By Shirley R. Heater

I've always loved to sew and work with my hands, and especially enjoy the creative process. It all started when I was a child and I began hand-sewing and crocheting for my dolls. My grandmother not only taught me to crochet, but by age 11 I was using her treadle to make my own clothes. About the same time I was chosen to study art and painting at the Joslen Art Museum in Omaha. It was across the river from our town and since we had no car, my mother took me by bus so I could take the classes. I still have my paintings and other drawings.

My "designing" started with mixing and matching pattern pieces, but I also had to alter most things because I was short (still am!) and in those days they didn't come in petite. By the time I was in 7th-8th grade and took my first sewing class, my teacher let me complete my outfits at home since we were short on machines and I already knew how to sew. I remember making a really neat yellow dress with a full circular skirt and bows placed around above the hem for an 8th grade dance! I can identify many of the early Barbie styles as clothes in my closet in my high school years! Of course, I never owned a Barbie at that time-I was too old! I have to laugh at that statement, because look at me now!

After I married and had children, my sewing included not only matching outfits for my son David and my daughter Denise (two years younger), but I also made men's suit coats, draperies, crafts and other decorating items. For awhile I even sewed for other people and did a few alterations (which is not my cup of tea). In 1966 my son got his first GI Joe and because we lived on a Navy base at the time, many of his playmates also had GI Joes. I got requests to make some outfits-the first request was David's for the Batman costume of the popular tv series back then-and thus began my designing and sewing for dolls! My earliest doll designs also included Newborn Thumbelina before I started sewing for Barbie and other dolls.

At that time I discovered through popular sewing magazines of the day that others were also sewing for dolls and so I published a few patterns using the name "Shirley's Doll Fashions." "Shirley's Mini-Fashion Boutique" in 1968 was finally shortened to just "Mini-Fashion Boutique." In March of 1970 I published my first issue of "Mini-Fashion Boutique" newsletter for other sewers featuring patterns, special sewing techniques, shortcuts, and ads by other sewers. A one-year subscription for the bimonthly newsletter back then was just $1.50 and patterns ranged from 25 to $1.25. My hope for about 200 subscribers by the end of the first year was surpassed the very first issue! At one year, we had reached 560 and the last issue had exceed 700! In 1970 it cost just 8 to mail, and we started bulk mailing the second year. Besides patterns, over 200 custom-made doll fashions were offered in "Mini-Mods Fashion Catalog. There was a broad interest in many dolls which is reflected in the variety of patterns in my archives, Since many of these dolls are collectibles today, you'll find these original patterns a delight to recreate outfits from that time period.

By the time I published my first newsletter, I had already gone through several methods of printing, beginning on my kitchen table (literally) with a gel medium on a cookie sheet, then graduating to a spirit duplicator and finally a mimeograph machine. All patterns were hand-drawn and typed on an ancient Underwood typewriter (it had been my father's when he was in school). How things have changed! I can't imagine doing this without a computer, digital camera, color printer and photocopy machine!

After publishing thirteen issues and numerous pattern booklets, my business ceased abruptly in 1972, just as I was beginning my third year, due to a personal family tragedy. I haven't shared any of this before, but decided an explanation was important, especially since I've made contact with and resumed friendships from 30 years ago! My then-husband had been career military and had gotten out after nine years of service, part of which was served in Vietnam. However, after three years, he decided he re-enlisted and we stayed behind in Texas (after 40+ moves over 11 years of marriage). My family was nearly 1,000 miles away and it was a very tough time. The trauma and distress during that period with small children absorbed me completely. I had no choice (or time, energy, etc.) but to end what had been so much fun! I packed everything away and moved several times in the next few years before finally relocating to Missouri in 1977.

I returned to school in 1978-1982 and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in anthropology/archaeology. During that time I met a really great friend who became my husband in 1981 (just before I left for Mexico City for summer classes that I had previously enrolled in). Our blended family now included four children. Finally in 1992, after 20 years, I decided to sell my entire doll collection since it was just taking up closet space, but I couldn't part with my original pattern designs and newsletters. In 1996-97 we built our future "retirement" home. I did the design and we acted as our own contractors. I found it an exhilarating experience, and often wonder whether I should have been an architect or interior designer! I'm still working on final touches and have a nice "studio."

The kids are now grown and married, and we have seven grandchildren. In 1997, while spending a "Mom's day out" with my daughter Denise and grandson Sabre, we browsed a toy store (for "hints" for his upcoming birthday and Christmas!). It was there I discovered Barbie Bazaar and picked up my first issue. Well, after all those years, I began to get that old feeling of excitement again and lamented selling all those dolls! I was soon scouring garage sales and accumulated nearly two dozen "played with" dolls. When I stumbled across the Barbie Bazaar, little did I realize the fun that was in store for me as I found my love of sewing for dolls rekindled!

To make a long story short, I joined a local Barbie club (and made the fashion for the club Christmas doll) and pulled out all my old newsletters and pattern booklets and started sewing again! I've replaced most of the dolls I sold and have added many new ones as well, and am really enjoying it. In 1999 I purchased Aileen's Petite Fashions. Dorothy Aileen Raybon, after sewing for Barbie over 30 years, was "retiring" at age 77. I became acquainted with Dorothy through her ad in Barbie Bazaar, and when she learned I used to do what she'd been doing, asked me if I'd like to take over Aileen's Petite Fashions. Although we had both been designing and sewing in Texas during the same time period (early '70s), we had not known each other before. For more of Aileen's story and photos click here.

In September 1999, after fifteen years in research (and after completing a massive project), I was totally exhausted and decided to quit and concentrate on dolls. In early 2000, in the midst of preparations to launch my new publication, The Fashion Plate for dolls, I fell on the ice and broke my wrist, delaying the start date. I was also working part-time at Wal-Mart and struggled to keep everything going. I have a friend who is a commercial artist who drafted some of my first new pattern designs, which was a tremendous help. It just seemed though that I couldn't get back on top of things, and was continually running behind. Then in the fall of 2001, we were in a serious car accident from which I am still recovering. After finally getting out the last double issue, I decided to temporarily suspend publication to focus on recovery, regaining my strength and endurance, and getting back on track

In the meantime, I still carry patterns and back issues of my newsletters while I get caught up and work on some additional things.

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