‘Just a kid yet’
The clothes come in all colors, patterns and styles. There are polka dot dresses, flannel coats, cheetah-print skirts and fur-lined hoodies, to name a few. Accessories include hats, ice skates and outfit-matching handbags.
You name it and there’s a pretty good chance Helen Laughridge can design it – just not actually for you to wear. The designs spinning out of the 76-year-old’s fingers are for dolls and available for purchase at the Brown Lantern gift shop on N.D. 2 West in Rugby.
Laughridge, who owns the store with her daughter Melissa Kraft, took to sewing as a young girl growing up in Surrey. The daughter of a seamstress, Laughridge embraced the art and passed the skills to her own daughter and four granddaughters.
The hobby and passion also became part of the business, and a doll room – displaying more than 50 outfits – was added to the Brown Lantern in October.
“My favorite thing is just to try and create something different,” Laughridge said. “This winter, I have a really cute skating outfit with fur around the neck and sleeves and the bottom of skirts. They’re just so cute, you want to keep experimenting and creating new things.”?Laughridge began sewing as a 7-year-old and admired her mother’s ability to craft ragdoll clothes for three daughters.
“Things were tough on the farm, so mother would just make clothes for the dolls for Christmas,” said Laughridge, who spends winters in Florida with husband Gary. “I still like rag dolls. I’ve made rag dolls. I guess, I’m just a kid yet.”
Laughridge and her sisters sewed their own clothes through high school. The innovative spirit was renewed when Laughridge began purchasing American Girl dolls as Christmas presents for her granddaughters. For about five years, the girls could point to dolls in a catalogue and let the anticipation build until opening the gifts under the tree. The gifts didn’t end there, though, as Laughridge would create outfits for the dolls.
The same dolls are perched on shelves in the Brown Lantern and model the latest clothes being shipped from Live Oak, Fla.
“I have strict instructions not to sell the dolls – ‘Just the clothes, grandma,’ ” Laughridge said.
The trend caught on as other girls in Rugby saw the clothes, often at a yearly craft show hosted by Laughridge.
“She’s always sewn and I did at a young age,” Kraft said. “I just don’t know how she can still (sew) like the tiny details. I can sew bigger things, but the tiny details, I’m not as good at.”?The clothes add another warm element to the connection between Kraft and her mom. While Helen is in Florida, she is still an important part of the business – named after a favorite restaurant of the Laughridge’s.
“Every time, I called down there they were always at the Brown Lantern,” Kraft said. “I said we should name it the Brown Lantern and then have lots of lanterns and stuff in here because when they’re in the Brown Lantern in Florida, I’ll be at the Brown Lantern here.”
The clothes are a hit at the store, which opened in May 2012, and Kraft sold six outfits on Monday.
“All the little girls love going back there and just playing with them,” Kraft said.
Gary Laughridge is the final set of eyes before the clothes leave Florida.
“He gets to see each new outfit when I finish,” Helen said. “I put it on a doll and parade it and he says ‘good job.’ “
The couple has Sunshine State friends who have purchased outfits and sent them to relatives in Tennessee. Helen Laughridge is less concerned about how far the outfits travel than how they may inspire others to sew.
“Mother was a seamstress and a good teacher and we all learned and still love it,” she said. “It’s something you can hold onto and a lot of these handcrafted talents people have are going to the wayside and it’s important.”
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