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The City Journals

Bingham High Student Creates, Sells Realistic Baby Dolls

Jan 26, 2016 12:31PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

South Jordan - When Sarah Merrill was 12 years old, she wanted a “reborn” doll — a vinyl baby doll that is handcrafted to resemble a realistic human baby as possible.

Reborn dolls became popular around 1999 when doll enthusiasts wanted more realistic dolls. As a result, reborners or doll artists who create the realistic baby dolls, will buy kits to create realistic baby dolls and sell them at fairs or on the internet for hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Sarah eventually saved up her money and bought her own reborn doll for $450 that was made by an artist in New Mexico — someone she still is in touch with today.

“I feel in love with the real look and wanted her to be like a real baby,” she said.

However, her mother planted a seed when she asked Sarah if she wanted to paint one herself. That idea now has turned into a business for the Bingham High senior. 

“I bought one from the DI (Deseret Industries) and refurbished her,” Sarah said, adding that she later sold it for $75. 

She bought her first vinyl kit from Bountiful Baby company in Salt Lake City when she was 13. Kits range from $25 to hundreds of dollars, depending on the doll, she said.

“I watched YouTube videos and talked to others to learn about creating them. It’s a process that takes time and patience,” she said.

Sarah said that she paints their faces with 50 layers of heat-set paints so in between each layer, the doll is baked in the oven. The painting process, if she spends three to four hours each day, takes about one week to include flesh tones, veins, baby zits, splotching and facial highlights.

“I try to give the doll as realistic look as I can — the more realistic, the better,” Sarah said.

Then, she begins work on the hair.

“There are special needles I use to root the hair, and then I place only one or two pieces of Mohair hair at a time. I decide ahead of time the direction I want the hair to go, where the cowlick is, where there is less hair at the place the baby may lay her head. If it’s not how I want it to be, I have to take it out and start over,” she said about the five- to six-week process.

Then, Sarah begins the assembling part of the doll. If she has a buyer interested in her doll, she will ask the buyer for the doll’s name and if they want a particular theme as she buys baby clothes to dress the doll and includes a blanket, bottle, pacifier, an identification bracelet worn at the hospitals and birth certificate with the package.

“Elephants and owls are the biggest themes,” she said, adding that the biggest doll-purchasing seasons for her are Christmas and after tax season when people receive refunds.

She has handcrafted African American, Mexican and white dolls; dolls that are boys as well as girls; and dolls that are made to look as if it is a preemie to a five-year-old. Her dolls have been purchased by doll lovers in states outside of Utah as well as Canada, Australia and other countries.

“Some dolls are purchased for granddaughters or for collectors, but some also are bought to help those who have lost their own child through a miscarriage or some other way,” Sarah said.

She has given away some of her dolls to reach women in shelters for therapeutic reasons and taken dolls to senior centers to let them cuddle with them.

“One kissed the doll’s head and said, ‘God’s angels are so amazing.’ I haven’t forgotten that,” she said. 

Sarah sells her dolls on her Etsy account under “Sarah’s Little Angels.” She has created about 20 to 30 dolls and currently has five available.

“I put the money from the sales into my savings. About half of it goes into more kits and supplies. I’d love to do this full time after high school — four months to go until graduation,” she said. I’ve gotten some really good reviews from ‘wow’ and ‘amazing’ to ‘it’s better than the photo (that was posted).’” 

While her friends know she’s an artist, few know she creates reborns. 

“It’s more of an adult thing. Adults buy them for themselves either as a collector or to help overcome a loss. The youngest girl who has bought from me was 14,” she said.

The high school senior, who will receive her nail technician license, uses her talent in nail art as well as Zentangles, a structured art design or pattern where others can choose to color and create into an image. Her Zentangle creations have been in shaped patterns, sea life a peacock and a buck and doe.

Those she has sold for $15 to $40 for copies, and original prints run from $30 to $100 on her Facebook page.

“It’s fun and relaxing, and I’m able to create those pretty quick, maybe in an hour,” she said.

Sarah’s first drawing, of her stuffed animal, she drew when she was 12. And although she has it up on her bedroom wall, the stuffed animal is long gone. 

She has taken one art class, Drawing I, in high school and received an A, but she has never entered any art contests.

“I’ve never thought I was good enough, but I love seeing how it all comes together when I create a doll or piece of art. I try to get it to be the best I can,” she said.