Its no secret that I have always been fond of Becassine. This delightful young woman, with her big heart and two big feet that stumble her into the trouble, has been around for a century.
She first appeared in a comic strip in the French girls' magazine, La Semaine de Suzette, the very magazine that launched the Bleuette doll as an incentive for subscriptions to the periodical. LSdS (as most will refer to it), was the magazine that taught young girls in France to be good mothers, seamstresses, housekeepers and most of all good Catholics.
Becassine would later become affiliated with Bleuette as her very own nanny. Stuffed dolls were made from her image, books like the one pictured would be treasures in a child's nursery. And Bleuette herself, would get a pattern for a Becassine costume in LSdS.
I became familiar with Becassine when I purchased my first Bleuette from Global Doll Corp., when they resided in Lincoln, CA. Not knowing heads or tails about antique reproduction doll artists, I contacted Global after seeing an ad in Doll Reader with a particularly beautiful little Premiere in the photo. The owner said she would be happy to sell me the doll, and on a rainy spring day, I drove down to Lincoln and began playing Bleuette. I also picked up a copy of Barbara Hilliker's book on Bleuette. That afternoon as I sat pouring through this enchanting volume, I began a curiosity in Becassine that would last many years.
My new doll would need a tiny Becassine to call her own, so I pulled out a packet of PaperClay and made her one. She needed a trunk, so I made a miniature wood doll trunk and painted the image of Becasssine in a gold frame, from Hilliker's book, on the front, with light blue and white stripes on all sides. I would make and sell over forty of the 3 1/2" dolls during my first years of Bleuette collecting. I also recall making Becassine toys and clogs with her face embroidered on the wool for a Bleuette doll. All sold. Since then, I've moved on and seldom think of her. These Becassine items can be viewed in a gallery on my website www.zhibit.org/houseofmissymouse
A couple of months ago, my friend Betsy, came to my rescue when the edict of "No More Dolls" came from the "lord of the manor". I'd already committed to purchasing two of Nada Christensen's mini 5" Bleuettes from the Lawtons (as they had extras from the Birdie and Her Bleuette edition), and didn't know what to do. Betsy purchased both for me with the idea that she would get one, and I'd dress and wig the doll in compensation. I was truly overcome with gratitude for the rescue. The request was to make the dolly a Becassine costume.
When I made the tiny PaperClay dolls, the costume was made as one would dress a doll house doll. Fabric pieces and glue. I had to rethink my process, and keep in mind Betsy's dislike of top-stitching. She also requested velvet ribbon trim, which I knew wouldn't work for the scale of the doll.
So I came up with the idea of piecing fabric strips together to create the look. Betsy also has very discerning tastes, so I chose the finest, thinnest velveteens I had, and matching silks for the linings.
This little outfit, making the pattern pieces and constructing it, was as much effort as anything I do for Louise Godey. I know it is difficult to see, but the bodice is a long sleeved "vest" over a white, black and red chemise, that is sewn into the arm holes to connect it. I pieced the white to a black velveteen band, then red velveteen to the black band with an all white chemise back. The "vest" fronts are lined in matching green silk taffeta. This bodice was then lined to eliminate the wearing, and visibility of the pieced together fabrics.
The black sleeve bands are velveteen, lined with black silk taffeta, and hand hemmed. Why silk taffeta? Elegance, surely, but because its the thinnest fabric I could find. The black high collar is also black taffeta, and was one of the most difficult pieces to make. The tiny doll has no neck to speak of, and the true collar is only 2mms or less wide. Buttons and thread loops close the back.
The skirt is pieced together as well and the hem hides this piecing and is hand sewn. The apron is a lined "pocket" sewn into the waistline. I did not have to design the cap, but rather enlarged the PaperClay doll's hat pattern.
I'd originally made brown tights to go under this costume, but the jersey knit was too thick for the tiny shoes, so I made a pair of lace trimmed knickers with a drawstring waistband. White jersey knit stockings complete the look.
I still had to wig the doll. I don't enjoy mohair wigging. I will do it when necessary, but I always cringe at the thought. The last wigging I did was for Lily, Petite Chiffonette's friend, which IMHO came out very well. Its not that I can't do it, but the memory of long hours with bits of mohair and glue all over the place don't make it my favorite craft. For some reason, the wigging of Betsy's doll came out perfect the first time around. She and I discussed at length, what style and color the doll should wear. What was typical of Bleuette? Probably the bob. I should note that it was Nada Christiansen (the artist of the 5" Bleuettes), who taught me the ropes of miniature doll wigging. So, so long ago! An indispensable technique. We miss Nada. She was one of the finest miniature doll artists we had.
The shoes were made in China for Nada's dolls.
Last Friday I finally took my first class in needle felting. It was a basic techniques class for a piece of pumpkin pie. You may recall me mentioning the upcoming class in my last post. I'd messed around with some roving wool and needles awhile back while watching online tutorials. I got about as far as a little blob and wasn't pleased with how it was coming along, and promptly dropped the "learning" until I could find a class or someone to show me the ropes. When I found the class in Loomis, CA, at The Tin Thimble (don't you love the name?!), I was all over it. I generally do not enjoy workshops or classes, for the simple reason that they are intense and students seldom finish the project within the hours given.
However, this class had only three students, and the instructor took us step by step, individually, as we progressed at our own pace. Nanette was the perfect teacher, with patience and encouragement, but moreover, she gave me invaluable hands-on techniques for this and future projects. She also described in detail the wools, their uses, and the needles and how best to use each.
Her sample of pie was a wedge about 4 1/2" long, if my visual memory is correct. She's a miniaturist herself, and welcomed my choice to make one smaller. It would also take less time to make than a larger slice. My pie wedge came out to be 2 5/8" long. The class was for four hours, and I took only two small breaks to use the restroom. It lasted from 11am to 3pm, but she was happy to stay as long as needed for each of us to finish.
I don't believe the other two students did finish as they were struggling a bit with the technique and size they started out with. I left around 3:30 myself, and thanked her profusely for providing this class at The Tin Thimble. She traveled a good 50-60 miles to give it, and I will take future classes from her when she gives them.
This Thanksgiving I am grateful for so many things. But, in particular, I am thankful to Betsy for her enduring friendship, and Nanette Scott for getting me started in a craft that I have long wished to learn and perfect.
Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving. Keep hope in your hearts and never give up on your dreams.
November, to me, is one of the gentlest months of the year. Oh, I know. So many people are thinking ahead to the holidays, the madness, the dinners with family and decisions of gift giving in the upcoming season of Christmas. But, for me, the early morning sun, darkness by five o'clock pm, the leaves changing from reds and golds to rusts and browns as they loose the trees and drift to ground - this is a quiet and soft, dreamy time of year. I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be than creating in my studio with colors and styles representing the season, for some special little doll.
Meet Laura Peterson. She is Louise Godey's best friend. She is the same size and Lawton body as Louise. Fourteen inches, wood and porcelain. Laura is yet another Lawton rescue reborn and I've so many design plans for her.
Laura's family are the Peterson's of Peterson's Magazine, or Peterson's Ladies' National Magazine, founded in January 1842. Charles Jacobs Peterson and George Rex were partners at the Saturday Evening Post when they decided that a new women's journal was needed to compete with Godey's Lady's Book. It was issued at a lesser price as an alternative to Godey's, and featured just as lovely fashion plates from France.
Both American publishers claimed to be the first to present the latest styles from France, and to be in direct communication with Paris via its own correspondent, all the while blatantly issuing unauthorized engravings of French fashion plates. This is why you see French writing on the engravings. I found it very interesting that the engravings issued by Godey's had such a different look to them than those of Peterson's. Different artists perhaps, but when researching Laura's background, I found Peterson's to be quite beautiful and softer in appearance. The settings are quite different, and below you'll find three examples of them.
I wanted Laura's first gown to be quite different than anything I'd done for Louise. It was my intention, after making two little fall fashions for Petite Chiffonette and Lily (see below at bottom of page), to make a large one like Lily's for Laura. It was also my intent that Louise would share her dolls with Laura, and Lily would become Laura's doll. But, you know how girls are with their dolls. Of course they can play dolls together, but Laura would need an accessory with her debut gown, and so a doll was procured from the pile for her.
Laura's gown is silk taffeta in wine and gold stripes. It has bias piping on the neckline, shoulders at the sleeve, and piping at the waist. It also boasts lappets (new for me) with piping all around them. The skirt is finished with a bias stripe, and the bodice with bows at the shoulders.
Let us begin with the blouse, or chemise. I wanted to make her something she could wear beneath many of her gowns or skirts, so I put a little more effort into this. The chemise is pleated across the entire front to the end of the shoulders. The high neck band is trimmed in delicate lace. The full sleeves have wrist bands that are trimmed in the same sweet lace as the collar. While you cannot see the back, tiny mother of pearl shank buttons close it with thread loops.
Laura is wearing the Lawton wig that once belonged to the original doll Louise is from. However, I tied it up and back with a black ribbon like the children in the illustrations of La Mode Illustree. I was wondering how I would be able to share the details of the bodice with those long sausage curls falling down over her shoulders, and this style took care of that.
I like piping. I think the first time I really enlisted it as a decorative trim was with Sterling and Amethyst's light blue sailor outfits. The piping itself is not difficult to make, but takes up an extraordinary amount of fabric since you have to cut it from the bias of the cloth. If you wish to have a long uninterrupted piece, you have to take it further from the edge of the fabric, rendering that section just about unusable for anything else. Then there's the tedium of pinning it to the section you wish to apply it to - like six little squares. Pin it, turn it, pin it, sew it, lay the other square to the back, pin it and sew over the stitching on the reverse side as close to the piping as possible. Then turn the little square inside out. Six times. Lappets. Lappets can also end in points, which is lovely. Often they are edged, but I had to try using the piping this way.
As to their origin, its only my guess. They "feel" Renaissance to me. Spain? Italy? France? I've no idea, but fashions of yesteryears repeated themselves in historical fashion design as they do today. They are not a design I would employ often, but I will do them again. They have a royal feel to them.
The final design to the gown was in the bias strip along the hem of the skirt. It was an afterthought at best. I design as I go along and when something needs a bit more, I just try things. The bias strip was just that. It is hand sewn on with the ladder stitch, top and bottom. It echoes the slants in the piping and pulls the look together. Two bows are fashioned over the narrow shoulders to dress the bodice up a bit.
At last we come to Laura's little doll. Laura's doll is a family heirloom from the mid 18th century. These wooden dolls were used as fashion mannequins sent from Europe to show ladies in the states what the latest fashions were. Wooden dolls could also have been Queen Anne dolls. I am not an expert on these dolls by any stretch, but wooden dolls have been around for a very long time. I'll be on the hunt for an appropriate porcelain doll, and until then, the heirloom doll will be her favorite.
As for Laura's doll, this one started out as Elizabeth's "fashion" doll from the Revolutionary War time period. Elizabeth was Felicity's English, and best friend, from American Girl when it was Pleasant Company. I simply undressed her and made her a gown from the scraps of Laura's. Or should I say that Laura's seamstress made the family heirloom doll a new dress at Laura's request?
It is doubtful that I will make more gowns like this for Laura's doll, but you never know. It was no piece of cake. I'm watching Season Two Outlander right now on Blu-Ray, and Claire's gowns in France are so inspiring.
While writing this journal, I thought of a name for Laura's doll. Isabelle. I'll probably be sewing for Laura through the end of the year to establish a minimal wardrobe for her. The funny thing is, now that Louise has a friend and so does Petite Chiffonette, I'll have to make four coordinating costumes at a time. Why do I do this to myself? At least this seamstress is busily employed by the Godey's and Peterson's. Rival publishing families, but the girls don't mind a bit.
One last note. Finally, after all this time, I found and signed up for a class in needle felting. There are some techniques I need to observe in order to do it myself, and needle felting was one of them. November 18th. The class is for a piece of pumpkin pie. How apropos! Won't they be surprised when I make a doll sized one instead?
When I take on a commission, I don't do it lightly. Its not often that I'll even accept one nowadays. My reasons are personal, but primarily have to do with how I spend my time. If something appeals to me, or I find the subject of interest, after careful consideration and the belief that I can provide what is asked, I'll accept.
Following this, my days and thoughts concentrate only upon the task, and untold hours of research are put into the costume, if I've not done something similar before. Hours are also put into selecting top quality, specialty fabrics, and expense is put out. While designing the patterns and tailoring them for a perfect fit for the doll, I continue to research each piece for historical accuracy.
Taking on something like an Edwardian Safari collection may not initially seem like an issue, but there are literally no photographs of women on Safari during this era. There are countless images of men with their "prizes" in safari settings and near encampments. It is only a guess why women didn't go on Safari, or at best were not included in photographs. I only found one where the woman clearly was holding camp and not actually beating the brush, and hiking with her rifle, camera equipment, etc. in appropriate wear.
What would a woman wear for such an adventure in the Edwardian era? Practical, but utterly feminine. Covered, but light weight enough for the climate. And, when it came to what she wore on her feet, feminine, but sturdy boots so that she could enjoy what a man could without twisting her ankles or falling behind the game in little heels.
With these factors in mind I chose linens in white and moss green. For the veil to shield her face or wrap the sun hat on her head, I chose Illusion netting, or fine bridal netting. Illusion is also used for ballet tutus, something I was introduced to about 17 years ago by Janna Joseph when she made little Degas dancer outfits for two doll house dolls for me.
I was asked to make a high necked blouse, jacket, belt, skirt, jodhpurs, a hat with veil and tall black boots. I began with the blouse choosing to dress the doll from the bottom up. All these pieces would fit over Wendy Lawton's Haute Couture's undergarments consisting of an ankle length chemise, bloomers beneath, and a laced up corset. Haute Couture has the same 14" lady doll body as Gay Event. However, none of Gay Event's patterns even came close to "Edwardian Safari", so I began afresh.
The blouse is made from a woven Italian shirting cotton. It is gathered above the bust and features the high neck, full long sleeves with wristbands, and closed in the back with thread loops and tiny buttons.
The skirt has six gores and is pleated at the waist in four places. These pleats are seamed down for tailoring, and six tiny buttons embellish the pleats, as Edwardian skirts seemed to require such fancy.
The jacket is long and modest with two large patch pockets to hold maps, a compass, or any needs she may have out on the Serengeti. Three belt loops hold a stitched, leather belt in cognac leather to complement the buttons, with a shiny brass buckle. Three holes allow for adjustment on the belt.
The jodhpurs, my personal favorite, are made similarly to the skirt with four stitched down tiny pleats. It was interesting creating this pattern for the proper fullness of the legs. Wide bands end the jodhpurs just below the knee and tuck in nicely to the tall black boots. All these factors play heavily into the design. The foot of the doll must easily go through the ends of the pants, yet be small enough to fit snuggly when the boots are worn. Four gold buckles strap the boots securely to the doll's legs, and can be cinched tighter should she wear them under her skirt. Crazy as it seems, it took me three days alone to make the boots.
The hat, Swiss paglina straw, and the veil of Illusion as I earlier mentioned. While designing and dressing the doll, I felt the costume needed a bit a dash, so I made a small silk neck tie and an amber, or topaz, necklace to give décor to the blouse.
Haute Couture was photographed with Tonner's Ralphie's rifle for effect, but was not included in the collection. I was informed by the customer that he was an accomplished miniaturist and would find joy in making her accessories.
Countless hours of design and hand stitching went into this collection, as well as dressing and photographing the doll. When all was said and done, I was stiffed on the commission. The details do not need to be discussed, but upset and disheartened by this, its taken me quite some time to recover from feeling violated. I normally journal on my creations promptly following completion, but its taken me this long to feel good enough to write on this ensemble. At the end of the day, its a fabulous creation and should be shared.
Below are some photos from the Edwardian period that I used for design inspiration. The boots were designed from studying what men wore on Safari.
Currently I'm back with French Fashion, or Civil War era costuming from the 1860's. I've a new doll I'm sewing for, and losing myself amongst silks and rufflings is wonderful therapy. I will add that if anyone has a 14" lady Lawton doll and is interested in this ensemble, you can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Its a new month! November is a wonderful time of year for continuing to enjoy the autumnal changes and looking forward to the holidays. Blessings to all of you who faithfully follow my journey on the creative process.