Saturday, April 9, 2016

Alice Illustrated in Sue Shanahan's Lacy Pinafore

I've been a fan of Sue Shanahan's since I first came upon her work at a UFDC summer doll convention.  It was the year of Tell Me A Story, ten years ago.  I was looking for a ticketed event to fill in some time, and signed up for Daisy A Day.  I had no idea what to expect from the breakfast event, but the souvenir we received is one of my dearest treasures.  It was a tiny magnetic Daisy paper doll with several outfits and hats in a tiny matchbox style case.  Oh!  If only I'd known that I'd become one of Sue's biggest fans!  I would have gone up to meet her.  But, sadly, soon after this event, she disappeared.  I've never been able to find new work by her or even know if she's illustrating anymore.  And, I don't wish to think the worst. 

But, Sue Shanahan used to draw the most beautiful paper dolls for doll magazines, and even illustrated paper doll posters for a few of Wendy Lawton dolls and their wardrobes.  I've only seen one book available that she wrote and illustrated for.  Once in awhile I'll go on Ebay and see if I can find any old paper doll pages by her, as sellers will pull these from magazine issues and list them as collectibles.  This was how I found her Alice.

I knew as soon as I saw this, I knew that Alice Illustrated would have to own a similar costume.  I managed to win the auction for the paper doll page, and began collecting laces, fabric and what-not to create this.  I contacted Patty Kascsak, who's done beautiful needle felting for me in the past, for Lettie Lane and Polly Pratt accessories.  I wanted only the best for this costume, and she agreed to make Alice's flamingo croquet mallet, and hedgehog "ball". 

I must have been in La-la Land thinking this costume would be a snap.  Sure, some parts of it were your standard designs and construction, but I wasn't prepared for adlibbing on the pinafore, and had to figure out how to do the sleeves which have a ribbon running through at the wrist and pull to tie.

I must have spent several days trying to come up with a way to make the collar look like the Battenburg lace she drew.  I'd purchased no less than twelve different kinds of laces to see if one would work here, another there.  Several examples of Cluny, Tulle, Swiss, English, and Swiss beading in various sizes and patterns were strewn across my table for hours at a time.

I tried cutting out pieces, sewing them together, gluing them together, using snippets of this one, bits of another.  Anyone who has a good selection of laces knows that regardless of scalloped edges, and floral or vine designs, they all come in a length by the yard.  Some come with a nice little thread that you can pull for gathering.  Others you can gather by machine or hand.  Trying to simulate a 3" curved Battenburg lace collar out of any the existing laces proved problematic at the very least.  I finally had to think outside the box, or give up.  And, I seldom give up.

What I ended up using for the collar, was a simple Cluny lace, and this would be the same lace that edges the bottom of the pinafore.  I was a little disappointed in having to concede to this option, however the Cluny made a pretty collar for the dress in the end.  The collar is attached to the dress and trimmed in a bias edging at the neckline.  Two roses were carefully clipped from a piece of embroidered lace tulle for the collar's points.  These were then sewn onto the Cluny lace.

The sleeve ends were next.  I'm not entirely certain I did them to spec, but I achieved the results I wanted by turning the bottom edges up twice and stitching them down, after turning the long edge in to make a finished edge where the ribbon comes out.  I inserted the ribbon through before stitching up the length of the sleeve.  It worked.  The dress's bodice is lined, as well as the skirt, which is pretty standard practice for how I make these garments.  I like this better since you don't see hem stitches.

The bodice for the pinafore has four pin tucks, the top two a little higher spaced than the bottom two, and a length of Swiss beading lace runs down the center to the curved and pointed detail. A bit of lace runs along the top of the bodice.  The straps are actually lengths of lace sewn onto the side of the bodice, and I made them part of the dress by sewing the ends to the back edge under the collar.  If this sounds unusual, remember that I'm attempting to copy an illustration rather than sew a proposed pattern for an apron.

The skirted part of the pinafore is two aprons.  One is rounded and layers over the rectangle.  Both were trimmed with the Cluny lace.  The sides of the bottom apron piece is edged in yet another lace with little points.  Lace, lace, and more lace.  Her stockings are grey and white stripes as Sue's Alice wears.

Patty did a phenomenal job on the "croquet set".  The woman is brilliant when it comes to needle felting critters, and I couldn't be happier with them.  This month I will begin learning the craft.  I've been promising myself to do this, and keep getting sidetracked.  Why?  Because its a learning curve, and something entirely different from sewing.

Finally, there's Alice's brooch.  A pretty little cameo brooch.  I was lucky to find two black and white cameos on Ebay, which were to be used for earrings I think.  I used a clipped out piece of embroidery from some Swiss lace to set the cameo on, and a black felted wool base.  You can purchase these itty bitty round magnets for doll jewelry now.  You glue one to the brooch, and use the other to fasten it from beneath the garment.  The magnets have a strong pull, and are wonderful to use.  I discovered these as Jason Wu uses them for Fashion Royalty jewelry.

Just last night when I was thinking I was done, I took one last look at Sue's illustration and realized I'd not paid note to the braided hair band and loopy blue ribbon.  I've never created a hair piece before, but this wasn't too difficult.  It meant sacrificing a blonde human hair wig, but it was worth it.  The ribbon took a couple of tries since I've never made one like this before, but once I figured it out, it wasn't difficult.  Its made similarly to the kind of bows you attach to gifts.

April showers bring May flowers and Alice tells me she's talked to a few already, from the most magical garden she's ever been in.

Miss E. Mouse




  1. Hi, Love your dress, Alice has always been one of my favorite girl characters! I know the paper dolls you are referring to (but alas, have never been to UFDC.) I think the same Sue Shanahan is on facebook as Sue Shanahan Studio - she has beautiful children in her illustrations & I believe this is the same artist. I really miss Karen Prince doll jewelry (for humans!) and I recently purchased some by luck on ebay.

  2. Dear Melissa,

    I just read your post on Alice and Sue Shanahan. She lives in Chicago (I think), still does art and has a blog and a website.!illustrations/c17p1
    Just thought you'd want to see her sites. I LOVE your work--it is beautiful and inspiring. My best, Mary

  3. This outfit is wonderful, always love pinafores and aprons! The pinafore design and all of the beautiful lace is so feminine...Perfect! The animals are darling and perfectly done also.