Friday, July 7, 2017

Mary Lennox Tells Cousin Colin of India

Summer is a time of day dreaming.  The quiet of the early morning hours, a gentle breeze whispering the heat of rising sun, long afternoons sipping something iced while reading a good book...these and the steady lapping of waves on the lakeshore, are the things of summer.  What are your day dreams of when a canopy of green is your parasol?

When I'm designing and sewing a new ensemble for doll, my mind wanders hither and yon.  Surely there is a good deal of mental energy on the task at hand.  How am I going to get the perfect fit, how many inches long should this be, just what the heck is going on with this collar?!  But, I also play dolls while I'm busy with my needles and thread.  Sewing is how I play with my dolls and creating stories behind them and their costuming is one of the ways I bring the costuming to life.  These are never just another dress for just another doll. 

Mary Lennox has become one of my favorite dolls, and dolls to sew for.  Again, I'll admit that not every single one of the Peck Aubry outfits is to my liking, but a collection, and a complete collection is just that.  So while I'm putting off making the two or three that I least like, this one felt it needed making before I labor over an intricate smocking stitch for the next one (just another thing I'll have to learn).

Finding this fabric was like a breath of fresh air.  This lovely woven and light, airy cotton is a plaid or Madras of midnight navy and white. The dress surely could have been made from silk, but finding this exact plaid was going to be difficult, if not impossible.  Remember, there is always size of the plaid to consider.  Just another reason why I love sewing for the 16" dolls.  There are more options.  The outfit's feature of focus, is, once again, a collar, but now coupled with ivory Swiss embroidered details.

Yes, it is summer, but thoughts of learning and school days are always synonymous with plaids.  As my mind wandered, I was trying to come up a purpose for this dress in Mary's wardrobe.  When we watch a movie or read a book of The Secret Garden, the story appears to take place within a year.  But, Mary's life, to me, was long and full and she would grow up to be a well educated young woman and a philanthropist.  As well as a tender of gardens extraordinaire! 

This Madras pattern, and the light woven quality of the fabric made me think if India.   Authentic Madras comes from Chennai (Madras, India).  Both sides of the cloth must bear the same pattern; it must be hand-woven, and this is evidenced by the small flaws, or slubs, in the fabric.  How could or would a dress like this fit into Mary's story?  At first I thought, Well, she and cousin, Colin, could travel to India.  Then I remembered scenes from the Kate Maberly movie where she refers to him as a Raja.  And also when she tells him the story of the god that swallowed the universe.  In my further story of the hours she spent with Colin, while he was still bedridden, she tells him of the country she grew up in, what it was like to live there, of the people, of the lush and fragrant landscape, of the elephants and the tigers.  For this presentation, she shares a map of the British Raj in India.  Raj means "rule", thus Raja, "ruler".

Certainly, I do love to write, but this blog also gives the reader a glimpse at what inspires me and how I create from that inspiration, and above all, day dream.

As typical, when I start out bringing an illustration to life, I often downplay the difficulties I might encounter.  I initially see "a dress with long sleeves, a collar and a red belted sash".  No biggie.  Hah!  Well, first of all, we're dealing with plaids and I love working with them in the attempt to match up the pattern.  I was doing a pretty good job until the very end when I was alerted that the two back sides of the bodice did not match up.  I swear that I'd cut them properly, but it could be that when sewing this micro and soutached collar on the neckline, the matching became uneven.  I guess it really doesn't matter since, 1) there's a Bertha collar covering it up, and 2) she has long hair, and 3) does it really matter?, and am I being Type A?  The dress is closed in the back with pretty, little navy buttons and thread loops.  Perhaps I'll be forgiven since the details are still nicely done.

There is a small, white placket at the center of the bodice that has five little mother of pearl shank buttons going down it.  The idea of making the back it into a matching point was entirely up to me since the illustration hides this design.  I think one of things I enjoyed most about this dress was the complement of the ivory collar and underskirt.  A hint of cuff can be seen in the illustration, and I developed this into a cuff design.  The lace that edges the Bertha was also used for the cuff, and the cuff was "extended" by cutting up another piece of ivory Swiss embroidered lace that was 4" wide.  Its perfectly okay to piece things together if the outcome is pleasing to the eye.  And, again, it was my interpretation since the illustration shows Mary with her hands behind her back.  So, yes, I do "make things up". 

Another example of this was the back of the Bertha.  I don't think it would have been too difficult to imagine what this might look like, but my version was very difficult to do.   I'm not grumping, but it did take me three whacks at it to create one.  After two attempts with a muslin, I ordered, and had to wait for, a Swiss Ivory batiste from emmarob company.  I use their batistes exclusively.  The turning inside out and top-stitching requires a very fine fabric. 

One of the confounding things about the design of this collar was that the square inset borders are laid atop the gathered and fitted, triangle pointed flounce. (How else would one describe it?)  I worried over this collar for three days, and finally had to call it done.  (It is not a Mary Frances collar, although there was a dress pattern that offered a similar design.  Its one of those "memories" of having done something like this before that sat with me.)  The dress is finished off with a red silk sash, tied with a bow at the back.  I created red thread loops at the sides of the dress to run the sash through.  This helps narrow, or scrunch the sash for the look.  I like the dress.  And with all the research I did on British rule in India, which I've chosen not to share because it isn't Hollywood romance, this will always be the dress Mary wears when she tells Colin of India.  Now I wish to see a rerun of the series, Indian Summers, or pop the 1994 version of The Jungle Book (with Jason Scott-Lee) in the DVD player.  By the way, Lena Hedley was Mowgli's love interest in that version.  Lena Hedly - Cersei in Game of Thrones!  Imagine!

Back to summer and day dreaming.  How very tempted I am to make something new for Alice Illustrated.

Miss E. Mouse 

India during the British Raj

Just about the time frame Mary would have been born.

An antique map of British India

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Miss Unity - The Emblem of the UFDC

The emblem, or symbol, of the UFDC (United Federation of Doll Clubs) has been an instantly recognizable one for over sixty years.  The image is a stylized version of a wooden doll from the 1830's in a blue gown with two rows of black ribbon at the hem, and a two or three-tiered (depending on how you read the image) white ruffled lace collar at the neckline.  And, the elaborate hair styling is a wonder to behold.

As the UFDC (founded in 1937 by Mary Lewis) was growing into a larger organization, a contest was held in 1955 to create a "distinctive and exclusive emblem".  Ten members, representing ten clubs within the UFDC, entered submissions in the competition.  The winning illustration was entered by Mrs. Charles A. (Ruth C.) Williams of Chagrin Falls, Ohio.  Ruth was known in the doll world as simply, "Darcy".  Darcy was also known as "The Wooden Doll Lady", both a carver and collector of wooden dolls. 

Darcy's inspiration for the emblem was an illustration by Charles Philipon (1830), of a toy seller.  In the seller's hand was a polichinelle doll, and to her right (left in the illustration) was a doll in a full and fancy gown with an equally elaborate hat decorated with plumes.  I would imagine that the gown itself, along with the toy seller's hair styling, were the key sources Darcy used to illustrate the emblem.  She added two wooden hobby horses, one held in each hand.  When the emblem was receiving its final touches, the hobby horses were removed, leaving just the doll. 

A full details on the history of UFDC's emblem can be read in a copy of Doll News, Summer 2015.  It was just my luck that someone listed the pages from this issue on Ebay, along with a copy of the history of its founder, Mary Lewis, from a Spring 2013 Doll News issue.  These came in handy for my own research and inspiration, but was also confusing when I began to design one more doll for the Helper Room at the UFDC convention this summer (August 1 - 5).

It was obvious to me that the emblem was of a wooden doll with carved wood hair, but I also noted in the article that dolls like Ginny had been used to symbolize Miss Unity.  Madame Alexander had done the same - with wigged hair, but with not such a fancy style.  Tonner made a small resin one that was 6 1/2" tall - and a tinier resin doll, 2" tall.  Miss Unity had also been designed in a white dress with black lace trim, and one with blue ribbon trim!  And, Peggy Jo Rosamond created an extraordinary paper doll of Miss Unity with a rose colored gown and one in golds and greens.

I suppose all along I knew that when I'd decided to create one, I would be faithful to today's emblem, using the blue gown, but I also wanted to select just the right doll to make her from.  With such a variety of images of her out there, I wanted to do something different, unique.  After I'd finished the nautical dress for Mary Lennox, I was in a "blue" mood anyway).  I'd ordered some beautiful blue silk from India that still has not arrived, and time was at a minimum.  Finding a reasonably priced lady doll to work with was even trickier.  But, I had this 16" wood body Lawton stashed away, and thought I'd see what I could do with her.  Could I make her into a lady doll?  Could I create this hair style from existing wigs?  The answer was, Yes.  At least I'd try.
I contacted the chairman of the Helper Room and asked if she'd be interested in a late submission, and also asked when I'd have to have her done by.  Jill was very receptive to the idea and told me to take my time.  This was good news, and also a relief, time wise  I had my doubts that I would be able to pull off making the wig.  As it is, her wig is one, and pieces from three others.   I also had to begin thinking about an alternative to the silk from India.  But, first thing's first.  If I couldn't make the wig, she would never be Miss Unity.

The wig is one that held pig tails of sausage curls.  I began by pulling each curl away from the others and wrapping them in both clockwise and counter clockwise twists around the band that held the pig tails, then hand stitched these rolls into place.  This wig is completely hand stitched.  I did not trust glue to this effort, and wanted it to look as "natural" as possible.  Earlier, I had purchased one of Tonner's 6 1/2" resin dolls to work from.  I measured the width and height of his hair sculpt and calculated how the dimensions should be according to the doll's head I was using. (See Tonner's little resin to the left.) 

A couple of days were spent trying to figure out how to make the hair piece that is the most recognizable piece to this doll's image.  Let's think about this for a minute.  If hair is parted down the middle to create side rolls, it is also parted down the back.  Where does the hair come from that is on top?  It had to be a hair piece.  So I made one. 

This hair piece consists of three twisted rolls, one on top the other at the base, then a profusion of rolls nestled into the crown.  I tried using a wig cap as the base from which to work, but found that a piece of buckram, dyed dark brown, would work better as it was stiff and could support all that I had to sew to it.  I saved the soft wig capping to sew to the bottom of this piece to provide a base to sew the top curls into.  So its sort of like a little hat of hair that eventually got sewn onto the wig with the side rolls.  I think I put just as much effort into making this wig as designing and creating the clothing.  More, maybe.

After finishing the wig, I did something easy to get the doll dressed.  I made her stockings.  Then I made her slippers.  These little black leather slippers have the same criss-cross strapping as Gay Event's did.  Has anyone made the connection that I took to making this doll since she was from the same year as Gay Event?  1830.  I'm drawn to the styling of the costuming from this era. 
Next I made her pantaloons.  I used a fine Swiss batiste to create them, and edged them in a Swiss embroidered lace with a simple design.  They have a small waistband and are closed in back with a small white button and thread loop.  I don't expect this "cabinet doll" will ever be undressed, but I wanted to make sure that if someone looked, the finishings were all finely done.  I don't know about you, but one of the first things I do when I pick up a new doll, is lift her dress up to see what's beneath.  Why do we do this?  Good question. 

Last week, fed up with India, I bought some very lovely and expensive sateen with which to make her gown.  Upon receiving it, I knew this would have been the best choice after all, since the drape and color were glorious.  I chose a batiste Swiss embroidered lace that would lend itself to three ruffled layers for the collar.  Two just didn't seem quite enough. 

Her billowing sleeves with wrist bands were a delight to create.  The two rows of black silk ribbon were a little more difficult to do.  When I add rows of ribbon or soutache, it takes a lot of measuring and marking on the cloth to stitch them equidistant to each other.  There is a relatively simple design to this dress, but I think you can make it into "more" if you desire.  The back is closed with a hook and thread loop at the neckline and waist, and two little black glass beads with thread loops at the back.  A black double sided silk ribbon is the tie around her waist.   

The last thing I did to Miss Unity, was change her eyes from brown to blue.  I'd originally thought her eyes would be brown considering the color of her wig.  But, after reading about her and studying the dolls and paper dolls done of her, I knew that she'd never be Miss Unity unless she had blue eyes.  I hope Jill will be pleased with her as an addition to the Helper Room.

I have started work on another dress for Mary Lennox and with Miss Unity completed, I'll pick up where I left off.  June flew by.  I did a little traveling at the end of May into June, and it seems that one day quickly blended into the other after that.  Last week, we suffered a horrid heat wave bringing daytime temperatures into the triple digits.  I do plan on having a more relaxed month in July, then its off to convention on August the first.  I hope you're enjoying your summer and getting out to enjoy the sunshine, doing the simplest and happiest of things.  Even reading a book under a shade tree is "summer" to me!

Miss E. Mouse


Tonner's 2" Resin

Peggy Jo Rosamond's Miss Unity Paper Doll

Miss Unity Dolls at the UFDC Headquarters

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Victorian Sailor Stripes for Mary Lennox

 "Oh! the things which happened in that garden!  If you have never had a garden, you cannot understand, and if you have had a garden, you will know that it would take a whole book to describe all that came to pass there.  At first it seemed that green things would never cease pushing their way through the earth, in the grass, in the beds, even in the crevices of the wall.  Then the green things began to show buds, and the buds began to unfurl and show colour, every shade of blue, every shade of purple, every tint and hue of crimson."

"The seeds Dickon and Mary had planted grew as if fairies had tended them.  Satiny poppies of all tints danced in the breeze by the score, gaily defying flowers which had lived in the garden for years, and which it might be confessed seemed rather to wonder how such new people had got there.  And the roses - the roses!  Rising out of the grass, tangled round the sundial, wreathing the tree-trunks, and hanging from their branches, climbing up the walls and spreading over them with long garlands falling in cascades - they came alive day by day, hour by hour."  (The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett)

It was on a day such as this, described by Hodgson Burnett, that Mary chose to wear a bright and jaunty dress of blue and white stripes in a fashionable Victorian sailor style.  I love this dress.  When I first saw the illustration in the Peck Aubrey paper doll book, I knew I'd make it for her as a summer frock.  Even Ben Weatherstaff's eyes brightened up upon seeing Mary enter the garden with an empty basket, ready to pick some flowers for Medlock's vases.

This dress was given us opposite the one I just finished with the elaborate lace collar.  It was not planned that I do things page by page, but it could push me to creating ones I'm not certain of.  So far, the dresses in cloth have paid tribute to the illustrations, and I will continue to attempt to finish the wardrobe thusly.

When I first bought the striped fabric for this dress, I'd chosen a navy and white stripe.  ???  Even my mind plays tricks with my eyes.  No, it was royal blue and white stripes.  So I went back online to Ebay and started searching.  I found this particular stripe from a fabric seller in the U.K., and once again, it was fitting.  If I ever get back across the pond, fabric shopping in England will be at the top of my list. 

Mary's dress would prove to be another puzzle as I began to design the pattern.  I  had rather hoped that the red debut silk dress would provide me a basic, but the sailor collar and the front bodice crossing one "lapel" over the other took me back to square one.  This was made in two full pieces, each consisting of the front and back bodice with sleeve, fully lined, then stitched together at the middle front waist to be added to the skirt. 

Beneath the dress is where I began.  Mary wears a sleeveless waist of cotton with a high collar trimmed in the same blue soutache I used for her red wool coat's trim.  It is closed in the back with four little buttons with loops, and a hook at the collar.  As I began the design of the dress, I had to pay careful attention to what I was given to work with.  Normally one would choose white soutache trim for the cuffs and sailor collar edging, but these were thick stripes.  Stripes the same width as those of the dress.  So tried something.  I pieced the solid blue to the blue striped fabric about 2mm into the color edge that would display, and in doing so, created a fabric I could work from.  

While doing this, I took a photo of a collar pattern (good ol' paper towels - still using them!) to illustrate how this was done.  As you can see, when I would go to cut out the solid blue of the bottom layer, I would sew 2mm into the blue stripe, just enough to give a blue edge below the white stripe.  This is not a no-brainer exercise.  I would have to do this with the cuffs as well as the border on the bottom, exacting the stitch where it should be. 

I learned something with the cuffs, maybe relearned?, that I'd either forgotten or hadn't done before.  If you notice that the cuffs stand out when turned up, creating this look took a little puzzling.  Basically, if you sew the edges of the cuff to the sleeve edges, leaving a pucker in the middle, when you turn the cuff up, it will stand out to the side free of the sleeve.  The pattern for the cuff is longer on the top, smaller on the bottom and angled down.

The skirt of the dress is lined, too, to avoid unslightly hem stitching.  The dress buttons up in the back with loops and a hook at the edge of the collar closest to the neck.  Why don't I make buttonholes?  Again, I don't trust my machine to do them well, and to have a machine stitched buttonhole not come out nicely on a well made dress - well, its a disaster because you've ruined the dress.  I feel that hand sewn buttonhole can be done when needed, but they do take time.  And, Mary's hair covers the closures in the back, so...   Moving on...

Mary's tam was made from the same fabric as the solid border of her skirt.  I call it my Pie and Donut hat because those are what the pattern pieces look like.  The band was embellished with three brass star studs.  These were kind of fun to work with.  I did order them from a seller in China.  I hope I find another use for them because I have 47 pieces left!  Once the prongs are pushed into the fabric of the hat band, I put a piece of cloth over the star, then used my trusty pliers to bend the prongs in.  This saves the metal star from any damage or scratches.

Mary's tie is that lovely cotton silk.  It is attached to the front of the dress through an embroidered thread loop sewn beneath where the collar crosses over.  Her belt is the same fabric as the sleeveless waist she wears beneath the dress and was embellished with two shiny brass buttons. A hook and loop closes it. 

Finally it was time to make the flowers for her basket.  I found this lovely little basket on Ebay.  I  have doll sized baskets, but I needed one with a long handle that reached across the round basket.  There are a lot of "Easter" and "picnic" baskets out there, but ones like this can be difficult to find.  I was lucky. 

The flowers are all wool felt, similar to the ones I made to decorate Alice Illustrated's Peck Aubrey hat.  I worked them with my mini glue gun and it was a mess.  At least it was in particular for the flowers with individual petals.  I have tried sewing these to the center and they do not come out as nicely as a flower would using the hot glue gun.  I set a layer of green wool sheet in the bottom of the basket then glued the flowers into the basket, seating them on the wool beneath.  This is for the case that I wish to reuse the basket at some point, although I seriously doubt that will happen.  Its Mary's flower basket.  But, should someone years from now wish to remove the flowers, there won't be a glop of hard, dried glue at the bottom of the basket.

Mary Lennox will continue to be a bright spot on my doll shelf, and now in bright royal blue and white stripes.  On Monday, I'm traveling up to Vancouver, B.C. to visit with my needle felting friend, Lesley.  From what I can tell, Vancouver has gardens to rival Mary's!  A little holiday is in order. 

Miss E. Mouse 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Memories of Alice - A UFDC Convention Helper

Summer has finally arrived where I live in California.  It looks like the sun has finally decided to stay one step ahead of the clouds, rather than shyly hide behind mountainous waves of rain.  Finally.  And, its also during this time of year when I begin finding it difficult to stay indoors - which means, less time in my studio.  So I thought I'd best work on this one little project before the fairies came and carried away with me.

Its been several years since last I attended a UFDC summer convention, and for many reasons and non-reasons (who needs a reason anyway?), I'm going this year.  I was visiting with a friend of mine yesterday, justifying to her why I'm spending the time, and money, going, and came up with a really good excuse.  Inspiration.  The reproduction Huret is still going strong as the doll to acquire and dress, and while I do have one, she is wearing the Robert Tonner outfit he made for a luncheon from last year's convention (got it on Ebay).  Not one by me.  Shame on me.  I know.  But, the doll has a really strange body and I've not bonded with her yet.

Another reason is that I need to get outside my comfort zone, and live a little.  A true introvert, I'd prefer to read on the patio, design, sew and needle felt in my studio, and play with my dogs.  And, yet...there will be DOLLS there.  Lots of them!  And, people who love them as much as I do.  Who needs an excuse?!  Right?  Right.

Helen Kish will be the artist of this year's souvenir doll, so interest in her dolls is once again on the rise.  I use to collect Kish, yet as my interests changed, I kept just a few, and sold the others.  Interestingly enough, I kept two of the 16" dolls she sculpted for White Balloon.  For one thing, I'd amassed an incredible Boneka wardrobe for them.  So when I was considering doing a Helper doll for the Helper room, I thought of dressing a Kish.  The Helper Room is one filled with dolls donated by UFDC members that get raffled off.  The proceeds go directly to this non-profit organization.  I also wished to express my gratitude to them for getting published in their 2017 spring journal.  I wrote an article about Gay Event, and the editor seemed to like it.  Since I enjoy sewing for this size doll, a 16", I kept an eye on Ebay and found the Summer doll and put a bid in to try and acquire her.  Which I did. 

It was pretty obvious to me that I'd dress her as Alice, and I had two yards of this gorgeous blue silk that I'd not done anything with yet.  I bought her a human hair wig, which did wonders for her, and one of the last pairs of size 65AA black shoes by Boneka out there, then set to designing an Alice outfit for her. 

The dress is your basic, full skirted, puffed sleeved Alice style.  Its terribly difficult to be original when it comes to "dressing Alice", so I used elements of design that I felt best to portray her on a Kish doll.  The skirt has three horizontal pleats at the hemline, which is always a challenge to do.  I still haven't quite figured out the mathematics of placing these pleats, so I kind of wing it.  Actually, I do that with all I create, so there's nothing new there.  The puffed sleeves have gathered lace edges that are sandwiched in between two bands then sewn on - rather than making a sleeve band and sewing the lace under the edge.  I've found this practice gives a much more polished look to the sleeve edges.  The cotton collar lace was inserted the same way.  Collars are becoming slightly easier for me, and the angst, I believe, comes directly down to my wishing things to be so precise - they just take time and patience. A gathered Swiss lace edge embellishes the attached "peep" slip. 

Even though I detest the time and effort it takes to make knickers or any kind of under garment (they don't show!), I made a lovely pair of knickers for her.  The edge of the knickers combine two laces - an insertion lace, then a band of the same Swiss lace used for the slip's ruffle.  Understand that while I'm not doing anything particularly new, I designed this outfit from scratch.  I wasn't trying to follow a particular illustration.  More thought went into what I wanted to do, than the actual assembling.  Pale pink and white striped stockings go beneath the lovely knickers. It was the apron, and its design, that I spent the most time designing and working on.

About a year ago, I'd purchased this delicate batiste Swiss lace with peachy-pink embroidery on it.  I thought it was just gorgeous, and bought a yard of each type, just to have on hand.  For some reason, I always envisioned it going towards an apron, or pinafore.  I puzzled the laces together so many times trying to see just what might make it prettiest and work with all three laces.  I simply could not figure out how to attach the three inch lace to a length of similar, but plain batiste to lengthen the skirt.  Finally I came upon this 1/8" insertion lace amidst my lace bags and gave it a go.  Part of my quandary was that mistakes could not take place.  I can't find this particular peachy-pink embroidered lace any longer, so if I blew it, I'd have ruined the lace and would have to try something else.  The pink in the stockings matched this color, too!  Luckily the idea worked and gave the skirt of the pinafore a dainty appeal. 

The waist band is an insertion lace on its own.  In order to easily zig-zag the edge of it to the skirt, I pleated the skirt, rather than gather it.  The ties were made the way I do the silk hair bows and were attached to the insertion directly.  All these edges are doubled under or overcast stitched for a clean finish.  The straps are an edge lace that I pleated as well then banded and attached to the waist and ties in the back.  I wanted to retain the sheerness of the Swiss lace, the lightness and delicacy.

Finally, I had to decide on an accessory.  Something Alice.  Something I could attach to her.  Second pieces, like for instance a rabbit, could easily get separated from the doll when you take it to the Helper room, so I pondered on this for a couple of days.  A key is a logical choice, but I took it in a different direction and made her charm bracelets.  Charm bracelets are memory keepers, and so I call her Memories of Alice.  The second charm bracelet is a little faceted glass frame that holds tiny cards.  I had these cards on hand from when I created the miniature Alice trunk sets.  Its a touch of steam punk, for certain, but the bracelet effect maintains the look I wished to achieve.  She wears a black velvet ribbon head band.  So very Alice.

While putting this all together, I pulled out my old White Balloon Kish and dressed her in the Sasha size Alice outfit I'd acquired by Boneka.  No, it doesn't fit her as well as it would a Sasha doll, but that's okay.  I attached a photo of her below.  She is still wearing her synthetic wig.  Her eyes are not as deep a blue as Memories of Alice's are, but she is lovely in her own right. 

The days could not be prettier right now, but I have already started a new project.  I'm continuing with Mary Lennox for awhile so that I stay on task.  Besides, I really love this doll!

Miss E. Mouse 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Spring at Misseltwaite Manor

Spring has come to Misselthwaite Manor.  A time for gentle rains, flowers blooming forth, and lambs being born.  Foxes nurse their cubs, heather colors the moors in purple, and geese lead their young about in a marvelous parade. 

Ben Weatherstaff, the gardener, is busy pulling weeds, pruning shrub and roses, and making polite nods with the tip of his hat to Miss Mary as she skips through the garden grounds towards the door that will lead her to a sanctuary she tends with love.

The wardrobe illustrated in the Peck-Aubrey paper doll collection for Mary Lennox,  is one for a year's worth of fanciful beauty.  Mary is ageless, forever young, forever the child of The Secret Garden.  While I must admit that the Red Garden Coat was one of the brightest spots on the doll shelf opposite where I work at designing these costumes, it was time for a change.

I've not forgotten that my goal was to make all nine of her costumes this year, and I'm not sure this is going to happen.  But its nice to have a plan!  I might be able to accomplish this if that was all I wished to do until December thirty-first.  And, my goodness.  The days and months pass almost like a "time lapse" production for me these days.  Where did April go? 

 I'd originally intended to make the blue and white striped sailor collar dress next.  However, when I went to reach for the fabric I'd purchased several months ago, I stopped short.  What I had was a yard of navy blue and white stripe.  What was I thinking?  Its a royal blue and white stripe that was needed to make this.  So  I've reordered fabric in that color.  Naturally, it is coming from the U.K. so I selected another outfit to do.  I chose the green plaid dress with the double skirt and lace collar.

I do realize that the outfits in this paper doll collection are a bit unusual.  Or at least not what we're used to seeing in young Victorian styles, or colors and patterns.  However, after completing three of them to date, I find that the fabric interpretations are quite charming and its a challenge to see what I can do with them.

Mary's double skirted plaid outfit has this elaborate lace collar as its feature of focus.  I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out just what to call it.  It is a detached collar that fits snuggly around her shoulders almost like a cape, or a modern day shrug.  I asked my friend, Barbara DeVilbiss, who is an expert on historical costume design, just what I should call this.  Her answer was brief, as if it should be apparent to all who would ask the question, that what it would be called depended on whether it was American, English or French.  Thanks, Barbara.  LOL  Its a lace collar.

The dress is constructed of a simple bodice with a short, rounded neckline.  The long sleeves are puffed at the top, continuing the puff past the elbow to long, narrow cuffs.  The cuffs are edged in gathered, delicate lace, then lined before attaching them to the gathered puff. 

The double skirting is also fully lined.  It funny, but when I was cutting the lengths and widths for the skirt, I knew that the width should be 26" - 27", so I made it the same as the Debut Red Silk Dress, 31".  I guess it is better to have too much than not enough.  Silk will gather tightly like tissue paper, but a fine woven cotton will require less width, since when gathered, it is thicker and still must fit in the confines of the width of the bodice.  So I cut three inches off each end and redid the lining seams.  There was a lot of seam and stitch pulling in making this costume.  At first glance, you may ask, "What's the big deal?  Its a simple dress!"  Nothing I do is simple, and that's a fact I must face each time I create a new design.   

The lace collar was one of the more interesting pieces I've made.  When I first began collecting fabrics and notions for this wardrobe, I was tempted to purchase a finely crocheted doily to make into this collar.  This would have been the wrong choice for several reasons, and if I had to guess what was intended by the artist, I would suggest a custom bobbin lace collar designed to fit snuggly around the shoulders.

What I chose to do in creating this collar , was design a pattern with shoulder seams for a close fit.  I'm pretty sure the cape on the red coat would have been more easily done this way, too, but I was dead set against it.  With wide lace, the piecing worked out pretty well.  This wasn't the first time I was piecing different laces together.  I'd done this on the Sue Shanahan, Alice Illustrated outfit, too. 

The collar is two pieces of 4" lace off set, one laid over the other to create a smoother, more continuous scallop edge effect.  I must have looked at 2,000 laces before settling on this remnant of a roll at Jo Ann's fabrics.  The open weave was the defining decision.  A piece of insertion lace creates the threaded collar, and white gathered lace has been attached to the insertion for the ruffled edge at the neck.  A piece of the woven plaid was threaded through the insertion lace.  There is quite a bit of hand stitching on this, but the main body of it was done on the machine.  

I have a tip for those of you who would like to try this some time.  Use a fold of fine netting over the two pieces at the edge to be sewn, pin, then machine stitch them together in a zig zag.  This will hold the pieces firmly together.  I figured this out by detaching the netting that was factory sewn onto the edge of the 4" lace.  If you sew just the cut lace, the stitching comes loose through the open weave of the cut lace.  The collar was closed in back with teeny mother of pearl buttons and thread loops.  

While looking through my stash for buttons to close the back of the dress, I found these little German, brown glass shank buttons that had a relief of tiny tulips.  Perfect for a dress from a Secret Garden. 

The last piece to be made was the hat.  A little straw boater.  I did not have a PNB hat mold with which to make this one, and I don't believe they carry one either.  So I went back to basics and looked for a form that would work in which to build up the hat straw around.  The bottom of a chicken broth can did the trick.  I  filled in the bottom ridge of the can with crushed aluminum foil, then covered the can with Press n Seal wrap.  I marked where I wanted the straw to begin for the depth of the crown, and worked it top to bottom - the opposite of how the PNB mold hats are generally made.  The brim was made by marking the inside of a large yogurt tub top with the outline of the crown, then measuring and marking it with the width I wanted.  With this, I was able to build the straw on a flat surface, then attached the crown to the brim with another row of straw. 

The hat's brim is trimmed with a silk bias strip.  The ribbon was hand made of silk, by sewing the "stripes" together.  With a jaunty red bow, the hat was completed.   Now Mary Lennox can enjoy her garden tending in a suitable dress for the warmer days ahead.

Miss E. Mouse