Thursday, June 9, 2011

Vinyl Variations... a Dyeing Need

To fling my arms wide

In some place of the sun,

To whirl and to dance

Till the white day is done.

Then rest at cool evening

Beneath a tall tree

While night comes on gently,

Dark like me--

That is my dream!

("Dream Variations" by Langston Hughes, first stanza)

Jennifer by White Balloon (dyed)

Before entering my collection, Jennifer, by White Balloon (a Helen Kish sculpt), was originally a white doll.  Found deeply discounted, the doll was purchased-to-dye-brown.  This was accomplished several years ago when I was very eager to test the technique of using Rit dye to deepen the color of vinyl dolls in the absence of a desired black counterpart.  After reading "How Can I Make One?" by Julie Neises in the September/October 1996 issue of Barbie Bazaar," I tested the waters and dyed several dolls. 
Jennifer's doll line did not include a dark-skinned doll.  I wanted one and chose Jen because of her other dark features:  brown eyes and brunette hair.  My use of dye to deepen her complexion completed the look I desired for her. 

1960s Thumbelina and Chatty Cathy (dyed/painted)
During the years of my dyeing enthusiasm, certain white dolls from the past that were available in black, but are now too costly to acquire, were prime specimens.  Because of their rarity, elusiveness, and secondary market value that exceeded amounts I desired to pay, I opted to make black ones.  Examples of these are Ideal's 1960s Thumbelina and Mattel's Chatty Cathy.  During the time I desired the original black versions, these dolls could easily sell for $1200 up.  White ones, dyed black, served my purpose.  A few years after dyeing this pair, I was able to find an original black Chatty Cathy for a price I was willing to pay.  An original black Thumbelina has yet to surface.

1950s Darling Debbie (dyed)
Darling Debbie by Deluxe, a 1950s 27-inch, stuffed vinyl fashion doll, shown above, is now black.  These dolls, plentiful in white, were usually found in grocery stores wearing lacy pastel-colored cotillion gowns.  Black versions were made, but not necessary named Darling Debbie (at least I have not been able to document this.) African American Cinderella, Betty the Bride, and Sweet Rosemary,  use the same mold as the dyed doll that I named Darling Debbie.

1960s Penny Brite (dyed/painted)
A Penny Brite doll by Deluxe Reading Corporation was one of my favorite childhood companions.  I loved posing her bendy arms and legs.  A black version was never made.  As an adult collector, I made one.

To fling my arms wide

In the face of the sun,

Dance! Whirl! Whirl!

Till the quick day is done.

Rest at pale evening...

A tall, slim tree...

Night coming tenderly

Black like me.

(Second stanza of Hughes' poem, "Dream Variations")

For me, the practice of dyeing or otherwise colorizing a doll black... or brown like me, ended several years ago. I will probably never dye another doll brown.  Doing so extends the message to doll makers, who do not incorporate dark-skinned dolls into their doll lines, that black dolls are not needed or desired.  This is about as true as the overused excuse (for not making them) that black dolls don't sell. 
They are needed.  When properly made with aesthetic appeal, they do sell. 



  1. Terry Crawford-MCDCJune 9, 2011 at 5:06 PM

    Absolutely Deb!!

    I've wanted a BJD for ages but it's like the 1950s in this catagory!!

    Purchasers have taken to dyeing the dolls but manufacturers still haven't really gotten the point.

    What we need is to organize and present a untied front and give a voice true the tens of thousands of black doll collectors!!

  2. Interesting post, DBG! I admire how you found a solution to your problem. Trying to think if I have that issue of Barbie Bazaar.

    But yes, Black dolls are important.

  3. I like the way you used Langston Hughes' poem to make your point.

  4. Hi Terry - I hope you're able to find a dark skinned BJD. I only have one in my collection and until someone other than Paulette Goodreau makes another within my price range, Cocoa (Mirror) will remain my lone BJD.

    The best way to effect change is to direct support to companies who do make black dolls. I will not settle for anything other than what I truly desire. Doing without works well... saves money.

    D7ana - Yes, black dolls are important. I still have my issue of Barbie Bazaar and would be happy to scan the article for you. Hey, maybe I should eBay it (a copy of the article, not the entire issue).

    Limbe Dolls - Thanks. I found the Hughes poem appropriate to use after the blog took on a life of its own. Initially, the book, Black Like Me, was the influence for this blog about white dolls that are now "passing for black."


  5. Can you tell me how you dyed the chatty cathy.I am wanting one and can not afford her. WHen I tried my doll did not take any color

    1. My doll was a soft-face version. I used Rit dye for the face and had to paint the body. Rit clothing dye will not work on hard plastic surfaces, but if the vinyl is soft; it will.

      There is a dye that is supposed to work for hard plastic. I have not tried it but I do have some dolls lined up to try the iDye poly dye on. Stay tuned, I should have this done within the next few weeks. Note that, I have only read that it works on hard plastic. I plan to try it on a very inexpensive doll first to "test the waters." The only thing about the iPoly dye that I do know is that colors are very limited, unlike Rit clothing dye. I will be using brown (naturally).


  6. I tried to get an African American Effner Darling and was told they didn't make black dolls. That was it for me, I have never purchased or felt a need for little darlings or any other effner dolls. I was offended that in the year 2017 there was a doll company that chose to not make black dolls, in my opinion that sends the message that you don't want me buying your brand, anything you touch or anything or one you endorse. So I buy from companies that have African American dolls in their line.

    1. Someone else shared with me that someone affiliated with Effner told her they don't make black dolls. Many artists have used the poor and overused excuse that it's difficult to get the color right on black dolls. To that I say, excuses only benefit those who make them. While they reserve the right to exclude black dolls from their lines, I reserve the right to take my doll dollars elsewhere.



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