Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Autumn Winds Do Blow

Daisy's Owl Hat and Kimono Costume
How lovely it is to sit down with a hot cup of tea!  Especially after completing a particularly tricky project.  Or two!  Its a quiet afternoon, my studio has been tidied up.  Not a single scrap of fabric or slip of thread lay about.  Yet.  Later this afternoon, I'm certain I'll be ready to pay some attention to poor Katy who's been standing around in her skivvies for a month now.  But, I do enjoy making Halloween costumes.  Perhaps I can say that I enjoy creating them best of all.

While completing Polly's Orange Pierrot Costume, I switched gears for a couple of days and made Daisy a new costume, too.  When I once again came across this well known illustration of an elegant lady in an owl hat, I thought to have one made for Bleuette.  I asked a friend of mine if she might be interested, but she wasn't (I really do not like sewing for Bleuette), so I let the thought go, then decided to make a large version for Daisy.  Why not?

I found three Bleuette kimono patterns on the Bleudoor Portal, selected one, enlarged it, redesigned it, and took to the sewing machine.  Patty Kascsak was asked to make the fabulous Owl Hat, and what an owl hat it is!  This artist's work makes me giggle, and takes my breath away all in one sweep!

Daisy's Owl Hat and Kimono Costume is made from a black jacquard fabric.  It has a tiny stitched floral pattern in it, which I felt would be suitable for this beautiful kimono.  I used a gold crinkle silk for the border and full lining.  The redesigns were few, but did take awhile since the pattern was so large.  I lengthened and widened the sweep of the kimono, opened the sleeves wider, and shortened the collar to include a gentle scoop back to the edge.  Using my favorite Magalie Dawson lining technique, it went together fairly quickly.  This Owl Hat and Kimono Costume, is at once elegant and whimsical.

Examples of Japonisme in Impressionism
Many artists during the Impressionist movement painted women in Japonisme.  The novelty and new accessibility to The Orient was beautifully portrayed by painters like Monet and William Chadwick, to name a couple.

Another note of French charm came with Pierrot, the sad clown whose origin is late 17th c. Italian comedy.  It is said that Pierrot pined for the love of Columbine, who broke his heart leaving him for Harlequinn.  And, as with the Japonisme kimono, the Pierrot costume passed the test of time and became a staple of costuming.  Even Polly Pratt got one!

Polly's Orange Pierrot Costume
Polly's Orange Pierrot Costume was another hopeful from last fall.  I recall discussing the checks on the cuffs and lantern with a friend of mine, who then referred to it as checkerboard print.  Ah hah!  So I began searching in vain for a tiny orange and black checkerboard print and came up empty.  Before I even began this costume, I had to figure out how to make the checkerboard myself.  I fussed with this for almost two weeks until I was able to get the right combination of scale.  The first cuff set was large enough to fit Daisy and Lettie.  The second set was almost too small, but my own Polly owns these now.  The third set was appropriately in scale for both the cuffs and the lantern...and I'll never make checkerboard again!  I call it mini-quilting.

I use a decimal ruler for my measurements, and I found that .9 was the best in width, and 1.1 for length - taking in account the 1/8" seams needed to sew them together.  Determination is the key.  Also you had to back stitch the edges or they'd come apart when you turned the lined cuff inside out.  Those done, I moved on to the rest of the costume.

Sheila's Illustration
The Lantern
Polly's Orange Pierrot Costume consists of a bell shaped tunic and 3/4 length trousers. The double ruffle Pierrot collar is black satin and hooks in the back.  The hat, for lack of a better term, I'll call a country hat.  It is not a witch's hat, but a clown hat with turned up edges.  The pom-poms were another trial.  There was no way I was sewing polyester bag pom-poms on this costume!  For one, they didn't even look like the costume's pretty pom-poms.  So I learned how to make them myself, and did so out of wool yarn.  Satin silhouettes of bats decorate the hat and cuffs, with the addition of a witch and crescent shaped moon on the lantern.

The lantern is a soft sculpture.  Its base is both buckram and cardboard to hold the shape of the two cylinders.  This was another toughy.  I have to laugh as I'm writing this because "who is crazy enough to go to these lengths for a doll costume"?!  Me, I guess.  More checkerboard had to be sewn for this, and lucky me, I had enough length left over from the good cuffs!  The best way I can describe the construction is like a pillow case sewn up on the edge, then the two edges hidden ladder stitched together.  Now to get the lantern hung!  I threaded embroidery thread through the top, crossing the lengths to be centrally hung on a wire hook attatched to a pole.  Since the center cylinder was longer, this was not an easy task.

Puss In Pumpkin
To complete the picture, I asked Patty, once again (she's so wonderful to work with!), to make a couple of fat, black kitties standing on their hind legs for the pumpkins.  There is no such thing as a papier mache pumpkin without a top, that doesn't have a face carved into it.  I did find some nice ones though, and took a box cutter and set to taking the tops off.  Guess what I found beneath?  Plastic!  No wonder it was so hard to carve into.  A trusty can of Krylon paint and a day's worth of many layers produced the orange pumpkin for the Puss and Pumpkin display. 

The last third of this cup of tea has gotten cold.  The autumn wind blows the trees about in this pleasant, sunny afternoon.

Am I done with Halloween costumes?  Probably not.  There is yet one more I'd like to make, but this one will be for the French Fashion Portrait Jumeau (16 inches) doll when she arrives with a new shoulder plate.  It is likely I'll use the leftover kimono fabric for it, but then again, a pretty satin or even black velveteen might be nice.  Since she is a young lady doll, this costume might be my first outfit for her, and a new challenge.  Dressing lady dolls.

The Masks
Oh!  I almost forgot.  I was asked to make masks for my customer's Polly costume and her Lettie's Grape Harvest costume.  Polly's is rimmed in tiny pom-poms with a crescent moon and bat added to the corners.  Lettie got two.  One is on a stick (which I love since it is an accessory), and the other is a face mask.  Both have the leaves, but the stick also has a small cluster of grapes and the green vine winding down the stick.  This green vine was used to hang the grape clusters on the costume.

Below are lots of photos of the details. 

Miss E. Mouse

Fabulous Owl Hat

Back Sweep of Kimono
Underneath it all, a tulle slip.
Checkerboard Cuffs

Patty's Kitty
Lettie's Mask on Stick

Polly's Mask

Checkerboard Mess - Never again!
Costume for the Portrait Jumeau lady doll

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Same Day, Same Year, Happy Birthday!

Lori and Ollie, Her Ragdoll Cat
Several days ago while working on Polly's Halloween costume, I began pulling together several costumes to dress my Bleuettes in at the end of the month.  One of them I came across was the Persian costume Kathy O'Malley made, and this triggered a memory of a time back in 2008 when I made Bleuette's Spectacle de Magie, a magician's set complete with painted table and magic tricks, which included a costume.  When Kathy's costume arrived, I fell in love and simply couldn't part with it, so my birthday sister, Lori Saggs, agreed to make me another for the set.  And, this one was just a gorgeous!  Tomorrow, the 18th, she and I celebrate our birthdays once more.  We were born on the same day in the same year, and she has been a special friend for the many years we've known one another.

Spectacle de Magie with Lori's Costuming
Focused, and buried in my studio, I never got around to sending her a birthday card, so I'm taking the opportunity to make her one right now, right here.  She's a fabulous artist in her own right, wonderful at costuming, and beyond talented with the crochet hook and knitting needles.  When we think of the creative process and how things come together to make magic, Lori has always been there when I needed that one special item I could not make myself.  So I would like to share Bleuette's Spectacle de Magie with you, her outfit, my magic table and accessories. ( It also occurs to me that I only have one of the many photos of this on my website, so I need to get them all up soon with detailed descriptions.)

The Lemon Ruffle Cake Dress Lori Crocheted
The Article and Table
It was January, on a Sunday, in 2008 when I found an article in the antiques section of the newspaper.  There in the article was this incredible antique magician's table, and I knew right away that I must make a miniature for Bleuette.  Later that spring, I would visit Barbara DeVilbiss in New Jersey, and she taught me how to make a real silk top hat for the magician's hat, just like the real hats were made long ago.  This is how I learned to work with buckram and create hats.  Barbara is also a professional clown and magician, and entertained me with some tricks one evening.  She showed me some of her magician's pieces, and I sketched and made notes on what they were, and how they worked, to produce them in miniature for the set.  This indeed was a magical time, and this set now resides in Susan Quinlan's Doll and Teddy Bear Museum and Library in Santa Barbara, California.

Lori and I have shared a love of not only dolls and costuming, but of antiquarian children's books, and elephant toys.  One of the books we both hold dear in our hearts, is Clifton Bingham's The Animal's Picnic (1902), illustrated by G.H. Thompson.  I remember her giggling over the tiny elephant dolly the little elephant girl was holding in the beginning of the story.  For her birthday card, I'm telling a new story through four of the illustrations.  What is even better is that there will be a full moon on our birthday, which promises a full year of dreams coming true!

Happy birthday, Lori!  May this be a magical year for you!

Miss E. Mouse

The Back

The Fabulous Turban Hat

"Let's celebrate our birthday!", cried the little girl holding her dolly.

"Let's send off invitations!", mother said.

And, so they had a birthday picnic with all their friends!
And, they danced by the light of the moon!

Close up of painted table and magician's items.
Lori and one of Ollie and Daisy's kittens.

Friday, September 6, 2013

France Tipton Hunter's Katy Curls

Katy Curls and Squeezicks, Her Doll
Similar to The Ladies' Home Journal, magazines like Woman's Home Companion featured paper dolls for the young ones in the home.  What a thrill it was when mother opened the latest issue, and inside was a new paper doll to cut out and play with!  Its surprising that intact copies of these magazines still exist, and aren't we lucky?

Dover Publications was one of the first to publish these vintage paper doll collections.  As you can see from the copy of an original, many changes were made to the presentation including deletion of text and rearranging of the clothing and toys.  But, what a treasure the originals were!  You could read all about the clothing and learn the names of the toys.  For your enjoyment, please click on the page of the original Katy Curls to enlarge and read it. 

Not surprisingly, each outfit was a pattern that could be made for a child.  At the bottom of this page reads, "PATTERN No. 4240: Child's Russian Smock Dress and Play Apron (sizes 4, 6, or 8 years), also set of same garments for 12-inch doll.  Price 25 cents.  Address Pattern Department, care of Woman's Home Companion."

The Dover Publication
I was lucky enough last year, while perusing paper dolls on the Internet, to come across a website this woman put together with reproduction copies available of many of the vintage paper dolls going back as far as Polly Pratt.  Her mother collected these magazines over the years, and never threw them out!  Happy days!  And, her daughter then founded a small business to share them with us.  I was able, at the time, to purchase copies of Polly Pratt pages that Dover Publications never published.  She advised me there were more, but that she was having difficulty "getting her mother to let her borrow them" for reprinting. 

The Original From Woman's Home Companion
The Little Busybodies was a new series of paper dolls that Frances Tipton Hunter began illustrating in 1922, and the first issue was Katy Curls in November.  Other characters like Puggy Pam and Jolly Jane would follow - and many more.  With my love of autumn and red haired dollies, how could I not make a Katy Curls?  Artist, Candy Anderson, would help me do this.  She was creating dolls from the Dianna Effner molds and using Bleuette bodies for them.  I asked her to try one on a Rosette body (Rosette is Bleuette's older sister), so that I could have taller doll with a slimmer body.  Katy Curls is the Smiling Jenny mold, and she is 14" tall.

From the Original
In an earlier post I mentioned that I would be creating this as a trunk collection for sale on my website sometime this fall - perhaps November.  But, once I finally found the perfect little wig for her, I fell in love.  This wig is an Angelica in Carrot.  Candy did a beautiful job on her and is a wonderful artist to work with. 

The first thing Katy needed was patterns and fabrics.  I spent many months searching for just the right fabrics, and most of July was spent drafting all of her clothing patterns so that I could just make the outfits up one after another without stopping to draft this one or that.  Wouldn't it have been fun to find the original Woman's Home Companion patterns?!

Katy in the Studio
Once this was done, I began searching for a doll to represent Squeezicks.  What I found in one my drawers, was a tiny German doll I'd made while learning how to make porcelain dolls.  She was probably good-as-it-gets since finding one this size with a composition body is next to impossible.  Squeezicks was the first item I made.  I wigged her with mohair weft, and spent a full week designing her little onsie.  While made with all the details and finishings, it was finally sewn on her at the shoulders since I do not believe she'll need to take a bath anytime soon.

Katy, Squeezicks and Puff
Next I made Katy's under garments.  These consist of a chemise and knickers that are supposed to button together at the waist, sides and front.  I say "supposed to" because I ended up sewing the buttons on for decoration and using snaps under them.  Why?  Because the fabric was so thin and delicate.   Also, while knowing that an iron-on Pellon interfacing would  have helped, these under garments were extremely difficult to design and make.  Most of the two pieces are completely hand sewn, save for French seams at the sides of the chemise, and front/back of the knickers.  After working three days on the knickers, I didn't want to go back and make them again with interfacing just to make sturdy buttonholes.  (Fran Quinn has just mailed me her little brown Oxfords and black Mary Janes.   Fran creates the most beautiful doll shoes imaginable!)

I also spent some of August with the two aprons, but I'll save this creative process for when they've been finished.

A lot of Hand Sewing
Lastly, the fabulous Patty Kascsak made Puff, Katy's cat.  So darling!  Patty can do anything with needle felting.  I have complete confidence in her work, and always get a giggle when I first see her photos.  I enjoy working with her so much.  If you're interested in her work, please write to her at

Before I conclude this posting, I'd like to share some wonderful "finds".  While taking a workshop with Alice Leverette this summer, she shared with the class the kind of scissors she uses, as well as the needles she hand sews with.  Needles?  John James, crewel embroidery size 10.  Sharp and tiny points.  The scissors?  Kai.  OMG!  I purchased the small embroidery scissors  and found them to be so sharp, and they come to the tiniest points for snipping into seams.  So I tried the Kai sheers.  Life with fabric will never be the same!  You can purchase them on  Also, I would like to share one of the sites where I purchase my beautiful heirloom laces.  EmmaRob Laces.  Donna is fabulous to work with, and the laces are gorgeous.  If there's something you don't see, call her up and ask.  She has a store full of laces not listed on her website.  Just sharing some good sources with you!

Oh, and yes.  Squeezicks will get her little wardrobe, too.  At this stage, I'm still vacillating on the perfect fabric choices for the red sweater and plaid skirt.  I've purchased several options, but you never know what you might come across here or there.

Miss E. Mouse

Notations For Patty
Batting the Dangling Yarn

EmmaRob Laces, The bottom one was used on her knickers.

Kai Scissors

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Harvest Pageant

Lettie's Grape Harvest Pageant Costume
All Dressed Up
At the turn of the 20th century, half the population in the U.S.  was still agrarian - living and sustaining life off agriculture.  As family life depended on farming, the harvest season was an exciting and serious time. 
Children who lived on farms left studies behind to help with the harvest, and in some cases, schools would simply close for the season.  The hard work and long hours would then be celebrated through the harvest festival.  Entire towns would have a fair, a celebration, and often schools would hold pageants for the children.  Even though through the years, better farm equipment would tip the scales towards life in the city, harvest pageants were still quite popular and a fun way for children to share and learn about agriculture.  No better example of this is remembered in present day, than young Scout dressing up as a ham in the beloved novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  Still long ago, young girls like Lettie would cross the stage in a fabulous costume and give a short speech on the product she represented.
From Betty Bonnet's Halloween Party
Lettie's Grape Harvest Pageant costume has been a year in the making.  Well, there certainly was a long gap between October and August, but I'd fully intended to make this costume last fall.  I'd had the little owls needlefelted by Patty Kascsak, and had purchased the foliage to make the grape clusters and a yard each of two colors of microsuede.  So when it came to making the costume for the harvest season, I had just about everything I needed to get started.

The pattern for the dress was a relatively simple one: A-line, short sleeves.  The question was how to attach the leaves.  At first I thought I might make this an empire dress with the longer leaves sewn in between the bodice and skirt.  Yet, after cutting a few leaves and holding them up to the mock up dress, I realized the best approach was to make this as a costume should be, and sewed the leaf ends into a waistband creating a skirt to be worn over the dress.  Another question was in the color of the underdress.  I began by using a caramel cotton, the same color as the leaves, but the leaves faded into the dress, and even resembled Daisy's indian costume!  So I chose a soft cocoa brown linen as the background for the leaf "painting".  
Chalking Out the Patterns

Patty Kascsack's Needlefelt Owl
The leaves, as I mentioned, are made from microsuede.  After drawing the six patterns I would use as leaf stencils, I decided to try chalk as a way to outline the edges for cutting.  One might think I'd have used dressmaker's chalk, but I used what I had handy, and that was chalkboard chalk.  It does remove with a cloth rubbing.  Each leaf was then machine stitched down the center to create a faux stem.  Using a thread of the same color, it blends, but gives the leaf distinction.  The bodice leaves were sewn into the neckline, then two epaulet leaves were sewn to the shoulder top to drape down the sleeve.

The grapes were painted a bright, autumn blue to best represent Sheila's illustration.  I used foliage berries for the grapes.  It was quite a task to cut the berry groupings to resemble little grape clusters, and this costume you see had the best of them.  The second costume I made for my own doll - well, the grape clusters are not quite as "delicate".  The clusters are strung from heavy silk embroidery cording.
Jester Booties and Brown Stockings
And, then we have the hat, or what I am calling a crown.  This is a buckram base crown of two half moons sewn together.  It is covered with the soft cocoa linen.  The leaves and clusters then sewn on, and lined with a gold crinkle tissue silk to finish it off, and protect Lettie's pretty mohair wig.

Then under this all, last but not least, are the jester booties.  Just when I thought I had this all done and put together, I noticed the jester boots in the illustration!  What to do, what to do?!  I began with trying them as a gaitor  that she could wear over her shoes, but the mock up in the darker bark colored microsuede didn't quite please me.  It wasn't a bad choice, but it wasn't the best I could do.  So I decided to try them as a real pull-on bootie.

The pattern is a side view pattern with the front and back edges sewn.  Then I made a foot bed or sole, and pinned this to the column of the bootie.  I actually machine stitched these two pieces together, then turned them inside out.  I mean, what's the point in sewing unless your going to learn something new each time you do it?!  Six single booties later, I had it down and made two pair.  Dark brown stockings finish the costume.  I've a feeling some other little doll in the future is going to benefit from the jester boot pattern, but these will be made from fabric, not dense microsuede, and I'll be able to hand sew the sole to the top.
I've also been working on Katy Curls.  She is simply adorable.  I will blog on her progress in a day or two.  What?  I know I said I wouldn't, but once I began playing with her, I fell in love and have now decided to keep her.
And, next will be Polly's new Halloween costume.  I'm having so much fun right now with autumn and Halloween.  I do know that summer is still officially with us until the 21rst, but there is no time like the present to prepare costumes for our girls when its time for parties.  Please enjoy the few vintage photos I found.
Bless you all for your loving support.  I am deeply touched.
Miss E. Mouse
On Stage

A Hula of Leaves
A Side View

Could have been Lettie!


Purely Victorian

Happy Autumn From Lettie!