Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Yellow Rose of Havanna

Little Lettie's Yellow Rose of Havanna
Once upon a time there lived a little mouse who painted pictures in the quiet of her little hole in the wall.  Through her brush she was able to step inside the canvas and dwell in the stories she'd create.  She loved beautifully illustrated story books and paper dolls, miniatures and lovely dolls - especially dolls.  One day she grew tired of oil and canvas and began to work with miniature dolls by outfitting them in the hand-painted miniature trunks she'd build, thereby bringing the stories to life.  Time passed, and she began making only accessories for larger dolls.  Accessories she couldn't find in any store, but longed for to give her dolls something to hold, something to bring their own stories to life.  And, then she began to sew...

High top button boots by Fran's Heirlooms and matching parasol

I normally like to photograph the steps it takes to create a costume, but sometimes I can't put the project down long enough, or even wish to stop the process, to take these photos.  This was the case with Little Lettie's Yellow Rose of Havanna ensemble.  The sheer puzzle of creating this kept my mind and nibble paws snipping and stitching straight through for two weeks.  Now that is it complete, I'm not sure where to begin. 

The Paper Doll Illustration
I know I began with the blouse.  I'd seen a costume made by a doll company that I admired, where the blouse was actually sewn into the waistband of the skirt creating the illusion of a jumper and blouse, but was truly a dress.  After studying the illustration for this outfit, I felt it best to approach the construction with this in mind.  The blouse is made from heirloom batiste and has four tiny pintucks running from the collar to hem.  The sleeves are embellished with four rows of 1/2" ruched lace.  The sleeves reminded me so much of the frilly shirts Ricky Ricardo wore that I called this the Havanna dress.  The skirted portion is hung by bretelles (French for shoulder straps).  They are pleated, lined and attached at angles to form that off the shoulder look.  The skirt is fully lined as well, thereby taking care of a hem that would alter the look.

A side view of the hat
I think the hardest piece of this ensemble was the hat.  Without seeing one of these in person, I had to fiddle with a design until I figured out the ruffles and how they were part of the brim.  With a buckram base, I eventually covered the piece in silk and finally make two gathered ruffles, hand-stitching them in place on the brim.  While this may not sound like a great feat, it took me two days to figure this all out.

A big bow
Secondly, we were dealing with baby ostrich feathers that needed to be dyed.  This was my first experience with Dharma's Acid Dye.  The acid dyes are used for natural and organic fibers, but placing hard to come by little feathers in a semi-simmering pot of yellow dye and vinegar was a bit unnerving.  They dyed up perfectly however! 

It think its important to comprehend how feathered hats were made, like this, in the past.  Layers of ostrich feathers were sewn together through the individual ribs of the feathers to create the density you see in the illustrations.  This is more than I can do right now, so we have two skinny little feathers on Lettie's fancy hat.

The Parasol
Finally, we came to trying to find a perfect, matching yellow silk for the recovering of the parasol and creating the sash with a big bow.  After a week of not receiving a silk I'd purchased from a store five hours from my little hole in the wall, I took matters into my own paws.  I drew another bath of the Dharma yellow I'd dyed the feathers in, and took another huge leap of faith and tried dying a piece of white silk myself.  How liberating this can be!!  It worked, the pieces matched the feathers, and what more could I have asked for?

The ribs
The parasol is all hand-sewn and is edged in a matching French cotton lace - the same, only wider than the sleeves are made with.  The result is a bit of sunshine on a fine June day!  I love yellow no matter what color it is!

I intend, fully, to enjoy this summer and spend June doing the outdoor things I love.  Especially reading on the patio swing with my two dogs.  But, July will come racing up on me if I don't plan well, and the next outfits I make will be 4th of July costumes for Big Lettie.  Is this getting any easier?  Not really.  Each ensemble I create is completely different from the prior and the next.  But, that is what keeps me interested.  The challenge!

June 20th is Summer Solstice.  Don't forget to plan a picnic in the shade of a grand old tree!

Miss E. Mouse

Pintucks, high collar and Havanna sleeves


  1. Although I haven't commented for a while I have been keeping an eye on your 'new found' talent for dressmaking :) Your attention to authenticity and detail is exactly what one would expect from such a particular little mouse and it certain pays off because all of the creations are wonderful. I'm especially fond of the picnic outfit.

    Enjoy your summer - I hope you get lots of opportunity for outdoor adventures. xx

  2. Beautiful, I also love the creativity of sewing my own doll clothes. You can
    make them what you want them to be.

    World Doll Day
    June 9
    Celebrate the day!

  3. Beautiful dress! I'm so impressed by your dyeing your own feathers and silk. :)