Winter has arrived. A new year is well under way with January snowfall heavy in some parts of the country, while rain persists to saturate the thirsty earth in others. I love snow. I believe anything, any landscape can be improved by a deep, pristine layer of white. And, winter costuming is my favorite to create due to its layering, richness of color and cloth, and of course design. Hoods and boots. Ice skates, sleds and snow shoes. Always the accessories excite me, but before the item, the doll must be dressed for the occasion.
While finishing up the bits and thread snips to Marigold's wintery costume, I was purchasing some beautiful, finely thin velveteens from Ralston's in the U.K. For quite some time, I'd been wanting to create Louise Godey's Winter Skate set, yet as with all my creations, time, planning and close scrutiny to the illustration came first. Its not that I won't, on occasion, just pick up a fabric and make a little dress, but when it comes to designing these costumes from the 1860's, every detail must be right. And, what precedes it is careful study of the subject to be created.
I recall very distinctly wishing to make the dress on the right of the illustration as I loved the mantelet (cape), and the diamond insets in the skirt of the gown. Yet, the other dress in the illustration was so unusual that I felt a desire to create this one as well. For some reason it escaped me that the mantelets, both worn by the girls would be the same. How often do you run across an illustration that shares both the front and back of a costume? For me, not often. I usually have to make the back up as I go along.
I don't read instructions. I've an artist's severe handicap in that I create only by what I take in visually. Most of time this serves me well, yet undoubtedly I do some research when in doubt. So I read, again, the descriptions of the gowns that the illustration provided. What I discovered was that the mantelet was the same one both front and back, just shown on two styles of dress. So I decided to do both dresses. I'd picked out a pale opal-pink for one of the dresses, and a pale morning glory blue for the second. But, then I thought, if I'm really going to do this correctly, I should stick to the colors the description called for. Blue and grey. Civil War uniform colors. Authenticity, to some degree, was how I approached this. To some degree in that I don't really like working with wool as I'm allergic to it, and I felt velveteen would show up richer in the doll costuming.
I had this interesting discussion with my husband about the blue and grey Civil War uniform colors. For one thing, dyes were not easy to obtain back then, especially in war times. While there were yellows and reds from ochre and minerals, the advent and range of the colors we see today began with a factory in Germany much later than the mid 1800's. As with Louise's all blue dress, I kept thinking of Bonnie Blue Butler, Scarlett's little daughter in Gone With the Wind. She wore a blue gown on her famous and fatal pony ride. And, of course Gone With the Wind took place during the Civil War. I must do a study of color and costuming some time. Anyone know a good research book? I was also struck with the trimming, the lines within these costumes and all the buttons, as they "felt" rather military. What came first? The costuming or the design of the uniforms?
I began with the tough item first. The mantelet. What on earth was I looking at? One pattern piece? Two? Naturally, an illustrator who is not providing a pattern will draw a lovely picture and in so many cases leave out the details of seams. So I made the pattern up on the fly. After several tries, the area that was most confounding was the back which forms both a scallop shape and two pleats. I knew I was "in for it" with the scallop edged hood, but getting just the right shape for the cape-base of the pattern was tricky. In order for it to lay nicely on her back, as in the illustration, a bend would need to take place, with the scallop fanning out - like a kick-pleat. So a seam was definitely going to occur down the back of the cape. It could not be on a fold.
The hood pattern, I made from copy paper. I needed a stiffer-than-paper-towel pattern to cut the precise scallops needed in the fabric. You'll notice the half scallop shape at the top where the seam goes. The two pieces together make for one smooth scallop, and this was the same for the back, lower edge of the mantelet. I am not asking a professional pattern maker who's studied real museum costuming to give me the thumbs up, but I do think I came up with a pretty cool pattern piece for this cape. Putting it together was another matter.
I had purchased 10 yards of 3mm black velvet ribbon for all three pieces (both dresses and the mantelet). All the trimming was hand sewn on, one edge and then the other. I must have three thousand tiny stitches put into these pieces. It took patience, fiddling and pinching and turning, and more patience to get just the trimming on. Curving the ribbon over the shoulder in just the right placement took a couple of hours. All I had was the illustration to go by. How far does it come down on the shoulder? Where does it hit at the waist? How can I pin it on without the pins interfering with the hand stitching? Then there are the jet glass bead buttons that decorate the mantelet. I used 3mm beads for this. (Click on the photo of the illustration to see better all the details they added.)
The dress called for "pleats at the hem adorned with velvet ribbons fastened with large jet buttons". For these trims I used a 4mm velvet ribbon and 4mm jet beads. As with Marigold's green velveteen coat, I was once again gathering this thick fabric, but this time for the skirt of the dress. How was I going to create "all those pleats" at the hemline as shown? Here I had to fiddle with the width of the skirt. The normal width, gathered, wouldn't even sew into the bodice. It had to be much smaller, hence less pleats. Measuring the pleats so they came out "even" and well spaced took another couple of hours. Just to pin them! The pleats are tack stitched.
The ribbons are simply one short length bent right over left and tacked to the center of the pleat, "fastened" with a large jet bead. No wonder I didn't get fancy with the bodice! No. That's not why. I knew the dress would be worn with the mantelet over it and the bodice wouldn't show. And, would need to be a smooth layer beneath as well.
I might add that this dress was trimmed in a cabin at Sorenson's Resort, deep in snow, in the Sierras south of Lake Tahoe. I took with me, on our four day cross country ski holiday, a sewing box for the quiet times.
Louise would also want a sled to push her petite Chiffonette over the ice in. I found this little sled on Ebay, needing a bit of work naturally. I upholstered the seating in black leather, then added a string of jingly bells to it. Each little bell is sewn on to a leather strap that ties to the handle bar. As much as I would have enjoyed finding a wooden sled like the one illustrated, I'm afraid I would have needed to wood-shop this, and we do have our priorities. This little sled was the perfect size for Louise to push, and would do just fine.
Of course I was looking at antique postcards of skating/sledding scenes to inspire me, and there were some fabulous ones. In some, the sled is nothing more than a chair fitted with runners! Others have swans in the front, or lovely carvings and gildings. Someday I might try to make one. When the garage is not a mess, and its warm outdoors.
While preparing for our snow trip, I quickly made up the second dress to take with me as well, and trim if there was time. As it turns out, this velveteen was slightly heavier, and therefore the skirt would need to be even shorter in width. I think its about 2" shorter in width than the blue. Still, even with the gathered thickness at the waist, I was able to get it sewn to the bodice just fine. I love velvet! I'll make it work.
I was enchanted by the diamond shaped insets on the grey dress. These, I made up in the blue velveteen the other gown is sewn from, and naturally matches with the mantelet. The trim was something that took four days to sew on. Here I was concerned I'd run out of the ribbon. I barely made it as it is. I think I had about seven inches left when I was done. I'd experimented a little with the bodice to make the dress a bit fancier. I added a stripe of the ribbon just above the skirt waist. It also has bands of ribbon at the wrists, which I detected in the illustration. Such a pretty dress. Sapphires in the snow. I won't lie. The banding was troublesome. The even spacing of the rows, the slopes to the diamonds, and the bending around the diamond insets are what took most of the time. Both dresses, and the mantelet are fully lined in silk. Pick stitching the ribbon so as to only catch the upper fabric, not the lining, also took some patience.
There are smaller jet beads that adorn the ribbon points as well. I used the same size beads as were used on the mantelet.
Here I would like to back track a bit and describe how the hood of the mantelet was made. As you've noticed, there are scallops along the edge. First we'll talk about the lining. The lining is both velvet and silk for the hood. In order to be folded back with just the velvet showing, a velvet band of the scallops was sewn about 2" into the rest of the lining. The lining is all one piece. Sewing the velvet ribbon on the scallops was interesting, too. Lots of little curves in a ribbon that doesn't lend itself to curving. I took pinches in the edges of the ribbon where necessary. I think this is where I would have enjoyed a little help from someone who has sewn this kind of detailing before. Yet, I consider it all a challenge and it exercises the grey matter in my head.
Of course, petite Chiffonette needed a new winter outfit for her little mother to take her sledding in.
I once again opened that lovely book by Sylvia MacNeil to find some inspiration. Interesting that her doll really doesn't have a selection of wintering costumes. But, she did show a little capeline that she made to go with a silk dress with silk cape. A capeline is a little hood that rests on the shoulders. I was enchanted with the quilting done on hers, and decided to try a little bitty one for Louise's doll. This would be the signature piece of the outfit.
I used a piece of cotton diaper fabric under the silk to give it the effect of padding. Anything thicker for a tiny doll would not have worked. I marked out the diamond pattern of the quilting and stitched the lines on the machine. The capeline is really just two pattern pieces. A length with a domed top, and the band that goes base to base over the crown. This was lined with silk, turned inside out and hand stitched on the bottom. Instead of the pleat, which would not have worked due the thickness, I made a few gathers then added the silk ribbon bow.
The edge is a thin strip of real fur. This is a sheared fur so more dense in appearance. Sylvia used swan's down for her much larger hat, as described in her book. Two little silk lengths in 2mm ribbon make up the ties.
Her dress is a silk skirt with a white bodice "blouse" sewn to the waist. Remember, she's only 4" tall. The sleeves are puffed and end in wrist bands. Her little cape is of the velveteen I was originally going to make one of Louise's dresses from, and this is fully lined in silk as well. Two little gold buttons adorn the neck front, and a tiny thread loop closes over the second button. As funny as this may sound, I almost enjoyed making this tiny outfit more than Louise's two gowns. Tiny eyelash trim decorates the skirt's edge. Two rows might have looked sweet, but her other dress has two rows of black eyelash trim and I wanted this one to be different.
Lastly Louise needed her skates. The boy's skates are probably made of wood with metal edges, but I had these metal blades and they fit beneath Louise's shoes just right. So I made a leather base and did my best to get the straps to look the same.
In my observations with the antique postcards, I've seen similar skates, but honestly, the artists draw them all differently. The skates in the postcard I included in this post, where the girl is wearing a capeline (below), are most like the pair in the Godey's illustration. For the sake of interpretation, I omitted a strap around the heel, but I do believe I'll add one to keep them on Louise's feet better.
Thank you Jenni, Lori, Ruth, Kathy and Kiki for leaving those most appreciated comments! You are so right Ruth. There was a time when I refused to sew. Had no interest in it whatsoever. But, I do enjoy it (due to designing my own patterns), just as much as the accessories I used to "only" make. The joy is in the detail work.
I hope you'll enjoy these select photos from Louise Godey's Winter Skate (albeit a lot of them!)
I've no idea what I might do next, but Alice Illustrated might get her Gwynedd M. Hudson (white with black trim) dress next. Best order some more of that 3mm black velvet ribbon. Right now, the new winter issue of Doll News arrived in the mail today, and its begging a look through.
Miss E. Mouse
(In the photo of Louise in just the blue gown, she is holding a teeny "her size" mignonette that I dressed in blue for her to play with while she underwent the many pinnings and fittings.)
|Louise and her petite Chiffonette|
|Civil War Uniforms|
|Sapphires in the Snow|
|Bonnie Blue Butler|
|She wears a capeline. Notice his skates.|
|Cute as button!|
|Louise Godey's Winter Skate|
|To the ice! Skating away! Jing-jing-jing!|