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.


  1. She's so sweet! Can't wait for my little Polly to arrive. She has such an old fashioned little girl look. Love the hat and dress.

  2. Thank you, Jenann. She just happens to be my favorite dolly right now. Perfect little body to sew for! Love, Miss E. Mouse

  3. Hi Melissa
    My Polly is here! She has green eyes and auburn hair and I think Connie is wonderful - can't believe how beautiful her work is.
    I agree, Polly's body is great to sew for. I love the weight of it, she's really sturdy, just like a real little girl. I plan to make her some Mary Frances outfits but also want to try out some Polly Pratt ideas too. My mother wore clothes similar to Polly's in the 1920s and she will live to see her dressed that way.