Friday, June 24, 2016

Gay Event's Riding Habit

On the day that Debby found Gay Event in the hidden corner of the attic, the family gathered round the kitchen table and spread her lovely items out for all to see and admire.  The trunk that Deborah's (Debby's great-great-great-grandmother's) father made for the doll included a tray.  "One end of the tray had a special place for slippers - three pairs.  One pair had plaid tops that laced up the sides."  This particular pair of slippers was a pair of boots for her riding habit.

"First we dressed Gay Event in her riding habit.  It was a dark blue wool dress with lots of embroidery.  One side of the full skirt had a loop to go over her wrist.  The black velvet top hat went with this costume and, of course, the plaid topped boots and tiny whip."

From these two descriptions, and the color plate illustration, I struck out to create Gay Event's Riding Habit.  Being in a hurry wouldn't have done me any good.  Not that I ever am in a hurry, but still. 

I remember when I used to create handmade miniature doll trunks that were elaborately painted with scenes from storybooks.  When it came time to drill tiny holes in the wood and glue in the tiny nails that would hold the hinges and latches, I'd panic.  One slip, one wrong placement, and the entire work would be ruined.  With this in the back of my mind (meaning that if I did all this embroidery, and blew it on the sewing, I'd be sunk), I cut out a large triangle of beautiful "dark blue wool" and began an embroidery process that would last two solid weeks.  Whatever "lots of embroidery" meant, I wasn't about to do too little.

First I had to find an embroidery pattern that somewhat replicated what Laura Bannon drew.  The "sense" of embroidery on the illustration is quite a mish mash, but I determined that it was pretty much "outline embroidery", so I went to Pinterest to seek vintage patterns that would resemble the work on the apron for her Walking Costume, and pattern the floral work on the illustration.  I found one that would suit my needs and worked with it in mirror images, partial images and centered placement on the skirt, then snippets for the sleeves.

Finding a way to transfer the pattern took three days.  Wool is a dense and fuzzy fabric.  If you looked at it under a microscope it would look like a thick forest.  Imagine a light snow falling on a dense forest, then a great wind picking up.  That's what it was like trying to get anything, anything to adhere to it.  Long story short, I finally tried a white charcoal pencil.  Whatever the contents of the marker is, it seemed to stick to the wool long enough for me to work around the markers.  I sized the embroidery pattern on plain paper, then with a sharpest tiny scissors I had, I cut out bits of the lines to make a stencil.  Placing the paper stencil on the wool, I lightly scrubbed in the white charcoal tip until I had a mark for placement of the vines, flowers, buds and centers.  I did sections of this in four stages.  I free handed the entire process in lazy daisy, straight stitch and French knots.  I can't begin to tell you how many French knots I made, but I'm an expert at French knots now.  And, wool is a pretty good fabric to embroider on since it doesn't stretch out of shape.  Two weeks.

But, before I even began the embroidery, I made the hem ribbon.  This is a double-sided silk, with two rows of picot trim, top and bottom.  I gave enough length to the top of the skirt to make sure it wouldn't be too short when sewn onto the bodice.  A row of the same navy picot trim edges the sleeves.

The pattern for the dress was easy.  It is exactly the same pattern as the Walking Costume.  I did widen the sleeves and bodice slightly to accommodate the thickness of the wool.  Very important to remember!  I also split the front of the bodice down the center and made a seam to represent the dress in the illustration.  Tiny yellow silk bows run down the front from a doubled and ruffled yellow collar.  I don't even want to talk about the collar.  Me and collars!  The bane of my existence.

Beneath the skirt, peeks a yellow under skirt.  My first attempt at this was with silk, with the netting lace being gathered and sewn on top.  The slip was too long, and the gathers of the netting lace were too bulky beneath the dress and thusly didn't fall right when Gay uses the wrist loop on the side of her skirt to show them.  I made a second one.  This one is of yellow batiste and the same, but not gathered netting lace.  The skirt is wide enough at the waist that it fits over her corset and white half slip. 

After the embroidery was done on the skirt, I once more continued the process of marking then stitching, adding a pretty design to the sleeves before assembling the bodice to attach to the skirt.  At this point I was heavily invested in the outfit, and it was either going to be a "go", or I'd simply give up.  It worked.  Thank goodness.

I then added eight tiny buttons down the back of the dress to close it with eight tiny thread loops.  In all, I used two full skeins of  number 366 embroidery thread using two threads for stitching the floral design.  That, is a lot of thread!  Dark blue on dark blue.  I might also add, while I'm at it, that for my model, I used another Lawton doll with the same lady body, so Gay could continue wearing her new Walking Costume for Spring.

The last detail on the costume would be the wrist loop.  I had absolutely no idea where to put it.  So I went online and had a look to see what "wrist loop" would show me.  Wedding gowns.  Brides use these to loop around their wrists so that they can dance in their gowns, but they are closer to the hem.  I decided to place it in close approximation to where the illustration shows Gay "lifting her gown" to show the yellow under skirt.  I poked a navy braid trim right through the wool to form the loop, and knotted it on both ends beneath.

Feeling quite done with whole thing, I started on the riding crop, or as Debby put it, "her little whip".  I used to love carving wood.  My father-in-law teased that I was whittling like an old man on a rocker.  Well, I was.  I guess.  And, what's so wrong with that?  Carving soft wood is a joy.  So I carved the knob at the top of her crop, added a thin dowel to it with a fitting inside for strength, then painted it black.
Gay wore white gloves with her riding habit, so I made a small pair of gloves for her.  If you use a "mitt" pattern, you will need the three little lines on top to give them the look of tailored gloves.  I don't know why I'd never thought of this before, but I found a way to do this more easily than pinch the fabric into a tiny pleat and stitch it.  A straight pin works lovely on its own.  You just sew beneath the pin for the length the pin is inserted into the fabric.  Try it.

The most joyous piece of this costume for me was the boots.  These silly little pink plaid topped boots.  With ruffles on the edges! (see illustration from the book below)  I'd never seen such a pair of boots before.  However, I do know that Laura Bannon did her research well, so something like this must have been worn. 

I had purchased this woven mini plaid early on when I began the project.  I had a pattern for the black dressing slippers she wore, so I simply added the boot tops to this.  The entire boot is of leather.

I used Lite Heat n Bond to adhere the woven plaid to the leather boot tops. I have a tiny hole puncher, and this produced the holes the laces go through.  There is a gusset flap on the inside front of the boot top that nestles nicely under the other edge so that no gaps show through when the boot is laced up.  This is also good for warmth as the ankles won't get chilly through the lacings.

The ruffles are a gathered Swiss scalloped lace.  Lots of details make up these boots, but how beautiful they truly turned out!  I was so surprised.  I surprised myself.  I really love them.  And to me, they are the very best part of this very dark costume.  Without the relief in bits of light yellow, and then the jaunty little boots, the costume would be soberly gothic.

I used jewelry cording for the ties, but may at some point use the suede jewelry cording - like on the Walking Costume slippers.  It will be more difficult to thread though.

Finally came the top hat. "Black velvet."  I'd made a top hat once before.  Long, long ago, I made a magician's top hat for Bleuette's Spectacle de Magi.  If there is one thing Barbara DeVilbiss taught me, that has been so incredibly useful in all the costumes I've made, it was hat making - the real way - with that magician's top hat.  I am eternally grateful.

I cheated.  I found a pattern on a website called childrensart for the top hat.  I was finding it difficult to acquire an oval "something" to trace, so I went to the Internet.  Robert Tonner once told me, "look it up on the Internet" (when I inquired on how to make a costume part), so I figured if he could, I could.  Of course, childrensart was for a paper hat, but I got the ovals I needed. 

I used a thin black cotton velveteen that frayed and pilled, but it was thin enough to do the trick covering the buckram base and not looking overly thick and heavy.  The buckram base of the brim has a hand sewn ring of hat wire on the edge for shaping.  The hat is fully lined in black silk, and the same silk edges the brim with a very thin length of bias.  Of course its not going to sit too properly on the curls of Gay's wig, but I'm alright with that. 

The veil is the seventh piece of netting lace, or wedding lace, that I purchased for the hat.  I tried various light blues, but settled on white anticipating the artist's intent. The colors chosen for the riding habit and veil, have much to do with both the description in the book, and understanding how "white" is drawn or painted in an illustration.  When painting white (on a white background), you use hues of blue and sometimes violet. When painting blue on blue, you must use white to highlight what would be the edges of blue on the blue.  Therefore, I used a white veil, and dark blue embroidery on the dark blue wool. 

As I mentioned earlier, I used another doll with the same body to make Gay Event's Riding Habit.  So when the time came, this morning, to dress Gay in her new costume, I was overcome with joy at how it looked on her. 

Now, of course, this is a wool riding habit that would be perfect on a chilly autumn morning, and not so suitable for summer.  However, for the next couple of days, Gay can model her new gown in the air conditioned studio, and then cool off in just her corset and half slip while I create her last costume, the ball gown.

Miss E. Mouse


  1. I have so much love for your work!

  2. I'm so glad I found your blog! At last year's Minnesota Doll Jamboree, one of the speakers showed slides of your Alice in Wonderland and Alice Liddel costumes on Wendy Lawton dolls, and I've wanted to know more about your work ever since.