Spring is here. Some days are sunny and warm, and others bring thundershowers and spring snow to the Sierras. It is during this time of year that we all turn our faces to the blue skies and let the warmth of the sun toast our noses just a tiny bit. Daffodils bloom. Stalks of Iris in colors of purple, white and yellow tower in glory above the new blades of grass. Even a yellow dandelion can be a joy to behold as spring turns to summer. This year, yellow is my color. I used to love orange, and still do, but yellow makes me happy. Its a color full of energy and promise.
Yellow is also one of the hardest colors to find in beautiful fabrics. I'm not talking about the ginghams and quilting cottons, but the fine silks and velvets I love to sew with. I must have four or five yards of different hues and weights in yellow silks right now that I cannot use for Gay Event's Walking Outfit. About three weeks ago I tried and purchased one more yard of yellow silk from Bangkok. It takes about five to six weeks for yardage to arrive from Thailand, so I've been working on the accessories that go with Gay's costume.
And, as you know, I've been once again swooning over Sue Shanahan's paper dolls from long ago. Another she did for Wendy Lawton, was a poster paper doll that was framed, of Flora McFlimsey. I once had this piece of art, but sold it since I didn't have a wall to hang it on. I also used to have her Flora McFlimsey collection, which was a trunk with two day dresses, a night gown and cap, and a red cape and party gown. I sold that, too. Why? Because I was stupid. LOL I didn't play with her because she was difficult to dress, and her clothing was nothing to get excited about. My tastes had become more sophisticated, and I was more into the wood body dolls than porcelains.
So there I am looking on Ebay (guilty as charged), and see Sue's framed poster of Flora McFlimsey and fall in love with her all over again. Then someone lists one, and even though it is missing the cape and party gown, everything else is there. Its "rescue time". And, now I can sew for her. Flora is an 11" all porcelain child doll with an incredibly cherubic face. I always thought she needed more clothing than they gave her, especially in the colors of green and yellow. Yellow! This would round out the color wheel of her wardrobe to some extent, and prove what a Type A I truly am.
Her wardrobe was made by Boneka, I'm pretty sure. I came to that assessment since Boneka was sewing for Lawtons in 1993, which was also when most of the porcelain dolls were being made. However, the fabric choices were subdued in class, and if I was going to beef up her wardrobe, I'd need to follow suit with the styles. I had a yard of this lovely Mary Rose cotton by Quilt Gate, and it would be the perfect beginning for rescued doll collection.
Wishing to stay true to design concept, and having to make this up on my own without an illustration to go by, I took measurements from the pink dress with the horrid Bertha collar (its just too big), and began drafting a pattern set to work from to make her yellow Mary Rose dress. Boy, was this an eye opener! Porcelain dolls have much heavier dimensions than the jointed wood body Lawtons. As diminutive, at 11", as she is, the patterns are huge. It took me three draftings and a definite mock up to design a "simple" dress that would fit her. I also studied the structure of the pink dress and how it was put together. One of the elements it boasts, is an under skirt with wide, gathered, 3" Swiss lace at the bottom to help keep the dress full. The width of the skirt is 25", and twice this in Swiss lace is gathered and sewn to the hem. I took this in another direction to make it unique, and allowed the lace I used to be part of the overall look by dropping it below the hemline decoratively.
The little shoes she's wearing were a pair I had bought at the factory sale long ago. While they fit the doll, there was no corresponding dress for them, and I wasn't sewing at the time, so I simply kept them when I sold my first Flora. I'd intended to make a dress with grey in it to go with the shoes, but yellow won out for Spring. I will make one though eventually.
The dress is simple and could even be considered plain, but for me it was all about the color and floral rose pattern. A hat! A bonnet would be just the thing to round the costume out. Flora can wear the Bleuette sized bonnets from the PNB hat mold company. I have four styles of molds, and I chose the O43 for her. I added two extra rows to give the bonnet more appeal on her bouncy ringlets, then added a bow to the back in the Mary Rose cotton of her dress.
The dress is finished with three little yellow buttons and thread loops. She is still a difficult doll to dress, harder to design for because of this, but I now have some basic pattern pieces to work from. I think I'll really enjoy filling her trunk with a few more outfits. She needs something in peach, and of course, something in grey, and green, too. She'll need a new party gown and cloak as well. I intend to make this collection "my own".
Working with yellow, or any bright color can cheer a cloudy day. I cannot wait until the "hopeful" yellow silk taffeta arrives for Gay Event's outfit. If it turns out to be unsuitable, I have some yellow cotton I can use. I can't put this off much longer. I have made first drafts of her Walking Outfit pattern, so my next step is to do the mock up. Sewing centers me. It distracts me from unhappy thoughts and is a wonderfully creative outlet. Just thinking up new things to make motivates me along.
I hope you're enjoying the early days of Spring and catching a few of those sunny rays on your own nose!
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.
Back in 2010 I learned of a charming little book published in 1953, written and illustrated by Laura Bannon, called The Wonderful Fashion Doll. I'd acquired a copy and was instantly swept away with the sweet and exciting tale of a little girl named Debby, whose family moves to the country, a farm owned by the family for over a hundred years. And, a letter by Debby's great-great-great grandmother that describes a hidden treasure within the old farm house - a "...wonderful fashion doll. A lady doll with a complete wardrobe."
After the family moves, and they settle in, the hunt begins for the doll described in the letter.
While reading the story for the first time, I was inspired to create a Debby and her antique fashion doll, Gay Event. Debby was going to be a Lawton 9" doll redone, and I would use a tiny doll house doll for Gay Event. Well, I never did it. While I was experienced dressing miniatures, what I suppose I really wanted was a real Gay Event doll for myself. I was not yet designing patterns and sewing, so inspiration for the project went away and six years passed.
When I began transforming Lawton dolls into new characters, I'd purchased a Jo, from Wendy's Little Women collection. My plans at the time were to turn her into a Nellie Bly. Yet, so sat the doll as I did a number of other things, and inspiration for Nellie went the way of Debby and her doll. This is how it sometimes happens. So we wait, and hang onto our dolls until just the right idea at just the right time occurs. For some reason I'd been thinking about The Wonderful Fashion Doll about three or four weeks ago. And, for some other reason I picked up "Jo" and decided right then and there that she would be my Gay Event. After all, if I couldn't design and sew her clothing by now, the only thing lacking would be desire.
I bought a wig to resemble Gay Event's. "There she was, the loveliest doll ever. What a sweet little face! Her brown hair was piled high on her head with short curls clustered at her temples", the book read. "And such a tiny waist! Goodness! all she was wearing was a slip and a wee blue satin corset laced tightly around her little kidskin body." Of course, Jo isn't an antique kidskin doll, but to me she'd be perfect in her porcelain and wood one. So I began the corset.
Instead of blue satin, I used a blue silk. I began the pattern by forming Press 'n' Seal around her torso, then clipping it off. I'd read about this somewhere in a doll costuming article and this would be the second time I tried it. I then made the three part pattern of a back, and two sides that would lace up in the center. I lined the silk corset with a slightly weighty cotton as I knew corsets were meant to be uncomfortable. I thought, "Poor Gay Event!", but make the corset, I did. Silk would be much nicer squeezed around the poor girl, under her arms and around her front.
Studying Victorian corsets online, and the drawing of the one Laura Bannon made, I devised a way to seam stitch the lines, which were most likely inserted with boning in a real corset. Once I pinned a curve or straight line, like the ones in the illustration, I ran a white chalk line down the center, folded the corset in half, and rubbed so the white chalk line would be in the exact place opposite the first. This didn't come to me right away. I thought more about how to actually make this little beast of corset, than I spent time sewing it...or just about.
Once the lines were seamed, I cut two lengths of silk to front the corset edges where the lacings would go. After sewing them on, I cut thin strips of the silk on the bias and hand edged it above and below. Earlier I'd been awed by the work of this Russian seamstress on Facebook. She'd made her doll a corset and hand stitched (embroidered) eyelets in it. I had to try this. Since my Gay Event is a petite 14" lady doll, and there are eight eyelets on each side, the embroidered ones would have to be awfully tiny. Normally you would use an awl and poke a hole in the fabric, then embroider around them. This wasn't going to work with this tiny corset. And, I've never had luck with metal eyelets. Ever. So I took an afternoon, or two, to embroider these tiny eyelets, then used a soft cotton cord threaded through the eye of a large needle to "sew" in the laces.
Next on the list were these pads she wore on her upper arms. There is a page in the book dedicated to these pads as Uncle Nate, Butch, Mother and Debby try to figure out what these actually were used for. "At last they discover the real use for the pads. They tied around Gay Event's arms to keep the sleeves puffed out."
As I studied the illustration (see the story page), they looked to me like Mandarin orange slices. This was not an easy pattern to make by far. I had to think of it as soft sculpture and proceed from there. The pads are made from a muslin, which I assumed the original ones would have been made from. I also had some raw wool, which I'd purchased recently to begin learning needle felting, and used this to stuff the pads - which I assumed as well, would have been "correct". I sewed the same cotton cording through the ends of these pads to be able to tie them to the doll's arms. I'd first tried using a synthetic cording, but the ties wouldn't stay put. Those done, I moved onto the stockings.
I made two simple white stockings the way I do all my doll's stockings. The pattern I use has the shape of a foot, and this helps keep the doll from suffering baggy ankles. They are not just straight tubes. Stockings done. Slip time. I fussed and fussed over this half slip. Were I to have made it to look exactly like the illustration, the half slip would have been a circle skirt pattern. Oh I made one. Then fussed and fussed about how to get straight Swiss beading lace to go on a curve. Again, what an illustrator draws, can often not be replicated by a seamstress. Trying to figure out the right laces for the hem was another issue. I think it took me a couple of days to give in to the idea of a regular gathered half slip, and choose the laces.
What I ended up doing was clipping off the top and bottom of some Swiss insertion beading lace. The 3/8" beading was the right size. I used a one and a half inch lace just below the edge of the beading to overlay the bottom hem of the slip. At the edge is a pull gathered half inch lace to promote a ruffled effect.
The silk ribbon was "beaded" into the insertion lace prior to sewing it onto the slip. Little bows of the same silk ribbon were then equally dispersed among the centers of the insertion lace.
Lastly I made her black dressing slippers. In the illustration they are pointy-toed. With the first pair of slippers I made, I cut the leather upper in a point at the toe. When I went to turn the leather under to the foot bed, I lost the point. So I designed a foot bed with a point to pull the leather over. This worked to some degree, but the slippers did not stay on her feet, and I had to try again. Finally I cut the leather upper with more width to bend and glue beneath the foot bed, using the pointy foot beds once again. The points completely disappeared.
I began to wonder if fashion doll shoes from the 1800's would have been pointy-toed, or was this a representation of Laura's shoes from the 1950's. With her next pair of shoes I'll try again to achieve the points, but I'm not going to lose sleep over it if I don't get the look. In the end Gay Event has her black dressing slippers and the first of her outfits is done.
Please welcome Gay Event, The Wonderful Fashion Doll. I'll be making her accessories and garments from the story and the illustrations provided, and continue to share Laura's, or Debby's, story with you. It may take me the rest of this year to complete the trousseau, but there are other dolls wishing new outfits and I do like to mix up my projects. And, there is needle felting to learn!