By Susan M. Thigpen © 1987
Issue: August, 1987
Thirty–eight years ago in Kenova (Wayne County) West Virginia, Carol Amstutz was born. She always had a fascination with sewing, but sewing machines were precious objects, not children's toys. She was forbidden to touch her mother's machine. One day she saw her chance and took it. Her grandmother was keeping her while her mother worked. Carol slipped away from her grandmother's house, which was just down the road from her own, and used the sewing machine. She found an old piece of drapery material, cut it up and made herself a skirt. Carol says, "It was a thick material with a design. Mother told me I couldn't wear it, but I played in it. It was sewn well enough to wear." Carol's mother, Amanda Stovall, just smiles and shakes her head, remembering what that skirt made of drapery material looked like.
Carol was a natural at sewing. She came by it honest, for her mother was very good at it. It was her mother's dream to be a dress designer. She could look at dresses in catalogs, cut patterns from brown paper, hold them up to her children for fit, and sew any dress to look just as good as its picture.
Carol, her husband, children and mother now live in Galax, Virginia.
Through the years she was growing up, Carol and her mother made lots of doll clothes. Carol made her first quilt when she was 15 years old. When Carol married and had children of her own, was when her real interest in doll and stuffed toy making took hold.
By 1979 Carol began making dolls for sale. At first she stuck to patterns, but began branching out into her own designs. The results of Carol's creativity is a stunning collection of dolls and stuffed toys that look "antique" even as she sews the finishing touches.
Carol is a perfectionist to get these results. She searches for old material to use for bodies and clothing. She stuffs the dolls and toys with real cotton to give it a hard packed feel. No snip of old lace or aged button goes to waste. Old stained sacks become adorable teddy bears with movable legs. An old quilt that is worn beyond repair is lovingly cut apart for its best pieces and sewn into a stuffed animal that could last through generations of children's love.
Old bed ticking becomes bunnies and bears. A portion of the work Carol does is custom orders when people bring her an old quilt or embroidered pair of worn pillowcases to be made into a number of keepsakes for the descendants of the original maker.
Besides sewing, Carol also knits, crochets, embroiders, and quilts. In November of 1986, she saw a long time dream come true. She opened the doors to her very own shop, "Tomorrow's Heirlooms" at 223 South Main Street in Galax, Virginia. It's still an uphill struggle and things are far from what Carol envisions for the future of her shop, but it is a start towards her goal and her dreams.
Carol credits the loving support of her husband and children. "My best friends are my children and husband. We can talk and share our problems and joys." Carol got her first big wholesale order when her youngest daughter was four months old. She had to get 17 dolls ready in a couple of weeks. Her husband helped stuff dolls and baby sit. She held the baby and sewed at the same time. Today that baby is a four year old who is already taking an interest is sewing too. She has already taken her first stitches on material, helping her mother. Carol says, "Making dolls is my and her business."
Today Carol sells wholesale to shops in Old Salem, Blowing Rock and Thomasville, North Carolina as well as shipments to Massachusetts, Indiana and other states. She sells her work retail through the Rooftop of Virginia and her own shop in Galax, Virginia. Her most popular items are Mountain Folk Dolls made in both black and white fabric and 13 1/2" tall, Traditional Amish Dolls with no facial features (as that might constitute a graven image), a Country Girl doll that is 15" tall and her own "Elizabeth" doll that is 19" tall. In addition to the dolls there are a variety of teddy bears, bunnies and other stuffed animals in different shapes and sizes.
Carol Amstutz clearly sews for the love of it. She says it relaxes her. She has also taken a doll repairing class and restores old dolls.
Some people never grow up, but that isn't always a bad thing. Carol has managed to handle the responsibility of a family and run her own business, but her creative side, the spark of little girl that still lives inside Carol Amstutz, reaches out to touch the child in all of us.