Drusilla, my great-grandmother's doll, lives in a glass house all by herself. Her head is china and her body is made of black cotton stockings stuffed with rags. My great-great-grandmother wanted a doll for her small daughter, but there weren't any at the corner trading post. So she sent to New York for the china head and made the body. It's wasp-waisted and big-hipped like the fashionable figure of the day. Her arms are white muslin stuffed with cotton.
All these years, Drusilla has worn a barred voile dress with an Empire waist in kind of a faded or dove gray. Last year, I decided to have her dressed in a fashion befitting a lady of her venerability. Luckily I heard about a woman named Jewel Bennett who dresses dolls.
Jewel did such a museum-quality job that I had to have the glass case made to keep Drusilla's finery protected. She is wearing a slipper satin dress made from a ball gown of mine, a petticoat trimmed with lace, pantaloons and the crowning touch, a corset with a lace edge laced up with pink ribbons. Really, if it weren't too bawdy for Drusilla, I'd let her stand around in her corset and drawers, they are that pretty.
I heard from Jewel the other day. At the age of 80, she is having her first doll show. She will have a booth showing her dolls at the El Segundo Home Tour Fair on Saturday. It will be at Library Park at Main and Mariposa. There will be craft displays, a cooking sale, a bake-off and children's activities.
Jewel is as excited as if she were off to the prom. She's as young as a new morning when she talks about her dolls. She has dressed hundreds of dolls for children in hospitals and juvenile facilities. Jewel and her husband, Ivan, had six children. When the eldest was 16 and the baby 3, Ivan had a stroke and was partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Jewel learned to weave, bought a loom and sewed stoles. She worked on the midnight shift in a factory to support her family.
When she talks, you have the feeling that she is fizzing with happiness. Her delight in life is contagious. It is impossible to be around Jewel and not think that you are blessed to be part of life.
She lives in a small second-floor apartment full of dolls, cradles, swatches and doll patterns. When she dresses a period doll, she researches the costume of the era and puts the doll in the accurate costume. Every stitch is by hand, stitches so fine they are hardly visible. The yokes of the dresses are interlined and all of the dolls have underwear. Each one is a piece of artistic stitchery.
Jewel was so concerned about poor old Drusilla's stubby arms, she made a pair of silk gloves, stuffed the fingers and gave Drusilla hands. Quite an advance for a doll that has spent about 100 years in a gray dress in the corner. She also now wears white kid buttoned boots and silk stockings.
Jewel makes cradles and bassinets, weaves them and paints them, in sizes to fit a dollhouse or big ones, 26 by 15 inches. Her baby dolls are beautiful, as are the layettes. She makes christening robes, playsuits, frilly dresses, rompers, sweaters, everything. She takes no shortcuts. Each item is beautifully made.
She also makes teddy bears of her own design, sewing each bear together. Some have calico dresses and some have eyelet-trimmed batiste. Boy bears wear coveralls in all kinds of bright colors and romper suits.
"I make each one from scratch and each one has a different look, his own expression," Jewel said.
Two of the bears I covet are dressed as Indians. The squaw has beading on her tunic and the chief wears a beaded headband with a brave feather on the back.
The bears and the dolls are delightful. It's trying to decide which one to buy that's the problem.
She has imagination and integrity and she brings it to her dolls. She has ice skaters, grand ladies in ball gowns, Indian teddy bears and babies. She makes black, white and Asian dolls.
My great-grandmother's doll, Drusilla, is now so elegant her case takes up a whole corner of my bedroom. She wears a green satin bonnet edged in mink.
If you're near Library Park in El Segundo on Saturday, go see Jewel Bennett and her dolls and teddies. The clothes fit the teddy bears and Cabbage Patch dolls. Look for the Indians.