Thursday, January 8, 2015

Alice Illustrated in Arthur Rackham

Alice Illustrated in Arthur Rackham
When January roles around here in California, one can easily be fooled into thinking its the first of spring.  This doesn't mean that we are finished with winter, but the days become mild before winter returns, perhaps weary of belting the east coast.  Maybe.  We've been in a drought for several years, so we only hope Father Frost and Sister Rain return.  Due to the spring-like conditions, I caught a bit of the fever and roses, pink roses, seemed to require a place in my studio. 

In the this third illustrated costume for Alice, I chose the hauntingly beautiful work of Arthur Rackham.   Arthur was born in Lewisham, Kent, England on September 19, 1867.  A kindred spirit no doubt, since Virgos are drawn to those in their sign (my birthday being the 18th).  He began illustrating as a career in 1894.

Arthur Rackham Self Portrait
Arthur Rackham is widely regarded as one of the leading illustrators from the "Golden Age" of British book illustration which encompassed the years from 1900 until the start of the First World War. During that period, there was a strong market for high quality illustrated books which typically were given as Christmas gifts.  The onset of the war in 1914 curtailed the market for such quality books, and the public's taste for fantasy and fairies also declined in the 1920s.

The Inspiration
During his years of illustrating children's books, he illustrated countless stories, and among them was Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907).  While scouring the Pins and Internet for future costumes for Delight, I found Rackham illustrations among my selections such a Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.  I wasn't immediately inspired by his pen and ink watercolors, but as I continued to research his work, I fell completely down his rabbit hole.

I had this lovely Lecien rose fabric on hand and it would prove a nice cloth to bring his Alice's dress to life.  This fabric is a fine cotton that feels like a delicate silk, tightly woven, yet airy with a pretty drape.  When I sat down to make it, I couldn't find the patterns I'd made for the Tenniel and Torrey outfits, so I had to begin again.  It took me a day to remember that I could do this, and its always been the case that although I've made patterns for this and that outfit, I end up with brand new ones all the time since the garments will be different in their details.  So I set to work.

Alice in Roses
I studied each illustration I could find on his Alice, and chose to design the dress two bands that would begin at the waistline in the back, fold over her shoulders, and meet at front forming a V shape.  Wide puffed sleeves with banded wrists, and a rosette of the same fabric where the bands intersect. 

She would have black stockings and Oxfords.  This combination, along with the rose print dress is such a far distinction from Tenniel's original drawing. It has come to mind that illustrators will, or might, appeal to the children they are drawing for, and therefore will create a costume that's indicative of the year the drawings are made. 

The Back
There is not much more to say of the construction of the dress, but I had a wonderful time making the shoes.  The more I delve into cobbling, the better I'm becoming at the craft, and the more fun it is.  Fun being the challenge feels right.  This little shoe is made from one piece of leather, stitched on the top edge then down the front to support the holes the laces go through.  Like Alice Liddell's winter boots, these are my favorite aspect of the outfit.  Where my eyes are drawn to.  They are soft and well fitted.  A jazz dancer's shoe.

Joyful Shoes!

One of the illustrations that appealed to me most, and always has, is that of Alice holding the pig baby.  I was especially taken with the beauty of Arthur Rackham's rendition.  It has a gentleness, a delicacy that touched my heart.  So I popped onto Ebay and immediately (such luck!), found a 3.5" vintage velveteen Steiff.  I bought the little fellow and when he arrived today, I made him a tiny batiste and lace bonnet.  Alice Illustrated would need her little pig baby.  But, my how difficult the little thing is to display in her arms!  These sawdust stuffed animals are completely inflexible!  Maybe someday I'll start making my own little critters with softer bodies and movable limbs.

If there was one thing I wished to replicate in Arthur Rackham's dress, it was the delicate, fragile and feminine nature of how Alice appears in the dress.  I hope I did this. 

One of things I'm working on in between other garments, is storage for all these dresses.  I never thought I'd have this problem when I first began sewing.  I was selling the dresses I was making!  But, now I've come to appreciate my own work and while once in awhile I'll sew for someone if asked, I primarily sew for myself.  Two wardrobe cases are in the works.  One for Alice Illustrated and one for Delight.  And, what of Alice Liddell's?  Her patterns and garments are in a jumbo Ziplock.  I'm sure her wardrobe will require one of those decorator suitcase trunks, and this is how I store Polly, Lettie, Daisy and Katy's garments.

Roses for January.  And, Alice Illustrated is among the pink ones.

Miss E. Mouse 

Alice and the Pig Baby - Rackham

Alice and the Pig Baby - Mine

To Confer with a Caterpillar

The Upheaval

Another View
Among Friends

"So she set the little creature down, and felt quite relieved to see it trot away into the wood."


  1. Wonderful, wonderful dress! From it blows spring. Such gentle dress. And such a funny pig baby. Thank you for the story about Arthur Rackham. You have made a discovery for me.

  2. What a beautiful feminine style this dress is, the roses are refreshing and always in style! The fabric sounds divine! Your work has become something to look forward to and lift my mood, thank you for sharing your beautiful detailed it all!