“I grew up making things.” Dale Zentner explained. Her interests changed over time, but she has been always been creative. During her childhood on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, Dale drew, made cut-out dolls, and was taught by her mother, a talented seamstress, to sew and knit. “We didn’t have a TV, so using my imagination for play was a survival skill. I had siblings in abundance though (eight altogether), and that helped a lot. I think this set the stage for a creative life.”
Throughout the years, Dale worked in various creative directions. “I designed and knit OOAK sweaters, and I spent a few years designing children’s clothes when I had young children myself. Eventually I found doll-making.” At the time, Dale was producing sweaters for a friend’s boutique, and her friend suggested she also try some cloth dolls. After discovering polymer clay, Dale switched to sculpting her dolls and dressing them in exquisite outfits. Dale started making her dolls in the early ’90’s, and she continues to make them, though not as many as she did back then. “After that intense period, I think I needed a break. In the past few years I’ve only done a handful of art dolls, but will continue making some each year.
After years of creating her art dolls, Dale was ready to try something new. “When BJD’s started appearing in the doll mags, it took me awhile to embrace their aesthetic, but eventually I did in a whole-hearted way. Of course I thought I’d like to make a BJD as well, but it’s a much more complicated process, so I’m still considering it. I saw an opportunity to explore fashions with these dolls, and Pink Grapefruit was born.” The name for her new doll fashion business was decided in a round-about way. While discussing what to name her proposed business, “I was mulling over names with my family and a friend (and) I mentioned that I had a kid’s clothing business at one time that I called ‘Just Pretend’ because I often heard my kids say that in their play. While talking about kids I recalled that I was addicted to pink grapefruit when I was pregnant. My friend and I looked at each other, both recognizing that it would be a good name for the fashions, and so it was.” Dale’s husband designed the distinctive logo for her shop.
The outfits available at Pink Grapefruit are almost always OOAK. Many of the items are made from recycled fabrics, and only limited numbers are available at a time. Dale explained, “I do my own sewing so I don’t do limited editions because it’s more fun to create something new each time. I rarely do commissions. I’m inspired by many things. I’m always on the look-out for a piece I can cut up. It can be vintage or a designer dress. When I go shopping for these items, I only buy it if I love it. I have to see potential in it. I also buy new fabrics that appeal to me. I like variety and I go through moods and fazes. I love natural fabrics like silk, linen and cotton.” She adds, “Scale is also has to be respected. This includes the size of prints, the weight of the fabric, and how well it will drape. The seasons are also important as with all fashions, and helps create variety.” Dale tends to release a small group of related outfits at a time. “Sometimes I can do two or three, so I will do an SD13 size and smaller sizes that fit my Dollstown models.” According to Dale, the outfits will fit other dolls as well. “This year I’m making SD13, MSD. and a size that fits Dollstown’s elf body. I’m trying to limit myself because I want to do so many things I spread myself to thin.” Sometimes Dale has made more than clothing. “I like making hats and shoes also. I saw a tutorial on how to make a doll-size straw hat. That set me off on a straw hat obsession for awhile. It’s great fun.” She added, “I enjoy making a complete outfit…dress, hat, and stockings. My sister gave me some nice coloured leather scraps and that lead to a shoe making binge. With each thing there is something new to learn and that is what turns me on.”
Dale originally introduced her items on doll forums. “I had joined two fabulous doll forums, Zone of Zen and DOA. There was a ready market right there. I advertise on ZOZ, and because everything is hand-made and limited to such a small amount, I really didn’t need anything more. I find sewing very relaxing, and because it doesn’t take weeks to produce an outfit (I make about 3 a week), I get to be very creative. My wish is that I could just put an outfit in a machine (Star Trek-like) and it would replicate it and just pop it out!”
Dale’s favorite dolls are from Dolls Town. “I became totally enamored with the Dollstown sculpts and use them as my models. They are also appealing to me because there is a variety of ages and sizes.” She has become quite proficient at photographing her dolls and doll fashions. “BJD’s really inspire one to photograph them. I think the companies who
produce them have paid a lot of attention to this aspect. I do my own photography and find it’s another creative pursuit I love. I invested in a decent digital camera and brushed up on photoshop and voila…a pic worthy of the beautiful dolls and outfits. The sculptors from Japan, Korea, and China are really exceptional. This inspired me to create vignettes and dioramas to photograph the doll and outfits in, another fun project.” Dale has found many items that match the scale of her models. “I love collecting the props and furniture I needed to create these. I love attention to detail, and detail is what it’s all about.”
Exploring new directions has become the best way to keep things from becoming boring. According to Dale, “I have a collection of how-to books about doll making so I can usually find the info I need to proceed with a new project. If not, there is nothing like a good old-fashioned experiment. Of course the internet is also invaluable. I actually found a tutorial on how to tie a man’s tie which I needed. It was quite a challenge. I have a Dollstown boy (hence the tie tutorial), but have done very little for him as yet. I never say never though, because I like to have lots of possibilities available to me. I love variety and small challenges.” While Dale may or may not pursue making a resin doll in the future, she is still quite content creating fashions for the BJDs designed by other talented artists. “Being involved in the doll world….. well that says it all. It is a world unto itself and has inspired so much creativity and fun for which I’m eternally grateful!”
Above from top: Sweater Set with Bells, ‘Love Bloomers’.