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.