Friday, January 16, 2009

Nous Petite Couture: an interview with a doll clothing designer

Susan, one of the two costume and clothing designers of Nous Petite Couture, agreed to an interview with me, to discuss the business of designing clothes for dolls and doll collecting. 

Nous Petite Couture has been in business for five years in the San Diego area. They are a mother-daughter team, primarily selling clothing and historical costumes for Tonner (including Marley), Gene and Barbie dolls on Ebay, doll shows and by commission. They have won several awards, including a blue ribbon at the Del Mar Fair two years ago (here in San Diego) and Best Historical Bride at Vicki's Finds in an online contest several years ago. Susan originally started sewing for Barbie dolls because she wanted clothes that were different, and better made, than the ones she could find in stores.

About your business:

What's your favorite thing about sewing dolls?
Creating costumes for dolls is faster than sewing for humans, and I don't really enjoy sitting with a lap full of fabric. Also, if you screw up, it isn't as costly to throw out a sleeve or half of a bodice, and it doesn't take much time to cut out another one.

What's your least favorite?
Sewing on snaps! Very tiresome and not creative.

Do you have a favorite costume you've designed?
"Mary Stewart" is one of my best. I really like historical clothing, for several reasons: 
  1. I love history.
  2. History comes alive in doll fashions.
  3. Doll fashions are ornate and usually use gorgeous fabrics. I love textiles and always have.
Some things I'm very proud of, but overall, I'm very critical of my work. I want to be as professional and perfect as possible, yet always attempting new things and pushing the envelope, so I don't get stagnant. There are a lot of seamstresses of Ebay who make the same gown over and over, just using different materials. I don't think that's bad, because I'm sure they are lovely gowns and well made, but I would get bored if that's what I did.

Do you have new plans on the horizon?
I've just started drafting my own patterns using slopers.  My goal is to get really good at that, and then eventually market my patterns as well as the clothing I make. And yes, I agree that most homemade patterns are either too simple or not well done enough for the average person to make anything like the design shown. I want to make patterns that look like something a human being would wear (or wore in the past), and that have clear enough instructions that anyone with a basic knowledge of sewing could follow. 
Also, my mother has just gotten her first Riley doll (by Kish).

Who styles your dolls for photography?
I do. I like to play around with my dolls' hair, and I'm just now getting into wigs. I learned to make jewelry for dolls, but I don't have the ability to cold-cast stuff. I've learned a whole lot of tips through posts at Prego. It's a gold mine!

About your dolls:

How long have you been collecting dolls?
I've been a collector all my life. My paternal grandmother started a collection for me when I was an infant. At four, I started collecting Barbie. My childhood collections were set aside for many years, and then, at 37, friends bought me Mulder and Scully Barbies (yes, I'm an XFiles fan). Well, Mulder and Scully weren't content to live in a box. They adorned my cubicle at work for many months. Co-workers were always coming by and playing with them. Then, Scully demanded more clothes. More clothes demanded more dolls. More dolls led to still more dolls. After collecting more than 200 Barbies, I was given a Tyler for Christmas.
My first Tyler was a Sport Tyler. I liked her, but she wasn't really to my taste. I did enjoy sewing for her, and soon my mom bought one for herself and then another. Then there was Angelina, then Brenda and Daphne. On a trip to Vegas, I stopped in FAO Schwarz and fell in love with When in Rome Sydney. We now have 18 Sydneys between Mom and me, and yes, she is my favorite sculpt.

Does your private collection have a theme?
Not really. I buy the dolls that "speak" to me and that are in my price range. I have a limited budget for dolls, but I got a few of my grail gals--Supergirl and Autumn Sonata Sydney [Woo hoo! Go girl!]--brand new. Most of my dolls were splits or pre-owned nudie cuties.

Do you have a (current) favorite doll (or sculpt) in your collection?
I don't know why Sydney is my favorite, but she is so beautiful. I think, "Oh, I have plenty of Syndeys. I don't need another one." And then I fall in love again. Close seconds are Supergirl, Ashleigh and Stella. Tonner does amazing sculpts, and there are very few I'm not interested in. My mom's favorite sculpt is Tyler, with Daphne as a close second.

Do you have a grail doll who hasn't yet been added to your collection?
I'd say Smoldering Daphne and Lilac Allure Ashleigh. I never thought I'd be nuts about a platinum doll, but both of these are gorgeous. I also want to collect all of the Theatre de la Mode fashions Tonner has made. They are exquisite and inspirational.

If you'd like more information about Nous Petite Couture, check out their gallery of past designs, or send Susan some email at

1 comment:

  1. Great article! I definitely agree that doll patterns are both plain and have poor instructions. The best ones I've come across have been free patterns published in Haute Doll magazine, but there aren't many for Tonner dolls, specifically.

    After reading this article, I visited the "Nous Petite Couture" gallery for the first time and really appreciated the detail put into the clothing. Being a doll clothing designer and seamstress, I can appreciate the time, effort and creativity that go into such a task. Keep up the good work!

    Jen Eugley


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