Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Katy Curls' Bluebird of Happiness

My Little Bluebird

It wasn't until I was actually stitching on the very last hooks to Katy's gaitors that the idea of her Best Coat just might be her Bluebird of Happiness Outfit.  Certainly there is a little bluebird on her school satchel, and the beautiful wool of her coat could be seen as "bluebird" blue, yet my mind was still cluttered with the numerous details of this complicated little winter outfit. 

The first mention that we know of the Bluebird of Happiness was a play written for young children by Maurice Maeterlinck titled L'Oiseau Bleu, around 1908.  It is a fairytale with the moral being that happiness can only be found close to home and living an unselfish life.   I can't say exactly when they became a popular theme in illustration, but the bluebird in his sapphire beauty can be seen in so very many of the antique postcards, in every season and greeting imaginable.  The image of this cheerful, and sweetly singing bird just had Katy written all over it.

Katy's Best Coat
I'm not even sure when I began working on this outfit, but assuredly is was sometime after Christmas.  I think it even sat in wait while Daisy's New Year Party Dress was quickly being made (as inspirations will have us do).  The whole idea behind creating an outfit like this, is not how quickly can I make it, but how, again, like the illustration I can come to designing it.  Each and every angle and detail was thought out over and over until the final stitch was put in.  However, I'd also wanted to make her school satchel and most definitely give her a bright, shiny apple to enjoy.  AND, she needed an outfit for those chilly and snowy winter days (that never came to California!)

Frances' Illustration
My first recollections while beginning this coat set was of this absolutely gorgeous cobalt blue wool I was working with.  It is such a happy color that my mood was always brightened while working on it.  At least for a time!  Designing is not easy.  But without a good working base design, you cannot move forward.  Questions like "How is that collar attached?", "How does that cape work with the coat?", "What on earth kind of cloche hat is that?", "Just how many buttons are on those way-up gaitors?", would be constantly on my mind as I tried to figure out what Frances Tipton Hunter had drawn.  Don't get me wrong.  Its a fabulous outfit, but a bit unusual from what I've seen before.  Yes, Bleuette has caped coats, but not one like this.  I looked.  And, looked.  Of course I hoped I might find a pattern that could give me a jump start, but that wasn't going to happen.  And, it did not happen with the cloche hat either, which I'll address later.

School Satchel and Apple
In order to keep this post as short as I can let's just begin with the basic coat.  While it may look simple in concept, its a belted wrap coat with a two button closure.  The sleeves are cuffed in fur.  You do not see the top button of the coat in the illustration because the fur collar covers it.  Yet, you have to know that one would exist.  The collar is a separate piece that hooks in the back at her neck.  A collar like this could not be attached to the coat.  The lined and fur edged cape is also a separate piece which attaches at the shoulders, perhaps for extra warmth.  Were it to have been part of the coat, sewn at the neckline, you would never have been able to sew the thicknesses together or achieved a smooth silhouette, much less gotten that detached collar around the neckline.  These are a few of the things I contemplated, and eventually decided to implement into the design of the outfit. 

Back View
As much as I love making hats, this one stumped me entirely.  We know its a cloche hat.  And, just what is a cloche hat?  Merriam Webster gives us two definitions of cloche, one being a plant cover for the cold weather, and the other, "a close fitting hat usually with a deep rounded crown and narrow brim".  Samples of cloche hats are vast and varied, yet once again, I'd never seen one quite like this. 

Study.  Studying these illustrations is the only way to get close to the costuming the illustrator had in mind.  Its not enough for me to say, "this looks like it could be it", it has to be it.  Like a detective, I have to crawl into the mind of the illustrator and puzzle the pieces together.  Again, I looked to Bleuette.  She has a similar hat, but no cigar.  I tried it.  I hoped for it!  But, alas, I had to design it on my own. 

Bleuette pattern in green vs crown pleating by me
Close up
The thickness of the wool proved to be a problem.  I steamed it, block ironed it, and a few other tortures, but it would not thin out, at all, to create a flippy little cloche.  I eventually added a brim of buckram between the layers and that helped flip up the brim in front.  If you look carefully at the illustration, you'll notice that the "pleating" in the crown is attached to a rounded flat at the top.  The stitching of this adds bulk.  This is not your normal cloche, I'll repeat.  And, all this fuss needs to fit nice and snug on Katy's head to keep her warm.  The rest of the hat was made as I would any milliner's hat, yet this time I added a vintage silk grosgrain to the inside edge of the brim that folds in to the crown.  This finished the edge and also keeps Katy's curls nice.  I added two large gold jingle bells to a brown double-sided silk ribbon, and this was the decorative finish.
Attaching the Crown

Before I tackled the gaitors, I noticed that a pair of gloves was in order.  So I switched gears and made a little pair of white gloves like the ones Lettie wore for her golfing outfit, detailed with the three-lines of topstitching.

I think I made four pairs of gaitors before I was satisfied.  One of the things I'd missed on all three first tries, was the loop, or stirrup, that she'd slip her shoe into!  I achieved this by drawing a length down each side, just off center, and long enough to work with once the two pieces were sewn together.  They were then measured, folded over under her foot, cross-stitched together, then clipped.  Each gaitor has twelve bead buttons individually sewn on and knotted, and six hooks and thread loops for closure.  A length of that beautiful grosgrain is sewn to the edge to provide "tucking" beneath the flap-over.

Detail of Gussets and Lining
While waiting what seemed an eternity for the right black bead-buttons to arrive - which were 3mm black agate rounds, I made Katy's bluebird satchel.  I could have sworn I had some nice leather for this, but it seems I was wrong.  I did have an old pair of toffee colored gloves from a very expensive department store, so I cut those up for the satchel.  It is primarily machine stitched with a bottom and side gussets.  It is also lined in fabric covered board for stiffening.  The bluebird is hand-painted on with acrylics.  It is closed with an 18k gold plated bead-button.  Plenty of room for her school books or a journal and sketchbook on a summer's day.

Oh, yes.  We do have her apple.  I purchased a small pack of wooden apples, painted one, and glued in a twig stem from a Japanese Maple out back.  The apple and stem were then sealed with glossy Mod Podge.  I'm sure you can see why Jean's little kits were heaven sent when I needed a break!

Perhaps the idea of the Bluebird of Happiness came to me because I was so relieved to have finished this set finally.  Thirty-six buttons, two snaps, twelve hooks and thread loops, and a lot of hand sewing on of fur later, I dressed Katy up last night and she seemed to beam me a delightful smile of joy.

Below are some photos of the details of this outfit.  And, of course, a few very lovely postcards with our little sapphire winged mascot. 

Miss E. Mouse (If I haven't mentioned it before, you can click on any photo to enlarge it.  Try it!)

Rows of Buttons on Cape - Two on Coat

How the cape hooks on.
Close up of gaitors with stirrups.
The Gloves
Lined Coat and Cape
Bluebird Painted On

Loving Thoughts

For Easter

For Happiness

For Christmas - Gotta love this one!

In Greetings

On Katy

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Polly Got a Dollhouse

Polly's Doll House
Often when I need a break while working on a project, I look for something fun to do, something that won't take too much effort, but will provide a little restful playtime.  The creative mind needs these breathers, but often they result in inspirations that take me down another path. 

The other day I was browsing Bleuette on Ebay and stumbled upon Jean-and-Ken, Jean Nordquist's Ebay store.  I couldn't believe the adorable new kits she had and began to wonder how I lost touch with her fabulous items.  I do recall she had sold some of her business long ago, and the person who bought it could not deliver items in a timely manner.  Hence, I lost interest.

What fun to play in!
But, Jean's work struck me very early on in my foray into miniatures, tiny dolls, Bleuette and vintage ephemera.  She had it all.  One of Jean's specialties is collecting antique paper toys and images, and reproducing them in miniature kits for dolls to play with, or be displayed with.  Another part of the business she and Ken, her husband, run, is gluing these gorgeous images to nicely cut wood pieces creating game tables, trunks and darling chairs...and doll houses!  Just the thought of not having to measure and precisely cut the wood myself, much less paint miniature images on it, like I used to, was entirely appealing to me.  So I bought a few kits.  Then bought a few more!

Through these purchases, Jean and I began to write to one another and she's not only an amazing creative mind, but a treasure to know.  Any artist that graciously allows another artist to offer ideas, is a dream.  I mean that will all sincerity. 

The Exterior Papers and Paint
I had to try her little 10" doll house that was targeted for Bleuette.  One thing it did not have that her larger doll houses had was room imaged wall paper.  So I asked if she might consider scaling it down for this house.  She offered me the papers and I put the house together.  Isn't it beautiful?!  But, of course the house needed furniture now.  The Mary Frances Housekeeping furniture was too large, so back to Jean I wrote.  In the next couple of days, two pages of folding paper furniture arrived.  I just could not have been more pleased.  She will now be adding these features for her 10" doll houses!  Hooray!

I'd recently acquired two sets of B.Shackman's Dollies on Their Travels paper dolls, and miniaturized one for Polly's doll house.  I guess I'll have to make Polly a dress to match the paper doll's.

Margie's Paper Store Toy
Kit Sample
As you know, this blog is on the creative process.  And, I must impress upon you that Jean's work, whether I realized it or not at the time, was inspiring to me, and must have laid some groundwork ideas for me early on.  As you can see in the little peg wooden paper doll house I made that stored the tiny peg wooden doll and her items, it is similar to Jean's process of cutting wood, then gluing on the paper image. (As I looked and looked for these two images in old files, there were so many photos of things that I'd made it was scary!)  The paper that covered that tiny house was called The Lettie Lane House.  These were images I found on the Internet somehow.  The quality of the image wasn't sharp, but it did make up a cute little house.

Jean's mini kits are super easy and make up in a few minutes.  One is this little folding paper store glued to a base of shiny gold paper.  Margie is thrilled with her toy and it even matches the dress Arlene Hayes made for her. 

Peg Wooden Paper Doll - House Storage With Sliding Panel

Little Red Lettie Lane House
Building tiny doll houses is not new to me, as I'd made one for Bleuette a few years ago.  I don't know why, at the time, that I didn't paint it anything but white, but it could have had to do with all the tiny furniture I'd made for it.  The two tiny dolls in it that I dressed, were made by Nada Christensen.  I'm just not sure I can do such tiny work any longer, but I can certainly cut out and fold tiny paper furniture!  Of course, if I put my mind to it, and it was a commissioned piece, I'd do it, but creating such little luxuries on spec is no longer something I'm inclined to do.

The bead buttons for Katy's gaitors finally arrived today.  Her blue coat outfit is done, save for finishing the gaitors, so I'll be sharing that shortly.  And, I'm working on Polly's Snowshoeing Ensemble right now.  Thank goodness for Jean's sweet toys and kits to give me a break when I need to simply play!  You can also find her work at or The Collectible Doll Company.

Miss E. Mouse

Jean's Sewing Mini Kit
The House that Miss E. Mouse Built


A Doll House For Polly