Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ho Ho, The Mistletoe, Hung Where You Can See!

Holly Sprite and Mistletoe Fairy
I was noticing as I wrote in my journal last night that there are barely any pages left to write in this year.  However, the journal's broken spine attests to a very full year by all the little notes, cards, comic strips saved, and bits of paper ephemera between its pages.  We all wonder where the time goes, especially around this busy and cheerful time of year.  All I really need do is page down in this blog to January 2013 to see where most of it has gone, yet it doesn't, and wouldn't, capture all the time spent in a year devoted to my love of doll costuming.  The creative process is a daily study, and often much of my work is done while hiking my dogs on the trail by the lake, or laying awake at night realizing how I could have done something better. 

Party Costume Page
If you've been following my cyber-journal, you'll know that the holidays are a time for me to pull out the stops, and do something a little more than wonderful.  Maybe even a little magical.  Lettie's Holly Sprite and Polly's Mistletoe Fairy costumes were surely inspired by at least two extraordinary artists of long ago, Cicely Mary Barker, and of course, Sheila Young.  I've had my eye on Betty Bonnet's Christmas Party page for several years now, and it was time to try two more costumes from the 1916 illustration.  Last year's Skating Costume for Lettie came from the same page.  Will I do them all in time?  Maybe one or two more...we'll see.

Elegance in Emerald Tafetta

Perhaps its that I've been dressing these two girls for awhile now, but I knew right away that Ever Elegant Lettie would wear the Holly Sprite, and Polly would look adorable as a Mistletoe Fairy.  Its almost like knowing the desires of your own children.  And, that they are to me!

Lettie's costume was another "go round" with designing challenges.  Those sleeves.  I don't even know exactly what to call them, and have only seen them on the likes of Snow White and other characters from lands of long ago story times.  I call them open work lantern sleeves for lack of the correct term.  Or maybe little nightmares!  It was the "idea of the image" I was after, and with no former or formal knowledge of how to make them, I designed them my way.  The other challenge, though minor in comparison, was feminizing the boy's costume.  Instead of blouson pants, I added a full and shorter skirt to a bodice. 

Lettie's Holly Sprite costume is made from emerald silk taffeta, the rustly kind.  And, her cummerbund is a fine Chinese silk, delicate and smooth.  You may recognize the way I approached the holly leaves.  They were hand drawn and snipped out of microsuede with machine stitched veins running down their centers.  The berries are tiny pom-poms, each hand sewn to the garment, and crown.  I have to laugh at myself because by the time I'd made the perfect sleeve (these took almost two weeks to design), I'd forgotten to include the holly leaves at the wrist.  And, so we did them once again. 

Her holly branch was made by hand with the microsuede leaves, pom-pom berries, and floral wire and tape.  I wasn't really sure if this would come out the way I envisioned it, but it quickly came together the first try.  And, why did I not just purchase a branch?  Heavens!  It would not have matched her costume or followed the illustration.

Her diamond cut-out jester boots were fun to design.  I already had a pattern of similar boots from the Grape Harvest Costume, and I simply (or not so simply) redrew the front edge with cut outs.  It took a couple of tries to get the correct amount of red stocking to show through, but they came together nicely.

As with all these drawings, trying to figure out what the artist intended to have, say behind the arm, or in the back, is always a consideration.  With the Holly Sprite costume, the cummerbund "bow" or tie was the issue.  To me it did not look like a standard bow, and since it was on a boy's costume, it would not have been.  Still, I liked the look, and went for a ruched cummerbund with  draped loops, or bow folded over.
Tapping into Mistletoe Kisses
And lastly, we had the cap or crown.  The illustration does not show an open crown of holly leaves, but a rounded cap with an edge of holly leaves pointing up, with berries lining the rim, resembling a crown.  I built the rounded cap out of buckram, then covered and lined it in the taffeta.  The leaves and berries were then hand sewn on.

 Now we come to sweet little Polly's Mistletoe Fairy costume.  At first look, one would want to believe the costume to be that of a Christmas angel.  But, on closer inspection, she has snowy white mistletoe edging the neckline and edges of the puffed sleeves, she wears snowy jester boots, and she carries a wand.  I was immediately enchanted with this adorable illustration and felt only our little Polly could pull it off.  (Lettie would have to be an angel should she ask for wings.)

The first thing I did was make the wings.  If the wings could not be made, neither could the costume, for the wings are the focal point.  I drew out the shape of one wings, then cut the pattern twice out of buckram.  Those wings needed body and shape.  Buckram has so very many uses!  Let's skip how I made them since this post is already getting windy, but do know that they soft sculpture wings of silk, lightly padded with batting.  They hook onto the back of the dress with tiny thread loops on the dress, and equally spaced hooks on the wings.

After making the wings, I tackled the wand.  Yes, I could have spray painted a wooden star, but chose, instead, to go the mile and make a gold silk, soft sculpture star.  It was a fun little task to turn the star inside out and stuff it with a bit more batting.  The wand is gold painted wood. 

Soft Sculpture Wings
Polly's Mistletoe Fairy dress is brought to life with details embellishing a simple A-Line dress (fully lined).  A silk sash with white mistletoe drapes on her hip.  An era appropriate head band of mistletoe crowns her pretty curls.  And, she even got her own pair of snowy white jester boots to wear over the long white stockings.

And what of the actual mistletoe?  Two types of vintage trim that I purchased in September at Britex in San Francisco.  These were redesigned into the mistletoe of the illustration.  I love this costume.  I love both of them!  I can just imagine Polly hopping around a Christmas party tapping children and adults with her wand, and telling them now they must kiss the person next to them.  And, Lettie gently rustles through the party charming all the young lads with her beautiful emerald green costume.  I did not make a set for myself as these were just too involved, but I very, very much enjoyed making these darling illustrated costumes come to life.

I can see again!
New Work Table
During the time I was making these costumes, we had the glass replaced in fifteen of the windows of my little hole in the wall.  Three were in my studio, and I am over the moon with the new glass in my picture window.  I could hardly bare the idea of putting the table back, that used to sit against the "window wall", so my husband suggested a new studio set up for me.  One that freed up the window and created a new space to work.  Off to IKEAs we went and now I have two long, wide tables meeting at their centers with storage units on each end holding them up.  On one side are two storage units with drawers, and on the other side are little storage cabinets with swing doors and one shelf (two spaces).  I'm still in the process of redoing my studio and hopefully streamlining things a bit for no more clutter.  These tables are wonderful for cutting fabric as well.  Creating the perfect space to work can sometimes be as much work as designing a new doll costume.  Things had to change.  Since beginning to design doll clothing in August of  2011, I've hardly touched etrennes, or the doll accessories and miniatures I used to enjoy making so much.  This doesn't mean I won't continue to make them, but the brushes and paints, bits of leather, stacks of wood and findings, will now be stored away until needed - just as accessible, but not gathering dust.

For the rest of the month and into December, its time to put up the Christmas tree, think about something wintry for Katy Curls, and maybe, just maybe make Christmas dresses for my own girls.  The season is upon us!  If you feel the tap of a fairy want, kiss the person beside you!

Miss E. Mouse

Her Own Jester Boots
Mistletoe Fairy

A Holly Branch
Diamond Cut-out Jester Boots

Off to the Christmas Party!

Monday, November 4, 2013

P is for Pilgrim - Thanksgiving Mayflowers

Daisy's Thanksgiving Greeting
In the autumn of 1620, a tiny crowded ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England.  On board were 102 passengers - a mixed company of pious Separatists and "Strangers" thrown together by fate on a perilous voyage to find new homes in the wilderness of British North America.  Among them were three young ladies, Daisy, Lettie Lane and Polly Pratt.  Oh.  Is this not how the story went?  You'd be hard pressed to convince our three little pilgrims otherwise.

After completing Polly's Halloween costume, I was on a roll.  I love the story of our American Thanksgiving, and did so even as a child.  When I was five, and in Kindergarten, our teacher had us make craft paper hats and collars, and we had a Thanksgiving parade around the Kindergarten green.  I wore those pieces day in and day out until they fell apart.  Now, many years later, I've created costumes for my own girls.

Inspiration for Daisy and the Plum Pudding
Having spent many, many hours with vintage postcard images of Halloween, I began poking around Ebay for Thanksgiving images.  I have quite a collection of Old World Christmas Thanksgiving cards, sparkled with glitter, and romancing the great turkey feasting holiday.  The vintage postcard examples are vast for all of these holidays.  Beginning in 1898, all American postcards could be mailed for 1 cent.  This sparked a new fad for sending and collecting postcards that peaked between 1905 and 1915.  By 1913, the total of postcards mailed in the U.S. reached over 968,000,000.  These beautiful collectibles are still in demand, and for me, a haven of inspiration. 

Let's be clear.  I've not tired of creating clothing from Sheila Young's illustrations of paper dolls, but "now that I think I know what I'm doing", I want to try many more styles.  The Lawn Mowing outfit was just the beginning.

Cashmere and Melton Wools, Ribboned aprons.
In the past month I made five of these lovely pilgrim costumes.  I had a request to make two in a light wool for the hotter climes of my Florida customer.  I chose heavier wools for my own girls.  Among the wools I purchased were Swiss, Cashmere and Melton.  As you might guess, sewing on these different wools would require different techniques.  By the time I made the fifth and final, Daisy's, I pretty much knew what I was doing.  Now I'm not asking you to agree with me, but what I found with sewing the lighter wools together, you could easily stay with the 2.4 stitch on your machine.  With the heavier wools, I upped the stitch length to 3.2  I learned this only after finding that the stitches were too tight and too deep in the heavier wools.  It was quite a relief to discover that a longer stitch did the job just as well, if not better.

Inspiration for heaving wools and ribboned aprons.
Lighter wool gowns with capelets
For starters, I'd fallen in love with the dress style of the two little girls with black bows at the center of their collars, carrying a harvest basket between them.  This would be the inspiration for the patterns I created to make all five gowns.  With the lighter wools, I wanted a more traditional look, and made all-white bonnets with a luxurious cotton sateen that ran around $16 a yard.  The wools themselves were exquisite to the touch and wonderful to work with.  The aprons were edged with Swiss lace reminiscent of the illustration I chose to make their capelets from.  The lighter wools also allowed a fuller skirt, and this was something I'd struggle with using the heavier fabrics for my own.  This is quite evident in my own Lettie's black Cashmere dress.  It appears more tapered, but in truth, it was the exact same width of fabric used for the lighter wool.  I'm learning!  Polly's wasn't such an issue since she's a smaller doll.  And, of course by the time I decided Daisy needed a spectacular costume of her own, I'd added six inches to the width of the skirt.

The aprons are different on both sets as well.  Swiss lace was used to decorate the aprons of the lighter wool dresses, and double faced silk ribbons, in three rows, decorated the heavier wool gown.  To neaten the look, I sewed the aprons into the bodice at the skirts' centers.  With the lighter wools this was not an issue.  But, with the first heavier wool, I could not gather it together, and had to put the gathering stitches in by hand.  Another trial for me, was the constant changing of thread colors as I stitched the pieces together.  I think I can thread my machine in less than 30 seconds now!  Finally, silk velvet ribbons in two rows, matching each dress, were sewn to the hemlines in the heavier wool gowns to detail the look of the dresses in the illustration.

Inspiration for capes and Swiss lace
Cozy Capes
I was really enjoying myself making these costumes.  It was not my intention to make the capelets, but after many hours gazing on the postcard of the laced apron, I decided to give them a try.  I used a camel colored wool for the capes and lined them in cotton.  I felt this would be much more traditional, since I doubt silks or satins were available or used by the Separatists.  If I recall, I began with a Bleuette cape pattern to make them.  They needed lots of circle width to drape over the shoulders.  When making Daisy's blue wool cape, I simply added 7.5 inches to the length, and tiny grosgrain ties instead of the covered button band - which snaps to the cape.

Patty's Turkey
Inspiration for Patty's Turkey
I procured two vintage baskets and filled them with size appropriate harvest fruits and squashes.  I made Daisy a covered Plum Pudding in a basket, and Patty, bless her talented heart, made the most perfect needle felted turkeys I've ever seen.  I keep thinking that some day I'd like to learn this craft, but when someone like Patty creates perfection, who am I to mess with it?  Maybe.  Someday.  But, for now, I'll enjoy feeling more confident as I continue to design and sew for my dolls.

This is my second post today, so please read on for Katy Curls' Thanksgiving Party apron below.  I've run out of steam, but have some lovely images to share with you inclusive with this post.  Sometime this week I'll begin designing for Christmas.

Wishing you a perfect month filled with the beauty of autumn, and the warmth of family and friends.

Miss E. Mouse

Little Behinds

Portrait of a Pilgrim

Pretty Pilgrim Polly

Daisy's cape in progress

The Thanksgiving Party

Katy's Costume For the Thanksgiving Party
Normally I like to do a little research into the costuming before I begin a project.  No.  Let me rephrase that.  I love to do a lot of research into costuming at any given time, but especially when something as interesting as crepe paper costumes comes to mind.  My introduction to crepe paper costumes came quite awhile back, and even though I've now and again typed in a few search words and read about them in books describing costumes from the 20's and 30's, I've only come to surmise that they were a work book project by Dennison Manufacturing Co.  Dennison most likely was leader in producing a wide array of color choices in garment worthy crepe paper.  They produced several small books with detailed descriptions of how to make your own fabulous costumes from their crepe paper products, including the Bogie Book, which detailed Halloween costuming.   

Frances Tipton Hunter's Illustration and Description
Many of the costumes you'll see in vintage postcard images were most likely the product of crepe paper costuming.  I'm not sure whether these were made as one time wear, disposable party costumes, or fabric was too costly for such an occasion.  And, I seriously doubt they came out as fabulous as the illustrations in the books detailed, but I'm certain they were fun to make, and made a merry rustle as you entered a room

An Original Copy
Even Katy Curls got one.  Her costume is described by, "It's a "slip-over" and wreath  made of autumn leaf crepe paper."  Its possible that Dennison made a printed leaf crepe paper, similar to the printed tissue paper we see today.  But, finding such a thing on today's market is improbable, and impossible at best.  When designing Katy's Thanksgiving Party Costume, I decided best to use fabric so it will stand the test of time, yet still marvel at the idea of using crepe paper.  Certainly it is not unheard of, as little dolls have been dressed in crepe paper over time...moreover, paper dolls were dressed in crepe paper costumes!

Example From the Book
I began working on this in early September when Jo Ann's started stocking their fall prints.  I found two leaf print cottons that I felt might work, but chose the softer, romantic leaf print instead of the brightly colored one.  I had to purchase a couple of yards just to get enough small printed leaves to cut out.  These were done as I would the silhouettes I make, then ironed on.  The same leaves were then cut out for the crown she wears. 

I counted the white backings just for the fun of it, and if I recall, I snipped out no less than 80 leaves for the apron and wreath crown!

Puff likes those beads and ribbons!
The apron is neatly lined to encase the silk ribbon tie ends.  I knotted the ends then with a large eyed needle, went through the open space in the lining before closing it up and strung the ribbons through.  Finding the perfect beads for the ends took a bit of effort as well.  There are two beads at the end of each ribbon.  One is an amber flat, and then the crystal cut balls ending in a knot.

A side view.
I made a simple light mango tinted skirt to emulate the crepe paper one, and finally a little white, Peter Pan collared blouse, with puffed sleeves to go under the apron.  It was my guess, only, what she may have worn under that apron since the illustration doesn't help much.  As a paper doll outfit, it would have gone right over her undergarments, but in November??  I would think it might be a bit cool not to wear at least a little blouse under it, or even a sweater.  And, so you see, I'm beginning to think on my own two back paws when it comes to design.

Her crown, or wreath, is made from a simple strip of thin cardboard going around the circumference of her head, with another thin band going across the top.  Multiple leaves are overlapped to create the look.  That was certainly a lot of detailed snipping!  But, so very worth the effort.  These leaves remind me of the beautiful illustrations drawn by Eulalie for books such as The Bumper Book, that I had when I was little.  Whimsical and pretty.

And, now Katy Curls is ready for her Thanksgiving Party and will enjoy this little costume all of November.  The next outfit for her will depend on what I can find when Christmas wear comes into the shops.  Finding a green, white and red striped sock for her hat has been very problematic.  This is okay.  I can wait.  Should I not find it, I'll make her blue coat ensemble for winter.  She is so much fun to sew for!

Miss E. Mouse

A Wreath of Leaves

Thanksgiving decorations from The Bogie Book
Leaves on the back panels as well.

"Happy Thanksgiving" from Katy!