Saturday, April 27, 2013

What a Racquet!

June 1918 - June 1920
Jeu de Paume in Paris, France 1622
Most historians believe that tennis originated in northern France in the 12th century, but the ball was then struck with the palm of the hand, hence the name Jeu de Paume (game of the palm).  It was not until the 16th century that racquets came into use and the game was then called tennis.  Popular in England and France, it was played indoors and hit off the wall like another game we know today, Racket Ball.  Anyone who watched the fabulous series, Henry VIII, knows well that this was a favorite pastime of his.  And, it appears that Lettie and Polly also enjoy the game!  While the Davis Cup, a men's competition, began in 1900, women and young girls played for the enjoyment and sport of it only. 

Polly Playing Tennis
Sheila's Illustration
With gym clothing now in their wardrobe, and my love of play clothing for dolls, I decided that Lettie and Polly couldn't do without pretty tennis wear.  It can only be my guess, but tennis must have been traditionally played as summer neared.  Lettie's outfit comes from the June 1918 Betty Bonnet page, and Polly's from the June 1920 Good Housekeeping page.  I was also drawn to the color of Lettie's vest, a beautiful deep raspberry color, along with the fabulously ruffled collar with jabot.  Polly's would always appeal to me as I adore uniforms, sailor dresses, tops and jackets.  Anything with a nautical theme delights me and both girls' gym wear included the sailor collars, too.

Basket of Balls
While finishing the gym wear, I made Polly's little hat of navy Swiss straw since I had some on hand.  I matched this up with a 100% cotton fabric in navy, and a muslin top that would sustain a little embroidery.  This outfit, while very similar to her gym wear, had its own challenges.  Three rows of soutache had to be sewn to both the collar pieces and the cuffs.  I've found that if I cut a wider rectangle and stitched the soutache in the middle, I could then trim down the top for attachment to the sleeve without fear of losing the proper amount of navy blue fabric shown top and bottom of the soutache.  If you cut the cuff as you would an unembellished piece, you risk losing the look you're after should you discover that there isn't enough fabric on top to create the image.  Likewise, you've lost some nice soutache and the extraordinary amount of time it takes to sew the wretched stuff on straight!    With Polly's outfit, this is actually braid as it was thin as well as narrow.  Sometimes trims, like a real soutache, cannot be used as they will appear too bulky, and you'll lose the look you're after.  That's just one of the challenges in sewing for differently sized dolls.  What works for one, may not work for another. 

Lastly there was the embroidered flap on Polly's sleeve.  It is not a patch, but a flap done military style.  From Sheila's illustration, I had no idea what I was looking at.  There were chevrons, but no clear pictorial of the stuff at the top. I did a little research into military emblems from this era, and the closest I could come to was the cadet emblem.  Chevrons, and a rope circle with an eagle in the center.  The emblem is still used today for cadets.  Polly's flap was just too, too tiny for such detail, but I did manage a close version of what Sheila drew and what a true cadet emblem would appear like.

Sheila's Illustration
Lettie's outfit was definitely a challenge to me.  This is a time when I get to learn something new.  Pinning ruffle into little collar edges is no picnic, nor is sewing the exact top piece over that bulky ruffle.  Somehow it softly disappears into the seam, but its only by trial and error that you might discover this.  The jabot was another matter altogether.  I must've contemplated this for several days before figuring out just how to make it. 

The jabot on this collar is actually part of the ruffle in the collar, not a separate piece you can just stuff up there and sew to the neckline.  What I eventually did to make this happen, was begin pinning the ruffle from the back edge of the collar, around to the front, then draping it down and up in a loop, then finishing the pinning of ruffle around the rest of the collar.  I made two little rectangles of fabric, turning the edges under, then attached the top one first with a hidden ladder stitch.  I sewed on the row of buttons, then finished the back of the jabot the same was as the front.  This then hides all the gathering of the doubled-over ruffle loop.  The ruffle gracefully moves around the collar becoming the jabot, and ending in a symphony.  I felt very clever after achieving this!  But, like I said, it took me several days and much study to figure it out!  There's some good history on jabots, too.

Ruffled Collar

I couldn't wait to make the raspberry vest.  Perhaps in Lettie's day, it might have been a sweater vest, but I had this beautiful cotton silk on hand, and I don't knit.  It may have been wool, too, but the look on a doll would have been bulky considering the belt that threads through the slits in front.  I can see that all the skills and techniques I've taught myself are now paying off when it comes to assembling a new piece.  I did learn something new with the belt however.  And, that was how to make the fringe on the ends.

You cannot just sew loops of embroidery thread into the edge and trim them.  They pull and fall out!  I did do a little research on doll clothing fringe, but all I discovered was what I already knew about pulling threads out.  Then the light blinked on and I scurried upstairs to find this beautiful velvet scarf I own, dotted with rhinestones, and edged in fringe.  They created theirs by making small tassel like fringe.  With four strands of thread in my needle, I poked it through the edge, lengthened this so the same length hangs in front and in back, snipped it off, made one little knot at the top combining the eight strands together, and there you have it.  Eleven of these across each edge made my fringe.  Dexterity just happens to be a nice trademark of small paws like mine.  NOTHING I do is EASY!!!  Her skirt is borrowed from the canoeing outfit.

No outfit is perfect with its accessories.  So came the racquets and the tennis balls.  Each little "wooden" ball is covered in baby diaper felt, in two figure 8 pieces.  I had to make careful inspection of my dog's tennis balls to see how they were made.  Oh I looked!  I hunted the Internet for tiny tennis balls, but Barbie's were just too small.  Those beautiful tennis racquets are American Girl Molly's.  I simply took all the embellishments off of them, did a little sanding and restaining, and now Lettie and Polly have proper, early 1900's tennis racquets. 

I have made a miniature racquet before and a butterfly net, and I can tell you that anytime you can find a suitable piece that you can remake, do it.  Some of my friends guffaw at the mention of American Girl, but I began collecting the historical dolls and their collections back in 1989, and I can vouch that Pleasant T. Rowland never spared expense at the accuracy of the items.  Today, Mattel takes a lot of license, but I still enjoy them.

Next?  Golf.  Yes, Sheila drew golf outfits for her paper families, too!  These will sadly conclude the sports themed costuming Sheila made for the ladies and girls, but summer is nearing and there is always something up my little sleeve.  And I am looking forward to the golf sets!  I already have the irons, and I'll be making their bags.

Miss E. Mouse

Notice the belt through the slits!

Real Women - Real Tennis

From a magazine cover.

What beauty! Bought this one, too.

Military Style


I purchased this postcard as a treat,

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Something About That Yellow Dress

Polly's Yellow Chinese New Year Dress
I've done a few tough things with my designs, haven't I?  Certainly the white velveteen coats with ermine fur trim were a challenge.  And, the burgundy coat was no picnic either!  So one might conclude that this little baby doll dress for Polly would be a breeze.  Do I do anything that's a breeze?   No.  So now that we have that out of the way, and we understand that I paid my dues with it, let's talk about Polly's Yellow Chinese New Year Dress.

My Little Buttercup!
Let it be said that several dresses were made before this one made the cut.  Finding the right yellow was one of the things that had prevented me from making this several months back, and when I went to cut the dress from the patterns I drew, I chose a yellow cotton.  Why?  Because of the shade.  I'd imagined it in silk, but could never find the right color, nor type of silk, so cotton would have to do.  It wasn't until I had four nice "welt pocket slits", that I changed my mind.  It just didn't have the drape or richness I felt this little dress deserved.  Earlier I had purchased (twice!) a yellow cotton sateen from the U.K. that turned out not to be a true sateen, but more of what I would describe as a silk blend since it frayed like mad.  Still, I decided to work with this instead.

The slits caused me a lot of grief.  They had to be placed in just the right area, just the right length and width apart on the front of the dress or it wouldn't resemble the illustration.  Two had to be made on the back as well.  I've said it before, but dressing a doll is a lot different than painting a watercolor paper doll dress.  I will conclude early on here, that the outfit turned out much differently than I'd hoped for, so I'll shrug and proceed.

Notice the shape of the hat.
I did use a white silk for the collar and cuffs.  The dress is fully lined in the way I lined the green basket dress, which called for some pretty slick moves with the sleeves and cuffs.  I'm not sure I can describe this, but the lining had to be sewn to the sleeve edge leaving an inch unstitched.  The cuff then went on, the dress and lining turned inside out to finish that seam, then the cuff finished right-side out.  If anyone is interested in how this is done, I'll photograph it sometime, but you must first follow the Magalie Dawson technique of lining a dress.  I've used this technique beyond her tutorial, and have done some interesting linings with it.  They all finish the same, but some areas need to be sewn later for certain patterns.

I ran a pretty double-faced silk ribbon through the slits to make the sash, and I still contemplate whether or not a long self-made tie would have given it a more ruched look as in the illustration.  I doubt it.  Its only an inch wide so there's not much room for ruching.  I also did an embroidery stitch about 1 1/2" above the hemline to give it the "look".  I'm not sure what Sheila intended here, but its close enough. 

Baskets of Blue
As for the blue baskets of embroidered flowers, I wanted to try something other than tiny French knots.  So I looked up a tutorial on bullion knots and gave those a whirl.  Or twirl as the case may be.  I combined the two knots in the baskets to achieve the flow of flowers.  I recall loving the flower baskets on this dress most of all, so it was very important for me to make them beautiful.  And, I have to chuckle a bit now because they almost disappear from the overall presentation!  These, of course, were done after the slits were made, and free-handed (without a hoop), adding all the more difficulty to holding wee thread knots in place.  Some day I'd like to try bullion roses so the knots were good practice.

Polly Pratt's Yellow Kite
The parasol was the first piece I'd made, and that was back in February.  I'd found a long stemmed parasol, snipped off the end and added a wooden bead.  I recovered the parasol with a fiber paper, and painted Chinese characters in it spelling Polly Pratt's name, and something else!  Betsy would laugh knowing my memory is very poor, but it went something like, Polly's Pratt's Yellow Kite.  Yes.  That was it!  There weren't enough spaces for parasol, so kite did the trick. The Chinese do love kites.

Slits in the back for the sash.
And, in the last two days, I struggled over the hat.  I'd made an attempt at using this vintage horse hair braid that I purchased from a very old milliner's store in Southern CA.  Its a nylon sort of braid, and I knew it would be perfect for the hat giving it that banded look.  The lady who sold it to me talked to me for over an hour about their store, products, and this braid, and how to work with it.  I'm certain that were I making a hat for a person, it wouldn't have been such an issue, but for a 9" round head?  Murder!  I asked my friend, Arlene, who sews her own hats for Bleuette, if she had a clue as to how to begin this, and she only warned me it would be difficult, and wished me luck. She said it was the worst stuff to work with. But!  She also said if anyone could do it, I could.  Pumped with a boost of confidence, I began to climb the mountain.  Slipped a few times, too. 

For one thing this is nylon braid, not straw.  It doesn't behave the way Swiss straw does.  I tried gathering the edge to form a little circle to begin at the top of the crown and that didn't work.  Two rows down, I had a wee bowl.  I tried starting from the edge of the brim, but there wasn't a form to stick it flat down to!  So I slept on it.  The idea not the braid!  The next day, I thought I might begin smack dab in the middle of the crown with a circle that was slightly larger than Polly's head.  I'd read to use a zigzag stitch with such a braid, and so I began.  When it came time to start rounding the crown towards the middle, I'd go back and do a gather stitch along the edge, pull it, knot it, and begin the next row. 
The Hat

One of the tools that was most useful in getting a nice shape was my handy little travel steamer.  With the steam pumping merrily away, I pulled and formed the braid until it became a nice shape.

The Lining
Looking at the illustration I noticed the inside of the brim was yellow, and there was a light blue between the dark blue bands.  I chose to emulate this by lining the crown in a light blue muslin, and the brim in the dress's yellow fabric.  I still have to ask myself what Sheila had in mind when drawing this.  I doubt she expected someone, a hundred years later, would try and make this hat for a doll!  My guess is that it was a see through nylon braid hat and to make it look nice in the illustration, she used yellow for the inside.  We'll never know, will we.  Am I happy with the hat?  Give me some time to think about it.  I ordered some Royal Blue Swiss braid to make another hat just in case.  If I do this, I'll once again line the brim in yellow, but it won't have the banded look of the illustration, or the lumpy shape.  Let's be honest with ourselves, Miss E. Mouse, the hat may be too small.  It fits her head, but I half think that a bigger hat may have achieved the look I was after.  Hats were goofy looking during this era, so I'll give it some time and not pass too harsh a judgment...yet.

If you think I'm being to critical of this overall process, do remember that we need to be critical of our work in order to do better next time.  I see too many people throw something together and never give it a second thought.  My aim is to be just about as good as I can be and better.  I'm doing something a lot of people won't even try, and that's design my own patterns and try to figure out how to put them together.  There was a lady I wrote to recently, for whom I applauded her efforts in making a beautiful French regional costume for her doll.  She wrote back thanking me and stating she was in awe of what I could do with miniatures.  Miniatures?  !gasp!  I guess unless you're sewing for Bleuette, your work doesn't count for much. hmph

Below you'll find some photos I took of how I approached the horse hair braid hat.  I think its important to try new things and stretch yourself.  If you only do the same things over and over again, you'll get very good, and fast, at making them, but where's the fun in that?

This has been a long post and I can't thank you enough for staying with me - if you've gotten this far.  Your comments are most welcome and are always very encouraging.  Thank you!!

Next?  Something simple...please!

Miss E. Mouse

Beginning with a middle row
Going back to gather stitch
The top of the crown.
First phase of completion.  Two more rows were added and the hat steamed for a smoother shape.