Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave!"

Lettie Lane's 4th of July Patriotic Costume
Its hotter than the 4th of July!  Indeed, and at 100 degrees outdoors this mid June weekend, this little mouse is staying indoors!

Lettie Lane is practicing her parade march and is thrilled to be in the city's celebration plans.  And, while she marches her cute little Mary Janes up and down the kitchen floor, waving her flag, I thought best to sit down and try to recall this latest adventure in sewing.

I'm not even sure I want to call myself a seamstress, but more a designer.  A costumer designer would even be more appropriate for each outfit I make these days is designed from the ground up.  And, I had a ball creating this little 4th of July parade costume.  If I step back in time for a few minutes, I can recall the areas that plagued me the most.

A Meticulous Mouse

The actual drawing of these patterns is not an issue, but rather exciting since they come so easily now.  One would have thought that the vest with its middle point and feminine flair would have given me the jitters, but it was actually the COLLAR, once again, that sent me into a tail spin.  It was not to be gathered, although some may have approached it this way, but if you look carefully at the illustration, we are once again adding little pleats.  This was done to both the front and the back of the neckline to create the look, and after a few tears and second tries, also to the lining.  This particular frock is completely lined from the sleeve edges to the hem, and where the sleeves set into the bodice.  Its tricky.  No doubt about it, but that great little hidden ladder stitch does the trick every time!

Yes, they are completely lined!

The sash was also a thorn in my paw.  Okay, so I looked up prom sashes and shoulder sashes, but these are all just elongated rectangles.  Again, look closely at the illustration and see how is drapes triangularly.  Some may say, "well it ties at the bottom creating that look", but try this on a doll, and nope!, it does not.  So I finally angled it and finished the edges with some ruching, closing them with a shiny gold button and red thread loop.

The Illustration
Making the Hat
Then came the hat.  What was this wierd looking little cap all about?  It had some kind of cloth emblem shape...that's about the only way I can describe it, and little stars around the band.  Trust me!  During the entire time I was creating this costume, I contemplated the construction of this cap. 

After several yards of paper towels, and a few whacks at a roll of buckram, I decided it had to be a cloth cap.  But, how?!  I tried two half pieces sewn together to get that pointy look at the top, but was it supposed to be pointy, or was that just the way it was drawn?  Was I taking things too literally here?  Meticulous Mouse never cuts corners.  So I studied sailor hats.  Some were made with four pieces, but I'd not seen one made with three, like a tricorne.  This actually gave you the pointy crown I was after, but even so, it was softened by the silk, and that's OKAY.

"For the land of the Free!"
I had to make four of them, so that's twelve pieces to sew together, since the two hats needed to be lined.  I found that if I stuck a pin up the center of the lining, and up the center of the top cap, you could spin the lining until it fit neatly under the cap.  After I'd gotten one lined and stitched together at the bottom, I realized that I'd forgotton about that silly emblem shape.  So out came the stitches and back to the paper towel drawing board.  This piece itself had to be lined, so I cut two, stitched the bottom edges, then stitched the top edges to the cap third, finally sewing all of that to the other two thirds. 

You may be asking why I'm going on and on about this cap, but if you ever have to make one like this, you'll appreciate what I'm sharing.  Back in October when I was going to do a second Halloween costume with witches on the border, I'd purchased some of this double-sided iron on paper for fabric appliques.  I never used it, but had it on hand, and used it to place the stars equally around the cap.  That was final step in creating this costume.  Pressing on tiny 1/2" stars.  It was kind of exciting to see it finally come together. 

Back View

Yes, this blog is long, and if you've stayed with me so far, I thank you.  Its become necessary for me to create these costumes without interruption, so I took a few photos during the process for providence.

Lastly, I found two small 48 star parade flags for the costumes.  I was much too chicken to remove them from their poles and try to wash them, so they are in their original state.  I anticipated that the colors may run, for one of them (the one I'll keep) looked as if it had gotten wet and ran with the blue.  What I loved most about these flags were the golden finials at the top that often get lost over time, or completely ommitted.

My next costume will be a fancy slip, and I'm only making the one on commission.  Then I must decide on the bathing suit or the violin concert dress. 

Wishing you a most happy 4th of July, and two weeks of summer bliss until then.

Miss E. Mouse 

"And the home of the brave!"

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