Sunday, December 30, 2012

Year of the Thimble People (1913 - 2013)

A New Year's Party Dress
Just the day before New Year's Eve, and Mlle. Souiree has been sewing up a party dress for Mary Marie!  I was tickled PINK when my dear friend, Andrea, made one for her doll, too.  Her Mary Marie is mine's twin, and just as pretty with a bit different coloring.  She was asking how to post a photo and I suggested she look up vintage New Year's postcards (I collect them), and use her grandfather clock and skills with Photoshop.  Fantastic!  This is worth printing and hanging on the wall.

There I am!
As with all my costuming, it is the lovely illustrations of the artists that inspire me, and such is the case with my wardrobe for Mary Marie.  The Mary Frances Sewing Book was alive with charm and wit and adorable dolly illustrations dancing throughout the pages.  How could I not be inspired by such sweetness?

Inspired by the Illustration
Andrea's Darling Mary Marie Postcard
I must add for the sake of honesty, that Andrea was highly instrumental in helping me create this dress.  These patterns are cut out on two folds (all one piece), and for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to get them on the doll.  I read, reread and studied these archaic instructions and completely missed the boat!  Placket.  That was the key.  These outfits required you to cut a slit down the back and sew in a placket.  Once that was all cleared up, I sat down and busily made up Mary Marie's first party dress.  Thinking back on this, I used a placket for sewing the front of Lettie's canoeing outfit blouse.  As an artist I'm completely visual, and the terms and rules neither stick or as often the case apply.  However,  knowing of and how to do them is essential.

Its a lovely, sunny, bright day here and I am so ready for the new year to turn.  I'm having way too much fun sewing these fanciful outfits for Mary Marie that poor Polly's coat sits unfinished.  I've come too far on it to tuck it away, and she has so little yet, so I'll finish it in moments here and there. 

Who needs champagne when life is bubbling all around us?!  I'm inspired.  I'm inspired and feeling stronger in spirit than ever, and I owe this light to friends of mine like Andrea.  Bless her beautiful heart!

Miss E. Mouse


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Mary New Year!

Mary Marie
December 26th arrived, and with it another day of darkened skies and weeping clouds.  The naked branches of desidous trees seem to reach their shriveled arms to the heavens in prayer for protection and a soft winter.  Though they hibernate retaining their deeply hidden life source, the winter trees appear to open their eyes, and through those leafless branches we can see further and wider than in spring.  I am having a quiet day alone in my little hole in the wall.  It seemed a perfect time to chart the year ahead, and sweep the year's remnants of snips and bits under my memory rug.

Yesterday in the solitude of my studio I finally began to sew something for my Christmas doll, Mary Marie.  Once again Connie and I collaborated on a new doll to sew for and I chose Mary Marie, the doll the child learned to sew for in The Mary Frances Sewing Book (Jane Eayre Fryer c. 1913).  She has been home with me for a few weeks now, but with the skating costumes to complete (Polly's is not yet done!), I expected to wait until I had good time to play with her.

A Mary Christmas Doll
The Singing Thread
The Mary Frances Sewing Book is an antiquated tale of a child left at grandmother's house, and the doll she receives from her mother by post whom she learns to sew for through The Thimble People.  It reminds me much, in illustration, of the work by Johnny Gruelle, who wrote the story The Singing Thread about a spool of linen finding his way in the world of silk spools.  While Jane was born in 1876, and Johnny much later, the theme of fairies and anthropomorphic characters is richly present.  I have tried to read the book for the book's sake, but it was clearly written for a very little child with much imagination and patience to read the banter of The Thimble People. 

The Book
Many folks in the doll world are bringing this book, as well as reproductions of the patterns, to light now.  Why?  Just as Daisy's 100th anniversary was in 2011, Jane's sewing journal was written in 1913, and therefore, it is the book's 100th anniversary.  Some have made cds of the patterns, even to fit different sized dolls.  Some have rewritten the sewing instructions so that they can be made by modern budding seamstresses.  But, true to form, I'll study these illustrations and do my own thing.  For one, I noticed that the illustration of the slip has three tiered ruffles, while the pattern suggests one.  I'm sure you can guess which one I'll represent.  There will be purists who try to make the clothing exactly as described, and some, like myself, will create the wardrobe with the skills they already possess.  What you'll have is a gallery, much like Daisy's, of different fabrics, trims and unique approaches to the clothing produced.

The Pattern Folders with polka-dot bloomers!
Wendy Lawton's Mary Marie
I was first introduced to Mary France's doll, Mary Marie, through Wendy Lawton's interpretation.  She was a 16" spring-jointed wood body doll who arrived to you in a crate (like the real Mary Marie), in a slip with a note pinned to the front from "mother".  The book I have came with this doll, and she sits with my other sewing dolls nicely on her shelf.  Back then I wasn't sewing, and because she is an artist doll, I wished to keep her pure.  I cannot recall what renewed my interest in the Mary Frances Sewing Book or in the dolls (there are two...Angie was her first doll), from the story, but it might have been some interesting discussions from the folks in the doll world.  Regardless, I was inspired to have a Mary Marie of my own and a play doll I could sew for in wonderful colors from simple styles.  As with many works of literature and reproduction dolls, there are always new generations of readers and collectors discovering these amusements as if for the first time!  Let us hope the future generations will continue to prize such works with delight and wonder!

Accessories, a trunk!
A Gentle Note From the Author
As 2013 nears, I intend to fill my garden of dolls with bright colors and fancies.  I already have a special trunk for Mary Marie on the way, and countless half yards and quarters of fabric in blues and oranges (orange, my favorite color and themed throughout the illustrations), and vintage sages and prints.  Yesterday she was given her socks, dressing sack (what we might think of as a bed jacket today), and these fabulous orange polka-dot bloomers.  I'll be curious to learn who thinks I've "gone 'round the bend" with my color palette, but this is what makes things fun!

Polly has a snowshoeing outfit to be made, and both her and Lettie will continue to have beautifully clothing made for them, but Mary Marie is for the pixie in me.  The book also illustrates accessories and of course, The Thimble People, and these I hope to bring to life as well.

Miss E. Mouse

Monday, December 17, 2012

Skating in a Winter Wonderland

Lettie and Polly in a Winter Wonderland

Some of the best loved scenes from Victorian ephemera, are those of rosy cheeked young girls skating on frozen ponds, dainty hands tucked warmly into huge fur muffs, their lovely curls falling on elegant fur collars.  While creating these costumes,those visions of a graceful bygone era would steer my hands as steady as a good ship's captain on a journey to a time and place we only dream of now.

Lettie Lane's Skating Costume
As of this writing, those beautiful costumes are speeding their way to the other side of the country.  It was terribly hard to part with them, and for the next couple of weeks, I will slowly make a second set for my own dolls.  But, once again.  At least I'll know what I'm doing this time, and will be able to anticipate the trouble spots I ran into creating these.

The greatest difficulty was in sandwiching this 1/2" thick, plush sheered beaver fur between cotton velveteen and Shantung silk to make the collar on Polly's coat.  It took an entire day to get this collar made and sewn on.  No amount of basting would prevent the silk from slipping up to the feed dog and doubling into the seam.  It was so difficult that creating a second one at this stage is not something I look forward to.  It was not for lack of patience that this difficulty occurred, but more a feature of three completely different fabrics at war with one another.  And, here again, on both coats, was the tedious effort of covering button covers with velveteen.  The fabric is simply too thick to make normal covered buttons with the Dritz button cover kits.  But, I have a process down now, that works, so when I begin, I do them all at once a keep a rhythm going.

A Back View
Gloves and elastic loops for the muff.
I recall sitting in front of this luxurious piece of high quality, pure white cotton velveteen that came all the way from Britex in San Francisco.  I kept petting it, is was so soft!  And, the last thing I wanted to do was cut into it.  Yet, I took a deep breath, trusting my mock up pattern and began to snip away.  I will also say that finding pure white quality faux fur for these costumes was another frustration.  Bless Fabric Depot in Oregon for carrying this wonderful fur!  I didn't care how much it cost a yard, as long as it was worthy of the velveteen!  And, it was.

A Victorian Portrait
I am tired.  To create and finish these, I literally worked endless hours (sometimes waking at night and working from 1am til 3am),  while still trying to maintain some integrity in the upkeep of family and my little hole in the wall.  I know that in the future, I simply must begin seasonal costumes two months well in advance.  These few remaining days of the year must be spent in gentle and quiet pursuits. Christmas is upon us.  For me, it is a soft time of year spent in reflection.  The evenings by the fireside watching my Christmas tree sparkle.  A cup of peppermint cocoa between my paws.

Polly Pratt's Christmas Caller
The New Year will see a new dolly to be sewn for.  And still, there will be beautiful costuming done for Lettie Lane and Polly Pratt.  For now, it is time for me to hibernate, finish this year's projects, tidy the place up a bit, listen to birds of winter, and watch earth around me sparkle in silver.

Comfort and Joy!

Miss E. Mouse   

Painted Basket of Pointsettias

Little covered buttons on the cuffs.

Polly carries a tiny hand-made tree.

The Snow Queen