Winchester — Frances Miller calls herself a “homebody.”
But when she is home she is busy. At 88, Miller doesn’t show or act her years.
Her latest venture has kept her busy since early summer when her neighbor, Lenny Millholland, Winchester sheriff and board member of the William and Henry Evans Home for Children, asked her to participate in the annual doll auction to benefit the home.
“I couldn’t turn down Lenny; he is so good to everyone,” Miller said.
So she became a dresser for one of the 30 dolls to be auctioned Sunday.
By October, having spent more than 50 hours hand-sewing a pink costume with a matching hat and lace petticoat, Miller finished her creation — a doll she calls Elizabeth.
“My daughter’s middle name is Elizabeth.” she said. “I knew I wanted to do her in pink as pink is my favorite color.”
When she said “yes” to Millholland, Miller said, she envisioned sewing a little dress for a doll someone would be playing with.
“I had never made a doll dress before; this is a first for me,” she said. “When I saw the doll, I thought that she was the prettiest doll I had ever seen. I knew her outfit had to be elaborate.”
Miller asked her daughter Kathie Elizabeth Legge for help. Legge, recently retired from Lord Fairfax Community College, often visits her mother during the week. “We enjoy being together and we like to shop together,” said Legge.
After much brainstorming, the two set out to look at designer dolls, to study patterns, and to find just the right materials and notions to make doll Elizabeth look as elegant as possible.
While Miller reiterated that this is her first attempt at dressing a doll, she is no stranger to sewing. “I have been sewing all my life for friends, for my family and for myself.”
Legge said she and her brother Lynn Miller were lucky when they were growing up to have the benefits of their Mother’s talent.
“She doesn’t just sew,” said Legge, “she is a tailor – and a great tailor at that.”
Usually wearing clothes made by her mother, Legge was voted “best dressed” in Handley High School’s Class of 1969.
Miller’s talent with needle and thread goes even deeper. She is a well-known and well-respected quilter. One of her crazy quilts won first place at the Frederick County Fair in 2001. Since then, more quilts have been completed.
All of Miller’s quilts are hand-stitched. She has her own quilting frame. Turning the pages of a photo album that includes data about each of her quilts, Miller pointed out some with Amish designs, one with big red apples she did for her granddaughter, and another one of pastel tulips. Then, with her daughter’s help, she unfolded a large pinwheel design quilt made of soft colors from pink to ecru.
“This is probably my last quilt because they take so long to make, but I had to do this one for someone special and each quilt takes me about 200 hours,” she said.
Some of her favorite quilts are ones that Miller put together from fabric pieces passed down in the family. She took quilt pieces an aunt had left unfinished and turned them into a butterfly quilt. A fan design came from pieces of 1930s dresses belonging to family members.
Doll Elizabeth’s dress has the same attention to detail that is given to quilts. Along with the sewing, Miller pays attention to other details. Her home is immaculate. She also gardens – vegetables and flowers. She bakes for her friends, family, and organizations — one specialty being fresh coconut cake.
“My hobby is shopping with my daughter Kathie.”
And she often dog-sits for her family’s dogs – Lucy, 14, and Magoo, 5.
Miller’s next project is Christmas. “I do the traditional family dinner here with fireplace lit and the tree decorated,” she said. After spending nearly 50 years working in the insurance field, Miller retired in 2002 at 81.
“I was glad Lenny asked me to help the Evans Home.” she said. “Adults can choose to live how they want to, but children don’t have a choice. That’s sad, but I am glad they have a place like the Evans Home. It’s wonderful.”