Summer has finally arrived where I live in California. It looks like the sun has finally decided to stay one step ahead of the clouds, rather than shyly hide behind mountainous waves of rain. Finally. And, its also during this time of year when I begin finding it difficult to stay indoors - which means, less time in my studio. So I thought I'd best work on this one little project before the fairies came and carried away with me.
Its been several years since last I attended a UFDC summer convention, and for many reasons and non-reasons (who needs a reason anyway?), I'm going this year. I was visiting with a friend of mine yesterday, justifying to her why I'm spending the time, and money, going, and came up with a really good excuse. Inspiration. The reproduction Huret is still going strong as the doll to acquire and dress, and while I do have one, she is wearing the Robert Tonner outfit he made for a luncheon from last year's convention (got it on Ebay). Not one by me. Shame on me. I know. But, the doll has a really strange body and I've not bonded with her yet.
Another reason is that I need to get outside my comfort zone, and live a little. A true introvert, I'd prefer to read on the patio, design, sew and needle felt in my studio, and play with my dogs. And, yet...there will be DOLLS there. Lots of them! And, people who love them as much as I do. Who needs an excuse?! Right? Right.
Helen Kish will be the artist of this year's souvenir doll, so interest in her dolls is once again on the rise. I use to collect Kish, yet as my interests changed, I kept just a few, and sold the others. Interestingly enough, I kept two of the 16" dolls she sculpted for White Balloon. For one thing, I'd amassed an incredible Boneka wardrobe for them. So when I was considering doing a Helper doll for the Helper room, I thought of dressing a Kish. The Helper Room is one filled with dolls donated by UFDC members that get raffled off. The proceeds go directly to this non-profit organization. I also wished to express my gratitude to them for getting published in their 2017 spring journal. I wrote an article about Gay Event, and the editor seemed to like it. Since I enjoy sewing for this size doll, a 16", I kept an eye on Ebay and found the Summer doll and put a bid in to try and acquire her. Which I did.
It was pretty obvious to me that I'd dress her as Alice, and I had two yards of this gorgeous blue silk that I'd not done anything with yet. I bought her a human hair wig, which did wonders for her, and one of the last pairs of size 65AA black shoes by Boneka out there, then set to designing an Alice outfit for her.
The dress is your basic, full skirted, puffed sleeved Alice style. Its terribly difficult to be original when it comes to "dressing Alice", so I used elements of design that I felt best to portray her on a Kish doll. The skirt has three horizontal pleats at the hemline, which is always a challenge to do. I still haven't quite figured out the mathematics of placing these pleats, so I kind of wing it. Actually, I do that with all I create, so there's nothing new there. The puffed sleeves have gathered lace edges that are sandwiched in between two bands then sewn on - rather than making a sleeve band and sewing the lace under the edge. I've found this practice gives a much more polished look to the sleeve edges. The cotton collar lace was inserted the same way. Collars are becoming slightly easier for me, and the angst, I believe, comes directly down to my wishing things to be so precise - they just take time and patience. A gathered Swiss lace edge embellishes the attached "peep" slip.
Even though I detest the time and effort it takes to make knickers or any kind of under garment (they don't show!), I made a lovely pair of knickers for her. The edge of the knickers combine two laces - an insertion lace, then a band of the same Swiss lace used for the slip's ruffle. Understand that while I'm not doing anything particularly new, I designed this outfit from scratch. I wasn't trying to follow a particular illustration. More thought went into what I wanted to do, than the actual assembling. Pale pink and white striped stockings go beneath the lovely knickers. It was the apron, and its design, that I spent the most time designing and working on.
About a year ago, I'd purchased this delicate batiste Swiss lace with peachy-pink embroidery on it. I thought it was just gorgeous, and bought a yard of each type, just to have on hand. For some reason, I always envisioned it going towards an apron, or pinafore. I puzzled the laces together so many times trying to see just what might make it prettiest and work with all three laces. I simply could not figure out how to attach the three inch lace to a length of similar, but plain batiste to lengthen the skirt. Finally I came upon this 1/8" insertion lace amidst my lace bags and gave it a go. Part of my quandary was that mistakes could not take place. I can't find this particular peachy-pink embroidered lace any longer, so if I blew it, I'd have ruined the lace and would have to try something else. The pink in the stockings matched this color, too! Luckily the idea worked and gave the skirt of the pinafore a dainty appeal.
The waist band is an insertion lace on its own. In order to easily zig-zag the edge of it to the skirt, I pleated the skirt, rather than gather it. The ties were made the way I do the silk hair bows and were attached to the insertion directly. All these edges are doubled under or overcast stitched for a clean finish. The straps are an edge lace that I pleated as well then banded and attached to the waist and ties in the back. I wanted to retain the sheerness of the Swiss lace, the lightness and delicacy.
Finally, I had to decide on an accessory. Something Alice. Something I could attach to her. Second pieces, like for instance a rabbit, could easily get separated from the doll when you take it to the Helper room, so I pondered on this for a couple of days. A key is a logical choice, but I took it in a different direction and made her charm bracelets. Charm bracelets are memory keepers, and so I call her Memories of Alice. The second charm bracelet is a little faceted glass frame that holds tiny cards. I had these cards on hand from when I created the miniature Alice trunk sets. Its a touch of steam punk, for certain, but the bracelet effect maintains the look I wished to achieve. She wears a black velvet ribbon head band. So very Alice.
While putting this all together, I pulled out my old White Balloon Kish and dressed her in the Sasha size Alice outfit I'd acquired by Boneka. No, it doesn't fit her as well as it would a Sasha doll, but that's okay. I attached a photo of her below. She is still wearing her synthetic wig. Her eyes are not as deep a blue as Memories of Alice's are, but she is lovely in her own right.
The days could not be prettier right now, but I have already started a new project. I'm continuing with Mary Lennox for awhile so that I stay on task. Besides, I really love this doll!
Spring has come to Misselthwaite Manor. A time for gentle rains, flowers blooming forth, and lambs being born. Foxes nurse their cubs, heather colors the moors in purple, and geese lead their young about in a marvelous parade.
Ben Weatherstaff, the gardener, is busy pulling weeds, pruning shrub and roses, and making polite nods with the tip of his hat to Miss Mary as she skips through the garden grounds towards the door that will lead her to a sanctuary she tends with love.
The wardrobe illustrated in the Peck-Aubrey paper doll collection for Mary Lennox, is one for a year's worth of fanciful beauty. Mary is ageless, forever young, forever the child of The Secret Garden. While I must admit that the Red Garden Coat was one of the brightest spots on the doll shelf opposite where I work at designing these costumes, it was time for a change.
I've not forgotten that my goal was to make all nine of her costumes this year, and I'm not sure this is going to happen. But its nice to have a plan! I might be able to accomplish this if that was all I wished to do until December thirty-first. And, my goodness. The days and months pass almost like a "time lapse" production for me these days. Where did April go?
I'd originally intended to make the blue and white striped sailor collar dress next. However, when I went to reach for the fabric I'd purchased several months ago, I stopped short. What I had was a yard of navy blue and white stripe. What was I thinking? Its a royal blue and white stripe that was needed to make this. So I've reordered fabric in that color. Naturally, it is coming from the U.K. so I selected another outfit to do. I chose the green plaid dress with the double skirt and lace collar.
I do realize that the outfits in this paper doll collection are a bit unusual. Or at least not what we're used to seeing in young Victorian styles, or colors and patterns. However, after completing three of them to date, I find that the fabric interpretations are quite charming and its a challenge to see what I can do with them.
Mary's double skirted plaid outfit has this elaborate lace collar as its feature of focus. I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out just what to call it. It is a detached collar that fits snuggly around her shoulders almost like a cape, or a modern day shrug. I asked my friend, Barbara DeVilbiss, who is an expert on historical costume design, just what I should call this. Her answer was brief, as if it should be apparent to all who would ask the question, that what it would be called depended on whether it was American, English or French. Thanks, Barbara. LOL Its a lace collar.
The dress is constructed of a simple bodice with a short, rounded neckline. The long sleeves are puffed at the top, continuing the puff past the elbow to long, narrow cuffs. The cuffs are edged in gathered, delicate lace, then lined before attaching them to the gathered puff.
The double skirting is also fully lined. It funny, but when I was cutting the lengths and widths for the skirt, I knew that the width should be 26" - 27", so I made it the same as the Debut Red Silk Dress, 31". I guess it is better to have too much than not enough. Silk will gather tightly like tissue paper, but a fine woven cotton will require less width, since when gathered, it is thicker and still must fit in the confines of the width of the bodice. So I cut three inches off each end and redid the lining seams. There was a lot of seam and stitch pulling in making this costume. At first glance, you may ask, "What's the big deal? Its a simple dress!" Nothing I do is simple, and that's a fact I must face each time I create a new design.
The lace collar was one of the more interesting pieces I've made. When I first began collecting fabrics and notions for this wardrobe, I was tempted to purchase a finely crocheted doily to make into this collar. This would have been the wrong choice for several reasons, and if I had to guess what was intended by the artist, I would suggest a custom bobbin lace collar designed to fit snuggly around the shoulders.
What I chose to do in creating this collar , was design a pattern with shoulder seams for a close fit. I'm pretty sure the cape on the red coat would have been more easily done this way, too, but I was dead set against it. With wide lace, the piecing worked out pretty well. This wasn't the first time I was piecing different laces together. I'd done this on the Sue Shanahan, Alice Illustrated outfit, too.
The collar is two pieces of 4" lace off set, one laid over the other to create a smoother, more continuous scallop edge effect. I must have looked at 2,000 laces before settling on this remnant of a roll at Jo Ann's fabrics. The open weave was the defining decision. A piece of insertion lace creates the threaded collar, and white gathered lace has been attached to the insertion for the ruffled edge at the neck. A piece of the woven plaid was threaded through the insertion lace. There is quite a bit of hand stitching on this, but the main body of it was done on the machine.
I have a tip for those of you who would like to try this some time. Use a fold of fine netting over the two pieces at the edge to be sewn, pin, then machine stitch them together in a zig zag. This will hold the pieces firmly together. I figured this out by detaching the netting that was factory sewn onto the edge of the 4" lace. If you sew just the cut lace, the stitching comes loose through the open weave of the cut lace. The collar was closed in back with teeny mother of pearl buttons and thread loops.
While looking through my stash for buttons to close the back of the dress, I found these little German, brown glass shank buttons that had a relief of tiny tulips. Perfect for a dress from a Secret Garden.
The last piece to be made was the hat. A little straw boater. I did not have a PNB hat mold with which to make this one, and I don't believe they carry one either. So I went back to basics and looked for a form that would work in which to build up the hat straw around. The bottom of a chicken broth can did the trick. I filled in the bottom ridge of the can with crushed aluminum foil, then covered the can with Press n Seal wrap. I marked where I wanted the straw to begin for the depth of the crown, and worked it top to bottom - the opposite of how the PNB mold hats are generally made. The brim was made by marking the inside of a large yogurt tub top with the outline of the crown, then measuring and marking it with the width I wanted. With this, I was able to build the straw on a flat surface, then attached the crown to the brim with another row of straw.
The hat's brim is trimmed with a silk bias strip. The ribbon was hand made of silk, by sewing the "stripes" together. With a jaunty red bow, the hat was completed. Now Mary Lennox can enjoy her garden tending in a suitable dress for the warmer days ahead.
If there's one thing I can say about myself, I'm consistent. I love everything Alice, and will always be on the hunt for new and exciting Alice costuming to create, or dolls to make. Often I look to Pinterest for inspiration, since I have a board there with several growing galleries. So when last I was on the site browsing Alice in Wonderland, I came across the most brilliant and whimsical illustration of none other than an Asian Alice. My jaw dropped. I could hardly believe my eyes. And, not only was there an Asian Alice, but there were several other fairytale heroines illustrated in such a manner. The artist? Na Young Wu.
Needless to say, I just had to make a doll of Asian Alice. And, furthermore, I've been intensely interested in this young artist. Her beautiful work must be loved worldwide. However, initial research with information on her was very difficult to find. My first thought was that she'd illustrated the story of Alice in Wonderland, and I had to have a copy of the book. I looked her up on Amazon. I did an engine search of Na Young Wu and the book title. Nothing came up, but the several fairytale heroine illustrations. Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Little Red Riding Hood and a couple of others were presented. My head was spinning with delight, yet I was equally perplexed because I love to do research on the artist whose work has inspired me. Learning about them gives me an idea to their insight and their own inspiration. But, nothing was to be found on her. Only a reference to "Asian Alice" and "an artist illustrates (I swear I'm not lying) DISNEY characters Asian style." Disney? Who writes this stuff?! What happened to the Brothers Grimm, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Andersen? I guess they did not exist until Walt Disney came along. The only Disney she illustrated was Frozen. Sorry to rant on here, but really. Without being able to find a bio on Na Young Wu, or a gallery that represented her work, I had to start from scratch there, too.
After a couple of weeks, while trying to find a doll to make into "Asian Alice", I did find a blogger, or website, where I learned Na Young Wu was Korean. Prior to that, it was my best guess that she was Chinese. The costuming in the illustrations was not exactly traditional Japanese, yet didn't quite look entirely traditional Chinese either, and I have had little to no exposure to the traditions of Korea. This brief bit of information intrigued me further.
About a week ago, while I was beginning to consider what I would write in this blog, how I would present this project, and Asian Alice, I started writing in my head a story, a chapter with a twist, her experience down the rabbit hole "Asian style" from the objects she passed along the way, to the bottle she drank from, to her entry into the garden. It wasn't until I was nearly done with Alice's costume, that my curiosity was rewarded. I was ready to make the skirt and had no idea what length it should be. Something as simple as that spurred me to look up "traditional Korean costuming". The first word I came upon was Hanbok. I knew Hanbok! Mihaela Hinkle, the designer of Carpatina Dolls, had created a Hanbok for Ana Ming, a doll I collected for several years ago. Mihaela created Asian Dynasty costuming for Ana Ming from several Asian countries. Now we were getting somewhere. (And, I was almost done!)
Hanbok (South Korea) or Joseon-ot (North Korea), is the representative example of traditional Korean dress, with vibrant colors and simple lines. Although Hanbok's literal translation means "Korean clothing", Hanbok usually refers specifically to clothing of the Joseon period and is worn as semi-formal or formal wear during traditional festivals and celebrations such as weddings. The style is a mixed foreign influence of indigenous designs. While citizens of Korea may dress like westerners, in 1996, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism established "Hanbok Day" to encourage South Korean's to wear the Hanbok. Once I began to study and learn of the styles of Hanbok, the costuming for Alice began to make sense for me. However, I was very excited to learn that from what I'd been interpreting from the illustration my designs had been CORRECT. (This is a lengthy blog, so go grab a cup of Jasmine tea!)
The first thing I had to do was find a doll to dress. If you look closely at Na Young Wu's Alice, you'll notice her large round eyes. This is not something we typically attribute to Asian looks. Yes, it is in animee, but most Asian dolls. unless they are BJDs (expensive!) have lovely almond shaped eyes. There was also the open mouth surprised look on Alice's face. What are we looking at? A young girl with a surprised expression falling down a rabbit hole with her clothing billowing up around her, her braids flying above and behind her.. How was I going to represent her? I'm calling the term de-animation. She is animated, in action, and what I needed to do was interpret this illustration for a doll standing. And, the White Rabbit. Wendy Lawton had made two dolls with similar expressions. One was Little Miss Muffet (an Ashton-Drake production from her sculpt), and Goldilocks, one made in her studio in Turlock.
I'd found a Miss Muffet for next to nothing and was planning on redoing her. However, once the wig and pate were off, I noticed that the factory had poured resin glue into the impression of her face to set the eyes. It was not going to come out, ever. Goldilocks did not have the sweet expression of Muffet, rather a look of being horrified, or excuse me, ready to vomit. Money wasted on both dolls made me wonder if I would even find a doll to use for Alice. The porcelain, the large eyes, the look of innocence was what I was after. And, then I found a Josephine at a decent price. She'd do. The only problem with Josephine was her huge belly. Wendy seemed to like her porcelains done with huge bellies, and Josephine has a kegger. Don't laugh! I'm serious. But, I was determined to make this doll, because I had to. Josephine it was.
Alice would need a straight hair black wig to braid and brown eyes. Two BJD wigs that were shipped all the way from China did not work (too fine), so I settled on one my favorite human hair wigs from Monique. I found braiding this wig best done while the hair was damp, but it took about seven tries to get it tight enough and banded at a proper length. All the little things one might take for granted, I never do. Because I have to work with them. The Korean style of Alice's hair is called Badukpan meori. It is a hair style for very young girls and consists of two small braids, then combed into one long one in the back. I do not have Na Young Wu to tell me how Alice arrived with two braids, but I can tell you that the ties at the ends are called daenggi. This style is illustrated nicely in the photo of the "princess on her horse". What a marvel to find this photo of a girl wearing a Hanbok so similar to Alice's!
Alice's Hanbok was created in four pieces. To achieve the billowing effect of the costume, I worked with silk chiffon, the same silk I used for Gay Event's ball gown. At least I'd had practice working with the dreadful stuff. Finding a suitable blue took several tries as well and then there was the issue of the pattern on the skirt. I read that one of the special features of the Hanbok was its shape, slim on top and wide at the bottom to create a "bell"shape. The wide sleeves and full skirt were fashioned to flatter the wearer's gracefulness by hiding the movements of her lower body, so the wearer would appear to be floating on air. Lovely as this sounds, this look would be difficult to achieve with a tubby-tummied doll. However, not all children are slim, so we'll make allowances.
Back to the four pieces. Alice's full Hanbok consists of a pair of billowing trousers, a hip length "kimono-style" top so that it fit nicely beneath the skirt, a full slip for the skirt, and the long skirt worn empire style. I studied many styles of the women's Hanbok and there were some that consisted of a short jacket over the empire skirt, and even one where a hip length top was worn over the skirt. There was no definitive style to adhere to, so I followed Wu's illustration. I recall thinking at the onset that this would consist of a long kimono with a skirt over it, but at close look at the illustration showed a full slip with no split in the center (kimono wrap style). The collar is unique as well with the red banding where the it attaches to the neckline. This was a fun little puzzle to figure out. Red cuffs, a white waist wrap, and a blue tie would complete the look.
For the patterns on the cuff and skirt, I went back to the process I used to "make" the fabric for Gay Event's Walking Costume. I used a rubber stamp with that wonderful Tulip fabric paint. The pattern of the skirt was done on the same grid I'd used before as well. The "wheel" stamp used for the skirt was also used on her daenggi, hair ties.
And, here was something fun to do. I needed to make her hair band. From what I researched, and there may information missing, this ornamentation is called Baetssi daenggi. It is a small ornament attached to a hairband, and I even found a blog site that featured a class that was given on making them, with photographs on how to proceed. Alice's was unusual in that it had a zig-zag band, but the ornament would be traditional. I can't tell you how thrilling it was to enter the world of traditional Korean Hanbok. One website, one term would lead to another area of research in the clothing, and it was so much fun to discover. The hairband was made from cloth wrapped wire (the kind I had on hand for needle felting), then wrapped with strips from her skirt fabric. The triangular ornament is a piece of hard leather covered the with the same fabric, then decorated with a hand colored paper flower and green "star" backing.
As I was making this costume for Alice, I grew a keen appreciation of what Na Young Wu illustrated for us. She told the story Korean style and its brilliant work.
Of course Alice needed her rabbit (which I actually made first). I think it was the White Rabbit, even more than Alice herself, that inspired me to work on this project. I shake my head, still, at the thought of a dignified, high ranking rabbit, smoking an opium pipe, on his way down the rabbit hole. Did I mention that his style of Hanbok was worn only by the highest officials? I began to refer to him as M. Rabbit (Monsieur Rabbit) for this purpose. I took him quite seriously, and you should, too (lol). M. Rabbit.
I also loved this project because I could entertain myself with another needle felting project. I was making him prior to Easter, so he was my Easter bunny as well as part of Alice's story. As I studied the illustration, the objects in M. Rabbit's hole fascinated me no end. Instead of cards, Na Young Wu used dominoes! She's a kick! I can't tell you how much I'd love to meet her. And, notice that the tea set (The Tea Party), is an Asian one. Can you imagine what the Mad Hatter would look like?! But, yes, I had to learn how to needle felt a rabbit.
I looked up and viewed many felted White Rabbits and felted rabbits in general, and all I got was a general idea of "rabbit". M. Rabbit is a Korean rabbit and a serious one for such a fluffy little bun-rab. Fluffy bunnies do not smoke opium pipes. Let's get real here. I had to give him a serious expression. He actually came together rather quickly while I referred to no less than eight different images of real rabbits and a couple of felted ones. I think one of his most distinctive features, that others have passed on, is that a white rabbit's ears are almost transparent. With light, you can see through the fur to the pink membrane of the flopping appendages. M. Rabbit was a joy to make, and a study, as well, of balance so he could stand on his own.
His traditional Hanbok would be a red smoking jacket, kimono style. If you've ever seen a silk smoking jacket, they are made kimono style, but with narrower sleeves. I'd dressed a Robert Tonner resin White Rabbit in the Nursery Alice (Tenniel) style, so I was familiar with the notion that the arms, or front paws, are quite short. I used a red cotton silk for the jacket and the collar was made with the white silk chiffon. Why? Because I like fabrics to complement each other and he had to look like he belonged to the Asian Alice set. Only the finest for M. Rabbit.
The tiny opium pipe was also a fun project to do. I've been able to find carving projects here and there over time, and I love working with wood. This little pipe is all one piece of bass wood, whittled down, stained and lacquered. A piece of straight pin, inserted in the tube at the mouth piece, allows M. Rabbit to hold the pipe in his mouth.
His hat was another matter. I didn't think it would be as difficult as it was, but I never do. This traditional Korean men's hat is called a Gat. It is a hat worn by noblemen and stems from the Joseon period that began in the 1400's which existed in Korea for 500 years. These Gat are black, see-through hats often made from horse hair - at least traditionally, but I'll bet you can buy knock-offs in nylon today. One of the reasons they have this tall crown, was to allow for the hair style that gathered up into a top knot. M. Rabbit does not have a top knot, but he is a noblerabbit and can wear the Gat proudly. I fashioned his from starched black cotton, needing a light fabric that would hold its shape. I could not achieve an exact see-through style, but it works.
The last items I made were her slippers. I noticed that they were constructed in a moccasin style, sewn together in such a way. I worked them in red and black leather with beige thread on my sewing machine. After doing Mary Lennox's wellies, the pattern came together fairly quickly. Sewing them on the machine was like making booties. The shoes are about 1 3/4" long, heel to toe. Alice is 12" tall, and M. Rabbit is 4 1/4" tall. The domino set shown below is an antique miniature made of ebony and ivory that I've owned for quite some time. I'd ordered a little tea set with a blue floral design, and this is what was sent to me from China. They were out of the blue floral and didn't think to ask if I'd mind. LOL
I have really enjoyed this creative journey and have a acquired a great appreciation for the exotic beauty of Korean Hanbok. I hope that somehow in cyberspace, Na Young Wu might be directed to my project so she can see her work come to life. Know how deeply inspiring her work was. I have a feeling this delightfully talented artist would get a kick out of Alice and M. Rabbit.
When I was a little girl, my favorite book was The Bumper Book. Each day I'd find a cozy spot on the sofa, open the large picture book on my lap, and lose myself in the illustrations. I could read, but I had no interest in the written stories, just the ones that were told through Eulalie's illustrations. It wasn't until the year 1979, when Kit Williams's book, Masquerade, came out, that I would find myself in a similar world, lost to the beauty and magic of art.
This book, this story, this masterpiece was in short, a children's book for grown ups. I'd been collecting beautifully illustrated children's books since 1974, and when I saw this one, I didn't hesitate to purchase it. Behind the story of a little jack hare and a lost jewel, a golden hare, was a riddle, a treasure hunt for a real jewel buried on a hill somewhere in England. Perhaps the description of "behind the story" is not correct. The story was written as a riddle with the express purpose of changing the way the world viewed art, and of course, the treasure hunt for the buried jewel. To not just see a beautifully painted picture, but to explore every corner of it in the effort to solve the riddle. And, in by doing so, appreciate further the brilliant work of Kit Williams.
Having just finished watching a 2009 documentary on Kit, the book, and his work in the following years, I assume he would probably like nothing better than to never be reminded again of the book that brought him fame. Not all artists gravitate towards publicity and celebrity, but that does not keep admirers, such as myself from celebrating his work. From what I understand, Kit and his wife Eleyne live a very quiet life, where both artists immerse themselves in the thing they love best to do. Create things of beauty. Knowing this now, I can only imagine how surprised they must have felt when I wrote to them recently, through their website, and asked permission to create a doll from the illustration of Tara Tree-tops and Craw!
Apparently, I'd "missed" adding a return email address to my inquiry, and Eleyne, bless her heart, had looked me up on the Internet and wrote to me asking if I was the one who asked about Tara Tree-tops. I wrote back immediately, that it was I, and she and Kit granted me permission to make the doll. I was deeply touched by her effort to find me, and since then have been putting all the love I could into costuming this doll with her accessories.
When I first received the 14" Maggie Iacono doll as a gift from my friend, Betsy, it was Tara Tree-tops who I'd wanted to make her into. However, she spent some time on my shelf as Marguerite Magritte, if you remember her. So what stopped me from pursuing this initially? Craw and the seed dandelion. Where was I going to find a crow that looked like Craw, and in the perfect size for this doll? How on earth was I going to make a good facsimile of a miniature seed dandelion? Well, my foray into needle felting changed all that.
The illustration of Tara Tree-tops and Craw has always been a favorite of mine from the book Masquerade. There is something about the idea of flying, sailing in and out among the clouds on a breeze, being so high above the earth as to be able to see the world from such a view. Free from the ties that bind. I also love the ballet and the beautiful costumes the dancers wear. The delicate pink satin slippers that enable their feet to dance en pointe. I was now able to pursue the creation of this doll. To try. And, I really did not know where to begin.
You'd think after all these years of studying this painting, that I'd have had an idea, but sometimes you just have to start trying things. Which is exactly what I did. The first thing was to draft a pattern of a body suit for the doll. I'd made an all-in-one design for the tutu to be attached to. I quickly learned that this costume was not going to come together in this manner, and pulled out my Robert Tonner New York City Ballet doll costumes to study their construction. What I discovered was that the costumes were made in three parts. The bodice, the panties (for lack of a better term), and the skirt.
As I continued to study Kit's painting, I noticed that the ruffles were adapted in a spiral and this simply wasn't going to work on a doll. If you notice the top ruffle or petals, towards the waist, they are smaller and seem to wrap and grow wider as they move down the skirt. This could be an illusion "in flight". Perhaps it is a fault to see or read so much into the illustration of a costume, but also humbling not to be so interested in solving the riddle of the story. My "riddle" has been in how to bring those illustrations to life on a doll. Her costume, to me, is the flowering dandelion. She holds the seed dandelion in symbolism.
The best approach to creating the look of the tutu was with many, many box pleats. I used the yellow silk I had left over from Gay Event's Walking Costume, and a green silk taffeta for the bodice and panties. There was no way I was going to be able to make as many green leaf stems on the bodice as Kit drew on the original, so I suffered the painstaking effort of creating just a few and turning those points inside out. Fray Check was my friend in this endeavor. Then there was the zipper. I used a small, 2" vintage Barbie zipper for the front, and machine stitched the yellow in between the leaves. There are some things you can do when interpreting illustrations to costumes for dolls, and some you cannot. The yellow between the leaves would have been "flower", and could have been realized if for instance, I used wool felt to create the bodice. But, ballet costumes should be made of silk in my mind, and so I "interpreted".
A full yellow bodice with box pleated ruffle on top was fitted beneath the green leaf bodice. The rows of box pleated dandelion petal were sewn to the pants, then the bodice sewn to that. The costume closes in back with tiny hooks and thread loops.
Tara's stockings are a light green knit jersey and her slippers are pink silk on leather.
The next task was to make her wee seed dandelion. I was not going to go into this project blind. I grew up with dandelions in our yard. I would sit as a child for hours during the summer months, and blow the fairy seeds along the wind wishing for a dream to come true when they found their eventual resting place.
When I lived in Ontario, Canada, for two years, we had a field that stretched out behind the house. Living on the east coast of Canada was a far cry from the climate of California where I grew up and still live. Everything felt different. Even the bugs were bigger, and there's nothing like experiencing your first ice storm while driving a sports car at night. Silly Californian!
We'd moved there in the dead of winter, and by spring, a little magic came my way. One morning I was looking out the kitchen window at the field below and admiring all the pretty yellow dandelions that grew so abundantly. When all of a sudden, they began disappearing! It was like something beneath the earth was pulling them under, and they were out of sight, gone. My husband came by and told me there was a ground hog out there eating them all. Pop-pop-pop, they'd disappear into his mouth. I've never looked at a dandelion quite the same way since. But, I digress.
And, I will some more. Dandelions are a hearty little weed. I'd prefer to think of them as flowers, although gardeners would disagree. I was studying the reason why Tara was wearing a dandelion tutu and carrying a seed dandelion. I wanted to understand the connection and why Kit painted her this way. Dandelions come up as a flower. When pollinated, the pollen goes down the stem into the ground and produces the seed dandelion, which grows next to it. The seed dandelion, in turn, spreads its seeds through physical disturbance. The seed takes root and the cycle continues. A gardener's nightmare. The problem with pulling the dandelions out, is that when they come back, they come back with a shorter stem to prevent you from yanking them up again so easily. So my theory is that Tara and her seed dandelion are closely connected through this cycle. I won't trouble you further with this as we still have Craw to discuss.
Tara's seed dandelion was constructed using pieces from millinery flowers. Seed pollinator stems were attached to a floral wire then wrapped in silk ribbon. Needle felting wool was then gently wrapped around the seeds in a bubble form and gently felted into place. This little dandelion was hard to photograph, but I promise you it was made "anatomically correct".
Craw is Tara Tree-tops's friend crow. Tara finds him handsome, and he answers "'Ansome, 'ansome, 'ansome", in the story. She aids Jack Hare's progress on his journey to the sun in a riddle of her own.
As with the dandelion, I had to do some research on crows. Sometimes it is not enough just to have a illustration in front of you. How does he look from behind? What does his tongue look like? Certainly a tongue would be present if he was cawing with his beak open. I studied many needle felted versions of crows and none had an open beak. Well, no wonder. Its not an easy thing to do. And, I once again watched an instructional Youtube on needle felting birds. This time, I thought I'd try it will full armature. Mary Lenox's robin was not done on armature. Only his legs were created this way then wrapped. I have a very difficult time following instructions, but I thought I'd try.
Craw is 2 1/4" tall and 4" long. Most of these instructional videos are done with much larger subjects. I use a 26 gauge, white cotton wrapped wire for the armature. Something so thin that it doesn't hold a bend or shape when you needle felt wool to it. About half way into making him, I was ready to give up. But, I never do. Its determination that drives me, and I know I entirely overthink the process at times. He came together quite nicely, and quickly, when I gave into the joy of simply making him, and not making him to someone else's specifications.
The most magical thing happened at the end of this project. Its one of the reasons Kit created this story. To make us look, then look again. I may never see everything that this painting offers, but one detail became exciting clear when I tried to position Craw on Tara's wrist. I knew he had a gold ring around his leg, and attached to this was a chain. But, where did the chain connect to Tara? My eyes are not what they used to be, so I pulled the book under my magnifying lamp and discovered that the chain was attached to a ring on her finger. I felt giddy as the first day of spring! What a marvelous imagination this artist has!
As I noted early on, this treasured story, and the fame that came with it, will undoubtedly haunt the quiet, gentle artist that lives and works in seclusion. But to many like myself, its publication was a special time in our lives that will never be forgotten. For further reading on Kit Williams, this is wonderful article I found today http://bunnyears.net/kitwilliams/about-kit-williams/
And, to watch the BBC Four documentary on the 30th anniversary of Masquerade (2009), with an intimate look into Kit's life and work, please check out this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEIFm0UHtoo Its in six parts, but they're connected concurrently. Such amazing work! If you watch it, you'll discover that Tara shows up in another one of his paintings.