(Unofficial) Life of Faith Doll/Martha Finley FAQ

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The following FAQ has been written by a fan of both American Girl and A Life of Faith dolls, in an effort to explain the Life of Faith line. I am not connected to either company, and because I am only an enthusiast, there are possibly mistakes in this FAQ. I am a fan of both lines, and am not attempting to declare one superior to the other. Comparisons here are only for comparison's sake because people tend to be familiar with the American Girl brand. Please feel free to print this out if it will help you learn more about this great doll line for both girls and grown women who appreciate fiction with historical connections.

From Head to Toe

What type of hair do they have? Is it good quality? Is it rooted or a wig?
The dolls have wigs, just like American Girl dolls have. Even more like American Girl, the wigs are also made from a superior wig fiber called Kanekalon. You shouldn't really notice a difference between the two types if you have both dolls. They sell a wire wig brush which is the best option for brushing straight doll wig hair. (Keep reading for advice on curly hair.)

Is it easy to care for?

Although curly hair is beautiful on any doll, in my experience it is not easy to care for. Longer hair is also more prone to tangling. If you want a doll with easy-to-care-for hair, Violet might be your best choice, especially if the doll is for a child who loves to brush and style hair. Curly hair (like Elsie's and Laylie's) may become frizzy. This is just my own experience with curled doll hair, so it doesn't mean you will experience the same thing. If you do decide to get a curly haired doll, using a plastic pick (instead of a wire wig brush) and water and your fingers to help shape the curls can help get it back in good condition. Never use the pick you have designated for your doll on your own hair. American Girl has also started carrying small little wire wig picks for curly-haired dolls. They retail for $6 (a pack of two) and the code number is DHP. If you see these in person you'll be intimidated at how little hair you can style at a time on a curly-haired doll! ;) So be sure to be ready for the commitment. Curly hair is much more maintenance than shorter and straighter hair.

Is Elsie's hair long or short?

In the catalog it varies from shoulders to elbows; when to the elbows, there is "space" between the spirals, so it could be that the hair has been pulled down.
Based on catalog and Internet photos, it seems to vary. On the book covers, Elsie has short (above the shoulders), ringleted hair. My Elsie doll has this shorter hairstyle (somewhat similar to a Shirley Temple look), but the ones used in the catalog often have hair to the elbows. If you want a specific length, you may wish to purchase an Elsie doll in person. I don't know if it's an issue of "pulled" hair or varying wig lengths; I'll post an update if I find out. Wetting the hair and using a wire wig pick to comb it around your finger can help restore some curl if this is the reason your Elsie's hair is long.

Why does the Millie doll have bangs, when Millie from the books does not have bangs?

Good question! :)

Do all the dolls have the same face mold?

Laylie has a different face mold than the other dolls. The most noticeable differences are that her mouth has a closed (rather than open) smile, and she has a smaller nose.

What are the eyes like? Are they "sleepy" eyes?

Life of Faith dolls have eyes that are always open. Most collector-type dolls have this type of eye style. If you have a doll such as a My Twinn, you can see what it looks like. The positive is that it's slightly more realistic looking to have a set eye. A negative would be that when girls put the dolls down for a nap, their eyes don't really close. But that's what "pretend" is for. :)

What are the eyelashes like?

The eyelashes on the top are both "real" and painted. The painted lashes on the top lid look somewhat like eyeliner or eyeshadow. The bottom ones are painted, going vertically down from the eye.

Are Elsie's eyes really yellow?

Elsie's eyes are supposed to be hazel, but I think they're more a shade of green. Unfortunately, the yellow in her presentation dress brings out the "yellow" in the eyes. Here they are without showing the dress, so you can see the actual color.

Why do they have arms crooked at the elbow?

The dolls are made this way so that girls can pretend their dolls are praying. At first glance it may look "odd" to see doll arms that are bent at the elbows. But it's actually very practical! Think of how often your arms are bent during the day. When you read a book, when you use your remote, when you type at a keyboard, when you comb your hair, etc. (Very rarely are our arms straight, unless we're walking.) It's very natural-looking, and with the arms bent they can be posed more realistically in other ways than praying, like holding their skirts or "combing" their hair or reading.

Is the torso soft/stuffed?

Unlike American Girl dolls, the torso is not material, but vinyl. This makes the dolls much heavier and not necessarily snuggable for smaller girls who like huggable dolls. The positive is that clothing that is lower-cut in the neck does look nicer on them than an American Girl-style body, on which the torso cloth will show.

Since they're all vinyl, are they anatomically correct?

No; there is a bit of indentation in the "rear," but not much, and they have a tiny belly button. Everything is very modest.

The Dolls in General

Where are they jointed?
The head is articulated, so that it can not only be turned, but also bent into poses, like tilted to one side, bent down/forward, and bent back/up, and anything in between. The arms are permanently bent at the elbow, and moveable at the shoulder. The legs are moveable where they meet the torso. That means there are five points of poseability (the tops of the arms and legs, and the neck).

How tall are the dolls?

They are 18 3/4", so they're just slightly taller than American Girl dolls.

What is the quality?

The dolls are high quality vinyl.

What ages are they for?

The dolls are for any age, eight and up. The company even mentions that adults may enjoy collecting them (p. 5 in their 2005 catalog).

What age are the dolls? Are they nine and ten, like American Girl dolls?

The "beginning" ages of each doll are:
  • Elsie, 8
  • Laylie, 7
  • Millie, 12
  • Violet, 14
  • Additionally, they age into their twenties throughout their books (with the exception of Laylie), and Elsie even beyond, since she appears in Violet's series. The clothing is not all from their "first" year, so the dolls are technically ageless and represent the characters at many different stages of their lives.
    The dolls have large heads and small statures. Because of this and the age factor, Laylie and Elsie look the most proportional when considering their starting ages. If you're only interested in the dolls and not the books, then the dolls all seem to be around seven or eight years old. If, however, you think of them as connected to the books, it's easy to forgive the lack of proportion since a doll can't age, and it is really neat to know what happens to the characters, and what they wear, as they get older.

    Clothing Questions

    Can they wear American Girl clothing?
    Yes. However, A Life of Faith dolls have larger feet, so don't expect to be able to squeeze them into all American Girl footware. Their torso is slightly smaller than an American Girl, so they can generally fit into American Girl clothing.

    Can American Girls wear their clothing?

    This is a little more hit or miss than the above. American Girls can be slightly more stuffed, but can wear a lot of clothing from this doll line. The clothing may not be able to button up all of the way if your doll is over-stuffed.
    Below are photos showing front and back views of dolls in swapped clothing so you can see how their clothes fit each other.

    How would you compare their clothing to American Girl clothing?

    Although I'm only an amateur seamstress, I feel that A Life of Faith dolls have far superior clothing to American Girl. The dresses are often bedecked with lace, beading, embroidery (ironed on patches), and other details that are labor-intensive. The other sign that the dresses are superior is the yardage used in the skirts, which are very full and possibly even layered. Yet another positive detail is that the clothing does not close in the back with looped taping--it closes with metal snaps! The dresses even have a nice back view because they have snaps and bows in the back, rather than open slits and Velcro. In this back shot of Elsie, you can see that the places where the dress closes are completely obscured and unnoticeable.
    The consequence of all of the detailing, however, is that the clothing is generally much more expensive.
    In my opinion, the dolls are best reserved for girls who are very respectful of their playthings. The outfits are expensive and also very detailed, so they aren't suited to being ripped on and off as some girls do with their dolls.

    The dolls/clothing/accessories do seem rather expensive. Are there ways to get them for less money?

    Yes. A couple of options are:
    1) Check online for sources other than the manufacturer. The company sells the items for more than retailers do (significantly more . . . usually around $5-10). Even smaller doll places online tend to offer the clothing at less money than the manufacturer.
    2) See if you have a local retailer. Local retailers--especially Christian bookstores--often send out catalogs and coupons in the mail. I was able to get my doll for $30 off retail price by using one of their coupons. By getting an older version of the Elsie doll (with the five-piece accessory set previously being free) I saved a total of $50! I have never found them for sale elsewhere for close to what I paid. So definitely check around. Sometimes the savings is worth a drive, and if the store is an hour away or so, there may be something else you can do in that town. Just be sure to call ahead, since stores vary in what items they have in stock.
    Additionally, the dolls' clothes are not quite as expensive as they seem, because they often come with shoes and socks and hair bows or other accessories. These are often sold separately by other doll manufacturers. To try and compare items as similar as possible, look at the 2005 prices for Life of Faith's Millie's pajamas and American Girl's Kirsten's pajamas. Kirsten's nightie is $20. Millie's is $34.99. But wait. Millie's nightie also comes with a lap robe, slippers, and night cap. To get this for Kirsten, one must purchase her housecoat and slippers for an additional $20. That brings Kirsten's pajama set to $40, Millie's to $34.99. So, if comparing prices, remember that the Life of Faith outfits are "ensembles," with possibly more items that you are paying for. The clothing from Life of Faith even comes with a reusable garment bag and clothes hanger! I have to admit, with both Life of Faith doll-related items I have (Elsie and her tea dress) I was literally overwhelmed with the details and how much there was to everything. I couldn't take it all in!

    Do they ever retire outfits, like American Girl does?

    One important thing to note about the dresses is that they may change. Typically the dresses change as far as the fabric goes, and the style stays similar. Elsie's Afternoon Tea Dress Ensemble, for example, used to be checkered fabric with pink bow accents (see photo at right). Millie's School Dress Ensemble used to be white with stripes. If you look at the current versions, you will see that the fabrics are quite different.
    A positive to this would be that if you find a style of dress you like, you may be able to get it in more than one fabric as time goes by. A drawback is that you may not end up with the dress you wanted. I asked for the tea dress for a gift, and wondered when I received it why it didn't look "right." I later realized I had the original version, but had asked for the second version, not realizing there were two. (Don't worry, I like it! :))
    For this reason, though, you may wish to buy outfits in person, or just make certain you are clear on what version is being sold to you.

    I want to sew for my doll. What types of patterns will work?

    You should be able to use patterns for them intended to fit 18" American Girl dolls, including the official (now discontinued) American Girl patterns, ones by name-brand companies and available from your sewing supply store, and from various smaller online pattern retailers such as Morrissey Dolls.

    The Books

    Do the books tie in well with the accessories and clothes you can purchase?
    Most of the time, the books do not over-emphasize or draw attention to items within the doll collections. The one exception I can think of (from what I have read so far) is that Millie's Christmas Dress is mentioned many times and plays a huge role in her books. She ends up lending it to a friend, getting it back, and then using it to make a gift. I'll keep an eye out for other tie-ins.

    What age girls would enjoy the books?

    The target age range is 8-14. However, Millie's series begins when she is 12 and continues to her 20s, and Violet's series begins when she is 14. The girls age quite a lot in the series, find beaus, and get married, so a wide age range could enjoy the themes, even adults. It all depends on what the reader is interested in. I personally find them somewhat similar to adult Christian fiction (like Janette Oke), and feel that females of all ages might find them enjoyable to read.

    Do the books contain illustrations?

    Unfortunately (in my opinion, at least), no. Not even on the cover! Also, the font size is quite small compared to American Girl books, and the books average about 220 pages each. They are a much more challenging read. Reading one Life of Faith book is possibly equivalent to reading an entire American Girl doll's series.

    Are the books expensive?

    Since the books are hardcover, you'd expect them to be expensive. The current list price is $12.99, which isn't necessarily all that bad for a hardcover book. However, if you can spring for four books at a time, you can find great deals from online bookstores. The girls' books are available in sets of four (for example, you can get Elsie's books 1-4 in a set, and books 5-8 in a set). These sets run around $30 at well-known online bookstore retailers. With the free shipping deals they often offer for orders over $25 (be sure to check for such an offer), you can usually manage to get the books for under $8 apiece. Not bad for hardcovers!

    Are these books new?

    Yes and no. The original series were written in the 1800s by Martha Finley. A woman named Kersten Hamilton has rewritten the books for this line, with more modern English and also some major changes. In my opinion, the originals can be a slightly more laborious read, but both series are enjoyable, especially if girls (or women!) find dolls they connect with and want to read more about. (You can find original books at http://www.visionforum.com, as well as in paperback versions by other publishers. Or try reading them for free--there are over a dozen volumes available from Project Gutenberg, at http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/f#a2044.) Violet's series is relatively "new," because her books were originally part of the Elsie series. Laylie's one book is an original by Kersten Hamilton, without a precursor written by Martha Finley.
    The original Millie and Elsie series are still available. The easiest way to tell the difference between old and new is that the rewritten series by Mission City Press is color-coded hardcover (Millie has purple editions, Elsie has yellow, and Violet has blue). Laylie's book (a coral color) is only available from Mission City Press. The books additionally will be marked "Mission City Press" on the bottom left back cover.
    Creatively, each doll's "meet" dress fabric matches the cover of the books in her series.

    How are the girls in the books related?

    Millie is the eldest, and the cousin of Elsie. Elsie is the mother of Violet. Laylie is a slave that Millie meets while living with Elsie's grandfather and his family. In Millie's series, Elsie and Millie meet one another, and though Elsie is quite young at the time, Millie often thinks about her long after their meeting and parting.

    Since the characters know one another, do the series have to be read in order?

    If you are interested in reading all of the books, there is a definite order to them. You should begin with Millie's series, and then move on to Laylie's book once she leaves Millie's life (if you want to find out what happens to her after they part). Some of Laylie's book (exact text!) appears in Millie's, so you can find out part of her story by reading only Millie's series. After that, move on to Elsie, and finally to Violet. Each book in the series also should be read in order; for example, don't read Millie's last book before reading her first one. Also, don't look ahead at the family tree in the front pages of the books out of order if you don't want things spoiled for you--they give away births, deaths, and marriages.

    What are their personalities?

    All of the girls are likeable, but have unique personalities.
    Elsie is called (by some) a "goody-two-shoes," although she is still a very likeable character.
    Laylie is devoted to her elder brother, and doesn't worry about telling fibs in order to get her way. She loves "playing out" the story of Robin Hood and is very devoted to her friends.
    Millie is a spunky and outgoing girl living in frontier times--back when the "frontier" was Indiana! She is not afraid to voice her opinion, even if it is the exact opposite of everyone else's! One of her main goals is to live life as an adventurous spinster, like her aunt Wealthy.
    Violet is very unsure of herself. (The first book in Violet's series is largely about her parents' relationship, so I'll add on to this after reading more. :))

    The Company

    Where can one buy the dolls from the company?
    http://www.lifeoffaith.com/ Be sure to check this site, since they often have special offers.

    Do they have a non-commercial website?

    Although the two addresses look the same, the difference is an "a" in front of the site. Both are operated by Mission City Press.

    What other items does this company sell?

    There are accessories in the line, such as furniture (even a Windsor chair!), a horse, paper dolls of Millie and Elsie, a wire wig brush, a genuine piano, and armoires. There are two "activity books." One is Millie's and is about prayer. Elsie also has one, which is about Christmas during the Victorian era, along with how to throw a Victorian Christmas party. The best way to learn about the line is to visit their http://www.lifeoffaith.com/ website and browse.

    Where can I see the dolls in person?

    You may have a store close to you that sells the dolls. My one caution is that the display is not too "appealing" because the dolls aren't in a natural setting or anything, and it's a very small display, with the extra clothes and accessories all packed away and not shown on dolls (unlike what you might see at, say, American Girl Place with American Girl dolls' clothing). In my opinion, the dolls do not look very impressive in the display, because there is so little room to display them. When my mom saw them in person a couple of times, she did not care for them at all. After seeing them "mint" in boxes, she realized her first impressions were due to them being on public display, with their dresses and hair messed up, possibly by their young admirers or by just being out in the store. It might seem like a good idea to see them in person, but remember that they are on public display and will not look quite as pristine as a brand-new doll.
    Due to limited retailers, people often have to travel out-of-town to view the dolls, so that's why I wanted to include the warning to not judge the line based on what you see. I traveled an hour to see them the first time I did, and was disappointed. (This first impression was responsible for me waiting three years to make a decision to get one of the dolls.) Another time I traveled half an hour (to a store newly carrying the line) on a beautiful fall day, and was not disappointed at all!
    If you are interested in seeing them in person, the official website has a list of stores that carry their lines. Be aware that *some* stores listed carry the books or just have a Life of Faith club. You may want to call in advance to make sure they have the actual dolls available. Their stock is often quite limited compared to what is available online/via catalog, so you may want to ask ahead if they have exactly what you are interested in, especially if you will have to travel a piece to get there.

    If I see a doll I want "in person," do I have to buy the one on display? What if it's dirty or messy?

    I was worried that what were displayed were the dolls available. The actual dolls are in very nice boxes; the ones that you see are only for looking at (that's why one of each is on display). You definitely don't have to buy those dolls, so don't let their mussed hair or clothes dissuade you from getting one at that store. Just ask, and they'll be able to show you the "mint" dolls that they likely have stored in a back room.

    What are some good sites about Life of Faith?

    The official website at http://www.alifeoffaith.com/ will tell you about the characters. It is especially good for referring to when reading the dolls' books. Their retail website is available at http://www.lifeoffaith.com/--you can see the accessories, books, clothing, and dolls there. The doll fan website Just Magic Dolls, located at http://www.justmagicdolls.com/, tells the history of the dolls on this page: http://www.justmagicdolls.com/meet/ElsieDinsmore/ElsieDinsmore.htm. Life of Faith's official doll FAQ can be seen at: http://www.lifeoffaith.com/shop/cart.php?page=faqs.

    I hope you enjoy this beautiful doll line!

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