Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tis the Season To Be Festive!

I know what you're thinking.  "That was FAST!"  But, the holidays are here!  There's no time to waste.  And as you know from my last post, Louise was to get a new Christmas gown to coordinate with brother Lawrence's outfit.  The very minute I finished his little suit, I began her party dress.

Disappointed that I had to change color themes at the last minute, I dug deeply into my cabinet of silks and found this gorgeous purple-blue and red plaid.  I know its been there a very long time since it was way, way in back of the piles.  And, there wasn't much of it either.  I think the piece was half a yard of 45", and I was cautiously concerned that I wouldn't have enough.  Its not the length and width so much that one worries over, but the ability to cut on the bias, the diagonal, for trim!

Plaids are a favorite of mine, especially for the holidays since the colors can be so brilliant and festive.  I didn't have much time to think about designing this dress either, and maybe that was a good thing, since I way over thought Lawrence's velveteen suit.  Did I mention that it took me half a roll of paper towels to make the patterns for his suit?  I must have been having quite the day.

When I do look for ideas for Louise,  Sylvia Mac Neil's Chiffonette book has become one of my favorite sources.  Its not that the costumes vary so much that intrigues me, but the variety of ways she made up all those outfits from just a few patterns.  It was the collar from one of these dresses that inspired Louise's Christmas dress, and I think she only did this collar once.  Louise's was done with piping.

The vogue for tartan-like plaids, whether associated with clans or not, was fueled by the affection Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had for the Scottish dress, the Highlands, and Balmoral, their Scottish retreat.  But, for all ostensible historicism implicit in the wearing of the plaid, its bold colors were the result of the invention of chemical dyes in the mid 1850s.

About half way through designing and fitting this dress onto Louise's body, I became dismayed.  Something just wasn't right about the look.  She'd been wearing her high neck, and front pleated chemise, with the three-quarter puffed sleeves.  I thought surely this should look lovely with the new dress, but it didn't.  This was wishful thinking.  I've only made two of these chemise's, and her friend, Laura, is wearing the other. 

So I had another look in the "the book" and was reminded that one of Chiffonette's chemise's had a rounded, or Peter Pan collar - only hers was done in lace.  I was not looking forward to this set back, but felt that adding this under piece would be beneficial to future dresses, and it would look better with her Christmas gown.  Again, this chemise was a case of over thinking something.

You know I really do not like making collars, but it seems that so many wonderful dresses and blouses begin with a beautiful collar.  So I suffer through them.  Usually I'm lucky enough that I'll be lining the piece so the seaming doesn't show but in this case, the sheerness of the chemise had me going in circles with how to finish it.  It could not be lined.  Yes, I do know what a facing is, but for some reason making it just as nice on the side we do not see, was perplexing me.  After some fussing and fuming, I edged the facing with a simple zig-zag, then tacked it down at the shoulder seams and through the front pleats so it lay firmly in place.  The collar and cuffs are edged in lace, and there's a "panel" of lace down the front.  Four tiny white buttons close it in the back, just down to the waist.

Back to the dress.  Now that we had that in order, I began first with making the piping.  I would prefer that the piping was not pieced together, but with so little fabric to work with, it was necessary.  It was "fun" trying to get the plaid matching and going in the same direction on the diagonal.  For the collar, this time we had the ease of finishing the edge since the bodice is lined, as is the skirt.  I wanted something different, a different look than Sylvia's dress for Chiffonette, so I made little rounded epaulets coming off the shoulders.  These, too, are piped.  There is piping at the waist of the dress as well, which precluded me from having to make a sash that would tie in a bow at the back of the waist.  Although one with fringed ends would have looked pretty, I wanted a matching hair bow.  I could update this dress at some point with a sash of black silk and fringe just for a change of appearance.   Small, shiny black buttons decorate the left and right edges of the collar and one button tops the centers of the epaulets.

The other details include a bias band at the hem (pieced together), and box pleating at the waist.  I  had just enough left over for a bow for her hair. 

Why was I in such a hurry to get this done?  Well, because its Christmas!  Most of November, and the rest of the next two weeks, or less I hope, has been, and will be spent making Christmas gifts.  Each gift is a little project on its own, but so important as these are gifts of love.  And, that is what Christmas is all about.  And, Hallmark movies, Christmas specials.  And decorated trees and homes, and noshing on nibbles we only eat Christmas time!

While searching for a few lovely Christmas themed images to correspond with this posting, I came across a surprise.  A Christmas special was made for the PBS series, Victoria!  The only information I could find was that the DVDs would be available on December 26th (thank you very much) and shipping from the U.K.  I have no idea if it will air this season in the states, but I'll be on the look out. ( See below for the cover of the DVD.)  If you know anything about this, please post to me (us).

Lawrence and Louise are excited and looking forward to the merry making of this holiday season.  They are now dressed and ready to begin the festivities which they can enjoy (I can enjoy!), the entire month.  My wish for you, is to have one of the very best holiday seasons ever.  Merry Christmas one and all!

Miss E. Mouse 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Lawrence Godey - Louise Godey's Brother

Whoosh!  The days are flying by.  Its hard to believe that we're in the last week of November already.  If only I possessed a magical spell to slow the hours down...but I do not.  No one does, but I think there must be a way to do this by maybe, perhaps, taking a little more time out in our days to rub the doggy, dress a doll up for the holidays, read a chapter in that wonderful story, take an hour's walk in nature...and if its not close by, or the weather isn't cooperative, rest your eyes on the wonder of nature, and feel those marvelous changes of the season.

As the year wraps up, I'm reminded of the very many projects I wished to do, or even complete.  What happened to the collection of Mary Lennox?  Didn't I wish to finish it by the end of the year?  Well, let's be frank.  Not all the outfits in that paper doll series were pretty.  There are only three I wish yet to create, but they'll make wonderful spring projects in 2018.  My studio time, on any project, has increased in size due to the needle felting accessory-displays (I make to go with the outfits), and this won't always be the case.  And, this past month, this November, I was in Christmas gift making mode and even this will continue for awhile yet.

So what prompted me to finally pull Lawrence Godey out of the "dolls to make" cabinet, and debut him?   Well, there was an auction on Ebay for Tonner's Viktor Dreary Scary Christmas (and both his sisters), and I didn't bother bidding because I didn't feel lucky enough to win all three and not go into hock.  It was Viktor's short pants outfit that reminded me that I have my own little boy to sew for, so out he came.  I've had the doll and plans to make Lawrence, Louise Godey's brother, for almost a year now.  Maybe longer.  A friend sold me just the doll from Wendy Lawton's Harlequin.  He is, like Louise, a 14" wood body and porcelain doll. 

Dressing him would be quite a departure for me, since I've been dressing the girls for so long.  Yes, I've made boy outfits before, but only for the 9" Lawtons, and not that many.  Their tiny bodies with bodices attached to the pants, make it a bit easier, and with this 14" doll, a little more fitting and fussing would need to be done.  Plus the age old, fabric choices, and his first outfit was intended to be one of gray velveteen, not this luscious, rich purple.  I wanted to make both Louise and him Christmas outfits (in lieu of missing out on the Dreary children).  Louise's silk arrived and it was the wrong silk sent.  Frustrated, and feeling the time pinch, I carefully went through my stash to see if there was anything else that would work.  And, lucky me, I found one.  This also prompted a color change for Lawrence, since I wanted their outfits to coordinate. 

I'd been going through the books I have on historical children's fashions, and was coming up with a blank for Lawrence.  Some of the outfits just seemed too involved for a debut costume I had only a week to make.  And, then there was the notion of era accuracy, which I've decided to be lenient on for certain reasons.  Let's face it, when we talk about Victorian fashion, that's a long stretch of years.  And, boys' and men's clothing really doesn't change that much, and is also often a product of the country they hail from.  I did discover some interesting anecdotes and facts though.  The short pants worn by the American boys were often straight legged, until after the turn of the century and up to the 1930's - ahem!, but were also poufy in earlier times.  Some legs tapered, some were banded below the knee, some were like Turkish short trousers.  Fashions went back and forth, even as they do today (for women at least).  How they fastened changes more, but I'm not sure I want to become an expert at sewing correct pants for boys with front flaps and laced gussets in the back.  Sometimes just knowing a thing, but enjoying how something less involved "displays" is alright.
I did learn where the term "breeches" came from.

As you know, little Victorian boys wore dresses until a certain age.  But, why?  Well, it was for potty training purposes.  The toddlers couldn't handle all those buttons for pulling pants down or even the flap, much less getting them up and buttoned again.  So when a boy toddler was breeched, that was the day he wore his first pair of pants.  All grown up now.  And, it was quite an affair too, as the boys would be paraded around the neighborhood in their new grown up pants, and likewise praised. 

There was a fashion for boys that buttoned their short jackets to the front of their pants.  When fashion changed to longer jackets, the buttons remained on the front of the pants for decorative purposes.  And, those fussy, lacey jabot blouses the boys wore with their velveteen suits were called Fauntleroy, after the Little Lord Fauntleroy.  And, naturally, their hair was grown in the fashion of the long curls the little lord wore. 

For Lawrence's holiday and debut, I chose the beautiful, rich purple velveteen I had in my stash, and lined both the pants and jacket with silk taffeta.  His ball brass buttons are vintage, and I'd been saving them for just the right costume.  His jacket is belted, and his blouse is a lined shell for ease of dressing, and with a rounded collar.  A white, silk chiffon bow was made from the left over fabric from Gay Event's ball gown.  White stockings make the costume dressy for the holidays. 

There is no doubt that I will be thinking of updating Louise's fashions to reflect various Victorian decades, and Lawrence will get a new corresponding outfit to compliment hers.  Louise's best pal, Laura Peterson, may get new things, too, but its mainly Louise and her brother that I'll focus on for the future.  And, toys/accessories for Lawrence.  What did young boys play with?  From the Victorian postcards, I know they played with toy soldiers (and sailboats), so he may get one to hold at some point.  So much to think about!

I hope everyone had a marvelous Thanksgiving.  And now its on to Christmastime!  I'm very much in the holiday spirit and have been all the month long.  Time to begin Louise's new dress for the holidays.  Make each moment count with love and joy in your heart.

Miss E. Mouse  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Maraja's Alice - 1959

When I was a little girl, I spent many a rainy day, and sunny one, studying and immersing myself in the books my sister was given for the holidays.  Having been born five years before me, and the first child, my mother seemed intent on enriching her life with beautifully illustrated children's storybooks.  When I came along, and having noticed that my sister showed no interest in the books, book gifting seemed to have lost my mother's interest.  However, the books were there, and I innocently claimed ownership of them. 

One of them was The Adventures of Pinnochio, illustrated by Maraja.  These fabulous pictures captured my imagination, and while I never read the story, I knew it by heart through the lavish paintings.  It was a curiosity to me because they looked nothing like the ones Disney drew, and of which we were supposed to relate.  For all I knew, this was the only book someone named Maraja illustrated. 

It wasn't until the advent of the Internet, and my keen collecting for antiquarian children's books, that I began a search for my own copy of The Adventures of Pinocchio.  When I did, I discovered a wealth of other childhood stories illustrated by Maraja, and one by one I began collecting them.  

Libico Maraja (1912-1983) was one of Italy’s top post-War illustrators. Born in Bellinzona, Svizzera, Maraja studied in Lugano and began his career working for the Ala studios. In 1940, he moved to Berlin, where he cooperated with IMA Film, among others for the animated film ‘La Rosa di Bagdad’. After the war, he became well known for his book illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Adventures of Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and many other classics. These were the years he worked with the Italian publishing house Fabbri.  Pinocchio was his first published children's classic in 1955.  These beautiful books were printed in Italy for the publishers Grosset and Dunlap (NY).

Many of these old books can be found today in various stages of condition.  I'd like to think that they were just as loved as my sister's was, when I sat quietly for endless hours admiring the gracious Blue Fairy.  I purchased my own copies of Alice in Wonderland, and recently Alice Through the Looking Glass, to add to my collection.  When I completed Delamare's Alice, I knew there was just one more art doll Alice I'd need to do before the end of this year - Maraja's. 

Having desired to make a needle felt Humpty since I began dabbling in the craft, I chose Maraja's for his simplicity of clothing and innocent appeal.  I'd recently found a Wendy Lawton "Phoebe Preble", minus her Hitty doll, and purchased her for the purpose of turning her into Maraja's Alice.

Alice began her transformation with a new set of blue eyes, and a little blonde wig.  The wig was particularly difficult to find since the style Maraja gave her wasn't one my supplier, Monique, had available.  I'll admit that I enjoy using human hair wigs for their richness and beauty, but acquired a wig targeted for the BJD market instead.  When Monique Trading is out of stock, do check Ebay for the style, color and size you want.  Many Ebay dealers purchase Monique stock for their online stores.     

Alice's dress is a heavy cotton sateen.  This would not have been my first choice in fabric weight, but the color was just perfect.  I had the most difficult time, again, with the collar.  The bodice, of course, is everything.  That's where all the detail is nine times out of ten.  I had to make that collar four times before I had it correct!  For one, the fabric has such a tight weave that I had to use a jeans needle to get though all the thicknesses.  Also, this doll's body is all porcelain, like Asian Alice's was, only along with the round tummy Wendy gave these dolls, the arms are huge and bent.  Fitting the clothing on this body as you construct it takes a great deal of patience. 

I was very happy with the outcome of the pinafore though.  After making apron after apron in all the various styles, this one came together rather quickly.  Although I was running out of Swiss Pima Batiste.  One of the continual problems I have is judging the length to cut the fabric for skirts.  I should know better by now.  Make it longer and you can always shorten it at the top of the waist.  In this instance, having goofed the first time around, I used the shorter version to make the apron ties at the end. 

But, prior to dressing Alice, I'd begun work on Mr. Dumpty.  Like I mentioned, I'd been wanting to make one for quite some time, but knew that he would require armature hands with fingers.  I had hoped this friend of mine would show me how to make then in person, but like all good intentions, this one went awry.  Hence, the first try on Delamare's monkey last month.  I do think this second pair went a bit better, but they're not easy to do.  The reason you want wired fingers is so that they can be posed, hold objects, shake Alice's hand at the right moment. 

Humpty Dumpty took me twice as long to make as Alice's garments.  Maybe longer.  Yes, I'm still learning to sew.  I always will be, but needle felting is still very new to me.  It was just last year at this time that I made that slice of pumpkin pie. 

The very shape of the egg man needed to be appropriate in scale to that of the illustration.  I don't know how many people follow to the letter, an illustration like I do, but many artists have much more imagination than I do. One of the best things you can do when felting the base form, is to get as tight a felting as possible.  This allows you to add features and top clothing without misshaping the original form as you proceed.  I had a great deal of difficulty with this.  But then, he was my first Humpty, and I do plan to do more.

I used several illustrations to get his facial features, which changed throughout each picture.  One illustrations was used for his ears.  Another was used for his upraised brow and sweet smile.  Was Humpty a nice Egg?  No, not really, but I wanted a sweet Humpty for Maraja's Alice.

I noticed while browsing on Pinterest, the different Humpty's others have felted, and none took photos of him from behind.  Getting him to sit properly was fairly difficult even with armature legs that could be bent into shape.  His bottom is an egg shape.  He doesn't have a proper bum to sit upon.  Why didn't I put him on a wall?  Because a wall would take an awfully long time to sculpt out of wool and I simply don't have that kind of room to display such a thing.  However, one that was possibly only a brick or two might have helped him sit better.  He rather "rocks" like an egg would.  Maybe I did do this correctly?  That's the A Type in me coming through.

I love Libico Maraja's work.  I have loved it for a life time already, and this was a precious and joyful project to work on.   I may just have to do a doll as his Blue Fairy, an a needle felt of his Pinocchio.  Someday.  The Blue Fairy had blue hair...but wait!  I think you might be able to get blue wigs for BJDs.  See?  Not so bad after all.

Below I've shared some of my favorite illustrations from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  These are very typical of the characters and figures he drew for Pinocchio.  I don't know quite how to describe them, and being at a loss for words has never been a problem for me - while writing.  They are caricatures in the extreme, but so fabulous that they illicit instant emotion within.  You feel them.  Experience them.  You can't just look at them and say, "That's a lovely illustration."  Each makes you feel the character, whether it is an alphabet, a fish or a old man. 

For those not so familiar with Through the Looking Glass, Alice encounters a knight who recites a poem to her, a song really, titled A-Sitting on A Gate. "I'll tell thee everything I can: There's little to relate.  I saw an aged man, a-sitting on a gate."  Maraja drew him fishing as he "set limed twigs for crabs".  I simply love this illustration.  I hope you enjoy this and the others as well.

It is now November and time to think about the coming holidays.  The cooler nights, the coming rains, the change of the clock.  Halloween was marvelous this year, and there's so much to look forward to, especially when we have an imagination.  Walk through some crackly, crunchy leaves and dream.

Miss E. Mouse    

Libico Maraja (1912 - 1983)

Monday, October 2, 2017

A September Tribute to David Delamare

Each September the first brings a wellspring of life to my senses.  For me its the beginning of my "holidays", since September is my birthday month.  This is followed by my next favorite event, Halloween, then the excitement of the first rain, the first snow, Thanksgiving, and finally, Christmas.

The four month season was a joy for me as a child since, being an odd little thing, I looked forward to the first days of school.  In my adult years, my mother and I would go out and look for the best autumn card we could find in August.  One that symbolized the season we both loved; something with autumn leaves at the very least.  Whoever could get this card mailed to the other first, to start the four month cycle of the Ber's, would "win".  I know it sounds silly, but we so treasured these months together, and we'd laugh ourselves silly over what we sent to each other.  And, she honestly sent the very best Halloween cards one could find.  She had her secret "haunts" and would never give away their locations.

As I was finishing up my last project with the March Hare, experiencing the last days of summer and anticipating autumn just around the corner, I'd been browsing Pinterest for Alice ideas - or maybe just for the delight of seeing what was out there.  The delightful autumn Tea Party scene that Hudson painted was now a part of my collection, and I was looking for something extraordinary to inspire me when I fell upon the work of David Delamare.

Excited and intrigued by what I saw online, I decided to see if there was a website dedicated to his work.  And, there was!  In fact I'd discovered that Delamare had published his own Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, lavishly illustrated with his surreal and fantastical conception of the story.  I couldn't resist the purchase of this book, and when it arrived, I was overcome with the sheer beauty of its presentation.  The slipcover box it arrived in was exquisite, and even the shipper was a keeper.  I'd already decided that I would have to bring his Alice to life in a doll, and was then set to find what I would do for her prop, or accessory.

Nestled within the first two pages of the book, I found a little slip of paper with a story, a small biography of the book written by his wife, Wendy Ice.  Its began with "In 2008, my husband, artist David Delamare, set off to illustrate this book."  What followed was a brief description of how Wendy put to the task of getting this beautiful book published, then two paragraphs that took my breath away. "At last, eight years after the beginning, on September 16th, 2016, David approved these pages for binding.  It was a triumphant week for him.  He was thrilled with the appearance of this volume and had also just finished the final painting for our next book (a collection of fairy art)."

"In the wee hours of September 19th, David tucked me into bed where we spoke of our gratitude for this adventure and our excitement for the future.  A few hours later, I woke to discover that he had died.  I found him seated beneath his easel where he often played with his rabbits."  I knew then and there, that this doll would be a tribute to his life and his extraordinary work on this book.  And, it all happened in September. 
One of the first things I discovered as I was looking for Alice's prop, was that David used anthropomorphic animals, of every kind, to symbolize the human elements of the story.  Sure, we all know that the story was filled with unusual animals, but he did something different, and that thrilled me.  What caught my eye were the paiges that painted the roses red.  They were monkeys!  And, what of that hat she can be seen wearing, and the monkeys, too?  They were chess piece crowns.  Had to do it.  Just had to do it.  Now, I'm not really "into" monkeys, but this little guy had to be made.  I'd never seen a monkey with a magnifying glass in his paws or hands, using it for painting those roses with precision.  This appealed to me equally, as I do most of my detail work under magnification.  So I jumped onto Ebay and looked for a 1:6 scale magnifying glass.  Hah!  I found one.  Accessory before the accessory.  Interesting that I would have to make him the right size to work with that tiny handheld magnifier (and yes, it really is one). But, the other incredible thing about David's Alice work, is that these are night scenes, by candle light, with umbrellas for stormy weather, and gentle moons dancing in the night skies.

Of course, there was Alice to make first, her dress, her boots, that chess piece crown...  I used one of Wendy Lawton's dolls for my Alice, and this time she was the Emily doll.  When I "rescued" her off Ebay, I wasn't sure exactly what I would do with her, but upon discovering David Delamare's Alice, I knew her face would be the perfect representation.  Some people claim her lips are too large, but Delamare seemed to drawn his own Alice with voluptuous lips, so she would work perfectly.  I changed her eyes to a hazel green, then braided a long, blonde, human hair wig for her wavy tresses.

Her boots were next, along with her stockings of large black and white stripes.  I would have to make these boots from scratch, but had the foot bed and pattern size from the 16" Mary Lennox.  Eight tiny black buttons close the sides on each boot.  I am no closer to finding boots easier to do than the last pair.  They simply take work.  Especially if you have to design a unique pair each time.  I got lucky with her striped stockings, finding the right width of stripe in a pair of thin people knee socks.

I used a cotton sateen for her dress. What's interesting, again, is how many different versions of a sleeve the artist will draw for the same character in a book.  After viewing all the paintings, the most recurring "sleeve theme", was a flutter sleeve, instead of the typical banded puff.  White collar, three black buttons down the front...these are common themes, but the black trim on the apron was another difference and joy to explore.   Her chess crown hat was a complete and utter challenge.  I used one of those lovely wool felt sheets from The Felt Pod which sews beautifully under a sewing machine needle.  The Felt Pod even provided the felt balls that top both hers and the monkey's crown.  Alice's dress has a self-half slip edged in lace, and the bodice is lined. 

But, let's talk about the monkey.  As long as I spent making Alice's costume, a good 3/5's of the time and effort was spent making him.  First of all, he is a wire armature needle felt character, but this time, and the for the first time, I made five fingered hands.  I'd tried to make one hand from a Youtube tutorial last June, as I knew that in the future, there would be a Humpty needing hands.  The tutorial I used is NOT Sarafina's.  She makes her hands with four digits.  Why?!  As much as people exclaim and rave over Sarafina, she is not thorough with her tutorials.  And, this other lady did a great job with her own tutorial for realistic hands. Just sayin'.  If you're wishing to try needle felting, look at a variety of the tutorials to find which suits your needs best. 

I must have worked on the monkey's facial features no less than eight hours, and often going back to revise and rework them.  Building a character like this takes an incredible amount of time and patience, but its worth it.  This little fellow even has "fur" on his face as well as long fur for "hair" in the back of his crown.  Several shades of gray were used for his garments, which included, once again. striped trousers.  I just happen to be attracted to stripes.  His shoes were interesting to make as well.  There were a lot of "firsts" creating him.  I'd originally intended for him to stand alone, but with diminishing shelf space, I decided to make him into a marionette.  The nice thing about wire armature is that your character can be posed.  I pointed his feet downward as he is hanging by marionette strings.  That was a fun touch.

The cards, back and front of one, were interesting to do as well.  Every piece of this character was needle felted, which means I had to make the fabric and card pieces from wool hanks.  Every detail is needle felted, like the spades.  I had to be creative in thinking of which card to use, since the illustration shows only one spade over his right chest.  Four seemed a nice balance to the look.  While decorating the back of the card, each area had to be felted then attached.  Two little "hidden" shoulder straps attach the two cards over his shoulders. His little armature fingers folded nicely around his magnifying glass and paint brush.  His own chess crown hat took some "doing", and by the end of it, I as ready to call it quits, although I did make Alice a red felt rose to hold.  I felt as exhausted as Alice looks landing in a pile of leaves at the bottom of the rabbit hole.

I've worried that people who enjoy my work are beginning to focus their attention on these needle felts and dismissing the costuming of dolls that I work so hard to accomplish.  Well, there's a lot of work that goes into both.  I enjoy dressing dolls from illustrations, but needle felting has certainly allowed me to give them more creative accessories and props. 

It was my promise to David's widow, Wendy Ice, that I would share a link to their lovely website.  If you enjoy his work, the art on this website will enchant you further.  http://www.daviddelamare.com/alice.html  Included in the attachments below,  a few of my favorites, are Alice images that would have nicely gone into a volume of Through the Looking Glass, but alas, we are left with the treasury of art David Delamare created before his passing.  It is almost as if this book were the one thing he strived for most in his life, and Wendy made that happen.

Miss E. Mouse