Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Room To Grow

A Room to Grow In.
This afternoon I finished sewing the buttons, hooks and loops on the winter white ribbon dress for my own Lettie.  The day was one of steady rain, gusts of wind, and with it, the gentle fall of the yellow birch leaves that would finish their short, but memorable, autumn verse.  It was a day to keep the fire bright, and one particular mouse, busy with her own change of seasons.

It has become a ritual, as surely as the period that punctuates the end of the sentence, that I tidy up my studio in preparation of the next production.  Each ensemble I make seems to have become a play written in the works, the story unfolding as the pieces come together stitch by stitch.

My magic Juki sewing machine.
While working on them, and through my imagination, I can imbue them with the colors of the season, the passion or sentiment of the holiday, or pronounce them with the markers of each year.  They are like a diary to me, a grow chart on the wall from which under I stand, and draw the line a little higher with each accomplishment.  There is alot of wall above me being such a tiny little mouse. 

Pattern drafting and work table.
A friend of mine recently asked me if I was (sewing), making up for lost time.  Lost time?  Was what I was doing prior to this insignificant?  I have pondered as well that a person in the doll world is better measured by how well she sews, respected if she can sew doll clothing (well), rather than create the entrennes, or accessories and miniatures I've carefully crafted and worked on towards perfection.  This is no surprise to me since I, too, love to collect beautifully made doll couture.  But, I'm a non-conformist, and always have been.  I've always lived to be a little different and do something unique that gives me a personal signature.  But, moreover, the crafting and painting is what I truly love to do.  It excites me to create tiny little pieces of doll accessory that round out the ensemble or display.  Painting in miniature allows me to step into a tiny world where no one else can go until the completed piece is in their hands.

Where I paint miniatures.
Childhood Christmas Ornaments
As a child miniatures fascinated me.  I wanted to be (even) tinier and step into the dollhouse myself and walk around the beautiful furnishings.  The ornaments we hung on our tree at Christmas; some were little windows into tiny worlds, and these were the ones I loved best.  I would gaze at them for hours and create stories behind the scenes.  The pinecone men were alive to me.  They lived in the Christmas forest every December and slept the other eleven months of the year.  No wonder other children found me odd and shy, and adults worried I would never fit into society proper.  I would play for hours by myself and create such elaborate stories that I could pick them up the next day when homework was finished.  In summer, I'd swing on the swing for hours just singing little songs and enjoying the flight.  I was self-contained and self-entertained.  Has anything really changed?

Polly's Christmas Tree
And, so I cleaned the surfaces of my tables, tossed the scrap and bits I thought I would need or read at a later date.  Dusted and straightened, and polished the small objects that make me happy to look at.  Then I took out my peppermint cup that will be the catch-all for the small tools I use and stray pins and needles, and prepared to begin the Christmas costuming. 

Pretty Ermine Trim
New territory will be crossed as I make a fur muff and toque, and trim these coats with ermine.  I'm looking forward to trying Geri Blansfield's (from the Bleuette Sewing Club) technique for making the black ermine tips.  But, the thing I most look forward to is making Polly's little Christmas tree and ornaments from scratch.  I've been studying her little tree and have a pretty good idea on how I will approach making it.  Yes, small trees can be purchased, but they are flocked and do not have the look of a real tree - more like a bottle brush.  I've even purchased tiny clay pots I will spray paint blue.

The coats will be fun to do.  It just came to me (in writing) that Lettie's skating costume is an ermine trimmed skirt with an ermine trimmed coat over it.  Polly's Christmas coat is simply that.  I just received in the mail, from Britex of San Francicso, the most luxurious white cotton velveteen I've even touched paw to.  The Christmas play will begin tomorrow on yet another rainy a clean and tidy studio, with happy heart for the holiday season.

Miss E. Mouse

My own Lettie's dress with the book.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Lettie Lane's November Stroll

Lettie Lane's Autumn Stroll
One down, one to go, and I'm not sure I want to go there.  If you recall the Lemon Meringue dress with the yellow ribbon trim, you'll remember that I'd only made one of them.  Sewing rows of ribbon trim on a dress is not easy and takes alot of patience.  This one boasts nine rows.  Six on the dress, three on the belt.  I haven't yet figured a quick and easy way to do this, so I do it the only way I know how; eyeballing it.  Pins don't help.  When you begin to sew the trim on, it slides to the right due to the feeddog pulling the bottom fabric on the machine. So what I do is pull the ribbon gently to the left and sew very cautiously and slowly. 

Nine Rows of Ribbon
One of the things I'll remember about this dress was how lightbulb-genius I felt when I decided to make a sleeveless under-blouse to get the look. (I've been contemplating the design of this dress since first seeing the illustration.  It is entirely up to enterpretation, as it was drawn under the coat.)  I did the same thing for the navy blue sailor dress last spring, and come to think of it, had to sew rows of trim on that dress as well.  After feeling good about my decision to do this, I made an A-line, scoopneck "jumper" dress with gently puffed sleeves.  It was only when I went to sew on the trim that I realized this wasn't going to work. 

If you think about it, an A is wide at the bottom and slopes up, so sewing the trim on in straight rows was out of the question.  The only thing I felt I could do, in dismay, was cut 6.5" off from the bottom up, make it into a bodice and add a rectangle, gathered skirt.  Of course this would work because the rows would be straight.  And, it was only when I felt pleased with the dress and tried the coat on over it, that I just about cried.  The dress was longer than the coat, and I'd worked so hard to get the coat just the right length to stay true to the illustration.  Later, it occurred to me that I could have taken out the side seams of the dress and sewn the ribbon on this way, trimming the ribbon at an angle at the edge.  However, you would not have gotten the volume, and the result would also be "chunky" side seams.

I couldn't hem it up because the first row of ribbon trim was directly on the hemline.  So off the skirt came, and off came another inch of fabric from the top.  You might be wondering why the hem length wasn't reasoned out in the mock up.  Well, of course it was, but Lettie's dresses have generally been hemmed between the knee and calf.  Hems and collars, collars and hems!  Will they ever leave me be!

Sleeveless Under-Blouse
The Belt
The collar on the sleeveless "dickie" blouse came out perfect.  Probably the first collar that did.  But, what I love most about the dress is the belt.  Its a nice little three-rows-of-ribbon belt with wee matching buttons and thread loops to close it.  I did have to make it twice since the first one was not long enough.  And, its a good thing I had to purchase the ribbon in a great many yards, as some has found its way into the wastebasket.

Mock Up - Back to the Drawing Board
The coat was a nightmare.  I said it.  Yes, it took me six days to draft a sloper as I really didn't know what exactly I was looking at.  I knew it was a swing coat with fur collar and cuffs, and some kind of seam angles at the sleeves.  It wasn't until I discussed this with my friend, Laurie Wirthlin, that she told me these were raglan sleeves, and sent me photos of patterns similar to the one I was making.  The raglan sleeve connects the front pieces to the back and forms a shoulder that is also part of the curve of the neckline.  I know there are different styles of raglan sleeves, but this one is deep like a dolman sleeve, which was perfect since it was going over a dress with slightly puffed sleeves. 

The collar also caused me sleepless nights, since it kept popping up.  I eventually drew one that had a tight curve, and this enabled it to lay nicely.  The faux fur trim was fun to work with.  I chose this because of how nice and soft it felt.  For a doll's coat, normal real fur is just too long.  You'd want a sheared fur to get the right scale, and look, and the faux fur is already sheared.  There will be a time when I do work with real fur, and I'll have to shear it myself.  I have a nice box of scraps from Dimitha in Canada.

Working On Welt Pockets
This coat also had pockets.  Not patch pockets, but welt pockets.  I'd practiced making them on scraps of the velveteen, with deep linings.  I will advise should you ever make welt pockets yourself, make them long and deep.  The way a doll's arms and hands are jointed, will ease more nicely into large pockets.  I don't know if there is any interest in making welt pockets, but I did photograph the process for a quick tutorial.  The only scary part, is cutting into the fabric.  But, don't we do this with buttonholes?  Yes.  And, for now, buttonholes will be in the future.  Make a mistake with a buttonhole and the entire costume is ruined!  Surely I've practiced them with the attachment for my sewing machine, but I've never gotten a consistent thread.

This coat seemed to have it all.  Working with velveteen, lining with this slippery Ambience lining, an interesting swing style, raglan sleeves, welt pockets, fur trim and covered buttons.  It was quite the production!  I honestly believe this was the most difficult ensemble I've made to date.  However, if I'm not working on something challenging, I don't feel like I'm progressing.

Fashionable Gloves
Another new venture was making gloves.  After the success of this simple design, I think I'll be doing a few more and embellishing the design in the future.  This one does have a thumb, and is made with a stretchy costume fabric.  When you're pulling a glove over a doll's fingers, you need a perfect fit or they'll look sloppy or silly.  I started with a Bleuette "gant" pattern as my sloper and redrew and enlarged from there.  What I'd like to try are gloves with those little seamed rows on top.  I made the gloves as you would shoes.  I drew the pattern onto the doubled fabric, and pinned around the drawing to keep the fabric layers from slipping.  Then I sewed the stitches, twice!, and finally cut the gloves out and turned them inside out.

We've talked about hats, and the only thing I did differently to get the look was start with a buckram crown, but created a soft brim of just the velveteen.  The velveteen was thick enough to hold a shape, yet soft enough to give a soft-brim, warm look to it.  I had some pretty, deep-yellow chrysanthemums, and these made a perfect "color spot".  Brown stockings, and beautiful matching boots made by Fran Quinn of Fran's Heirlooms.

This outfit provided alot of challenges with many new avenues to go down.  Its one of those experiences that allow you to reflect that there's still so very much to learn.  A friend of mine recently wrote that "practice makes perfect" and that she'd made over 200 outfits for Bleuette.  Her work is impeccable.  Of this there is no doubt.  But, as I've reflected on this, the quest for perfection is simply that.  There will be no end to the limitless designs one can create in the art of dressing a doll, each one being different, each one requiring new skills.  The joy is in the creative process!

The holidays are upon us.  I feel wonderful, and believe that through the practice of designing seasonal ensembles, I've been able to more deeply enjoy each season and holiday.  Christmas will be a joy.  I will be designing skating ensembles for both Polly Pratt and Lettie, while my dear friend, Fran, will be making their skates.  I will even be designing my first outfit for American Girl - a work dress for Caroline that the company failed to make, but is prominently featured throughout her stories.

Miss E. Mouse
Lettie Lane's Skating Ensemble
Polly Pratt's Skating Costume

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

To Grandmother's House We Go!

Happy Thanksgiving, with love from Lettie!
It is the day before Thanksgiving and I'm exhausted from my whiskers to my tail.  I think this was the very most difficult outfit I have ever made, and rest assured, I will not be sewing ribbon trim on a dress again for a very long time.

I've more to share, and wish to discuss the creative process in making this ensemble, but there's a fire to build in the hearth, a turkey to roast, and a day of rest.

Lettie is visiting Grandmother in the country this Thanksgiving, and promises not to spill one drop of gravy on her winter white dress.

Miss E. Mouse

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Cornucopia of Garments

Polly's dress in pink.
The cornucopia, or horn of plenty, is widely known as a symbol of abundance and nourishment.  A large horn-shaped containter, it overflows with the abundance of good things.  Originating in classic antiquity, it has continued as a symbol in Western art and is particulary associated with Thanksgiving.  

The cornucopia seems to be well represented on Victorian postcards, and in fanciful illustrations, but how many of us ever really used one as a Thanksgiving Day table centerpiece or festive decoration for autumn?  The horn of plenty has always intrigued me, and I went on a long and vigilant search to find just the right little cornucopia to enhance Polly Pratt's Thanksgiving Day Outfit.

Polly's dress in autumn peach.
When I set out to make her a holiday dress, finding an appropriate garment to respresent Thanksgiving wasn't easy.  From the existing paper doll pages that I own, there were none!  But, I love plaid and this little pink dress with its round white collar and cuffs, seemed to say "Thanksgiving" to me.  I was also intrigued with a small sunbonnet variation that a friend of mine, Arlene Hayes, had made, so I set out to make a pilgrim hat based upon the sunbonnet.  When I was just five years old, we made pilgrim hats and collars in kindergarten, and had a parade.  I wore both, everyday for a month my mother once told me.  I even have a photograph of myself (somewhere!) on a swingset wearing this costume.  So naturally Polly needed a pilgrim hat so she could march in the parade.

Sheila's Illustration
A few months ago I began trying to find an exact match to this pink plaid, and came up rather empty-pawed.  I did retain two of my purchases however.  One was an autumn-peach perfect plaid, and the other a modern wobbly plaid, but in the right shade of pink.  The autumn hues would need ivory accents, but the pink could easily retain the white accents of the illustration.  Not knowing which I'd like best, I made two.  One of each, just to see how they would turn out.  Included would be a sunbonnet/pilgrim hat, a cornucopia and of course, the little blue book she holds, which I fashioned with a real leather cover.

The bonnet mock-up as a sunbonnet
The dresses, remarkably, made up rather quickly, but there are details to the construction of the pockets and turned up cuffs that could only be detected from personal, close examination.  I never do anything easy.  The bonnet is a redrawn-redraft of the Bleuette sunbonnet.  Its a far cry from how the original French pattern was supposed to be made, but I'll be darned if I could figure out how they intended it to be made.  So I made my own.

The bonnet mock-up

While making Polly's Thanksgiving Day outfit, I became interested in the paper dolls of Berta and Elmer Hader, who drew their paper dolls in the early 1920's.  The little girls were often wearing such bonnets, so this became of equal importance to me (the designing of one), since I may make a few outfits from their illustrations.

Berta and Elmer Hader's Paper Doll
Today I began the long and tedious process to make Lettie Lane's autumn outfit.  Currently, as I am just in the design process, I am a bit stumped by the coat, or rather how to design the pattern, but I know it will come to me in a day or two.  There are many components to this one, and one of them is a pair of gloves.  I'm going to try a pair.  No, they will not have fingers, but I will try to make them with a thumb.  I have to TRY!  They are represented in the illustration, and Lettie's hands will get cold when the November winds begin to blow.

As this year is coming to a close, and I reflect back on what I have done so far, it certainly can be considered a Cornucopia of Garments.  A wealth of abundance. 

I may not post again until the ensemble is complete, and so I will wish you all a cornucopia of wishes, and a Happy Thanksgiving.

Miss E. Mouse

Lettie's Autumn Stroll Outfit