Carol Finwall's children sometimes got a little creeped out by the room where she kept supplies for her hobby and home business: They would see disembodied heads, arms and hands and jars full of shiny eyeballs staring back at them.
As a doll repair expert, these were the parts Finwall needed to fix broken but beloved childhood companions. Finwall, of Inver Grove Heights, died Oct. 16. She was 86.
Finwall was born in St. Paul, and, like her mother and grandmother, she became an expert seamstress, at first using a sewing machine powered with a foot-operated treadle.
She made her own clothes; after she got married and had children, she sewed their clothes too, as well as the curtains, drapes, and upholstery for the house and banners for her church.
"The clothes she made were all very contemporary for the time," said son David Finwall.
"They didn't look homemade," Thomas Finwall said.
Her sewing skills also came in handy for her passion of making and restoring dolls. Her children think her interest in doll craft was sparked when she got a doll that her mother had played with as a child. Its clothes and wig were made by her grandmother.
Finwall became an expert in doll design and construction. She could sew fashionable clothing for a Barbie as well as historically accurate petticoats for a 19th-century doll.
"She was an artist. Dolls were her palette. She had a great appreciation, insight and vision of dolls and what they represent," David Finwall said.
She was a 40-year charter member of the Minnesota Go-Fer Dollies, a Twin Cities area doll club, and she did doll repair for Antie Clare's Doll Hospital in North St. Paul before starting her own home business, Carol's Country Clinic, repairing new and antique dolls.
She could make a stuffed animal from scratch. Her children remember her making them giant stuffed bears, a Curious George doll and Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls. But she could also airbrush the delicate details on a porcelain doll's face, produce doll clothes patterns based on children's clothing from the early 1900s, or fix antique dolls made of leather or stuffed with straw.
She also spent hundreds of hours volunteering in a multi-year project describing and documenting hundreds of dolls owned by the Minnesota Historical Society.
"Those dolls would never see the light of day without Carol's work," said Linda McShannock, a retired collections curator at the Historical Society.
McShannock said Finwall helped advise the Historical Society on the best way to store the fragile dolls.
"She was just so very knowledgeable about all kinds of dolls," said Chris Faust, a past president of the Minnesota Go-Fer Dollies. "She was such a fantastic seamstress. She could do anything clothing-wise."
Finwall fixed old dolls for collectors. But many of her repairs were for adults who wanted to see their too-well-loved childhood toys restored, perhaps so they could be passed down to younger generations.
"She loved that kind of thing," Thomas Finwall said.
She is survived by husband, Wayne Finwall and children Jannette Chessnoe of Martin Lake, Minn.; David Finwall of Brooklyn Center; Barbara Lay of St. Paul; Thomas Finwall of Brooklyn Center; and Eric Finwall of Bloomington; five grandchildren and six great grandchildren; sisters Marlys Kubik, Nancy Zachrison, Lynne Carlson and Jan Smith and brother Paul Carlson.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 28 at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 7600 Cahill Av., Inver Grove Heights.