Pretty Paula

Today’s doll is one I don’t have to redress. She is quite beautiful and I don’t plan to change a thing about her.

Paula in soft dimity

The dress she wears was described as dimity. I had to look up what that is, because while I have heard of it I don’t think I have ever seen it. According to JoAnnMorgan.com, dimity’s trademark feature is a line in the weave, and a windowpane dimity looks like it has boxes. This pretty dress appears to be of windowpane dimity as you can see the boxes in the weave.

Sheer windowpane and ruffles

The dress is just exquisite. It is sheer and airy, so incredibly fine. The pattern likely is from the 20th century. When Paula emerged from her shipping box, I was thrilled to discover she has a hoop skirt. It’s is a single bone bridal-style hoop, but nonetheless it helps with the shape of her dress. The hoop was completely crunched up, but with some gentle adjustment it went back to a round shape. Her drawers feature some of the tiniest tucks I have ever seen.

Paula’s dress has a bit of a train, or is in an elliptical shape. This shape came into fashion in the second half of the 1860’s, moving more fabric to the back of the skirt. You can also see in this photo the 3/4 sleeves with the repeated three rows of lace trim. The ribbon trim is an 1/8” velvet. It may have originally been a brighter teal color.

Paula in profile

The bodice of the dress features a starched wrap, probably made of batiste. I hesitate to remove the wrap to see the bodice underneath. I am not certain if this wrap piece is considered a bertha or not. A bertha was often part of a ball gown. Take a look at the tiny buttons. They are a teal color. Maybe the are really beads, I’m unsure.

One of the unique features of Paula’s styling is her hair. I don’t know if you will be able to see in these small photos, but she has a braid that goes all round her head and then a cluster of curls on the crown of her head. This is hair styled for a ball.

Another thing that attracted me was the inclusion of a letter from a previous owner of this doll. It was written in 1972 by an unnamed person, and explains the doll was a kit designed by Julia Hoople, and Paula was created by Merry Lane in Florence, Oregon. I think Merry Lane might be a person, but it could also have been a doll boutique. She originally had a yellow bead necklace and a white picture hat decorated with flowers. Those items have been lost to time.

Paula has joined the rest of the gang in my cabinet and I am pleased to include her in my collection. I hope you have enjoyed hearing all about her. See you again soon!

Sunbonnet Sue

She’s had a hard life

This little gal is a doll I am calling Sunbonnet Sue. I adopted her from (where else) eBay and I think she has had it rough. But I couldn’t resist her interesting features – most importantly her bonnet. The bonnet is part of the china head, and I have a lot to learn abut these fascinating dolls called Bonnet Heads.

So forlorn

But first a tiny bit about Sue. She is about 11″ tall from tip to toe. Her china pieces are not glossy, leading me to think this is the type of material called bisque. She has been painted and assembled quite poorly. Everything about her is a little sad, honestly.

Weird discoloration

There is this strange discoloration on the fabric used to make her, which feels to me like skirt lining of all things. It’s slippery. I suppose whoever made her used whatever scraps they had laying around the sewing room. You can also see that her head was attached rather inexpertly. The center seam of her body is pulled off center toward her shoulder. Even worse, her body shape is really off. Her left leg is somewhat toward the center of her body and her right leg is offset to be under her outside of her shoulder. Poor Sue. You can also see that her feet and hands were attached badly and the dear girl is pigeon toed.

I’m ready to get dressed now, please

She came to me naked (as they almost always do) and I just feel for this girl. She is another perfectly imperfect doll, who has a ton of character, and who I will give a good home & decent clothing. :-)

My modesty has been preserved!

She perfectly fits the chemise I had made for Nell ages ago and it is a better fit here, plus the drawstring neckline works well with her large head. As I was working with Sue, one of her arms came off! The arms and legs were attached with wire, which I had not seen before – but that isn’t saying much, I am really new to doll acquisition. I was able to reattach her arm and also secured her other arm as a precaution.

Pretty and simple

But now she is ready to relax and rest, well clothed! I love this fabric – it’s a bit brighter in person than in the photo. I have learned these bonnet-head dolls were styled to the 1830s, and the fabrics at that time were bright and cheery, which is why I chose this. The great thing about a tiny doll like this is you can make a complete dress from a fat quarter and have fabric left over for something else. In the dress, you can’t really see the problems with Sue’s construction, although it looks a bit like she has her hip cocked out to the side. Maybe she’s throwing a 180 year attitude.

I asked in a doll collectors group about bonnet-head dolls and learned that the originals were created around 1900. There are a tremendous variety of bonnet-head styles, but Sue seems to be styled off this particular type:

Bonnet-head doll

As you can see, however, she was not painted with such care. During the 1980s, there were numerous kits (and they are still available on occasion on eBay) mass produced for consumers to create. My suspicion is that Sue was born during that era. It is unfortunate that her painting was not done with great detail, but I think I will enjoy her all the same. She is now safely nestled in my cabinet with some other dolls in my growing collection.

Here is an article about bonnet head dolls – much better written by people much more knowledgeable than me.

Hats Off to Bonnet-Heads via RubyLane.com

Meet Hannah

Buy this book immediately!

I don’t think you need a picture of Hannah in her underclothes – at this point, dolls in chemises, underbodices, or drawers is just redundant, don’t you think? Suffice to say I used the underbodice & drawers patterns from the 1875 La Mode Illustree that I mentioned in my last post about Emma, and the underbodice fits Hannah much better than Emma’s does. A while back, I picked up a copy of Sewing Victorian Doll Clothes by Michelle Hamilton. This lovely book covers 1840 through 1910, and includes not only a study of the various doll styles available during that timespan, but also some well designed and detailed patterns. The tricky thing is that to make the patterns fit in the book, they have to be printed quite small, and then the user was intended to enlarge the pattern on a copy machine. Since I don’t have a copy machine handy, but I do have a scanner, I went with that method, heh. You can see in the picture all the tabs I have added to this resource – I have a lot of plans for my dolls!

It was really tricky to decide what to make for my latest doll, Hannah. I created her from another Tasha Tudor doll kit, and technically she is named Meg. But she doesn’t look like a “Meg” to me, hence the name change. She is quite short, only about 11 1/2″ tall, which creates some issues based on her diminutive size. The patterns in the book were intended for dolls closer to 20″. But, I’m clever and capable, so off we went.

The photo on the left is an original doll made during the 1870s and featured in the book. She is truly lovely and I loved her bustle dress. The photo on the right is an extant dress from the same time period and was another inspiration for me. I had this French blue silk that I had bought years ago. Literally, I have been toting it around for three houses now, so it’s about time I used it. I also recently acquired some gorgeous gold silk taffeta from FarmhouseFabrics.com. They have a great selection of heirloom quality goods, plus they have doll “kits” of fabric and trims in coordinated colors. The gold silk taffeta came from one of those kits.

Hannah is so beautiful!

I think I really need to step up my photo game because I don’t think these are going to do her any justice.

The dress is made in three parts: bodice, skirt and apron. Oh, and there is a bustled petticoat underneath. Each piece is made exactly as clothing in the 1870s was made, so the bodice is lined, darted, and opens in front. If Hannah were bigger, I could have made functional buttons and buttonholes. As it was, she is just too small to even use 1/4″ buttons for decoration, so I used some hematite beads here. The original dress had tiny pleated trims, but Hannah is so small I had difficulty with my patience on the pleated skirt trim, so I decided to forego that. Besides, I loved the cuffs on the extant gown above and wanted to replicate that look. The thing about this era is that you could trim and trim and trim some more, and it would all be ok!

Close up of bodice & watch

I even made her little hat – something I had never done before! It was tricky, but I’m pleased with the result for the most part. I had wanted a feather, but not having one and not wanting to go shopping for one feather, I decided to fray out some silk instead. Her little watch came from Dollspart.com. I don’t know if you can tell, but the original doll had a little watch which is where I got this idea. I was literally obsessed with finding a doll sized watch for about 24 hours, searching jewelry supply websites for something I could make into a pendant for her, so it was a massive relief to find this website.

I quite like the results of this dress project. There are a few things I could have done better or differently, but all in all, I’m pleased. Again, I know where the mistakes are and I have to try to forget them. My sister would tell me they create the character and personality of the doll, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

This project was the inspiration for a planning book. If you make doll clothes (or really any type of big project with a lot of parts or steps) I highly recommend doing this. I jot down different ideas for the various dolls I have on my project list. The list is getting long and really, I had forgotten about one doll, so I thought this would organize me better. I keep the book handy – since I work from home I can keep it right on my desk to grab when inspiration hits me. As I browse various photo galleries, I screen shot or save inspiration pictures and then paste them into the book with the doll I have in mind.

The book I am using is a Moleskin with the elastic band that keeps it closed – necessary since it is getting fat with all the added pictures – but any kind of blank book or journal would work.

This dress along with several others was also part of the impetus for me to redesign my office/sewing room and add a glass fronted cabinet. Now my dolls don’t have to stay in a drawer and I can look at them for inspiration or just satisfaction of my work.

Next time you visit, I will tell you all about Sunbonnet Sue, another interesting doll adopted off eBay with lots of issues that make her special. See you then!

Emma’s got a new dress

I promised you I would show you how I upgraded Emma’s dress from the *lovely* lavender polyester she came with, and I’m keeping my promise. I admit it, I stopped working on her in the middle of the project and did something else. Shock! Teaser: it was another doll, and yes I will tell you all about it in another post, soon, I promise. For now, let’s focus on Emma.

I previously showed you her polyester dress, and that was just not to be allowed. Since Emma is styled as a child or youth, I felt a traditional long dress was not right for her. After consideration, I decided on the 1876 La Mode Illustree dress for a youth doll. This is again a pattern that I had to first translate from French, then trace & size to her. Since we can’t do things the easy way, of course I made her some undergarments.

These undergarments are from an 1875 edition of the same magazine, and at first I was thinking I’d make all the underclothes. Then I realized that the dress I wanted to make wasn’t compatible with the longer petticoat, so I set that aside for the time being. Of note however, like how I made the underbodice look like it opens in the front? But really it opens in the back. I admit, I don’t love the underbodice. I feel like I could have spent more time fitting it to her, but I really just wanted to move on to the dress, so I accepted the less than perfect result I have here.

This petticoat should give you a better idea of where I planned to go with her dress!

Here’s the original drawing of the dress I planned for Emma:

Described as olive faye with pink silk ribbon trim

And, here’s what I created for Emma:

This is a fine cotton in green plaid with pink silk ribbon trims. I found this project to be super fiddly! Making the yards of trim was extremely time consuming, and while beautiful in the finished state, I really hated it about 3/4 of the way through, lol. I also know where my mistakes are, and that is always a killer. We are our own worst critics, after all. But, I am very proud of my ability to draft the patterns, put them together with literally no instructions, and create a lovely dress for my precious doll. I have not yet found a hat quite right for her, and I will likely make a necklace at some point. Perhaps a hoop for play would be cute, but I’m not going searching for one.

Thanks for visiting and reading about Emma. Next time, I will show you something truly exquisite!

Emma and the purple polyester

Hi, I’m Emma

Emma is another Tasha Tudor doll I acquired off eBay. Someone is selling a kit to make an Emma for something like $50 but I found this complete doll for only $20. Such a deal – I don’t have to build her!

Emma is dated 1974. I imagine she was made around that time based on this dress. It is polyester. Not today’s polyester- this IS your grandma’s polyester.

The outfit consists of the dress, a net underskirt, polyester drawers and a hat. None of the doll kits included much dress fashion – just basic patterns and sketchy instructions. I always wonder about the person who made the doll, her clothes and their knowledge. Did they have a book? And old doll to copy?

While it was sewn competently, it’s POLYESTER! 😆 there’s no way Emma can continue to wear this. But don’t worry, I have something in mind. Since Emma is styled as a youth doll (instead of a lady doll) I am working on a cute 1876 outfit styled from La Mode Illustree. Come back soon and I’ll tell you all about her new clothes from the muslin out.

Dressing Florence

A few weeks ago I told you about building the lovely Florence Nightengale doll from Yield House. Thankfully, Florence hasn’t been sitting in her underclothes since I completed her. I was very focused on the project and spent about a week making her dress.

I decided that since Florence was a known person I would do my best to recreate a dress she wore. A photo search resulted in this image, dated to 1857.

Florence, age 37

Although we don’t really know what color her dress was, I felt that an homage to the somber nurses dress might work well. I found some gorgeous lightweight charcoal wool from MiniMagic.com. They have tons of doll appropriate fabrics, trims and more.

Studying the dress, I figured the original velvet bands were probably 2 inch wide pieces. Of course in doll scale that would not work, so I purchased 3/8” velvet trim.

Secondly, I knew I would not be able to reproduce the turned back sleeves on such small scale. I would have to compromise on that.

And granted, the dress would be made to open in the back as a doll dress, so the sharp point on the waist would also not materialize.

But, I think I did a pretty good job.

Florence, dressed

Since 1/8” velvet trim doesn’t exist that I could find, I embroidered the bars in between the velvet bands on the skirt and on the bodice.

I made her undersleeves from a fine white batiste that I had and used some delicate lace. I am not thrilled with the black ribbon in the casings, but I’m not going to remake them. As was done in her day, the undersleeves tie on just above her elbow.

The lace for her collar I had left from another project. I used a tiny medallion for the center embellishment.

I’m quite pleased with Florence Nightengale! Come back again and I’ll tell you all about Emma and her purple polyester dress.

Building Florence

No, not the city. This is Florence Nightengale, according to Yield House. Yield House was a mail-order craft company popular for many years in the 20th century. During the 1970s and 80s, there was a wave of reproduction doll kits that hit the market and Yield House was right in the mix of things. They may have been the most popular. They featured characters from history – George & Martha Washington, John & Abigail Adams, Florence Nightengale, Betsy Ross, plus the March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth & Amy – as well as Pinky & Blue Boy. There were others as well, but you get the picture.

Florence in pieces

As a 10 year old girl, I made George & Martha Washington. Looking at the instructions now, which are shockingly sparse, I am amazed I made the dolls at all. It only goes to show how good my mother was. She surely coached and guided me through the process. I have distinct memories of her telling me how to gather the fabric for the skirt. My sister some years later made new clothes for George and Martha, and related to me recently that I had put on his feet opposite to correct, so his left was on the right, right on the left. Poor George! Kathy or my mother has these two dolls.

I decided in my recent obsession with dolls that I would make a Yield House doll (or two, or more, depends…). I purchased this kit from eBay and got a discount because her original hands were broken. I found replacement hands (you can find almost anything on eBay!), and then she sat in her box unmade for several months while I worked on Dottie.

The pattern pieces and box

During that time, I considered what level of accuracy I wanted for Florence. She was a truly famous woman who accomplished great things! I suppose I could shoot for accuracy if at all possible.

But first, the construction. Like I mentioned, the instructions are shockingly sparse. Make the leg, attach the arm, stuff the body, attach the head. That’s not far from reality. The first obstacle was the fact that the pattern for the muslin leg resulted in an opening much wider than the actual china piece. What to do?? I found a blog post from a doll club in Birmingham, AL which solved the problem for me. Make a dart before attaching the china piece.

You can see here that the China piece has a groove and a hole. The intention is for firm thread such as quilting thread to be wound around the piece in the groove. The benefit of the hole is that the piece can be sewn to the leg fabric. If the piece only had the groove, some methods indicate they should be glued on top of the tightly wound thread.

In Florence’s case, since I have replacement hands, she has both types of attachment. I didn’t glue the hands because I was impatient and wanted to get her finished.

The assembly of the doll went rather quickly – maybe an hour or two. I found attaching the head a bit frustrating due to the stuffing I have used. It’s very springy, so the China head kept squiggling around when I was working on securing the tapes. This method is very common in historical and reproduction China dolls.

Once she was completed, I quickly made her a chemise and drawers. I drafted these patterns from a couple different patterns I have on hand.

Third, I made her a corset. Again, it’s not really corded, but stitched to look like it is. She is a doll after all. :-) The corset took a long time to make. All that faux cording took a long time to stitch. Last I made two petticoats. During her lifetime, Florence would have worn the multiple layers of petticoats typical before the advent of the cage crinoline. The good news is I now have a standard set of undergarment patterns for any future Yield House dolls I may create. Which is entirely likely.

Next time, I’ll tell you all about the dress I made for Florence. It was a ton of work but it’s so worth it!

Nell’s 1866 Promenade Dress

When I was researching what to make for Nell, I came across a source for La Mode Illustree, a French fashion magazine popular through the 19th century. They frequently published doll costumes as a means for girls to learn dress making. While it took me some time to commit to one of the patterns, I have finally completed one.

Being as the magazine was written in French, I first had to translate the text. I’m not fluent but I have a very basic understanding of the language, and Google translate did the heavy lifting.

I decided to create a walking dress, or costume du promenade. It was described as being made from gray lindsay- a type of fine wool – with navy blue velvet trim. The original patterns were intended for a doll a bit larger than Nell, so I had to be careful to size it to her. I did not use wool because I don’t want to afford it for a doll, plus the majority of modern wool available at a big box retailer is a blend with a synthetic fiber to keep costs down and/or is heavier than I would need for a 12” doll. I substituted a nice cotton with a firm hand but fine weight.

Doll Sitting in Armchair

The source material includes the pattern page which has every pattern piece in the magazine all on two pages. The lines of each pattern were unique so you would find the dotted, dashed or starred lines, trace them and then make your garment. I followed this process, next having to print them and size them. I then proceeded to make a couple mock-ups of scrap to make sure it would fit Nell. It was quite an intensive process as I’m not completely knowledgeable in dressmaking. However, I persevered and eventually came up with a fit I liked.

As it turns out, these doll clothes were literally miniature dresses, made exactly how full sized garments were made. They were intended to teach little girls how to sew their own clothing, which makes a lot of sense. Just, the construction methods of the nineteenth century don’t always make sense to our modern thinking. Usually doll clothes fasten in the back and the front just simulates the intended look. Fortunately I have experience at making 1860s dresses so I knew what to do with the pieces. Also, there aren’t actually any construction notes, just the pattern pieces. So, the description of this was:

The doll is 48 centimeters tall, head not included. Her dress consists of a dress and a coat in gray lindsay. The overcoat, sleeveless, is retained by a belt. The skirt is 32 centimentres in length, 1 meter 50 centimentres wide; it is bordered with two bands in blue cotton velvet. Same trim for the sleeves and the collar of the bodice, whose figures 46 to 50 represent half. The belt clasps under a rosette. The overcoat is made from Figures 51 to 53; we put small pockets in it. The blue taffeta hat is made of stiff gauze, according to Figs. 54 and 55, furnished with archal thread, covered with taffeta, adorned with hives underneath, black lace on top.

La Mode Illustree, January 1, 1866

So here she is in her completed 1866 Promenade Costume. The dress includes a dogleg opening in the front, which requires careful attention to detail to ensure it stays centered. The bodice is darted as was appropriate in the era. While it shows 20 (count them all!) tiny, 5 mm buttons, they are nonfunctional and only for looks. This wasn’t unheard of in the 19th century either. I sewed on the buttons, which were squirrely to say the least, didn’t like how they looked, took them off and sewed them on again. I wound up sewing under the magnifying glass because they are tiiiiny. For reference, Nell is around 12″ – the height of a Barbie doll.

I haven’t attempted to make the hat because I have never made a hat and don’t know what to expect. But, at some point I will try it with scrap fabric. I do have some blue silk here that I have been dying to use for years.

The pattern pieces include letters in the various corners, which the person making them was expected to know meant that the two pieces with letters L and M, for instance, were to be sewn together between those two points. As I was making the third mock-up of the bodice, I started writing down the instructions. Not that I expect to share these with anyone, but it’s kind of fun to make a pattern with the sense that someone might sit down to sew your creation one day.

Since the dress is constructed exactly as an adult sized dress would have been, the knowledge of vintage clothing construction came in very handy! Perhaps one day I will convert this Promenade Dress to a dolly version that closes in the back, which would make it soooo much easier to reproduce. In its current form, it is an advanced intermediate skill level, but a dolly version would be just as pretty and much easier for less skilled hobbyists.

In the next post, I’ll dive into the construction of a cloth bodied China doll.

Dottie

This doll named Dottie was made for my sister as a Christmas gift. It’s my third making of the Little Cloth Girl pattern from Elizabeth Stewart Clark. Needless to say, I love this pattern.

You will notice an immediate difference in Dottie’s appearance from Emalie and Mernie, and that is her face & hair are embroidered. I’m not the best at embroidery (that’s my sister’s specialty), so I had to be very careful. I actually remade her face since I didn’t like the first attempt. All the embroidery is silk and I think it came out nicely. I also stitched in her fingers – not an easy task, plus she has jointed elbows and knees.

She again has the undergarments appropriate for a girl in the mid 1860s. I decided on this go-round that I would make a full wardrobe since she was a gift.

My daughter picked out this red fabric – which I just love. The dress is a darted bodice with sleeve caps.

The second dress is made from fabric my sister has picked out to make herself a dress – probably a wrapper. I thought it would be fun to surprise her, so I just asked for a 1/4 yard of any fabric. Now, once she makes up her dress, she will have a friend in a matching dress. How sweet! This dress is a gathered front yoked bodice. I really like how it turned out.

I made a quilted petticoat from flannel. While you can’t really see it, it has the same diamond pattern quilted in as Mernie’s.

The next piece I made was the basque coat. I used a sueded fabric to make it seem like wool or a heavier fabric. The trim is brown velvet and I love the nonfunctional buttons.

My favorite piece is the blue lightweight coat. Like I said earlier, I’m not much for embroidery, but I wanted this to look like it has braid, which was a common embellishment. The little button just finishes it off.

And just because I’m a glutton, I made a little handbag, a bonnet, a quilt that features all the fabrics used in the clothing, and a pillow. Oh, and inside that handbag are mini books I made. As an aside, I made another of these little bonnets for a Holiday Gift Exchange in the Historical Costuming For Dolls Facebook group. I’m not the only one obsessed with them!

I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of Dottie and her wardrobe. In the next post, I will showcase a costume made from a vintage fashion magazine.

Meet Nell

For someone who is a documented doll disliker, I have become fascinated by them. Not playing with dolls, or displaying them. And not all dolls; I like very specific styles of dolls designed in the mid-nineteenth century. Of course I can’t afford the real dolls – or, more accurately, I won’t afford them.

This doll, Nell, is a reproduction late 1860s-1870s cloth bodied doll. She has China head, hands and feet. I did not make her, but adopted her off eBay. She was designed by Tasha Tudor in 1977. I don’t know much about Tasha Tudor except to say she was an artist who loved dolls. In the 1970s there was a revival of these China head dolls sold as kits for home doll makers. Many brands offered the kits, and I don’t know how accurate they were.

Nell was poorly constructed – her legs are twisted and her arms are attached incorrectly as well as being rather fat. I could have remade her body, but I decided I love her as she is.

Sweet Nell came to me in a truly unattractive outfit. Remember she was made in the 70s. The dress was made from orange sprigged searsucker. Yikes.

Since I want to eventually use my dolls for teaching and display at history events, I could not leave her in this crazy outfit. From the muslin out, I redressed her. First came a new chemise and drawers from white cotton. I figured for a nicer doll I could have some fun with her corset and made her a corded corset with this beautiful brocade I had. Add a nice tucked petticoat and we are ready to keep going.

At some point after the first photos I remade her chemise. I never did like the first run at it. The new one is tucked to the neckband and lays much more smoothly. Unfortunately for Nell, it took me another several months to make her dress. I took a break to decide exactly what to make for her. Since she is later 1860s, I wasn’t limited to typical hoop skirt styles. While the basic bodice didn’t change too much after 1864, skirts and embellishments did.

I spent some time researching exactly what to make, delving into French fashion magazines and dreaming of the garments I would make her. And then I made a basic, almost boring, dress.

The fabric is cotton meant to mimic a patterned wool, which would commonly have been used. I modeled the dress off the amazingly versatile patterns from Liz Clark, modifying them to fit Nell. The skirt has box pleats at the waist, which were a more stylish method of attaching a skirt. It was a bit boring on its own so I added the pink ribbon bow and belt.

Next episode, look for the gift I created for my sister.