Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Snegurochka: A Russian Fairytale for New Years

Sit down, get comfortable, and let me tell you a story.  Once upon a time...

"A long time ago in the forests of Russia there lived a peasant by the name of Ivan with his wife, Maria. Although they loved each other very much and had many friends, they were unhappy because they had no children.
They built a child made a snow.

One winter day, they watched the village children build a snowman. "Let's build a snowman, too!," said Ivan. And they proceeded to craft a pretty little maiden out of snow. Struck with their creation, Ivan said, "Little snowmaiden, speak to me." Maria exclaimed, "Yes, come to life so you can romp and play like the other children!" Before their very eyes, Snegurochka became a real girl. "I have come from the land of winter, ice and snow," said the little girl. She ran and hugged them. There was joyous singing, dancing and celebrating in the village that night. All that long Russian winter Snegurochka romped and played with the other children. Everyone loved her. She, Ivan and Maria were very happy.

Then one day, when the first signs of spring appeared, Snegurochka came to Ivan and Maria, and with tear-filled eyes told them that she must go away, up North to the land of snow. They begged her to stay. Upset, Ivan jumped up and shut the door to the hut so the snowmaiden couldn't leave, and Maria hugged her tight. But as she held the little girl, the child melted away. Ivan and Maria wept bitterly.
Sveta as Snegurochka

All spring and summer they were lonely. Summer turned into fall and fall into winter and once again it was cold and icy outside. One night a familiar voice was heard. "Mother! Father! Open the door! The snow has brought me back once more!" Ivan threw open the door and Snegurochka ran into their arms. All that winter she lived with them and played with the other village children. But in the spring she had to go back North, whence she had come. This time Ivan and Maria did not weep, knowing she would return once more when winter appeared on the land. And so it was that the snowmaiden brought warmth and joy to Ivan and Maria during the long, cold, Russian winter for many, many, many years."

With a little bird friend.
This was the very first tale of the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka), that I read.  I was instantly smitten with the tale and longed to learn more about fairytale, and especially find a copy of the book.  I'd recently made friends with Svetlana Isaulova from "way up north".  She'd purchased a couple of Wendy Lawton dolls from me, from dolls I was selling from an estate.  By the time she'd purchased a third doll, we wanted to get to know each other better, and decided to write to one another outside of Ebay.  The first time I wrote to her, I directed her to my website and blog since she was interested in my work.  In her letter back to me, she told me she knew me!  She'd been following my blog for several months.  She told me she was a seamstress, too, and was making a Snow Maiden costume for her doll Henriette.  Snow Maiden?  I had to look her up.  This is when I read the story and begged for more.

Beneath it all.
She told me that there were several versions of the Snow Maiden tale, and one of them was quite different than the child that melts in spring to return in winter.  The other is more of an adult tale of the granddaughter of Grandfather Frost and the Spring Goddess.  The beautiful young woman who came from snow was sought after by many a suitor for her beauty.  But, she could never love them back as her heart was made of snow.  One day she meets a man and falls in love, but when her heart "warms up", she melts away. 

There is also the story of the ancient Slavic pagan goddess Mara.  She is the goddess of Winter and Death, and most likely the predecessor of Snegurochka.  What tales were lost in Christianity, remain alive in the Russian fairytales.  Mara has many other names and can also be known as Marais, the Goddess of Frozen Rivers.

From behind.
I began researching images of Snow Maiden, and found beautiful Russian dolls of her, illustrations from books and greeting cards, paper dolls, lacquer boxes and commemorative plates.  Her image was even on a glasses case!  I knew I had to make my own little Snegurochka.  And so, together, Svetlana and I began to celebrate the New Year through Snow Maiden.  I'd recently acquired another 9" Lawton doll to reincarnate, and Simply Sarah became Sveta, my little Russian child.  Sveta means "light" and this seemed a perfect name for the doll I would dress as Snow Maiden.  While many versions of the winter costume are done in blue with white fur, I'd found this tri-image picture of an extraordinary doll with beads, laces and pearls, all in white, and wanted to make a less embellished outfit, but with similar elegance.  Sveta is only 9".

She learned to spin, sew and knit.
I designed the outfit from images of dressed dolls I had seen, and came up with a white silk gown trimmed in pearls and silver, with a shorter coat and Russian hat.  Sveta received new blue eyes and a golden blonde wig that I braided for her.  She holds a little bird in her hand like the adult Snegurochka would, as she was friends to all the wildlife in the woods.  This is why you see images of her with woodland creatures.

Sveta in the Summer Dress (Sarafan)
But, Sveta's costume did not reflect the Snow Maiden of the precious book in Cyrillic that Svetlana sent to me.  So I made one more costume for her to depict the child in spring.  I made the "summer dress" (Sarafan) as they are referred to in Russian, from a gold and aqua silk, and trimmed it with gold jacquard ribbon (that I made from gold floral spray - same technique I used for Daisy's last year New Year's costume).  A violet ribbon crowns her golden hair.  Although you cannot see, she is wearing mini valenki on her feet.  A gift from Auntie Svetalana.   Valenki are a Russian wool bootie.  Some are simply stunning in design.  I had to look these up, too.

I've had a love affair with all things Russian as a long as I can remember.  I've been learning so very much about Russian culture since becoming friends with Svetlana.  One of the interesting things I've learned about are their Christmas traditions.  For one thing, they do not celebrate Christmas as we know it.  During the October Revolution, Christmas was banned from Russia due its religious content.  It was then that they began to celebrate New Years as we would Christmas.  Around the 1930's, Snegurochka became a part of the seasonal characters along with the existing Grandfather Frost.  She is seen in parades with Grandfather Frost, children get Snow Maiden dolls for the holiday, and adult costumes can be purchased for parties.  She is loved, honored and treasured as much as our own Santa Claus. 

From Behind.
On the 30th or 31rst of December, the Elka, or "Christmas tree" goes up and is decorated.  Gifts are given the same as on our Christmas morning.  But, their New Year celebration begins in mid December.  Children in schools and in day care centers have performances, plays and concerts.  They call them "morning performances" or "fir tree".  Everywhere you go there is Grandfather Frost, Snegurochka and the Elka.

Catching the snow flakes.
So while the little ones in Russia are celebrating the days to New Year, Svetlana and I were sewing Snow Maiden costumes for our dolls.  She chose to dress her 16" Lawton Henriette as the pagan goddess Mara, or Marais, I wrote of earlier.  Because of this, she added "waves of silver" to the costume to represent the frozen river.  Amazing.  The work she did on the trim by wrapping each loop with silver threads or ribbon is awesome.  I've a detailed photo of it below.  She also made by hand, with wire and beads the beautiful crown the doll wears.

Its interesting to me to see how folk costumes are made in a different country.  The Russian soul, the depth of it, and the opulence of art and architecture exist throughout their poetry, their paintings, their fairytale books (Genedy Spirin of note), the ballet...and it simply goes on.  This enchantment seems to be run in their veins, passed down through generations.  As modern a country as Russia may be, the beauty and lore of old is held high and exists with the new side by side.  And, through the beautiful story of Snegurochka, a friendship was wrought.

Svetlana's Marais
Svetlana told me today that she has "Snow Maiden Mania", and I must confess the same.  Sveta will receive new outfits in the future, Ukranian or Russian in style, and Svetlana will guide me with their design.  I do strive for authenticity.

So in this second blog posting for New Year (do read the one prior to this as it was just written today), we celebrate the Russian New Year (Christmas) in Snow Maiden fashion.  If you've never picked up a book on Russian fairytales, you must!  They are fabulous.

Please enjoy the selected photos I posted from the near 150 I saved off for this celebration post.  And, Happy New Year!

Miss E. Mouse

Intricate work.

From Behind.

A pagan goddess with veil.

Mini Valenki

Russian jacquard from Svetlana's collection.

The ornament she gave me.

The ornament she kept.

Snegurochka and Granfather Frost

A friend of wooland creatures.

The stunning doll that inspired me.

In red like her ornament.

In paper doll form.

Lacquer Box

Fabulous illustration!

Commemorative Plate

A gentle maiden from a storybook.

The Russian Ballet

Sveta wishes you a  Happy New Year

Daisy Heralds In the New Year!

Daisy's New Years Herald
Wow.  What a year this has been!  Now I'm not going to say that every single month was all hunky-dory, but coming to the end of it, I can confidently say that this year was an extraordinarily creative one.  This fall, in particular, from September through to today, proved to be as pleasant in my personal life as it was satisfying in my artistic one.  So many good things to look back on. 

In particular, I'd like to say that the friendships I made gave me so much joy, inspiration, and a wonderful outlook for the future.  The friendships I had became stronger, and when I feel loved and appreciated, my creative world is a much nicer, safer place for me. 

The Inspiration
In thinking back on all I created this year, Alice Liddell's wardrobe (to be continued), was probably my greatest achievement considering that I was throwing myself into the French Fashion world - my way, of course.  Completing the wardrobe and accessories for Katy Curls is right up there.  These were extraordinarily difficult, and detailed costumes as well.  And, let's not forget A Day At the Beach for Josephine, Gibson Girl.  This was the first petite lady doll costume I created.  And, I began reincarnating Wendy Lawton dolls.  There was, of course, Alice Liddell, Alice Illustrated, and Delight - The Delight of Fairy Tales.  Funny, but a lot of people just didn't "get" her.  They called her Red Riding Hood, instead of understanding that she's a little girl enjoying dressing up in fairy tale costumes.  Perhaps when I create a couple more for her, it will hit.

Full Length
It was wonderful to be able to take out my brushes and paints again and create the story book toy chest for Betsy.  I don't paint very often anymore.  And, believe it or not, its not like riding a bicycle.  Painting is something you have to work at, recalling techniques, have incredible patience with, if you don't do it all the time.  So this experience was very satisfying, too. 

Underneath It All
Like some, I truly do not wish there were more hours in the day.  They will come and go as hours do.  Its what you do with them, and how you feel about them that are important.  Were a day 27 hours, before long you'd wish it was thirty.  And then, when would you sleep?  I've found that on the busiest of days, if I just work on one specific piece of a costume to its completion, the outfit will get made, and in less time than I feared.  The hat one day, the jacket then next.  Fur trim on this piece one day, the closures the next.  And, speaking of fur trim, I couldn't think of any better way for Daisy to bring in the New Year than to create "the other" costume I intended to make for her last December.

The Back With Buttons
Daisy's New Year's Herald was inspired by this gorgeous antique postcard of a Gibson Girl sounding her little silver party horn over the wind swept snow banks.  The tossing about of autumn's last fallen leaves, and the crescent moon aloft in the chilly winter night.  And, snow shoes!  Believe it or not, there are snow shoes beneath that white gown.  I'd saved them all the way through the year (they are just like Polly's - see February), and she does have them on her feet.  The pink velveteen was the same used in Mignonette's skating costume and the dress was of the same velvet used for Lettie Lane's Skating Costume.  Miles of faux beaver fur trim. 

Instead of lining the dress in batiste as I normally do so as not to add weight to the piece, I lined it in the same silk dupioni as the attached chemise giving it some body.  I love the way a skirt will drape sewing in this fashion (attached chemise).  And, the ease of dressing the doll since you always must be mindful of the doll stand and the clamp that goes around their waist.

Jean's Special Gift
The hat was fun to make and its topped with a braided strand tailing a pom-pom in a sweet baby pink wool yarn.  The jacket, as all jackets are, was probably the most difficult piece to design.  Since the postcard outfit is viewed from the back, it was important to get this just right.  You also have the chiffon scarf that billows out in the wind behind the woman in the postcard, but obscuring the details of the jacket.  I could have made long, flaring jacket pieces to put together, but they would not have looked right under the arms.  So I chose to attach a peplum with several pleats to support the four covered buttons in the back. 

A Memory Of January 2014
The scarf!  Well, another brilliant light bulb idea.  How was I to make a chiffon scarf billow out "in the wind"?  I used sheer white wired ribbon for this effect.  It tickles me just to relay this to you.  The horn was made from silver scrapbooking paper and red silk ribbon.  I almost feel like Martha Stewart here (wink wink).  This outfit was made very quickly, and almost in a panic since this is but one of the two New Years postings I'll write.  Daisy shall be heralding in the New Year in her cozy-velvet-winter-snow-shoe outfit.  Listen for her little horn on New Year's Eve.

But, let's get back to friendships for a moment.  I just had to share one of the dearest gifts I've ever received.  Jean made me a sewing machine album to commemorate the costuming I did over this past year.  The time and work involved to create this for me, was equal to the talent my dear friend has.  She'd told me about her die cut sewing machine to create an album with, and asked me if I thought I'd enjoy having one.  Not a scrapbooking person myself, I had no idea what was in the works.  I just about fell over when I opened her gift that was so wonderfully wrapped, too.  There is nothing Jean Nordquist cannot do and exceptionally well.  There is even a little lined spool on the opposite page for me to make notations on of what materials I used for the project.  And, a chatelaine ring holds the pages together!  She does sell these kits, and its a perfect way to preserve your sewing accomplishments.  Maybe if I'm good girl this year, she'll make me another next!  .  Its just awesome.  So is she.

As New Year's Eve comes about this year, I'm planning on what I will do in 2015.  One of the projects will be taking another Lawton doll and creating a Godey's Girl from her.  I've been pouring over those pages for far too long not to do some real French Fashion costuming from them.  And, Candy Anderson is making Katy Curls' friend, Jolly Jane, for me, so there well be another Frances Tipton Hunter girl to sew for.

All in all, I'm inspired and on a roll I hope will never end.  However, this winter will see me tucked in and reading the second book from the Outlander series.  I never thought I was a "romance novel" reader until Diana Gabaldon's book fell into my lap.  What a fabulous swashbuckling read!  Happy New Year!

Miss E. Mouse

Another Snow Shoe Postcard


A Postcard For Daisy

Snow Shoes and Horn

A Second Postcard for Daisy

Under the New Year's Crescent Moon

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sugar Plum On Ice

Mignonette's Sugar Plum On Ice
Its no secret that I love snow.  Cross-country skiing is one of my favorite things to do in winter (snowshoeing, too).  But, skating has always been a part of my life, my dreams.  When I was little, I used to roller skate in winter, and pretend I was ice skating.  As a young woman, I took to the ice by way of an indoor rink, and learned Freestyle Skating.  The feeling of flying with the cold air awakening your senses!  I was so lucky to have lived and visited in the eastern part of our country and Canada, just to feel real ice under skate.  Bumpy?  Yes.  But, real.

A happy, leisurely pastime.
Skating has been around for centuries, even going back to prehistoric times.  The Dutch used skates of wooden platforms with bone runners.  Around 1500, they added the narrow metal blade we would recognize as the skate today.  Skates made entirely from iron were introduced in the 1700s.  Skates were mostly a form of winter transportation until modern times when it came to be enjoyed as a leisurely pastime. 

Fur collar and Rows of Buttons
An American inventor, in 1848, supplied steel clamps which fastened the skate more securely to the shoe, and in the 1860's and early 1870's, famous skater Jackson Haines, made a double steel blade attached permanently to the boot (as well as inventing toe picks for the jumps and spins).  And, this is the era that our precious Mignonette, by Wendy Lawton, takes to the ice.

Peak at the chemise and Detail of Collar.
Back in December of last year, I found a gorgeous New Years postcard of a lady on snowshoes, in a pink and white costume, trimmed in fur, that I put in the hopper for the end of this year's New Years outfit, for Daisy.  Remember Daisy's postcard costumes?  I'd chosen an aqua blue silk affair with a party crown instead.  However, when it came down to days, I'd been really wanting to make Mignonette a pink velveteen coat.  A few days ago I ran across an extra pair of ice skates (in my stash) from the Lawton Emporium, and that did it!  Made up my mind with exactly what to make her. Since Mignonette's antique reproduction trunk wardrobe is all in pink, it would be fun to add a pink velveteen skating costume to it.

The Back
I once again used the basic design style of chemise attached to skirt as an under dress. Using a very soft and petal pink cotton batiste, I fashioned the lined chemise, and lined the entire outfit, skirt and coat, with the same.  You'll recognize the shape of the skirt as that of Alice Liddell and Lettie Lane's winter costuming.  Its just a mini version.  The cotton velveteen I used is the softest, thinnest fabric of this kind, I've used to date.  Its gorgeous, and so easy to work with when turning lined pieces inside out.  I edged the coat and skirt with faux beaver.  This was a longer fur, so the width would have to be thinner to allow the fluff of fur, and not overwhelm the costume.  This, again, is all hand-sewn on.  Two rows of gold buttons march down the front of the jacket that is closed by hooks and tiny thread loops.

I then made a collar of the faux beaver and lined it with the double-faced silk ribbon that ties the bonnet on.  This way, Mignonette can wear this coat without a collar, showing more buttons. 

Bonnet and Muff
The bonnet is lined in a darker cotton sateen.  I edged the face of the bonnet with the faux beaver and sewed a pretty bow atop.  I often look to Godey's for ideas, and this is where I found the design for the bonnet.  It does appear that girls would also wear brimmed hats when playing outdoors in winter, but I'd made this bonnet pattern earlier and somehow, it just seemed right.  Lastly I added a muff with a pretty pink bow, to keep her tiny hands warm when Mignonette wasn't steadying herself on the ice.

The Bonnet Lining
This costume is a basic lined coat and underdress, but it becomes a Sugar Plum, when all the details are added.  Pretty in pink, Mignonette catches the eye of everyone she merrily skates by!

Today, I'm going to start that New Year's costume that got passed by last December.  I haven't done anything for Daisy since April so I'm sure she'll be delighted to bring in the New Year on snowshoes.

Miss E. Mouse

Bonnet on child, fourth down from top.  Godey's.

Victorian Child in Pink

Another Godey's Winter Display of Fashion

Short jackets, trimmed in fur.

Pretty, but I'll bet she's cold!

Victorian Christmas Card

Mignonette's Day on the Ice