Friday, January 18, 2013

The Rackety Rumble of Deep Thought

Rene Cloke's Alice in Wonderland
A Mouse's Tail, ill. Julia Greene
There are so many ways and words to describe inspiration.  From the spark that lights your heart afire, to the awakening that occurs when one small image creates an entire new world for you.  Our most beloved illustrators have taken our childhood dreams into netherworlds that found us waving a scarf from the castle's tower balcony, to flashing a sword to swift a dragon.  Paper doll illustrators have given us wardrobes to delight our fantasies.  A true story teller can sail us to the high seas, or sit us in a cafe conversing with our favorite historical figure.  These are but a few of the things that create that whim, that brilliance of light, that inspiration!

While visiting with a dear friend of mine today, I spoke of a recent acquisition.  A little book titled The Mouse's Tail, illustrated by none other than Julia Greene, the illustrator of the Mary Frances books.  Having stepped not-so-lightly (more like slipping down the rabbit hole) into this new world, I couldn't help but be enchanted by the countless, endearing little illustrations she drew to bring Jane's stories to life.  This got me thinking over the past two days about what inspires me, and where it all comes from.
A Mouse's Tail, ill. Julia Greene
Susan B. Pearse
I had only to look as far back as my little mousehood to recall that my mother loved fanciful illustrations, and though the books we received were few, they were filled with fabulous illustrations.  Eulalie and Maraja were but two of the artists, and these will forever remain favorites.

Many books, both contemporary and antiquarian fill my shelves today, sitting alongside my beautiful dolls.  When I purchase one, it stays by my side and I pour over it for days, than tuck it away amongst the others.  All these celebrated artists with their joyful expression of color, light, childhood, and pattern have influenced me over time.  With my recent journey into Mary Marie's wardrobe, it is little wonder I choose such color and patterns to bring her own story to life.  I decided to share some samples of the darling illustrations that over time have shaped the way I create.  From the delightful charm of Pearse and Greene, to the loving sweetness of Johnny Gruelle, to the contemporary fantasy of Dean Morrissey, I hope they inspire you, too!

Miss E. Mouse

Marcella's Dolls and Fairies

Dean Morrissey - A Dreamers Trunk - Notice the shoes and the wee little mouse at the trunk's tiny door!

And Mother Goose

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lucinda Marguerite's Apron

With Lucinda Marguerite
Its a crispy warm afternoon at my little hole in the wall.  The sun is low in the sky as the afternoon stretches into early evening, the light, a warmth through the windows.  My tail is curled around my chair, and my little nose is happily twitching.  Mary Marie has been playing among the doll people these past few days and couldn't be spending happier times with her treasures.

With the Doll People
Mary Marie's Paper Doll Dress
Earlier last week I was pulling books from my shelves and found The Mary Frances Housekeeper, Adventures Among the Doll People, and was delightfully surprised, to find anew, the little paper dolls and paper toy furniture within.  They were just the perfect size for Mary Marie to play with.  I hastily purchased a second copy of the Lacis book, and began cutting out the tiny dolls, dresses, and paper toy furnishings.  I have to admit that the furniture was not too easy to put together.  You had to score the blank, white backs of the cardstock pieces, often guessing where to do so, then fold them all up into doll house furniture.  While I did not make all the pieces, I chose a few to play with, the piano being my favorite, but again, very difficult to fold together.  The piano, alone, stands only 2.5" high!  Almost as tall as myself.
A Side View
And, why did these appeal to me so much?  Well, I had this lovely "Johnny Gruelle" floral lawn to do something with, and this mock orange and buttercup checkerboard fabric I wished to pair with it.  I knew I wanted to make the Morning Dress for my 16" Mary Marie, and of course she needed the pinafore to go with it.  It took me several days, while sewing the dress with the creamsickle orange and white bands, to come up with the idea to sew Lucinda Marguerite's apron instead.  I went so far as to cut out the full pinafore in the checkerboard, but even I could see that it would be overwhelming.

Covered Buttons
I recall an art teacher once telling me upon reviewing a drawing I'd done similar to the another, that what worked with the first, simply didn't translate as well in the second.  I recall being very sad about this since the second was a composite portrait of my father's life, the first telling a tale of arctic explorers.  At any rate, I didn't wish to go down this sorry path again, and we do learn from the past, if we allow ourselves to.  So, I pursued making Mary Marie her own Lucinda Marguerite apron!

The details of the covered buttons came last, and there is even one closing the dress in the back at the top of the placket.  I'm getting much better at making these plackets, but working with the lawn, this delicate fabric, was like sewing with tissue paper.  Anytime you stick a needle and thread into a delicate fabric like this, it loses some of its stability.  So I worked the hand-stitching, of which there was plenty, very carefully.

In the book, "Housekeeper", Mary Frances builds her own doll house and learns how to carry out the important household chores she will need to know when she becomes a young lady.  Most of the drawings are in sillouhette, yet colored plates of the dolls and furniture are throughout the book, the back holding a set in cardstock for you to cut out.  So even if you don't go the route of purchasing a second copy to keep mint, you can still retain the book in its lovely original format.  By the end of the story, Mary Frances even learns a tune and song to sing while doing her chores!  Would that I could read music, I might put that tiny piano to use.

The Days fo the Week
Miss E. Mouse

Lucinda Marguerite, Hazel and Kitty

"Now you really must dress and practice the piano!"

Friday, January 11, 2013

Off to the Races!

Jane's little illustration, my inspiration.
I think it might be fairly evident that I'm having way too much fun sewing for Mary Marie.  The illustrations in the book have not only been fueling my inspiration, but I'm feeling a bit more free to interpret some pieces with color, pattern and style.  Its not that haven't enjoyed bringing Sheila Young's work to life, but Mary Marie gives me a chance to really play.

The Back
This little illustration of the three dollies wearing some of the outfits you could sew was just too adorable to pass up.  But, in particular, I was enjoying the wee one in the middle wearing the checkerboard coat and polo hat.  Now why would Jane Eayer Fryer illustrate such a daring little outfit, if perhaps she hadn't seen one before, or simply liked the idea?  Well, I liked it, too, so I set out to do something with it.  Oh, I'm well aware that some ladies will be running for their smelling salts upon seeing it, but creating this little outfit made me feel so happy!

Mary Marie's Mary Frances Dress
Mary Frances, the child in the books who learns how to sew (knit and crochet, keep house and garden, too), wears these lovely little dresses with rounded collars, and the sleeves of her guimpe always peek out from her dress's sleeves.  Why they made a pattern for a Morning Dress with a square neck is something I just do not know...well, maybe I was more difficult to do!  But I wished to make one, so I did.

Mary Marie's Polo Coat and Hat

Many of my little mouse coats, especially my rain trenches, are wonderfully lined in fabulous prints that have little to do with the outer fabric.  Keeping this in mind, I approached the lining of the polo coat this way.  The black and white checkerboard was so stark, that I felt it needed a little softening up on the inside to tone the entire effect down.  As I was working with this, I understood that the outfit would not be complete without a dress beneath, so I worked the collar and sleeve bands in the same fabric making this a complete outfit, and a dress that could be worn on its own.

I also played with the polo cap a bit by lining as the coat had been lined, and topping it off with a black pom-pom.  When I set out to create this costume, I'd not yet seen one of the polo caps made.  This inspired me as well.  Upon cutting out the pieces, of which there were four, I recalled the little cap I'd made for Lettie Lane's 4th of July costume, as well as tiny caps I'd made long ago for miniature Raggedy Andys.  I'll have to admit that I made this one a tad differently than the pattern suggested, but the results, the look, came out the same.

The Flannel Pet

I have so many beautiful fabrics stored in a lovely antique trunk that I just purchased for Mary Marie, and the possibilities are simply endless!  I guess I've been rather busy since before making the polo coat outfit, I stitched up her Flannel Pet.  This is what it was called.  The Flannel Pet (meaning petticoat).  Flannel, by far, is the easiest fabric I've ever worked with.  It, too, was a joy to make.  It sports a lovely row of orange feather-stitch embroidery above the hem.

One of the things I'm going to be working my little paws with next, is hand-sewing buttonholes.  I'm simply not pleased with what my machine produces, and I know that I will feel far more confident having control over where the stitches go.  Should this prove to work well for me, I'll share the process and results.

Until then, its off to the races for Mary Marie!

Miss E. Mouse


A Close-up of the trimmings.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Morning Dress and Pinafore

Little Lettie Plays Mary Marie
From time to time I will participate in one of the Bleuette Sewing Club's sewing challenges.  Each or every two months, a member from this online yahoogroup will host a challenge to sew something for the Bleuette dolls.  As I've noted in the past, I'm still not entirely comfortable sewing for such a small doll, but the more practice I have, of course, the better I'll become with it.  For one thing, I like lots of detail in my doll costuming, and while some who've been sewing for this doll for many years are able to accomplish this, I still have a ways to go!

Leaving the back open caused quite an uproar!
There is a new yahoogroup that was set up in November specifically celebrating the Mary Frances Sewing Book.  Its a wonderful venue for sharing newly sewn pieces for members' designated dolls, and it appears that now it will be including the knitting and crochet patterns since some people are skilled in these arts.  If you're interested in such a group, please take a look.  The moderator, Marie Scopel, is one of the dearest people imaginable and would welcome you warmly.

Scissors Shears, Bod Kin, Tommy Tomato Pin Cushion
One of the interesting things about groups like this, is that many seamstresses have been sewing within the box for years.  They are comfortable with soft pastels and generally following suggested colors and cloths specified in the book from a long ago era.  They also feel that in order to truly cover the bases, they must try to sew from the directions offered in 1913.  If you've been following my creative process, you'll understand that neither of these positions make me comfortable, and in truth, the terms used in these instructions is entirely heiroglyphics to me.  I work well visually and without restraints.

So!  When the subject of color and pattern choices came up recently, a dear friend came to the rescue with a bit of well done research.  In browing the section 1910 - 1935, from a book titled Dating Fabrics A Color Guide 1800-1960, she discovered a print similar to the navy one I chose for the 16" doll. Listed were polka dots in candy pink as well as typical solids, orange being the second choice, with "lots of prints featuring navy and orange"!  Imagine that.  So both our choices have been historically correct, and such a relief this is.  While I understand comfort zones, I truly the believe the most important thing to consider when you begin a project is choosing that which makes you happy to work on.

With Little Mary Marie (you may recognize her as Little Lettie Lane), I carefully selected vintage inspired prints that would once again celebrate the general theme of the printed book.  In order to add a bit of whimsy and originality, I embroidered three of the Thimble People on her pinafore.  It wasn't until this canvas of white was draped over the Morning Dress, that it less resembled a chef's white apron, than a play pinny.  For the embroidery, I free-handed the characters and stitched them up in two or one strand of basic sewing thread.  Since scale is everything to me, I wished them to look as if the 10 1/2" doll made them herself.  Hours of painstaking work went into them, and each are about 1" long. 

I found an iron on tranfer for these Thimble People by a group called Acme Notions.  The patterns are huge, the fairy at about 16", but reduced on a copier, they could easily make suitable artwork for little doll clothes.  I found several methods in an engine search for tranfer inks, and some brave souls I'm sure have tried them.  Pen Cil is my modus operandi, and I'll stick with that (Pen Cil being one of the Thimble People) for now. 

As with all patterns, even if you reduce them on a copier to fit a smaller doll, it is best to take the time to recut the piece from paper towel and make a mock up.  I didn't do this the first time around, for the apron, as the reduced pattern on the chosen cd was supposed to have been tested.  The neckline was so large that the entire doll could slip through it.  So in an effort to save the first embroidered Scissors Shears that I did, I cut it out and will make a cute little patch on the laundry bag Mary Marie has.  I purposely opened the back of the apron for ease of dressing the doll, and knowing Daisy's was done this way two years earlier, I felt it would be okay.

While planning my next project, a new row of embedded lights is being installed in my studio today down the center of the ceiling.  And, if you don't think I'm on pins and needles, well I guess the Thimble People might get me through this!

Miss E. Mouse