The Anatomy of a Competition – Part One

Let's rock...

Let’s rock…

I have always loved competitions. Whether you choose to participate or not, the dazzling array of creativity rarely disappoints. And yes, we all love to win, but there can only be a handful of ‘winners’ as one is never really certain just what specific elements on which the judges have placed their critical eyes. It’s usually a parade of the extravagant, involving such varying techniques that preclude most entries from anything a manufacturer would ever consider for the factory.

Your mission...should you accept it...

Your mission…should you accept it…

In my years amongst the doll world glitterati, I have seen some competitions to dazzle and blind your eye. This was clearly the case with Integrity Toys’ Competition – they embraced the concept to include one lucky (and talented) collector into their Design Team. Those of us that enter such competitions do so for the glory, mostly – because prizes are usually simple ribbons or a trophy here or there – but hardly will you ever see a truly significant prize like cash or a brand new car – perchance to dream, I suppose.That’s realistic, but a shame really – imagine the turnout if the prizes were of immense proportions!

First drape...

First drape…

Integrity Toys keeps their competition to a minimum, and they don’t mire it with various categories usually reserved for an older company (such as pristine vintage examples of past dolls), but they do offer one hell of a prize: to see your doll manufactured as a part of their collection. This not only brings validity to the designer, it also serves as one major ego trip – telling all the other designers and peers that you are worthy of the honor. Many independent designers have used such competitions as a platform to launch and build a brand. But having your design produced by a leading manufacturer? Priceless

Adjusting the seam positions...

Adjusting the seam positions…

This type of reward is not new. Other companies have manufactured dolls under the guise of a competition, some with complete disclosure, and some – well, not so much. Tonner for example, avoids them because they are largely a design-driven business that is directly tied to the brand of its lead designer – in this case, Robert Tonner. But even they have partnered with organizations like UFDC to offer manufacture of a design as a prize. Some might think this would be a no-brainer to have as a regular theme – but in the end, if a design is not created under the watchful eye of Tonner, himself – it is not a ‘Tonner’ doll. It makes sense, if you really think about it – though many bruised designer egos eager to work for Tonner have bastardized the truth and reality of the situation to make it seem unfair. It’s his company – he can do what he wants.

Evolution of the toile...

Evolution of the toile…

I have entered many competitions, and I’ve almost (read – almost) earned a prize in most of my contributions. I love the challenge, and I love the positive attention people give when they like your work. I have been target of significant criticism when I competed dolls during my Tonner years, largely because stupid fools thought I was a designer for Tonner (I was not). Others felt I received special attention because of my professional connection, but I can assure you – permissions were always requested and granted. I took precautions to keep my designs to myself as anonymous judging was usually the forum – and if they didn’t know it was mine, then my work would be judged fairly with others. Well…not all the time…but that wasn’t my fault.

Yes, that will do nicely...

Yes, that will do nicely…

Shug Avery tells Miss Celie in The Color Purple, “’I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” Miss Shug is not referring to vanity – but to the human need to feel affirmation, recognition, and love. Artists suffer trying to capture the attention needed to assure them they are doing good work – and those that profess to not need anyone’s approval is a liar.

First cut...note the lack of seaming in the lower front center...

First cut…note the lack of seaming in the lower front center…

There were times that I entered competitions asking specifically that the doll not be judged because the judges were on the Tonner staff – which would be a clear conflict of interest. Participation in these contests is critical to their success – if you have a weak showing, then the following year’s gathering may yield equally disappointing results. So I wanted to show my work as a collector, and enthusiast – rather than an employee of doll maker – to encourage participation, and to show off my work (I am an attention whore, after all – right?).

Well, shit.

Well, shit.

That is, until one of my dolls in such a competition earned a blue ribbon – and the plastic doll shit hit the miniature fan. It was only a minor controversy, as most people really didn’t care – you see, ribbons can be awarded in multiples – for each deserving entry, there can be more than one blue (1st), red (2nd) or white (3rd) ribbons – so it doesn’t unfairly remove anyone else from the winning sequence. There are times when no blue ribbon is awarded at all – but only red and white, should the judges feel that none truly stood the test of being blue ribbon honorees. So who really cares if I won a blue ribbon while judged anonymously by Tonner employees? Not many, though there were some grumbles…eh, whatever. It was just a cheap poly satin ribbon, for crying out loud.

Let's try this again...

Let’s try this again…

So it was with great enthusiasm that I, no longer a doll maker employee, could enter a competition with that same old flair and gusto that I had years ago – and this time, as one of the masses. If you’ve never entered a doll design competition, then it is probably difficult at best to describe the thoughts that go through your head before, during and after conception, execution, and judgment. But I’ll do my best to give you a sampling of the process…

And again...

And again…

The mission was to create two designs, both focusing on early 1960s fashions. I did my research, and not being a big fan of the 60s, I found myself truly challenged. The first inspiration came from an image of a simple day dress – one I could glam up. I already had fabrics in mind, but the pattern drafting would hit me in one of my weaker skill sets – so it was off to the muslin bin I ran.

That's a good boy...

That’s a good boy…

The curved seaming was easy enough to pin and mark – but sewing it presented its own complications. Pinning, basting and keeping opposing curves clean spawned many an expletive in my household, prompting my mother to turn off her hearing aid. But after getting the primary seam layout correct, I was able to refine the lines to make it more like my inspiration. After 5 toiles, I was ready to cut the good stuff.

Match those seams...

Match those seams…

Matching the seams proved to be daunting at best. But I figured it out, and I marveled at how the sample was coming together – almost perfectly. Too good to be true, right? You have no idea…

Taking the curve at full speed...

Taking the curve at full speed…

The other complication was that it was difficult to assess the fit because of how the neck and arm seams had to be sewn well before the side seams – pinning just didn’t show what I needed, so I proceeded to finish the gown, including all the hand-applied stitches for lining and zipper. It slid on the doll beautifully, but it wouldn’t zip fully up the back – and not even to a point where I could ‘modify’ the design to accommodate the error.

Stitch down the lining...

Stitch down the lining…

I paced, and paced…I stared at it a lot. I bitched about it ambiguously on Facebook – but in the end, there was no way to salvage it – I had to make it again. This second try, I decided to incorporate darts to make the lower portion fit closer to the body. I was concerned about over-seaming, as the original apparently had few – and simplicity of construction and fit are things exemplified in 1960s fashion design.

Finish the hem...

Finish the hem…

The darts were a disaster – not because they shouldn’t be there – but because they weren’t properly drafted into the pattern. And you know what that means…back to the damn muslin once more. While beating myself over my dyslexic right-dominated brain, a friend pointed out to me that the dress I had chosen as my inspiration was a knit – and that’s why there were no seams in the lower front. Well…that explains it – and if my woven brocade was going to work, I had to seam it carefully to not add bulk.

Toile for the opera coat...

Toile for the opera coat…

There’s a certain satisfaction when you close that last hand-stitch – when you slide the gown on the body, and it fits perfectly. You see all the seams flat, pressed and perfect. And even with its obligatory droplet of blood somewhere inside the lining, I was elated with this beauty.

Tommy SMASH (tiny little glass beads)...

Tommy SMASH (tiny little glass beads)…

Now an interesting thing happened on the way to the sewing forum, so to speak. Somewhere in that collision of poor drafting, and trying to fix a poor fit – I saw the inspiration for the second entry, which I will discuss in a separate post. In fact, drafting one pattern beget the second, so moving into the new design left more time for beadwork and embellishment. The second design wasn’t to be reproduced if it won, so I could whore it up just about as much as I wanted.

Overlay onto silk brocade...

Overlay onto silk brocade…

I’m still not sure how the ‘advanced’ and ‘intermediate’ categories worked. I have seen other competitions have ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ categories, which seem more definitive. Basically, if you have sold your work, you’re a professional. It all makes perfect sense as it gives novices a chance to compete fairly. I read ‘advanced’ as meaning the prize was more substantive, so I enter one into intermediate, too – if I was wrong on this, someone please let me know.

Install lining...

Install lining…

Many years ago, Mattel had a Barbie Design Competition that I entered with lovely sketches and concepts of Barbie as famous opera characters – something that has eluded Barbie’s vast experiences, in my own humble opinion (take a hint, Mattel – you can even claim the idea as your own). Weeks later the sketches were returned with a polite ‘thank you for entering’ letter – and a copy of the original competition rules – and it was then that I saw, for the first time, it was a competition for children. Man, did I feel like a stupid fuck.

Turn the lining - you have a wad of couture...

Turn the lining – you have a wad of couture…

So in reading through competitive guidelines, it’s critical that you understand exactly the target person of which the competition is intended – trust me.

Press VERY carefully...

Press VERY carefully…

The opera coat had little complications in terms of fit or pattern drafting. However, the beaded tulle fabric being used had to be prepped before sewing. This mean crushing all beads in the seam allowance to allow for machine sewing – and fray checking all the loose threads so new beads wouldn’t pull off. Then after the lining is closed, any holes that exist in the bead work along the seam lines had to be repaired.

Repair the gaps in beadwork from smashing...press again...

Repair the gaps in beadwork from smashing…press again…

I knew the opera coat couldn’t be reproduced as is – and I think that may have detracted from my entry. I was hoping (more like rationalizing) they might interpret it in another fabric, or remove it entirely in favor of the gown. But there is also an understanding of the character chosen for this that may have also sent judges into different choices. You see, as I said here, those that won, and many that could have won, displayed not only a design and styling combination that was consistent with Integrity Toys’ product lines – but they also understood the characters wearing their designs, making for a complete package.

Bead the handbag - girl's got to put her lipstick and condoms somewhere...

Bead the handbag – girl’s got to put her lipstick and condoms somewhere…

Poppy Parker is a fashion ‘teen’ – her wardrobe pretty much captures that essence in a 60s era of mature and sophisticated dressing for an affluent young lady. I don’t really see her going to the opera, though (I don’t know what my hang-up is on operas!) – but, I naively hoped that my design could be interpreted to fit any other character personality or size. Oh well…it’s always an education, these competitions – and you can’t beat the energizing creativity they inspire.

Those AMAZING gloves...le sigh...

Those AMAZING gloves…le sigh

Some credit where it’s due – the individually-fingered gloves were made by the unbelievable Tony Iacono (of Maggie-Made fame) – Ayal and I were looking for gloves with individual digits, and Ayal settled on his 4-fingered glove so they could also be used with some Tonner sculpts. But these little babies were just amazing (if not tedious) in their construction – so thank you, my dear Tony!!!

Close the lining...

Close the lining…

The opera glasses came from Facets by Marcia, who knows how to accessorize a doll with a touch of class. She has great little things over at her site…so make sure you drop some cash for your dolls there during the holidays – they will thank you for it!

Sit back with some fine scotch and reflect...

Sit back with some fine scotch and reflect…

The shoes were made by Integrity – and I made the handbag and jewelry – so what you see is an orchestra of doll-loving creativity showered all over your unsuspecting senses. It’s the best way to play with dolls…no? Ay, there’s the rub

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Cirque – One-of-a-kind Opera Coat by Tom Courtney – to fit 16inch Poppy Parker by Integrity Toys

Cirque - One-of-a-kind Gown and Opera Coat by Tom Courtney - to fit 16inch Poppy Parker by Integrity Toys

Cirque – One-of-a-kind Gown and Opera Coat by Tom Courtney – to fit 16inch Poppy Parker by Integrity Toys

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Cirque – One-of-a-kind Gown and Opera Coat by Tom Courtney – to fit 16inch Poppy Parker by Integrity Toys

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Cirque – One-of-a-kind Gown and Opera Coat by Tom Courtney – to fit 16inch Poppy Parker by Integrity Toys

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Cirque – One-of-a-kind Gown by Tom Courtney – to fit 16inch Poppy Parker by Integrity Toys

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Cirque – One-of-a-kind Gown by Tom Courtney – to fit 16inch Poppy Parker by Integrity Toys

Congratulations to the Winners, and all the contestants for an amazing design parade – I’ll see YOU next year with a smaller doll!

5 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Competition – Part One

  1. That ensemble is exquisite…. and I remember many of your facebook posts about dolls’ fat asses not fitting in dresses, LOL. I totally enjoy watching each piece of TommyDoll Couture being constructed and shared online. You also
    make some excellent points here. It does feel great to win ribbons. It’s validation of your hard work and creative energy. The 4 entries I ever did for Tonner conventions nabbed me 2 blue and 2 red ribbons. I framed them. Silly me 🙂

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