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.