board to dream with her and play with dolls!
My name is Cindy Sowers. I don’t have an alias 🙂
Photo: Cindy Sowers.
In late 2009, an art doll friend told me about Blythe and said she thought I would like her. I was making doll hats for BJD dolls at the time. I had a full sized ball-joint doll, which is 60 cm (24 inches) tall, one that some people would consider a magnificent doll, and I was finding that doll too gangly and really just too much doll for me. The limbs went every which way and they were really long. I was uninspired to make costumes for her, so I just lazily draped scarves and things around her. I had just started making doll hats as a business at that time and I needed models. I didn’t have the room to set this giant doll up to photograph her well and I was very frustrated. I think I must have complained daily to this friend that I could not understand these giant dolls! My friend had had a Blythe doll as a child and had a special one she kept as an adult. She thought Blythe might be better suited to me in terms of size. Plus, my personality is more toward life as comedic beauty than the seriousness of the BJD doll. When I first saw Blythe I was unconvinced. I couldn’t wrap my head around the proportions. The head was SO big compared to the body! My curiosity was piqued, though, as I had contacts on Flickr who had Blythes and clearly this wasn’t just a doll; this was a lifestyle! Once I started studying other peoples’ photographs of Blythe, and saw what could be done visually with this doll, I was hooked. Somehow your mind adjusts and the Blythe proportion seems right! Plus, there are the eyes. I have heard this said before, and I think I first heard it said by Jean Yates – that if you look at most dolls, despite their beauty, the eyes are dead. Blythe’s eyes come alive. And now, especially, with people customizing and adding their own touches to the eyes, those eyes can be magnificent. Somehow all of this sort of merged in my mind and Blythe made total sense to me. I can’t explain it, but that doll looks just perfect to me now. It took me a month or so to adjust my vision, but by then, I was hooked and I saw beauty in this doll everywhere I saw her. I bought one. And then another, and then another, and you know how it goes.
Photo: Cindy Sowers. Pretty in purple.
Photographing Blythe is a dream. It really becomes a passion. Photos by some of the people on this project were some of the first photographs I studied, and what I saw was “love” through the eyes of the photographer. That’s heady stuff, especially when you are talking about a plastic doll. When I look at photographs of other dolls, especially BJDs, I see something different. There I see more like magazine layout or glossy fashion photos. They are beautiful, but it is different. Something about Blythe softens peoples’ vision. You would just have to look at pictures from RockyMountainRoz, whom I consider a master, for instance, and you see it there. For the uninitiated, that sentiment, about a doll, is hard to explain or grasp. To me, it now seems obvious.
When and why did you start your collection?
I got my first doll, a Friendly Freckles, in January 2010. Somewhere along the line I have obtained 8 or so dolls. Every time I begin thinking I have enough dolls, I find I am wrong. It took me awhile to gain the courage to open the first one up. I thought, well, I’ll just give her some new eye chips and see what it looks like inside the head. Pretty soon, I was carving and changing this and that, never quite satisfied. I bought a Simply Peppermint that had been customized by Erica Fustero and having that doll and seeing what I could do with her in photos, made me see how different and unique the customized dolls could be. That doll, Ivy, has very simple changes, a bit of lip carving, new eye chips, a few freckles, shorter hair. In photographs, just those changes make a world of difference in her “personality.” She is a stubborn girl and a tomboy who happens to look marvelous in girlie dresses. And she wears hats like a dream. I love that doll. I wanted all my dolls to be their own “person,” so I took to changing them all in some way. I haven’t looked back.
Photo: Cindy Sowers: Friendly Freckles, Cindy’s first Blythe.
Who are the dolls you have in your own collection now and where do you store them?
Storing them – that’s a joke! They are strewn all over in various stages of undress, some with hats and scarves piled over them. They are “working girls,” and must be available at a moment’s notice for photographs and hat modeling! I can’t be bothered to store them correctly 🙂
Julienne, the French Girl: She is a Friendly Freckles originally, with light customizing done by me. She has had a bit of carving and a few other things. She is the “coolest” of my dolls. She is very chic, always in style, and I have deemed her Fanny’s alter ego 🙂
Photo: Cindy Sowers. Rootie and Julienne.
Ivy is a Simply Peppermint custom, done by Erica Fustero. She is the tomboy and trouble maker in the group.
Photo: Cindy Sowers. Jeanie and Ivy modeling the Little Cupcakes sets.
Rootie is a mishmash of things. She has fairly extensive customization by me. She has a Merry Skier (SBL) scalp and an unknown RBL base that was once mocha colored and spray painted, with a Takara body I got from camillaeatsfiftyeggs. She is very pouty and I have deemed her the alter ego for my friend, Amy.
Amy never complains in real life, so I make Rootie the complaining one 🙂
Next is Libby, an extensively customized chocolate brown Blythe by me. She is an RBL head on a Hujoo body, which is kind of unique. She is very bendy and can stand up on her own unassisted, because Hujoo has very big feet and I restrung her tightly to do that. She’s a fun gal with a colorful mohair root.
Cappucine is a Simply Mango. She is my only doll that hasn’t been carved up. I haven’t decided yet if she will stay that way. I love the fantasy hairs. Because of her vibrant nearly neon orange hair, she is really fun to photograph for me. She rocks up my hats and dresses.
Little Jeany, a Simply Guava, was given to me by my friend Jeany, as a gift. I customized her face quite a bit, but kept her vibrant pink hair, which might be my favorite hair in the group. She has freckles and dark matte lips.
Charlotte Russe, the Queen of Hearts, is a OOAK doll done by Amy Taylor and I. She has very big lips (from her love of sweets) which I actually built up rather than carved down, beautiful white mohair done by Amy and quite a collection of things that go with her. We had planned to sell her on Ebay, but the sale went bad at the last moment, and when it came down to it, I couldn’t really bear to part with her. She is basically a gift to me from Amy, who didn’t insist I re-list her. She’s got about $300 in jewels alone that are attached to her, so she’s quite magnificent.
Finally, I have a Simply Lilac that I got in exchange for a pirate cloth art doll I traded with Amy. At first I had a goal to have all the fantasy hair dolls, but then Amy and I needed a doll to customize, so she got picked on. Poor thing. She is now in a state of disrepair, as she is the second OOAK doll Amy and I are working on. She is the Queen of the Sea at the moment and has vibrant green and blue mohair. She awaits her jewels and some other things before she will be put together.
Photo: Cindy Sowers. Collaborative custom in progress.
Cindy, you do customize your dolls yourself and you are a fashion dolly designer too. You create complete outfits with accessories and your hats are famous in our community. How did you learn to do it?
Photo: Ellewoods2007. The birds and the trees – hat by Cindy Sowers.
I think you are giving me too much credit here! But, I will play along 🙂 I started making cloth dolls at about the age of 10 or 11. My grandmother thought every girl should have a sewing machine, so she bought me a really sturdy Viking around that time. It could basically fall off the table (I was a klutzy girl) and not be damaged. I made a Holly Hobbie doll first. If at school, I had a history project or something like that, I would make dolls to accompany whatever it was. Basically I have been sewing all my life. I dropped out of university at 20 to go to fashion design school in Los Angeles. I thought I would be a famous fashion designer. Might as well think big, right? What an eye opener that was. It would have been more like I would be drafting patterns for Sears and Roebuck, which was a far cry from being the Perry Ellis of my dreams. I did learn really useful skills though. I could draft and drape on a hippo if I had to at this point 🙂 I am grateful for that. I ended up in fashion advertising in the garment district in Los Angeles. I went from designing great fashions in my mind to writing copy about someone else’s. All through the years I have continued sewing. I designed and sewed for myself for years. I had a millinery business in Seattle after taking a year’s worth of classes from a famous hat designer, Wayne Wichern.
Photo: Cindy Sowers. Red plaid hat and dress set.
Photo: Jillybug. The Mad Hatter – hat by Cindy Sowers.
I got back into dolls with my second pregnancy in 2000, when I was so giant that moving seemed difficult, so I sewed dolls. When we moved to Vermont in 2003, I sent off photos of the art dolls I had done to galleries, and juried in so I could start being exhibited there. I exhibited in galleries for 4 or 5 years and then the economy tanked and I became skeptical if I could sell another doll. The galleries here in Vermont were especially good to me, though, so I am grateful. Besides selling a lot of dolls for me, they helped get my dolls exhibited in NYC and also to hand-deliver a doll of mine to Diane Sawyer, which put me over the moon. In late 2009 after art doll people started asking me how to make doll hats, I thought: “Why not make some and put them up on Etsy?”, which then led to my needing hat models, which then led to an obsession with Blythe, who needed costumes to wear while modeling the hats, so I made some, and on it goes.
Photo: Ellewoods2007. In the pink – hat by Cindy Sowers.
Photo: Ellewoods2007. Steampunk top hat by Cindy Sowers.
The little dresses and things I make I make for friends and my own dolls. I considered selling them on Etsy, but each time I list one, I take it down. Apparently I have a disease where I collect tiny velvet things. I can’t seem to part with the dresses. I have become a hoarder! The doll customization skills, I just transferred my cloth doll skills to plastic, and once I carved into that first head, I was hooked! There really is no turning back with Blythe.
How did the idea of For the Love of Blythe project come out?
I have been a part of an etsy team called Art Dolls Only since 2009. I joined a committee for a traveling art doll project in 2010 and worked on that for 2 tours. I ended up interviewing every single person on the 2010 project and wrote about 30 interviews for the blog. That inspired me to work in collaboration. I got to know people really well, and everyone was so fascinating to me. I contacted a magazine editor and got the project published in 2 issues of a well known doll magazine in 2010 and was quite giddy for a time, despite the work involved in coordinating people and their photos.
Photo: Cindy Sowers. Isabella – Traveling doll project – 2010.
The traveling doll project for that group was quite a bit different in concept, but I borrowed experience and ideas I had gained from that, and thought, you know, something like this would be really fun and exciting to do with Blythe. Blythe people feel like “my people,” and I wanted to work in collaboration. I tweaked the project a bit in my mind and came to the idea of a charity project, and then all that ruminating ended up with me having a dream (actual, not figurative) where Jean and Fanny and I were creating a book within the Blythe community and quite a lot of people were involved. Jean knows me well, but honestly, Fanny had never heard of me I didn’t think. I had read her blog, but I didn’t know her personally. I take my dreams pretty seriously, though, so I contacted Jean and asked, “how busy are you right now?” She was super busy, but being Jean, she said, “not busy. What do you need?” I told her I had a “super secret” collaboration project in mind and asked her if she would join me. “Of course,” she said, not even having a clue what it was. That was the first week of November 2011, and the holidays were fast approaching. I told her I would give her more details after I got one other person involved. I immediately contacted Fanny. Not knowing a thing about me or what the project was, Fanny said, “yes!” I was actually a bit stunned, but thought, well, then, this is going to happen. I told them both what I had in mind, swearing them to secrecy until we got all the details worked out. I am convinced they both think I am a nut, but they humor me anyway. Fanny is like an entire steering committee unto herself and Jean is the one to keep me laughing. If I am not laughing, I am not nearly as motivated to work hard. Fanny keeps us all organized and on track. That is primary in some ways. If it were just Jean and I, it would be very funny, though maybe a bit tangential. We tend to run off on a tangent of maybe too many ideas if you get us cooking, and Fanny needs to reign us in and keep us focused until we work out the details. But, if there is comedy, I will work my fingers to the bone and so will Jean, and can come under control if there is the right framework. Between the 3 of us, we have a very different skill set, but somehow everyone picks up the slack where it is needed. I am convinced that the 3 of us are the right mix. I became more convinced when pretty much every single person we asked to join us gave an enthusiastic “yes!” Jean brought Rose of MoonRouge in, and when I spotted Rose’s icons that Jean had suggested, I knew we had an entire concept. Fanny ran with that and got a blog started. Somehow we’ve got somewhere around 50 people full of enthusiasm involved and we’ve been running at full speed ever since. It’s a big, somewhat ambitious project that will likely involve quite a lot of work. I am convinced all of the details will fall into place.
Photo: Moon Rouge. For the Love of Blythe iconic tee. Design by Rose and tee by Cindy Sowers.
What do you like the most in collecting Blythe?
I love the comedy. I love the beauty. I love the people. Those 3 things are the whole thing to me.
Photo: Ellewoods2007. We had a dream last night – Steampunk hats by Cindy Sowers.
A last word?
I am proving to myself that hard work and fun can coexist. I love that.
Photo: Cindy Sowers. Queen Nefertiti.
Thank you very much, Cindy, for all your fantastic ideas and for your time and dedication to that fabulous project!