Getting all dolled up

Emogene Rubadue has made new again 75 used dolls for HELP House’s annual Christmas toy giveaway.
Shoes are among the trickier accessories Rubadue works with to outfit the dolls. She has discovered that not all pairs of Barbie feet are created equal.

Emogene Rubadue calls her basement “Santa’s workshop,” and rightly so.

Until Dec. 16, dozens of Barbies and baby dolls covered every flat surface in the 86-year-old’s cellar on Columbus’ westside. All of the dolls were destined for the Dec. 20 toy giveaway at HELP House, a non-profit organization in Madison County. None of the dolls were new, but Rubadue’s handiwork would make any little girl think otherwise.

“I spent four hours on this doll alone to get her hair to look just right,” said Rubadue, picking up a curly blonde cutie wearing an emerald green dress.

Over the last year, Rubadue has labored over the hair, clothing and miniature accessories of more than 75 used dolls. The stock comes from donations to HELP House, family hand-me-downs, and garage sale and thrift store finds.

Rubadue’s whole family, which includes six daughters, a son and their spouses and children, has gotten in on the produc-tion—sending her dolls, clothes, and even tiny shoes they find on eBay.

“It all started last year when I brought home a huge tote full of Barbies from HELP House that needed to be fixed up for the toy giveaway,” said Jan Laing, a HELP House volunteer and one of Rubadue’s daughters.

Laing recruited her mother to help with the project, along with a sister and niece who were visiting from California. The crew knocked out 50 dolls in a day, and Rubadue was hooked.

“This was something I knew I would enjoy doing and could do at home,” she said.

The pace Rubadue set for this year’s batch of dolls was much more deliberate than last year’s one-day mad dash. She took her time to make each doll perfect.

“First, I give each doll a bath, and I give their hair a shampoo. I use conditioner, too. You almost have to because the hair is so ratty,” she said.

She combs the hair while it’s still wet, scrunches the hairdos that are meant to be curly, and weaves French braids when the style seems to fit.

She washes and mends the clothes, sews underpants for each doll, then pulls together outfits from the wide assortment that fills the tables and storage bins in her basement.

Accessories are Rubadue’s specialty, whether they’re found items or ones she makes from scratch. For instance, after finding a mermaid outfit for Ariel, a Barbie named for a Disney movie character, Rubadue added real sea shells from a Florida vacation.
She crocheted a towel and tote bag for a beach Barbie, strung faux pearls into a necklace for a bride Barbie, and whipped up a miniature blanket for one of the baby dolls.

“I like to do something extra. That’s why I don’t get more done because I get to messing around,” Rubadue said with a smile.

The doll fixer-upper gets her know-how from a lifetime of sewing, working with her hands, and dressing up the real thing.

Laing explained: “We were raised Catholic. Every week before church, Mom would dress up my sisters and me in gloves, scratchy dresses, and hats with the elastic around the chin, and she’d curl our hair. Her experience was real life.”

Rubadue hard at work at her sewing machine.
Just a few of the baby dolles Rubadue has refurbished.

Rubadue doesn’t get philosophical when asked why she has gone head over tiny high heels for the doll project.

“I don’t know why I do it,” she said.

Maybe it’s because she can do it. Maybe it’s because she gets a kick out of doing it. And maybe it’s because she knows her efforts will make Christmas brighter for little girls whose fortunes may not be great but whose imaginations are vibrant—just like hers.

For more about HELP House, call 740-852-1980. The organization operates a soup kitchen, food pantry and clothing pantry out of headquarters at 122 E. Center St. in London.

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