Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thompson's Drills and Marches

Fresh air and exercise!
For many of us, the vision of early Physical Education may have been watching Megan Follows, as the youthful Anne of Green Gables, exercising with her classmates in Miss Stacy's school yard.  Yet, Physical Education has long been a part of the thought that strong bodies build strong minds.  Stretching and marching and taking in fresh air was widely used for such a purpose back in the early 20th century.  One such book that promoted this practice with purposeful exercises was Thompson's Drills and Marches.  Now I can't be certain how effective some of these drills were in raising the heartrate, but with titles such as A Christmas Exercise, Doll and Waltz Drill, and Handkerchief Flirtation Drill, they were at best fun and got the girls moving!  This fabulous little volume from 1919, came to me this Valentine's Day from my lovely friend Marie.  It arrived just when I was in design mode for Lettie and Polly's Gym Wear.

What was even more dear is that there was an Imitation Dumb-Bell Exercise in the book, and this inspired me further with Polly's dumb-bells costume from Sheila Young's paper doll book.

Sheila Young's Design
I had so much fun designing these two outfits as for one, they both had fabulous voluminous bloomers, and my favorite, sailor collars!  Lettie's gym wear is lovely piece with what I will call the poet's shirt or perhaps painter's smock.  The top is belted and closed with a covered button and a handmade buttonhole (yes! I finally incorporated one), and she wears a floppy beret or pie hat, as I like to call them.  Lettie seems to be holding what could only be a football in the illustration (she is an American girl), and I was ever so lucky to find a real little one in the form of a keychain.  I had to remove the zipper and stitch the seam back up, but it was just so perfect for her. 

Polly's little uniform is dutifully nautical, or military in theme, with the appropriate sailor collar trimmed in ribbon, and a smart little pocket with a point-ended flap.  This blouse if fully lined and has equally smart little cuffs trimmed in ribbon.  Lettie's smock, however has facings due to the pretty, and a wee bit complicated, construction of design.  There was alot of fiddling and foodling in creating this one, and while I am not posting photos, I can assure you that several mock ups were made in its behalf.  Both blouse collars are then finished with silk ties. 

One surprising thing I did not expect was that I had to make the bloomers for both girls several times until I achieved the right "bloom".  Its amazing how much fabric pulls up when elastic is inserted through the waist seam.  Before the elastic, the pants would look like the ads featuring a slimmed down version of a lady holding up the pants she wore when she was 200 pounds heavier.  I am still not quite used to gauging pattern design, but again, when you're doing something completely different with each new outfit, its hard to refer to your experience.

And, how did I feel about using tans and browns?  Okay, let's be honest.  A country cotton brown, and tan, are pretty basic earthtone colors and don't create alot of pizzazz in theory.  But, make them up into cute little gym outfits from around 1919, and you don't even notice the color!

Lettie, it turns out, has great hand-to-eye coordination, and is mighty competitive in the school yard.  Polly's little dumb-bells make her pretty arms feel long and strong, and in turn give her wonderful ladylike posture.

Once again I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed making these outfits, and always feel that a doll never has enough casual dress or play clothing.  I did make my own Polly one of these gym wear outfits, but I'm not sure I'll make my Lettie this one.  There's a sort of scouting uniform, the same color as Polly's outfit, that I've been thinking about making for her.  I have plenty of both fabrics left, but there was so much hand-stitching to Lettie's!  And, needless to say, Lettie has far more to wear than Polly currently.

Easter is just a week away, and I so wished to make Polly the yellow "Chinese New Year" outfit.  We had a little snowfall in the Sierra a couple of nights ago, and I may just take a day off tomorrow and go snow pawing with my pups.  Each time I think one dress looks so like the other, when I begin designing it, it turns out to be quite another production.  There is no speed when it comes to this kind of work, so I can't promise her an Easter dress, but I may have to try. 

Miss E. Mouse

Cup Girls 1919

Gymnasium 1919

Calisthenic Wands 1874
Polly just got a hat on Sunday!


  1. Oh poor dolls! Are you really going to make them do early twentieth century drill? I feel so sorry for them and so relieved not to have to do it with them.
    Back in the 60s I attended a tiny rural school with just two classrooms and no gym/hall so we did drill from an old army manual out in the yard for 10 minutes a day come rain, come shine. Later, I went to a girls' grammar school and we did all that hanging on horizontal bars to improve our posture. We also wore similar bloomer/tunic outfits for 'Greek Dance' but they were made of flimsy, pale green sateen that were almost transparent - awful, and worse when the handsome young window cleaner turned up to wash the gym windows one day!
    I love the girls' outfits but please let them just pretend about the drill routines!

    1. Truly enjoyed your comments, Jenann!

    2. Thank you for sharing this bit of personal history, Shelley! Its one of the best parts of creating!

  2. Such cute outfits. My mother in law was born in 1919...neat to see these photos from that year! I remember the jumpsuits we wore in gym when I was a girl in the 60's. Different day and time now,for sure and for certain. Your dolls are beautiful....Blessings