The Dressels are an ordinary American family, more or less. Mom Madeline and dad Malachi got together in 2014, having been in love for most of their lives, and one thing led to another. Now they have a happy marriage, and as many couples do, particularly those entering their 30s, their minds turned to children.
Inhabitants of the small town of Cross Hill, South Carolina, Malachi and Madeline would look at their friends’ Facebook walls, admiring their photos. And naturally, they wanted to join in. The problem was, they didn’t have any kids of their own. So the couple got down to work on creating their own family.
The first addition to their family turned out to be Sandy, a handsome boy. And before long, the Dressels soon had added a houseful of children, all ready to star in beautifully shot family photos on social media. However, as even the briefest view of their Instagram page shows, there’s something more than a bit odd about their brood.
Madeline and Malachi spent their childhood together, as their parents were actually friends. Indeed, the midwife who delivered them was the same woman. Malachi is a few months older, and he told Barcroft TV in a July 2019 documentary that Madeline had been a “nuisance” following him around. But later, he became a lot happier about having Madeline in his life.
Now that Malachi and Madeline are married, they share their obsessions together. Their home is full of vintage items, whether that be appliances, decorations or chairs. But perhaps their most prized possessions come in the form of their collection of dolls. Yes, the couple’s “children” are entirely made of plastic.
Malachi and Madeline collect lots of different dolls, but perhaps the most arresting are those the size of toddlers. They first found a 1950s doll in a vintage goods store in 2016 and then brought it back to its former glory. From there, the collection has blossomed to the point that they have a whole pack of antique dolls.
It’s perhaps not surprising that Madeline can’t remember a time when she didn’t love dolls. However, Malachi certainly did not grow up playing with dollies. When he was a little one, he would play with “manly” toys, and indeed he only developed a love for dolls once the couple had set up home.
Certainly, Malachi must have gone at collecting the dolls with a will, because now the couple have 30 the size of a small child. They are the type of dolls that were made by the Ideal Toy Company around the turn of the 1960s, called Patti Playpals. The original Playpal was a yard tall, big enough for a kid to dress it in their own clothes.
Meanwhile, gathering the toys has proved a fun hobby for the couple since 2016. Madeline told U.K. tabloid The Sun in January 2019, “We enjoy collecting dolls together, and the big ones are our favorites.” And it’s not just a question of going out and buying them, given the condition that they often find them in.
That’s because Malachi and Madeline are committed to making the dolls as good as new. The latter explained why they take such care to The Sun. She said, “The quality and artistry of many of these dolls, particularly those by the Ideal doll company, is unmatched, and we view them as works of art to be preserved.”
For their part, the dolls need a lot of care since they are now in their 50s at least. The couple have used up days on meticulous work, costing them thousands of dollars in the process. And it doesn’t end with restoration, either. Indeed, the dolls wear real kids’ clothing from the past, which the Dressels buy from thrift stores.
Restoring the dolls can be quite a job too. Given their age, they have to be given an intensive clean. Also, their hair needs washing and resetting. And sometimes the dolls’ elastic which holds them together wears out, so that needs to be fixed too.
Unsurprisingly, given the care that they put into the dolls, the couple have given some of them monikers. The first doll that entered their family is called Sandy. Alongside him are the likes of Stella-Irene and Polly-Marie. Furthermore, the “youngest” addition goes by the slightly more exotic name of Syroco.
For the Dressels, the collection is just an extension of their love of old things. Madeline explained to Barcroft TV, “We’re pretty much obsessed with anything vintage.” And it’s become quite a big thing for the couple. She said, “About 2016 is when we stumbled on the first big [doll] at the thrift store. And it really grew from there.”
Meanwhile, the couple shares their love for the dolls equally. Malachi explained to Barcroft TV that he was just as enthusiastic about collecting them as Madeline. Indeed, some of the dolls are particularly special to him. He said, “She has certain ones that are just hers, and then I have ones that are mine.”
The Dressels love to share their “family” with others through social media. To that end, they upload photos of the “children” doing various activities with them on their Instagram page. The account has more than 12,000 followers, eager to see the posed pictures of the Dressel family enjoying special moments together.
For their part, the photos look eerily similar to the kind of pictures that people love to put online of their families. And the Dressels intended for the page to mock those of their friends who share family photos and quiz Malachi and Madeline about why they don’t have their own children.
In fact, this was the origin of Madeline and Malachi’s collection. They began gathering the dolls so that they could pose them in a “parody” of others’ Instagram usage. And just like their friends’ kids, the plastic “children” gambol in the yard, enjoy cookery and sit around the table to take part in elaborately staged tea parties.
Madeline told The Sun, “We kept seeing a lot of professionally done outdoor family photographs popping up on our Facebook feeds from various friends and family and we thought that staging a family photo of our own in a similar style would both be a silly way to get in on the act and also address the age old question about when we were going to have kids.”
Furthermore, Madeline explained to the newspaper what had motivated them. She said, “We both thought that it would be cool to pose them in real-life settings as if they were kids as a bit of a joke to start, but it grew from there.” And certainly it had ballooned: the Instagram page featured 150 slightly creepy photos in August 2019.
Those photos show the dolls enjoying all kinds of family events, ranging from a Christmas celebration to a birthday party with all the trappings. In one, a plastic youngster is whipping up dough for a batch of muffins, and once they’re cooked, she strikes them off a To Do list.
In several photos, the kids go on outings in the family car with daddy, although it’s not clear where they are going. In other photos, we see dolls having fun in a playground. Malachi helps one to grab some monkey bars, and others enjoy the slides. And in another, Madeline enjoys a mother-daughter moment on a swing.
It’s not all outdoors fun either. One picture captures the kids sliding down a stairway, two in a washing basket, one on a cushion, which looks like, as the Dressels themselves noted, a “#potentialdisaster.” Others show the dolls having a quieter time alongside the family pets, which at least in the case of the Dressels’ kitten, seems to have ended in some confusion on the cat’s part.
Meanwhile, the dolls seem to have struck a note with the Dressels’ Instagram following. Most of the comments that they receive are positive. On more than one picture, Instagrammers let the Dressels know how “adorable” their children are. On another, a commenter said simply, “Awesome. Fabulous.” Furthermore, some of the photos exceed 1,000 likes.
Meanwhile, on Facebook, several commenters shared their enthusiasm for the page. One explained, “I love the enthusiasm and confidence of these two!” Another said, “It’s delightfully absurd, and it’s retro – what more does one want?” Meanwhile, a third user appreciated the doings of the dolls, writing, “Love seeing all the activities they are involved in…”
Despite the many “family” shots that the Dressels feature in with the dolls, the couple insists that they aren’t really a substitute for real kids. It’s just a fun way to express their creativity. They enjoy the whole experience with their plastic offspring, fixing them up and then posing them in the scenes that they photograph.
Madeline explained to Barcroft TV that others in the doll world feel differently about their toys. She said, “There are some in the doll community that do [think of them as replacements for children]. We’re not those people.” The Dressels joke on the dolls’ Facebook page that they are not substitute kids, because that’s what they have pets for.
But the fun doesn’t end with the Instagram productions. The couple also featured the dolls on a Christmas card similar to that some people share with loved ones every year. In the caption to the rather creepy shot, the Dressels wrote, “This is what we sent our unsuspecting friends and family this year.”
Nevertheless, despite the largely positive response to the pictures, there are some naysayers. Madeline explained to The Sun, “When taken out of context, which is easy when something gets shared on the internet, we tend to get inundated with comments from people saying that our pictures are creepy, give them nightmares, or that I must have some desire to have kids.”
As Madeline noted to the newspaper, these comments are all directed at her. She said, “Interestingly we’ve never seen a comment from someone implying the same about Malachi.” However, even the detractors can be brought round, as she explained to U.K. newspaper the Daily Mail. She said, “I think most people actually… when it’s explained to them a little bit in context, they think it’s pretty interesting, it’s pretty funny.”
Indeed, Madeline felt that once in on the joke, people love the concept. She said, “They may not want to meet the actual dolls in person themselves, but they get a kick out of the picture and the idea.” And certainly, she wasn’t going to hide away from it. She continued, “If we are going to be the creepy doll people, we are going to own it.”
And the Dressels are not the only “creepy doll people” in their locality either. A couple of their buddies also love collecting dolls in a big way too. Of course, it’s not for everyone, as they discovered when they invited Malachi’s pal Michael to celebrate Madeline’s birthday at a doll tea party.
Michael doesn’t share the hobby, and in fact he hadn’t managed to meet the whole “family.” Malachi explained to Barcroft TV that his friend hadn’t been completely aware of the scope of the collection. The former said, “He’s seen a few [of the dolls]… He has not seen the quantity, of which we have a mass at this point.”
So when Michael did meet up with the gang, he found it just a little bit overwhelming. He explained to Barcroft TV that when he did see them all, he had been “just a bit stunned.” However, despite the dolls’ creepiness, he’s still positive about the couple’s hobby, telling Barcroft TV that he thought it was “amazing.”
As Michael expressed to Barcroft TV, “I think it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. The fact that they are so candid and really don’t care what other people think. That’s one of the reasons why I love both of them. They are some of the weirdest, most upfront people.”
Michael summed it up by saying, “They’re good friends of mine, but it’s still creepy.” For her part, Madeline doesn’t mind what people think about the hobby though. In fact, she’s more than willing to share her photos with others. She told the Daily Mail, “I’m not shy about showing people the Instagram.”
Indeed, there’s not a hint of embarrassment or shame about this couple. Madeline said to Barcroft TV, “When I get that dreaded question, ‘What do you do for fun?’ Well, let me show you what I do for fun, and we’ll find out if we’re going to be friends or not.”
Still, the Dressels are keen to let people know that they aren’t swamped with dolls. As they explained on the toys’ Facebook page, you could see a whole bunch of them if the couple are mid-project, but most of the time you won’t. That’s because they have a room of their own that they pass the time in when not featuring in photos or videos.
Meanwhile, Madeline’s doll obsession doesn’t end with her plastic children. She has another Instagram page where she features Barbie in a range of shots. As she travels for work, Barbie comes too, so there are dozens of pictures of the doll all across the United States and the rest of the world. Madeline says Barbie is “[her] motivation to get out of [her] hotel room…”
All in all, the Dressels puts a fun – albeit creepy – spin on collecting. And they’ve found a great way to express their creativity. Certainly, they don’t have to miss out on sharing “family” photos with their buddies and fans. However, they’re not confused about the nature of their children. As Madeline expressed to Barcroft TV, “We prefer our dolls to be dolls.”