Betty Glastetter is well-known for her handmade doll clothes

Monday, November 5, 2012
Betty Glastetter stands with a selection of handmade Barbie clothes she has for sale inside her Oran, Mo., home. Glastetter took up sewing doll clothes after retiring from Thorngate. (Laura Simon)

What started out as a hobby has turned into quite a booming business for Betty Glastetter of Oran, Mo. Glastetter, who is 73, worked as a sewing machine operator for Thorngate in Chaffee, Mo., for more than 24 years.

"I'd probably still be there if they hadn't closed down," says Glastetter.

After Thorngate closed, Glastetter was looking for something to keep her mind and body occupied, and for a way to earn some extra income. She began making Barbie doll clothes and selling them.

"My husband Ernie and I used to hunt and fish, but now that we're older, that's gotten harder to do. I wanted to do something where I could stay home with Ernie but still stay busy," says Glastetter.

She saw an ad in the Southeast Missourian about seven years ago for free fabric, and that got Glastetter thinking.

"A woman by the name of Fern Hency from Benton, Mo., ran an ad that she was giving away free material. I went and got a bunch of it and started using it to make Barbie doll clothes. Eventually, word got around and Fern and other people would leave their extra material in bags on my porch for me to use," says Glastetter. "My daughter also buys some material at yard sales and she and I will pick up decorations for the outfits, like bags of sequins and ribbons, at yard sales as well."

Glastetter lives about two miles south of Oran on Highway 77. She put a sign on the highway advertising that she makes and sells Barbie doll clothes and her business began.

"Once in awhile, I will put an ad in the Southeast Missourian, and the beauty shop Hair We Do in Oran has a display of the clothes, but most of my business is by word-of-mouth," says Glastetter.

She also participates in the annual craft fair at St. Denis Catholic Church in Benton.

"That's the only craft fair I do," says Glastetter. "I like doing it because it's close by. There's free admission and part of the proceeds go to St. Jude's (Children's Research) Hospital."

Glastetter says grandmas are her best customers for her doll clothes.

"My husband and I enjoy it because we get to meet a lot of people when they come to buy the clothes, and we enjoy seeing the kids," she says.

Trial and error is the method Glastetter uses to make the doll clothes.

"I always noticed that store-bought doll clothes were hard for little kids to get on the dolls. That's why you always see so many naked Barbies!" she jokes.

She started making Barbie doll clothes with spaghetti straps instead of narrow sleeves. "They are easier for the kids to get on [the dolls] and with the straps, the clothes can be hung and displayed for me to sell," she says. "I also use Velcro for the closures instead of tiny snaps and buttons because that's easier for little fingers to work with."

Glastetter's love of dolls and doll clothes started when she was a child.

"Growing up, I only had one real doll," says Glastetter. "A lady that bought produce from my family used to give my sister and I a Christmas present each year. One year, she gave me a doll. It was breakable, so I was almost afraid to play with it. My only other doll was an old rag doll. So I always had a hankering for dolls."

Glastetter took home economics in high school, where she learned to sew. During the time that she was a sewing machine operator at Thorngate, she mended seams and tears on her four children's clothes, but never imagined herself making doll clothes.

"You either love this kind of work or you hate it," she says. "It would make some people go nuts (working with the intricate details). I enjoy it because I can do it when I want to. I'm not tied down, and I can just close the door if I don't feel like sewing that day."

Glastetter does all her work on a Kenmore sewing machine. "The hardest thing for me to do is use the pinking shears because they're hard on my hands," she says.

In addition to Barbie clothes, Glastetter also makes Ken doll clothes, and she has recently started making clothes for American Girl dolls.

"I haven't added the American Girl doll clothes to my highway sign yet, but people are starting to hear that I make them as well," she says.

She guesses that she makes between 300 and 500 doll outfits a year.

"I like doing it because it keeps my brain and hands working, and I can really use my imagination," says Glastetter.

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