Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Hetty's Holiday and a 2018 Recap

It was 1989, and Sam Elliott couldn't have appeared more rugged and handsome when he portrayed a struggling farmer living in Three Oaks, while his young daughter rescued one of Santa's reindeer - Prancer.  One of my very favorite modern Christmas movies!  Its worth watching just to see Sam Elliott come out to his newspaper box in a snow storm wearing only his long johns.  sigh  This show could melt anyone's heart, and have them believing faithfully in the magic of Christmas and Santa Claus.  Cloris Leachman was in the film playing a tragic character, too.  And, the hair styles that showed up in "church" are a time capsule in themselves.  My husband won't watch the show because he thinks its too sad.  But aside from the hardships of a struggling family, when Prancer curls up to Jessica Riggs after she falls from a tree trying to free him from the Christmas tree lot, well, its near impossible not to dab a hankie to your eyes.  Great movie. 
And, then of course, there's the young Sam Heughan (Jamie in Outlander), playing the prince in A Princess For Christmas (Hallmark, 2011).  I've watched my fill of Christmas shows this year.  Enjoyed every minute of it!  But, after a few days having finished The Nutcracker, I became restless.  And, there was Hetty, still in her debut dress from last January. 

I have had an oversize plastic zip bag sitting on my work table, filled with some gorgeous silks intended for dresses, for quite some time now.  Last summer I added some very pretty ones that I picked up during the UFDC convention.  One of them was this fetching pink and green plaid silk, that I was told was a "reproduction".  It wasn't cheap either.  So like some of the others, I simply saved it for the right occasion.  And there was Hetty, sitting patiently among the other dolls, and I knew she needed a treat.

I chose to work from this image of a child's dress, circa 1863, found in my go-to book, Children's Fashions 1860 - 1912, by JoAnne Olian.  It is described from the original entry as Fig. e: White bodice, belt with bretelles, for 6 -8 year old girl.  Well, as we all know from French Fashion, the children's dresses are simply mini versions, at best, from the ladies' fashions.  The thing that always amuses me, is that the "children" are even drawn like young adults.  So I got started on a new dress for Hetty.  

This was a interesting design with the two upper points to the "belt" and the one point below.  Something I'd not tried.  The bretelles are also decorative and come in two pieces attached at the shoulder point.  And, by the way, this silk is so thin and beautiful, that it was a dream to work with.  The difficulty was trying to figure out how to line the belt with bretelles, then hide how the skirt was attached.  If you haven't done this, think about it a second. 

The way this was done was by cutting off the point in the back of the lining and attaching the skirt to it.  The point in the front is lined on its own, then the front edge of the "belt" is turned under and sewn to the front of the skirt with a ladder stitch.  I'm sure it can be done differently, but this method worked for me.  Its all so very much a puzzle when designing from scratch.  The trim I used was an eyelash "picot" trim, and was applied by hand-stitching it on.  I don't think this trim is wider than 2mm, and has the most delicate little fringes on it.  Two buttons close the skirt in the back.

I had to make her a new "waist", or blouse, as well.  I never intended to redress her, so had attached the other blouse directly to the skirt of her green and blue striped gown. 

Hetty's little dolly seemed to need a new dress, too.  I also had this scrumptious pink silk in the same bag, and decided to use it to coordinate with Hetty's gown.  This little doll is one of Wendy Lawtons, and came in a yellow silk dress of the same style.  I copied the design of Wendy's little doll dress for the new one.  Its a basic pattern cut on two folds with a "boat neck" cut out.  The discovery for me was in the trimming.  Its simply a piece of six strand embroidery floss zig-zagged onto the dress.  I extended the zig-zagging down the length of the tie ends and that seemed to keep them neat.  Wendy's design was of a loose strand and near impossible to tie into a bow.  Another piece of embroidery floss goes through the neck band.  Its a happy, candy pink silk dress and makes the tiny doll stand out.

I do enjoy sewing for these 12" child Lawton dolls, so I just may have to make her a new dress each year.  Or when the spirit hits!  Merry Christmas, Hetty!

Looking back on 2018, there were definitely some pretty things made, and wonderful months of growth, both as a seamstress and needle felter.  My favorites were the polichinelle costumes, which Louise and Lawrence wore up until The Nutcracker.  I had a ball making Alice By the Sea with the Walrus and Mock Turtle.  It was a struggle, but satisfying end, to figure out, design and sew the loop soutache for the violet Alice dress (with hippo bee and Bill the lizard).  From the "squashed tomato" hat on Goldilocks, to the sculpting of the Lion and the Unicorn, its been quite a ride this year!  Below I've included a surprise needle felt I've yet to share.  The Nursery Alice White Rabbit.

Of course I have ideas for 2019.  And, I'll probably get busy with one of them shortly.  But, for the next few days, at least until New Year's Eve, I'd like to reflect a bit more, tidy up my work room again, and tuck into my new book, and simply still my mind.  Its been a gracious holiday season this year.  I hope you've had some wonderful surprises and precious moments for memories of your own.  Wishing you the very best of the New Year with good health, and joyful times.



Alice By the Sea

Mary Lennox


Alice and Bill

Through the Looking Glass


Goldi and Baby Bear

The one you didn't see: The Nursery Alice White Rabbit
A New Dress and a New Year for Hetty

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Nutcracker, Starring Louise and Lawrence Godey

Happy Holidays, my friends!  Boy, oh boy, have I been busy, and hard at work, since my last posting.  The first couple of weeks in November were spent making Christmas gifts, and since then, I've been creating a pageant for The Nutcracker.  I've been planning, or intending to do this, since last Christmas, and was very excited to get started.

Over the years, I've collected several beautifully illustrated children's books of the Nutcracker, but Don Daily's, in its watercolor opulence, has long been a favorite.  It never occurred to me that the actual Nutcracker costume he designed, might prove to be more of a challenge than anticipated, but I'm then, often humbled quickly once the project gets underway.  There were just some things I had to puzzle out.  Like how to interpret metal, or feathers!, from fabric.

The Nutcracker is best known to us as a two-act ballet.  Act I opens with a Christmas Eve party where young Clara (sometimes known as Marie), receives an unusual gift from Herr Drosselmeyer, and the magic that follows after the festivities.  Act II takes Clara to land of the Sugar Plum Fairy, escorted by the Nutcracker Prince.  It was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.  The libretto (story line for a ballet or opera) was adapted from E.T. A. Hoffman's story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. It premiered at the Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg on Sunday, December 18, 1892.
Although the original production was not a success, the 20-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was. The complete Nutcracker has enjoyed enormous popularity since the late 1960s and is now performed by countless ballet companies each holiday season.   Major American ballet companies generate around 40% of their annual ticket revenues from the performances.  Perhaps, the most appreciative audience is amongst children, since ballet companies generally use every young student in the production.  Many a child has dreamed of dancing in The Nutcracker after seeing the show at Christmastime.  To be a part of a Nutcracker production for a young dancer, is Christmas in itself.

The first time I saw the production was when I was 20 years old.  A friend at work was taking her daughters to the matinee of the San Francisco Ballet Company, and purchased an extra ticket for me.  Thank you, Lavonne!  What an experience this was for me!

I actually began and completed Louise's costume for Clara initially, but let's have a look at the star of our show first.  The image from Don Daily's book, that I followed as closely as I could, is from the battle with the Mouse King.  While nutcracker princes have been rendered in a wide variety styles, I'm told this one is representative of a Prussian uniform.  (I don't know if anyone has noticed, but this year seems to have been one quite often focused on various hues of blue, red and gold.) 

Lawrence's costume consists of a jacket, trousers, hat, gaitors, and gauntlets.  Just a few pieces, but the details I had to create to come with this look was daunting.  I just motored through, and happily was successful with each detail I tried.  

I began with his red trousers which are made from a bright red cotton sateen.  The crossed sashes on his torso are also from the same fabric, but these were actually the last pieces to be made.  The trousers have pleats in the front and back, creating fullness.  The next items I made were the gaitors.  After studying the illustration, I noticed that these appeared to be gilded, which is okay since he was a statue, or doll come to life.  I happened to have this metallic wool felt on hand, and it worked beautifully for them.  The sides have hand-made scalloped edges and tiny gold buttons.  (Lawrence's black boots are Lawton Doll Co., or Boneka made.)

The Nutcracker's blue jacket has tails and closes in the back for a smooth continuity of design on the front.  Three gold bands with silk covered buttons on each end curve decorate the front.  The bands were made from silk covered faux suede.  Faux suede was chosen because it is sturdy, but also super thin and flexible.  The epaulets were really "something else" to construct.  I ordered the gold twist cording from a seller in the U.K. to get the color, sheen and size I needed.  It wasn't until I was actually making the epaulets that I realized how tough this was going to be.  I do appreciate how they turned out though. 

Another thing, was that I needed a sword for my Nutcracker.  I purchased several sword letter openers until I found a one that was perfect in scale.  And, the handle turned out to be almost identical to the one Daily drew.  A stroke of holiday luck!

I think the Nutcracker's hat took the most time.  Its probably the most elaborately designed and decorated hat I've ever made.  The base is actually thin cardboard, or rather one of those manila file folders, and not buckram this time.  It needed the stability of cardboard due to its shape and height, but flexibility for the curve and oval top.  The gold bands were made the same way as the jacket bands, then glued on.  The medallion is a silk covered button with light stitching added for design.  And, then there is a faux plume.  Yes, that's a plume.  I wanted this costume to resemble Daily's illustration as much as possible.  Its a soft-sculpture plume of gold silk.  Take a good look at the illustration.  Interesting!
The strap is, again, the same silk covered faux suede with two covered buttons at each end.  One end hooks to a tiny thread loop on the right of the hat. The visor on his hat is black cotton sateen over the faux suede, trimmed in gold braid.   The Nutcracker's sword sheath is, once again, the covered suede, and his costume is completed by leather gauntlets with gold trim.  The sword sheath hangs from a larger size of the twisted braid tied loosely at the waist to hang lightly on his hips.  Can't thank this U.K. seller enough for working with me to get the correct mm sizes.  (I'm definitely feeling long-winded at this point, but we've just begun. Go grab that cup of tea.  Its too cold outside to go out anyway.  Read on!)

Louise's dress to play Clara in, is a lovely pink silk.  The Don Daily dress was cranberry, and I had my own vision - actually based on an Old World Christmas ornament of Clara.  Yes, I have their Nutcracker ornament set!  What I envisioned was a dress that suggested the sweetness of marzipan fruits and the colors of sugared spice drops.

Clara's bodice has a lace covered inset of white silk.  A high collar is edged in tiny lace, and three little pearl buttons decorate the front.  Her sleeves are huge puffs of silk, with slender arms ending in a wee ruffle of lace.  I fashioned this party gown with two ruffles at the hem.  Yards and yards of 2 1/2" folded over silk had to be gathered.  Good grief.  I tried something new.  I made gather stitches every 12"- 15".  Why?  Because silk often hangs up when you're gathering it.  Some little fiber in there can break the gather thread, or really be a nuisance to gather past.  This way, if the thread breaks, you don't have to redo the entire gathering stitches.

Clara's slipper are velveteen.  I had a pair when I was seven.  What can I say?  I went for the fanciest of everything for these costumes.  She wears a new pair of bloomers that peep out beneath her hem, and I'll talk about them shortly.  Her sash and hair bow are "spice drop" tangerine.  I bought her a brass candle holder to sneak down the stairs with.  And what would Clara be without her Nutcracker doll? 

So instead of going out and buying a small, pre-made nutcracker that wouldn't match Daily's, I found a set of blank wooden ones that you could paint yourself.  The one with the sword had a strange hat, so I trimmed and sanded it down to represent the visored hat. 

Nutcrackers originated in the 1700's and were German symbols of good luck and protection.  The early ones did not crack nuts, and were more or less, carved wooden dolls for symbolic decoration.  Later designs made them functional.  Their popularity grew in the 1870's and were sold among other wooden toys in Christmas markets.  I'm calling Clara's doll, her Prince Albert Nutcracker.  I didn't intend for him to look like Victoria's husband, but he really kind of does.  And, appropriately since both Albert and the toy were of German descent.  Including his platform, he is 5" tall.

He was pretty fun to do, and it was a nice break from designing and sewing.  And, I really thought I was d-o-n-e at that point, but then noticed Laura Peterson on the shelf in her old peach gown and felt guilty.  Heavens!  Laura wanted to represent one of the children at the party.  So I took another couple of days and fashioned her a party gown.  She is Louise's best friend, after all.

I had no idea what I was going to do for her, but I had this gorgeous yellow silk that I wanted to use.  I guess that last time I used a yellow silk, was in creating a costume for Alice Liddell - but that was a darker yellow.  It is so hard to find yellow or orange silk, and this one is a beautiful color.  Part of my quandary was with regards to what would compliment the other two costumes in my display.  I almost used this vintage French, aqua blue silk trim that I have in my stash, then discovered the plum colored picot trim - also vintage French in origin.  I spent a couple of days designing a fancy bodice, and decided that simplicity was best.

Her dress uses the same sleeve pattern as Clara's, but that's where the sameness ends.  I wanted her gown different enough to stand out on its own.  When I look at what I've made for Laura in the past, I have to admit that her gowns are often fancier and more detailed in design. 

The image I studied for both party gowns is the one in Don Daily's book.  The entire room is lit in gold lighting.  You can actually hear the music and feel the merriment of the dancing in this enchanting illustration.  And, one of the children wears a yellow party gown.  I'd already used tangerine silk for the sash and ribbon for Clara, so the plum color was chosen. 

Laura's dress has one large ruffle at the hem rather than the two of Clara's.  Her rounded neckline is trimmed with the picot.  The picot was also sewn to the cuff ends of the sleeves, and a band below the puff.  One long strand was sewn to the skirt edge above the ruffle.  I had the perfect color of silk to match the picot, and made her sash and bow from it.

She wears white stockings and has her own special pair of lace edged pantaloons to peep out from beneath her skirt.  Clara's pantaloons "blouson" with the aid of edge lace to run a ribbon through and pulled tight, tied into bows.  Laura's are straight, with one pintuck, then edged in Swiss lace.  Not to be outdone by Clara, with her velveteen slippers, Laura wears a pair of plum silk slippers to match her sash and bow.

I was so excited and relieved, yes, relieved, when Laura's gown was completed.  I dressed her up and looked at her posing.  Something was missing.  Something to hold.  The Nutcracker had his sword, Clara had her Prince Albert Nutcracker, and it seemed unfair for Laura not to have something in her hands.  A new doll for Christmas, one received at the party, would have been just about right, but I really was d-o-n-e by this point.  I made this entire outfit for Laura in two days.  So I dug into the trunk I have their costumes in and found a little fan.  I happened to have a piece of silk ribbon that matched the plum - a strand that an Ebay seller tied to some purchase, and added that to her fan.
This production was quite a lot of work.  But, the entire time I worked on it, I imagined what it would be like to be a designer and seamstress for one of the ballet companies that put on The Nutcracker.  I could imagine hearing the snipping of scissors, the humming of sewing machines, and the rustling of so many silks and laces!  This was how I "played Christmas" this year.  It is time now to rest.  Time to turn off my creative side and simply enjoy the holiday season.  I have Hallmark movies to watch, and favorite Christmas DVD's - including one of The Nutcracker with Baryshikov and Kirkland.  Christmas cards to finish!  And, I've already decided what I'll do for next year's holiday project.  Sort of.  I have the theme at least.  Creating The Nutcracker has made this one of the best Christmas holiday seasons I've had yet.

Wishing you all the merriest of holidays this year, and a little Nutcracker magic of your own.


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.