Sunday, June 12, 2016

Lily, And the Story Behind Chiffonette

Gathering my wits about me after embroidering for two weeks on a wide rectangle of wool for Gay Event's Riding Habit skirt, I was able to finally "play" with my new camera yesterday.  Its a Canon G7X.  There seems to be much to learn about this sensitive little black box, but we'll get to know one another as time goes on.  And, I'm sure, get along just fine.  What I did learn after some 300 unusable photos, is that it likes lots of light when taking miniatures.  And, now with this little lesson under my belt, I'd like for you to meet Lily.  The doll that began the French Fashion sewing movement.

Many of you might be familiar with the French periodical, La Semaine de Suzette.  This was the magazine published in France during the turn of the 20th century, whose purpose was to teach little girls how to become grown up ladies and good mothers.  It taught them how to sew, cook, dress properly, and keep a tidy hearth and home.  The lessons among the pages were taught by Tante Jacqueline, and little girls were able to dress their "premium" doll, Bleuette, in an amazing amount and variety of fashions from 1905 through 1960.  Prior to this publication was La Poupee Modele (among others). 

From what I've gathered in my brief research (and you may fill me in on the errors and blanks, thank you), La Poupee Modele was first published in November 1863 after the Journal des Demoiselles hired Mademoiselle Jeanne Peronne to help develop a new magazine.  Peronne had opened a doll shop near their offices and offered a doll she named Lily to sew for.  The name Lily would be used for a doll of varying sizes, but the purpose remained.  Play and learning.  The magazine was published until 1924, but I suspect Bleuette had fully captured the interest of children in a fuller capacity by then.

Like "Suzette", La Poupee Modele offered not only patterns to sew, but the extraordinary treat of fabulously illustrated paper toys for the dolls to play with.  Lavishly colorized paper dolls and cut-out and put-together projects, like little buildings, were offered to keep their minds and little hands busy.  Today collectors and seamstresses (never use the word sewer, its a place where sewage goes - pet peeve of mine), sew for their own Lily dolls.

Enter Chiffonette.  Chiffonette was conceived to represent a teacher to Lily in the pages of La Poupee Modele.  She was a doll that would be writing to an audience of children in order to shape their tastes in fashion.  Chiffonette's lessons would include differentiating between the types of fabrics one would use, matching colors and shapes, selecting appropriate garments for the day, and how to accessorize for the correct toilette.  In short, this was a doll instructing another doll, and the child would learn through this incredible conception of playing dolls.  Is it any wonder that this rich history and the beautiful costumes to be made, have become so popular among seamstresses throughout the world?

Chiffonette would also advise young girls on etiquette, good behavior, and other things necessary for a child who is well raised.  She appeared in every issue under the title "Causerie", which means "chit-chat".  Often it was in the form of a letter to Lily.  She also responded to letters from readers in a column titled "Petite Courrier".  The name Chiffonette was not intended for a person, but was given the doll as a pet name derived from the word chiffon, or more aptly chiffonner, to rumple, crumple, to be a rag collector, to busy oneself with ones toilet and dress.

In the illustration of the dolls at their toilette, Chiffonette is the doll in the green dress and Lily is seated with her little maid coiffing her hair.  This image was my inspiration for rewigging a second Cathy Hansen Lisette.  I made the auburn mohair style as one would a doll house doll's wig, and even gave her new Swarovski crystal (blue) earrings to differeniate her further.  Needless to say, when Chiffonette receives a new gown, so now will Lily.  These are Louise Godey's dolls.  While they might stand on their own as individuals, their petite size of 4" will solidly keep them in the loving arms of their maman, or mother, Louise.  In this way, Louise, who is the American granddaughter (or niece...) of Louis Godey, of Godey's Lady's Book fame, can play for hours with the two French dolls gifted to her for her education and enjoyment.  When I can get my hands on a nice copy of a La Poupee Modele, I will make a miniature copy for her.

Lily needed a debut dress and I'd not yet done much with scallops.  As this journal post was primarily to be devoted to the history of Chiffonette and Lily, I will keep the creative process of her outfit and the corresponding "match" for Chiffonette to a minimum.  These two gowns and their hats were made several weeks ago.

I may have mentioned a year or so ago having purchased a Janome for the purpose of machine sewing scallops.  Why the Janome?  Because it allowed a stitch length and width adjustment for their few embroidery stitches, where my Juki did not.  Sewing the scallops was not as easy as simply pressing a peddle once the proper length and width of stitch were conceived.  Even for a tiny dress, the length of embroidery on fabric was well past 2'.  Also with the thinness of the lawn fabric, tissue paper had to be placed beneath the fabric to move it along.  This stitch is akin to the tightness of a button hole stitch on a machine, and it can jam up quickly under the foot bed and plate.  Need I say more?!  So doing just this work was something else altogether. 

But, the dresses are simple patterns due to the size of these dolls.  Obviously a bit of hand sewing was required to keep the softness and flow of the dresses.  I did widen the sleeve pattern to create a larger puff, but even at that, when banded and sewn into the bodice, they don't pouf as they would on a larger doll.  The gathers tend to condense the sleeves in almost-folds.

The tiny hats were made free form as there is no mold.  Would a mold help?  Certainly, but that means purchasing, and making up this rock hard putty stuff, carefully sculpting it into a form both usuable and that would fit a head with hair on it.  In truth, it takes more time to make a nice mold than to free form a hat.

Lily's day dress is a light yellow lawn with tiny golden roses.  She wears a pintucked, high collared chemise beneath.  Two rows of ruffle make up her skirt and a ruffled collar enhances the beauty of her gown.  Her hat is "leghorn" straw colored with antique wired flowers and silk ribboning.

Chiffonette's scalloped gown is of a cream lawn with violet flowers.  I love how the purple stitching pops the color of the roses out.  To make her gown a bit different, she has a faux ruched chemise sewn into the bodice and wears a matching fichu.  As described in the previous journal post on fichus, it was her own fichu that inspired me to do the research and discover Gay Event's Walking Outfit fichu.  This tiny fichu was a monster and tested my pure patience on every level.  But, I persevered and now she owns one for her gown, which looks delightful with or without it. Her hat is of brown straw and decorated with a scalloped edge, a tiny feather, and purple embroidery flowers.

Below are a number of lovely photos and images of both Chiffonette and Lily, and pages from La Poupee Modele.  Among them is my first try on a scalloped outfit for Chiffonette.  While the tiny lavender dot is perfect in scale and temperament for such a skirt and jaconet, the fabric, in my opinion, was too heavy (a quilting cotton), for the look I wanted.  I finished it regardless, and will keep it in their wardrobe trunk.  The waistband with the scalloped edge should also have been 2mm to a quarter of an inch shorter.  This is a very tiny doll to sew for and I don't always have successes.  I'll try this again when I find a more suitable fabric.  Perhaps Chiffonette can write a letter to Lily describing exactly what we should do to make this happen.

Miss E. Mouse
(P.s.  And, by the way, I intend on making the gardening outfit Lily wears below, for Louise.  And, if I can, her green wheelbarrow!)


  1. Oh my goodness, how beautiful! How tall are these lovely dolls?