Sunday, September 14, 2014

Alice Liddell's Golden Autumn Stroll or Its All Greek To Me

Alice Liddell's Golden Auturmn Stroll
There is very little I won't do, or try, when it comes to dressing one of my dolls.  I get a vision, I think it through from start to finish, then begin collecting fabrics and trims.  Sometimes it takes a few months to find just the right pieces, and sometimes they cannot be found at all, then I dash the project.  However, when dressing my 16" Alice Liddell, it becomes an obsession, a passion, to create one of the most beautiful wardrobes I'd ever done.   After Botanical Stroll, I would wait until the end of summer, or beginning of fall, to make her the gold silk gown from the illustrated paper doll pages in The Other Alice.  And, like so many other projects I've started, I had no idea what to expect or what challenges I was in for.

The Paper Doll Costume
I'd purchased this gorgeous high quality, few slubs, silk dupioni a year ago when I shopped at Britex for my birthday.  I found, after much frustration and searching, a wonderful tiny braid trim with "pom-poms" on it.  I also purchased the double-faced silk ribbon in 1/8" and 1/4" from Ribbon Connections (the only place that has these sizes).  And, so I thought I was ready roll.  And, so I began.

One of the things I was excited about was already having a bolero jacket pattern from Alice Liddell's first two outfits.  Yay!  The dress is also the same basic design - bodice with row of buttons, big skirt.  What's to sweat over this one?!  How about paying a little more attention?!

A Full View
There I was, hand sewing the silk ribbon, two bands of it, around the edge of the jacket thinking I was on second base.  I try it on Alice and something's very wrong.  First, I notice that its too small.  Second, I notice that it won't meet in the front, under the collar.  I know immediately that I'm going to have to start all over again, and that meant designing an entirely new jacket.  It is different, very different in several ways.  Its longer, meets in the front, the drape of the curve is wider, and the sleeves are "butterflied".  I did have new sleeves designed, but these other factors simply were not taken into consideration.  So I did it again.

Mr. Richmond's Painting
I was actually glad I'd made the first one since it gave me some practical experience and practice with what I needed to do a second time.  So what happened to the mock up?  I guess I got a little over-confident.  Live and learn.  However, I will note that it was extremely useful to make my "unexpected" mock-up in silk since it will behave a lot differently than muslin.

Happy with the jacket, I began the dress.  The bodice went smoothly.  I used a tiny diamond pattern Italian shirting cotton for the collar and false sleeves.  Exquisitely beautiful stuff.  Two rows of silk ribbon hand sewn on.  A row of tiny black glass buttons.  Then I moved onto the skirt and everything came to a stand still.  My confidence flagged.

Beaded Reticule and Close Up of Motif
How on earth was I going to make that Greek Key pattern out of 1/8" flat, double-sided silk ribbon?  I turned it, I looped it, I tri-folded it on the corners.  I'd fully intended on hand-stitching this border in flat ribbon onto the skirt's border.  I puzzled like the Grinch for a day or two until I came up with a bright-eyed popping idea.  Ask someone.  Ask the experts how to do this.

I so seldom do that, ask for help.  I teach myself how to do things through trial and error.  I am a self taught artist, designer, seamstress, writer, poet...cook! name it.  But, Mr. Richmond and Inga-Karin Eriksson would give me a challenge and a bet to win.   Mr. Richmond being the artist that painted Alice and her sisters' portrait while on holiday.  And, dear Inga-Karin for taking the design off Alice's older sister's skirt and deciding to create a dress for Alice with it. 

Heavily Machine Embroidered Jacquard Ribbon
Let's talk about the Greek key pattern.  The Greek key design has its origins in the construction of the palace, the Labyrinth, in ancient Greek mythology.  The Labyrinth was constructed to act as a prison for the Minotaur, a human with the head of a bull.  Apparently it was quite effective.  Perhaps as effective in alluding the escape of said Minotaur, as in alluding me of constructing it's pattern in ribbon.  Almost.  It is an ancient classical motif that can still be seen today in pottery, jewelry and in architecture.  Take a look around sometime, and you'll see its pleasing design in so many things.

The Back
But, back to the skirt.  I have to admit that I almost didn't try it.  After an old mentor of mine told me I could miter the corners, I just about gave up.  That would require cutting tiny bits of ribbon in slants to make sharp corners, then sewing this all on in pieces.  Some of the pieces were about 1/4" to 1/2".  Think of the fraying!  Obviously she'd never done this before, but who would, when you can buy jacquard ribbon with this design?  Ah, but then you have color, size and texture to consider.

It was then that I considered, if I'm going to cut bits of ribbon up to do this, why not use the Heat n Bond method I used for the Halloween costume silhouettes?  And, this I did.  Thirty-two inches of fabric.  It took me two dedicated days to make this design, but it is as Inga-Karin intended.  Thanks, Mr, Richmond, for the challenge.   I did sew the 1/4" ribbon bands, top and bottom of the design, and all the ribbon on the jacket is hand-sewn on.  So give me break.  Ok?

Alice Celebrates the Wedding of the Prince of Wales
With all that behind me, I still had to attach the skirt, matching up the border design - tricky! - and continue with the rest of the outfit.  Gloves, long stockings, the beaded silk reticule, the hat, and the boots. 

This journal is getting a bit long in the writing, so I'll be brief.  I fashioned her pom-pom hat out of cotton velveteen and buckram.  Her little silk reticule has minimum beading and a bit of the pom-pom trim I used on the jacket.  Instead of making boots with elastic sides, which I just was not up for, I chose to make gaitors out of gray lambskin.  I feel this was an acceptable and pleasant alternative.  Alice's little gloves are simple mitts of gray heather cotton jersey.

Gray Lembskin Gaitors
This was by far, was a most ambitious ensemble to create.  But, its lovely, and I'm pleased.  I'll have to admit that it was a couple of friends who, in the end, encouraged me to go forward with the Greek key design, for when I uttered to them that I couldn't do it, they were aghast and dumbfounded.  I could not have agreed more with their dismay.  The design was the outfit.  With anything, if you're going to do something, do it right.  Persevere no matter what the challenge ahead. 

I will be working on a few thing for other people next, and taking a much needed autumn sojourn at the end of the month.  Yes, we're headed to the red rock canyons of Utah again.  I just love it there.  During the down times and at night, I will be teaching myself silk ribbon embroidery.  I have plenty of ribbon and three books on "how to".  Perhaps I can incorporate some of this delicate embellishment on my doll clothing in the future.

Miss E. Mouse  (Happy birthday to me!  September 18th)

Greek Mythology and the Labyrinth

A Close Up

Golden Autumn Stroll


  1. Having printed on fabric for the first time, my mind is racing to think of what I might be able to doll wise. Of course, I'd be limited to pieces of fabric no longer than 13", but still things like the skirt design might work.

  2. When I construct something, I try to do so as was originally intended. I don't believe there was silk fabric with a printed Greek key border design in 1860. The design would have been made with ribbon or embroidered on with a satin stitch. Great to hear from you Jane!

  3. This ensemble is gorgeous, it's so rich in color and design! You should get a gold medal for the feat of applying all of the silk ribbon into this beautiful design, it is PERFECT! Love everything about this beautiful set! Happy Birthday to my birthday sister!

  4. I have always been in awe of what you make, but now, even more so. WOW! I can just imagine all the tiny bits of ribbon to make the Greek Key design. But, as with all you put your gifted hands to, it is sheer perfection and utterly beautiful.