In the May 1951 issue of McCall’s magazine, the company introduced Betsy McCall. She was a little girl “five going on six” that included a story of her life and dolls of she and various family members and friends that you could cut out.
This was the first image of her ‘family’ and was introduced as:
“Betsy is five going on six and she lives in a little white house with a porch and a yard to play in. Her mother and daddy and Nosy, her puppy, live in the white house too. Nosy is six months old. Betsy and Nosy and Betsy’s friends play together all the time. And every month now on they’ll come to play with you too.”
As time went on, Betsy’s images changed with various artists. She was an immediate hit and soon after, in 1952, Ideal acquired the rights to make a 14” Betsy McCall doll. Then American Character followed with their 8" doll in 1957.
Betsy McCall have been made as large as 36" and also in 20" and other sizes. During the 50’s you could also get many patterns for her clothing for the doll. At first, you could see she had very much a little girl wardrobe, but as time went on in the 50’s she was often given more adult clothes. Like this where she is given a wedding dress. So, in a sense, one would imagine themselves as Betsy and getting to dress up as they would want to themselves. This was all pre Barbie (she was not introduced until 1959).
So, here she is in her first appearance in that May 51 McCalls. You can click on the image to get a full size version you can print out for yourself.
Now, for my purpose, here is how she would look this month in August 1956.(You can click and enlarge here as well)
The site where I found these pages is HERE. The owner of that site was kind enough to scan all the pages in a large format so you can download and print them to play with your little girl or even yourself. It is worth a visit to see the transformations of Betsy’s image and her clothing and follow the history of the doll. There is an obvious difference from the first Betsy to my 1956 version as you can see. I actually prefer her look in 51, but in the 1956 version you can already begin to see the movement towards the more modern line and coloring we will see into the early 1960’s.
So, what does all of this “Betsy Business” have to do with my project? Well, both inspired by my research of her and also inspired by our July Apronite of the Month, Jenny, I thought I would try my hand at doll making. I have never done any such sewing, only just learning to make dresses (slowly but surely) since my 55 project. I figure it will be a good exercise in fine tuning my sewing skills.
And, the best part and what really got me thinking about it was when I found out that in 1956 McCall’s patterns introduced this version of Betsy you could make yourself. I was lucky enough to find the actual Vintage pattern on ebay (copyrighted 1956) and the happy news was that the pattern had been cut out in the 50’s and the fabric for the doll body was still pinned to the doll.I am very excited to have vintage fabric to make her. And you make all her clothes you see pictured as well.
Another thing that is so lovely about this particular pattern is you can see that one of the dresses you make for the doll is the same as this month’s, August 1956, paper doll: the striped dress wtih the red jumper.
Then, further research revealed to me that they have a reproduction of this original pattern.which I also purchased. I wanted to see the difference in the instructions and suggested materials. I noticed the modern version has less outfits to make and they suggest unbleached muslin for the body while the original suggests cotton (which I have found a similar shade to the vintage in Egyptian cotton). The old pattern has a face transferthat you iron on and then stitch in her features with embroidery thread. So, for the vintage version, I will do that. The modern version just has the same face, but you are instructed to copy it with pen and acrylic paint. However, I have decided to scan the face and manipulate it and change it a bit and then print it on iron on transfer printer paper for the modern version. I figure that way I have made the vintage in its intended way and the modern one I can interoperate how I like.
What shall I do with these two dolls when and if I complete them? I haven’t a clue. I have no children and none of my friends have little girls. My nieces are close to me in age and have no children themselves. If she is not too dear to me, perhaps I would try to sell her, I am not sure. Either way, I think the process shall be fun, frustrating, rewarding, and a great learning experience. I can already guess how hard it shall be to sew her tiny clothes.