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


  1. These are so beautiful, as usual and I am fascinated by the story of the illustrator, Maria Louise Kirk. I live in Lancaster, PA and have never heard her mentioned. Wouldn't you think that Lancaster would lay claim to her?

  2. Thank you Ruth. Pennsylvania was a huge publishing hub as well as a grand community of artists. If you recall, The Ladies' Home Journal was published in Philadelphia. So very little is known of the many women artists from the Golden Age of Illustration. I hope to do honor to their work with my own.