Sewing Up a Fairy tale

by | Apr 1, 2013 | Features

Once up a time, sewing ranked with cooking as a domestic chore to be mastered. Sewing skills were so important that young women spent years stitching items to fill a hope chest. Well-made quilts were akin to a dowry and many a match was sewn together as much by needle and thread as by looks and personality.
But, that was then and this is now. Ready-made clothing and machine made linens have replaced hand-made goods and skill. The thread and needle are outdated.
Fortunately, there are still people in the River Valley who embrace the fine art of sewing. People like Paula McGee who owns Thread, a unique alteration/sewing studio in Russellville, which opened in September 2011.
Paula’s expertise shows in her booming alterations business. But, Thread is more than just tailoring and fabrics. Paula has been creating exquisite, one-of-a kind cloth dolls of her own design since 1998. That year she started a home based business selling her whimsical hand- made dolls, doll making patterns, and teaching classes or giving seminars from her website.
Paula has been sewing for a while now.
“As far back as I can remember, I’ve been playing with fabric and making things,” said Paula. “I come from a family of seamstresses and crafters. Sewing was a normal, everyday thing. If you needed something new or nice, you didn’t go to the store to buy it, you made it. We lived way out in the boonies (north of Ozark) so it was a big trek to go into town. I’m thankful for learning to sew at such an early age because no one does it anymore.”
Despite Paula’s obvious talent, she said she never thought about doing alterations as a business until 2008 when she went to work at So Sassy, a fabric and alteration’s business in downtown Russellville.
“The owner, who retired in 2011, told me that alterations could be a viable business,” said Paula with a big smile. “So, with the support of my husband who had operated a barber shop nearby, I opened Thread. The alteration business is good and now I have my dream art studio and still pay the bills.”
Walking into Thread is like walking into someone’s family room with a comfy sofa, overstuffed chairs, lots of books lining the walls, and a couple of big tables piled with creative clutter. The ambiance makes you want to kick off your shoes and settle in for a nice long visit with the amazingly lifelike dolls seated around the space. And, oh, the stories these dolls could tell.

“My inspiration for the dolls comes from childhood stories and fairy tales,” said Paula. “I read a lot when I was little and I still keep a big library of fairy tales to inspire me. I don’t know why I started making dolls, it just evolved from painting and sewing. I used to make all my children’s clothes but they grew up and did not want to wear Mom’s homemade clothes anymore, so I think that is why I turned to dolls. My dolls don’t argue with me most of the time.”
To make each doll, McGee begins by sketching a series of faces. When one particular face starts to haunt her dreams, McGee sews and stuffs a cloth body complete with amazingly life-like hands and features to match her vision. Next, she designs and sews fanciful clothing to go on the doll. Painting the face is the last thing McGee does.
“As I am constructing the dolls, they seem to take on a life of their own. Each doll is one of a kind-just like people,” said McGee.
Her biggest doll to date is the size of a toddler. One day McGee had the doll sitting in her car as she was driving when a patrol officer stopped her. He started to warn her that the “child” in her car was not buckled up when he realized it was a doll.
This doll, named the Broken Heart Angel, now sits in her shop on a special wooden chair McGee made for it. The Broken Heart Angel mends broken hearts and gently holds a ruby red velvet heart in her hands.
“Making that doll was therapy for me,” said McGee. “There was so much going on when I started to make her — including going through a painful divorce — that she took about 3 years to make. I sketched a lot of angel faces with tears and had a vision of an angel stitching broken hearts back together, so that’s what she is doing. I was working on her when I met my second husband, so he is a part of that doll too.”
Thread is a family business in the best sense and family members regularly spend time at the store. McGee’s 23-year-old daughter, Amanda Johnson, sells artwork there that includes custom designed cloth Skeala Babies, funky knitted items and one-of-a kind clothing. McGee’s 20-year- old daughter, Elizabeth Johnson, helps do alterations and is an aspiring writer and poet. McGee’s 17-year-old son, Benjamin Johnson, loves to draw Anime (Japanese style animation). Her stepson, Wayne McGee, is also a high school student and wants to be a graphic designer and video game programmer.
Paula is also a writer and does articles for various doll-making publications.
“I would like to write a fairy tale with patterns for the characters,” said Paula. “I’ve been dreaming of doing this for a while and the dream is getting bigger, so I’m going to have to do something about it soon.
”Sewing Gets Hip!

Sewing is making a comeback, especially for the young trendy set who crave unique, one-of-a-kind clothing and may have been influenced by TV reality shows like Project Runway, according to an article in Time magazine.
While people traditionally learned to sew from a family member or in home economics class, young people today usually don’t know how to sew anything more complicated than a button, said Paula McGee.

Because of the new interest in sewing, McGee offers beginning sewing classes and on-line seminars for those who wish to learn doll making. For more information, drop into Thread at 105 N. Commerce, Russellville, or call 479-747-7761. You can also view McGee’s dolls, patterns and class schedule athttp://www.paulasdollhouse. net/Doll_Shoppe.html.  

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