Myra G. Hopkins met Mrs. Butterworth over breakfast years ago. The two have been in business together ever since.
With a paint brush and a sewing needle, Mrs. Hopkins has built a full-time career on syrup bottles. The Sykesville resident turns her amber-glass "silent partner" into a Santa or a Pilgrim or a bride. When the bottles are decked out in costume, only Mrs. Hopkins knows the true identity of the character underneath.
The Brush and Needle Co. began eight years ago as a fund-raising project for Mrs. Hopkins' church. Now she and her dolls are among the most popular entries at the annual Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church Christmas bazaar. She often sells about 75 dolls and donates the profits to the church.
When she sets up her display, Mrs. Hopkins places one empty bottle in the midst of all her characters. She points to the undressed bottle when curious customers ask for her design secret. They are usually surprised and ask for how-to tips.
"First, you get a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth syrup and pour it over your pancakes," Mrs. Hopkins said with a chuckle.
Although her family of four likes the sweet stuff, they could hardly keep up with her demand for bottles. Hundreds of the figures line shelves in the family basement awaiting coats of paint, a porcelain sealer and an original outfit.
After her penchant for empty bottles became known, friends and strangers put her in business with donated supplies.
"There must be a Mr. Butterworth somewhere, the way the bottles are multiplying," she said. "I didn't know how the business would balloon or that it would become my own."
Besides empties, she takes clothing -- especially formal wear -- and remnants from sewing projects. She sorts and files the materials until they find their way onto Mrs. Butterworth's figure.
She paints and repaints the face and hands, and accessorizes each outfit with attention to minute details: Mrs. Santa Claus has an embroidery hoop in her hand. A caroler carries sheet music. A bespectacled Santa marks his list with a pencil.
"It's a great recycling project," Mrs. Hopkins said. "How else could I get real mink or Persian lamb for Santa's coat?"
She finds accessories "here and there" for her characters and haunts her favorite stores.
"I know what my characters wear and need, and I am always on the lookout," she said.
In her workroom, prom dresses, wedding gowns and satin coat linings become ensembles.
She dressed two dolls in pieces of her own children's Liberty High caps and gowns to commemorate their graduations.
Her latest venture in the bottles -- which come in three sizes -- is a bridal party. She started with the flower girl, the pattern for which will appear in a national crafts magazine this spring.
Each doll represents about six hours of labor.
Prices range from $75 for a single doll to $100 for a set of the Magi.
Mrs. Hopkins said she would like to limit her doll-making to the annual church bazaar and concentrate all her energies on marketing "Cloaks of Elegance," the name she gives to her Mrs. Butterworth dress patterns.
The step-by-step instructions, which sell for $6, tell how to sew an outfit for each character.
"I know other churches could make a profit with this easy project," she said. "I am no great painter or sewer, and I can do it."
Even people who don't sew can be successful, she said. One customer said she substituted glue for stitching and made a beautiful doll.
Within a year, Mrs. Hopkins also hopes to publish her own theme book with directions and patterns.
A free brochure is available. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Myra G. Hopkins, P.O. Box 1332, Sykesville 21784.