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

Friday, October 16, 2015

Louise Godey in Court Jester 1863

Welcome back Louise Godey!  Our 14" French Fashion child doll is dressed and ready for the masquerade ball of the season!

As you must know by now, Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year.  Whereas Halloween did not become fashionable to celebrate with costumes and parties until the Victorian years, the Golden Age of Halloween was a sixty year span from 1875 - 1935.  Yet, adults and children alike, loved dressing up for masquerade parties and balls, and the costuming was as elaborate, and detailed, as was all the finery of the Civil War period (or French Fashion as we call it today).

In Italy, during the 15th century Renaissance, masquerade balls were costumed public festivities that were popular in Venice.  Generally they were elaborate dances held for members of the upper classes, and have been associated with the tradition of the Venetian Carnival.

Masquerade balls became common in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A Swiss count is credited with having introduced the Venetian fashion of a semi-public masquerade ball to London in the eighteenth century, with the first being held at Haymarket Opera House. Throughout the century, the dances became popular, both in England and then Colonial America.

One of the ways women found inspiration for such costuming was in Godey's Lady's Book and through publications coming across the pond from fashion centers in Europe. 

When I first began sewing for Louise Godey, I'd purchased two reproductions of Godey's Lady's Book (hence the name I gave Louise).  It was in the book titled American Civil War Era Fashion Plates, Godey's Lady's Book 1860 - 1865 that I found this extraordinary child's costume, and vowed to reproduce it someday to the best of my abilities.  This style of costuming is extremely detailed and with only one drawing to go by, it is often difficult to decipher as to what was intended to design the fashion from scratch.  However, the fashion plates did provide descriptions of suggested fabrics and adornments - just not a pattern!

Fashion plate November 1863, Fig.7, is as follows:  "Court Jester - The skirt is of a yellow silk, or merino, trimmed with two bands of the same color, or black velvet.  The upper skirt and corsage are of blue merino or silk.  The skirt is cut in deep points, bound with white silk, and on each point is a gilt bell.  A pointed bertha is laid over the blue corsage, and each point should be trimmed with a bell.  The cap is of blue velvet bound with yellow, and the boots are of blue velvet turned over with white plush.  Both cap and boots would be improved by bells."

I was as enchanted with the old plate coloring as much as I was with the costume itself, and gave much thought as to how I would proceed in creating this for Louise.  I chose to use silks alone, and selected both a yellow silk, and one of a sea foam, or light aqua.  I felt the colors complimented each other nicely, and chose white silk, alone, for the banding on both hat and upper skirt.  Also since I was sewing for a small doll, and not a child, I created the upper portion as an over dress with the bertha attached to the corsage.  White silk sleeves are inset to this, and the voluminous yellow silk skirt is separate.

I could easily have been intimidated by this costume, but like all other costumes I've designed, I just grabbed my paper towel roll and preceded with purpose.  I wanted to make this costume, and why not for Halloween.

I began with the pointed skirt.  This piece is comprised of thirteen points.  The thirteenth was split in two for seaming up the back for the skirt back's opening.  The bodice, or corsage, came next with the short white sleeves.  The bertha is attached as a normal collar, and boasts eleven little points of its own.  The bodice is finished in the back with four little gold "mushroom" buttons and thread loops. 

The yellow silk skirt is a basic gathered skirt, fully lined, and thirty-three inches wide.  When both the pointed skirt and under skirt are gathered, they are done so to the tightest gather possible.  This gives the costume the best volume possible.

So far, so good.  I was feeling rather proud of the execution until it came to the hat.  What on earth was going on here?!  Half jester, half Robin Hood?  And, what was that ridge down the center with the lump at the top?  I did my best to research such a thing, but came up empty handed.  What I settled on was a pointed cap with a down slopping front.  I added a lined "flap" to attach at the bottom on one side.  The closer I studied the detailing, I deduced that this must be some kind of button placket, and that was how I preceded.  It has a sort of round shape towards the top, so I drew this into the pattern, and attached it on the underside of the sewn on flap.  To this I added bands of white silk. flipping the bottom one up like a brim.  Finally, five tiny bells to "improve" the cap. 

The entire time while making this costume I debated adding the silk binding all around the upper skirt's points.  If you recall, I did an incredible amount of bias binding on Louise's first, and only other, gown.  Knowing I would not be happy if I didn't do it "right", I spent an entire day just making the white silk bias binding.  It is seven decimals wide, folded in half, then those edges both folded and ironed into the center.  This creates a bias binding that is approximately 1/8" wide.  The points required seventy-eight inches of this, but I made about 96 or so just to be safe.  Should you ever do this, wind your binding tightly around a small card and secure with a pin.  You can release length as you sew along.  I found out the hard way that the ironed folds come out if you don't do this.

The binding took three days alone to do - in stages, of course.  I did a hidden ladder stitch attaching the binding to the top edges of the skirt, then turned the thing around and had to stitch the same to the under side.  Why do I do this?!  No amount of stretching and breaks prevented the constant headache I had from sitting rigid while sewing tiny stitches and bity folds at all the pointed and peaks.

Feeling done, I still had the shoes to make, and her little jester stick.  The shoes, or boots, caused me a lot of designing woes.  Yes, I knew instinctively how they should be made, but knowing and executing this were two different things.  There was also the concept of getting the boots on and off the stockinged foot, where I chose to make them from cloth and not stretchy leather.  And, we also needed to heed the color to match the gown.  My table with littered with trial boots from all sorts of patterns and materials.  I did come up with a fine solution, and that was to make a collar for the boot edge, just like you would the folded over collar of a dress.  However, with using the sea foam silk, the collar, or cuff, looked ridiculous.  At my wit's end, I tried using wool felt.  Bad idea.  This was a costume from 1863 and no way would that fly.  So I compromised.  I made the silk boots, and added a wool felt overlay trimmed with bells to "improve" them.  I don't believe I will readdress these boots in the future by making another pair.  Simply having figured out what was required was enough.  On a larger doll, I think I might have been able to work them in such a way as to have an opening in the back, but for now, they are done.

And, I still had the jester stick to make. 

Jean had provided me with a couple of little porcelain heads awhile back, and was probably wondering what became of them.  I used the one with the best hole in the bottom since the stick must fit up inside as the base of the jester stick's head.  These heads had shoulders on them and the holes were near non-existent.  Since I had my X-acto knife handy to carve down the wood tip to wiggle into this "depression", I decided to give the stick a little charm and carved a decorative stem.  The stick in the illustration held by the child in the fashion plate is very tiny (but, so are her feet!).  But, I worked with what I had and in reality, the stick is probably only slightly larger than one a child would hold. 

I was tempted to make tiny white silk points for her collar, but instead chose a lace with points that I've had in my stash for a few years.  Six little bells were added to the jester stick.  Five, one on each lace point, and one on the tip of the cap.  The tiniest fringe edges the wee cap.  Thirty-nine bells in all were sewn to this costume.

There's a good reason I don't sew "French Fashion" too often, but I will admit that I always like the results.  Louise will attend the masquerade ball jingling and tingling with every step she takes.

I'm experiencing a fascination currently with Polichinelle, Court Jester, and Harlequin costuming.  I have one more planned on a 14" Lawton doll I've not dressed yet.  But, for the next couple of days, I plan on simply enjoying the accomplishment of Louise Godey's Court Jester, and making a few more Halloween toys from one of Jean's fabulous holiday emphemera work books.

Miss E. Mouse

Friday, October 2, 2015

Alice Illustrated in Maria L. Kirk Times Two

Maria L. Kirk's "Gold" Dress
September swept by and over me like the upset card assembly at the end of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. But, my arms weren't flung above my head fearing the onslaught of clubs and aces, hearts and diamonds.  It was simply a birthday month for me and a creative one that took me by storm.  A year older, a little creakier, but ever inspired and dedicated to my craft. 

A full length view
Sometimes its difficult to decide what next to do, but several factors were driving in the direction of Maria L. Kirk's work.  One was that I like to dress my dolls in autumn colors and yellow is pretty turning leaf one, especially with the aspen trees.  Alice Illustrated had been Queen Alice for several months, and I could see that it was going to her head.  And, also, Betsy was asking for the Maggie Iacono outfits she'd loaned me to study, so I felt best to get busy with my wool felt experimentation.  And, then there is simply the fact that I love Maria L. Kirk's illustrations.  It was time to do the "gold" dress, as its referred to, even though it really is yellow. 

Best Known Illustration
Maria Louise Kirk was born in Lancaster, PA, and studied art in Philadelphia.  While she illustrated more than fifty books,
including The Secret Garden, and Pinocchio, very little is known of her life save for her death, sometime in the 1930's. One of her best known commissions was an edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1904-07).  So brilliant was her style, that its been reproduced on greeting cards and posters even today, and her books are highly collectible.  In honor of this extraordinary artist, and because she's my friend Jean's favorite, I made two costumes inspired by her illustrations.
Invisible Cup of Tea
I began with the "gold dress".  This little frock was one whose illustration I've been studying for quite some time.  The puffed sleeves are capped with a wing, or epaulet, or butterfly sleeve.  I was never able to find a correct, concise description of this pattern piece, so to create it, like most everything I do, I simply had to study the illustration and "wing" it. 

There is also a white inset to the bodice.  This is not a collar, but part of the dress.  A half white apron, and a lot, I mean a lot of blue trim.  The skirt, itself, is 23 inch wide.  In studying the various drawings, Kirk tended to either run the lines into one, or separate them, as in the "down the rabbit hole (or orange marmalade)" illustration.  It was this variance that I decided to work from. 

A Side View
I used 1/16" baby flexi braid to make the six rows of blue that you see on the hem of her dress.  Two rows edge the line between the white inset and the yellow bodice.  Two rows, again, edge the wings topping the puffed sleeves.  All the work is in the details such as they are, but I chose a 1/8" satin blue ribbon for the half apron.  This is closed in the back with a button as shown in one of the illustrations.  A person could go blind, or batty, studying the illustrations for continuity in the garments, so its best to chose just one, and stick with it.

The Pig Baby
The dress is lined, of course, and there is a tiny stand up collar on the white inset, around the neck.  I had to make the bodice twice.  Yes, even I forgot that a mock up is always best, and I do get ahead of myself sometimes.  There is an illustration showing the back of the dress (shown below) where I could see the closures of yellow buttons, and of course, how the apron was fastened.  Not a bow.  All these details thrill me, and I like to be as accurate as possible.

Buttons and Closures
If you get a chance, do an engine search (Google) on Maria L. Kirk, Alice images.  These are so gorgeous and so special that they're not to be missed. Since I do have a little pig baby for Alice Illustrated, it is not unthinkable that I wouldn't display her as the illustration on the right.

While finishing the closures on the dress last weekend, the little ceramic jar I'd purchased arrived, for her orange marmalade.  I printed out a little label, glued it to the jar, and voila!  Orange Marmalade.  Holding this jar is how I will display her.  But right now, as I just finished it, she's wearing her Card costume.  Okay.  So even Alice Illustrated gets to dress up for Halloween.

Alice Paints the Roses Red
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to begin work with wool felt.  The making of the cards was the perfect trial for the fabric.  I'd been studying Iacono's work for awhile and while she dresses her dolls in both wool felt and fabric, I'd never sewn on fine wool felt and was intimidated by the process.  Don't ask me why.  Pressure to perform?  I just needed a simplistic start, and so began my work with it for Alice Illustrated's Card Costume.

I found an online shop that sells such a fabulous array of colors and in various sizes.  I purchased red, black, white and silver.  Silver being for the paint can she holds.  I bought a large men's knit shirt in a forest green for the under tunic and stockings, and used black micro-suede for the booties.

The Card Costume
This was fun.  It took time to do, but it was fun to create.  The wool felt cards are lined with a thin batiste.  I cut out five spade shapes, then hand-stitched each one on the front before sewing on the lining.  If you leave the bottom open, it turns inside out easily, and then you can finish it with a blind ladder stitch.  Two little bands of the white wool felt are sewn into the "shoulder" like a placard.  The card back and front then slip over Alice's head.

The Inspiration
I won't lie. The under tunic was a bear to make.  Why?  I'm not that comfortable with sewing on knit fabric yet.  I know how to, but its not second nature to me yet.  The stockings...I've done many.

The little hood is a simple pattern on a fold, sewn only at the top.  I ran embroidery thread through where it would cinch around the neck and knotted the ends.  The booties took a few tries to get the right look and fit on the feet over the thick stockings. 

Side View
And, finally, the paint can was made.  This was constructed like a bucket purse from the silver wool felt.  I lined it in red wool felt and cut paint drips to glue onto the bucket's sides.  For the paint brush, I layered the wool twice, then again, glued red paint drips to the "brush". 

Slopping Red Paint
The real work is in the designing and hand-stitching with a costume like this.  She looks pretty cute in it, if I say so myself.

This little experiment has given me the confidence to proceed with dressing my Maggie Iacono doll now.  It has also spun my head in the direction of perhaps more costuming like the card.  There were so many characters in the two Alice stories, and I'm sure one or two the characters will come to life in a costume for Alice Illustrated eventually.

Please enjoy all the photographs, and wishes for an enchanting October!

Miss E. Mouse

The Back

Down the Rabbit Hole with Orange Marmalade