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Trib paper doll contest winners give advice to hopefuls

Making an award-wining paper doll dress compares to cooking a first-rate dish.

Just like great food requires the freshest, quality ingredients, a great paper doll dress needs superior fabric.

Jacqueline Martini -- who three times has won the Pittsburgh Trib's annual paper doll contest, timed to coincide with the Academy Awards in February -- emphasizes the role of fabric that she uses to make her competitive dresses -- and the tiny purses to go with them.

The Evans City resident suggests backing the paper doll with cardboard and standing her upright while you create the clothing.

"When you have it in a standing position, you can see how your fabric is draping and it makes a much-better paper doll than if you were working on a flat surface," says Martini, 60. Last year, she earned a runner-up position with her Nicole Kidman doll.

Martini, who counts sewing as a big hobby, likes to add tiny jewelry on to the doll. Little touches, just like jewelry on a woman, can make the outfit, she says.

This year, the subject for the paper doll contest is Meryl Streep, who is nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." The 84th Academy Awards will air on Feb. 26 on ABC.

Eleanor Varesco, of Arnold, was a winner in last year's contest. She recommends that people look to fashion magazines like In Style and the internet for inspiration and ideas for making paper dolls.

"Look at a number of dresses and gowns. ... Get a general picture of it," says Varesco, 64. Then, personalize your doll's dress by adding your own ideas, she says. For Kidman's dress last year, Varesco got the basic idea from a media image she saw, but she added more ruffles to the dress.

Also, don't limit yourself to fabric stores when seeking materials, says Varesco, who has found many things at a dollar store.

Susan Piccolo, another of last year's three winners, gets many of her ideas from watching award shows like the Screen Actors Guild Awards. She has sewn many real-people clothes over the years, including wedding gowns. Yet, she says, the real gowns actually can be easier to make than the two-dimensional miniatures.

"Working with a paper doll is much more difficult than doing a dress for a person, because you're working with a flat surface," says Piccolo, 58, of Greensburg. "You have no shape other than the outline of the paper doll and no form, like a human being has. To design something from a flat piece of paper, you have to be a lot more creative and work with the designs to give it some form."

Piccolo recommends that people make paper patterns for cutting the fabric, and to back the doll with cardboard.

These former winners encourage readers to enter the Trib's contest. The creative experience is fun, regardless of results, they say.

"If you don't win one year, don't give up. You may win the next or the next," Piccolo says. "All you have to do is come up with a good idea and find a way to execute the idea and enter the contest. ... Somebody has to win."

Martini agrees.

"I like to enter even if I don't win," she says.

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