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In Search of Excellence: Barb Spencer
by Liz Fretz
Barb Spencer ~ Designer, Cloth Doll Maker and Journalist

Please introduce yourself: Being an only child for 13 years, I had to keep myself entertained. I drew, colored, wrote stories, dressed and played with dolls and paper dolls, learned to sew on my grandmother's treadle sewing machine and learned how to embroider from that same grandmother. My other grandmother was a very good artist and thought that she saw some artistic talent in me. She kept me in paper, pencils and books on art.

I am a high school graduate, attended classes at a junior college and the University of Arkansas. A few years ago, I attended a computer class for which I received a certificate. My favorite classes in high school and college were Art, English or Writing related. These classes have been helpful in my doll pattern/book illustrations and instructions, as well as being helpful for the freelance writing that I contribute to doll magazines. For approximately 20 years I worked in corporate offices as a Legal, Administrative and Executive Secretary. These jobs were excellent preparation for many aspects of my business.

Tell us about your business. I offer quality, allergy-free, original one-of-a-kind artist cloth collector lady, raggedy and Hitty dolls, books of doll faces for cloth dolls, original patterns for cloth dolls and Victorian pincushions. I have 3 web sites available for seeing my products, and offer a fold-out brochure with several supplement sheets showing my patterns, doll patterns and books. I enjoy communicating with my customers - I answer all e-mails.

How did you get started in this business? I owned a gift shop in my home. I needed to purchase some fabric, wholesale, so my husband and I decided to attend a trade show in Kansas City, Missouri. While there we met Judi Halverson (now Judi Maser), the owner of the Galley Gander. Upon complimenting Judi on her cloth dolls, we got into a discussion about my designing and making cloth dolls. She told me about an International Quilt Market in Denver, Colorado. Judi told me to go home and start designing. My husband encouraged me to do so. The rest is history! Eleven years ago I designed my first three doll patterns, made the models for those patterns, and had my pattern fronts and patterns professionally printed. My husband, Jim, and I went to the Colorado market, sold and took orders for patterns and doll models, made contacts with trade magazines and distributors . . . Before long there were more designs and more International Markets.

What was your greatest career challenge and how did you over come it? My greatest career challenge was learning how to deal with wholesale customers. I learned that not all business owners are honest or pay their bills! By hard knocks I learned that it was my products, so started declining credit customers. Until I know a business owner well, everything is cash. I prefer retail sales.

Do you work out of your house? What challenges do you face working at home and how do you deal with them? My business is home based. I love working at home, and find it to be very rewarding. Possibly, if I had a demanding husband I might have a different opinion about operating a business at home, but Jim encourages me to do my own thing! He likes my products and promotes me to all of his friends and their wives. If I need a doll stand cut to a doll's proportion, Jim does the cutting. If I need a piece of wood stained as part of a prop for a doll, Jim does the staining. He is always willing and capable of helping me. One challenge I do have is when the grandchildren visit. Really, it isn't much of a challenge because I put them first and then take care of business.

What sets you apart from your competitors? My collector dolls are made to stand the wear of time. I do not use glue, I securely sew everything, use the best of products, usually include a long-sought-after piece of antique or vintage trim, and I believe most importantly my dolls all have unique/pretty faces. I believe myself to be well known for pretty doll faces. Also, if I tell you I will do something - it is done. I still believe that the customer is always right, or at least most of the time.

What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of? Customer satisfaction! I want my customers to be happy with their purchases. I have several scrapbooks full of letters from satisfied customers. I call all of my customers, Friends. Years after a doll is purchased, I hear from my customer friends. Some send me presents, some phone, we exchange notes and e-mails, etc.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting up, what would it be? A piece of information that was given to me . . . "Don't expect to become rich, but do it for the love that you feel for doll making."

Is there anything else you would like to share? I am proud to have had my work appear in multiple magazines, catalogs and trade magazines. My work has been featured in: Contemporary Doll Collector, DOLLS, Doll World, Doll Reader, Doll Life, Doll Designs, Doll making Crafts & Designs, Victorian Sampler, Crafts 'N Things, Creative Product News, Craft & Needlework, The 1996 Doll Sourcebook, Anatomy of a Doll, Soft Dolls & Animals, Doll makers Journal, Crafters Circle, Doll Hair Basics, Doll Castle News, Sunbonnet Crafts, Profitable Craft Merchandising, Patterncrafts, Honey-Hill, Clotilde and Herrschners.

At the present time, I have approximately 50 doll patterns sold under my pattern company: The Enchanted Attic. I have written and illustrated 2 books of doll faces for cloth dolls. My work has been used in instructional classes, I have been commissioned by such companies as: Fairfield Processing Corporation, The Emanuel Roth Company, Division of Novtex Corporation, Spiegel Fabrics, Spectrix Fabrics and the Donna Gallagher, Creative Needlearts, Inc. to make dolls.

For 2 years I had a regular column geared toward cloth doll makers in a national magazine.

I have had my dolls on 5 national magazine covers.

I had one of my one-of-a-kind artist-original dolls travel in the 1919-93 "Dollmakers' Magic V" exhibit, and another travel with the 1996-97 "In Celebration of the Doll: The Figure in Cloth IV." I had one-of-a-kind gypsy dolls exhibited in the original (1990) and second (1993) "Gypsy Challenge," as well as in the (1993) "Dollmaker's Magic Seminar" and the (1993) "NCDMA Festival." My dolls have been exhibited in museums, galleries, the San Diego Quilt Show, The Soft Nation: Contemporary Approaches to the Doll, the 1996 Doll Makers' Challenge at Silver Dollar City (where I sold my dolls and demonstrated doll making for 10 days, the 7th (1997) Annual Dimensions in Dollmaking and the Fifth Anniversary (1999) Santa Fe Doll Art Symposium.

My collector lady dolls have been on "Home and Garden" and CBS television programs; my little collector Hitty dolls were a part of the 1999 Telly Award winning documentary "Hitty, an American Travel Doll."

I am a member of the National Cloth Doll Makers Association (NCDMA), Unified Federation of Doll Clubs, Inc. (UFDC), Dollabilities (my doll club in Reeds Spring, Missouri) and elinor peace bailey's, The Association of People Who Play With Dolls (APWPWD).

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