Carma Sutton is Barbie's Best Friend 2007.11.07

Written by David Green.


Carma Sutton is just about out of the Barbie doll business, but they’ve certainly been a part of her life for a long time.

She and Barbie go back to 1959, the year Barbie was introduced by Mattel and when her daughter, Jeannie, received her first one.carma.sutton.jpg

“Jeannie had one of the first Barbie dolls out and she got me started making clothes,” Carma said.

Jeannie surely had the best-dressed Barbie in the area. Even after she was finished playing with Barbies, people remembered her mother’s miniature dresses and sweaters.

People still asked Carma for doll clothing and she used to sell a few items. She would knit tiny sweaters, crochet a dress and sew a blouse.

Years later—decades later—Carma’s work with Barbie dolls led to a project that has brought a Merry Christmas to dozens and dozens of little girls.

When a shopper at Fayette’s St. Vincent de Paul store found a clean, bright-looking Barbie, it was Carma Sutton who had made it look new again.

Barbie rehab

Long after her daughter had graduated and moved away, Carma remembers trips to Salvation Army stores with Louva Brooks. The two friends sometimes went looking for bargains.

They were looking for clothing, but Carma couldn’t help but pause when she went past the Barbies.

She often bought two or three and brought them home to spruce up.

When the St. Vincent de Paul store was built in the early 1990s, Phil and Betty Monahan were the doll cleaners, but eventually Carma got involved—at least with the Barbies. They were her specialty, and she became the Barbie volunteer for many years.

“They come messed up and I fix them,” Carma said. “Sometimes you wonder if kids really appreciate them.”

Year after year, she refurbished more than a hundred dolls for each Christmas.

Most of them needed a good scrubbing to return the “skin” to its original luster. The clothes needed to be washed—sometimes bleached—and many dolls were in need of new outfits.

“I made a lot of the clothes, but I got tired of that,” she said.

She had a collection of used outfits and footwear. Sometimes a drop of glue was needed to keep one of Barbie’s glamorous boots from falling off.

Carma’s Barbie hair salon presented the biggest challenge. It can take an hour to make a doll’s hair look good again.

Little girls like to unbraid a doll’s hair, but when that happens, it generally turns into a big frizz.

Carma has spent a lot of time rebraiding and making a new style. With many problem cases, Barbie goes out the door with hair a lot shorter than when she came in.

When a bald Barbie comes in, Carma got out her needles and crocheted a little hat.

Carma worked on Barbies through July of this year, but then at age 93, she decided to turn the job over to a new volunteer from Hillsdale County. She passed on her collection of pieces—all sorted and bagged—and she’s looking forward to seeing what the new Barbie lady produces.

“I won’t miss the worry,” Carma said about the rush toward Christmas, but she can’t completely leave behind the doll that’s been a part of her life for so many years.

“I’ll still take a few to fix up,” she said. “I really like Barbies.”

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