Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Alice Illustrated in Gwynedd M. Hudson - Tea With the March Hare

Finally!  At last!  I feel like I've been away for ages.  Well, in a way, I have.  Early in August, the first week to be exact, I'd flown to Orlando to attend the UFDC summer convention.  Let's be honest...I was sick the entire time, but I had a ball.  It was one of the best conventions that I've been to.  And, one of the reasons was the people; the new friends I made, and the meeting up with the "gold" friends I've not seen in...well, yes, ages. 

Did I buy any dolls?  No.  But, I did come home with souvenir dolls from the ticketed events, and I love them all.  And, what of the Helper Alice and Miss Unity?  Alice has gone home to an "Alice" collector, and Miss Unity now resides at the UFDC headquarters, in Kansas City.

When I got home, it was straight to the doctor's I went, and I spent three weeks recovering.  In the last week, I began to feel well enough to venture into the project that has been in the hopper for quite some time.  I won't say this definitely, but I'm pretty sure that this is the last Alice Illustrated costume I'll do.  I believe this is her fourteenth, but who's counting?

Our little 12" Lawton-make-over Alice is now dressed in the lovely outfit that Gwynedd M. Hudson illustrated her wearing, in 1922. 

Gwynedd M. Hudson studied art at the Brighton School of Art.  She was a figure painter, illustrator, and poster artist.  She exhibited at the Royal Academy around 1912, that we know of.  She is best known for her editions of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which received the lavish gift-book treatment (started with the books of Dulac and Rackham), being issued as a large, elaborate book in both a trade and deluxe edition.  This deluxe edition was featured in the Bookman's Christmas Portfolio for 1922.  Gwynedd's Alice is generally considered one of the finest and has been repeatedly reprinted.  She illustrated, perhaps, half a dozen or so other books, mostly for poetry and religious purposes published for Hodder in delicate Art Nouveau watercolors.  Despite this, more information about Hudson is not easily found. 

While we all immediately recognize Alice in blue, she was dressed by countless illustrators throughout time in what I refer to as the fashion of the era.  This was not the only time Alice would be dressed in white, as Margaret W. Tarrant gave her a white version in 1916, and Bessie Pease Gutmann did one in 1907, among others.  I've always been attracted to Hudson's Alice, and first saw this done on a doll by Robin Woods for her Ultimate Alice set. 

Another reason I was artistically compelled to create this, and at this time of year, was due to the setting she gave to the Tea Party.  Normally done with summer greens, the leaves on her trees are distinctly autumn colors.  I had originally intended to needle felt the White Rabbit with his black fan, embroidered waistcoat and blue silk vest, but I'd just done a White Rabbit for the Korean Alice.  I considered other characters like the Mock Turtle with a soup tureen, but instead chose the crazy March Hare with his pink-iced cherry cake, as the colors would pop the display since the dress was "Sees Candies" white and black.  But, I get ahead of myself, as usual. 

Alice's dress is a micro stripe dimity.  It is textured and finely woven cotton.  The trim is black Petersham grosgrain.  The difference between Petersham and normal grosgrain is the edging.  With the Petersham, you get a ribbed effect, while the other is a straight, smooth edging.

Her pinafore is the Pima Swiss Batiste, all edged in cotton lace with two tiny pockets.

I fussed a bit trying to design this pinafore because there was no clear determination how the back of it looked.  I was told recently by a respected doll costumer that since it is just an illustration, made up in someone's head. that the dress is not real, the pattern not real.  My jaw dropped silently over the phone, and it really made me wonder what she was trying to pull.  After all, every single dress and garment that was ever made, came out of someone's head and a drawing on paper, an illustration!  Yet, this doesn't deter me, and I know better, and always do my homework.  A pinafore is a little apron that goes over a dress for playtime.  It is to keep the dress clean while the child plays, but heaven forbid it, alone, gets dirty.
So, I designed one from the 20's with a smock bodice instead of the straps we normally see.  Two tiny buttons close it in the back.  Large butterfly sleeve caps top float above the short puffed sleeves of her dress.  It was really something trying to pull this all inside out through the shoulders.  It is a lined bodice. 
She completes her look with a coral bead necklace, short socks, and the cross strap shoes she wears are the same ones I made for the blue and white striped dress by Agnes Richardson in 1923.  Same time frame.  I got lucky.  The coral necklace would be her only bright spot until I began needle felting her tea party mate and cake. 

In the meantime, I scoured Ebay for the pressed blue glass tea cups, and a miniature cake plate.

I began with the cake, thinking it would be easy, but I'd completely forgotten how to needle felt.  It happens.  Its not like riding a bike, I'm afraid.  After a failed attempt at squashing wool and poking the heck out of it, I decided to go back to a youtube of rabbit making, and a tutorial on print that I used for the Korean White Rabbit.  Neither was all that helpful, but they did encourage me.  After all, the March Hare that Hudson drew was anthropomorphic, and had crazy Bug's Bunny eyes.  I was doing a caricature, and this was different. 

As I studied the illustration of the Tea Party under the autumn leaves, I searched through the book I'd recently purchased (a fine copy of the original done by Pook Press), to look for what he wore under that table.  I found an illustration of the March Hare and Hatter stuffing themselves into a teapot, that you won't typically find in a Google search, as its in black and white.  I don't know if the original was enhanced with orange, but let's pretend it was.  What I discovered were a pair of man's legs in striped pants with rabbit feet sticking out.

I decided then that I would do the stripes in royal blue to provide a pleasing palette, and they just happened to match the blue of the glass tea cups. 

I was not confident, at any given time, that I'd be able to "pull off" doing the March Hare.  I really did have to reteach myself how to needle felt again, and it was a good lesson to not let this skill drift away.     
I began with his head figuring that this is the main feature of the March Hare.  This also helps gives you an idea, as you go along, how large the body should be.  He is made on thin wire armature, which allows for him to be posed,  however, once you get a good amount of wool felted to build his form, the amount of bending does decline.

I think one of the things I learned with him was how to build clothing on a body for a needle felted character.  To begin, you have to flat felt the wool to begin making pieces of the outfit that can be felted together.  I started with the vest since it went under the jacket, then began with the pants.  Now that I knew they were striped, and I'd selected a color, they went together fairly quickly.  The stripes were something I'd done before when I made the Cheshire Cat.  Still, this was a pair of pants, and I thought, as I went along applying the stripes, about how they would look if you cut out pattern pieces from striped fabric, so they would look natural.

The jacket took some thought as well, and I found that if you do the sleeves first, the jacket front and back can be felted on smoothly at the shoulders.  I felted his head wrap and black bow tie as well...even the buttons.  His whiskers are fishing line.  Why?  Well, it was available at the CVS, and it shows up better than nylon sewing thread.  There's a light green tint to fishing line, but it doesn't detract from the look of least on the March Hare.  The wheat strands, or grasses, are just that.  You can pick up these dried grasses in the floral area of a Michael's.  I colored them with those marvelous alcohol markers and gave them a good chance to dry overnight since they were going under a white head wrap. 

And, just what is a March Hare?  Its a popular British phrase based on a belief about the hare's behaviour at the beginning of the long breeding season.   Early in the season, unreceptive females often use their forelegs to repel overenthusiastic males. It used to be incorrectly believed that these bouts were between males fighting for breeding supremacy.  Could this be why he wears a head wrap?  Like he's been in battle?  Tossling in the grasses and getting wounded?  Anything is possible.

It has occurred to me that I could "do Alice", and nothing but, for the rest of my creative days!  I even have a new one planned that I wish to start right away.  But, Alice Illustrated's Gwynedd M. Hudson will be her last outfit for the time being.  And, I'm even thinking about making myself a yellow cake with cherries in it, pink cherry frosting, topped with cherries!  Doesn't it look yummy?

Miss E. Mouse


  1. Amazing, as always! The March Hare is a mini miracle that utterly captures the gentle charm of the Hudson illustrations. Alice looks a treat and -oh! is that cake I see? Worth the trip down the rabbit hole!

  2. This whole creation from Alice's beautiful dress to the wonderful March Hare character and the cake are incredible to see! It is really fun to see the March Hare in 3 dimensional, not just a flat picture. I love every bit of this set, your amazing Melissa!