Saturday, February 23, 2013

Heidi Picking Wildflowers

9" Lawton as Heidi Picking Wildflowers
Original Copy of the Book
My first recollection of Heidi was through Shirley Temple's portrayal of the young orphan taken by her guardian, Aunt Dete, to be raised in the Swiss Alps by her grandfather.  Having never read the book, I decided to do an engine search on the story by Swiss author, Johanna Spyri, in 1880.  Of course, I had no idea it was written so long ago, and likewise, had no idea Heidi didn't teach Clara to walk while spending the year at the Sesemann home.  Hollywood!  Perhaps it would have been too harsh a scene to film when the movie was made (starring Shirley Temple), to watch Peter shove Clara's wheelchair down a hill forcing her to learn to walk.  Besides, Shirley always had to play a herione to some degree.  That said, I think I'll have to pick up a copy of the original story and sit down and read it.
1950's Heidi Paper Dolls
When my friend asked me to make her new Wendy Lawton Heidi doll a special outfit, I was still quite hesitant to try designing such small costuming.  However, the idea of making something for a Heidi, provided the impetus to take that leap.  And, I'm so glad I did.  I'd been wanting to create for these 9" wood-bodied dolls since I began designing and sewing not so long ago.  Is it easier?  Not on your life!  I do suppose there are seamstresses who opt for less detail in small garments, but that is just not me.  So I approached this costume with the same set of practices I use with the much larger dolls.

A Side View
The first thing was to select a design.  And, where did I look?  To the illustrations in books.  There were many lovely costumes, but most looked very similar with red or brown as the choice of color.  Her Heidi came dressed this way, so I wanted to find something quite different.  When I found this illustration (probably from the 1950's), in yellow, one of my favorite colors, I hoped the choice would be accepted, and it was.  And, wouldn't you know, it was the illustration of a paper doll! 

The Back and the Hat
Little did I know that finding a yellow with black pin dots, much less green!, would be so difficult.  Naturally after purchasing a fabric I thought would work, I still hesistated because it just wasn't quite right.  The dots were spaced too far apart.  After just about giving up, a pin dot yellow with just the right spacing showed up on Ebay as a remnant and I purchased it.  Everything about designing this outfit was a hesitation. 

Other seamstresses may often wonder why it takes me so long to make something, but this is because they select a fabric, cut out a chosen pattern and stitch it up.  I design from the beginning with a pencil, then continue to design each step of the way carefully considering options and trying many before I actually get the look I wish to create.  One of the considerations was that my friend wished the sleeves to be long.  Many Lawton collectors do not like the wooden arms of their dolls to show.  So with this in mind, I had to create a sleeve that would compliment the dress.  Long puffy sleeves in this fabric overwhelmed the tiny doll, so I chose to use the white Swiss Bearissima bastiste.  I would use this to line the dress, as well as make the apron and knickers. 
Hand-sewn Eyelet with 2mm Silk Ribbon

If you recall, I was anticipating trying hand-sewn buttonholes.  My first thought was to make eyelets with the same technique, for lacing the ribbon through the edge of the neckline.  While this would work on a much larger doll, as delicate as the one threaded buttonholes could be, they would have crowded the neckline.

Swiss Edge Lace Knickers
Another issue was the girdle.  At first I thought to make it like Polly's little French witch costume with the apron replacing the paniers, attached to the lower edge of the girdle (sewn between the layers).  For one, the gathering stitch of the apron's edge was too thick to fit nicely and hidden this way.  The second is that the girdle was really quite tiny.  So I opted to sew the apron to the skirt of the dress and only stitch the front lower edges of the girdle to the apron.  By doing this, the outfit is created all in one piece making the dressing of the doll very easy.  This also allows the dress to be displayed nicely since there are no adjustments to be made.

Perhaps this may become a signature, but I could hardly just sell her a dress, when as I designed it, I envisioned an entire ensemble.  This meant the inclusion of a hat, and then the knickers.  The wildflower bouquet was a given, but these two other pieces, I felt, would turn a pretty Swiss frock into a beautiful chapter in Heidi's story.

There will be more outfits made for these 9" dolls.  There is one I promised to make for a Helper Room donation, and I also have some lovely silk dupioni for two others.  Will there be more beyond those?  Let's wait and see.  In the meantime let's celebrate Johanna's timeless classic and envision Heidi's first experience picking wildflowers in the stunning Swiss Alps!

Miss E. Mouse

With Thread Spool For Size

I love this illustration!  Maybe I'll do this next with edelweiss embroidery on the bib.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Polly Pratt Had a Valentine

Polly Pratt Had a Valentine
Hey! I snuck one in here. I could not resist making Polly's little Valentine's Day dress for her! Boy did I have to work fast to get this one done in time! Polly and I both wish you a very Happy Valentine's Day.
Sheila Young's Illustration

The Back

Four Heart Sillouhettes

Handmade little basket of cards.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Skip To My Lou!

Skip to my Lou, my darling!
Around 1844, the frontier was in full swing, and a fun little song called Skip To My Lou was written.  A fiddle dance that made gay of changing partners, then returning to your true Lou, or love again.  This sweet little song would carry through the generations as children delighted in singing and dancing to the happy tune.  Sometimes the title of an ensemble will inspire me to create it, and other times, it doesn't come to me until I am finished.  When I dressed Polly in this debut page ensemble, I could envision her skipping happily down a sunny sidewalk singing "Skip, skip, skip to my lou!"  And, so we dress Polly in her first baby doll dress.

Not only do I really enjoy sewing for the 16" dolls, but Polly's beautiful, childlike features, simply enchant me and I adore sewing for her.  With the completion of her green flower basket dress, I have a perfect sloper for all the other dresses on her Good Housekeeping debut paper doll page. 

Sweet Polly Pratt
This one, like all the other Sheila Young costuming I've done, was intriguing in design with an interesting collar, those miserable cuffs, and a bit of smocking.  This one also would demand a bit of embroidery and an overlay, which took a good deal of time to consider in construction.  Most of us would think that this over-dress would be separate, like a smock, but close inspection tells us it was part, and sewn into the under dress.  One of the challenges was in lining this dress nicely, then developing a new way of hemming that wouldn't involve little gathers or pleats as you turn up a circular hem. The dress, in my opinion, never lays as nicely with a hem done this way.

Sheila's Illustration
First I had to tackle the overlay and how best to attach it to the under dress, and when to embroider three tiny baskets of flowers.  If you commence to do the embroidery first, and the pattern isn't right, you've wasted days of intricate work, and need to do it over again.  There was also a  matter of the basket or bucket cuffs as drawn by Sheila Young.  The very first thing I designed was a new cuff and sleeve.  Just about all the 3/4 length sleeves have this cuff, so I felt best to master that first.  The way I resolved this issue to force them to sit out, once turned up, was to give them a good curve.  While hard to see in the photos, if you pull the cuffs out from the puffed sleeve, they will produce a bucket or basket effect.  Again, what is so easy to portray in a watercolor, is most difficult, and often impossible, to design into a 3D costume.

The embroidered overlay.
The collar?  I'm getting pretty good at these now.  There was a bit of curvature at the shoulder turning into the neckline, and while I drew this in, the three thicknesses of fabric softened it quite a bit.  There is the overlay, the dress, then the lining.  I did consider simple facings, but when I also considered the new way of doing the hem, a full lining in the body of the dress seemed the best approach.

New cuff design and mock up.
One of the difficulties in designing the overlay was in the very soft smocking and the fullness it would require, that would not line up with the dress basic below.  The way I overcame this was to give the overlay a gentle gather of smocking, embroider the flower baskets, then cut away the wider edges to match up with the dress.  The baskets were embroidered with green silk floss in a satin stitch that replicated a basket woven.  The flowers are tiny, two-thread French Knots, and they were the devil to do!  For one thing, they are embroidered on vintage, light weave Dotted Swiss so they kept pulling through the loose weave!  I just worked and worked at them until the design was done. 

Lining and Hem
Let's talk about the hem.  Conventional hems will require you to turn the fabric up, and anyone who has sewn a hem in a circular skirt knows about those little pleats you have to make that thicken the hemming in places.  Because I've done so much full dress lining, I approached this hem the same way.  I took my pattern and recut just the hemline about 2 inches and lay it on the bias.  This then was sewn to the edge of the dress's hem.  The dress lining from collar to hem "inner cuff"was sewn to the hem lining in a hidden ladder stitch.  The overlay on top of the dress was given the same treatment, only it sits higher so the dress is evenly layered. 

I tried a couple of different ways to cover the buttons.  On one dress, I used a tinier Dotted Swiss, and on the other (the one I kept), I used the same overlay fabric.  In essence, this continues to make the dresses one-of-a-kind. 

Tinier Dotted Swiss Buttons
And, then to the hat!  How I do love millinery!  Sadly, emerald green Swiss braid is no longer made.  So I phoned up the fabulous Nelly Valentino of PNB Hat Molds and asked her what to do.  Spray paint.  Yes.  Spray paint.  I had a little can of Short Cuts in Leaf Green and tried it out on a tiny hat that I'd done for a sample piece.  It worked!  It better than worked, and I was amazed at the results.  Why not dye the braid.  Ask Nelly.  For one thing, dying braid this color would take an enormous amount of dye and time, and in my experience, never dyes thoroughly.  And, with the 15 yards of braid it takes to make this hat, you'd have fifteen yards of wet, green spaghetti dripping and curling all over the place.  Spray paint!  Thank you, Nelly!

The Hat
The tiny flowers are vintage flocked forget-me-nots, and I'll be darned if I can find tiny daisies anywhere.  I had the most difficult time finding them during Daisy's 100th anniversary (never did!), and two years later, there are still no proper sized daisies in mulberry paper or otherwise.  Dollspart Supply and PNB Hat Molds sells the best hat making glue around, and it was instrumental in affixing the flowers.  Sew them on?  No.  You'd have a briar patch of stems and would lose the delicate look you are after.  What I did do was twist two paper covered wire stems together and sew them onto the hat.  Then I glued the flowers to that.  The glue is safe, clear, doesn't degrade in moisture, and leaves no trace.  I did try a hot glue gun on a sample wire, and its just too thick, and dries too quickly. 

Next?  I'm committed to sewing for the Lawton Doll Company 9"ers now.  For one, I offered to make an outfit depicting the day Wednesday for a Days of the Week collection that will be a Helper Donation (for the UFDC National summer convention) given with a 9"er offered by Wendy herself.  I also have been asked to make a couple of dresses for the 9" Heidi doll.  I've been putting this off for far too long, just as I had put off actual sewing, so its time to flex my paws and get busy.  Who knows?  I may just enjoy it!

Wishing you all a Happy Valentine's Day!

Miss E. Mouse

Never find another one prettier than you!