Friday, June 13, 2014

Born By the Silver Sea

Sterling and Amethyst

The sailor suit was the first popular children's fashion trend.  The impulse that set the ball in motion was Queen Victoria's decision to dress the four-year-old Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, in a scaled down version of one worn by the British Royal Navy.  The young prince wore the sailor suit on the royal family's visit to the Channel Islands in 1846.  This was also when his portrait was painted.  The painting, as well as a series of engravings, helped to popularize the sailor suit among the British public.
This little sailor suit was designed after one worn by the regular sailors instead of the officers.  In the 19th century, England was the most powerful colonial "power", and the Royal navy, the biggest in the world.  The sailor suit helped to strip away the class distinctions that were a prominent aspect of British culture.

British boys began wearing the sailor suits in the 1860s, but the fashion trend really took root in the 1870s when advertisers began marketing it.  By the 1880s, the sailor suit was a popular fashion trend for girls as well as boys.  These versatile suits were ideal for a variety of social situations, from formal to informal, making them all the more popular.
As you may well have deduced, I'm a collector of Wendy Lawton's dolls.  The last Masterpiece Edition she designed was called Born With a Silver Spoon, in 2008.  This collection was comprised of two little 9" wood body and porcelain dolls, a boy and girl, Sterling and Amethyst.  They were created to be privileged little children who would have everything imaginable a wealthy child could want. 
The collection came with an extra outfit for each and an array of accessories (by Catspawonline), all tucked away in a beautiful Bombay Company chest.  The dolls would reside in the glass doored sections.  As lovely as this collection was, it needed a little bit more!  And, this is what I intend to make happen.

Born With a Silver Spoon
While I've made several outfits for the 9" girl dolls, I was hesitant to begin my journey with silk taffetas and quality dupioni.  I sometimes think it was a cruel joke someone played on us, giving us silk to sew with!  How it ravels!  And, yet, the costuming is simply gorgeous made up from these fabrics.  So I decided while I was at it, to master piping as well.  That meant making the piping and figuring out how to best sew it in.  Until sewing with dupioni becomes second nature to me, I'll be sewing with nothing but.  (Well...I do have something I need to make not in it, but will come back to it right away.)  I think the key to sewing with this fabric is less handling.  Take your time, try to stitch just once, and make the seams a little larger.

1892 illustration., La Mode Illustree
For Sterling and Amethyst's seaside sailor suits, I attempted to combined everything I'd just tried (on three little cotton dresses), and add two styles of hats, a girl's and boy's (as well as using silk and piping).  That's the way I do things.  I jump right into the tough stuff.  Then when it comes time to make another, most of the trials will have been met.

I used a French blue dupioni for the sailor suits as well as a pinstriped silk taffeta for the inset bodice on Amethyst's dress, and the piping - on the bias of course.  I only had a silk fat quarter to work with (18" x 27"), and this was all but used up.  Just laying out the pieces took time so as to conserve in case I'd made a mistake.  Its not that I couldn't order more, which I have, but I would have had to wait for the purchase to arrive.  It is also not only a challenge to do this, but wise for future outfits where less fabric may be available.
Both little boys and girls wore "dresses".
When I think back on the process of creating these outfits, I'd have to say that the hats were the most difficult.  I have lots of similar outfits and hats made by the Lawton seamstresses, Betty and Mary, but these sisters have devised a way of making them with sergers - and they've also been doing this for eons.  The hole for the head is so small, that just getting a sewing machine foot inside, with all the pins, is daunting.  So I finished the bands as I would the hats I've make in the past, and this is by hand.
One of the reasons I was driven to make this set was that Sterling's original gold outfit was designed for a smaller wood body, yet Wendy used the best mahogany bodies for both dolls.  Poor Sterling's outfit did not button in the back, and he had a perpetual wedgie.
I set out to make these quite sometime ago and had Sterling's outfit pattern already designed.  Amethyst's dress was created from the patterns I'd just made from the summer cotton dresses.  Today, I have a full set of patterns that I can use for both children, and intend on making them many more matching sets.  I also now feel I can really play with these dolls!
Blue seems to be a theme with me this summer.  Its not been intentional, but blues and greens cool our senses on the hot summer days, and make us dream of seasides and gathering shells.
Michelle Mahler of Doll Artist's Workshop (online), provides exceptionally lovely little metallic buttons.  I feel they're the perfect scale, at 4mm, for decorative buttons.  I also used the gold ones for closures and they worked well here, too.

Another inspiration is the Dover Publications journal Children's Fashions 1860-1912, 1.065 Costume Designs from "La Mode Illustree".  I've had this volume since it came out in 1994.  When I bought the book, I was simply enjoying the artwork and had no idea I'd one day be using it for my own costuming designs!  Its fabulous. 
So while Sterling and Amethyst head for the parks and seaside to fly kites and sail folded paper boats, I'll be thinking up their next outfit sets, in silk!, for other occasions.
Miss E. Mouse

 Seaside Dreams

Born By the Silver Sea


  1. Miss Mouse,
    Such beautiful outfits for these darling 9" Lawton doll, favorites of mine. You did such a beautiful job on these outfits, I just adore these sailor suits! How interesting the information on the history of where this style originated, thank you for sharing it. You're right...the blue is a refreshing and cool color, I can't think of anything more calming and relaxing then walking along the beach!

  2. Exquisite costuming. I love dupioni and how it handles. Try the 50/50 Elmer's white glue and water on the edges. Works like a charm, even on silk and does not get as stiff as commercial products.

    1. Hi Nancy, and thank you! Yes, I've used this edging technique on miniature doll clothing for years. Somehow I just can't bring myself to do it on clothing like this, but have added a scant edge of fusible light pellon if necessary.