March 2015

Monthly Message from Lee & Pearl

Changes are afoot at Lee & Pearl. We're working on a new website, a new shopping interface and new ways to find all your favorite Lee & Pearl products and information. Keep an eye on your email inbox for upcoming details!

In the meantime, we've got lots to discuss in this Newsletter:

Toy Fair 2015 Report

Four years ago two sisters went to Toy Fair in New York City for the very first time. Lee & Pearl wasn’t even Lee & Pearl yet “Lee” owned a tiny gift store and was thinking about expanding into toys. “Pearl” was working as a writer and costume designer and flew in from Los Angeles because... well, it was Toy Fair, something we'd wanted to visit since we were children.

We saw and liked lots of toys, but without any doubt the most beautiful, well designed, and all around memorable product we saw that year were the brand new A Girl for All Time® dolls produced and presented by Frances Cain. We loved the dolls themselves, the authentic detail of their costumes and the depth of their stories. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we are both huge British history fans.

Fast forward four years, and the high point of Lee’s trip to Toy Fair 2015 was, without a doubt, getting to chat with Frances Cain again. Frances is smart, savvy, and one of the best designers working in the industry. Lee got a sneak peak at the next doll (you're going to love her) and spent a wonderful evening talking dolls and toys. If you care about the history and detail that Pleasant Rowland invested in the original American Girl® Historical Dolls, you will love A Girl for all Time®.

On the Floor

This year Lee went to Toy Fair without Pearl, which is a lot less fun, though our brother Dan came along. (Dan is working on a line of technical educational toys.) Toy Fair 2015 was the biggest ever with more vendors and more floor space to cover. It was three days at a dead run, but we saw it all! Though we'd love to show you pictures of EVERYTHING we saw, many booths had no-photo policies due to the large number of pre-release products. We will certainly share as many photos as we were able to take.

Not Just Big, But Confident

After years of weak and falling numbers, toy sales were strong in 2014, up 4% from 2013. The stronger sales were reflected on the show floor with a sense of optimism and lots of pretty new toys. We were happy to see fewer panicked tie-ins with Facebook games and YouTube sensations, and fewer gimmicks in general.

18" Dolls — Closing the Gap?

The 18" doll category has matured over the past four years, with many manufacturers bringing creative, well designed dolls and products to the show. This year, I think we are finally seeing some closing of the gap between AG and the rest of the market.

Renowned doll-makers Tonner® showed their beautiful new 18" play doll, the My Imagination doll. Unfortunately, we were unable to take pictures at their booth, but if you click on this link, Tonner has a sneak peak of the dolls on their website.

The Adora Friends dolls offered plenty of realistic designs that should appeal to girls who have outgrown the pink and sparkle age. We got a picture of the Adora booth, but it was so crowded all day a good sign for 18" dolls that we weren't able to get closer before we had to move on.

I also liked the styles offered by Madame Alexander for their 18" play dolls, though the construction quality we are used to in their collector line can be lacking. I do have to admit that the limited edition Elsa doll decorated with hundreds of Swarovski crystals was a show stopper.

Go Camping With Your Dolls

I was especially impressed by some of the new accessories offered for 18" dolls by Sophia’s® and The Queen’s Treasures™. Each company showed products I think consumers might pick over the American Girl® versions for reasons other than price.

I love to camp, and I think camping sets are great for dolls. A tent takes up less room than a doll house, and opens up opportunities for all sorts of 18” adventures. But I'm not a fan of the current AG camping set. This year, I am thrilled that two manufacturers are bringing better camping gear to the market.

A year ago, in 2014, Sophia’s® showed a prototype of a miniature Coleman™ cooler that was the cutest thing in their booth. This year they have a whole Coleman™ camping collection and it’s wonderful. This is a big step for Sophia's®, which has shown quality products before, but with color and design elements clearly pitched at very young girls. The realistic Coleman™ branded camping gear should appeal to doll lovers of every age. This is what I mean when I say that American Girl’s competitors are closing the gap: these pieces are cute, realistic and well priced. The Coleman™ tent is structured like a modern tent. The iconic stove and lantern don’t have heart cut-outs: they are miniatures of the real thing. As a doll-lover and as a camping-lover, I want them!

My absolute favorite collection at Toy Fair was The Queen’s Treasures™ Adventure series of vintage-inspired camping gear. I loved the vintage style and realistically colored canvas tent. With these accessories, any doll from Caroline™ to Molly™ can hit the road. Recently, The Queen’s Treasures™ has merged with Laurent Doll and we look forward to seeing more wonderful products from the combined company!

Outlook for the Future

What do these improvements mean for our beloved 18" dolls? The category presents interesting challenges for competing manufacturers, and for the toy retailers who sell the dolls and their accessories.

Here at Lee & Pearl, we still love so much of the American Girl® line. We're just crazy about new Girl of the Year® Grace™ and her collection, for instance. But we are concerned that the redesign of the flagship historical dolls into the new BeForever™ line was a step back in terms of quality and historical accuracy. There are standout pieces among the new items, but overall, we fear that the redesign shifted the focus away from what made the original dolls special.

Pleasant Rowland essentially invented the modern 18" play doll. But her creation was never just a doll. The innovation that made her dolls special wasn't just their beauty and quality. It wasn't even the books and stories that came with the dolls. It was that the dolls and their stories sprang from and brought along with them an all-encompassing world of history and events and strange objects and unique garments and unfamiliar ways and all the glorious, secret knowledge that allowed slightly older girls to continue to play, while stretching their minds and their imaginations.

That is still what sets American Girl® dolls apart.

The new products at Toy Fair, however beautiful, can’t come embedded in the same depth of narrative. It isn’t the fault of the other manufacturers, who generally name their dolls and in some cases provide books and back story. But these other dolls are destined to be sold on generic store shelves, or floating in the white space of an Amazon sales page, not offered on the manufacturer’s carefully curated website or in a store that is a dedicated, destination shopping experience. Mattel controls the entire AG doll experience, from design through retail sale. They can sell a doll's whole world in a way that most other manufacturers and retailers can only dream of.

As Mattel steps back from this — if even slightly — will some of the other companies step forward to create worlds of equal depth and detail for their dolls? Frances Cain has, for the A Girl for All Time™ dolls, and we applaud her for it. But there is also an opportunity for doll buyers. We can take control, we can create our own worlds. There is so much information available today on line information on any culture, age or fashion throughout history and throughout the world. Do you want your doll to live in Harlem in the Jazz Age, or maybe Ohio in 1803, or Paris in 1420?

With so much available to us, let us go boldly forth, creating our own worlds for our dolls!

Lee & Pearl Pattern #3001: A Late Medieval Lady's Wardrobe for 18" Dolls

Look Who's Making — Lee & Pearl Pattern #1041: Slim Skirts for 18" Dolls

Since releasing our latest pattern, Lee & Pearl #1041: Slim Skirts for 18" Dolls, we've had so much fun looking at the versions our friends have made!

Jozel W. made these Spring colored, Paris-themed versions of all three skirts: the DENIM SKIRT, the PENCIL SKIRT, and the PENCIL SKIRT WITH ASYMMETRIC FRONT PANEL (on the left).

Made with Lee & Pearl Pattern #1041: Slim Skirts — Denim and Pencil Skirts for 18" Dolls

Here's one of our favorite versions of the DENIM SKIRT: just look at that beautiful top stitching. Would you believe that the sewist behind this excellent work is "only" twelve years old? We are hoping she tries more of our patterns and sends us more pictures, soon!

Made with Lee & Pearl Pattern #1041: Slim Skirts — Denim and Pencil Skirts for 18" Dolls

Rachel from NatureFairy wrote a blog entry about her experience as a tester on our Slim Skirts pattern. We love the quality stitching on her camo PENCIL SKIRT and traditional DENIM SKIRT — and we also love the trendy styling she's given her dolls.

Made with Lee & Pearl Pattern #1041: Slim Skirts — Denim and Pencil Skirts for 18" Dolls

Lisa G at MommaMIA made her DENIM SKIRT in a neat, preppy white canvas — tied with a trim belt that looks like a doll-scale version of a nautical rope belt. Then she made the short version of the PENCIL SKIRT in a sleek faux leather. Great fabric choices, Lisa!

Made with Lee & Pearl Pattern #1041: Slim Skirts — Denim and Pencil Skirts for 18" Dolls

Made with Lee & Pearl Pattern #1041: Slim Skirts — Denim and Pencil Skirts for 18" Dolls

Susan W at suezeeqblue showed off the versatility of our easy PENCIL SKIRT with this cowgirl version...

Made with Lee & Pearl Pattern #1041: Slim Skirts — Denim and Pencil Skirts for 18" Dolls

... while Misty L of KatesDollBoutique turned our PENCIL SKIRT WITH ASYMMETRIC FRONT PANEL into a wardrobe essential in tan twill...

Made with Lee & Pearl Pattern #1041: Slim Skirts — Denim and Pencil Skirts for 18" Dolls

... and Pam M went red hot with a vivid version of our DENIM SKIRT. How's that for a walking-away look?!

Made with Lee & Pearl Pattern #1041: Slim Skirts — Denim and Pencil Skirts for 18" Dolls

Lee & Pearl Pattern #1041: Slim Skirts for 18" Dolls, containing patterns and detailed, photo-illustrated directions to make the DENIM SKIRT, PENCIL SKIRT and PENCIL SKIRT WITH ASYMMETRIC FRONT PANEL, is available in our Etsy store. CLICK HERE to get your own Slim Skirts pattern and start sewing!

FREE Printable Craft: Easy Woven Easter Baskets for 18" Dolls

It's Easter morning and the baskets wait on the breakfast table — pink and blue and yellow, filled with candy eggs and flowers and a big, beautiful chocolate bunny!

Lee & Pearl FREE Printable Craft: Easter Baskets for 18" Dolls

Now even 18" girls and boys can celebrate Easter morning with these easy-to-make, cuter-than-cute doll sized baskets.

Lee & Pearl FREE Printable Craft: Easter Baskets for 18" Dolls

When craft-meister "Lee" wound up with a pile of leftover, brightly colored 1/8" ribbon from a different project, she realized those ribbons make perfect doll-scale versions of the brightly colored weavers in children's Easter baskets.

An experienced human-scale basket weaver, Lee set to work, turning a complicated process into an ultra easy, doll-scale printable craft. Lee simplified the construction process even further by using narrow, double-sided craft tape instead of glue. But don't worry if you don't have 1/8" double-sided tape — you can still use glue. In fact, glue soaks into the paper and stiffens it, creating a stronger basket. If you want to use glue, we recommend Aleene's Super Tacky or Fast Grab. But we really recommend trying the double-sided tape: you won't believe how quick, easy and mess-free this project can be with a roll of 1/8" double-sided tape in hand!

Lee & Pearl FREE Printable Craft: Easter Baskets for 18" Dolls

In our last newsletter we discussed doll scale — including the reasons why accessories made for the 18" dolls are often underscaled. These baskets are also slightly underscaled. They are only 2 1/2" in diameter, which at 3/10ths scale (the actual scale of the doll bodies) makes a basket 8" in diameter — toward the smaller end of real-world Easter baskets.

This slightly smaller scale matches the scale of American Girl doll table tops and dishes. It was complete serendipity when we realized after finishing the design, that at this scale we could print two baskets to a page! And with the easy adjustment we've included in the directions, you can make those two baskets in slightly different heights, for a realistic Easter morning display.

Lee & Pearl FREE Printable Craft: Easter Baskets for 18" Dolls

Once you've made the baskets, the real fun begins: decorating and filling them! We found an array of items at the craft store that are perfect for doll-scale Easter celebrations: paper and ribbon flowers, lace, bows, scrapbooking accessories and stickers, real chocolate eggs and bunnies — or painted, flocked and glittered faux versions. Though cello ribbon basket "straw" is widely available at this time of year, we found it too large scaled and instead used wood excelsior (a/k/a wood wool) and dried moss, both of which are easy-to-find in the floral section of your craft store.

Lee & Pearl FREE Printable Craft: Easter Baskets for 18" Dolls

Click HERE to download the FREE Easy Woven Easter Basket Printable Craft PDF.

Note: Our download management system will ask for your email address. If you're already on our mailing list, use the same address that you signed up with. If you aren't already on our mailing list, the system will send a confirmation email to the address you enter. If you want to join us here at Lee & Pearl (and receive our annual FREE pattern for mailing list subscribers) respond to that confirmation email and we'll get you started!

back to the Newsletter Archive