Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Girls in White Dresses - Picking Violets

The other day my friend Betsy gave me a call and excitedly told me that she was sending me a package.  She told me that she'd found a beautiful antique white christening gown that she was hoping I could cut down into a dress for one of her dolls.  She and I both love the story Anne of Green Gables, and both have Wendy Lawton's 14" wood body version, and she wished a dress for her Anne.  She loves "girls in white dresses", and surely they are one of the bright signs of spring.

I was in the midst of creating the recent Polichinelle costumes for Louise and Lawrence, and delighting in their bold colors, and gilding of gold trims.  Keeping an open mind, I asked her to go ahead and send it on and I'd "have a look".  I'd recently gifted another friend of mine, a $50 hunk of antique fabric that I'd purchased at convention last summer, and wasn't looking forward to handling another piece of antique fabric.  All those little stains and moth holes give me the jitters, and cutting into something when there is no more takes a bold pair of hands and a sharp pair of scissors.

However, I've come to realize over my baby steps, and stumbles into sewing for dolls, that if you don't take a deep breath and plunge in, you don't know what you might be capable of.  Cutting into my first piece of silk was equally daunting, but once I got the hang of it, I wouldn't sew with anything else for awhile.  One of the reasons I sometimes, like with the last project, make the outfits, then miniatures, then accessories, is just to prove to myself that I still can - or at least refresh skills I used to own.  I am never, ever confident with any new project I start.  Ever.  Its only when I allow the materials to talk to me that I begin to understand them and start curiously discovering what can be done.  So it was with this christening gown, stains and holes a-plenty.

First of all you have a fully made gown that obviously some young mother lovingly created for her unborn child (in my mind at least).  Getting over the "how dare you cut it up" has to come first.  Then there is the beauty of the design that appealed first and foremost to the person who acquired it.  Envisioning it as something that would make a lovely doll dress is one thing.  Actually doing it is another.  You can't just cut up a dress with all that embroidered Swiss lace trim, entredeux, and pintucking thinking it will all sew together like a dream.  And, you cannot rip out those teeny stitches with a seam ripper either.  The fabric itself, is so delicate that one wrong tug and you've ripped right through the dress.  Ironing this stuff can be a pickle too, since a too high setting (try the silk setting), will brown the fabric.

Oh, I thought of and tried all this.  And let's not forget to cut only the "good" parts that haven't any holes or stains.  In the end, I cut up the whole dress for the best pieces and learned that you have to cut at least an 1/8" above the lace so that you can sew it to the other pieces (sigh!).  I also studied how the gown was made, and since it was not lined, I noticed that the seams were finished with a zig-zag stitch.  That helped so much.  My thoughts were on how to shrink the gown into doll size exactly.

In short, I followed the look of the original gown and used the ends of the sleeves for the long sleeves of the doll's dress.  There are these beautiful, tight little gathers in the centers as they attach to the insertion lace.  This insertion lace was also used to make a high collar.  Lengths of the fabric, what was left of it, were used to make the ties that end in pintucks.  The ties on the original christening gown were done this way.  Tiny mother of pearl buttons and hooks close it in the back. 

It wasn't until I was completely finished with the dress that I properly breathed.  In fact, all the while I was making it, I considered what I would do out of new fabric and laces to make such a dress if I failed in this attempt.  Lastly, I soaked the dress in Oxyclean (a Robert Tonner trick for restoring vintage doll dresses), to brighten and refresh the fabric.  I have a travel steamer I use for removing wrinkles, but the lace did need a bit of iron pressing. 

When it came time to take photos, I included one of Louise's antique picnic baskets and sprig of violets.  I love violets.  Their color and scent is a favorite of mine, next to lilacs.  Laura (my model) was happy to play "mannequin", and hopes that Anne, with an E, will enjoy wearing it for years to come.  I wish now that I had photographed the christening gown before cutting it up, but again, a lack of confidence was to blame.

There was no inspiration for this dress aside from the christening gown itself, but attached are a few antique white dress pictures that might inspire for the future.  Yesterday was the first day of spring, and I hope the white of your snow, should it linger still, turn to crocus and narcissus to brighten your path.

Miss E. Mouse 

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Theatrical French Polichinelle - For Louise and Lawrence

Do you ever feel that sense of giddy excitement when you know a project is coming to a close?  You've worked so hard, were not in a hurry, and the process seemed endless.  Then the moment comes when you're almost done.  You get this feeling of anticipation, then you realize that there is still so much to do!  This is the way I felt while working on the hats for these costumes.  And, even thinking ahead as to how I'd share  them with you. 

Its no secret to those of you who've followed my creative process, to know that I adore the Polichinelle.  The French Polichinelle, to be exact, but I also enjoy the English Punch, of Punch and Judy, and the Puchinella of Italy.  So who are these characters, and how did they come about? 

Pulchinella is a classical character that originated in commedia dell'arte of the 17th century, and became a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry.  The star of southern Italy, he is described as "the voice of the people".  Pulchinella's worldwide popularity for his versitality, has captivated audiences since his introduction in 1620.

Regional variants developed as the character was introduced across Europe.  Europeans identified with the tired, witty "everyman" that Pulcinella represented.  His body shape of the humped back, large belly, hooked nose, and wide mouth, was said to be a mix of family traits.  In Russia, a ballet had been written for Puchinella and Petrushka.  In other adaptations, Puchinella was introduced as a puppet as they commedia dell'are style was not necessarily popular across the continent.

Most famously, was his evolution into Mr. Punch in England.  The key half of Punch and Judy, he is recognized as one of the most important British icons in history.  The marionette, Punchinello, gave his first recorded performance in 1662.  The British Punch is far more childlike, and violent (menacing with his cudgel), but also providing slapstick comedy.

In the French theater, he is known as Polichinelle, and first appeared in the late 16th century performances given at fairs.  Polichinelle was popular with the public and became on of the favorite heroes of the puppet theater.  The expression "Polichinelle's secret" refers to something that everyone knows.  I don't know when France started dressing dolls as Polichinelle, but I would imagine the glorious costuming made them popular as Etrennes sold at the New Year in the late 19th century.  Automatons of Polichinelle, as well as marionettes were treasured, just as the dressed dolls were.  Today they are much sought after antiques. 

While trying to decide what next to do for Lawrence Godey (Louise's brother), since introducing him in his purple velveteen suit over the holiday season, I knew I wanted to create complimentary outfits for the two of them.  I'd already decided what to do for them for the next holiday season, and the idea to create matching Polichinelle costumes came from that idea.  After spending time in pastel pinks and greens, I needed the visual stimulation of the bright primary colors, red and blue.  I had also never worked with metallic gold trims.  And, I was having difficulty deciding which direction to take Louise's wardrobe.  After studying countless Civil War era costuming for boys and girls, I just didn't see a way to create "boy-girl" matching outfits.

What it comes down to sometimes, is what I want to see on my shelf, and what will be fun to make to get there.  Sometimes the inspiration can be in a trim, as it is for some seamstresses with fabric.  I don't think a fabric has ever inspired me, but the trims I used surely did!  Vintage French gold metallic trim.  The loveliest stuff to work with imaginable! 

There are several components standard to a Polichinelle costume, and while the actual character is male, the dolls and automatons have often been female. Perhaps this comes from the Russian idea of Petrushka.  The Napolean hat is one of them, and sometimes it has a stove pipe crown nestled between the shapes.  A lace collar, two tones of color alternating throughout the costume, and glorious gold trimming are a few of the earmarks.  Also the shoes, usually French Court shoes with elaborate bows on them.  As I studied the various ways to combine these elements and decide on how to do the trims, as normal, typical me, I was conservative in my approach.  You will often see two different colored shoes on the feet to correspond with the alternating colors of the outfit, but I did this with the pink and white costume I made for Mignonette.  Let's try something else!

Louise's costume was done after Lawrence's.  With hers, I created a center pointed top that is pointed in front and back. Here sleeves are three-quarter in length, and have gathered lace falling from the elbows.  The skirt is paneled silk.  Ten panels of alternating blue and red were sewn together, then tiny gold bells were sewn to the centers at the hem.  Her Napolean hat has two rosettes down the front of it, over the gold trim.  All the gold trim on both costumes (all three, let's not forget her doll), were hand sewn on.  Louise's sleeve have the gold trim and topped with a rosette.  Five little gold bells top the runner of gold trim down the front of her bodice.  Her court shoes are red leather with blue rosettes. 

Lawrence's costume took a bit more time, which is why I made it first.  It was were I figured out the look of the two costumes.  His pant legs have three rows of gold trim, and the jacket is more elaborately designed.  Vintage gold piping trim was used at the shoulder where the sleeve attaches, is at the waist, and also at the wrist where the sleeve blousons.  If the sleeves had been straight, as I originally planned, they would have had three rows of trim like the pants.  As I did them, it gave me the chance to work with the piping which was attached to a ribbon that easily frayed.  I didn't do this with Louise's costume, although I had just enough to, because I wanted a completely different and more feminine look.  The trim on his jacket emulates the round belly of the Polichinelle, but it was not done for this purpose.  Its an observation of the finished jacket.  Lawrence's hat boasts the rosettes on the ends.  His shoes are blue leather with red rosettes.  I might mention, too, that the beads at the center of all of these rosettes are 24k gold plated.

To close the backs of both costumes, I used three tiny gold buttons.  This can't be seen on Louise's dress due to her long hair.  Both jackets were also designed on the dolls to annoyingly accommodate the doll stands.  Lawrence's jacket has three tiny gold bells going down the front over the trim.
The shoes took a couple of days to make.  I couldn't figure out why they weren't coming out the way I wanted, until I realized the soles had to be the shape of the narrow square toe court shoe.  Although they are not visible behind the rosettes, the shoes also have a flap up the instep.

I chose leather for two reasons.  Durability, I actually had colors to match!, (okay three) - and they were easier than silk shoes.  I've made ballet slippers, but I'm never quite content with the fit around the top of the foot and its strength.  You can line the silk, but if the silk isn't a heavy one, they are rather thin and flimsy.

I chose not to give them a shoe of each color, for in this case, I thought less was more.  And, I like girls in red shoes.  I can also give them one of each shoe later if I get bored with the look.  Or switch hats.  Or switch tops!  Their bodies are the same shapes. 

While making these costumes and spending the necessary fiddly time hand stitching all the trims on, I wanted an accessory for Louise.  I had this 3 1/2" doll, a reproduction mignonette, that Barbara DeVilbiss made for me some twenty years ago.  I was delighted by the photo of the large Kestner (?) in the photo below, with all her Polichinelle dolls.  My guess is that the Kestner (?) is probably about 24".  And, I also wanted a little Polichinelle paper theater for Louise and Lawrence to enjoy.

The little mignonette is dressed in the same colors and basic design concept as her two 14" admirers.  However, I needed to make his tiny costume as unique to him, as theirs are to them.  I was pretty "done" with the project when I started working on wigging and dressing him, but I also felt that this was good practice since I've not done a miniature outfit in awhile.  I wanted him to stand out as a little jewel in the display, so paid extra attention to decorating his hat, and added two beads each to his sleeves (faux bells), as well as three down his front to sparkle him up.  The outfit is sewn up the back as I don't believe I'll ever wish to remove it.  However it is made well enough to unstitch it and preserve it should I change my mind...but, I won't.
I'd asked my friend, Jean, if she could send me a copy of her little Punch theater to go with this set because it was done in reds and blues, but after I found the French Polichinelle paper cut out on Etsy, I thought best to keep it all French.  The little Punch theater can be used for another project, and will be.  I enjoy cutting out these paper toys, as its a very soothing, calming play-time thing to do.  I chose the Polichinelle puppets for it from another antique French publication.  It was not a sharp print, but has a pleasing appearance.  Not all people scan and share on the Internet thinking someone will want to play with it in the future.  Then, of course, I had to assemble it.  In another time, I would have adhered the paper to thin basswood and cut it out on my miniature table saw, but those days are pretty much over.  Maybe someday I'll do things like this again, when the sewing bug isn't so appealing any longer.

And, finally, I had cut out three tiny images of Punch and Judy with the baby thinking they might make good puppets for the theater.  They were too large.  Judy and the baby were fine to dangle behind the curtain, but Punch didn't fit.  The puppets for these theaters varied from marionettes to hand puppets shown from the waist up.  I attached the "jumping jacks" to sticks, and gave Lawrence and Louise one each for a final photo. 

I think these outfits were worth the month I spent on them, and I'm ready to change direction and work on another Alice project.  We simply had no winter here in California this year, yet now Spring has arrived in all its green drapery.  Time flies and each day is precious.  Live each well, and play often!  Enjoy some of my favorite Polichinelle images below.

Miss E. Mouse  

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Mignonette as Little Bo-Peep and a Special Valentine

How sweet, and wonderfully portrayed in story books, are the rhymes of Mother Goose.  Doll artists and figurine sculptors have portrayed the image of Little Bo-Peep many times over - and yet still, there is a freshness to each rendition.  She is the young child or youthful miss who wanders the meadows and hilltops with her crook in hand, shielding her eyes from the sun under a straw bonnet, in search of her flock that ambled off on a spring day. 

The romantic portrayal of the shepherdess was used in formal portraits as early as during the reign of Marie Antoinette.  Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun (my favorite portrait painter), painted her queen as a shepherdess, upon request, however in luxurious blue silks and flowers.  The simplicity of the shepherdess, innocence of the young girl in the meadow, was popular as a way for painters to describe springtime and eternal youth.

Little Bo-Peep has been dressed in period costuming from the early 1800's by Kate Greenaway, with full skirts and paniers from the days of the French Court, and in short, simple little dresses from the 1920's.  She's timeless regardless of the period costuming, but one detail always denotes Bo-Peep.  Her shepherd's crook.  Otherwise mistakes can be made between "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and Bo-Peep, if Mary's school books aren't visible.  I noticed this recently when researching Bo-Peep.  I guess the easiest way to tell the difference is that Mary's lamb followed her around, while Bo-Peep's were never present.

The history of Little Bo-Peep is not as endearing as the nursery rhyme connotes.  But, this is true of many English nursery rhymes as most had political origins.  The phrase "to play bo peep" was in use from the 14th century to refer to the punishment of being stood in a pillory. For example, in 1364, an ale-wife, Alice Causton, was convicted of giving short measure, for which crime she had to "play bo pepe thorowe a pillery".  The earliest record of this rhyme is in a manuscript of around 1805, which contains only the first verse.  There are references to a children's game called "bo-peep", from the 16th century, including one in Shakespeare's King Lear (Act I Scene IV), for which "bo-peep" is thought to refer to the children's game of peek-a-boo.  Needless to say, these early references are seldom considered when we think of the sweet little shepherdess weeping after the disappearance of her naughty flock.

Little Bo-Peep for Mignonette has long been in my hopper.  Maybe for as long as I've owned  Mignonette and Her Malle du Voyage, by Wendy Lawton.  I always feel it necessary to begin a new journal posting, describing an outfit I've made for her, with a little background.  "Mignonette" is not a true mignonette, which was a tiny French pocket doll, but a doll inspired by an antique Simon and Halbig mignonette who came with a trunk and trousseau.  Wendy Lawton procured this treasure from an antique store while attending a UFDC convention in New Orleans.  Mignonette and Her Malle du Voyage was the Masterpiece Edition from Lawton Doll Company for 1999.  Boneka had done the wardrobe for her faithfully reproducing each costume in the antique doll's trousseau.  Mignonette is my favorite Lawton doll, and will remain so through time.  What inspired me to create Bo-Peep for her, was that her trousseau came with two little lamb figures made in bisque.  These, too, were faithfully reproduced, however, in the Lawton doll factory.

Pink was the color theme for the Simon and Halbig doll, and this was also the color theme used for the 9" Lawton doll.  So whenever I've made her a new costume, I choose shades of pink.  I was tempted to use silk, but Bo-Peep is a little shepherdess, and simple cottons were more appropriate.  I chose this precious print in tiny pink flowers for her over dress with paniers, and a lovely green and white stripe for the skirting.  The stripe is so thin and fine that it could be described as a lawn. 

When designing the pattern, I chose the illustration (third down) for the basic look.  I was attracted to the sleeves of the over dress and the little white apron.  The fluted sleeves are not a gathered piece, but a semi-circle of fabric that is pinned to the upper sleeve length, very much the way you would inset a sleeve at the shoulder.  There is an under dress of a white, sleeveless bodice that the skirt and apron and sewn to - very much in "doll dressing" fashion.  This allows the over dress to fit comfortably over all.  There is no "one way" to design a Little Bo-Peep costume, so I used elements from favorite illustrations to design Mignonette's.

Her little bonnet was made on a PNB hat mold and I added a pink ribbon to hang loosely behind her so as to not overcome the details of her bodice.  Below are "must share" illustrations that were just a few of my favorites.  But, read on below them! 

Prior to making Little Bo-Peep, I wanted to make Mignonette a Valentine's Day dress.  When I was pulling pinks and greens together from my stash, I once again came upon this little silk plaid in dark peach and light gray.  In my lace and trims stash, I found this vintage silk jacquard that appeared like it might go well with the plaid silk.  The question, of course, was what to do with it?!

This basic pattern, which was used on two Christmas dresses two Christmases ago, is one of my favorite looks for these 9" Lawton's.  The drop-waist with puff-topped sleeves.  I had to be very careful since I didn't have but a bit of this vintage silk jacquard trim, yet I used it as a main design to the dress.  There are four rows on the long bodice, and one row at the hem of each sleeve.  I pinned them on at equal intervals of the checks on the bodice.  I enjoy sewing on checks and plaids as the lines are so easy to match up.  There's no question in placement.

I also found this lace that I've had in my stash for quite some time, and used it as an overlay for the skirting.  I wondered as I was designing this dress if I was over doing it.  But, what is a Valentine other than flowers and lace and frou-frou?  A large bow in the same fabric tops her pretty sausage curls.

So which dress is she wearing right now?  Well, she'll be Bo-Peep for awhile and enjoy the little sheep that came in her trousseau.  I wouldn't want this precious little girl to weep for having lost her sheep.  Oh, and one more thing!  I almost forgot to mention her crook.  Wire and needle felting wool!  And, of course, its prettied up with a pink bow. 

Wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day and wishes for an early spring.

Miss E. Mouse