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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
In all my spare time, I have made some more dolls. I never thought I would become so enthralled with dolls or their clothes, but 2020 was a year of sucki-ness, and I guess I actually did have some spare time. Anyway, I made a second doll from the Elizabeth Stewart Clark pattern.
This is Mernie. She has similar undergarments to Emalie, except I tried making a quilted petticoat. Since I had never even quilted before, this was quite a challenge for me. The pattern says to follow any quilting pattern. Well, I don’t know any quilting patterns, let alone an 1860s era pattern. So I made one up.
The pattern is really designed to hold the layers of fabric in place, I measured out the diamond pattern I wanted, adjusted, remeasured, then marked it out in chalk. I thought it would take forever. What I discovered was that quilting is kind of zen. I get in the zone and felt remarkably relaxed when I finished.
Mernie has a gathered front bodice with bishop sleeves. I like the gathered front, but let me just say that the cuffs of the bishop sleeve are insanely tiny. It was a challenge to finish them nicely – but one I felt up to completing.
I quite like Mernie. I feel I made improvements on my first attempt with this pattern.
Yes, it’s been over a year since I wrote on this site. Finally I have something fun to write about – microblogging on Facebook just barely scratches the itch, but time has been a constraint too. So, here we go.
I never finished that “girls midcentury” dress project, because well, my girl has grown out of the chemise and drawers I made her, and is not really interested in history events any more (boo). She will go if I make her, but would prefer not to.
To fill the void, I have made another “child” to dress. Everyone, meet Emalie!
Emalie is based on a mid nineteenth century doll style and the pattern is a digital download from the amazing Sewing Academy by Elizabeth Stewart Clark. You can get the pattern at her website and it is easy to follow. There is also a lady sized doll that I’ll probably get next. Emalie is about 13″ tall, made from all cotton and sewn 100% by hand.
Before I was able to make her dress, I had to start at the beginning and make her! She is made from cotton muslin and stuffed with cotton. I chose to paint her face and hair as well as her little Mary Jane style shoes. Her hair is a red brown and her eyes are green. I could have done a better job at stuffing her, but since she is my first, I will have to accept the flaws. I also think I might have put her arms on upside down. The pattern was a bit unclear exactly how to position them and she just holds her arms out wide for a hug. Otherwise, making the doll body was super easy! I used cotton balls to stuff her, and just mangled them up a little bit to make them more flexible.
Next, I made her undergarments. I used a very lightweight cotton for her chemise and a stiffer cotton for her drawers. I’m not thrilled about the tucks on her left leg of the drawers as they got a little messed up. The scale is so small that even a minor mistake can take the whole seam off kilter pretty quickly. I used the same stiffer cotton for her stays.
Like how I painted a bun on the back of her head? :-)
The chemise, drawers and petticoat are edged with some vintage lace whitework that a friend of my mother’s gave to me. For the stays, I stitched in the appearance of boning channels but there aren’t actually any bones or cord in them. I didn’t want to get “too” carried away, and I knew I would be hand sewing the eyelets for the lacing. I think I spent more time on the stays than on the rest of the clothing! The stays are laced with a narrow cord. Luckily for me, I had made the actual child sized stays for my kiddo a while back so I understood the process. The pattern has mistakenly forgotten to include the construction notes on the stays. I will forgive Ms Clark because she is awesome in so many other areas!
Here is her pretty petticoat with a wide 1/2″ tuck. If you ever want to fine tune or refine your hand sewing skill, a doll is a good way to do it. The pieces are small and there is almost instant gratification. I have found I can take very tiny stitches that look almost like machine stitching. It does cause some eye strain however.
Finally, I made her a pretty green dress. I selected this fabric to make a dress for Melody when she was a baby. She grew so fast, she outgrew the pattern I had!
Here you can see the tiny piping at the neckline and waist. This is how dresses were made in the mid century, so I chose to do that here. The piping is made on the bias and I used the same cord that I used on the stays. It was the perfect size.
Here’s the back of the dress and you can just see the green stitching where I made the tucks in the skirt. Fortunately the thread sort of disappears in the floral pattern of the fabric. The dress, drawers and petticoat all close with a tiny hook and thread bar.
So there you have it! Miss Emalie will be visiting with us at events from now on and I’ll probably make her a pinafore at some point. She just looks so pretty, I couldn’t wait to share!
Hiiiiiiiiiiiii again! So I just recently got back from OSS. OSS is outdoor science school, fyi. We did these skit things where we had to do a short play about ecosystems. Ours was that we were the little Einsteins and we sang the song and went to different ecosystems.
Hello world! I have added a new sidebar item that you may enjoy. Look over there, on the right. It’s a little gallery for Melody to post photos. This started as a Girl Scout project to fulfill the Digital Photographer badge, and hopefully she will keep it going.
Melody is also an editor, so if you see any posts that sound like they were written by an eleven-year-old, that’s why. :-)