Sunday, November 15, 2015

Louise Godey's Opulent Holiday Toilette

Earlier this month, I'd been contemplating how the holidays might have been celebrated in the 19th century.  This was a time when our present day Christmas traditions and literature were becoming established.  Charles Dickens would write the eternally thoughtful A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, one week before Christmas.  Even earlier, Clement Clarke Moore would pen A Visit From St. Nicholas (The Night Before Christmas).  The poem was first published, anonymously, in a newspaper in Troy, New York, on December 23, 1823.

American cartoonist Thomas Nast is generally credited as having invented the modern depiction of Santa Claus. Nast, who had worked as a magazine illustrator and created campaign posters for Abraham Lincoln in 1860, was hired by Harper’s Weekly in 1862. For the Christmas season he was assigned to draw the magazine’s cover, and legend has it that Lincoln himself requested a depiction of Santa Claus visiting Union troops.

The resulting cover, from the Harper’s Weekly dated January 3, 1863, was a hit. It shows Santa Claus on his sleigh, which has arrived at a U.S. Army camp festooned with a “Welcome Santa Claus” sign.

The holidays were an exciting time for adults and children alike.  Victorian opulence was at its height, and when I decided to design a toilette for Louise Godey, all these factors played in.  There was no "one" costume or illustration that inspired me, but rather a collection of attitudes and designs that formed her holiday finery.  I worked for two weeks, almost without break, as one design concept followed another, and the toilette was constructed as ideas would form.  It was hard to call it quits, yet I understood that this was but one more costume for her, and others would follow.  Perhaps sooner than later. 

I was not concerned with my historical accuracy (yes, of course I was), because I'd been studying and creating these costumes from the inception of Alice Liddell's wardrobe and into the Queen Alice costume I'd created for Alice Illustrated.  What I allowed myself to do was play, and create solely from how I wished to dress Louise, and not strain-faithful to a detailed illustration or someone else's antique doll costume.

What I had on hand was a garnet silk taffeta, and the lush wine cotton velveteen I'd used in Lettie Lane's autumn outfit a few years back.  Trims.  I had back soutaches, and silk ribbons, feathers and fine black leather for a pair of boots.  I began with the holiday dress.  I wanted pure fancy and opulence-apparent for Louise.

The gown's bodice has a slightly higher "scoop" to the chest than her Court Jester costume.  This I fashioned hoping to give her a little more coverage and warmth due to the season.  A row of tiny black glass beads marches down the center towards the two skirted flounce below.  The underskirt is all taffeta with a row of knife pleats at the hem.  The top skirt is a scalloped affair timed with small ruffles.  Black silk ribbon bows dot the tops of each scallop point.  I'd noticed in many of the illustrations that white stockings appeared above dark boots, so I allowed her to remain in the stockings I'd made earlier.

Next, I made her a pair of black side button boots for crossing snowy pathways.  I was sorely tempted to make them of burgundy leather, but I couldn't justify the amount of the leather piece I needed to purchase for this small extravagance.  Slippers were often the same color or fabric of the dress in French fashion, but this was winter, boots seemed most appropriate and they can be worn with many other outfits.  I'd made the right choice, as I'd then decided to try my hand with the black soutache on the sac (jaconet, or jacket), and the boots would coordinate.

The jacket, again, is of wine colored cotton velveteen.  I had this gorgeous rose embroidered silk which I'd intended for a skirt or jacket, and chose to use it for the lining.  Elegant.  When I dress a doll, I often think, "What would I personally like to wear?"  "Well I think she'd like that, too".  I had this soutache with double loopy sides and thought I'd try it on the sac's edges.  While hand sewing this on, I went a step further to teach myself soutache loops.  There is one on each sleeve edge.  These were fun to do.  I'll admit that more than one, evenly made and centered, spaced on a dress will be a challenge, but at least I have an understanding of how this is done.  I also used these tiny black cloth antique buttons on her jacket that do not have a shank.  Instead there is a fabric on the bottom you thread the needle through.

While I'm firm to the conviction that you can assuredly make correct period fashions with modern fabrics, using antique trims sometimes boots the effect, and is always lovely.

Next came the hat.  I had an idea of what I wanted, but wasn't quite sure how to approach it.  Bonnet vs. Hat.  Hat vs. Bonnet.  Small or large?  Millinery hat wire or no?  I was hoping to make sense of a Bru hat that the fabulous seamstress, Georga Fedorchak, had made.  (I miss you Georga!  She passed away several years ago, God bless her.)  The wiring was such that you'd sew channels into the fabric, insert the wire, and tape or twist them at the ends, then sew the fabric ends over them.  I'm laughing as I write this, because I spent two days in agony trying to figure out exactly how she achieved the look she got without deconstructing one of her glorious chapeaus. 

This was supposed to be a band of a hat, but it turned into a bonnet.  There are four rows of wire in the bonnet with ruching between them.  Ribbon rosettes decorate the points at the chin, and a large fancy bow with a feather center the top.  I know what happened.  The football pattern of the hat was too wide in the center leaving more space than required to provide for the middle ruching.  Instead, it created a bonnet effect, and this was perfectly fine with me.  Someday I'll try the hat-band again, and when I do, I'll share Georga's work with you.

Lastly I added a dark mink muff.  The silk lining of the muff  is the same rose jacquard I used in lining the jacket.  A silk bow trims the center for a bit of elegance.

While working on the outfit, I'd been contemplating a gift for Louise.  Earlier in the year I'd purchased a Lisette by Cathy Hansen.  This was about the time that I'd finally purchased Sylvia MacNeil's Chiffonette book.  With Lisette's short blonde curls, she resembled the Huret Sylvia used in producing The Enchanting Trousseau of Chiffonette.  The long term miniaturist in me saw an opportunity to turn the 4" Lisette into a mini Chiffonette for Louise.  Of course that meant sewing 1860's costuming for a little bitty doll.

About the time I was to begin her costume, I'd been in touch with my friend Kathy who was eager "to see how I'd sew for a 4" doll".  There.  She challenged me.  I'm always up to a challenge, especially when it comes from an esteemed seamstress such as Kathy O' Malley of Bluebird Textiles.  So with task in hand, I decided that this costume should be made no differently than one I'd make Louise.  That is, not "doll house style" with glue, but plain old machine and hand stitching.

I can't tell you how many hours I've poured over Mac Neil's book, but if I was going to do this for a 4" mini Chiffonette, I was going to do it right!

I began with her underclothes.  The bloomers and slip were made from white Swiss batiste with lace edging.  This lace edging is done by placing the raw edge of the cloth against the edge of the lace and doing a machine zig-zag to attach it.  It finishes the raw edge of the fabric and tightly secures the lace at the same time.  The bloomers have a fitted waistband with silk ties in the back.  The slip is a full 7 1/2" wide and gathers with a thin cord of floss that runs through a channel at the waist, then ties in the back.  I was watching Claire dress on Outlander and this was how her full skirt fastened.

Actually, I take that back.  I started with her boots.  And, these were made "doll house style", as in not removable.  I can make them removable.  I'm admitting to "having a moment" of, well not laziness, because they're not easy to make doll house style either, but ease-of-effort.  Its been a very long time since I dressed a doll this size. 

Her skirt and jaconet are silk taffeta sewn exactly the way Louise's costuming is made.  Just super tiny.  I used this itty bitty fringe soutache for the trim.  Two hooks close the jaconet with thread loops.  I'm admittedly out of practice sewing this small and in such detail, but I promise to rid myself of that affliction.

Mini Chiffonette's hat was inspired by one of Sylvia's.  In a photo below you'll see the resemblance.  After attempting the straw hat free-hand, I found a bald porcelain doll with roughly the same size head, and used her head as the hat mold.  Silk ribbon replaces Sylvia's velvet which would have been too thick for the tiny hat, and a wee snip of feather.  I was going to make a cape for her to wear on her sleigh ride, but truly felt I needed to stop somewhere.  As these clothes are a meant for a trousseau, she'll have other pieces to wear in time.  My goal is for Louise to have her own French Fashion doll with trunk and trousseau, fully dressable, playable.

One last thing I'll share is that of Mini Chiffonette's sleigh.  This is a little antique from France that I didn't question purchasing.  Its simply fabulous with a silk seat covered in tiny gold buttons for the quilting effect. 

In the background you can see a pair of silver skating blades.  I almost made Louise a pair of ice skates for this outfit, but will save them for another costume devoted to 19c. ice skating.

The jaded artist in me fully expects that at some point someone is going to come along and make tiny Hurets and call them Mini Chiffonette's - like its a great discovery.  Watch.  It happened when I made a mini Daisy.  It's happened other times.  What I can say is that there is never too much of a good thing.  Art is like a signature and no two are alike.

Louise is delighted with her new doll.  A Huret for the holidays. 

I've been blessed today to write in the warmth of my home while a cold and very wet storm chases about outdoors.  The leaves that finally turned gold and red last week are scattered across the ground.  Autumn has finally arrived.

Miss E. Mouse

Windsor Castle 1880

Shopping in New York City 1848

Sylvia MacNeil's Chiffonette (Huret)

Louise's doll with hat.

So far...

Happy Holidays Louise Godey!