By Ashley Brooke Sero
Photos by Joshua Armstrong
“The goal of PUDDLE is to share our love of Pullip and to have fun.”— Jane Easterly
Jane Easterly is a doll collector. Collecting Barbie and friends from an early age, she never lost her appreciation for dolls. It wasn’t until years later, however, that she would leave her mark in a small but impactful way on the hobby. What led her to that? The precocious pouty-faced Hina Ichigo Dal doll from Jun Planning (now Groove).
It was love at first sight after seeing the unique character inside the pages of Haute Doll magazine. “I loved her serious face — it made her look like she was always thinking about something. I also liked Dal’s age, 13. Still a kid, but growing up. She reminded me of my own childhood,” Easterly shared with the blog Confessions of a Doll Collectors Daughter (dollyconfessions.com) in 2015. Enamored with Dal, Easterly was inspired not only to collect but to also meet with others who shared her passion for the articulated, ABS plastic Jun Planning/Groove dolls.
Starting a Tradition
Easterly organized the first ever Pullip and Dal Doll Lovers Event, also known affectionately as PUDDLE, in 2008. Held at Mitsuwa Japanese Marketplace in Arlington Heights, Illinois, fans of Pullip, Taeyang, Dal, Isul, and the rest of the Pullip family gathered together to celebrate the dolls. “The first one was very informal. I picked a date and put out a call on various doll forums. About 35 people attended, from Illinois to as far away as Minnesota, Indiana, and Ohio. I could tell there was enough enthusiasm to hold another one.”
Since that first fan gathering, Pullip fans have met annually in the Chicagoland area to celebrate the doll line, with attendance tripling in recent years. (The 2020 event was canceled due to COVID-19.) The convention has grown to include a busy vendor area, free ‘leave something, take something’ items, lucky ticket offerings, contests, and more recently, a delicious cake to celebrate the theme.
Besides shopping and mingling with fellow fans, a huge draw is the unrivaled creativity displayed by attendees in their custom dolls and outfits, many of which are entered in the popular customization contest. Unharnessed creativity reigns throughout PUDDLE, from the centerpieces at the guest tables to the competition room, and is the highlight of the event for many show goers.
There’s a competition for everyone at PUDDLE, whether you’re new to the hobby or have been involved for years. One fun aspect of the show is the Dress Like Your Doll contest, where seamstresses can show off their talent by putting a look together for themselves and a doll of any kind. After strutting their stuff on the catwalk and meeting with the friendly judges, contestants parade through the hotel for all to see their hard work. It’s fun to watch!
Besides that, customizers new and old can enter their dolls in a variety of contests. The custom contest is one of the most fun to participate in because it’s low pressure. Everyone is encouraged to enter and, unlike other conventions, there’s no extra fee to join in on the fun. Attendees can enter their Pullips and other Groove Dolls in the following categories: Full Custom, Modified Custom, Custom Mini, and Original Outfit.
A new doll contest called the Dolly Smorgasbord was introduced in 2021. This exciting competition is open to every and any doll —Smart Doll, Blythe, Barbie, Hujoo, BJD, American Girl — any doll, including customs, can enter and possibly win. It’s a great way to see and learn about other doll brands to potentially collect and customize yourself.
Father-daughter attendees Harold and Miranda Santamaria have excelled when it comes to customization at PUDDLE. Longtime attendees, their custom dolls are a highlight of the fan gathering. They combine creativity, engineering, and science to create artistically crafted takes on whatever PUDDLE’s theme is for the year. “We are passionate about dolls,” said Miranda, “because of the artistry and often unseen clever engineering that goes into the creation of a doll. We adore the combination of technical and creative elements that are encapsulated in Pullip dolls.
“Since the beginning, we’ve always been eager to learn about everything, from sewing tiny doll clothes to carving and repairing their faces. Without PUDDLE, we would not have the same appreciation for artistry or the same father-daughter relationship we have today.
“Being part of the Pullip doll community has allowed us to spend time with each other and use our skills in wonderfully unexpected ways. My dad has cleverly used his automotive knowledge in ways I could never expect to apply to doll customization. Together, we’ve learned how to approach each step of the creative process in our own unique way, from brainstorming and research to prototyping and creating a final project. We both feel so excited to share our ideas for the next PUDDLE, and the time we’ve been able to spend together is priceless.”
Mother-daughter attendees Natalia and Hannah Whitaker share similar sentiments, having attended three PUDDLEs together, with no plans on stopping. Natalia started collecting as a girl, her favorite doll being a Fisher-Price Natalie from 1973. Since then, Natalia’s continued to enjoy them. “Dolls have always been my own personal enjoyment from everything else, so when I need to do ‘me’ time, dolls are my go-to.
“PUDDLE is a way for my daughter and me to spend time together and share similar interests. She had very little interest in Pullip before attending PUDDLE. Now she has five JPGroove dolls. We both enjoy the relaxed, no-judgment atmosphere at PUDDLE. Just fun through and through!”
Karen Raschke said she loves creating, adding, “Dolls allow me to indulge my creative side,” which includes knitting, crocheting, and sewing. Karen started collecting as an adult in 2008. Her fiber-art creations are inspired by her mother. “My mom made clothes for my Barbie dolls. I still have hand-knitted and sewn outfits she made in the late 1950s and early 1960s. She taught me the crafts and supported me in them all my life.”
Later in life, her passion for art and doll collecting supported her through the passing of both her mom, Helen, and partner, Mike. For Karen, besides learning about a whole new world of dolls, PUDDLE introduced her to a whole other side of doll collecting: customization.
“At first,” she said, “I thought, ‘why buy a doll and change its face, hair, eyes, and body?’ Through PUDDLE contests and small group speakers, I have seen the value of these changes as another form of creativity and art.”
Avid photographer Arlene Benham found her way into the hobby accidentally. Inspired by people who took photos of travel dolls or adventure characters on the road, she figured she’d give it a try. By chance, she found a mini Pullip online and after researching, fell down the rabbit hole.
“Dolly people are nothing if not enablers, and the one little doll turned into a collection and hobby,” Benham said. “In seeking more information, I discovered some great photographers and was hooked. I see dolls as posable art you can interact with.The rest of this article can be seen only by paid subscribers who are logged in.
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For 14 years, PUDDLE has been a safe place to come together and celebrate Pullip and the rest of the Jun Planning/Groove dolls, as well as Smart Dolls, BJDs, and more. From humble beginnings, the Pullip and Dal Doll Lovers Event has grown into more than just a fan gathering or a convention where you go to shop. It’s a place where you can explore your artistic passions by customizing your dream doll. It’s a place where you can unabashedly share your passion by taking photos, dressing up or having a boisterous conversation about your favorite things. It’s a place where you can mingle with strangers who later become friends.
The 15th annual Pullip and Dal Doll Lovers Event, with a theme of Polar Opposites, will be held June 10, 2023, in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. Attendees can expect a fun-filled day of events that include contests, shopping, and camaraderie. There are even events scheduled before and after the show for out-of-town guests who are looking to extend their fun. For more information on PUDDLE or to read more about past events, visit www.puddlestyle.com.