Monday, October 29, 2018

Goldilocks and Little Bear Inspired By Gennady Spirin

Friends.  Where would we be without our friends?  Those who know me understand that I'm not the most social person in the world - a true introvert - but, they know I love them, and I treasure the new ones I make!  And, Olivia is one of the special ones.


Sadly, needing to downsize her collection a tad, she sent me a 12" Wendy Lawton Darla doll to dress.  This line of dolls was based on the Bleuette bodies and were considered "friends of Bleuette".  She'd given me a choice of the two she had, and since I'd never re-created a smiling doll with teeth, I chose the Darla.  I had zero idea what I was going to do with her though.  I truly expected she'd be napping, tucked away in the redo-doll cabinet for a couple of years.


Then as I was looking through my books for my once a year holiday project, I came upon Gennady Spirin's Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Bingo.  She was the only illustrated little girl, in my book collection, that even remotely had a similar face and smile.  So I changed her eyes, and bought her a new wig.  The coolest thing though, is that I was finally going to try creating Renaissance costuming for a child doll - AND a needle felt bear to boot!  I've longed to try a "princess doll" for years now, and this would be my chance.  Goldi as a princess?  A Russian princess no less! 

I love the work of Gennady Spirin.  I must have seven or eight of his illustrated children's books.  If you're not familiar with him, check his work out on Pinterest, or do an image search for his illustrations.  The details and Russian folk art are phenomenal.  I could lose myself in these books for hours.  Which is what I did with Goldilocks and the Three Bears - with a doll and a pile of wool.

If my memory serves me well, I began with the bodice of Goldi's gown.  I think I made it three times before I got a good one.  Dark navy cotton velveteen and this miserable sheer gold fabric that frayed the second you put a needle in it.  If I couldn't get this right, the dress could not be made.  I don't even know what they call this gold fabric, but its metallic and definitely manmade.  I folded and pinned and refolded and repined.  Machine sewed and hand sewed, and finally got a decent square-neck edge on the bodice.  This particular fabric was chosen for its "old gold" color and if you put your iron on the lowest setting, it would "barely" hold a fold.  

Next I tackled the sleeves.  My friend, Betsy, had sent me a gorgeous "Queen of Hearts" doll gown done by Boneka for my birthday.  I studied its sleeve construction, but it wasn't quite what Gennady had in mind.  I did use Boneka's design for the ribbon work though.  I believe these are called "slash" sleeves.  Study of these sleeves led me to believe that the white sleeve itself, was separate from the slashes or ribbons. A wrist band at the ends of the ribbons would give the loose sleeve the tulip cuff over the hands.  So this is what I did.  The ribbon bands are made from a high quality red silk dupioni.   Getting the white sleeves and the ribbon bands long enough to pouf was an effort of several tries - so much so that I was afraid I'd have to make another bodice (from all the ripping out and starting over again), and I didn't want to do that again.  I finally got something that I found acceptable and used a gold metallic trim made in France for the detailing.  To that I added Swarovski jewel beads and gold beading.

The skirting is a burgundy red velveteen.  I created a template, or grid, for the placement of sewing gold beading on.  I beaded the piece prior to lining it in more of the red silk, but I also had to work with that awful gold fabric again to create the ruffle.  Yes, I'm complaining.  This stuff was a nightmare to work with, so I Fray-Checked the edges before even attempting to gather it.  It worked.  Every step of making this costume was "an experience".  I used another piece of French made metallic trim for her little belt, then beaded it with pearls.  Goldi's outfit changes a bit here and there from illustration to illustration, but I loved the look, so included it. 

The hat was an interesting challenge as well.  Page by page I studied what the hat looked like from every angle.  The pattern I made for it was not just an oval, but a oblong one that would include darts at the back to fit the head well.  I used a buckram base and hand sewed millinery wire to the edge so that I could bend it into shape.  The blue velveteen is lined with the same silk lining as the bodice - a rather azure blue.

The hat was then trimmed in pearls.  I discovered a little trick to make them look even.  After you sew the pearls on, run a thread through them, tighten and knot it.  This keeps them all in a little row.  The squashed tomato on top is made from the same red silk and lightly stuffed with fiber filling.  Once again the gold fabric came out and I made the ribbon trims for the hat with it. 

Time to make the shoes.  They were not as difficult as I thought they'd be, but I did have to make a pattern that was in two pieces for them.  Its a little suede slipper or boot.  Gennady's Red Riding Hood wears the same boots, and RRH's drawings were larger and more clear to see and design from.  I like the way they turned out.  I used an ultra-suede fabric for them, using what I had on hand for them.  I think real suede would have been too heavy to work with.  And, I had to get to her companion. 

The Three Bears are royal bears.  Probably Lord and Lady Bear from the look of where they live.  Land owners and favorites of the king.  They rule the forest.  Their costumes alone are enough to drool over.  But, its typical for an artist to always create Baby Bear with Goldilocks, since she had so much in common with him.  The perfect porridge.  The perfect sized chair and bed, too.  So let me introduce Baby Bear whose outfit rivals any court costume Columbus may have worn to greet Isabella. 

I had fun with him.  I think I'm having more fun with the needle felts these days simply because I can make a companion or toy for the doll and not have to fret about finding all the right pieces.  I just make them.

Baby Bear began with wire armature, and I got to learn something new while making him.  Claws.  I did look up Sarafina's youtube on bears and discovered how claws were made.  Similarly to fingers, but longer and you cover most of the wire shapes with shaping wool, then "fur" wool.  It took a couple of tries.  He actually has a darker wool of fast-batting beneath his light rust fur wool.  In one of these photos, I tried to show his five digit claws.  Since they are wire, they can be bent or straightened - can hold a spoon for porridge if desired - can threaten the mischievous Goldi, too.
It probably took me slightly less time to make Baby Bear as Goldilock's costume, but it was infinitely easier poking wool than fiddling with fabric.  Just before I started applying his outer layer of fur, I realized that I didn't have the correct wool colors in my huge piles of wools, and had to order them from Living Felt.  They are so great to work with.

I did call ahead though to see if I might have missed something on their site.  I asked if they had a gold metallic wool.  They've got just about everything else.  The girl I spoke with thought I was nuts, but I do wonder if this wouldn't be an excellent color to add to their line.  Silver, too.  I'll bet they could process gold or silver fibers into the wool to create the sheen that would be required.  At any rate, they didn't have such a thing and didn't have a good solution to dressing a Renaissance bear.  So I chose "pecan" for the gold of his doublet.  His little "suede" boots are their caramel color.  Needle felt costuming is just as important as doll costuming - to me.    
 
I was grateful that I didn't have to make claws on Baby Bear's feet.  There seems to be a sock of some sort under the Bear's footwear that keeps their toes from wiggling through.  And perhaps the slashes in their footwear prevent the claws from wearing the toe of the shoe down quickly.  That's my guess.  I think its a genius idea and I know Gennady had FUN designing clothing for his bear family. 

The linked gold chain in the illustration, became a simple gold one on Baby Bear.  Gold trim and gold bead work decorate the outfit in the appropriate places.  His costume changed slightly from illustration to illustration, too.  So as with Goldi's, I made choices of what to produce for effect.

The coat was a hoot!  I'm either getting better at this, or just having more fun with it as I become less inhibited about proceeding.  I was the same way with sewing.  It wasn't until I was willing to experiment, and accept the occasional failure, that it became more fun.  I cut wool off the armature and start over again, just as I rip out seams and try again. 

The hat was probably the piece that gave me the most trouble.  I'm not even sure a real bear can wear a hat, much less one like this.  I'd just finished book two of the All Souls trilogy, where Dianna and Matthew time travel to Elizabethan England.  Their costuming was described in great detail and it helped as I created Goldilocks and Baby Bear.  But, nothing was said of hats, their shape or how to pattern them.  I had to sort of form a head on the bear that would make the shape of the hat correct. Or rather shape the hat to make it look like there's a head that fits in beneath. 

Anxious to complete this set before the end of the month, I started revving up the "creativity".  I was going to sew gold beads, in threes, to the hat to create the emblems on it.  That was the plan anyway, until I pulled out some gold trimmings to find one for the cuff of his coat.  The pecan wool, while nice for the doublet, wasn't going to gild this royal costume.  It was in this bag that I found some gold metallic Cluny lace.  Within the design were little flowers.  If I cut them out and cut them in half, they just might work for the emblems.  And, they did.  That was one of those "lights going off" moments.  The feather's in his hat are wool as well.  A plume, a red one, and white pheasant shaped one. 

I'm excited about this project because I really want to explore costuming from the 16th century.  Renaissance costuming.  I won't have time to revisit it this year, but I've a start on design concepts.  Both Goldi and Baby Bear look happy.  Like two little Shakespearean actors ready to step onto the stage.  I hope you've enjoyed seeing them.

And, Olivia, I hope you're delighted with what I came up with for the doll.  Thank you! 

Happy Halloween, everyone!  Its my favorite!  Below are some of Gennady Spirin's illustrations from the book.  All were used and savored over while making this set.

Love,
Melissa
  












Monday, September 24, 2018

Hansi's Gretel - An Alsace Doll

Whew, boy!  Fall is here!  Those sparkling mornings that turn into dry, earthy-warm days, ending in cool evenings with equally sparkling skies as the sun sets.  Did anyone see that gorgeous moon last night?  We even took an alternate route to walk the dogs last night, just to bask in the light of the near full moon.  It was full enough for me, and we climbed back up to the house with moon shadow accompanying our steps.  Love it.  My other favorite time of year next to spring.


And, it feels good to be writing again.  This little project has been in the works since July 19th, when I attended the Darlene Lane dinner for an Alsace doll at convention this summer.  I'd attended it for Betsy (she got the doll), but I got an excellent dinner, and enjoyed a fabulous presentation by Elizabeth Schmahl, on Hansi's illustrations and Alsase-Lorraine during WWI.  Great food and inspiration all in one sitting. 

And, its funny, but it wasn't the dressed dolls on display that caught my fancy, but the illustrated postcards by Uncle Hansi, the storks, and the history of the region that appealed to me.  I do recall that my mother's family history has roots in Alsace-Lorraine, and it was one the things she had great pride in.  I never really paid that much attention to dolls costumed this way, thinking "someone went a little wild with the bows", but after the presentation given at the event, I started doing my treasured research.  And, talked with Betsy, at length, about the costuming and history.  Her family history has roots there as well.  

I fell in love the storks of Alsace.  It was my intention to make a doll and needle felt a stork for her.  Upon learning that these storks, indigenous to the region, grew to the height of 5', I was in awe.  That's how tall I am!  The history of the stork delivering babies came from this region.  The tale was born out of the regrowth of a people who struggled hard during the first world war to recapture land that had gone back and forth between France and Germany since the 1600's.  The stork is an emblem of Alsace-Lorraine, and a grand bird he is.  I was also charmed by Uncle Hansi's illustrations, which reminded me so much of the original Becassine drawings.    
 
Hansi (little John), Uncle Hansi, as a non de plume, was Jean-Jacques Waltz (1873 - 1951), a staunch pro-French activist, famous for his quaint drawings, some of which contained harsh critiques of the Germans of the time.  He was also a war hero having been captured by the Germans once, as well as alluding capture much of his life.  His drawings portrayed the resilience of the French, the charm of its children, beauty of the countryside during the war (bombed out buildings among the blossoms of spring), and storks.  These precious images helped the region during great loss of life and keep their spirits up.

When I'd returned from convention, I went online and purchased several antique Hansi postcards to aid in creating a doll from this region.  I also spent hours saving off favorite Hansi images from online searches and have shared a few below.  After collecting a stack of various cloths to work from, I decided to make Gretel from two of my postcards rather than one.  The clogs in the one could not be made - well maybe, but I didn't want to try - and since she had short boots on in another, I felt it okay to blend the two images, and just play.

Its amazing to me how so much work can go into something and not look like it.  But, work on this I did.  It was the apron fabric and the skirt's trim that I began with.  I generally select the hardest or most elusive parts to work on first, because if these can't be achieved, the rest of the costume won't develop well.  I'm such a stickler to drawings.  Even if they are "just made up", I want what I see, and try.

The beige and red striped cotton of the apron is a woven fabric.  I chose an aqua blue machine thread and laboriously made tiny zig-zags on my machine alternating rows, to get the look.  Doesn't sound hard, but it took patience.  The trim was another matter.  I considered embroidering a band by hand, however I found a jacquard trim that was "close" and purchased it.  I pulled out the silver border threads and the yellow centers from the middle of the flowers to get the look.  It wasn't too difficult, but it took time.  Yes, I pulled too hard on the small work at times, threatening to mess up the whole piece of ribbon, but clipped as often as needed to not make that mess.

The skirt is a dark blue wool, which I lined with a merry blue and white stripe.  I considered what sort of lining a skirt like this would have, if lined at all, and selected something that "mother might have on hand".  Her top, or jacket, is heathered brown wool.  Two bands of black ribbon edge the sleeve.  Her little shawl is a cotton, black with red roses.  Its a triangular shawl.  The fringe is handmade knots - a little over 100 of them.  I thought it would take forever to do them.  I'd made similar fringe knots on Jolly Jane's hip scarf for her gypsy costume.  Bigger though.  And, you hardly see them due to the ends being tucked into the apron and her long hair in back.  Kind of like undergarments.  You never see them, but know they're there.  Her little knickers are edged in lace.  The original stockings I made where from black and gray socks, but I decided on blue and white stripes to break up the dark, dark, dark. 

Gretel's boots are Lawton doll boots that I cut down and re-edged on the machine.  At that stage of the costume, I was more interested in getting to the accessories, and these boots work fine.  By the way, Gretel is a 12" reborn Lawton - the same sculpt as Illustrated Alice. 
 
After a couple of months studying the bow and how it sat on the head, I noticed that there was a beige or gold "lace" cap beneath it.  Betsy and I had a long discussion, and online look, at the various ways these bows were made, and the different caps and ways they sat on the head.  The bows themselves vary in size, shape and color, but there was no real discussion (online) of why, except for the possible significance of the age of the female, religion or holiday.  Some were red.  Scarves of varying florals, solids and plaids could be worn with or in substitution, too, to the traditional Alsace costuming.  It was mind boggling - like just about anything goes.  I liked the idea of a gold lace cap and used a lace sewn and sculpted into a cap to attach a large black cotton bow to.  This was fun.

I also noticed in one of Gretel's illustrations that she wore an embroidered belt around her waist over the apron.  I had a small piece of cotton grosgrain ribbon about 3/32 wide and sat down to embroider red petals and green leaves on it.  Why not?  It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be and I was chomping at the bit to get to the accessories.

A stroke of luck found me purchasing on a BIN, two antique doll baskets that were similar to the ones in the Hansi illustrations.  It was needle felting time and I made a cute little bundt cake, a green pear and two red apples.  Remember the Christmas trees decorated in red apples?  The stems were something else to needle felt, but I managed with a bit of effort.  Not much can't be replicated in wool, but metal.

It was time to make that huge red umbrella she holds.  I grabbed a couple of sticks of basswood and two minutes into this, I realized I was barking up the wrong tree.  I knew I had a fresh package of Paperclay somewhere in a cabinet, and pulled that out and sculpted the stem and handle of the umbrella.  Paint and Gesso later, I made the red round, edged that then created a faux umbrella.  This is what you do if you're sticking to an illustration.  The spokes weren't necessary.  Its a prop.  I don't always get so anal about stuff - worth noting though.

But, my favorite part of all of this was the Alsace soldier doll.  In all the dolls I saw on display at convention, not one carried her soldier doll.  And, to me, he's the best part of all of this.  Did little girls really have these dolls to play with?  Was this a statement Hansi was making?  I don't know, but I loved that little guy, so I made one.  He's about 4" tall on wire armature.  Blue jacket, red pants and a matching cap.  There were two versions of him and I chose to do the one with a single breasted jacket, or one row of buttons - which are seed beads.  Gretel is coming back from market and she took her little soldier doll along with her, red umbrella under her arm in the case of inclement weather.

This was a fun project.  I wasn't so sure about it even after I began, but being able to be a bit creative here and there made it joyful.  I hope you'll enjoy the other Hansi's below, and one of mother dressing her daughters for the day.  There's so much to see and feel, experience through these images.

And, well, Halloween is coming up now!  We are taking off for a few days into the Eastern Sierras to see the change of aspen leaves, and then its Halloween costume time.  I think...

Love,
Melissa
 
  






All for a Looking Glass Cake!

Just because I said that I wouldn't make anymore "Alice" dolls, didn't mean I would make anymore "Alice" needle felts!  And of course, Alice Illustrated might just need a new "illustrated outfit" someday.  I surely hope you aren't tiring of Alice.  Nothing seems to inspire me more.


Every end of August is the beginning of a string of birthdays.  And, so I begin wondering what to buy, what to make, what that special someone might be delighted with.  And, then there's Christmas.  Its a busy time indeed.  Not all of my friends do gift exchanges, but Jean and I have been doing this for quite some time.  And, she's my Alice Soul Mate. 


One year I dressed a small porcelain doll for her as Alice, and the gift theme took off.  Last year she sent me the most amazing papered trunk with paper toys in it, all in Tenniel's Alice.  I flipped.  Turns out mine was a twin to one she kept for herself.  And since then, I've been helping her fill hers with "felties", as she calls them.


I wanted to do something birthday themed, and the only cake in the story (Through the Looking Glass), was a plum pudding called a Looking Glass cake.  Making the cake alone simply wouldn't do, so I set out to make at least the Unicorn, from which the cake came from in the chapter, The Lion and the Unicorn.  But, then he really needed the Lion or the story couldn't be told properly, so this birthday gift ran away with me a bit.  You think?

So let's recap.  I'm sure my "Cliff's Notes" here will sound about as strange as the story, but here goes.  So the King is on one of his normal rampages.  Alice is there of course, and the king is waiting for his messengers Haigha and Hatta.  For those of you familiar with the book, Haigha is the one that hands the king a "ham sandwich" from his messenger bag.  The king hears a noise and Alice asks, "Who are at it again?"  "The Lion and the Unicorn, of course."  "Fighting for the crown!"  Which happens to be the king's crown.  Then Alice remembers an old song.  

"The Lion and the Unicorn were fighting for the crown: The Lion beat the Unicorn all around town.  some gave them white bread, some gave them brown: Some gave them plum-cake and drummed them out of town."

So the two messengers, Alice and the king, go forth to watch the fight.  The king calls for a ten minute refreshment break seeing that the Lion and the Unicorn are fairly spent.  Silly conversation commences, of course, with Alice being singled out and identified as a monster.  Yet Alice sees the unicorn as a fabulous monster, and now they can both agree that something unique has happened.  They've both seen monsters.  This means a refreshment better than brown bread must be had, so the unicorn exclaims "Come fetch out the plum-cake...".  The lion shows up and asks Alice to hand round the plum-cake.  (I'm really editing here!)

But, of course its a magical plum-cake and no matter how Alice saws away at the thing, the pieces keep joining together again.  So the lion says, "You don't know how to to manage Looking-glass cakes...Hand it round first, and cut it afterwards."  Naturally the unicorn is miffed thinking the lion got a larger slice (the lion's share??).  And, the gist of all this is, the plum-cake is a stand in for Jean's birthday cake, and I had to make everything.

The chapter ends with Alice hearing another noise.  This one is of drums.  The drums that "drum them out of town".  I've got to tell you that if you're ever in need of a little clarity in your life, read Alice.  Your head will be filled with such nonsense after a page or two that your conundrum will make perfect sense.

I think one of the reasons I love doing these needle felts, is that I want to see what the characters look like from all sides.  I naturally have to make this up, following along with what I believe the illustration would look like should it step off the page.  I also get a brief education in animal anatomy - sort of.  After beginning to create one of the anthropomorphic critters, I find myself doing research on the real animal.  When I have a bit of understanding on the animal, I go back to the illustration and work between the two.  Its one thing to say you know what a lion or horse (with a horn) looks like, but quite another to sculpt it, dress it, give it a court costume or put glasses on its nose!

Both the Lion and the Unicorn as roughly 6" tall.  The cake plate is 2" in diameter.  I'd intended them to be around 4 1/2" to 5" tall, but there you go.  I had to begin with wire armature and just making that wasn't easy.  I did figure something out though.  If you want to make good wire armature, find images of the skeleton of the thing.  Then simplify with wire.  Why don't Youtube instructors tell you this?  I guess that would be too easy.  Giving away the secret!

The Unicorn gave me a chance to explore folds in clothing.  Also, it gave me an opportunity to work with "sticking hands in one's pockets".  Neither of these things is a no-brainer.  I really have to teach myself how to do things as I go along.  Yes, I make mistakes.  I love mistakes...no I don't, not really...but, they do teach you how to look at it again and do it correctly. 

The Lion was tougher than the Unicorn, even though I had to dress the Unicorn and detail his clothing.  I love his shoes.  The Lion looked like the Pink Panther up until the very last day when I added his ruff.  This was very troubling for me since he really needed to look serious.  I also learned to mix my own felt for a correct color.  No one sold "Tenniel lion gold" wool.  Both the Unicorn and the Lion were completely sculpted with sand colored core wool, then layered with their colors.  The Lion's glasses are two punched out circles from a plastic box and wired together in the middle.  I drilled needle holes into the plastic discs to insert the wire.  

Finally we came to the birthday, or plum-cake.  I purchased a set of yellow Barbie plates to get the platter, and a miniature kitchen knife to resemble the carving knife Alice sawed away with.  Tenniel's must have been a bone-handled knife, so I painted the wood handle ivory.  You really have to study the illustration, but the cake has little "red dots" on top, so I assumed these would be currants or similar, and dotted my cake accordingly. 

This was fun.  It was a learning experience and kept the gray matter well exercised.  It took me a little over a couple of weeks to do this set, and I worked, seriously, all day-every day on it.  When I got stuck, I slept on the solution, then literally "went for it" the next day.  Sometimes you have to just trust your instincts.  Yes, go ahead and say it.  The lion looks a bit like Dorothy's Cowardly Lion.  With glasses.  Like any project, especially one you have to really work hard on, there comes a time when you need to say "done".  Today was it.  I'm actually writing this on the 9th, but won't post it until Jean opens her present, or on the 24th.  And, until I mail them, I get to enjoy them for a little while! 

Next?  The Alsace doll.  I think.  Christmas is coming...

Love,
Melissa