Artist Susan Gibbs creates her lifelike, one-of-a-kind reborn dolls under the label Dizon Designs & Doll Works. “Dizon” sounds like a play on words, perhaps the customer is dizzied by all of Gibbs’s outpourings. Maybe it means there’s a dizzying effect from choosing between the artist’s dolls, bassinet bags, and costuming? Or, perhaps, it is a testament to Gibbs’s family, which is near and dear to her heart. “Dizon is my middle name, which is also my mother’s maiden name,” she revealed to me in a very in-depth interview. “It’s a beautiful dedication for her being my first teacher, role model, and inspiration.” Gibbs’s beloved mother passed away in 2015, but she did have the chance to witness her daughter’s “success as a seamstress, even just for a short time.”
Gibbs is a very versatile talent, able to bring her painting skills to incredibly realistic reborn dolls. She’s also a clothes designer and seamstress, a travel-bag maker, and an in-demand reborn-art teacher. In addition to all of her original output, she’s an empathetic collector herself. In fact, it was her ability to commiserate with reborn collectors that paved a whole new path of commerce and creativity for her. Because she was, and is, a diehard collector of reborn dolls, she knew she had to find a way to transport them from her house to the homes of friends and family.
“I wanted to carry a baby with me to show friends, but I didn’t know what to put it in. I didn’t want to put the reborn baby in a shopping bag, nor did I want to carry it wrapped in a blanket. Either of those things could draw attention and freak people out,” she confessed to me. “So, out of necessity, I made a big bag that folded down as a bassinet. I found it very handy when we traveled and stayed in hotels.”
After coming up with this versatile vehicle, Gibbs showed it to her fellow doll collectors. “My small group of dolly friends loved it, and they all ordered one. I posted them on a doll fan forum and got flooded with orders. The first ones I made were very basic, and was just a bag that folded down with pockets inside. I called them the Classic Line.”
Gibbs’s bag brainstorm began in 2010, and since then, her array of bassinets/carriers has expanded in themes and capabilities. Her Travellers’ Line is made for reborn collectors who are heading to the airport or train depots. The bags have suitcase attachments to permit them to sit on a suitcase when the collector is on the go. Gibbs’s Travellers Line bags are assembled from sturdier upholstery material and have more pockets. They also feature the Canadian spelling of the word “traveler.”
“The top-of-the-line bags I make are the Special Edition ones. These are theme-inspired bags, with themes like unicorns, shabby chic, Disney, and even ‘Game of Thrones.’ The special-edition bags are made of more expensive kinds of material, like silk, bridal satin, fake fur, and leather. In addition, they have fancy bells and whistles, like rhinestones, lace, faux-flower attachments,” Gibbs explained.
Gibbs’s innovative bassinet bags have earned her rave reviews and industry honors. In 2018, her Cinderella-inspired Princess bassinet bag grabbed the “Best in Fashion Design” award at the International Doll & Teddy Show. “Being honored by my peers and the public has validated me as an artist. It has inspired me to dream bigger and make even better items for my customers,” Gibbs stated.
Sitting down to sew another bag is akin to a puzzle for Gibbs. She doesn’t work with a set template or pattern. Rather, she approaches them intuitively. “I am constantly thinking of how to make them better and sturdier. I always make new and unique designs. No two bags are ever alike,” she shared.
Following her instincts has served Gibbs well. The Canadian artist was born and raised in the Philippines, and she carries her connection to her birthplace in much of what she does, and how she approaches it: “I love upcycling. I think it’s from growing up in a third-world country. I don’t like throwing out things that are salvageable. I make stuffed rattles with scrap fabric, without patterns. I make doll outfits out of old sweaters, precious tops, and vintage serviettes. I refurbish baby furniture that was bound for the dump.”
Carrying a respect for materials and acknowledging that all items have a purpose, and in many cases a repurpose, Susan Gibbs is a reborn artist that is all about recycling, respecting, and revering her fabrics, her audience, and her artistry. “I create things to bring joy to people, dolls to comfort, bassinet bags to help collectors be brave in traveling with a baby doll, and other silly things to make people smile,” she admitted.
“Every piece that I create — be it a doll, a bag, or a rattle — has a piece of my heart. I even give them names. Yes, even my bags have names!” Gibbs said with pride and not an ounce of apology!