Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pattern No. 4240 - Katy Curls' Russian Smock Dress and Play Apron

Katy's Russian Smock Dress and Play Apron
Easter is just around the corner.  We hop from one holiday to the next, and this keeps me busy with so many little girls wishing new outfits.  Katy was more than ready to hang up her George Washington's Birthday Party costume and get ready for spring.  And, what bounces spring into our lives better than cute little bunnies?

Our Little Girl
Katy Curls' Russian Smock Dress and Play Pinafore, Pattern No. 4240, has been in the works since Katy came to live with me.  Even before I acquire a new doll, while she is being made by the artist, I am searching for and compiling all the fabrics required for her costume set.  When I saw this adorable play apron, I knew it would be a challenge finding anthropomorphic bunny fabric to fill the bill.  But, it was essential I find something complimentary to Frances Tipton Hunter's illustrations, or the apron just wouldn't be quite the same - have the same charm!  So I began searching the Internet for bunny fabric.  Unbelievable as it may seem, some manufacturer felt the same way I did about the bunnies and produced a fabric for a child's room, that I'm guessing would have been made into curtains.

Tipton Hunter's Illustration and Pattern Description
I could hardly believe my eyes!  The illustrations, while not of the same color scheme as Frances made them, were on a deep, dark, cobalt blue background and the bunnies were huge.  I also had to purchase five yards of this fabric, and when it arrived, it reeked of cigarette smoke!  I couldn't wash it since I risked fading, and I needed the colors as vibrant as I could get them.  So I set to the task of cutting out the images I needed, and donated the rest of the fabric to The Goodwill.

Seam Binded Pockets and Apron
My first attempt at making the wee iron-ons was a  long process.  I had to reduce them in size on my copy machine, then run printer fabric sheets through the copier.  Once this was done, I began the tedious process of cutting out all the little bunnies.  Time and tide took hold of me, and it was autumn.  So I tucked all this away and made her Thanksgiving apron with all the autumn leaf iron-ons I'd made.

Bunnies Galore
Jump ahead several months and many costumes later, I picked up the project once again.  I proceeded to cut out the rest of the bunnies and when I went to test a piece on the light yellow fabric I chose, I realized that the bunnies I'd painstakingly cut out did not have iron-on film on their backs!  I just about died.  I couldn't glue them on.  I couldn't sew them on.  And, I couldn't create iron-ons from them since they were so tiny and had so many edges.  So I began all over again.  And, why not?  What else have I got to do, right?  I either remade them, or give up on the project.

Bunnies All Over!
So I began a search for the best quality inkject fabric sheets I could find.  I came up with EQ Printables, Premium Cotton Lawn Inkjet Fabric Sheets, and ran these through the printer with the reduced in size artwork.  I then ironed these sheets to the Heat n Bond paper, THEN cut out the bunnies again.  All set to go. 

One of the challenges in laying out the design was that Frances attempted to make her apron look like real fabric with repeating patterns.  This wasn't going to work since the images were slightly different and not quite the right scale.  Also, the dancing tambourine bunny, who was my favorite, was positioned behind a bunny playing a yellow piano!  What I did to compensate for this was cut out a piece of the walking bunny's violet skirt and add it to dancing bunny's in the iron-on stage.

Original Fabric Scrap and Mini Prints
Now before I proceeded to iron the bunny images on, I had to make bias tape seam binding.  After one failed attempt with using a red sateen, only because I had it on hand, I scrapped that apron, cut another out, and purchased a red batiste I found at our local quilting and sewing center.  The bias seam binding I made is 3/16" wide when doubled over.  I've come to the conclusion that when ironing such tiny strips cut on the bias, the creases don't last long.  So this hand sewing, attaching of the binding, was a challenge in itself, especially around the arm hole curves and the straps.  Done, I ironed on the tiny appliques.  To give the overall look a more "fabric" look, I cut out pieces of bunnies and edged the apron with them.  I also added bunny heads with ears poking out to the undersides of the pockets as on Frances' illustration.  (click on photos to see close ups - its cute!)

The First Attempt Without Heat and Bond Backing
Next was making her Smock Dress.  I'd hoped to use a wool, a felted wool where I could simply use a blanket stitch on the edges.  Simply is the key word...or simple?  Nothing is simple!  After three failed attempts using two different kinds of wool, I realized the collar (there we go again with collar troubles!) would never lay down flat.  It was just too thick.  So I found a scrap of this nice linen and began again. 

Great Stuff!  Try It!
The dress is lined to give a smooth finish to the attached collar, which was made twice.  I'm just not experienced enough to remember that in order to make a collar lay flat, you have to cut it a certain way reducing the width over the shoulders.  I do this by making one pattern, then folding a "dart" at the center edge, pinning that, then re-cutting the pattern.  The neckline edge remains the same, but the "cropped" outter area is "fitted".  Lastly, I took some dark blue embroidery thread and used an uneven blanket stitch around the collar edges and the sleeve edges.  Frances may have illustrated this in black, but its hard to tell, and blue looked nice on the avocado green linen.

New Shoes and Socks
I guess I was never really happy with the shoes that were made for her.  While nicely executed, the straps were too short around her ankles and the leather was too thin.  So I remade her a pair out of fine black lambskin.  There's an ebay seller called Fashion Leathers that always has fine Italian leather in 1/2 square yards and full square yards.  These pieces are skins and not exact squares, but you get enough to make several pairs of small shoes or purses from them.  My leather stash is growing.  I felt these were very successful shoes, and I added little stacked heels to them.  I'm getting better and better at shoes and this is encouraging.  The fear of shoe making was likened to cutting out patterns on very expensive fabric.  Blow it and you've lost money in the materials!  Quality leather is not cheap.

Katy even got a new pair of blue and white striped socks!

I'm really pleased with the way Pattern No. 4240 came out.  I needed this boost after the trials I experienced with the Celtic Princess costume.  Encouraged, I'm now working on the first of two Easter postcard outfits for Daisy.  I also have a new wood and paper image doll house kit on the way from Jean Nordquist, and am chompin' at the bit to get started on it.  Jean has a new furniture set of 50 pieces reproduced from McLoughlin antiques - and in three sizes!  So I'll be making Katy her own little doll house (as well) to play with.  This one is a 1/4 scale folding house, and the tiniest furniture will be clipped out and assembled for this.  These kits give me a break and a chance to brush up on my miniature work skills.  I'm so glad her husband, Ken, loves to work with wood since I've rather hung up that side of my craft.  At least for the time being!

Miss E. Mouse

Katy Curls' Russian Smock Dress and Play Apron

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Celtic Princess and Murphy's Law

Celtic Princess
Was Murphy Irish?  Well the question sits out there unanswered even though I have had the great or grievous honor of sleeping in bed with Murphy for the last two weeks.  Murphy's Law as it turns out had nothing to do with a man named Murphy, and was directly related to scientific experimentation.  Now is this any way to greet the evening of St. Patrick's Day?  Well, no.  Happy St. Patrick's Day.  And, thank goodness I had the luck of the Irish with me today!

Irish Celtic Harp
For the last two weeks I've been beside myself trying to finish Daisy's Celtic Princess in time for March 17th.  It mainly concerned having the proper gold fabric to create the collar and cap.  I have a not so funny story to tell.  At first I tried creating these by purchasing gold brocade.  I tried two different weaves.  First of all, while they looked stunning in the photos, the paisley designs were too large.  And, when I attempted to work with them, it was apparent that satin brocade, which was actually upholstery fabric, would not work.  So I went back to my online search and tried two more types.  Lo and behold, the exact two upholstery fabrics appeared in the mailbox from different sellers! 

Vintage Postcard Illustration
So what I tried next was searching for a gold silk blouse with a floral pattern.  I believe it would be called silk jacquard.  I found the blouse!  The auction on Ebay was seven days long.  I begged the seller to reduce the days or offer it as a BIN.  She refused saying, "I think I'll let it play out."  What was I to do?  I felt incredibly defeated and frustrated, so I picked up a good book and read all week while the "auction played out".  Then I won it.  For a silly $14!  I was ecstatic.  Hoorah.  Now, to get it!  The next day a note came up with tracking.  I wrote to the seller and asked her if she'd shipped it Thursday or just that morning.  Ten hours later she wrote about a "family emergency" and had not shipped it out.  I took a deep breath and kindly asked her to get the blouse in the mail on Saturday.  sigh  Well it showed up today around 2pm. 

Daisy's Celtic Princess
I immediately began to work on the cap and collar.  I'd already made them several times so I had the pattern down, and the new buckram pieces were ready.  So just an hour ago, I finished Daisy's Celtic Princess gown.  The hour is late and St. Patrick's Day wans.

Daisy's lovely, third and last St. Patrick's Day gown was made from a gorgeously soft sateen.  The shamrocks were snipped out by hand as iron on appliques. The gown gathers at the empire waist by a hidden (underside) casing with silk ribbon running through it.  A double-sided, hand-tied silk ribbon belts around the casing gathers.  A gold satin ribbon rounds the border of the hemline.  Little pink slippers with gold buckles and silk bows were placed on her feet.  A "whimple" of Swiss lace lays on her head under the cap, or crown, of gold jacquard.  The collar is a separate piece of the same jacquard. 

I'd fully intended silk ribbon rosettes for the cap, but due to time, pink millinery roses were added.  I'll add the silk ribbons later.  There have been times when my costuming has rivaled the illustration, but in this case, I vote for the illustration.  Its a lovely costume, and no amount of time and expense was spared, but this one challenged me to the point of frustration.  If I'd worked on it another week, it would not have been any better than it turned out.  Am I hard on myself?  You bet!  I'm an artist first, a costumer of dolls second.

While creating this costume, and the two others, I discovered that my dearest friend, Betsy, was taking her son to Ireland for a holiday before he entered his second term of med school.  After looking around a bit for a little Celtic Harp on my own, I asked her if she would have a look while touring Ireland.  When she came home she had quite the surprise for me. 

Sentimental Shamrocks
The story goes that she searched every shop and counter top for Celtic Harp ornaments and all they offered were dark, stone molded pieces.  It was on her last day in Ireland, in a tiny seaside town, that the clerk in a gift shop happened to find two dusty old boxes of old store stock hidden away on the shelf.  She uncovered two hand-carved, gorgeously detailed Celtic Harps.  Of course she bought both, and wrote to me upon her return that she hoped this harp would be suitable.   I just about fainted when I opened the box Betsy had sent to me!  Let us count our many blessings for the friends we have.  Its one of greatest gifts I've ever received.

We both discussed perhaps painting the harps gold, but I would almost feel as if I were desecrating the piece since it is so precious and true.  I'll think about it.  If you look closely (just click on the photo) you'll see that shamrocks were carved into is as well.

Ah!  The lovely little green shamrock!  The term "Shamrock" derives from the Irish word "seamrog", which translates to "little clover".  Theory holds that the druids, or Celtic priests, looked at the shamrock as a sacred plant that was potent against malevolent spirits because its leaves formed a triad, three being the mystical number in the Celtic religion.  (See my last blog for the history of St. Patrick and the shamrock.)

On the luckier side, the four-leaf clover has a long history as a lucky charm, as its petals are often said to represent faith, hope, love and luck.  The fourth leaf is a product of genetic mutation and thought to occur in one of every 10,000 clovers.

They dance on clovers!
When I was a little girl, I used to play in my mother's hope chest, and one of the items I treasured most was this small box that held little jewelry bits.  When she died, this little box of treasures came to live with me.  I suppose she tied the little charms, the anchor, the four-leaf clover and heart onto silk ribbons for luck during the war years.

As I was creating the three costumes (and now I know its was meant to be!), I was also musing over clovers and shamrocks, and went looking for the four-leaf clover I found as a child after being inspired by my mother's charms and her stories of lucky clovers.  I still remember those summer days spent in the side yard of the house, crouched in the sun, going through all the clovers growing there.  I was so happy when I found a real four-leaf clover, so I tucked it between Kleenex tissue and the top of a plastic box lid.  And all these years later, it is still there, preserved.

It is hard to describe the feeling of defeat when all that you try and all that you spend towards that project concludes just hours under a self-imposed deadline. Writing is my salve.  This is why I journal on the creative process.  It wraps up a project and allows me to breathe again.  I have to say that upon unearthing and rediscovering the magic of these trinkets of the past, our luck is what we make it.  Find your luck by believing.

Miss E. Mouse
Still south I went and west and south again,
Through Wicklow from the morning till the night,
And far from the cities, and the sites of men,
Lived with the sunshine and the moon's delight.
I knew the stars, the flowers, and the birds,
The grey and wintry sides of many glens,
And did but half remember human words,
In converse with the mountains, moors and ferns.
J.M. Synge

I am Ireland
I am Ireland:
I am older that the Old Woman of Beare.
Great my glory:
I that bore Cuchalainn the valiant.
Great my shame:
My own children that sold their mother.
I am Ireland:
I am lonelier than the Old Woman of Beare.
P.H. Pearse

The Celtic Princess

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Daughters of Lir

Lettie's Shamrock Gown
One of the most enchanting Irish folk tales is that of The Children of Lir.  It tells the tale of King Lir's great love for his four beautiful children and a jealous wife who turns them into swans.  The good children find sanctuary and help among the creatures of nature and eventually are restored to human form to once again be held and treasured by their grieving father.  The tale has touched illustrators such as Gennady Spirin, who illustrated the story for Sheila Mac-Gill-Callahan in 1993.  It also inspired the angelic Connie Dover to write and perform a song called The Daughter of Lir.   And, as I begin to journal on the "wearing of the green", I am wistfully reminded of the beauty of Irish lore.

Daisy's Wearing of the Green
In the early years of the 4th century, a young British boy, whose father was a deacon, was captured by Irish raiders and enslaved off the west coast of Ireland.  Upon receiving a message from God, he escaped back to Britain, and returned years later as a Bishop, bringing Christianity to Ireland.  Irish folklore tells of one of his teachings using the shamrock to describe the Holy Trinity.  The "wearing of the green" in simplicity, refers to wearing a shamrock pinned to your garment, although our Victorian illustrators took this to another level!

Vintage Postcard Inspiration
St. Patrick's Day celebrates the triumph of Patrick's success in bringing Christianity to Ireland, however, it cannot be denied that the modern celebration of "all things Irish' is without question a joy to behold, especially when we so long for the greening of spring after a long winter.  In 1903, St. Patrick's Day became on official holiday in Ireland.  It is little wonder that the illustrators created so many beautiful postcards around this time!  In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I created two postcard outfits, so Lettie gets to wear one, too.
Vintage Postcard Inspiration
Lettie's outfit is a green velveteen bodice with its neckline edged in Swiss lace.  The same lace edges the white pima batiste sleeves, and a drape of vintage shamrock fabric cascades to pretty lime green dancing slippers.

Daisy's costume is of emerald silk.  The corset bodice has straps that tie into pretty bows at the back of her shoulders.  A long green skirt flows down to the forest green, ankle-tie dance slippers.  She wears a guimpe with beautifully puffed sleeves beneath it all.  On her head, she wears an emerald bonnet of the same silk, and carries a tiny of pot of shamrocks.

Stepping Out
I have a sincere stack of green fabrics that were acquired to create just these two outfits.  One of these days, the guessing will get easier, but when a fabric arrives, I know immediately whether or not it will work, and many pieces go into the stack.  I was dubious on the creating of Lettie's, and each time I made a fitting, I kept thinking that this would have been better suited to Polly.  Yet, one of these was to build upon Daisy's postcard outfit collection.  While waiting for the right green silk to show up, I moved forward to create this shamrock gown, and dressed Lettie in it.  Now that it is completed, I'm far more satisfied and glad to have her dressed in it.  I also have a smaller stack of green leathers that didn't make the cut!  And, so the tale is told.

Four little green buttons close the back.
Unsure of how best to make Lettie's outfit, I began by making a blouse that would go under a "jumper" of green velveteen and the shamrock fabric.  But, this didn't emulate the illustration as I wished it to, so this outfit is all one piece.  I remade it with white sleeves sewn directly into the lined bodice, and the empire skirting is attached to the bodice.  The shoes are not your traditional colonial style, and this may be due to hours of my staring at the illustration trying to get them just right.  Who knows?  Maybe I've designed a new wave of colonial buckle shoes!  Or did the illustrator?!

New Wave Colonials
The trials with Daisy's beautiful gown came in a different form.  I knew from my Mary Frances experiments, that the girl was wearing a guimpe beneath her corset, and I tried to make one as one would for a Mary Frances doll.  Nope.  Didn't work.  So I cut the sleeve away, enlarged it, gathered it, and reattached it to the guimpe blousing.  The skirt was easy.  Not much to report there!  The corset, however, took a lot of thought and designing to get it right.  And, yes, I wanted to cheat.  I noticed the bow on the back of the shoulder, and thought...hmmm...maybe you just add a bow to the straps!  Hah!  But, no, that wasn't what was intented.  I studied the illustration some more and realized the straps tied into bows.  So I bought silk ribbon.  First of all, the ribbon was not an equal match to the silk of gown, and it looked like ribbon, not straps.  So out came the ribbon, and back the machine I went to make thin straps I had to turn inside out.  Tied past the shoulder, they worked.  Teeny tiny green buttons were sewn in rows down the front edges of the bodice and hooks and thread loops close it in front. 

Daisy Stepping Out
The mob cap for Lettie's outfit is a plate hat, meaning the pattern is the edge circumference of a dessert plate.  The green silk ribbon that didn't make the straps, became the ribbon around the mob cap.   Daisy's bonnet is my own design in two pieces.  The base is buckram, and is covered in the dress silk.  Like her straps, I made the ribbon to fashion on her bonnet.  It is a double bow sewn to the upper-side of the edge where the bonnet back and crown meet.

Her shoes were fun to make.  This was a new design as there's a long narrow tab at the back of the ankle where the leather lace slips through.  Of course I tried to use that green ribbon for the ties, but they were too wide.  So I cut narrow strips of leather for the ties.  The ties are longer than in the illustration for ease of tying.  Another conquest in redesigning the colonial/Irish dance shoe.  I couldn't quite figure out the highlights on the flap, so I made a little bow for sweetness's sake.  A further feminine touch.

Dance Slippers
The shamrock pot was fun to make.  Here we use an inspired artistic license of Victorian "bling".  Just try to find miniature paper shamrocks!  Impossible.  I was already cutting out silk applique shamrocks (more on that in a minute), and there was no way I was going to cut out forty-some-odd 1/4" shamrocks from paper.  So I purchased a garland, and cut off the shiny "metallic" shamrocks, affixed them to floral wires, and stuck them in floral moss in the tiny clay pot.

Shoulder Ties and Bonnet
And, for "the minute".  I am working on a third outfit was I write this.  Forty-eight 3/4" four-leaf clover appliques have been cut for this last outfit.  I'm having an "experience" with fabric again, but I do believe this will come together by March 17th!

California's drought situation has seen some lovely, if minor, relief the last couple weeks, and we've been getting some wonderful, and much appreciated rain.  Everything is greening up so nicely.   Its been a joy sewing in this verdant hue, but now I am working on something quite special.  In steps.  With lots of thought, naturally, behind each design.

Enjoy some of my favorite postcards, and the detailed photos of these two St. Patrick's Day Postcard costumes.  March is the month of green.  March hails the promise of spring.  March is a time for baby lambs to be born.

A Tiny Pot of Bling
And, now I'll get back to work on a very special outfit.

I might add that I was privileged to attend a rare concert in the town of Folsom in late February.  One of my favorite Irish bands came to town for a sold out show.  Clannad!  What a perfect way to begin the month of March, and inspire me to make not one, not two, but three St. Patrick's Day outfits!

Miss E. Mouse

This was one idea.

So sweet!

My umbrella!

Almost made this one.

Love the Celtic Harp!


Similar Gown, Same Illustrator

Need to do research on these pipes!

Daisy's Wearing of the Green