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Sew perfect for fine motor skills! Bette’s dolls clothes

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For 57 years Bette Brady has been making clothes for dolls for various charities and not-for-profits in WA. She recently arrived unannounced with a pile of them for Kites ToyBox, because she wanted children with a disability to benefit from them. Bette, who’s 84, said she found out about the ToyBox Library after reading a newspaper article.

All 4,500 toys in our sensory toy library are designed to improve a child’s fine motor skills, hand and finger coordination or promote physical movement. Dressing dolls in clothing exercises the small muscles and promotes hand-eye coordination and dexterity.

“I’ve always been someone who gives back. I first started making them to raise money for Save The Children and it just grew from there,” explains Bette who lives in Mount Pleasant.

Bette stands in ToyBox Library holding a two piece dolls outfit featuring zig zag stripes
Bette has made thousands of dolls clothes over the years

Bette reckons she’s made 57,000 doll garments – a thousand each year!

Other recipients in Perth include the Salvation Army and Ronald McDonald House. Bette also donates them to the the Son of God Murdoch Community Hospice who sell the dolls clothes to recoup extra funds for the hospice itself.

“I used to divide my time between Ballingup and Perth as we had a second home there, so I’d sell them privately at the Ballingup Small Farm Field Day or The Peddlars Art and Craft shop in the town. Any takings would then be spent on material which I’d buy from op shops.”

People would often gift material with Bette meeting in person at cafes for the handover.

“It was something different, a hobby that I enjoyed and, of course, I met lots of new people.”

Stitching up creative clothes

When Bette first started she was working full-time as a claims clerk with an insurance company, so she’d sew in the evening or at weekends. Now retired, she devotes two hours each day .

Bette stands outside the entrance to Kites with a plastic box full of her dolls clothes
Bette arrived unannounced with a box of dolls clothes

“I have a Singer machine which I’ve had all these years which means it’s fairly easy to make each outfit. I can add in sequins, binding, buttons and braided trims, also called rick racks,” she explains.

With three daughters, now aged 57, 61 and 62, all benefitted from Bette’s sewing skills and still have the dolls and clothes that she made for them. She has nine grandchildren and eleven great grandchildren.

“We have a lot of females in our family. We didn’t get any boys until we had eight granddaughters, so I have sewn a lot of dolls clothes for the girls.”

Bette has become more creative with her designs over time. The basic ones take fifteen minutes, but the more intricate ones with sequins and mini pearls and extra additions can take an hour.

“I’ve made thousands upon thousands of clothes and I am not stopping any time soon. I’ve used velcro on some of the designs I have gifted to Kites ToyBox. It means a child with developmental delay can easily dress the dolls.”

Why fine motor skills matter

Kites Occupational Therapist, Natalie explains that developing fine motor skills is an important basis for all stages of life. Weaknesses early on can impact the ability of a child to perform basic tasks such as eating, dressing, reading or writing. This in turn, can affect life in the longer term.

Out of all the ones Bette has made, are there any that bring back special memories?

“Some of the bridal dolls clothes have ended up on real-life babies as christening outfits. How imaginative is that? I couldn’t pick a favourite as long as it brings a smile to a child’s face, I know I’ve done a good job.”

Bette’s dolls clothes are in aisle two of our ToyBox Library. Have you visited it yet?

Kites Toybox is a sensory toy library containing 4,500 toys. Each one supports play for children living with developmental challenges. Many of these toys promote fine and motor skills and we have toys for inside the home, as well as outside in the garden.

Funding for ToyBox membership can be included as part of your NDIS plan.

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