Saturday, July 27, 2013

Mow, mow, mow your lawn gently down the slope!

Would you buy a mower from this child?

Sometime back, maybe a month or two ago, I was browsing vintage postcards and discovered advertisment cards with little girls mowing lawns in Victorian dress.  I was tickled with the way the girls were posed to make the chore look like a walk-in-the-park.  The cards were true to Victorian times, very romantically themed and painted beautifully.  I think what followed was my quest to find a miniature lawn mower for Lettie or Polly to push along, and indeed I found one.  It was a little cast iron and wood cylinder mower, and from what I was told, the early thirties.  I just fell in love with the detail and authenticity of the little antique, and got dealer to lower the price for me to $175 when I told her what I was going to do with it.   What followed then was the creation of Lettie's Lawnmower Dress, 
So simple, even a girl can mow!
I used the Ransome's advertisement because it played so nicely into the sports theme clothing I've been creating over the last few months.  As you can see, the young adults are playing tennis while the child tidies up the green for them. 
The first lawnmower was the animal.  Yes.  The sheep, the goats, our herbivore friends, so let's not forget them.  However the first lawn mower invention took place in 1827, by Edwin Budding in Gloucestershire, England.  Budding's mower was designed primarily to cut the lawn on sports grounds and extensive gardens, as a superior alternative to the scythe, and was granted a British patent on August 31, 1830.  Budding and his partner, Ferrabee, were shrewd enough to allow other companies to build copies of their mower under license, the most successful of these being Ransomes of Ipswich which began making mowers as early as 1832.  Now isn't it funny that I would choose to make Lettie's dress from a Ransomes ad?  Perhaps it was the color and style of the child's dress that inspired me, and again, it could have been the sports themed ad, but I'd like to think that Ransomes did a remarkable job on their ad, that one hundred or so years later would inspire a designer to dress a doll from it!
Little Antique Cylinder Mower
Daisy is modeling our little dress for us since Lettie is packed and ready to travel.  I also think her long, blonde curls look a bit more like the child's hair in the illustration.  And, what of the mower?  Why is it not blue?  Its an antique, silly, and you don't mess with antiques.  I will tell you that this little treasure does push along a carpet quite smoothly.  I've not yet tested it on the lawn, and I don't think I will.  We'll just pretend to mow.

Lettie's Lawnmower Dress is a simple cotton frock (did I say simple?), with golden-brown silk accents.  I did a long hard study of the illustration trying to figure out just exactly what was going on in this dress.  The entire bodice is gathered at the neck and at the waist, with a small neck band finishing this ruched look.  The silk band across the chest is machine sewn in at the sides, but hand-sewn top and bottom to the bodice.  Machine sewing this down would not allow the nice, soft ruching you see. 
The Sleeves
Two Layers
The leg o' mutton sleeves are banded with the silk, and a huge sash with large bow, accents the waistline.  The skirt of the dress is two pieces.  One is the top layer that has a hidden hem by including a lining one and half inches up sewn to some very thin Bearisima bastiste.  The bottom layer is an heirloom batiste with the aqua ruffle sewn directly to it.  These two skirts were pinned together at the edge, gathered, then sewn to a strip of waistband that had been sewn to the bodice. 
The straw hat is made from natural Swiss straw with double-sided silk ribbon d├ęcor.  What will be added later are a pair of black stockings and a pair of black slip-ons with bows.  I wished to complete this outfit prior to leaving tomorrow for the doll convention, and I'm feeling pretty good with the effort. 
Lettie's Lawnmower Dress is an outfit I truly enjoyed putting together.  She simply could not push the Ransomes mower without it!  I must admit that Daisy looks beautiful in this dress and will wear it for the duration of display.  She truly is a beautiful doll.  If you recall, Daisy, Lettie and Polly were made by the same artist, Connie Zink.
Please enjoy a few of these delightful postcards of lovely little girls showing you just how easy it is to push a mower.  Just don't let the men in your life see these cards!
Off I go!  Wish me luck and Bon Voyage!
Miss E. Mouse 

Even a butterfly can mow!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Margie Beats the Heat

The Bleuette Sewing Club, an online group for Bleuette enthusiasts and seamstresses, was having their monthly sewing challenge as usual.  This month Martha, our moderator, hosted a challenge called  Bleuette Keeps Cool, and offered a bib shorts pattern she made for the occasion. 

Some of the ladies were really coming up with some cute stuff, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought it might be fun to join in.  The shorts were a standard, straight-legged pair, with waistband and bib, and you could dress these up any way you wanted to.  Add a hat, add a blouse beneath, and so on. 

One night before retiring, I was thinking about the shorts after I'd acquired some fabric in this sea-green color, and another in a darker teal for Lettie's lawnmower dress.  An idea, an image popped into my mind of little bloomer shorts with deep pockets.  I love pockets myself, so I felt these shorts would be cute with them, too.

The pocket pattern was taken from a LSdS coat pattern from 1915, and the hat, a much later decade Garden Hat pattern.  My friend, Arlene, has done some beautiful detailing to her costuming by working embroidery thread in a top-stitch effect.  I thought I might try this in a sand color. 

The shorts' straps criss-cross in the back and snap to the waistband.  There's not a lot to these shorts, but I'll bet Margie feels cool and playful, and ready for the summer sun in this little outfit.  I'd like to think of it as beach wear, and so added some wonderful vintage images I found online earlier this spring.

This is a short one, just like Margie's sun suit!

Miss E. Mouse

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Three, Two, One

Polly's Beach Balloons
It came to me recently while watching an episode of Myth Busters ( The Discovery Channel), that much of what I do is to me, as great a challenge as those the busters face in their own experiments.  The question is always, "Can it be done", or is it a bust?  These attempts at the seemingly impossible are what drive me to keep creating. 

In Polly's Beach Balloons outfit, it was not the dress whose myth I needed to bust, but creating a grouping of balloons for her to hold.  Sure, I've seen those itty bitty plastic balloons on plastic stems that display nicely with the likes of a Ginny or an 8" Madame Alexander doll.  And, American Girl has made single molded, plastic balloons with molded handles for the doll to hold.  The joy and fascination with brightly colored floating orbs has long been the delight of many a child and adult alike.

The best I could do for the illustration!
The first balloons came from animal bladders.  A pig's bladder was used by Galileo in an experiment to measure the weight of air.  In 1847 Michael Faraday, a research professor, invented the toy balloon for his experiments with hydrogen.  Two flat rubber rounds were dusted with flour on the inside to keep them from sticking together, then the edges were glued together.  Today's helium filled latex balloons have come a long way since the days of Professor Faraday's invention!  It may have been the balloons themselves that inspired me to make Polly's Beach Balloons outfit.

I've been wanting to make this little outfit since I first began sewing for Polly.  It was always my intention to create this for her in summer.  With a bit of time on my hands and some extra lilac fabric left over from her Halloween outfit (the laced up girdle), I decided now was the time.  Earlier I had been figuring out a way to include the balloons themselves, and finally settled on a set of Martha Stewart Christmas ornaments.  How I came up with that one is a mystery to me now, but I had initially intended on giving Polly a collection of American Girl balloons.  Too big, too bulky, and what to do with those handles put an end to that idea.  Remember, Polly is only 16" tall and a slender child doll.

Sheila's Illustration
But, first let's talk about her little dress.  As you can tell from my last post, this was created in a very short time.  I used the A-line pattern that I made for her Yellow Chinese New Year dress.  The sleeves were a shorter version, and I did have to design the collar and bib.  The collar has small notches over the shoulders creating a soft petal sculpture.  The bib was a separate piece that I stitched beneath the collar and hidden stitched onto the front of the dress, while the petals float atop the shoulders.  Its lined with a violet voile and the little frock is soft and floaty.  Perfect for a hot summer's day on the beach. 

When the lining fell off the hat.
Petal Collar and Bib
For her hat I used the same PNB mold used for Daisy's red and white checked dress.  This style seemed to be quite popular between 1911 and 1920.  My intention was to make the hat in white straw, then spray paint the interior coral.  If you recall, I had success with coloring her Green Basket dress hat this way.  However, after I'd made this most perfect little hat, I ran into trouble.  I'd covered the top with Press'n Seal, then edged it down with blue artist's masking tape.  It should have held.  But, when I began spraying the interior, the tape got wet, loosened off, and the spray colored the top of the hat!  Big boo-boo!  I wasn't sure what to do.  I laughed at my efforts and settled to think about it for a bit.  I could make a new hat, I could borrow Daisy's and try again...but, the hat was such a nice one!  After thinking about it some I decided that a good way to fix the problem might be to paint the top of the hat white, covering the overspray of coral paint.  And, that's what I did.  It's a bit stiffer for the effort, but considering that some people shellac their straw doll hats, I didn't think it would be such a big deal.  In the end, I think it turned out just fine.  And, who's to say they didn't paint those hats back in Polly's time!

And, then we came to the episode of Miss E. Mouse's Myth Buster.  Well first I pulled the silver cup and wire off the ornaments, and spray painted several of them (minus the light blue and green ones), the colors of the one's Sheila illustrated.  So far, so good.  I'd been experimenting with how to support these ultra light ornaments after I'd purchased them in March.  Yes, I've been working on this that long.  I first tried craft pipe cleaners, but the ornament flopped over.  It was after I stitched millinery hat wire into her golf hat, that I discovered a very sturdy and multi-purposeful wire.  So I tried that.  And, it worked.  So far, so good. 

The Hat Close Up
Next I  had to combine the balloons with their stiff wire strings and make a bunch of balloons.  I wrapped them in one spot with that great Press'n Seal paper, then stitched an elastic band together to fit over Polly's wrist.  And, here is where the Myth got busted.  One balloon?  No problem.  They are incredible light.  But seven?!  Polly is just a little doll that is strung together so they turned out being too heavy as a whole for her to support.  I could not get the effect of the illustration after all.  What I might do is make a tube, like a circus or carnival stand, and put the balloons in it and stand it next to her as if she were purchasing them. 

For the time being, this will be Polly's last outfit until this fall.  I will probably begin Lettie's Lawn Mower dress and then its time to launch into a large project I've been putting together.  And, I might just even begin to work on Lettie Lane's tiny doll house.  Remember that?  I'm beginning to feel like I want to paint in miniature again, and Polly and Lettie have plenty to wear...or do they?  And, it is also time to prepare for my trip back east. 

Wishing you a day of colorful balloons and warm summer memories!

Miss E. Mouse

Fran Quinn's precious little sandals.

A Bouquet of Balloons

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tee Time

Wow!  Summer is in full swing and so seems our lovely little Mary!  So you thought I was lollygagging all this time?  Hah!  Never.  In fact its been just the opposite.  Between Lettie and Polly's Tennis Wear, and before Polly's Golf Outfit, I was creating a piece for the competition room at a convention this summer.  I wasn't certain which outfit I would choose to display in the room, but when I began an outfit for Lettie early on, I decided it was unique and interesting enough to share in an open forum.  Now, the sad thing is that I cannot share it in public until that time.  Why?  Because even though I am bringing Lettie all the way across the country to share with others, should anyone see it prior to the judging, she will be automatically disqualified for partiality reasons.  No.  I am not a competitor by any means.  I'm doing this for the pure fun of it, and to share my work.  But!  Should it get a second look, I need to remain anonymous.
All that said and done, let's enjoy a little sport on the green with Mary, Polly's cousin.  Mary is actually my mannequin for creating Polly's clothing, but she looks so pretty in this piece that she's getting to model it.  Mary will have her own wardrobe some day, but one thing at a time. 
This little Golf Outfit comes from a special little paper doll and story book called Lettie Lane's Sister's Children.  It was most likely created between 1909 and 1911 due to the styling and fabric choices for the clothing.  It's interesting that the green striped dress shown on this one page is similar to one of Daisy's dresses from 1911. There is simply no end to the costuming Sheila Young drew for paper dolls, so I see no reason to ever stop creating new outfits from them.
Lettie Lane's Sister's Children was published by Ernest Nister: London.  Its my guess that copies of this are very rare since children would have cut out the paper dolls inside, rendering the books worthless.  Donelle Denery was generous enough to reproduce and sell copies of this treasure that she acquired from Atha Kahler long ago.  What I love most about this book is the rhyming story Sheila writes to accompany her paper dolls.  There may have been another similar book written (if I recall what Donelle told me), but the title and book remain elusive.

Illustration Close-up
Mary modeling Polly's Golf Outfit
Polly's Golf Outfit consists of a yellow cotton skirt and pleat-belted smock with a sailor collar and cuffs.  The top alone was a challenge to make, but primarily with the two long box pleats and the threading of the belt through them.  It was important to fiddle with this particular pattern due to the fact that many of these outfits from this time period, have a similar construction.  There was a lot of measuring and marking done to get them just right, and several mock ups were made prior to the cutting of the yellow cotton.  The cuffs are ones I'll already done on several other pieces, but again, that darned collar gave me the fits.  Even when I thought the top was done, I ripped out the collar and redrew a larger one, sewing it back in between the lining and front. 

The back is finished with three little white buttons and thread loops, and the threaded belt is leather finished with a snap.  The actual threading holes are not buttonholes as you might suspect.  Why?  Because after you've sewn a complete top, you don't want to make a grave error with that mess of buttonhole stitching.  Its not something you can rip out and begin again.  Instead, these threading holes are made with a straight stitch, two stitches over, straight stitch and two stitches over.  Will it hold?  Yes.  And, much neater.  Its a similar stitch to the welt pocket.  The tie is double-sided silk.
Now that hat was a beast!  Oh, yes, I did try steam blocking a piece of pure felted wool, but it wasn't going to crown and turn up the way you think it might.  And, it needed to be soaked in starch to hold its shape.  What I ended up doing was making a molded crown, and a turned up molded brim, then stitching them together.  I used a Tupperware bowl to mold the brim.  After that had dried, and the crown was sewn on, I hand-stitched cloth covered millinery wire to the edge of the brim, then hand-stitched on tiny grosgrain ribbon to finish the edge.  Only then did I steam block the brim into the scooped up shape.
The feather trim is actually three feathers ending in a little glove leather tab that can be pinned onto the hat so it sits upright.  I attempted to sew it on, but it wished to lay flat against the crown and this would not do.  The hats from this time period had so very many shapes and completed each outfit so beautifully.  However, each is very unique and the best way I can describe fashioning such pieces is in creating soft sculpture (as I described for making Lettie's Halloween Candlestick Hat).  If you're going to do something, do it right, or not at all.  Its time consuming, fiddling, but so very worth the results.
I even found golf balls!
And, last, we come to the golf bag.  The accessory is always my favorite part of costuming!  This funny little golf bag does not resemble those we see today, but more of a leather tube with a hand held handle.  The bag is lined in leather as well as made from on the exterior.  I used a cognac goat skin for her bag, which is thin and very pliable.  The clubs were purchased.  Yes, I do do that!
I'll be sharing Lettie's outfit at the end of the first week of August and will discuss in detail how it all came about.  I've already plans for two different outfits for Polly and Lettie to begin shortly.  They will not be matching themes as I've done most recently, but sometimes a girl wants to do her own thing.  This post has been long enough, and I thank you for staying with me this far, so I won't go into the history of women's golf, but will share some delightful images of ladies playing golf from the past.
I hope you're enjoying summer as much as myself, and don't forget to pick up a good book and just relax.  Summer is for the pure enjoyment of doing nothing, letting your mind wander and most of all, playing!
Miss E. Mouse   

The golf bag!
For my friend Kathy

The Romance of Golf

A Hole in One!