Saturday, December 12, 2015

Marigold and Polly, A Winter Holiday

"Here we come a-wassailing,  Among the leaves so green;  Here we come a-wand'ring, So fair to be seen!"  And, the Christmas season is upon us.  While many a merry soul is out shopping and decorating for the celebration ahead, I reside studiously in the comfort and warmth of my little hole in the wall, and play with my dolls.  Children with dolls, adults with dolls, dolls with dolls!  What a happy and pleasant pastime to hold close to our hearts this time of year.

It is in this spirit that I selected my last design for 2015.  Marigold Greenaway was patiently awaiting a new costume and would require a coat, at the very least, for the chilly months ahead.  I'd had my eye on this delightful illustration from the poem Mamas and Babies, from Kate's book of verse, Marigold Garden.  I must give credit for the inspiration as well, to Betsy, who loves Kate's work and at one time was expounding on the beauty of the fancy coats and bonnets women and children wore.

I knew I would make this costume for Marigold at some point given my love of coats as well. And, bonnets, of course.  I suppose I always, also, intended to make her the doll, for I love dolls with dolls.  And, so "Marigold and Polly, A Winter Holiday" began.

The attraction to this coat, which seems to be the object that draws the eye in, was the extent of ruffles, which I have not found present in other coats by Kate.  Most have the shoulder cape attached (edged in ruffles at times), but the coats are generally edged in fur.  I had this pretty pine green velveteen on hand, and felt it might be thin enough to handle ruffling.  I chose a heavy yellow cotton sateen for the gown, and aqua blue silk for the bonnet.  Brown leather shoes seemed appropriate for winter, since undoubtedly Marigold might be slushing through snowy streets, and silk slippers would not do.

The dress was pretty easy to put together.  I'd already had a pattern from one of the gowns I'd made her earlier.  The white dress with blue floral print and green sash.  The heavier sateen also seemed to be appropriate as this was a winter garment. 

I edged the square neckline in a white English lace, and closed the back with color matching buttons and thread loops.  Again, this is fully lined, which prevents the garment from showing hand-stitched hemming tacks.

With the under garment created, I began the pattern for the coat to fit over the dress.  So important since the sleeves of the dress must slide nicely into the arms of the coat, and the coat must close around the fullness of the gown.  While I'd been studying the illustration for over a year, when it came to designing the pattern, I was stumped.  For some reason my eye was telling me that the way Kate drew this, the ruffles going down the front should be offset to the side of the coat.  I tried this and failed miserable, since it would be impossible to connect the double tiered, ruffled shoulder cape suitably.  So I tried again (with less fabric to work with!), and this time positioning the ruffles and closure right down the middle. 

No part of making this coat was fun.  This was one of the most difficult garments I've ever made.  The velveteen, thin as it was, still became much thicker when gathered.  I must have over 100 inches of fabric in all the ruffling, including the tinier ruffles at the sleeves' ends.  I lined it in Kauffman's cotton silk, in celadon.  The slippery texture allows the heavy cotton sleeves to glide in easily through the coat's.  And, it has a luxurious look to it.

The double ruffled shoulder cape is lined in this celadon as well.  There is a ruffle at the hem of the cape, as well as one at the neckline.  I closed the coat in a fashion I felt would maintain a clean line when worn.  Two little matching green buttons with loops are sewn to the area closest to the neckline where the cape will close in front.  Then two more buttons are spaced equally to just above the knees to keep the coat closed.  Two hooks and loops fasten the capelet in front.  What a job!  As much work went into this coat as all the other parts combined.

In doing my best to stay faithful to the illustration, I might have chosen a green cotton instead for the coat.  It certainly would have had a smoother line in the end.  However, I love velveteen and felt this would be (or wool, even worse to work with given the ruffles) the best and most authentic choice.  On a child, it would have worked beautifully.  On a 16" child doll, a little more of a challenge, to say the least.

Marigold's little doll is named Polly.  The beginning of the poem, Mammas and Babies begins, "My Polly is so very good, Belinda never cries; My Baby often goes to sleep, See how she shuts her eyes."  So Polly it was.  Her little Polly is also a Wendy Lawton doll.  As I was searching through my boxes for an appropriate little doll to dress for her, I knew that an all-porcelain one would not have draped in Marigold's arms well.  I happened to have an extra "Jewel", which is a 5" doll with a porcelain head and shoulder plate, forearms and lower legs, on a leather body.  Nice and floppy. 

Her gown and capelet are of ivory silk.  Again, there is a ruffle around the neckline of the capelet in theme with "mamma's".  The choice of silk rather than a cotton gown for Polly was based entirely on self preference.  I could not decide whether this was indeed a baby, or a lady doll, so I opted for a middle ground of the two.  I also made her wig.  What a nightmare.  It was too large for her head, but the perfect look and length.  No other tiny wig had this style.  I had to cut it down to fit her head, sew it back together, then heavily trim the bangs.

Her bonnet is gold velveteen and silk ribbon.  This was a fun little bonnet to make and its base is thin cardboard rather than buckram to hold its shape well.

The shoes may have been the quickest piece of this ensemble to construct.  I'd made two silk slippers of this pattern for Marigold earlier, and I find leather much more forgiving...easier to work with.

Finally we have Marigold's bonnet.  This hat was created with a buckram base.  Its been a long time since I've worked a hat or bonnet in this size, and the practice was necessary.  It may seem odd, but for as many bonnet patterns as there are out there, I had to design this one from scratch.  Its more of a stove pipe hat with a crescent brim.  Do I ever have it easy?  No.

One thing I tried with both bonnets, was creating my own ribbon by cutting silk taffeta strips on the bias.  I chose to do this rather than double fold the edges and stitch them down.  Why?  Because that edging adds bulk and tends to lessen the crispness of the fabric.  I also tried this rather than being frustrated in not finding the exact colors and widths I required - and of course, the shipping time around the holidays. 

When we look at the fashions illustrated by Kate Greenaway, we might naturally assume that the designs are simple and would be a snap to make.  In most cases this is correct, but with this costume, it was a labor of love.

Kate's summer experiences in the Nottingshire countryside formed the basis of the Greenaway style.  Kate usually objected to painting winter scenes because she said the cold made the children's complexions go a "horrid bluey-red".  Yet, she was asked time again to create these precious scenes for calendars, magazines, books and almanacs.  These are some of my favorites, the winter scenes, though I had a difficult time finding Christmas specific illustrations to share. 

The first one, below, is one of a few.  It is titled Christmas at Little Peopleton Manor, and appeared in the Christmas edition of The Illustrated London News, the same year Kate's first book was published.  The top left illustration is titled Christmas Day. On the top far right, you have Christmas Eve.  Lacking is a display of ornaments, garlands and Christmas trees, and this might attest to the times.  Even Supper, bottom left, is devoid of garlands in the dining room.  While thumbing through a book of her work, you might pass this one up when looking for illustrations with a Christmas theme!

Following are a few of my the favorites I found depicting the Christmas holiday and winter.  I hope you'll enjoy them.

This is my final blog post for the year.  Plans for Louise's Winter Skate are underway, and will surely be my first post in the New Year.  Thank you all for following my progress and creative process through world of doll costuming and accessories.  This chronicling has been a joy to share with you.  "We wish you a Merry Christmas!, and a Happy New Year!"

Miss E. Mouse

Merry Christmas from Marigold and Polly!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Louise Godey's Opulent Holiday Toilette

Earlier this month, I'd been contemplating how the holidays might have been celebrated in the 19th century.  This was a time when our present day Christmas traditions and literature were becoming established.  Charles Dickens would write the eternally thoughtful A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, one week before Christmas.  Even earlier, Clement Clarke Moore would pen A Visit From St. Nicholas (The Night Before Christmas).  The poem was first published, anonymously, in a newspaper in Troy, New York, on December 23, 1823.

American cartoonist Thomas Nast is generally credited as having invented the modern depiction of Santa Claus. Nast, who had worked as a magazine illustrator and created campaign posters for Abraham Lincoln in 1860, was hired by Harper’s Weekly in 1862. For the Christmas season he was assigned to draw the magazine’s cover, and legend has it that Lincoln himself requested a depiction of Santa Claus visiting Union troops.

The resulting cover, from the Harper’s Weekly dated January 3, 1863, was a hit. It shows Santa Claus on his sleigh, which has arrived at a U.S. Army camp festooned with a “Welcome Santa Claus” sign.

The holidays were an exciting time for adults and children alike.  Victorian opulence was at its height, and when I decided to design a toilette for Louise Godey, all these factors played in.  There was no "one" costume or illustration that inspired me, but rather a collection of attitudes and designs that formed her holiday finery.  I worked for two weeks, almost without break, as one design concept followed another, and the toilette was constructed as ideas would form.  It was hard to call it quits, yet I understood that this was but one more costume for her, and others would follow.  Perhaps sooner than later. 

I was not concerned with my historical accuracy (yes, of course I was), because I'd been studying and creating these costumes from the inception of Alice Liddell's wardrobe and into the Queen Alice costume I'd created for Alice Illustrated.  What I allowed myself to do was play, and create solely from how I wished to dress Louise, and not strain-faithful to a detailed illustration or someone else's antique doll costume.

What I had on hand was a garnet silk taffeta, and the lush wine cotton velveteen I'd used in Lettie Lane's autumn outfit a few years back.  Trims.  I had back soutaches, and silk ribbons, feathers and fine black leather for a pair of boots.  I began with the holiday dress.  I wanted pure fancy and opulence-apparent for Louise.

The gown's bodice has a slightly higher "scoop" to the chest than her Court Jester costume.  This I fashioned hoping to give her a little more coverage and warmth due to the season.  A row of tiny black glass beads marches down the center towards the two skirted flounce below.  The underskirt is all taffeta with a row of knife pleats at the hem.  The top skirt is a scalloped affair timed with small ruffles.  Black silk ribbon bows dot the tops of each scallop point.  I'd noticed in many of the illustrations that white stockings appeared above dark boots, so I allowed her to remain in the stockings I'd made earlier.

Next, I made her a pair of black side button boots for crossing snowy pathways.  I was sorely tempted to make them of burgundy leather, but I couldn't justify the amount of the leather piece I needed to purchase for this small extravagance.  Slippers were often the same color or fabric of the dress in French fashion, but this was winter, boots seemed most appropriate and they can be worn with many other outfits.  I'd made the right choice, as I'd then decided to try my hand with the black soutache on the sac (jaconet, or jacket), and the boots would coordinate.

The jacket, again, is of wine colored cotton velveteen.  I had this gorgeous rose embroidered silk which I'd intended for a skirt or jacket, and chose to use it for the lining.  Elegant.  When I dress a doll, I often think, "What would I personally like to wear?"  "Well I think she'd like that, too".  I had this soutache with double loopy sides and thought I'd try it on the sac's edges.  While hand sewing this on, I went a step further to teach myself soutache loops.  There is one on each sleeve edge.  These were fun to do.  I'll admit that more than one, evenly made and centered, spaced on a dress will be a challenge, but at least I have an understanding of how this is done.  I also used these tiny black cloth antique buttons on her jacket that do not have a shank.  Instead there is a fabric on the bottom you thread the needle through.

While I'm firm to the conviction that you can assuredly make correct period fashions with modern fabrics, using antique trims sometimes boots the effect, and is always lovely.

Next came the hat.  I had an idea of what I wanted, but wasn't quite sure how to approach it.  Bonnet vs. Hat.  Hat vs. Bonnet.  Small or large?  Millinery hat wire or no?  I was hoping to make sense of a Bru hat that the fabulous seamstress, Georga Fedorchak, had made.  (I miss you Georga!  She passed away several years ago, God bless her.)  The wiring was such that you'd sew channels into the fabric, insert the wire, and tape or twist them at the ends, then sew the fabric ends over them.  I'm laughing as I write this, because I spent two days in agony trying to figure out exactly how she achieved the look she got without deconstructing one of her glorious chapeaus. 

This was supposed to be a band of a hat, but it turned into a bonnet.  There are four rows of wire in the bonnet with ruching between them.  Ribbon rosettes decorate the points at the chin, and a large fancy bow with a feather center the top.  I know what happened.  The football pattern of the hat was too wide in the center leaving more space than required to provide for the middle ruching.  Instead, it created a bonnet effect, and this was perfectly fine with me.  Someday I'll try the hat-band again, and when I do, I'll share Georga's work with you.

Lastly I added a dark mink muff.  The silk lining of the muff  is the same rose jacquard I used in lining the jacket.  A silk bow trims the center for a bit of elegance.

While working on the outfit, I'd been contemplating a gift for Louise.  Earlier in the year I'd purchased a Lisette by Cathy Hansen.  This was about the time that I'd finally purchased Sylvia MacNeil's Chiffonette book.  With Lisette's short blonde curls, she resembled the Huret Sylvia used in producing The Enchanting Trousseau of Chiffonette.  The long term miniaturist in me saw an opportunity to turn the 4" Lisette into a mini Chiffonette for Louise.  Of course that meant sewing 1860's costuming for a little bitty doll.

About the time I was to begin her costume, I'd been in touch with my friend Kathy who was eager "to see how I'd sew for a 4" doll".  There.  She challenged me.  I'm always up to a challenge, especially when it comes from an esteemed seamstress such as Kathy O' Malley of Bluebird Textiles.  So with task in hand, I decided that this costume should be made no differently than one I'd make Louise.  That is, not "doll house style" with glue, but plain old machine and hand stitching.

I can't tell you how many hours I've poured over Mac Neil's book, but if I was going to do this for a 4" mini Chiffonette, I was going to do it right!

I began with her underclothes.  The bloomers and slip were made from white Swiss batiste with lace edging.  This lace edging is done by placing the raw edge of the cloth against the edge of the lace and doing a machine zig-zag to attach it.  It finishes the raw edge of the fabric and tightly secures the lace at the same time.  The bloomers have a fitted waistband with silk ties in the back.  The slip is a full 7 1/2" wide and gathers with a thin cord of floss that runs through a channel at the waist, then ties in the back.  I was watching Claire dress on Outlander and this was how her full skirt fastened.

Actually, I take that back.  I started with her boots.  And, these were made "doll house style", as in not removable.  I can make them removable.  I'm admitting to "having a moment" of, well not laziness, because they're not easy to make doll house style either, but ease-of-effort.  Its been a very long time since I dressed a doll this size. 

Her skirt and jaconet are silk taffeta sewn exactly the way Louise's costuming is made.  Just super tiny.  I used this itty bitty fringe soutache for the trim.  Two hooks close the jaconet with thread loops.  I'm admittedly out of practice sewing this small and in such detail, but I promise to rid myself of that affliction.

Mini Chiffonette's hat was inspired by one of Sylvia's.  In a photo below you'll see the resemblance.  After attempting the straw hat free-hand, I found a bald porcelain doll with roughly the same size head, and used her head as the hat mold.  Silk ribbon replaces Sylvia's velvet which would have been too thick for the tiny hat, and a wee snip of feather.  I was going to make a cape for her to wear on her sleigh ride, but truly felt I needed to stop somewhere.  As these clothes are a meant for a trousseau, she'll have other pieces to wear in time.  My goal is for Louise to have her own French Fashion doll with trunk and trousseau, fully dressable, playable.

One last thing I'll share is that of Mini Chiffonette's sleigh.  This is a little antique from France that I didn't question purchasing.  Its simply fabulous with a silk seat covered in tiny gold buttons for the quilting effect. 

In the background you can see a pair of silver skating blades.  I almost made Louise a pair of ice skates for this outfit, but will save them for another costume devoted to 19c. ice skating.

The jaded artist in me fully expects that at some point someone is going to come along and make tiny Hurets and call them Mini Chiffonette's - like its a great discovery.  Watch.  It happened when I made a mini Daisy.  It's happened other times.  What I can say is that there is never too much of a good thing.  Art is like a signature and no two are alike.

Louise is delighted with her new doll.  A Huret for the holidays. 

I've been blessed today to write in the warmth of my home while a cold and very wet storm chases about outdoors.  The leaves that finally turned gold and red last week are scattered across the ground.  Autumn has finally arrived.

Miss E. Mouse

Windsor Castle 1880

Shopping in New York City 1848

Sylvia MacNeil's Chiffonette (Huret)

Louise's doll with hat.

So far...

Happy Holidays Louise Godey!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Marguerite Magritte in Decalcomania 1964

René Magritte described his paintings as "visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, 'What does that mean?'. It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable."

One of my very favorite genres of painting has consistently been Surrealism.  The precise and well thought out placement of ordinary objects in unlikely settings, produced and depicted in such a way as to render a dreamlike quality, and provoke the mind.  This little dreamer has often lost herself in art books of Surrealism for many years.  Thinking beyond what is seen, and interpreting at will, is what artists do.  Whether they paint, dance, compose or design, when the imagination becomes passionate, so flows the magic.

Several long months ago, my close friend Betsy, who has been watching my work for some time now, sent me an undressed Maggie Iacono doll, with the hopes that I might sew for her.  I studied Maggie's work, and was even lent a couple of garments and a pair of shoes to help inspire me and learn how they were made.  My favorite aspect to her designs was the wool felt appliques that depicted little stories on mixed fabric garments.  Trees, clouds, houses, of course flowers, and sometimes a bit of airbrushing, lent themselves to utterly charming costuming.  Maggie also dresses her dolls more traditionally, yet I faltered at coming up with a truly original idea.

I'd named the doll, and Marguerite stood silently, like a muse, on my work table for many months.  One night several weeks ago, when I was thinking of Marguerite as an art doll, an idea came to me.  This, coupled with the fact that I haven't had an intellectual conversation about art, in general, for so long, I'd begun craving the desire to explore my old art books once again.  So that is exactly what I did. 

I'd already ventured into "surreal imagery" clothing with Shelley Thornton's little ten inch doll, and I'd practiced a bit with the wool felt creating Alice Illustrated's card costume from the Maria L. Kirk illustration.  I felt ready to further this design journey.  I pulled several books from my shelves, including Dali and Kahlo, but Magritte has always intrigued me, and I was quickly drawn in by his simple shapes with extraordinary complexity.  The first painting that struck me as a forum for creating Marguerite's debut outfit was Decalcomania, 1966.  The simplicity of the bowler hatted figure could easily be interpreted to wool felt appliques. 

Self Portrait - Perspicacity, La Clairvoyance 1936
Rene Magritte was born in Belgium in 1898, the eldest son of Leopold Magritte, a tailor and textile merchant.  He studied at the Academie Royal des Beaux-Arts in Brussels from 1916 -1918, but found the instruction uninspiring.  While his painting career took him through Futurism and Impressionism, and a paying job in advertising, he would  best be known for his later life works in Surrealism.  The illusionistic, dream-like quality characteristic of Magritte's work would eventually gain popularity in the 1960's, in the last years of his life.  Magritte died at the age of 68 in 1967, leaving behind a legacy of inspiration and beautifully rendered work -  that today would inspire me to celebrate his work on a doll.

One of things I had to decide upon, since I "saw" the dress in my mind's eye, was how to dress Marguerite beneath the art.  I'm not quite sure how it sparked my mind, but after seeing so many male figures, including self-portraits of Rene in suits, this was the direction I took the under garments.  I had some fine wool suiting on hand and created a modified suit that would be both feminine, and make a statement about the artist.

I began with a shirt that had a turned over collar.  Standard men's wear.  I used the suiting wool to create this shirt, rather than make a jacket of it with a white shirt beneath.  For one thing, a full suit would be far too bulky beneath a wool felt tunic or A-line shift.  I wanted to acheive the idea a suit and keep it understated to provide the focus to be on the tunic.

The next piece would be the pants.  Some may look at this costume and question why I didn't make a full dress with black stockings instead of designing a pair of cuffed suit pants.  The answer again lies in the art.  The images I was pulling into cloth shouldn't be too large as they would overwhelm the doll, so a neat tunic was the answer. 

This wool was not at all easy to work with.  I do not possess an iron with steam since I cannot find one that doesn't spit.  What do I do?  If the fabric needs a crease, or the absence of wrinkle, and it won't come out with an appropriate iron temperature, I use a mister.  Just a spray bottle with distilled water in it.  But, like the silk on a bias, this wool did not want to maintain a crease.  I guess that's a good thing for people who sit all day, but it would prove a challenge to work with.

I'd lined the collar with a black silk with white pinstripe.  It helped in folding over the collar, keeping it thin enough to do so.  Then I got the idea to give her a tie out of the same silk - on the bias.  I made a wide tie just to try it, and liked it just the way it was.  It was dark enough not to stand out, but added a bit of polish to the under garments completing the suit effect. 

The tunic is made from the wool felt and a soft cloud and sky print reminiscent of Magritte's skies.  As with his painting, Decalcomania, I cut the male figure out of the "curtain of red".  I added a panel of blue for the ocean, and a panel of beige for the sand of the beach.  All this is hand stitched on in little pricks of thread.  I also added a running stitch of red thread to outline the shoulder that blends into the curtain in his painting.  Yes, its barely visible (click on a photo for better viewing).

The back of the tunic is the blue sky cotton print.  The dress is completely lined as Iacono lines her dresses.  When it came to cutting out the applique of the figure with the bowler hat, I was a bit nervous that the tunic wouldn't work out since the figure, which I planned to center, would conflict with the closures.  Then I took another look at the painting and realized, again, that the shoulder of the figure is placed in the front edge of the red curtain.  Hah!  This would work perfectly after all.  The figure, true to the painting, has a bit of ocean and sand to the left in wool felt to complete the look.  Three wools were used for the figure.  Peach for the head, brown for the hair, and black for the hat and coat.

Finally, she needed shoes.  Maggie makes her doll shoes with microsuede, so I followed her lead and made Marguerite's of the same.  Only I gave her feminine Wingtips to carry the suiting theme a bit further.

One of Magritte's recurring images, was that of the apple.  When approaching this subject, Magritte painted the fruit and then used an internal caption or framing device to deny that the item was an apple. In these "Ceci n'est pas" works, Magritte points out that no matter how naturalistically we depict an object, we never do catch the item itself.  Indeed. Marguerite is posed with such an apple of green in the hopes Magritte would approve.

Miss E. Mouse

Title N/A  Use of sky and red curtains again.

Son of Man 1964

Song of Love 1964

Call of the Peaks 1942

Title N/A

Time Transfixed 1938

Marguerite Magritte 2015