Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year 2014!

Happy New Year!
The countdown begins!  2013 was a very full year and in it we experienced a few triumphs, a few let downs, and some new and innovative directions.  This journal, my blog, marks the seasons and times as much in my own life as in that of my dolls.  When we look back and reflect upon that which has been, we become more keenly aware of what we'd like to see in the future and which paths we may wish to walk down.  As a collector of antique postcards, its apparent that I've discovered a wonderful new source of inspiration for costuming and Daisy is just the doll to elect as my Postcard Girl. 

We began with the Lawnmower Dress last summer, then the charming Christmas Caroler, and for a glorious finish to 2013, The New Year's Gown.

Our Postcard Girl
Inspired By This Illustration
A few days ago when I was poking around Ebay for antique New Year's postcards, I spotted this beautiful January 1 card and immediately saved the image, printed it out and began this dress.  I was up all night thinking on how I would approach making it, and truly believed it would be a snap.  Ha-ha-ha!  No way.  For so many of these dresses, the bodice and sleeves are where all the fancy begins.  And, yet there were so many elements to the gown and party hat, that it kept me intrigued and motivated to capture each detail.  For one, there was this crown, or party hat, that is so reminiscent of the Pope's hat. 

I already had these two beautiful silks in pink and blue, that had been stashed away for something to make for Polly.  The laces would be a challenge though.  Sometime this past year, Fran, of Frans Heirlooms, who makes most of the shoes my girls wear, was sharing with me a way to have the gold laces I required for a dress I was considering making.  The solution was gold floral spray!  I purchased some and tucked it away with my other paints, but did not try it until I began to make this dress.

Close Up of Party Hat

I took a large, flattened cardboard box and pinned the laces to it lengthwise.  Then took this outdoors and sprayed the laces a couple of times until they were gilded.  The drying time was fairly quick, but I gave them a few hours to dry completely before working with them.  The embellishments on the sleeves are two laces sewn together.  A ribbed trim and picot lace.  This picot lace would be my bane however, for when I began hand-stitching it on the dress, the thread would catch on the tiny loops.  The ribbed trim is also the trim under the little crescent moons or horseshoes.  You can decide which they should represent for both icons were widely used during this era. 

The sash is attached to the dress at the back and closes with 14k gold plated bead "buttons", and thread loops.  There is also one at the neckline in the back.  The bow was fun to design as well.  It is a faux bow that is ruched in the middle then sewn to the sash.  The sash is also trimmed in the gold picot lace.

Little Gold Buttons in Back
For the gold shoes, I had a simple pair of white slippers in my collection, and decided to embellish them with tiny four leaf clovers for New Years.  These were then sprayed with the gold floral spray.  Finally a little 14k bead was sewn to their centers.  This spray is used for silk flower arrangements, and does not crack or peel.  It becomes the fabric.  As I write this, I think I would have enjoyed finding a gold horn for Daisy to blow.  I'll have to look for one and add it to the costume later.  The little boy cupid is blowing the horn while he rides on the front of the car.  Now wouldn't that be fun to find!  A car just like that for the girls!

Close Up of Dress and Good Luck Pig
And, then we come to the party hat or crown.  I've made this kind of hat in many styles, but my first were in tiny ones for the three inch Raggedy Andys I used to make.  Instead of a four part pattern sewn together, this crown is taller, pointier at top, and has only three pattern pieces.  The base is buckram, the cover is silk in a deeper blue.  I had lots of gold Dresden trim from Blumchen Company, that I'd purchased when making Daisy's party hats for her 2011 birthday year.  These were snipped and pieced together to create the gold crown of the party hat.  I then topped the point with two more gold beads.  That was fun.  I LOVE making hats.

It was towards the very end of completing this outfit that I spotted a little pig in the arms of an Alice in Wonderland doll on my shelf.  I borrowed a garland of clover from a Bleuette St. Patrick's Day outfit, and put our little Good Luck Pig together.  Coins.  We could have had coins, but just how far did I wish to go?  Maybe they'll be in next year's.  I had to decide whether I was recreating and/or making my own postcard, or simply giving Daisy a fabulous party dress to bring in the New Year.  There is always a time to call it quits.  So no coins.

I recall reading something about the way French women dress, and how, if you wished to dress like them, there were rules.  One of them was get dressed, put on your jewelry, then take most of the jewelry off except two pieces.  I think they were trying to say that less is more if you choose correctly.  And, this also applies when painting pictures.  You could work on one for years, but at some point you have to call it done...when it has the look you wished to achieve.  Likewise, this journal posting has achieved its fini. 

Daisy, our new Postcard Girl, and I wish you the happiest New Year imaginable, and a special hope that all your dreams and plans come to fruition. 

Miss E. Mouse
Work in Progress

Better Close Up of Shoes With Four Leaf Clovers
Another From the Series

One More From Same Series

A Favorite

Good Luck Clovers at New Years 

Just Love This One!

Another Blue and Gold Dress

Pig, Pounds, Serenity

Let's Begin Our New Year Together!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Special Christmas Gift For Lettie

Lettie's Christmas Doll
I know, I know.  I said the last post would be it for this year, but Lettie's been such a good child, that Santa rallied the elves together to make a very special dolly for her.  She turned out so sweet, that I had to share her.

Nada Christensen has been making these fabulous little "Petit Bleus" for years now, and her tiny composition, jointed body, makes the perfect 5" dollies for Lettie, Daisy and Polly.  Upon finishing Lettie's Evergreen Dirndl, I wrote to Nada and pleaded our case.  She had two brown eyed little ones, and I purchased them both.  I had a feeling what I was in for with dressing this one, but I really wasn't prepared for just how much it would take to do so!

From Betty Bonnet Shops Early 1917
I used to dress doll house dolls, and when you do, there is very little sewing, and a lot of gluing seams.  The dolls are never undressed, and this is standard practice in the miniature world.  However, for the purpose of dressing a 5" dolly, that just might need more clothing, it was all needle and thread.

Dolly's Coat and Hat - Next Year's Outfit
The final, and finished dress is the third times a charm version.  Achieving the volume on this little dress required one of my favorite templates, a bowl.  Yes.  A round salad bowl.  Think "little boy's bowl cut", or how an umbrella works!  Its a circle that drapes.  For the purpose of this dress, once the circle is drawn, you fold it in half, then cut a hole in the center for the neck, then angle cut the sides to achieve the volume you wish.  Sound simple?  Well, when you consider this was my brainstorm after almost giving up, maybe not.  I have to laugh when I hear people say, "I'm so glad you learned to sew".  Sew?  That's never been the issue.  Designing each pattern is, but that is the dearest challenge, and so worth the process.

Merry Christmas, Lettie!
Lettie's little doll was inspired by Betty Bonnet Shops Early 1917.  There are several dolls on this illustrated page, and quite a few Christmas outfits to make in the future.  I chose this green and white dressed doll to match Lettie's Evergreen Dirndl.  I fashioned her hair style from a silky mohair hank, and topped it with a silk bow.

Next year I'll plan to make the white dress with the red sailor collar and belt for Lettie, and the doll dressed in a red coat and hat with long brown curls.  And, hopefully the process of dressing this size doll will go a little smoother.  Right now I have her green coat cut out, but the prospects don't look too promising.  I'm using the same velveteen of Lettie's outfit, and I already know what's coming down the pike.  Fraying and pilling. 

One more thought on how to achieve a nice drape on such a voluminous dress.  Most people would only consider it a matter of fabric, but there is another way around this if you have a certain fabric in I did, wishing it to be the same fabric as Lettie's blouse.  Steam!  I have a little travel steamer and its not only the perfect solution for getting wrinkles out in a doll's dress, but the steam will allow you to manipulate the fabric into a soft drape if its standing out like a paper cup.

The bottom line is that I never stop working.  There is seldom a day when I am not in my studio designing a pattern, sewing up a new outfit for a doll, or making an accessory to go with it.

Its Christmas Eve.  Dolly needs her coat and hat! 

Miss E. Mouse 

So many dolls and outfits to choose from!


A Dolly for Christmas

From Italy - Just Purchased!
From 1911 - My Favorite!

So Bleuette!

...and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

We Wish You A Merry Christmas!

Daisy's Christmas Outfit
Its Christmas Eve, and snow is lightly falling on the streets below.  Lamplight glow casts shadows among the happy carolers, and the earth is still and joyful.  Bells can be heard ringing from the ladies of the Salvation Army, and chestnuts pop on open fires, while vendors fill paper cups for the passersby. 

There's a party at the Lane home, and Lettie's mother is hosting friends and family for the annual event.  The children gather round the piano and sing with all their heart, while the adults boast the year's proud moments, and praise fine feast Mrs. Lane has laid about the table.

Out in the snow, making small footprints that will soon disappear, Daisy comes a calling from just down the street, bearing gifts and a merry wreath of holly for Mrs. Lane to hang in a special place.  Christmas is here, and there simply is no better time of year!

Daisy Brings a Gift
Daisy's beautiful velveteen Christmas outfit was the inspiration from a German postcard postmarked 1910.  When I saw this image, I knew Daisy would be getting the most beautiful costume yet this year.  It was the last outfit I made, and I just finished it this afternoon.  I spent all of the day yesterday just making the hat, and finished with the buttoned belt in back of the coat this afternoon.  I've never sewn so fast in all my life!   

German Postcard Illustration
Daisy's coat is the fabulous cotton velveteen I purchased at Britex in San Francisco last fall.  Her coat is lined in sateen.  The cuffs and collar are made from exquisite faux fur, which I think they called Sable.  Her skirt is made from one of the nicest plaids I've ever seen.  The weave is true and the plaid is almost an embroidery.  Her little red gloves, not to miss a detail!, are jersey.  Over her shoes she wears cotton velveteen gaitors, or spats.  I think of them as spats since they do not cover more than her shoes.  And, finally her hat is of the same black cotton velveteen piped in the red of her coat.  My goodness what an undertaking this hat was!

On the Snow
Velveteen Gaitors
It began with a buckram base, and hat wire was sewn to the edge.  Over that edge came the red velveteen band, then the black velveteen which is layered atop and underneath.  The crown was lined in a simple black cotton.  What was interesting to me was trying once again to figure out what was going on in the illustration.  I came to the conclusion that a silk bonnet with ruffled edge was beneath the hat, and tied under her chin.  When I realized I hadn't any red silk ribbon, I make the bands myself from the same silk as the bonnet.  This finished the hat with a half bow as well.  Daisy was then ready to venture out to the Lane's home and attend the Christmas Eve party.

At the beginning of the month after I'd finished The Mistletoe Fairy and Holly Sprite, I set out to make my own girls some holiday dresses.  These two dirndl outfits had long been on my mind to make, and it seemed fitting to temper the festivities a tad after such merry costumes.  I had a beautiful evergreen velveteen for Lettie's skirt, and the same cotton sateen I've been using for collars and bonnets, was used for the blouses Polly and Lettie are wearing.

Lettie's Evergreen Dirndl
Lettie's Evergreen Dirndl has bretelles (straps), and lots of tiny mother of pearl buttons.  The blouse alone has six.  The blouse was the more tedious of the pieces, and I taught myself honeycomb smocking for the occasion.  It was not that difficult once I had the markings, but when designing the patterns, you must allow extra room for the gathering, and that can be tricky.  The pockets were fun to do, and they are similar to the ones I made on the Bleuette sunsuit back this summer.  I just drew the pattern a little larger, and lined them in green silk.  Then of  course the pockets had to be set perfectly so her hands could go inside.  I love pockets, myself, and am tickled to see a dolly enjoy them as well.  Weren't they once the place to tuck a tiny mignonette?

Honeycomb Smocking
The skirt band is two pieces to allow the insertion of the straps, and then the skirting below.  It is open in the front, although I'm sure I could have figured a way to close it up just below the band.  Working with velveteen is very trying, and pills to pieces, but the results are always so rich.

Polly's Marzipan Dirndl is made from a cotton sateen.  Marzipan is one of my favorite holiday treats, and is enjoyed widely in European countries.  The pink marzipan pig is both a delight to nibble, but also a sign of good luck in the new year.  This is why you might see little pink pigs on holiday cards.  Polly's pink dirndl just said "marzipan" to me!

Illustration from Betty Bonnet Shops Early
Polly's blouse has a ruffle edged collar and cuffs.  I should have chosen a lighter fabric, which would have produced a better result, but I wished it to match Lettie's blouse in content.

Her skirt, or dirndl, was also interesting to design.  I always have to ask myself what is going on in the illustration.  I've been looking at this one for as long as I can remember now, yet when it came to designing the pattern I really had to pull out the creative machinery.  The obvious is the pintuck pleats, and there is some kind of ribbon being strung through the bib.

Polly's Marzipan Dirndl
Illustration from Polly Pratt's Christmas Caller
What I ended up doing was making the bib, a pinner.  So it "pins" to the blouse as an apron would, but I took some tiny stitches there so it would stay.  I had to practice machine button holes, which took an entire afternoon, and there is still much to learn about the best way to do them.  However for this skirt, four buttonholes were made for the velvet ribbons.  The waisted ribbon is stitched on to the minimal band that is similar to Lettie's, in two pieces, so the bib could be inserted.  The ribbons are knotted in the buttonholes.  I decided the best approach, as to what was going on with the top ribbon, was that it would tie in the back.  This is a most unusual style of skirt, but Polly loves it and has been twirling about in it, all dressed up for Christmas Eve.

Pintucks and Velvet Ribbons
Its that time of year when I've been racing to finish up the year's projects, so as not to bring them into the new. Completing all three of these in the time I did was quite a feat. I'm so pleased that my girls have lovely outfits for the rest of the season, and they're modest enough to wear through January.  And, so I will rest.  Its time to watch some Christmas movies, enjoy the glitter of my tree and do a little dreaming.  After all, we have only six days left until the 25th.

Yes, I will work in my studio from time to time, but there is no rush.  Katy needs a winter coat.  And, I'd still love to make some outfits for the Lawton nine inch dolls.  But, these will come in time.

With some of Grandmothers Gifts
This will be my last post of the year, 2013.  Its been quite a year as I continued to design for Polly and Lettie, began sewing postcard costuming for Daisy, and introduced the adorable Katy Curls.  If I can make any conclusions to the progress I'm making in the creative process of doll costuming, its that its best for me to not overthink, but to follow my instincts and simply jump in.  I have a fairly rich bank of experience with this now, and always look forward to stretching myself, figuring out a new design, and relish the finished product.

So let's begin to fully enjoy the coming holiday celebration, and live, fully, the child within!   I wish you all a peaceful and joyful Christmas.  And, most of all, a Happy New Year!

Miss E. Mouse

The back of Lettie's dirndl

How I finished the back of Daisy's coat.

A wonderful woven plaid with embroider-like lines.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas...

...and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ho Ho, The Mistletoe, Hung Where You Can See!

Holly Sprite and Mistletoe Fairy
I was noticing as I wrote in my journal last night that there are barely any pages left to write in this year.  However, the journal's broken spine attests to a very full year by all the little notes, cards, comic strips saved, and bits of paper ephemera between its pages.  We all wonder where the time goes, especially around this busy and cheerful time of year.  All I really need do is page down in this blog to January 2013 to see where most of it has gone, yet it doesn't, and wouldn't, capture all the time spent in a year devoted to my love of doll costuming.  The creative process is a daily study, and often much of my work is done while hiking my dogs on the trail by the lake, or laying awake at night realizing how I could have done something better. 

Party Costume Page
If you've been following my cyber-journal, you'll know that the holidays are a time for me to pull out the stops, and do something a little more than wonderful.  Maybe even a little magical.  Lettie's Holly Sprite and Polly's Mistletoe Fairy costumes were surely inspired by at least two extraordinary artists of long ago, Cicely Mary Barker, and of course, Sheila Young.  I've had my eye on Betty Bonnet's Christmas Party page for several years now, and it was time to try two more costumes from the 1916 illustration.  Last year's Skating Costume for Lettie came from the same page.  Will I do them all in time?  Maybe one or two more...we'll see.

Elegance in Emerald Tafetta

Perhaps its that I've been dressing these two girls for awhile now, but I knew right away that Ever Elegant Lettie would wear the Holly Sprite, and Polly would look adorable as a Mistletoe Fairy.  Its almost like knowing the desires of your own children.  And, that they are to me!

Lettie's costume was another "go round" with designing challenges.  Those sleeves.  I don't even know exactly what to call them, and have only seen them on the likes of Snow White and other characters from lands of long ago story times.  I call them open work lantern sleeves for lack of the correct term.  Or maybe little nightmares!  It was the "idea of the image" I was after, and with no former or formal knowledge of how to make them, I designed them my way.  The other challenge, though minor in comparison, was feminizing the boy's costume.  Instead of blouson pants, I added a full and shorter skirt to a bodice. 

Lettie's Holly Sprite costume is made from emerald silk taffeta, the rustly kind.  And, her cummerbund is a fine Chinese silk, delicate and smooth.  You may recognize the way I approached the holly leaves.  They were hand drawn and snipped out of microsuede with machine stitched veins running down their centers.  The berries are tiny pom-poms, each hand sewn to the garment, and crown.  I have to laugh at myself because by the time I'd made the perfect sleeve (these took almost two weeks to design), I'd forgotten to include the holly leaves at the wrist.  And, so we did them once again. 

Her holly branch was made by hand with the microsuede leaves, pom-pom berries, and floral wire and tape.  I wasn't really sure if this would come out the way I envisioned it, but it quickly came together the first try.  And, why did I not just purchase a branch?  Heavens!  It would not have matched her costume or followed the illustration.

Her diamond cut-out jester boots were fun to design.  I already had a pattern of similar boots from the Grape Harvest Costume, and I simply (or not so simply) redrew the front edge with cut outs.  It took a couple of tries to get the correct amount of red stocking to show through, but they came together nicely.

As with all these drawings, trying to figure out what the artist intended to have, say behind the arm, or in the back, is always a consideration.  With the Holly Sprite costume, the cummerbund "bow" or tie was the issue.  To me it did not look like a standard bow, and since it was on a boy's costume, it would not have been.  Still, I liked the look, and went for a ruched cummerbund with  draped loops, or bow folded over.
Tapping into Mistletoe Kisses
And lastly, we had the cap or crown.  The illustration does not show an open crown of holly leaves, but a rounded cap with an edge of holly leaves pointing up, with berries lining the rim, resembling a crown.  I built the rounded cap out of buckram, then covered and lined it in the taffeta.  The leaves and berries were then hand sewn on.

 Now we come to sweet little Polly's Mistletoe Fairy costume.  At first look, one would want to believe the costume to be that of a Christmas angel.  But, on closer inspection, she has snowy white mistletoe edging the neckline and edges of the puffed sleeves, she wears snowy jester boots, and she carries a wand.  I was immediately enchanted with this adorable illustration and felt only our little Polly could pull it off.  (Lettie would have to be an angel should she ask for wings.)

The first thing I did was make the wings.  If the wings could not be made, neither could the costume, for the wings are the focal point.  I drew out the shape of one wings, then cut the pattern twice out of buckram.  Those wings needed body and shape.  Buckram has so very many uses!  Let's skip how I made them since this post is already getting windy, but do know that they soft sculpture wings of silk, lightly padded with batting.  They hook onto the back of the dress with tiny thread loops on the dress, and equally spaced hooks on the wings.

After making the wings, I tackled the wand.  Yes, I could have spray painted a wooden star, but chose, instead, to go the mile and make a gold silk, soft sculpture star.  It was a fun little task to turn the star inside out and stuff it with a bit more batting.  The wand is gold painted wood. 

Soft Sculpture Wings
Polly's Mistletoe Fairy dress is brought to life with details embellishing a simple A-Line dress (fully lined).  A silk sash with white mistletoe drapes on her hip.  An era appropriate head band of mistletoe crowns her pretty curls.  And, she even got her own pair of snowy white jester boots to wear over the long white stockings.

And what of the actual mistletoe?  Two types of vintage trim that I purchased in September at Britex in San Francisco.  These were redesigned into the mistletoe of the illustration.  I love this costume.  I love both of them!  I can just imagine Polly hopping around a Christmas party tapping children and adults with her wand, and telling them now they must kiss the person next to them.  And, Lettie gently rustles through the party charming all the young lads with her beautiful emerald green costume.  I did not make a set for myself as these were just too involved, but I very, very much enjoyed making these darling illustrated costumes come to life.

I can see again!
New Work Table
During the time I was making these costumes, we had the glass replaced in fifteen of the windows of my little hole in the wall.  Three were in my studio, and I am over the moon with the new glass in my picture window.  I could hardly bare the idea of putting the table back, that used to sit against the "window wall", so my husband suggested a new studio set up for me.  One that freed up the window and created a new space to work.  Off to IKEAs we went and now I have two long, wide tables meeting at their centers with storage units on each end holding them up.  On one side are two storage units with drawers, and on the other side are little storage cabinets with swing doors and one shelf (two spaces).  I'm still in the process of redoing my studio and hopefully streamlining things a bit for no more clutter.  These tables are wonderful for cutting fabric as well.  Creating the perfect space to work can sometimes be as much work as designing a new doll costume.  Things had to change.  Since beginning to design doll clothing in August of  2011, I've hardly touched etrennes, or the doll accessories and miniatures I used to enjoy making so much.  This doesn't mean I won't continue to make them, but the brushes and paints, bits of leather, stacks of wood and findings, will now be stored away until needed - just as accessible, but not gathering dust.

For the rest of the month and into December, its time to put up the Christmas tree, think about something wintry for Katy Curls, and maybe, just maybe make Christmas dresses for my own girls.  The season is upon us!  If you feel the tap of a fairy want, kiss the person beside you!

Miss E. Mouse

Her Own Jester Boots
Mistletoe Fairy

A Holly Branch
Diamond Cut-out Jester Boots

Off to the Christmas Party!