Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Meet Mary Lennox, Happy Valentine's Day!

 Its a beautiful day here in Auburn, California.  The sun is shining warmly, the sky is blue from end to end, and birds flit from tree to bush to tree in an effort to build nests.  We've had so much rain these past two months that I doubt you'll ever hear me complain about the drought conditions or beg for rain again.  The sun is most welcome!  Happy Valentine's Day.

During my discovery and initial interest in the Peck Aubry paper doll line, The Secret Garden set was the one I wished for most.  It was crazy expensive on Amazon, and I could not find it on Ebay.  My only conclusion was that "this must be the most sought after", and therefore, rare.  But, shortly after my diligent search, one came up and I snapped it up.  I knew when the set arrived that I would have to make a Mary Lennox and the hunt for the perfect Lawton doll to make over began. 

My Mary Lennox is a 16" wood body and porcelain make over from Wendy Lawton's "Bobbin Lace".  She has new blue eyes and a lovely human hair blonde wig.  The paper doll collection comes with nine colored illustrations of outfits, and its my goal to create them all for Mary this year. 

The story of The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was first published in 1911.  This children's classic remains a beloved tale, and was beautifully filmed in a lavish production by Frances Ford Coppola staring Kate Maberly .  If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.  Its one of my favorite films and is popped into the DVD player once a year. 

The Secret Garden is the story of young Mary Lennox, the child of wealthy British parents, and was born in India, unwanted, and raised by servants.  When her parents die of cholera, she is sent back to England to live with her uncle, the Lord Archibald Craven, at Misselthwaite Manor. Mary's life at Misselthwaite Manor is lonely and her attitude sour until a good natured little maid, Martha, tells Mary about the late Mrs. Craven, who would spend hours in a private walled garden growing roses. After Mrs. Craven died in an accident in the garden, the devastated Lord Craven locked the garden and buried the key.  The story then unfolds with her explorations of the garden grounds in search of the door to the secret garden, and her friendship with Dickon, a twelve year old child of a servant who has a magic way with animals.  Eventually a little robin shows her the way to the garden and Mary begins to blossom.

Its rare to find a paper doll holding a hat where her clothing will cover it, but the Peck Aubry Mary Lennox was drawn this way.  Her clothing, as you can imagine, from what I did for Alice Illustrated, is bright and colorful.  There is one dress that is aqua with yellow polka-dots on the extreme, and others that are more in line with what you might expect of Edwardian costuming.  I love them all and have been buying up the fabrics and trims for each costume.

For Mary's debut dress, I chose a red silk with cotton laces.  Finding an appropriate lace for the center panel was costly.  I must have selected seven different laces to determine which would look "most like" the one in the illustration.  The choice was made by width and what would look best with the edge lace for her collar and cuffs.

She wears a chemise or under shirt that is sleeveless and has a narrow, high collar.  Some thought went into the style of dress, and a little research helped me determine the waist length.  Below you'll find a black and white photo of two girls from around 1900 with similar waist lengths.  My first thought was that this should be a drop waist, but it wasn't quite a full drop waist.  Unfortunately, I'd also miscalculated how much silk to buy for the dress, and the shorter waist worked best, as well, for what fabric I had left after a failed attempt at the bodice.  I'd accidentally cut out the back of the bodice from the chemise pattern! 

This is not a complicated little dress, but the collar pretties it up and the cuffs accentuate the delicacy of the overall look.  A hair bow in the silk completes the costume.

Her boots took a few days to draft a pattern for and make.  Since each Lawton body is hand lathed and carved, they are not identical, so any shoe patterns I may have had before were not even close.  When the doll arrived, her feet had been literally jammed into Mary Janes.  I could barely remove them and could not get them back on.  So what I did was sand the feet down so that they were the same size, smoother, and more planed in the toes.  Her boots are brown and black leather with five little side buttons each.  She only has one other pair of shoes in the paper doll set, and those are Wellies.  I have made the pattern for them, and will talk about them with her next outfit. 

Her hat is yellow straw and the flowers are a mix of what I had on hand.  I considered making them of wool felt like Alice Illustrated's hat, but did not have the correct colors in my stash for two of the flowers.  So I pulled all my silk, paper and velvet flowers out and sorted through what would work, then set about to re-making the smaller ones, taking them apart, coloring them with alcohol markers, then reassembling them.  The red rose was darkened with a marker as well.  My mini hot glue gun set the flowers firmly front and center.  I love that mini hot glue gun! 

As I mentioned, this was not a complicated costume to make, but a goodly amount of effort went into it nonetheless.  I was just delighted to be able to complete it for a Valentine's Day posting.  I hope you'll enjoy seeing her wardrobe come to life over the course of the year.  Her next outfit is already in the works since my original intent was to debut it along with this dress. 

Mary and I have already discovered the narcissus blooming in our garden.

Miss E. Mouse

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Child of Pure Unclouded Brow

Its a sunny day here in Auburn, California.  And, Sunday mornings are always my favorite time to write.  The peaceful quiet of the day resonates within.  January, for me, is usually a month of not only new beginnings, but quiet contemplation.  This month has been anything but that this year.  The winds were high, rain storms flooded and damaged property, snow fell in epic proportions in the Sierras, and I learned my dearest companion, Dover, had lymphoma cancer (for which he is now on chemo therapy).  Through all of this I have managed to stay in my Zen, but still my heart if heavy. 

As an artist, I am ever analyzing not only all around me, but the changes in myself and how my creativity meets challenges.  What I've discovered recently, is at this time in my life, color, the pure joy of bright color and pattern makes me happy. 

While planning the first costume of the year, I knew I wanted to make Alice Illustrated something new.  I was on Pinterest looking at paper dolls when I discovered the work of Peck Aubry.  In truth, I'd seen his work before and overlooked it as too busy, too bright, too graphic.  Then for some reason it stuck.  I began studying the costumes he drew, how enchanting they truly were, and observed in myself, how joyful they made me feel.  It was then I knew that I'd have to bring one of his Alice costumes to life. 

I tried to do some research on Peck Aubry and found nothing biographical.  This was so disappointing for the fabulous body of work he's acoomplished.  Countless paper dolls in beautiful packaging have been created.  There was his line and also one called Peck-Gandre.  Some sets came with just colored clothing, and others, like his Alice, came with colored outfits, a story page, and a couple of pages of outfits to color in yourself.  What a wonderful way to play with paper dolls!  And, so I began a small Peck Aubry collection for the joy of it and inspiration for further projects.

When choosing one for Alice Illustrated, I chose his School Dress.  Alongside the illustration was written:  School Dress: Alice was a child of pure unclouded brow and dreaming eyes of wonder.  I was smitten.  I had to do this one.  What fun to envision what Alice would wear on her daily rounds.  The costumes are whimsical and lovely.  Bringing this one to life kept my mood as bright as the illustration.

The coat is of emerald green velveteen.  I began with it because it looked the most difficult to do.  I assumed I would embroider these graphic (Mary Englebreit style) roses, but the thought of so many needle holes in the velvet didn't feel right.  So I considered needle felting the roses as appliques.  I tried one, then another, and liked them.  Each is about 1/2" wide.  It took quite some effort to make them, and keep them flat, as appliques will be.  The vines were also made with needle felting wool by working it into a thin strand of yarn.  There would be no hurry in making them as needle felting simply takes time, and twelve rose appliques were made.  Three for each sleeve, and three on each side of the front of the coat.  Sewing the vines and roses on was no easy task either, but the effect was pure Aubry.   The coat was lined in emerald green silk.

Next, I worked on the hat.  My friend Lesley, in Canada, is an accomplished needle felt artist, and encouraged me to try wet felting.  I'd watched two Youtubes on wet felting hats, yet my impatience (I can be impatient), provoked me to try the blocking method on a hat mold instead.  I tried this first with a sheet of wool felt in red to save the green for the real one.  A mock up, a trial hat.  I took the sheet and agitated by hand in hot soapy water until it was thick and heavy.  Then I squeezed most of the moisture out in paper towels and stretched it over a hat mold.  It took four days to completely dry.  One trick I learned was to fill a toe of pantyhose with sand and nestle this on top of the felt covered mold.  It helps contour the shape while it dries.  I liked the blocking method best for ease of creating a hat such as this one, but for the green, I soaked the wool in starch before forming it on the block.  With the starch, the hat retains its shape better.

While the hat dried, I began the flowers.  Again, the marvelous Youtubes were most helpful.  Flowers can be made from crafting felt, so I simply followed their instructions, in miniature,  with pure wool felt sheets.  The yellow center of the light pink flower was needle felted, but the rest were done with scissors and thread.  The only time I used a glue gun was to affix the flowers to the hat.  I bought a new "mini" glue gun for this purpose and it worked beautifully.  To try and sew them on would have tampered with the shape of the hat.

There are three styles of flowers on the hat.  One I will call a chrysanthemum, there are two roses, and I have no idea what to call the light pink flower.  I'm neither a botanist or gardener, so I apologize.  The light pink was created with three separate rounds of varying sizes and each petal cut with a pair of sharp embroidery scissors.  I like using Kai scissors.  The leaves where simply hand cut as well, on both the coat and the hat.  I hope to find myself making flowers like this again as I enjoyed it immensely.  True crafting.

Upon completion of the hat, I began the dress.  I'd found the red, green and white striped fabric on Ebay as Christmas fabric.  It reminds me of peppermint, or candy sticks.  The kind we used to buy in old fashioned candy stores in a jar.  Creating the sleeves on the bias for the diagonal stripe was enjoyable and something I seem to recall doing for the pink and silver Twiggy dress last summer.  It was a simple dress, the base pattern and color for the highly decorative coat and hat.  It has an attached under slip in Swiss batiste that is edged in a tiny lace.  Details, details.

There surely were a lot of components to this outfit, and the next I tackled was the dickey.  I made a triangular scarf shape out of the velveteen and lined it with the same silk as the coat.  I will forever struggle with lining velvet since  pinning alone does not prevent slipping under the sewing machine foot.  I've yet to find a better way to do this other than hand baste it first, but even that is annoying since the silk piece of lining persists in pulling away from the velvet.  A snap in back at the neck, and a little scrunching in front give the dickey its shape.

The last piece to conquer was the cummerbund.  Looking at an illustration and translating it as you think it should be doesn't always work.  My first attempt was with making a true pleated cummerbund.  I knew this would be difficult in such a small size using the velveteen, but I'm a real stick in the mud when it comes to continuity.  The coat and dickey were of the velveteen, and so should the cummerbund have been.  Its following the dictates of an illustration rather than common sense, that made me try the pleats.  Diagonal pleats.  One going one way, one going the other.  Oh, I made one, but was completely disillusioned by the result.  It was far too heavy for her waist and ruined the look of the outfit.  While working on this outfit, my mind was solidly on Dover and his condition and care.  (Into the third week of diagnosis, I've come to terms and am simply appreciating, to the greatest degree, the time I have left with him.)  I felt I needed to change direction and give the cummerbund some time, or myself some time, before I called it DONE.

So I picked up where I left off with the Cheshire Cat.  Of course Alice needed her Cheshire Cat!  This kind of accessory is the very reason I'm teaching myself needle felting.  I began him while we were on a snow trip in a Sierras, and I got about as far as the basic body shape then had to stop since I didn't have the right felting needle to attach his front leg. 

I had a friend recently ask me what the Cheshire Cat had to do with the outfit.  My jaw dropped a little, but as this was telephone communication, it wasn't visible.  "Its Peck Aubry's Cheshire Cat for his Alice!", I wanted to say, but stumbled along with some excuse.  Do I need an excuse for Alice to have her Cheshire Cat?  No.  The Cheshire Cat was part of this paper doll set, and I always wanted to display one with her.  Also, Aubry's was graphically rendered so he would be easier to felt.  A Tenniel Cheshire would have been so much more difficult due to the details. 

I wasn't sure how large he would turn out to be, and this made me a little nervous.  I wanted him to be bold enough to display well, but he should also be a cat that could be believable with Alice's size.  He turned out to be 3 1/2" long and 2 1/2" high.

Lesley was highly instrumental with her encouragement, from afar, as I grumped and complained and almost gave up on him.  Sculpting is very new to me and trying to make 2D into 3D takes more than just studying a picture.  I began to look at my own cat, who happens to be named Alice, in a different light.  She will attest to my cupping her head and staring into her eyes, studying the contours of her body from all angles as she lay in cat poses, and generally being a nuisance around her.

What makes the Cheshire Cat who he is, is primarily his human teeth baring grin.  So making teeth was the first thing I worked intently on.  I won't go into how to needle felt and all the techniques you need to learn and employ, or simply make up as you go along, which is half of what I do, but its an art all by itself. 

The eyes were giving me trouble.  I was advised that the white, the cornea, should first be made, but cat's don't show their cornea.  Again, Alice had to put up with me gently pulling at the corners of her eyes to see more of their structure.  Poor kitty.  The shape of the cat's eyes are formed by the outer skin at the edges.  They do indeed have corneas, you just can't see them.  You see solid, luminescent color side to side.  But, after failing the first attempt at them, I did as I was told and put them in the dark wool lined sockets I made, then covered them with the blue of his eyes.  While you cannot see it, there is pink in the corners near the nose.  The highlighting was the hardest and I worked at those white highlights for over an hour.  You're using the tiniest bit of fuzzy wool and trying to make it a solid shape.

As much as I was nervous about adding the stripes, this was probably the easiest part of him.  You do have to be careful because if you poke the wool the wrong way, it will sink into the shape and not lay on it.  I had purchased a reverse needle and thought I'd try working with it.  Reverse needles pull wool out of the blob of felted wool.  What I did was just pick a the edges of the stripes here and there along their line to produce some "fluff" I could smooth over.  This allowed the stripes to not look like "lines".  Curving them to the contours of his body also made for a more natural look. 

Lastly, Alice needed her skipping rope for after school play.  Michaels now carries a heavier cord in their beading department, and I trimmed the "handles" with red duct tape.  Seriously.  They sell colored duct tape now.  I do not feel the slightest bit bad about not hand carving handles for the skipping rope.  I put enough effort into this costume to call it DONE.  But, I guess the cummerbund issue was not resolved yet.  So yesterday I made a new one and this time machine stitched the lines in an apple green color.  I can confidently call it a quilted cummerbund.  And, why not?  Who's to say what the artist had intended.  This is what we call "artistic license", and I'm happy with the finished product.  Its not bulky, its far more slimming, and looks like the illustration.  The cummerbund is lined in apple green silk.

I'm very excited about Peck Aubry's work with paper dolls, and my next big project will be a year long one, as I bring his Mary Lennox of The Secret Garden to life.  My intention is to create all her colored dresses from the paper doll set, and she'll even get a tiny needle felted robin.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this children's classic, Mary Lennox was led by the robin to the gate in the stone wall that opened to the secret garden.

Wishing you all a perfect end to January and a bright and colorful February.

Miss E. Mouse 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Ring in the New! Happy New Year, 2017!

It is always with some sentimentality and wistful musing, that I close the book on one year, and start a fresh chapter on another.  When I look back on 2016, several things stand out in my creative process, while other ones seem to fade away like dreams from the night before.  Its not that each project didn't hold merit, at that time, and for me, but rather that with some, I may have put a little more heart into them for one reason or another.

Specifically, Gay Event, The Wonderful Fashion Doll, the doll and her wardrobe, was one of those once in a lifetime, one-of-a-kind projects that was so long in the planning, the dreaming of, the creating of, that she'll remain a treasure to me always, and maybe a little triumph.  All that embroidery, the silk chiffon ball gown, painting all the flowers on the silk walking costume!

I always enjoy making something new for Alice Illustrated.  Twiggy?  Eh?  Not so exciting.  Laura Peterson and new costuming for her and Louise are equally memorable, enjoyable, but also ever evolving.  Its those finite projects like Gay Event that shine for me.  She was like a Wendy Lawton Masterpiece Edition, and for those who collect Lawton dolls, I think you know what I mean.

I'm also tickled to pieces with needle felting and the chance to truly learn something new that will enhance so many outfits I make with accessories, and even hats.  Currently I'm conferring with my friend, Lesley (a phenomenal needle felt artist), on the techniques of welt felting so I can make doll hats.  This will be ground breaking for me, if I can use it.  I didn't say perfect it.  Yet.  Because I'm just pulling the materials together right now to try it.  Sometimes things work.  Sometimes they don't.  But, I'm going to give it the old one-two try. 

I have plans.  So many plans, and a couple of surprises for the coming months.  And I still have the new reproduction Huret to sew for.  Let us hope I don't experience the fateful French Fashion Doll Scenario again.  Each time I've bought one, she got stored for a year, then sold.  I don't wish to be a stick in the mud, but I truly love sewing for my Lawton dolls, the ones I remake into new characters.  I will give it shot, but that also means drafting new patterns, making shoes, etc.  One thing nice about her is that she's a large doll, and I just might be able to give her clothing more detail.

In the meantime, with all this dreaming and planning, I did manage two little New Year's Eve ball gowns for Lily and Petite Chiffonette.  These are Louise and Laura's Etrennes.  New Year gifts, the French way, for their dolls.  And, yet, these little dolls seem to have a life of their own besides being dolls for dolls, so we can also say that they get to go to parties just like the big dolls.

Lily's dress took three tries, and turned out to be something completely different than planned.  I was trying to use this sage colored silk, but it was stiffer, and tighter weave than others I've used and simply wouldn't gather like tissue and turn inside out properly.  On a larger doll, no problem.  It just couldn't be used for a 4" doll.  Lily's gown is silver silk with a lace border, lace at the waist and a lace bow in front.  It has princess sleeves, which you don't see too often on typical French Fashion, but if Tonner could do it for his 12" Alice, so I could for Lily! 

Petite Chiffonette's party gown is gold silk.  I used the same puffed sleeve pattern as I'd made for Lisette's red Christmas gown.  I used eyelash trim in two rows at the border, then more running the length of the bodice back to front, and three tiny rows across.  Three seed bead buttons finish the look.  While making it, I thought of the March sisters, and what they might have enjoyed wearing.  I'm afraid we can get too caught up in what other people consider proper mid 19th century costuming as we must remember that dress construction wasn't always lappets and bell sleeved jackets. 

So Lily and Petite Chiffonette, in their silver and gold are representative of the stars and the moon.  The glitter on gowns and angel wings from embossed antique postcards...the twinkle of the midnight sky as the clock strikes twelve, and a new year begins.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year!  Let's make 2017 a year full of happy surprises and fun.  I hope you enjoy the lovely antique post cards below.  Three came from Bonnie Rudeski's archives.  Gorgeous, all of them!

Miss E. Mouse 

For Jean (wink, wink)

Etrennes for the New Year

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas Morning From "Santa's Workshop"

Merry Christmas my friends!  As promised, I'm creating a special post just for the gifts I made this holiday season.  Its been difficult keeping them a secret, but as of this morning, the packages have been opened and the toys have come out to play.

Let's delay no further.  I will keep this brief, and simply describe what I am sharing.  After all, its Christmas morning! 

The first four photos are of my little 6" Polichinelle.  He was my second needle felting project and was made for a friend who loves the French Punch.  He was modeled after an original French toy, circa 1850.  I learned so much in creating him, and look forward to the next needle felting challenge I provide myself.  I already know what it will be.

The second set of photos is a little wardrobe called Yu Ping's Winter Solstice.  Yu Ping is the tiny sister of Ruby Red Galleria's Ten Ping.  Ten Ping is an 8" Chinese child BJD, and Yu Ping is her 5" baby sister.   You might notice on her blue plaid pinafore the yellow embroidery on the front edge.  It is a copy of the Chinese symbol on Yu Ping's shoes by Ruby Red Galleria.  The color of the flower on the back helped coordinate the outfit to her shoes.

Of course you will recall the pretty pink party dresses for the 9" Lawton dolls.  One was a gift to a friend, and the other a gift to my own doll.  Although you've also seen this one before, I couldn't resist including my friend's gift to her own little Lisette.  A Christmas party dress with holly crown. 

Wishing you all the joys of Christmas and a fabulous week leading to our New Year!  Keep love on your lips, the child in your heart, and the bravery to live the best life possible.

Miss E. Mouse

Side view of the 6" Polichinelle.

Happily sitting beneath the tree.

A back view!

Little dress and pinafore.

The back.  Coordinating bow for the set.

Jacket and play trousers.

The coordinating Winter Solstice with pillow.
Kimono style top with frog closure, and play trousers.

The 9" Lawton doll party dresses.

Lisette's Christmas gown and holly crown.

Some of the best toys are dollies.

The jolly workshop never closes!  Its Christmas year round.