Tuesday, January 13, 2015

An Etrenne for Alice Liddell

A New Years (Etrenne) Gift
When I began this blog on the creative process, I was primarily making what I referred to as modern day Etrennes.  Etrennes were New Year's gifts offered in France during the mid to late 1800's.  The craftsmanship of dolls in presentation boxes, games, gowns for French Fashion dolls, and their accessories, were some of the exquisite items offered in the market stalls along the streets of Paris.  And, for this new year, Alice Liddell receives her own Etrenne in the form of her little Morning Glory Parasol.

When I began sewing for her last year, I acquired an antique parasol to re-cover for her trousseau.  Its is just now, in between sewing projects, that I decided to give it a go.  I have re-covered parasols before, but never an antique.  This one's cover was in such a state of disgrace, that I wasn't tempted to keep it "antique".

The illustration.
I pulled out some lovely lilac silk taffeta, and a oordinating "morning glory" silk for the ruched ruffles.  As I carefully observed the original cover, I noticed that the underside was sewn with French seams.  Since I normally don't make them, but knew this would be the best approach for neatness-sake, I decided to photograph the steps I took along the way - just in case you might like to try this the way I did it.

At the beginning of the story The Other Alice, she and Dodgson take a row boat out for a picnic with her sisters Edith and Ina.  "It was perfectly quiet that hot summer day on the river.  There wasn't even the sound of an oar, or the chirp of a bird, or the buzz of a fly.  The boat moved slowly forward."  After much ado about telling a story, Dodgson began, "It was just as warm and sunny as today.  Alice sat on the riverbank with her sister."
A long story to be told.  Alice in the middle with her parasol.
And, while Dodgson tells his story, I'll share how I made her parasol.

Paper towel pattern and mock up.
As with any sewn creation, I began with a pattern.  I measured the triangular sections, of which there were six, one for each rib, and added a 1/4" or so to make the French seams.  Then I made a mock up, just for length and size.  When stitching up to the top where the points meet, there is always a hole that you have to do something with.  With hats, I stitch across in several places, but with the parasol, it would be left open to thread the stem through.

If you've never made a French seam, its not too difficult, but takes a little thought.  You begin by making the seam on the right side of the fabric.  Then you turn the piece over and encase the edges in a folded seam.  The results are tidy and perfect for a parasol whose underside can be seen when open.

I then cut a length of silk on the bias and stitched this to the edge, to fold up over the top.  This encased and neatened the edge.  Since I added two rows of ruched "ribbon", the bias strip would be concealed.

The original cover and new.
Then I cut three long lengths of the "morning glory" silk and ironed them into a non-bias tape.  I folded over the edges to meet in the mid section.  After this, I made gather stitches along the two edges, and began the very tedious process of "ruching" them.  The fraying was extensive, but all these silk strands were trimmed at intervals.  A mess?  You bet.  But worth the effort.  The idea was to keep the trim as light and flexible as possible since the parasol would be closed at times.  In other words, one folded edge instead of two.  With two, it would not have frayed, but would have been too heavy and thick for the delicacy required (especially if you stitched the double fold down). 

The bias edge pinned to the underside.
After stitching all the rows on, I threaded the stem through the center and sewed the rib nips to the end points of the cover.  I love the tiny metal ribs on the antiques.  Once you've successfully re-covered an antique, you'll never give another thought to the chunky, clunky bamboo ones with the Battenburg lace.  When shopping for an antique to re-cover the only important thing to research is the condition of the ribs and mechanism.  If the metal is terribly scratched, I'm sure you could spray paint it over , but I'd be reluctant to since the holes could get gummed up.  A black alcohol marker would take care of the scratches nicely.  A brown alcohol marker was used to tidy up the tip of the wood stem. (Thanks, Jean!)

The bias edge when folded up over the top.
At this stage I had to pay very close attention to how this stem was made.  The original cap was there, but how was I going to affix it to the silk cover and stem?  Then I noticed a small hole that ran through the stem about an inch and a half down from the tip.  There would be a pin or wood splinter peg in this to keep the metal crown secure.  There is another "peg", an original on the underside which keeps the parasol cover and ribs from slipping down.  IF you were going to make a new stem, you would drill these holes as done on the original stem.  Not all parasols are made this way, but as this one was, I'm making note of it.  Study how your parasol was made, very carefully, and then it will become clear, the steps to take in refurbishing it. 

I decided to leave the stem as it was.  There's a bent nail wire that functions as the piece that collapses into the stem when closed, holding the mechanism up when open.  You'll notice that the wood was split to accommodate this wire.  Again, not all parasols were made this way, but I wanted to retain the antique feel of this one for Alice.

Now, since the top peg was missing, I used a technique for making one that I've used in the past for other projects.  I took a metal head straight pin and cut it short with wire cutters.  The pin head act as a stop on one end.  For the other end, to secure the pin, I used a seed bead and a touch of Super Glue to secure it.  That pin isn't going anywhere until I say so.  Should I ever wish to recover the parasol frame again, I would snip the pin off and begin again.  No glue will ever touch the silk cover.

How it looks on the underside with French seams.
If you've ever tried to re-cover those bamboo Battenburg lace ones, you'll understand why I'm detailing this for you.  The bamboo decorative tip is gunked with glue, then affixed to the lace cover.  This a mess and very difficult to disassemble without ruining the tip.  Often times you just have to crunch the tip away with pliers, then make another decorative tip.

Should I not have been attempting to make this parasol as close to the illustration as possible, and retaining the integrity of the antique stem, I would have hand carved a new stem...but, that's another story.  For this one though, I might have drilled a little hole about an inch and a half up from the bottom and added a tassel. 

This is fussy, fiddly work.  Its one of the things I love best to do because I have to think, and ponder long, on how to create it.  I hope the photos help if you've a mind to try it yourself.  This is but one way to re-cover an antique parasol.  Good thing the days are sunny here.  Alice Liddell is bound to get a lot of use out of her new Etrenne.

Miss E. Mouse

The nasty job of ruching.

Two edge rows.

The third and final row.

A very tidy underside.


Alice Liddell's Morning Glory Parasol

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."