Interview with Kate Hardin from Chantilly Lace

Katherine Hardin is the queen of subtle beauty in the Blythe doll customization kingdom. She does it all, from carving to eyechips, all her doll’s clothes, and her famous reroots. She’s an all-around customizer rock-star but in a quiet, romantic mood. She’s a classic. If you still don’t own a Chantilly Lace custom in your collection, now it’s a good time to get one.

Spend some time learning about the history of Blythe, it adds to the magic!

Kate Hardin / Chantilly Lace

DollyCustom posed 12 questions to Kate Hardin from Chantilly Lace about her history as a customizer, her process, and techniques. Here are those questions:

Can you tell me a little about yourself?

My name is Kate, and I’ve been collecting Blythe dolls since 2007 and customizing since 2008. I made it my full-time job in 2011 after the birth of my youngest child and have been very thankful that I could stay home with my kids and still do work that contributes to my household and is personally fulfilling for me.

When and how did you discover Blythe dolls?

I discovered them in 2007. My daughter had several playline dolls from a big box store, and I was searching online for pattern books that I could possibly use to make them some decent clothes and I stumbled across pattern books on eBay that featured Blythe, Momoko and more. From there I found the “This Is Blythe” forum and went down the rabbit hole!

How long did it take for your style to emerge?

That’s hard to say when I’ve spent the last 11 years staring at Blythe’s face. Now it’s almost like looking at my own face, she’s that familiar to me. Years ago customizing was much simpler than it is now, carving was much more subtle. But I suppose that it came fairly early on. I tend towards natural tones in the face with expressions that are neither too smiley or too grumpy, more wistful. I do love to step out of the box and do very bold tones in the hair every now and then, experimenting with piercing and dreads has also been fun. I feel that I’m more known for my reroots than anything!

Do you do this as a hobby or professionally?

It started as a hobby in 2008, but it has been my profession since 2011.

What is your creative process like? Do you plan your custom dolls from start to finish or just go with the flow?

Sometimes I have a particular color combination in mind. Many times I get an idea based on something I see on Instagram or Pinterest, from paintings or modeling shots, makeup artists, etc. Other times I dig through my fibers for rerooting and pick whatever is speaking to me that day and build a doll around the hair. Outfits generally come last. I’m a bit farther on my sewing journey now and feel comfortable sewing most pieces.

What is your favorite part of this process and your least favorite?

I genuinely love rerooting. I would do it all day long if my hands would allow me and never get tired. I don’t like gluing the scalps back on or removing them from the original domes much, and also eyemech problems are infuriating!

How long does it take you to customize one doll? Do you do one at a time or multiple?

It honestly varies. I generally work on several dolls at a time though, and I change what I’m doing several times a day. I may start doing rough carving with my Dremel on maybe two or three faceplates, then take a break and do machine sewing for a while, do housework, etc. and come back to carving with blades later that day. I tend to get repetitive stress injuries in my wrists and hands, so I need to mix it up a bit. But making eyechips for one doll or sewing snaps while hair dries or MSC dries is a way to ensure that the 4 million balls I have in the air are always moving forward, even if it’s just tiny increments.

There are plenty of times that I get frustrated with a project and need to step away from it for a day or so as well. So I will say that generally, a reroot might take me a week. Carving might be a day, makeup might be a day or so. I have a doll at my desk that I had almost finished to take to Blythecon Brussels in June, but I’m not happy with her and will probably recarve her face over again and make some different wardrobe choices.

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Next reroot starting! #blythe #blythereroot #rerooteddoll #reroot

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Where do you work on your dolls? Do you have a dedicated workplace?

Currently, my studio is in our living room. We have a rather long one, so my desk and all of my storage (except for one shelf) are in half of the living room, so I’m never really set apart from the rest of the house. Perhaps when my oldest moves out I’ll use her room for most of my storage, but honestly, I would love to be able to buy a home and have a purposely built storage and desk space just for me, sometimes the chaos of the household makes it hard to concentrate!

How would you characterize your style?

Natural, I suppose. I generally prefer a quiet beauty over full-blown glamour or some of the more cartoonish styles for my own work, even though I absolutely love seeing those styles in others!

What are your favorite tools? What is your favorite Blythe mold to customize?

I adore my Dremel. I have a multipro model with the flex shaft attachment, and my husband built a hanger and clamp for my desk so it’s more like a jeweler’s station. It lets me remove excess plastic and rough in the early carving without fatiguing my hands too much. It was also a revelation for me years ago when I tried curved Exacto blades and not just the standard ones!
Ebl has always been my favorite, but they’re harder to come by now. My second favorite is the new RBL mold with the scalp and dome that comes apart so easily, that was a really great innovation.

How did you develop the pricing model for your dolls?

When I first started so many years ago, it was just a bit of market research to compare what other artist were charging for a similar amount of work. That was a good jumping off place, and I gradually increased it over the years to compensate for skill level increase and general cost of living as well, sort of giving myself mini raises for continuing to put myself out there. Pricing is a tricky thing though, some new artists are starting with very high prices and getting them, the market is a fickle thing.

For the beginner customizer, what advice would you give them?

Don’t waste money on large sets of pastels or inferior quality ones. Buy nice quality ones as singles from art supply stores or online places like Dick Blick etc. I have pastels from the very beginning of my customizing career that are from sets and are untouched to this day! Take time carving and sanding. I see a lot of newer customizers that have a nice shape to their work, but rough carving and sanding with pastels concentrated in scratches distract from what is initially a good effort. Spend some time learning about the history of Blythe, it adds to the magic!

I’ve been following Kate’s work for a long time ago and she has been doing great and consistent work for the past decade. Her dolls have a classic and timeless beauty. Her craft goes beyond carving and face-ups, she does it all: reroots, eyechips, clothes and great photography. All Chantilly Lace.

Learn more about Kate and follow her on her social media by checking her profile page.