Tuesday, 16 October 2012

We're sold on...the Clothkits doll

Despite appearances, this isn’t a 1980s advertisement for British Gas. It's a photo of my brother and I proudly showing off some of our 1980 Christmas hoard. And very nicely we did that year too.

Do you recognise the doll stuffed under my left arm? Her name is Mary and she is a Clothkits doll.

Just in case you don’t remember, Clothkits was a home-sewing-made-easy business that became absurdly popular in the seventies and eighties. It was based around the truly innovative idea of printing clothing patterns directly onto cheery, folksy patterned fabrics. Thanks to Clothkits, young mothers, like my own, somewhat shorter on sewing skills, free time and patience than their own mothers, had the satisfaction of filling their homes with homemade clothes, toys and tea cosies.

Mary was one of the original Clothkits ‘Kitty’ rag dolls. There was no Chinese plastic moulding factory for Mary. She started her life as a pre-printed pattern on a large sheet of cotton, her stuffing being sold as an optional extra. My mother would have cut along the dotted lines and followed the simple instructions to sew Mary together using the needles, thread and stuffing provided. She then made Mary’s vast array of Clothkits outfits, along with a few extra pieces she (amazingly) knitted herself and bundled it all together for my fifth Christmas present.

One of Mary's best assets was her impressive wardrobe, much of which is still intact. For bedtime, she has her cute (printed) vest and knickers, a pretty floral nightie with matching bedding and a rather more exotic kimono for the weekends.


Her daytime outfits (as you would expect from a Clothkits doll), are folksy, timeless and slightly hippie. My daughter loves dressing Mary in a printed cotton brown and blue long-sleeved number that she calls her ‘Russia’ dress (where that particular cultural reference came from I don’t know).

Personally, my favourite has always been Mary’s burgundy needlecord pinafore with a small patch pocket. It is near identical to one I wore as a child – Clothkits had the inspired idea of including doll-sized versions with their patterns for children's dresses. Mary usually wears the pinafore over her classic white blouse which has a peter pan collar and gathered cuffs.  Like her underwear, Mary likes to keep her red sandals and her rather smart watch on at all times.

Mary has received a whole lot of love over the years. I was rarely separated from her as a child and spent hours mixing and matching her outfits.  More than thirty years later, here she is again, in much coveted pride of place in my four-year-old’s bed. Mary has spent almost every night there for the last two years.

And it’s not just our house that showers Mary with love and affection. The wonderful thing about Mary is that she frequently gets recognised when we’re out and about. Sometimes by other daughters of the seventies, but even more often by new grandmothers of my mother's generation. They come over to hold Mary and share their genuine delight at being suddenly reminded of lovingly sewing a ‘Kitty’ doll themselves.

Poor Mary is starting to show signs of all this love but, for such an old girl, she’s not looking too bad. In this post-Toy Story era, I am genuinely relieved that Mary was one of only two or three childhood toys I instructed my parents to store in the loft, just in case she was needed again. 

And so, the Clothkits doll, made by one generation and loved by (at least) two more, is firmly on the ‘Grubbies loves…’ list.

Oh, did I mention, Mary came with a fabulous pair of dungarees?

After 17 sad years of hibernation, Clothkits was wonderfully resurrected in 2008 and the ‘Kitty’ doll kits are selling once again. Kay Mawer, who brought the brand back to life has also orchestrated some fabulous collaborations with designers such as Rob Ryan and Jane Foster. We particularly love that all of the Clothkits ‘kits’ are designed and printed in Great Britain. www.clothkits.co.uk/clothkits-original-cloth-kitty-doll-pink-blue-p-180.html

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