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Published October 24 2013

What a doll! Tower City woman sews doll versions of famous figures

TOWER CITY, N.D. - Betty Kappel, of Tower City, has been sewing since before she started school.

Kappel, who is “just about 88 years old,” said she’s been sewing “practically all my life.”

“I love it,” she said.

You can see that love in the doll collection she’s made. The collection includes figures in the image of presidents, literary characters and other personalities.

Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln and George and Martha Washington are part of the collection. Romeo and Juliet and the sisters from “Little Women” are also represented, as are Betsy Ross, Florence Nightingale, an Amish couple, Pinkie and Blue Boy and a Southern belle. There are 23 in all.

So what’s her favorite?

“I would say the presidents maybe. I don’t know. They’re all my favorites, I guess,” Kappel said.

Kappel makes the bodies and clothing of the dolls. The porcelain heads and limbs are pre-made. And she strives to make the dolls historically accurate “because that’s who they are.”

Adele Smith, a friend from her church, recalled that when Kappel was making the hat for Blue Boy, she contacted a friend who had a statue of the figure so she could take a look at that hat.

The Lincoln doll has a stovepipe hat and a copy of his inauguration speech in one of his hands.

Florence Nightingale carries a light. Betsy Ross has an American flag.

Kappel even makes undergarments for the dolls.

“Well, you don’t have a naked doll,” she said.

Smith believes Kappel’s attention to detail makes the dolls special.

Smith said Kappel has done seamstress work in the community for years and that she is “wonderful” at it.

“She’s very particular with her sewing,” Smith said. “She never thinks it’s good enough.”

Kappel started making the dolls years ago, even before she and her late husband moved into the apartment where she still lives. That was 1984. After making a few, she didn’t do any more for years.

“Couple of years ago, I thought, well, if I’m going to finish those dolls myself, I’d better get at it,” Kappel said.

That was “maybe about four years ago,” and she finished them up in this past winter – mostly. There are still a few details to go.

Kappel said she doesn’t have any plans to sell the dolls, even though a “lot of people” ask her if she wants to.

“I’m going to give them to my family,” she said. “And if they don’t want all of them, I’ll give them to some of my friends. That’s my plans now anyway.”

If you’d like to see Kappel’s work, the dolls will be on display at the St. Paul Lutheran Church bazaar, which is 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Tower City Community Hall.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734