Born Again Elsie
When I saw a A Life of Faith Elsie Dinsmore doll up for sale on eBay for a buyout of under $50, I jumped! I'd heard good things about these dolls by faithful ALOF fans, but didn't really know much about them personally--other than they seem to regularly sell for between $100-$200 on the secondary market. This particular Elsie didn't look to be in top condition by any stretch of the imagination, but since I figured this might be a rare opportunity for me to finally own one of these beautiful dolls, I didn't think twice and bought her.
So her hair looked a little messy; her face was perfect though, right? Well. . . I was about to learn a few things when Elsie arrived in the mail a few days later. . .
I got to work on the box immediately with my spare x-acto, my doll box opening tool of choice. In a flash Elsie was out and gazing back at me with her striking, clear hazel eyes! My first impression was. . . wow!
She also had most of her original clothing, minus her stockings and hair bows, but what she did have was in very good shape! (if a little dusty)
I Have to say I was really struck by how well-made and solid this doll felt. A Life of Faith dolls are made entirely of vinyl. But unlike other all-vinyl dolls, their proportions are a very good match for American Girl dolls--they aren't especially "thin" or even flimsy as some vinyl dolls are. They have little round bellies, arms, and legs near the same size as AG. When I lifted the doll, posed her, stood her on a flat surface, she felt weighty, balanced, and extremely high quality. I finally understood why these dolls don't go for cheap! I was impressed!
But then the honeymoon was over. I did a double-take on Elsie's face and realized something was wrong.
There was some kind of hardened, smeary substance across her nose and cheeks. It didn't come off with soap and water, and not too well with a Magic Eraser either. After studying it, my guess was that it was clear nail polish. So out came the non-acetone polish remover and there I went, trying to save as much of the original lip paint as I could. The cheek blush unfortunately had to be completely removed. Fortunately it's easy to restore!
So after all the polish (and blush) was finally off, I rewashed the face to remove any chemicals and give Elsie a fresh start! And while her face looked a little pale now, there was no denying it was also very clean!
Actually, her face was not the only nail polish issue Elise had. Her hands and feet had at one time also been decorated with another mysterious substance. The remnants of it were embedded in the creases of her nails and black in color, which made me worry it might be permanent marker. Elsie had apparently been going for a more edgy look than her crinolines suggested!
Thankfully, after a bit of scrubbing, I was able to get it out, whatever it was, and Elsie's hands and feet were once again pristine!
Next--that hair! While working closely around Elsie's face, I noticed her hair was pretty wrecked. It was a literal birds nest, super dry and super tangled.
It had originally been pinned up, but taking it down revealed the extent of the damage. Even the little curls that sat close to her head were hopelessly dry and frizzy. I wasn't feeling too encouraged looking it over, and I won't lie, pretty soon both Elsie and I were praying I'd be able to fix it!
First things first: a hair wash. I lathered it up and also used a deep conditioner on it. The hair looked too far gone for the conditioner to make much of a difference; it was too dry and frizzy to even absorb it. But I hoped it would at least make it easier to comb out.
Not so much. It took over an hour to comb out that mess, plus any slight movement would tangle it up again as the ultra frizzy strands would grip everything like velcro! After an hour+ of this, I needed a break. So I braided Elsie's hair to keep it from tangling again, and called it a night.
It was pretty obvious Elsie's hair would have to be flat-ironed to have any chance at saving it or making it workable again--the photographs honestly do not convey how bad it actually was. So I got out the flat iron (set at very low) and got to work on her hair. The results were immediately apparent. Some dolls' hair will respond well to a flat or curling ironing, others less so. Elsie was one of the fortunate; the iron instantly brought back her beautiful, silky hair. The difference was startling!
I also took a few extra minutes at this point to restore the blush to Elsie's cheeks. This is easily done using regular blush or lipstick to "re-stain" the vinyl. She was already looking pretty amazing!
Admittedly the flat iron did remove most of the curl (though this is what flat irons do). And while I really loved how beautiful and natural the straightened hair looked on Elsie, I wanted to return her to her original look, which included those signature corkscrew curls. It was time for the curling iron!
Now a curling iron can be a bit risky on a doll's synthetic hair, since it has to be held it on the hair longer than a flat iron does. So I made sure to keep the hair reasonably damp while I worked, and to cycle the iron off and on to keep it from getting too hot.
I was super happy with the end results! Wow!
Next--the clothing. I was very fortunate that most of Elsie original outfit was intact. Once I hand-washed the dress, petticoat, and bloomers and polished up her shoes, I just had to find appropriate tights and replace the ribbons on her hair. I found these bows as temporary fix until I could get a closer match. All done, mostly, and she's beautiful!!
After ordering custom ribbon to match her original bows, and purchasing an extra small curling iron to recreate the tight curls framing her face, Elsie's rebirth was finally complete!