I've been busy, honestly!, with other projects these past weeks. Finishing a belated Christmas exchange gift, a Petite Chiffonette winter outfit for a friend's Lisette - in pink this time. and dressing a 9" Lawton doll to resemble an illustration dear to someone's heart. All wonderful projects...and then it's time for another.
I'd been wanting to create the Mabel Lucie Atwell outfit for some time now. No more than the two others I have in the hopper, but the very sweetness of Atwell's work was tugging at my heart after sewing a 1942 costume from the darling illustration of "Merrily for Merrily Knight".
Mabel Lucie Atwell is one of my very favorite illustrators. I remember the first time I came across her drawings. It was an illustration of a little mermaid holding a Golly doll. I used to collect mermaid ephemera, and this was how I came upon it.
Mabel Lucie Atwell was born in Mile End, London on June 4, 1879. She was educated privately and at the Coopers' Company School, and at the Regent Street school. She studied at Heatherley's and Saint Martin's School of Art, but left to develop her own interest in imaginary subjects, disliking the emphasis on still-life drawing and classical subjects. Her initial career was founded on magazine illustration, which she continued throughout her life, but around 1900 she began receiving commissions for book illustration. One of her most precious, to me, was that of Alice in Wonderland, in 1911. After a long and prolific career, she passed away at her home in Fowey, Cornwall, in 1964. Today her illustrations are adored by many for their enduring charm.
As I studied her Alice from the color plates available, I questioned in my mind whether the dress was intended as a printed white, or perhaps a shade of wisteria. As an artist, I do know that shading on white can take the hues of purples, grays and blues, yet I kept going back to the book cover, and to me, this was a shade of wisteria. And, so I began.
I could not find, naturally!, a fabric that even closely resembled what Mabel drew, so I chanced upon making my own. After studying the print in the various color plates, I decided a little red spade shape might be fun. I purchased a beautiful light cotton by Kaufman and a red, fine tipped fabric paint pen and went to work. The first thing I had to do was draw a grid so the placement of the spades would be correct. The dimensions are a slightly elongated square and I marked the fabric by draping it over the grid on a light box. Handy little tool, the light box. The spades aren't perfect, but they'll do. Anytime you apply wet to cloth, you risk a bit of "bleeding".
Alice's blouson dress has a drop-waist band, and large white cuffs on the three-quarter sleeves. Six little purple buttons with thread loops close the back. The separate pieces, top and bottom, were fully lined before attaching. And I added a lining to the drop-waist band on the inside to finish it nicely.
Alice wears a pair of heather gray stockings. In the illustrations, they seemed to be pulling down and wrinkling around her knees, so I snugged them down on her legs for this effect.
I made her a pair of white Mary Jane's with little rounded white leather bows. Mabel's Alice had red hair. I love red hair. I purchased a human hair wig for her, and struggled with the idea of cutting it, trimming it, to match the illustrations. I couldn't do it. So I tied it neatly with thread in the back and added pretty silk bows.
As I sat there looking at her dressed, I knew she'd need some kind of accessory to complete the outfit. I guess I went a little overboard. "Alice needs her caterpillar", I thought. While all the other critters are cute as can be, it is Mr. C that I often think of when reflecting on her adventures. And, the Cheshire Cat, but we'll save that for another day. This particular caterpillar appealed to me, as Mabel drew him in such as way as to be non-threatening to little ones. I hate to repeat myself, but I found him "sweet". And, I loved his fez.
I knew I would make him and his fungal stool as fabric soft sculpture, yet was considering the size. Let's face it. I don't have much room for display anymore, and I didn't want him to overwhelm Alice. So Alice, I decided, would be "in between bites of mushroom", growing taller or shorter as the case may be. The overall height of this piece is approximately 5 1/2".
The mushroom is made entirely of velveteen. It is off white on the cap and stem, and yellow beneath. The cap is stuffed with batting, and the stem is filled with dried beans. I began thinking the stem would sit nicely with a thread spool inside, but the beans are weightier and lend themselves to a rumpled look.
I must've spent as much time on the caterpillar as Alice's entire outfit. He is made up from a light gray velveteen that I had on hand. His little smoking jacket is velveteen also. The first attempt was merely for sizing, and as I went along, I was trying to figure out how I was going to attempt the edging. It dawned on me that bias trim just might work, ending the frustration as well, of the velvet's fraying. I had a patterned silk on hand, made a straight tape, then hand stitched it to tall the edges. Mind you, I was going to do this all in wool felt, but even the thinnest was too thick. Well, if it was going to be fancy, let's go all the way! His fez, however, is made of wool felt. It is decorated with clipped bits of two red sequins, and trimmed with a tassel of embroidering thread. His collar is also wool felt, and his bow tie is double-faced silk with hand painted (with a brush this time), little white dots. Gold buttons on his smoking jacket's cuffs.
And, what of his hookah? I was very tempted to do this in beads, but that would have meant a trip to Michael's, and maybe disappointment - if I couldn't find the right beads. So I soft sculptured this, too. Yes, there are two beads on it. Swarovski crystal beads, no less. One for the mouth piece and one at the top of the pipe for the smoke to emit from. I had to do the smoke, too. Just a little bit of batting. This was a lot of fun, but I'm no stranger to miniatures. The caterpillar and his hookah are straight-pinned onto the mushroom so the display can be disassembled and stored. One more note, a tiny piece of pin was glued into the mouth piece bead, so it "pins" onto where his mouth would be.
Sometimes I think I'm just having too much fun with this stuff! But, I wouldn't do it if it wasn't fun. Right? I hope you enjoy the photos. And, if you'll notice, in the last photo, and in her initial portrait at top, Alice has a piece of mushroom to nibble. I'll let you decide whether its a piece from the left or right of the mushroom, since as the Alice noted, the mushroom was "perfectly round".
Miss E Mouse
|A British biscuit tin.|
|Fairy legged cards ala Johnny Gruelle|
|I love this one!|
|"Well I should like to be a little larger, Sir, if you wouldn't mind", said Alice:|
"three inches is such a wretched height to be."