Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Alice and the Queen's Baby Playset Revisited

13" Alice Darling
Sometimes we must make dreams come true for ourselves, and this is one I've been dreaming of since 1992. 

Long ago, before there was online shopping, Ebay, and extensive Internet searching, dolls could only be purchased (at least for me!), through a brick and mortar shop.  What the store offered was up to the discretion of the owner, and unless you were given, or purchased a catalog, you had no idea what else might be out there.  For me, I was limited to what Toy World in Cupertino, CA had to offer. 

The Ultimate Illustrated Alice
However, each fall, the owner would host a doll fair, and one year, in 1991, Robin Woods aka Alice Darling, came to Toy World and introduced a lovely trunk set called The Ultimate Alice.  She'd only brought one with her, and I bought it.  She was also promoting her line of Let's Play Dolls, that she designed and Madame Alexander produced.  I fondly remember her playing with the dolls in front of her audience, showing how they could be posed and telling us how they should be cared for.  This was one of the happiest days of my life and I was excited to bring home, not only the Ultimate Alice Trunk Set, but the two extra play sets offered in this collection: The Gold Dress Playset, and The Card Playset.

Catalog Cover With Alice Darling in Pink
Years later I would purchase the book, The Ultimate Illustrated Alice, from which Robin got her inspirations for the costuming.  Since then, and most recently, I've poured over and over this book looking for my own inspirations.  In her own words, "(Her) Alice (Darling) goes to visit her namesake, Alice in Wonderland, and becomes The Ultimate Alice - with costumes inspired by the Cooper Edens edition of Alice...All of Alice's costumes and the dolls themselves capture the artistry of the last hundred years of Alice..."  Indeed they do.

Alice Finds the Key and Queen's Baby Playset
Since my first purchase of the Ultimate Alice Trunk Set, I have acquired two more on the secondary market (can't help myself!), but I was never able to purchase the two new selections, one on a doll, one as a playset from the 1992 catalog.  Robin and MA had a disagreement, to put it mildly, and she no longer worked for the company.  The new sets did not get made (many things didn't), and the following year dolls that had been in production had been farmed out to a lesser manufacturer which produced hideous dolls in cheap costumes.  And, that was the end of Let's Play Dolls.  I still grieve.

The Ultimate Alice Trunk Collection
But, all these years I kept the catalogs and would continue to enjoy looking.  I could also use them to acquire other dolls and outfits from the secondary market.  And, then I began designing and sewing.  I only thought to create Alice and the Queen's Baby Playset , and Alice Finds the Key, after a year of sewing for Lettie and Polly.  Finding the right fabrics and acquiring like-trims produced 23 years earlier, would prove to be quite a treasure hunt.  I think I'd finally collected enough of a starter box of fabrics and trims about a year ago.  Yet still, I had other dolls to sew for, things to learn, and I wasn't sure I wanted to sew for vinyl play dolls.  Still, these two costumes kept nudging me to be made, so I caved.  I undressed one of my Alice Darling's and began the work.  It wasn't like I didn't have these two costumes committed to memory after twenty-three years of looking at the catalog pages, but what I didn't realize was how detailed the construction would be.  And, of course, you could not see the back sides of them, or underneath the dresses.
The Queen's Baby Playset Dress
So I began to make Alice and the Queen's Baby Playset for spring.

During this entire process, I was often dismayed that I could not replicate it exactly, but I continued to try for a close match.  I was plagued by the construction of the apron, working with organdy, and helpless to find a pink and green striped wired ribbon for her hair.  As I think back on what Robin may have used for the pink ruffled trim (attached to a band), it may have been a grosgrain ribbon trim.  But, nowhere could I find this, so I used a pink sateen and made a facsimile of the pieces.

Earlier, I had collected a pig, and also a pair of slip-ons that I would create her "baby" and shoes from.  Beneath it all, she wears her original stocking and under garments. As most of us know, the pig was the Duchess's baby, but perhaps "Queen's" rolls off a child's tongue more easily than "Duchess's".

Trims and Appliques
One of the most difficult trims to find, was a scallop edged organdy trim for the apron.  This does not exist.  I looked.  And, looked.  But, what I did have was a second, and new, sewing machine that could make adjustable length scallop edges with a bit of programming.  And, so I made my own trim.  It does not give a deep scallop like the original edging, but it gently waves the edges for a similar look.  This trim was important to make since it edges the cuffs and pockets, as well.  I used a 1/4" size silk bud trim for the inset trimming.  Little pink centered daisy appliques substituted for the originals.  I also cut the leaves off another flower applique to enhance them. 

All Tucked In
The dress is a basic empire waist with large puffed sleeves, the cuffs being the difficult detailing.  The width of the skirt is exactly 44", the width of most cotton fabrics.  When I make other outfits for the Let's Play Dolls, this will be a standard.  Robin Woods was always and forever about frills, ruffles, laces and ribbons. 

The slippers were fun to enhance.  I took a tiny strip of soft pigskin (don't tell the "baby") and made a tab at the front of the shoe to thread ties through.  The ties are pink and metallic gold embroidery threads braided together.  Her bow is a wired ribbon in green, pink and mauve checks.  I have several wired ribbon rolls, tried, and stored now, attempting to find one that I liked well enough to use. 

The Slippers
In figuring out how the apron fastened in the back, I noticed the playset on a doll on another page in the catalog.  It appeared to tie with an organdy ribbon.  So I fussed and fiddled to get the two bands centered into the waist band I'd made, along with the ruffled straps.  Patience and courage were the terms I'd use.

And, finally, I made a blanket for the pig baby out of cuddly baby blanket fabric.  I tucked the noisy little beast in and he is quite warm and happy now.

Where I Found the Tie in Back
All the while making this outfit, I've been working in turns trying to make Alice Finds the Key.  The green velvet I'm using is so slippery and thin that I've had to hand sew most of it and am not excited by the machine work.  Sewing appliques on this stuff is going to be a nightmare, so I've purchased two other dark green velvets in the hopes that one will prove better.  I will not give up, but I do need to remain patient until this one comes together.

The Back, The Bow
And, so, my first Ultimate Alice now has her baby playset to enjoy.  I did my best to replicate the sewing construction of the other Let's Play Dolls dresses I own, and this included using snaps for closures.  I have another dress I wish to make for her that I don't believe was ever produced (either).  While awaiting the arrival of the two velvets, when this fabric arrives, I may make it.  These dresses are so much fun to dress a doll in and my Let's Play Dolls remain one of my favorite collections of all time.

Miss E. Mouse

A Dream Come True

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