“My story is similar to many doll collectors I think. Always having a creative urge; drawing and painting and sculpting have constantly been a part of my life.” Sheri McKinney of Secret Loft Designs creates fashions for dolls. She has also finally succeeded in completing a project she has worked on for over two years, a horse sculpture that is in scale with 1/3 size BJDs.
Sewing and sculpting figured prominently in Sheri’s childhood. “My stepmother was an incredible seamstress, and she gave me the scraps from her projects to make little clothes for my Barbies and Troll dolls. She taught me the basics of sewing as she made some exquisite Barbie and Skipper costumes as well as beautiful dresses for me.” Still, she admits that while “I enjoyed my dolls …my first love and obsession was horses! Barbie and Skipper were too big to ride my Breyers and I found that Gumby was the perfect mount for my 1/9 scale horses. Poor Gumby never got any clothes made for him!” Sheri became increasingly captivated by horse models in the 70’s. “I became active in the Model Horse Showing hobby. As a young Tolkien geek, most of my models had Tolkien names, and my favorite was named Nahar.”
Horses and dolls were eventually put away, although Sheri continued sewing, primarily making items for her family. She also started making costumes. ” In the 90’s I did some church theater and dance-team costuming. That was a lot of fun and was an important time to build my sewing skills. During this time I learned my favorite sewing tip – ‘make friends with your seam ripper’.” Sheri continued to sculpt horses for fun, but most of her work was lost in various moves over the years. She was still attracted to both dolls and horse models, but pursued neither as a hobby. That changed after learning about more sophisticated dolls than her childhood Barbies. ” While visiting a friend who collects and shows model horses, I saw the magazine, Barbie Bazaar, and while leafing through it became very interested that people collected and CUSTOMIZED their dolls (I mean, this was a stunning revelation to me!), never knowing all the innovative creative things you could do with a vinyl doll. In that same magazine was an ad for Gene; the combination of that face, old Hollywood glamour, the clothes and accessories was irresistible to me, and that’s the moment my adult love of dolls began.” Sheri soon purchased her first fashion doll. “Within months I was sewing for her, even making my own patterns which was something I had never tried before. The first was Scarlett’s Mourning Gown and I was thrilled with the result. The new internet and doll groups made it possible to share with others and learn information and make new friends. I sold several copies of my Mourning Gown at this time and got orders for other costumes.” As a result she states, “Collecting dolls and sewing doll clothes was my new passion. I was still raising my family at this time plus working a demanding full-time job; it got a little nuts sometimes!”
Entering dolls in costume competitions became another facet of Sheri’s new hobby. “In 2001 I sculpted a horse for Gene and dressed her in a Victorian riding habit. At my first doll convention this entry “A Ride in the Rose Garden” won a blue ribbon as well as both “Judge’s Choice” and “Mel Odom’s Choice” trophies. I was ecstatic to say the least. The next competition I entered another equestrian doll (but no horse!) at Tonner’s Convention “Under The Lilac Trees”. My entry was Kitty Collier dressed in Arwen’s leather Chase Dress from “Lord of the Rings”. She won a blue ribbon and “Robert Tonner’s Choice” trophy.” So it was only a matter of time before Sherie would be introduced to the ultimate in customizable dolls, the Asian ball jointed doll.
“Clara Abrams, Jay Searle and Robyn Wittenberg are the ones responsible for pushing me over the edge.” Sheri said. Before she knew it, Sheri had acquired her first ‘BJD’, actually a Lishe ‘floating head’. “I had to save for months to get her a body.” she said. “Next was a Tiny Elfdoll Bong Sun Hwa I bought online before I realized she was soooo tiny, I assumed she was at least 12″ tall! I have had more fun with this tiny girl than all my collection put together. Since then I have acquired six more of various types and sewn many costumes on commission and on eBay.” As Sheri’s BJD collection grew, she realized something was lacking – a horse. She explained, “Even though there are some similar-scale horses on the market I wanted something bigger and more to what my vision of a BJD horse should be.” As a result, Sherie launched a new sculpting project, a horse designed specially for a BJD to ride.
“SLD Nahar started over 2 1/2 years ago with a wood and styrofoam armature, doing my best to keep the weight (and cost) down. The medium is 2-part epoxy putty of various brands, mostly Gapoxio and Apoxie Sculpt, wonderful stuff that’s easy to work with and non-toxic.” The project was originally something to make for her own satisfaction, but after revealing her project to some other collectors, Sheri began thinking of expanding her plan. “Several people expressed an interest in a horse for their own BJDs, so I started wondering if I could have ‘Big Guy’ reproduced for other collectors. Once I committed to the big scary idea, I searched for the right people to cast it in resin and decided on Resins by Randy to do him. Randy Buckler and his wife Deb have been in the resin-casting business for over 25 years creating prize-winning horses and fantasy figures for serious collectors. Their reputation is outstanding, and I have full confidence that the result will be a wonderful art and display piece for SD size BJDs.”
Nahar is designed to be in scale to Sheri’s CP El doll. The first horses are due soon from the castor. Sheri intends to paint three horses and bring them to BJDC in August. “I plan on using acrylics over a primer. The mane and tail will probably be of saran materials. I’m researching sources now. My goal is to have 3 done for the show, a dapple grey, a black, and a palomino.”
Sheri is also currently sewing and has lately been captivated by ballet costumes. “Another life-long obsession has been ballet, having made several for the earlier fashion dolls but now making OOAK ballet tutus for BJDs. I have tried to make these as realistic as possible, studying original patterns of real dance costumes. These have been very satisfying to make and there’s never ending inspiration. I’ve been selling them on eBay (under the name Senormac) and through my website, but once the horses are in my hands that will be my only project ’til the convention.”
Photos above from top: Hellebore, purple and red Hoochies
Secret Loft Designs Sheri’s website