I first interviewed Kate back in March 2012 as part of the BlytheLife March Talent Showcase. While she wasn’t new to the doll community then, she was new on the scene with her handpainted eyechips. Since then, she’s been doing so much in the customizing realm that I thought it’d be a great idea to interview her again – this time focusing on her custom work.
Hi Kate! What can you tell us about yourself and how you discovered Blythe?
I’m 35 years old (when did that happen?), I have two children who are 2 and 13 and an amazing man who many of you met at BlytheCon Dallas. I’ve been crafting for Blythe or customizing since 2008 and it’s been an amazing journey. I learn new things and develop new skills all the time, especially since I became a stay at home mom after my son was born. I discovered Blythe through the DCR pattern books and eBay while I was researching dolls for my daughter.
What’s your personal collection like? Do you keep your own work?
My personal collection has been very large before – up to 25 dolls or so, but it is much smaller now, just some core girls and a variety of other types of dolls. Most of them will be getting makeovers, it’s like the tale of the cobbler’s children who have no shoes! I rarely get the time to work on my own dolls.
I have my Gentle River and Rainy Day Parade who were my first dolls, a Cinnamon Girl who will be getting a makeover and new scalp, and a FAO Hollywood and a Primadolly Marigold that don’t have any work done yet. I have many smaller dolls: Emerald Witch, Usaggi, vintage Licca, Wonderfrog and Lampe Nico as well as a few Latis and Yosds. It almost seems like other people’s work isn’t destined to stay with me, each time I’ve had one (a Sammydoe and a Tiina, both in trades) I end up with emergency bills and have to sell them.
What was your first customization project?
My first customization was an Asian Butterfly Encore. I was in love with her hair color and started on her rather than the two other more expensive girls that I owned. I soaked and soaked, but her plates just wouldn’t come apart! I ended up having to saw and it was a traumatic experience, I swear I was apologizing to the doll as I was doing it.
What were you able to learn from that first project?
I learned to be careful with Exactos! Those things can be pretty wicked. I also learned that putting down a layer of MSC after sanding really helps prep the surface, just like a blank canvas.
All customizers have their own favourite tools – what’s in your customizing toolbelt?
I use standard Exacto blades, but in the last year I started using a curved one as well and that made a world of difference. With rerooting I use rubber thimbles from the quilting section of a hobby store and it gives me more grip on the needle and protects my finger tips from blisters, which is how I’m able to do so many so quickly. I recently picked up a few different paintbrushes for applying makeup a bit more evenly than some of my old ones or Q-tips. Investing money in nicer pastels is important as well, I have a range of brands: Rembrandt, NuPastel, Sennelier and a Dick Blick store brand.
How would you define your customizing style?
I would define my style as natural beauty. I prefer making sunkissed girls with a younger look, not super glamorous ladies I do dip my toe into stronger color palettes sometimes, but the makeup is never overdone. My girls also tend to have a slightly sad or wistful tone, for some reason they just don’t like to do a big toothy grin!
What is your favourite mold to work on? Which is your least favourite? – And why?
Well, that’s a bit of a trick question. each has pros and cons. EBLs have long been a favorite, I think they’re the best mold stock. I like to do SBLs now because SO many people are against them that I like to make them super cute and change people’s minds. RBLs are wonderful, but the older the mold gets the worse the shape of the eye holes gets and one is significantly larger than the other and it makes it hard not to show the lower part of the eye mechanism, so I have a beef with that mold. I’m not that fond of the FBL mold stock, there’s no expression in it – but I love customizing it! it has the slightly deeper set eyes like EBL do.
What would you say is your favourite thing about customizing?
My favorite thing has been how customizing has led me to meet so many amazing people! I’ve always been a crafty person, but I was never able to find my niche. My grandmothers are both painters, my aunt is a photographer, my dad is a world class illustrator and sculptor, my mother is a silversmith and a museum curator. I’m the little girl who was bored in the summer and spun thread from cotton balls. I went to art school for graphic design, but found myself happier in the studio classes where I could sculpt as well. I love the variety of crafts brought together in the Blythe community.
How about least favourite?
Least favorite? Well, I hate the drama in the community but that’s nothing I can really affect by myself so I try to stay positive. I also have trouble with strict timelines sometimes. I customize full time, so I’m at home with my almost 2 year old and I have a 12 year old girl as well. My husband runs a custom motorcycle shop out of our garage/shop area where he also does maintenance and repair on cars, 4 wheelers and does some home repairs as well. He’s also a sought after local musician so I’m at home with the kids most of the time and I feel bad when a commission takes longer than I’ve told someone it will. You should see the state of my house some days!
Can you tell us a bit about what you have planned for your vendor table at BlytheCon 2013 in New York?
Well, for those of you who visited my table last year in Dallas it will be some of the same. I don’t think I will have space this year to bring other people’s work, but we’ll see. Last year I brought some of my friend Sue’s beautiful mohair (Mohairhouse) and a large selection of items from Jemgirl as well. I will have several customs for sale, eyechips, reroots, pull charms, lots of hats and hopefully some clothing as well!
What does a day in the life of Kate look like when it comes to your work and working at home?
Well, my day is ALWAYS crazy, that’s for sure. I’m an extreme night owl, I always have been, so I’m thankful that at least during the summer the baby has been sleeping until about 9:30! Of course, I go to sleep about 3 or 4 am… Haha! My work setup is okay, My master bedroom is large and I use about 1/3 of it as my studio. It’s adjoined to the baby’s room (I have to stop calling him that, he’s 2 now) by sliding doors, so I just open them during the day and he plays while I attempt to work. I’ve been trying to do my carving at night so I have faces to work on while he’s playing, but it’s still hard. I have blocks and trucks everywhere, I’m quite often wearing a tiny plastic hardhat and singing songs while working, it’s terribly glamorous I sew a bit during the day, do things like gluing in eyechips, things that I can stop and start easily. When the kids are done for the day I can kick into high gear! I have 4 or 5 trays laid out on my desk with disassembled dolls so I can work on them in stages, And I’m always doing something while one doll’s sealant layer is drying or chips are gluing in. My outside errand are either run in the dead of the night or in early afternoon to entertain the kid and tire him out for a nap!
What have been some of your favourite projects that you’ve done – either as commissions or not?
Hmm, favorite projects… Sometimes it comes down to amazing color combinations! I love making tan girls with fantasy hair. I made a doll for my old hairdresser, that was really fun. He had no idea I customized Blythes, he discovered them on Instagram and started posting about the m on FB, so I told him. He has 2 of my dolls right now and was SO excited. I also enjoy working with certain people over and over (you guys know who you are). I have some loyal friends and fans who I’m always happy to see return to my commissions list. I did a few Monster High custom dolls last year, they were pretty fun too!
Thank you so much for doing this interview with me, Kate! What’s one piece of advice that you’d like to pass onto people who are hoping to dip their toes into customizing dolls?
Well, don’t be afraid! I’d suggest getting a few sets of factory plates to experiment on first, but don’t skimp on your tools. Spend a bit more on your brushes, blades and pastels so you get the best possible result. Take carving very slowly, and DON’T start with a Dremel! I’ve been customizing for years and I just got my first Dremel, I only use it for nose holes and piercings right now. It’s really hard to recover from a bad slip with a Dremel. If you’re new to rerooting, choose fiber that’s already processed and washed, you don’t need to learn to deal with that mess at the beginning!
You can find Kate on her Facebook page (Chantilly Lace Blythe Customs) and at her Etsy shop, Chantilly Lace!