Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Alice Illustrated's Hallowe'en in Wonderland

Cooler weather, falling leaves and hooting owls.  Spooky stories, chilling tales, bags of miniature chocolate bars and excited children (and adults!) planning what to wear for the Hallowe'en parties and celebrations.  "These are a few of my favorite things."  So long raindrops on roses.  Fall is here and it truly is my favorite time of year.  While poets may wax on the dying of things, everything comes to life for me.  Gone is the wretched heat of summer.  Its time for holidays and merriment!

Last spring my dear friend, Jean Nordquist, who shares my love of "Alice Everything" and Hallowe'en, sent me a sampling from the new for 2016 line of Graphic 45 scrapbooking papers.  A set of Alice themed papers.  Hallowe'en in Wonderland!  The artist that conceived this idea and enhanced the illustrations so magically in Tenneil style, inspired me instantly to make a real Hallowe'en costume for Alice Illustrated.

I'm generally pretty picky about my Alice illustrators through time, in what I add to Alice Illustrated's growing wardrobe.  Who's to claim that a new illustrator is less desirable than those from the Golden Age?  For me, if it tickles my fancy and inspires me to recreate it, I'm off like a rabbit down the hole.

I knew I'd be making Alice the costume conceived by this artist, and I only wish I could share with you the name of this talented person. Jean sent these pages to me late last spring, and I'd been waiting patiently for fall to arrive to begin it.  She has a marvelous professional scanner and printer, and was able to scan most of the 12" x 12" page for me on the 11" x 17" plate, so that I could share the image with you in this blog post.  The other pages are equally stunning in design, and all the proper characters are redone, dressed up in a Hallowe'en theme.  Graphic 45.  Hallowe'en in Wonderland. Google it and take a look!

For Alice's costume, I used silks I had on hand.  Her dress is a cerulean blue silk, and her apron and hat are black silk.  I was sorely tempted to use her notable Tenneil dress beneath a new apron, but the trimming on the sleeves was white lace.  This would not do.  So I made the edges as a ruffle in the same color to emulate the artist's idea.

Her hat does not seem to have a pointy top like many witch hats, so I rounded the edge and poked it down a little.  The brim base is not the stiff buckram I typically use, but iron on pellon.  It gives it just enough form to keep it from drooping.  A green silk ribbon wrapped and tacked on, in an interesting criss-cross fashion, decorates the crown and gives it a bit of a vine-like appearance.

Her stockings are red and white stripes.  I used an infant's Christmas snuggy as my fabric. 

The broomstick had a couple of go 'rounds.  Not having any straw on hand, I went out to the yard and pulled some yellowed, long dead weeds and tried to wrap them around a simple dowel.  The crumbling mess did not work at all.  Then Sunday rolled around and with it, a coupon for Michael's in the Sunday paper. 

I hopped into the car and drove down to Michael's to have a look around to see what might work for the broomstick.  I settled on raffia for the brush, and an ornamental branch for the stem, though you must purchase them in a bundle.  No problem.  I'll have them on hand for the next broomstick.  Wrapped jewelry cording secures the broom to the stick.

I saved the shoes for last since I'd need to make a fresh pattern for them.  I did have a pattern for elf shoes, and I also looked up Bleuette's jester shoes, but neither were quite what Alice was wearing.  There is more of shoe to this than a pull on, curly-toed slipper or boot.  I'm at a loss for words in how to describe the pieces of this shoe.  But, the piece that goes across the instep is a triangular shape that fits into the two sides near the beginning of the curly toes.  I had to take a few whacks at this pattern before I got it right.  They're fun though, and without these shoes, the outfit would not be complete.

The only piece I regret not presenting is the pumpkin teapot in the right bottom corner of the illustration.  How dearly I'd love to make this, and in needle felt.  If I have time to explore this, this month, I will.  It would be a good "first needle felt" for me, and a wonderful accessory to display her with.

October is going to be spent in the service of others.  I would normally play Hallowe'en all month, but I have two commitments on my plate and due to this, Alice Illustrated's Hallowe'en in Wonderland is my only contribution to this year's festivities.

For the last few weeks I've been reading John Connolly's two chiller thriller volumes of short stories.  Nocturnes and Night Music (Nocturnes Two).  Truly a marvelous author.  This Irish author has been compared to a rather "subtle" Stephen King.  I always put up a few Hallowe'en decorations around the house and my dolls that do have costumes, usually get dressed up for the big night. 

I hope you have a delightful month and find yourself a Trick-or-Treat to sweeten your days.

Miss E. Mouse

Monday, September 12, 2016

Louise Godey's Riding Habit For Autumn

Just two days ago, the weather took a delicious turn.  The heat of summer gentled its dry blaze of sun for a cooling breeze that shakes the branches of trees and rustles the limbs of shrubbery.  Our poplars have been shedding seeds on the patio for several weeks now.  This welcome breeze might finally bring down the last of seeds before the leaves begin to turn yellow and make their way south.  I do love autumn.  My favorite time of year begins September first, in my mind, and lasts until the wishbone is cracked at the Thanksgiving table. 

Its that time of year when the moss greens, golds, rusts, purples and browns come out of the fabric cabinet, as I begin planning a fall wardrobe for a doll or two.  This year, the forest green velveteen became the choice when planning a Riding Habit for Louise Godey.  The riding habits for autumn were generally made up in dark colors during the 1860's.  Deep blues, browns, and dark greys were popular, saving the off-whites for springtime.  However, I had this lovely fabric on hand from Marigold Greenaway's coat from last December, and it looked so lovely draped across Louise when selecting a color.

The riding habits from the Civil War era were as diverse in structure, and the many gowns the ladies and girls wore.  In researching the topic of riding habits from the mid 19th century, one style concept was clear.  The skirts were a good foot longer than the day dresses.  They puddled on the floor around the ladies' feet, but never did I read why they were designed longer.  Some riding habits from earlier times were so long that they'd cover the entire horse down to her "shins".  These were generally habits worn when riding through town or on roads.  My thoughts for the extra foot length was modesty.  Should a lady be on a hunt, or riding swiftly across the fields, her skirts would float up in the wind exposing the delicate ankle, so the extra length might theoretically eliminate that possibility.  I'm also fairly confident the women and girls climbed steps to sit the horse, or were helped up by "the help", so gathering up the skirts to mount a horse side saddle, would not have been such a complication. 

One of the other garments worn by the ladies was a pair of matching trousers beneath the skirt.  I have seen images of straight legged pants, but there was a  preference for Turkish pants, tucked in the high riding boots.  These blousy, voluminous pants were often made of the same fabric as the riding habit, but for the purpose of dressing Louise, I chose the "color" to match, and used this same fine cotton as the lining of her gown.

After a good amount of studying the various designs of the costume, I selected a simple design from a fashion plate (third photo from bottom).  The jacket's sides curve up to expose the hips for ease of sitting in the full skirt.  The front is cornered and pointed, and the back is squared.  I wanted a clean look for the child, Louise, to wear.  Louise Godey's Riding Habit is for the hunt. Not a hunt of game, but a hunt to seek and find the wonders of nature in the autumn woods.  The whisper of fox and foxglove. The spotting of birds flying south.  The enjoyment of chasing across the fields with her dog close at heel.

I began with the jacket, choosing the most difficult piece to make first.  A few patterns, a few changes, a few mock ups later, I constructed this velveteen jacket with a rounded neckline close to the neck with just enough room for a bit of lace to peep out from the chemise.  A long row of tiny shell buttons march down the front.  Four of the same buttons decorate the cuff ends of the sleeves.  The buttons are sewn back to back for a lovely detail, and cinch the sleeve end a bit tighter over her wrists.  The sleeves of the jackets worn in the 1860's riding habits, were looser than those of earlier decades, however a detail like this does not detract from the design concept. 

Her skirt, as mentioned before, is a good "foot" longer than her day gowns.  It is pleated as is the skirt from the design plate below.  This pleating, then a gentle gathering of all at the waist deals nicely with the volume of fabric required to make such a full skirt - especially in a fabric like velveteen, as opposed to silk.  The chemise is not separate, but was made like a doll's costume, attached to the skirt.  The lace collar is zigzag sewn on the neck edge.

Louise's Turkish trousers are made from the same cotton as the skirt's lining.  Due to the amount of fabric needed to give them the proper volume, it was best to chose something thin that would gather nicely.  The Turkish trousers are separate, with a waistband that closes in a hook and loop.

Louise needed a proper pair of riding boots.  The boots were tall and made from good sturdy leather.  I read that often the skirts of hunting habits were edged with a foot of leather panel to prevent nice fabrics from tearing in brush and tree.  Heavy.  Those poor horses!

While researching riding boots, I came across a blog on riding habits from this era and found this "poster" or book cover of Kate Tattersall Adventures in China.  Not having read this book by R.S. Fleming, I can only hope that the era was correct and Kate partook in some equestrian activities.  However, the boots looked correct.  For one thing, when you research riding habits you're not going to find the illustrations of ladies showing their boots.  Too indelicate, I suppose.  The only reason I know that straight leg pants were worn at time, is that there was a photograph of a woman showing 2" of the bottom of her trousers.  Regardless, I loved the straps on these boots Kate wears, and made up a pair of similar boots for Louise with less buckled straps.  All I had left of the smallest Dritz buckles were silver ones, and I added three to each boot on the areas that most needed tight closing.   The boots are made from mocha brown Italian goatskin hide.

In one of the illustrations of a spring riding habit, I spotted this lovely Travel Reticule, and knew Louise had to have one.  I'd intended a belt for her at the waist of the jacket, but this was better.  In the illustration, the travel reticule is very small.  It was not my intention to make Louise's so much larger, but there are several factors at play here.  Louise is a child wearing the "same" reticule the adult woman is.  Also, the travel reticule was sewn on the machine, and constructed of good glove leather, and needed to be turned inside out at the small opening.  You'll notice the reticule's design is similar to the edge of her jacket.  A Leit Motif.

Another happy find (I do love Google images!), was the design I chose for her hat, and next to it, a riding crop with a crocheted wrist band.  A girl would wear the wristband and tie the straps to her crop, so should it slip out of her hand, it would not be lost behind.  It would simply dangle from the wristband, easy to catch up again. 

So I began the hat.  Clearly the most difficult piece of the costume.  Again, I chose black velveteen to cover the frame.  The hat is designed similarly to the illustration, with the exception of two feathers, rather than one.  Some riding hats did sport two feathers, one on each side, so I followed suit.  The base of the hat is buckram with hat wire sewn onto the edge to shape it.  It is lined with black silk taffeta to protect her hair.  Two long silk ribbons tie the hat to her head, and the same silk makes a band and pretty bow in front.  The feathers came from a pheasant, I suppose.  These were tightly bound in a "bunch" in the floral section of Michaels.  I chose the smallest ones and they nestle beneath the ribbon band around the crown.  I envisioned Louise riding through the fields with these feathers fluttering out behind her.

Next was her riding crop and wristlet.  Speaking of size (the reticule), the crop in the illustration seemed a bit "twiggy" and thin.  I think it was drawn to illustrate the use of the wristband rather than express a proper riding crop.  You could poke someone in the eye with it (sorry for my sense of humor), but a horse wouldn't notice the whack much. 

I carved the little dog head out of basswood and stained the stem and head with golden oak stain.  I wrapped leather around it for a secure hold, but I probably should have left the wood bare, and make carvings of crossways lines in it.  Like the one in the illustration.  This was an afterthought, and should I make another sometime, I'll explore this.  Funny, but the dog's head looks more like my Lab's, Dover's head, than the hunting dog illustrated.  I used him as my model.  Its only 1/2" tall.  I think I was ready to wrap the project up. 

I don't crochet.  And, no, it is not like my "not sewing".  I truly believe crochet and knitting is better done in the hands of some with more patience and skill than I have.  So, to emulate the wristband, I used the boot leather, but the sueded side.  I used pinking sheers to cut the rick rack design, and applied all to a thin piece of netting with hat glue.  It closes around the wrist with a metal button and loop.  The straps wrap around the crop permanently.  Two little tassels of embroidery thread make it dainty and decorative.

Lastly, I chose to make her a pair of gloves.  It was my intention to make long gauntlets, but they'd have been the size of oven mitts to go over the sleeve ends of the jacket.  I also did not have any antique glove leather on hand.  However, stuffed in the back of a cabinet, I found the ultra micro suede I used for Lettie Lane's autumn leaf costume!  It was perfect.  Thin.  I could easily hand stitch the gloves through the two layers.  The thumb and edges are sewn with a blanket or button hole stitch.  Itty bitty stitches.  I'm glad I was able to pull the gloves together, for I think they put the finishing touch to the costume.

I have seen beautiful gloves with all the fingers, hand sewn by talented seamstress, in trousseau trunks time and again.  What you never see, are the gloves actually worn by the doll.  This is because they are for looks only.  Louise's hands are little round puffs of porcelain.  I like accessories that work.  Accessories you can play with.  So the pattern for these gloves only sport a little finger, a thumb, and the illusion of the fingers, which on the doll are fused. 

When I ponder Louise's trunk of clothing, her trousseau, I am always seeking to round out the colors selected for her garments.  Its likely that most costumes from the 1860's were made from the hues of only four or five colors, but we can play here and allow her to dazzle with a "muted rainbow". 

In several days I'll be leaving for our annual sojourn to hike the red rock canyons of Utah, and climb through gold aspen forests.  I fully expect Louise to take advantage of her beloved pony and make the most of her riding habit. 

Miss E. Mouse

Friday, August 19, 2016

Twiggy in Mary Quant, and In the News

 August has been an unusual month for me.  While it began with me hot in pursuit of creating a wardrobe for my Franklin Mint Twiggy, that old tug and pull for autumn riding habits and the swish of silks in golds, reds and forets greens, have been niggling at me.  Now this is not to say that I won't continue to create for our Twigs, but I must follow my passion where it leads me.  I certainly have a nice stash of fabrics to work from to create some exciting Mod fashions for our girl, but these two may be it for a couple of months.

In between the valiant pursuit of building a fine collection for a Mod Twist 'n Turn Skipper (I adore vintage Skipper!), I created two fun outfits for Twiggy.  One I'll call Mary Quant, and the other, Twiggy in the News.

Mary Quant was the London designer that most often has been accredited to introducing the mini skirt.  When challenged by this claim, Quant would say, "It was the girls on the King's Road who invented the mini. I was making easy, youthful, simple clothes, in which you could move, in which you could run and jump and we would make them the length the customer wanted. I wore them very short and the customers would say, 'Shorter, shorter.'"  She gave the miniskirt its name, after her favourite make of car, the Mini, and said of its wearers, "They are curiously feminine, but their femininity lies in their attitude rather than in their appearance.  She enjoys being noticed, but wittily. She is lively, positive, opinionated."

A very feminine choice for Twiggy was this pink and silver dance or cocktail dress by Mary Quant.  I was certain I would never find a suitable fabric for this dress, but just happened upon it while searching dance knits.  It is actually labeled swimsuit fabric and was certainly a challenge in sewing little pieces together.  The trim is silver four-way stretch "vinyl".  I was surprised to find such an array of choices in prints and colors while scrolling through the selections.  I didn't hesitate to purchase a yard of it, which was the only measurement available to purchase.  What on earth will I do with the rest of it?!

The challenge was all in the bodice and getting the stripes to go in the direction Quant designed them.  You might think this an easy task, but for some reason, it was not.  Not a bit.  I'm positive the original was not made from swimsuit fabric, but for a little doll dress, it seemed to work fine.

The second dress, which I actually made first, was also frustrating.  Newsprint fabric.  How do you make a page from the London Times, with 007 in the news, out of newsprint that features sacks of grain sold in the 50's or 60's?  I had to settle, and I don't like doing that.  Two key factors in the placement of the patterns was fun illustrations and the placement of news columns.  Instead of a fabulous "Tenniel like lizard", I had to choose a bread baker.  And, I didn't want any ads that spoke clearly of "farmer's values" or un-Mod hair styles.  Given the challenges of these two outfits, I think my best bet is to stick to paper doll illustrations for Twiggy.  I very much wanted to create her Union Jack dress, but in designing the pattern, I realized I would have to piece all the flag sections together.  I have not given up entirely on this one, but for the time being, its on the back burner.

Another consideration is shoes.  I've never designed shoes for a fashion doll, and I've thoroughly thought this through.  You need a mold for the base, and each shoe would need its own mold.  I might try making the silver shoes the photo of Twiggy sitting in the Mary Quant dress.  However, this would take an extraordinary amount of time and effort, and I'm pining to get back into something for Louise Godey, and possibly Alice Illustrated. 

I hope you enjoy viewing these two dresses, but more importantly, I hope you take the time to enjoy the last few weeks of summer.  We had a gorgeous full moon the last two nights, and that always makes me feel "lively, positive and (cautiously) opinionate!"  Maybe I have a little Mod in me, yet!

Miss E. Mouse

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Cockney Girl From Neasden - The Face of '66'

Every summer I get into the Mod '60's mood.  Hard to believe for someone so entrenched in the fashions from 1900 and back!  But, yes, that's me, too.  Hey!  I was 10 years old in 1967 and longed to be in swinging London, wearing those fabulous Mod outfits Mary Quant designed, and marrying Paul McCartney.  On the periphery of course, because I had just gotten my Twist'n'Turn Barbie, a Francie and a great double trunk to store their groovy outfits I worked so very hard to collect for them.  Yet still, I knew there were great things happening that I was missing out on being so young. Time and tide, and all these dreams and dolls were stored away for another time.

I began collecting Franklin Mint dolls, probably, twenty years ago.  And, one of the dolls I collected was their Twiggy with her Mod wardrobe trunk and three extra outfits.  Three?  Heavens!  How could that be?  When Scarlett and Rose (Titanic), even Sandy from Grease had so many more.  Disgruntled that they didn't do more for her, I sold the collection, only to recollect it several years later.  And, there it sat, but I had it once again.  Their Twiggy was such a beautiful doll.

Then along came the Mod Poppy Parker (Integrity Toys designed by Jason Wu), following the more proper, modest Poppy that came out a couple of  years prior.  I had to have them.  They are gorgeous petite 12", articulated fashion dolls.  Some call them the adult's "Barbie", but they are beyond Barbie.  With a price tag to match, too.  Come to think of it, I went nuts for Willow and Daisy of Somer and Field's, The Mod British Birds (which I still have, and the whole collection, too.)  But, yes, I love the Mod 1960's clothing.  And, every summer, almost June the first on the dot, I fall in love with Mod all over again.  Last summer was collecting Dawn dolls and all the mint-in-box clothing sets I could get my hands on.  Tiny Dawn.  Be still my beating heart!

This summer I had to have the Mattel Twiggy that came out in 1967.  I found an almost perfect one on Ebay this June and didn't hesitate this time around.  The doll originally came with four other outfits made especially for her, and I was able to acquire those as well, one by one.

I even started a new board on Pinterest for Mod and 60's fashions.  While searching the fashion, there was Twiggy, the real model wearing her fabulous costumes by designers such as Mary Quant, who's mini skirt stole the fashion world of that time.  Suddenly I thought, "I could sew for my Franklin Mint Twiggy!"   I'd seen the reproduction laser print set of the 1967 Minnow Co., Ltd. Twiggy Paper Dolls, while I scouted Ebay for Twiggy anything.  An uncut, vintage original could not be found, so I bought the reprint.  Its just scanned pages, but still...it would provide me inspiration for creating clothing for her.  "Let's put an end to her sadly limited wardrobe!"

I happened also to find a set of the Franklin Mint Twiggy "face" hangers, and bought those to hang her new clothing on.  This was going to be fun.  And, that's exactly what I'm doing.  Having fun.

First I had to make a basic pattern to get started.  I turned her green mini dress inside out and traced it on a piece of paper towel.  After many renditions and fittings, I had a pretty good first pattern and grabbed the first bright print I could find in my stash.  It was an orange and navy plaid on the diagonal.  Lining this little dress was turning out to be quite a problem since I hadn't done "sleeveless" in awhile, but I did figure it out.  At night I was on the search for pleather and bright, quality vinyls.  I also found a new doll, out of the U.K, called A Girl For All Time, who's designers chose the Mod '60's as one of their themes.  Her name is Sam.  She's a slim body 16" girl, whose shoes "did it for me". Of course I had to have her.  I wish to sew for her, too.  Mod child's clothing.  But, back to Twiggy.

As I continued working on this mock-up, a first pattern try, just to get the feel of designing for Franklin Mint's doll, I realized it was coming out rather nice and decided to keep working on it.

I added a six panel newsboy cap in the same fabric, then went to Michael's looking for beads for earrings.  They really didn't have anything worthy of Mod earrings, but I did find large link chains.  One of these became a permanently attached belt, and two toggle loops became her earrings.  This really was fun. 

Since she only had three pairs of "squishy" Franklin Mint shoes and a pair of boots, I decided to see if any other Franklin Mint dolls shoes would fit her.  Rose's fit.  And, they are low heels.  Diana's (as in Princess Diana), fit her, too, but better with stockings.  Finding shoes that could possibly look good with Mod is rather difficult, but sometimes they work out okay.

The end result was a jaunty London look that tickled me so much I posted three photos to Facebook.  Encouraged by the reception they received, I pushed forward.  I was going to anyway, but trust me, the praise is always welcome and encouraging.  How are we to know we're on the right track without feedback?

While all this was going on, Integrity released their Mallory Martin.  She's a 16" Poppy Parker doll, and this one was done in Mod clothing this time.  Just as when the 12" Poppy Parker was first released, they'd originally done the 16" in That Girl style.  The nice thing about Ebay these days is that sellers know we want the clothing.  One doll is enough.  So now I have a rather Jean Shrimpton looking Mallory Martin and the clothing sets from Jason Wu's Mod line.  I can't wait to try the clear vinyl coat on her.  I'm temped to try making one for Twiggy.  If you're not getting the picture yet, I immerse myself in whatever I am "into" for the moment.  I even brought out my Willow doll to display with the others.  AND, I am reading Twiggy (Lesley) Lawson's autobiography from 1997.  What a fabulous read!  I really like this girl.  What spirit!  The autobiography is also giving me an in depth view of what the swinging sixties in London were all about.  Last summer I read Jean Shrimpton's autobiography, and the two make good shelf partners since Twiggy idolized Jean.  Who wouldn't?

When the paper doll book arrived I began studying the costumes on the pages given.  There aren't many, but they're all wonderful.  I knew there would be at least five I'd have to make and the first one would be this shorts set I call Summer in Neasden.  Neasden is the town Twiggy grew up in and would always call home.  I also added many photos of Twiggy modeling on my Pinterest board for ideas.  Three are a must to do and fabrics are on the way for those.  I think I might need more Twiggy Face hangers.

If this journal post seems "all over the place" to you, its because there is so much that goes into an idea.  The one idea.  To sew an authentic Mod wardrobe for a Twiggy doll.  Remember, this plaid dress was a test, just a mock up.  What I'll be making her are clothes Twiggy actually wore. 

This little space age looking short set caught my eye immediately.  Rather "early Star Trek", don't you think? A high necked, split skirted tunic with poufy green shorts.  While simplistic in appearance, it would take three tries before getting the tunic right.  I'd also originally chosen a much lighter blue trying to match the reproduction paper doll outfit.  Then I realized that these paper dolls were almost 50 years old and had been scanned and printed.  The clothing was bright and happy back then. 

I think the hardest thing about making this set was lining the top.  It is fully lined on the machine and it took some interesting "twists and turns" getting it sewn that way.  I always go back to the Magalie Dawson way of lining a dress, but as this is not a dress with sleeves, and has a split skirt.  It took some real ingenuity to figure out how to do it.  Without having seen Magalie's video, it would be hard to explain how I did this, but I can say that the top and armholes had to be sewn first.  Then turned inside out to sew the sides, then turned inside out again to sew the split skirt and finally all pulled through the neck hole.  Once that was done, the neck band goes on.  And, of course, now that I know how to make this top, I'll never do it again.  And, that's the way it is with almost every costume I make.

The belt taught me a trick.  First, I did sew it, then turned it right-side out.  This takes time, but Oh how it wrinkles, and then you must press the seams.  This is always difficult.  Most of the time you can't get a crisp edge and end up with more fabric turned under than you want.  So I misted it.  Quite heavily, then began to manipulate the fabric.  It worked.  Perfectly.  You don't even have to iron it, just let it dry.  Now this costume is made with Kaufman's Kona cotton, and that could be the reason this worked so well, but I will use this technique anytime I have to turn something right side out and press it.  Even silk can be misted.  

Her earrings are "Mod" beads from China.  I had to order them by the bag, and will never use 99% of the bag, but when you're only paying $1.99 for 100 beads, who cares?

I hope you'll enjoy this new journey with me.  Its fun.  Its bright.  Its swingin'.  Its Twiggy! (And, maybe Sam if I have time ;))

Miss E. Mouse

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Gay Event's Pièce de Résistance - The Ball Gown

 "Shall we dance?  On a bright cloud of music, shall we fly?  Shall we dance?!"  This magical song from the musical The King and I, would waltz about in my head as I made the ball gown for Gay Event.  I could envision Deborrah Kerr as Anna Leonowens flying across the room while her pink-golden gown swished and swirled, and seemed to lift her off her tiny feet and float in a whirl.  This was how I would picture, or attempt a near impossible gown.  One that floats on a doll.  One whose illustrator never touched a pattern or a sewing machine.  A gown to complete the collection I began of The Wonderful Fashion Doll.  One that looked like the illustration.

In the book, this was the last gown Debby tried on Gay Event.  "But oh! the ball gown!  White shiny satin - off the shoulder and trimmed with small bunches of field flowers.  The skirt was caught up on one side showing a rose-colored underskirt.  The white satin slippers, the kid gloves, and the fan were perfect."

Having earned a confidence in sewing with silk, I must have felt a twinge of bravado when I purchased one yard of Italian silk chiffon (at 54").  I knew it would float, and (Debby's) satin was out of the question.  This was Gay Event's ball gown.  It had to be scrumptious.  Untold hours were spent studying this illustration while designing the pattern pieces.  If the skirt had truly been "caught up", it would not have been drawn as smoothly as this skirt's was.  I gave myself time to think about it as I attempted the bodice and sleeves.   And, the rose colored underskirt.

While I actually created most of the accessories first, fully knowing I'd be spent by the time the gown was done, let us begin with the "rose colored underskirt".

I used a tissue weight silk for the underskirt.  Understanding that women would wear all their undergarments beneath a ball gown, I chose the lightest weight possible to keep the layers from "thickening" Gay Event's waistline.  My first attempt was with a rectangle of silk that I would apply the netted lace to in layers, and gather at the waist in a waistband.  This did not work.  It would not lay nicely as in the illustration.  I would have to order more pink netted lace from China for Plan B, and this took three weeks to arrive.  Plan B was a circle skirt with the pattern laid on the fold.  This this was the correct choice.  It gave volume, big volume to the hemline while allowing a smooth line from waist to hips.  Four rows of gently gathered netting lace were applied.  Talk about work!

I took on the sleeves next.  These sleeves can only be described in two ways.  Little Nightmare's on Elm Street, or cream puffs.  They are a bit of both.  I must have worked on the design for them for over a week with no less than seven tries.   One of the things I had trouble with was figuring out how to keep them puffed out, or rather pushed out, since there is nothing to cinch them to the arm like a band.  To me they resembled Chinese lanterns and I considered, and tried, using silk covered wire sewn into them, then shaped.  This method complicated things as you couldn't turn them inside out once the side seam had been sewn.  There was also this cap extension from where the ruched sleeves would fall.  I honestly can't go into every noodle process I went through in designing them, but it suddenly occurred to me that the arm pads I'd made with her undergarments, would do the trick in keeping them extended.  How grateful I was for having made them. 

I'd spent some time on Pinterest researching 1830's dresses and gowns, and also undergarments.  The seamstresses would make huge stuffed arm pads to attach to corsets to keep the huge sleeves puffed out.  How they got them stuffed into the sleeves, I cannot say, but I'm guessing they were stuffed with down.  This would keep them very pliable.  To the left is an example of undergarments worn to accentuate the sleeves.  I'd gone online to view Anna Leonowens' ball gown and found that it had been up for auction.  The dress looked sad and miserable because the sleeves drooped down.  Its so interesting what you can find online!

The bodice was also made several times.  I'd never done draping across the bust before and the shoulders were near non-existent.  I'd never made an off the shoulder ball gown, nor with complicated cream puff sleeves.  Again the details of putting these pieces together was very much a problem solving jigsaw puzzle, and I had to hand sew both the bodice and the sleeves into it.  With delicate silk chiffon, this was the only way.   The bodice is lined with a Swiss pima batiste.  The thinnest cotton you can find. This batiste is also used for most of my doll dress linings.  Expensive, but worth it.

Now it was time to design the skirt.  You'd think I'd have had enough sense to know that it needed to be a circle skirt, same as the underskirt, but I forged ahead to make the same mistake I did with the underskirt.  A rectangle gathered.  I was really puzzling over the opening as I mentioned earlier.  Trying to take the easy way out because nothing had been second nature with this gown.  But, let's talk about silk chiffon for a few minutes.

I do most of my fabric shopping online with Farmhouse Fabrics in South Carolina.  Their service is superb and their selection is great.  There is silk chiffon, and then there is Italian silk chiffon.  I couldn't tell you the difference, but I would imagine that it has to do with the fineness of the weave.  The Italian was $44 a yard (so I assumed the quality would be finer) when I purchased it, and on sale for $30 a yard when I bought a second yard just in case I "oopsed" again.  Never having worked with this very slippery fabric, I went online to see how other seamstresses cut and sewed with it.  The best tip I discovered was laying a piece of tissue paper under the chiffon, then pinning the pattern through the three layers.  This stabilizes the fabric.  Also, if you have something on a fold, pin one half, cut it out, flip the pattern over, and repeat the process.  The bottom silk layer will shift on you if you don't.  Also, it helps to sew the garment with tissue paper between the feed dog and the fabric.  Of course you have to tear it away once the stitches are in, but it will save your noggen some bald spots from frustration.  When you hem it, the easiest way is to make a quarter inch turn, try to press it with an iron, though it won't hold, stitch that, then fold over and do it again. 

Since the ball gown's skirt was a circle pattern, and with a wedge cut out of it, I lined it with the batiste, which also solved the issue of hemming.  After ruining the first one, I decided to do a mock up in a stained vintage cotton remnant.  I needed more width at the waist, and due to the drape of the skirt, I needed to figure out the best length.  (This was also when I phoned up Farmhouse Fabrics to inquire as to which chiffon I'd ordered a couple of months ago, and order the second yard.  They are so helpful, and quick!) The waist needed a bit more width for a few tucks.  Carefully placed tucks helped the point of the V opening to lay smoothly against the underskirt, and give it a bit more body to the skirt than an A-line.

I'd also puzzled over the accents and trims.  My brain told me the ruffled trim should be gold, but the beauty and color balance of the illustration called for yellow gathered ribbon.  Oh yes.  I bought gold silk ribbon in three widths.  I have more ribbon than I know what to do with.  But, I had a huge roll of double-sided silk ribbon left over from Lettie Lane's concert dress, and this proved to be the right choice since I ran a gather stitch, by machine, through the middle of 168 inches of it.  I'd also bought regular yellow silk ribbon, which shredded when I tried to do this by hand.  My thought with the regular silk ribbon was weight.  However, the silk-satin was stable and still light enough not to weigh the chiffon edges down. I hand stitched the twisting, ruched ribbon to the hemline.  Two little bands of this gathered ribbon also float atop the cream puff sleeves.

As I mentioned earlier, I'd worked on the accessories first.  I love making accessories and they helped keep me excited about the project.  Hard to make out in the photos, but there is an "ostrich" feather plume, a brilliant pink flower, and a small spray of yellow field flowers that were to be hair combs.  There are no tiny hair combs.  And any that you find will either not poke into a wig, or will destroy it.  After trial and error, I made hair pins from snipped down...hair pins.  They have that nice plastic bulb on the ends of them.  Just one stem did the trick, and the feathers and flowers were wrapped to the hair pins with silk ribbon and hat glue.  The feathers I used are egret feathers I found down by the lake while hiking my dogs.  They're just lovely, and the perfect size. 

I often referred to the "contents of the trunk" while creating these accessories.  The flowers all began as "hat flowers", and I often trimmed them down, hand made leaves for them, and enhanced their colors with alcohol markers.  It was tempting to create each item shown in the "contents of the trunk", but some of the pieces weren't shown with the costumes.  I also contemplated making wall paper boxes, but did not feel the need to.  Yet, anyway.  Gay Event's wardrobe is stored in a lovely large Boneka trunk.

Gay Event wore earrings with this gown.  My "made over" Wendy Lawton doll does not have pierced ears, so I had to improvise.  I used 14k gold plated jewelry stems with loops on the ends to create them.  I dangled a doubled-pink Swarovski pair of beads and gold spacer beads to the loops with fine jewelry wire.  The stem slips up beneath the wig and behind the ears.  Gypsies wore scarves with hoops on them to simulate earrings, so why not use this method for Gay Event?

Her necklace is made from pearl beads and velvet flowers.  These are not your forget-me-nots, but all velvet flowers.  Lovely little pieces.  I pulled them from the stems, and sewed a gold bead through the centers while "beading" the necklace.  I made my own hook and loop from fine, thin jewelry wire.  The rosette on the bust of her gown is a "field flower" of paper.  I think it would have been a marigold, but perfect for the look.

And, the fan.  I'd purchase two celluloid fans to cover with silk and opted out of both.  They just weren't going to do the trick.  Stickler to the illustrations that I am, I hand made her fan as well.  I'd made a smaller version similar to this for Bleuette once, and covered it with the purple flower print lawn that Chiffonette's summer dress is made from.  I'd done it before (long ago), I could do it again. 

Gay Event's fan did not seem to have a lot of detail in the illustration.  It did not appear to be one that folded up.  So I made it to most resemble the one Laura Bannon drew.  Except that I painted the dove smaller.  I tried painting it the size she did, but it looked...well...ridiculous.  This was an elegant ball gown needing a fine, and fancy fan to accessorize it.  The fan screen is silk. 

Since I'd earlier done some hand painting on silk with Gay Event's Walking Costume, I was going to use the same line of paint I used prior - Tulip Soft Matte.  However it did not come in gold.  Why did I want gold?  Well, the illustration seems to be in gray.  Or maybe silver if you use your imagination, and it didn't go well with the bright elegance of the gown.  I tried to mix paints to get a gold color, but failed.  So I mixed gold metallic acrylic paint with white Tulip paint and the results were fabulous.  I was so pleased that I couldn't wait to share this with you.  The trim on the fan is not tiny feathers, but sheered rabbit fur.  I know.  Doesn't sound correct, but the results look like sweet fluffy feathers.  The ribbon is a copper gold silk, 1.5" wide. 

I know this journal post is long, but please stay with me.  A lot went into this set, and at the end of this, Gay Event's story is done.

Let's get back to the description of  the gown being "trimmed with small bunches of field flowers".  As I studied the illustration of these field flowers attached to the dress, I puzzled over the amount of them and how they stood up at angles.  I don't believe this would occur if you hand picked flowers from the field and pinned them to your ball gown.  For one thing they'd droop.  Another is that they would fall out of the pins and scatter on the floor.  Its that logical mind of mine that stays up for hours at night figuring these things out.  If they were silk flowers, the same thing in a different way would occur.  They'd fall over from their weight.

So I hand made three sets of flowers in purple-blue, bright pink and yellow-gold.  The center bunch has one larger leaf added for more color and balance. 

Still, I labored over how to attach them until the final last stitch was put in the silk ribbon hem trim.  I had a Dawn Doll costume in bad shape, on a Jessica that I wanted just the head for.  I noticed that the flowers in the center of the gown could be removed and used for another time.  So I did.  What I discovered was that the stems had been curled in a spiral and laid flat against the backs of the flowers.  Bingo!  So this is what I did for my bunches of field flowers.  I wrapped their stems in green silk ribbon and hat glue, then formed the spirals and let them dry.  They easily attached to the gown with some simple stitches.

I guess I always save the shoes for last, but these slippers were made early on while awaiting the extra pink netting lace.  They are silk slip-ons with silk-satin rosettes.  Like the riding habit boots, I adhered fabric (silk) to leather to create them.  There was an illustration of the shoes in the book, and they were created from it.  I'd also made her a pair of evening gloves, which were perhaps the easiest accessory of the collection.

Not one of these outfits made for Gay Event was easy.  I worked so very hard on each and every one of them...and learned a lot.  Acquired new tricks.  Was able to study undergarments and gowns from a by-gone age.  I almost wish the story would continue, but she only had four garments (including her undergarments), and the story of The Wonderful Fashion Doll comes to an end.  While Debby and her mother, Uncle Nate and neighbor, Butch, sat around the table in the farmhouse admiring Gay Event in her ball gown by a sugar bowl, Debby had made a rhyme and hooked her little finger out to make a wish on the rhyme.  Her wish would have to be kept a secret or it wouldn't come true.

"I couldn't tell my wish to them, of course, for that was not in the rules.  But I wished I would always have the wonderful fashion doll for as long as I live."  And, I will.

Attached below are the costumes, in order, from The Wonderful Fashion Doll.  I hope you've enjoyed the journey with me.

Miss E. Mouse