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

1 comment:

  1. Oh, she looks so cute! I'm old enough to have worn gaitors like that as a toddler, though it was probably because my parents were a little old fashioned.