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Thursday, July 24, 2014, 3:28 a.m.
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Conway woman uses sewing talents to help Soaring Wings Ranch

By Tammy Keith

This article was published June 29, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

isabella-desalvo-8-holds-a-barbie-that-is-wearing-an-outfit-made-by-marsha-phillips-back-left-shopping-in-phillips-booth-at-the-conway-farmers-market-is-jalisha-vandiver-right-also-pictured-is-dylan-strack-3-who-attends-the-farmers-market-with-relatives-who-have-a-produce-booth-and-he-sometimes-helps-phillips-make-hangers-for-doll-clothes-phillips-gives-all-her-proceeds-to-soaring-wings-ranch-in-holland-in-faulkner-county

Isabella Desalvo, 8, holds a Barbie that is wearing an outfit made by Marsha Phillips, back left. Shopping in Phillips’ booth at the Conway Farmers Market is Jalisha Vandiver, right. Also pictured is Dylan Strack, 3, who attends the farmers market with relatives who have a produce booth, and he sometimes helps Phillips make hangers for doll clothes. Phillips gives all her proceeds to Soaring Wings Ranch in Holland in Faulkner County.

CONWAY — Jalisha Vandiver looked at the handmade Barbie clothes at a Conway Farmers Market booth, trying to decide on an outfit to buy for a friend’s daughter.

“I buy them for a friend who lives in Norway who has a little girl. Everything in Norway costs a lot more,” said Vandiver, who lives in Conway.

She’s not only helping the friend; she’s helping children at Soaring Wings Ranch in Holland in Faulkner County.

Marsha Phillips, 66, of Conway has been selling the doll clothes at the market for three years. She gives all the proceeds to Soaring Wings Ranch.

“I enjoy children, and it’s not those kids’ fault that they’re in that circumstance. And, it’s a Christian environment, and anything that can be done to break the cycle of abuse, … I just thought it was a really good organization,” Phillips said.

Phillips, who grew up in Kansas and moved to Springdale as a senior in high school, is a retired pharmacist. She worked at a hospital and at several grocery stores in southwest Little Rock and retired in April from Kroger in Conway.

Phillips said she grew up sewing, and her mother sewed.

“I didn’t get store-bought clothes till I bought a couple before I graduated from pharmacy school. We just couldn’t afford it,” Phillips said.

“Mother and I made my wedding dress, but I made most of them in high school and forward.”

Phillips said she made doll clothes for her nieces “a long time ago,” and a granddaughter.

“They’ve all outgrown them. I made them for some little girls at church (Grace United Methodist),” she said. “I still enjoyed making them.”

Phillips said she and her friend Jimmie Grissom of Vilonia, who makes jewelry, got a booth together at the downtown Conway Artwalk. Someone mentioned to Phillips that she should try the Conway Farmers Market.

The women started sharing a booth, but both their crafts grew. Now they have side-by-side booths at the farmers market, which is held Tuesdays and Saturdays in the Antioch Baptist Church parking lot, 150 Amity Road in Conway.

“I have fun, and it’s so much fun to watch the grandmothers come in and say, ‘My mother used to do that,’ or ‘I used to make these by hand when I was a little girl,’” Phillips said.

“I can’t paint; I can’t sing, but I like to match trims and material, so I guess that’s my calling,” she said.

Phyllis Strack, secretary and promotions chairwoman for the market, called Phillips’ doll clothes “exquisite.”

Phillips makes Barbie clothes and clothes for 18-inch dolls, such as the American Girl dolls.

The Barbie clothes sell for $6; the clothes for larger dolls sell for $15 to $20.

It takes her about an hour to sew a Barbie outfit, she said. For the larger dolls, a plain dress can take “a good hour,” she said, but if the ensemble has three or four pieces, “it can take all day.”

“I’m not fast; I hate to rip,” Phillips said. “I try to finish off my seams, so if they’re washed, they don’t ravel.”

She said little girls can be tough on Barbie clothes, constantly dressing and undressing the dolls.

“My initial goal on making Barbie clothes was to use up my scraps,” Phillips said, because she had so many.

“I have this problem — I see material on sale. … I have a lot,” she said, laughing.

“Occasionally, people will give me their end pieces. It doesn’t take much to make a Barbie outfit — about a third of a yard,” she said.

Phillips said she sometimes has a little helper in her Conway Farmers Market booth. Strack’s grandson, Dylan Strack, 3, helps make the beaded hangers for Barbie clothes when he is at the market.

One of Phillips’ best customers is Isabella Desalvo, 8, of Center Ridge, whose mother sells beef at the market.

“She saves her money,” Phillips said of Isabella.

Not just children buy Phillips’ creations, either.

“A lady who came in from Brazil — she was visiting her daughter and son-in-law here — she found one, and I said, ‘Oh, for a granddaughter?’ She said no, it was just for her. It was a striking outfit, and it really caught her eye,” Phillips said.

The seamstress said she donated $1,800 last year to Soaring Wings Ranch. She also said that one Christmas, she gave Barbies and six doll outfits each to “three little girls” at the ranch.

“It’s a little slower year, so far,” she said of sales. “The weather hasn’t helped very much.”

The ranch, which opened in 2007, has four homes for abused, neglected or orphaned children ages 5 to 18.

Andrew Watson, founder and executive director of Soaring Wings Ranch, said Phillips’ work is appreciated.

“We are so thankful for Marsha Phillips’ generosity. Her passion for making doll clothes turns into compassion for Soaring Wings children by literally giving them food and clothing,” he said.

Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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