Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Little Darling Custom Doll by Dianna Effner

Happy New Year!  I took an indulgent couple of weeks off to spend some time with my friends and family.  It was a relatively doll-free holiday, dominated instead by lots of music, some new Legos, and a crowdfunded board game called Zombicide that has taken over my house.  I highly recommend this game to zombie fans in the 13-and-up age range.  It's one of the best games I've ever played.

Anyway, I thought I'd start 2015 by showing you a special doll that I bought for myself about a year ago.  She is a "Little Darling" 13-inch vinyl doll made by Dianna Effner and painted by Geri Uribe.  Ms. Effner sculpts a variety of art dolls that are cast in vinyl and porcelain.  She sells a few completed Little Darling dolls through her studio website and a variety of her sculptures are also available in kit form on the Expressions website.  Ms. Effner is well known for her realistic face painting style, a technique that she has taught to several other artists over the years.  Little Darling dolls hand-painted by Dianna Effner herself are highly sought after and quite valuable.  They tend to sell on the secondary market for over $1,000.  It is theoretically possible to get on a wait list to order a custom-painted doll directly from Ms Effner (for just under $400), but this list opens only sporadically and tends to close quickly.

Geri Uribe is a doll artist who has been working with Dianna Effner for over 20 years.  Little Darling dolls painted by Ms. Uribe are gorgeous, and they're easier to come by than those painted by Ms. Effner.  Geri's wait list tends to be open, with a wait time of around 12-15 months.  I emailed my custom order request last January, thinking that my doll might be completed in time for Christmas of 2014.  As it turned out, the doll was ready way before I expected, and my beautiful girl arrived in late September:

Dianna Effner Little Darling doll
Dianna Effner Little Darling doll painted by Geri Uribe, $350.
To order my custom doll, I looked through all of the pictures of Geri Uribe's previous work and mixed and matched the features that I liked the best.  I fell in love with the doll "Renee" (who is still pictured on the website) but I requested that she have a red bobbed wig (shocker!), red eyebrows and lots of freckles.  Ms. Uribe asked that I choose a name for the doll, so I decided on Rowan, which is actually a boy's name derived from the Gaelic moniker Ruadhán, meaning "little red-haired one."

I paid a $100 deposit when I ordered Rowan, and the remaining $250 balance when she was completed on September 24th.  The doll arrived at my house about a week later.  She came in a fairly plain, sturdy, white cardboard box:

The box has a printed sticker with a sepia-toned picture of a Little Darling doll:

The shoebox-style lid lifted to reveal the doll, who was secured in place with four white fabric ribbons:

Rowan came with a wrist tag listing her name, her completion date, her painter (Geri Uribe), the head sculpture ("Little Darling #1) and her sculptor (Dianna Effner).

Rowan's head came covered with a white hairnet, which did a great job of keeping her wig from getting messy in transit:

Here's Rowan out of her box--standing nicely on her own:

Dianna Effner Little Darling doll

Most of the Little Darlings are sold wearing a simple underwear set.  There are a few outfits for sale on Dianna Effner's website, but they cost about $50.  There are also some beautiful handmade outfit options on eBay and Etsy.  Oh--and Boneka makes dresses for these dolls, too.  I decided to see what I had in my house that might fit Rowan before I ordered anything new for her.

Rowan's face is painted exactly the way I hoped it would be, with blue-grey eyes, a thin upper lip and tons of little freckles!

Dianna Effner Little Darling doll

I love the sculpting on this face, too.  Rowan has lovely rounded cheeks, wide eyes, a pouty lower lip and a slightly asymmetrical button nose.  Her ears look large, but that's partly because doll ears are usually tiny. 

Dianna Effner Little Darling doll

Rowan's freckles run across her nose and disappear into the rosy part of her cheeks.  There's also a line of freckles that goes up the bridge of her nose and under her bangs:

The very tip of Rowan's nose doesn't have any freckles, which is not what I expected...although I've seen this kind of pattern on real kids.

The most spectacular things about Rowan's face are her eyes and eyebrows.  Her eyebrows are drawn in stroke-by-stroke in a perfect red color.  Her eyelashes are also thick and realistic, with every hair painted separately:

Rowan's eyes have wide black pupils and grey-ish blue irises with some faint, spidery lined detail.  The high-gloss surface of the eyes makes them look like they're inset and made of glass:

Here's another picture of the eye where you can see some of the fine detail in the eyebrows and around the edges of the eye itself:

The eyebrows even have highlights!
Rowan's mouth is sculpted in such a way that the upper lip can be painted to portray a variety of different widths.  I prefer Rowan's thin upper lip to some of the bow-shaped lips shown on the Effner website.

The lips are a nice natural rose color with some faint vertical lines and a light gloss:

Rowan is wearing a red bobbed wig with bangs.  I love the color and style of this wig.  The hair fiber feels soft, but it also has a lot of body and can hold its shape really well.  Here it is brushed out:

I was parting the wig in back to examine the stitching when I realized that it's not glued completely to Rowan's head.  There's a small amount of clear glue at the top and front of the head, but the back and sides of the wig are loose and can be lifted up:

Under the wig, Rowan has a molded mark and some additional writing that is specific to this doll:

I really like how this wig is partly attached--free enough that it would be very easy to remove.  As happy as I am with the current wig, it might be fun to try another style some day.  These dolls have a 7.5-inch head circumference and can wear size 7/8 wigs.

Rowan came wearing this simple two-piece underwear set:

Her bra-like top has lace straps and closes in the back with velcro:

The knit fabric of the underwear has tiny heart-shaped holes in it, giving it the look of an athletic mesh:

The tiny hearts are upside-down on my doll's clothes, though, making me wonder if their resemblance to hearts is coincidental:

Rowan has an all-vinyl body with five points of articulation:

She has elastic-strung joints in her neck, shoulders and hips.  Her elbows are sculpted in a partially-bent position, but they are not jointed.

Rowan has a child-shaped body with blushing on her knees, belly and chest.  The blushing on her chest looks a little odd to me--not the painted nipples, but the area surrounding them.  It's very circular (and maybe hard to see in these pictures...):

Rowan has glossy, coral-colored fingernails with white tips.  There is also some rose-colored paint to help delineate the touching edges of her fingers:

Her toenails are equally detailed:

Rowan has fairly limited articulation but her balance is good and she can strike and hold several positions on her own.

She can sit on the ground with her legs spaced pretty far apart:

She can do front-to-back splits, but it's a little awkward with her back toes sticking down towards the ground.

She can also do full side-to-side splits, but only if her feet are pointing straight backwards:

Rowan's standing balance is excellent.  She stands upright with no trouble at all.  Some manipulation and fiddling was required to achieve a few of the more active poses in this review, but there was no need for camera trickery of any kind.

Rowan's toes don't touch the ground, and this led to a few miscalculations when I was trying to balance her.  She'd often tip forwards because I assumed she'd be able to rest some weight on her toes.

No touchdown.
If you look at the picture below, you can vaguely see that she has a ridge behind her toes that can sit flat on the ground while the toes themselves stay a few millimeters off the ground.  Because of this design, I bet a nice pair of shoes would help her balance considerably.

None of this slows Rowan down very much, though.

I don't own many other dolls in this scale, but I was hoping that Rowan would be able to share clothes with my Ruth Treffeisen doll, Cristi Blue, or my Little Princess Cinderella doll from Zapf.  They're all approximately the same size:

Treffeisen's Cristi doll has the same body as the Paola Reina Las Amigas dolls, and is also very similar in size to a Corolle Les Cheries doll.  Cristi has a slimmer body and a larger head than Rowan, but her dress fits:

Rowan wearing a Ruth Treffeisen dress.
The dress is slightly loose in the chest area, but looks great on Rowan and makes her eyes appear very blue:

There are many beautiful Corolle Les Cheries outfits at one of my local toy stores, so I am hoping to use that shop as a resource for Rowan's wardrobe.

I keep my Zapf Little Princess doll in a handmade outfit that was designed to fit Tonner's 14" Betsy McCall dolls.  It also fits Rowan pretty well, although the leggings are too long:

I suspect Rowan can probably wear a lot of Betsy McCall clothes in addition to the princess dresses from the Zapf line.

Hearts for Hearts dolls have large heads that make them seem like they should be in a size class with American Girl dolls and other 18" play lines.  However, these girls actually have bodies that are more similar to the 13" play dolls.  Here is my Hearts for Hearts Consuelo next to Rowan: 

Consuelo's outfit fits Rowan nicely, although the scale of the blouse decorations is a little big:

The skirt is a perfect fit.
Rowan reminds me of my Tonner Patsyette doll for some reason, but these two are dramatically different in height and certainly can't share clothes:

Rowan also reminds me of my 20" Maru and Friends doll, Savannah.  This association is not random, though, since both dolls were sculpted by Dianna Effner.  In fact, reading about my lovely Savannah is what prompted me to order a custom doll from Ms. Effner.

Despite their different heights, it's possible to see some similarities in the body shape of these two dolls:

They both have the same basic torso shape and very similarly bent arms and hands.  I prefer Rowan's neck joint to Savannah's, though, and wish Ms. Effner had sculpted the Maru and Friends dolls in this style.

Rowan and Savannah share some facial similarities, too, especially in the mouth and nose area.  My dolls' shared coloring might make these parallels seem stronger than they are.  To me, Savannah's inset plastic eyes are the most glaring difference between the two:

Maru and Friends "Savannah" (right) with Dianna Effner's Little Darling.
Maru and Friends "Savannah" (right) with Dianna Effner's Little Darling.
Here's Rowan dressed in another outfit that I bought for my Zapf Cinderella (made to fit Tonner's Betsy McCall):

Some people say that redheads should never wear red, but I think Rowan pulls it off rather well (also, this is the only extra outfit I have in this size!):

This girl looks cute from all angles, but I found myself photographing her most from the sides--in half-profile.  This pose makes her look quite real, as though I was capturing a secret moment of her day.

On the other hand, my profile shots could just be due to the fact that Rowan was dancing for most of the time that I was trying to take her picture, making it impossible to get a steady front-on shot!

About half way through the photo shoot, I made Rowan put on the leggings from this outfit, even though they are slightly long on her.  I think she looks like a left-over Christmas elf in this outfit:

Rowan really enjoyed playing with the fuzzy bear on her dress, so I dug around until I found a real stuffed bear for her to cuddle:

Giving the bear to Rowan turned out to be a great idea--she toted him around for the rest of the afternoon:

And then, when she finally collapsed for her nap, the bear made a perfect pillow.

Bottom line?  I don't own or review a lot of dolls in the $300 price range, so it's interesting to see what that amount of money can buy.  In Rowan's case, I'd say her well-balanced, elastic-strung vinyl body and high-quality wig are what I'd expect with a $70-100 doll.  Why do I say that?  Well, her body construction and articulation are very similar to the 20-inch Maru and Friends dolls ($120) or basic Carpatina dolls ($70), but she has better overall quality and design than the basic Tonner Patsyette dolls ($70) or the 13-inch Ruth Treffeisen or Las Amigas dolls ($55-60).  This suggests that the bulk of Rowan's value is in her face...and her face is a work of art.  

To judge the value of Rowan's facial art, the only concrete points of reference I have are a few custom face-ups that I've bought for my BJDs over the years.  These face-ups cost anywhere from $150-$200 and, because BJDs tend to have inset eyes, they did not require any eye painting.  So, from a practical point of view, Rowan's custom face work is easily worth its price.  Responses to art are seldom practical, though, and so a better indication of Rowan's value is how I react to her emotionally.  I think you've probably guessed by now that I completely adore her.  Judging by the secondary market prices for these dolls, my reaction isn't unusual.

In the same way a particular painting or sculpture might evoke certain emotions or memories, little Rowan's sweet expression and captivating eyes make me feel happy, maternal and nostalgic.  She might not be able to move and bend like some of my better-articulated dolls, but the personality in her face makes her seem dynamic in a completely different way.  A few times when I was posing her, I swore I could see a small change in her face or a shift in her gaze.  She has the versatility of a play doll, but also feels like a precious collectible when I hold her in my hands.  She's a great size that's easy to display--and has a wide range of clothes that seem like they'll fit her.  Last of all, she is one of the rare dolls in my collection that, despite her diminutive size and the sheer number of dolls in the room, can still grab the attention of anyone nearby.

In the end, I guess this is not so much a review as a showcase for a doll that I find particularly special.  I fell completely in love with pictures of Dianna Effner's Little Darlings online...to the extent that I didn't have any other dolls on my wish list that I wanted even half as much.  If you find yourself in a similar situation--perhaps wondering if you should pay extra to Buy it Now rather than endure the year-long wait for a custom doll--I'd say wait.  The best things come to those who do.


  1. So cute! thought her eyes were glass at first. She reminds me of a young child!

  2. Oooh! Your reviews are always really nice, and this was no exception. Now I want one of these dolls......
    Sorry, Mom, my wishlist is getting longer.

  3. Great start to the New Year with this review. Love the windblown pics. Looks just like Savannah's little sister. A fun read!

  4. What an amazingly adorable little girl! I had to look very closely when you said her eyes were painted. They are an amazing work of art, as is the rest of her face-up. All of the clothes you tried on her were absolutely adorable but I think I like the "elf" costume best. In some of the photos, the poor little teddy bear seems to be saying "help me".

    I love it when you get a new doll with no outfit, or outfit you were planning to change, and then try your whole doll wardrobe on her. (Or in my case, make something new.)

    My daughter gave me a Journey girl Dana for Christmas (I do love a doll with glasses) and she is currently wearing a loose fitting bjd outfit I made until I make her own. If you're interested to see her I'll post her on my blog.

    By the way, Happy New Year!

  5. The timing of this review is perfect. My sister received Savannah for Christmas and has had a Little Darling on her wish list for some time (she's also on mine!) so it was great to read your review and see this special Effner doll side by side with Savannah. I also have a sub-group of redheaded dolls that are special to me and will probably decide on an Annie sculpt..... there are so many wonderful options it's almost impossible to choose just one, so it's really helpful to read your review, see what you wrote as to their value, and see the detailed pictures you have taken.. As always, thank you.and congratulations on this beautiful addition to your collection.

  6. I got a Patsy doll for Christmas and seeing your Rowan made me think her. Which is why Pastsyette would make a resonable compairson. Also Maru and friends reminds me of the old Faith and Friends line which mine FnF doll has befriended the new Patsy :) Anywho what I'm trying to say is that all the comparisons make sense to me too. -GEM

  7. I really enjoyed your review as I wondered if you'd received your LD yet, I remembered you mentioning that you had one on order! I'm glad you love her! I have three Little Darlings and another three on order....how did that happen???? I really have had my heart captured by them! I appreciate that their articulation is limited but their faces just make up for all that! :) i so enjoy mine and sewing for them that I can easily say that they're amongst my favourite dolls! :)
    Hugs Sharon in Spain xx

  8. What a lovely doll - and what brilliant paintwork on the face! The work on the eyes is stunning - before seeing the close-ups, I almost couldn't believe that the eyes were painted rather than inset. A real work of art there!

  9. She is stunning, I love her face, especially the freckles and the eyes, and her wig is perfect! Congratulations with this very special, unique doll!

  10. Redheads should ALWAYS wear red, green and pink. (But maybe not together!)

  11. Wow. Just wow. She's beautiful and reminds me of Annie in the red dress. Redheads should totally wear red!

  12. Great review once more, Emily! Rowan really is a cute little thing. I was wondering if you could review one of the new Monster High Dolls, such as the Haunted or Monster Exchange Program line. Vandala Dabloons and Marison Coxi really stud out to me and I wanted to see your opinion. Thanks!

    1. Ditto on Marisol, I am curious about her too. I hear she is larger than the other ones, and I am curious if she is one of the larger body dolls, or if she just has bigger legs and feet.

  13. I stumbled across these Little Darling dolls on Flickr and they are just gorgeous. Stunning! I think your review was so well done and I hope to also add one to my collection someday. Their faces are truly works of art.

  14. Oops, I meant "Rowen would be a good daughter for your Tonner Christie Dae, but her size..." I wasn't talking about Patsyette, sorry for any confusion.

  15. What the what? I posted a comment, then posted another comment because of a mistake in the first comment, and now the first comment disappeared? What is going on? I get why people would be confused about the one up there...

  16. Oh, she's simply gorgeous; truly exquisite. I thought she was a real little girl at first glance! It's amazing how Ms. Effner and Ms. Uribe have managed to capture such life. Thank you for showing her off. :D

    I hope you've had a wonderful holiday, Emily! :) Happy new year to you!

  17. absolutely lovely pictures of your Rowan!!I Anna3143 http://annainneverland.canalblog.com

  18. Emily,
    Rowan is beautiful! I was wondering if you were planning on doing any more Ever After High doll posts. I love Holly O'Hair and have read your review on her several times.
    Thank you!

  19. She is gorgeous! I love her face; so beautifully painted and lifelike. She and Savannah make great sisters. I'm glad you could find clothing in your collected wardrobe for her. A fabulous addition to your collection.

  20. What a beautiful doll!
    I'm also a sucker for red heads and she is simply darling.

    I'd love to hear more about your BJDs! I also collect them so it would be nice to see some pictures of your collection :)

  21. I have been waiting for a LD review! I just got two from Geri in December, and I ADORE them both. I just ordered another 2 from her. The wait it worth it, and you can customize, so even better! The hard part is picking what you want! I have both 1 and 2 face sculpts right now, and the two coming are also one of each (one is a redhead with green eyes too) I wanted to have different hair/eye combos. I have two with dark hair, one with dark eyes and one with blue (actually the one with blue is the standard Mila on her page, I loved her as she already was) the other one was a custom!! I love the choices you made with Rowan! My redhead is Christabel but with Elyse's eye color...I have named her Raegan. The other I have coming is Chantel. I guess I tend to pick on to keep as they are portrayed and another with customization. I can't wait to get the next two! I do worry that with the prices on ebay at some point they may not have a list and just offer them there instead. I would rather wait the year/year and a half than pay 3 times the amount!

  22. Really, really nice review of a doll. Enjoyed all the photos and posing and comparison and clothes changes. Thank you for this very nice helpful review.

  23. Trust me, redheads really can't wear red. I am one! Love the doll though.

  24. You are so lucky you got yours. I ordered one from Lana dobbs in September of 2014 and still don't have mine. I have made a whole wardrobe in anticipation of getting my Little Darling. I absolutely love these dolls and can't wait to get mine although I am waiting not so patiently anymore.

  25. I want a Diana Effner doll with brown eyes and brown hair because it is just as my daughter when she was 4 years old. I'm just crazy to buy one, but I never found a site to do it and pay easily. I looked at the page of Geri Uribe, but it is impossible to buy there also.I ever saw that the product is not shipped to may country. So sad.

  26. Mandei e-mail ontem para Geri Uribe e hoje já tive resposta. A boneca está por 450 dólares, 150 para encomendar e 300 depois. Veio um catálogo para escolher e é possível pagamento por paypal. Eu já sei a que eu quero com olhos e cabelos castanhos. Única dúvida é o cabelo longo ou curto, pois curto é exatamente como ela era com dois anos, mas depois ficou usando sempre longo. Vou resolver essa dúvida e encomendar logo. Graças a você e a esta página. Como tem tradutor, escrevi mesmo em português. Muito bom seu blog. Thank you.

  27. Do you believe that they are sending for me a payment order of $ 1.300. I can't pay because is very expensive for me. I'm just sad now. I send an e-mail asking for more informations, because in the flyer attached on the e-mail the price was $450 and l found it really perfect.

  28. Sie's so SWEET😙!!!!! And expensive💸💸...

  29. Jesus Christ, this doll is so perfect. I'm legit without breath and have been almost gasping for a while already.