Making a cage crinoline for your doll

For historical costumers, a cage crinoline is a necessity, but you may ask yourself what exactly that is. Modern lingo for this garment is “hoop skirt” which describes a skirt with hoops in it, typically made with plastic bands and sometimes flounced. But for the original cast, a cage crinoline was a modernization of the crinoline petticoat. A crinoline petticoat was a starched cotton underskirt, often times many layers were worn to achieve the desired bell shape to a skirt. In 1856, however, the cage crinoline was patented and allowed women to achieve the shape without all the heavy skirts! They were made with steel bands – not heavy ones – that were strong enough to carry the weight of one or two petticoats on top, plus the skirt of the dress being worn.

And of course, where fashion for people goes, so goes fashion for dolls. There are remaining doll-sized cage crinolines in private collections, and they are of course on a smaller scale and not as robust as human sized garments. They can be used to fill out a skirt for a doll, or simply for the fun of putting a hoop skirt on your dolly.

Looking at how the originals were constructed, I realized this is a simple project I could make and share the instructions here. My doll is an 18″ Yield House Meg doll, but you can adjust these measurements to fit your dolls.

Supplies

I found this trim that is 5/8″ wide, 95% cotton and reminds me of Petersham. It’s a nice woven, flat trim that will do nicely. I’m also using some aluminum jewelry wire here but you can use what is available to you. You want something that is malleable enough to bend into your shape but strong enough to hold the round hoop shape once completed. All told, I spent less than $10 on the supplies.

First you need to do some thinking and measuring. For a Yield House doll, the skirt is made from a 36” length of fabric. This results in a nicely full skirt similar to those worn in the 1860s. Consider how tall your doll is and how full her skirt is. You want the bottom hoop to be less than the full circumference of the outer skirt. I chose to make the bottom hoop 30” around. The top hoop should be wide enough to fit over the hips of your doll. Meg here needed 15” for decent clearance. For the middle bone I split the difference and made it 23”

Once you have your hoop circumferences, measure your wire to that length plus 2-3” overlap. Cut the wires and then twist the ends together.

Twist the ends together

Make all three hoops, then you can measure the tape to cover them exactly. Allow at least 1/2” on either end to turn the raw edges under. Beginning at the joint, fold the tape around the wire to encase it and then whipstitch it closed.

I used quilting thread but any type will do

Once you get to the end, tuck the end under and whip all the way around the joint.

Bring the folds together and stitch

Repeat on the second and third hoop until all three are covered. The next step will be to find the quarters on each hoop and place a small mark. This will ensure the vertical tapes will hang straight. these marks will be covered, don’t worry.

Mark the quarters

Determine the drop of your hoop skirt next. This is the length from the waist to where you want the lowest bone. I chose a 9 1/2” drop so the lowest bone would be near the tops of the doll’s boots. This is about where my life size hoops hang as well. Consider you need 1/2” on either end to tuck under – so add this onto the drop measurement. This gave me a 10 1/2” vertical tapes. Cut 4 of these. Don’t forget to measure the waist of your doll and cut a waistband to that length plus 1”.

The hoops should be equally spaced on your vertical tapes. Don’t forget that you will attach them at the top and the bottom. I measured and pinned the placement for the first and second hoop. The hoops attach at 3”, 6 1/2”, and 10” (the bottom).

Beginning with the lowest hoop, wrap the tape around so the raw edge will be enclosed. Stitch that in place. Repeat at all four quarters.

Enclose the raw edge

Moving to the middle bone, fold the tape over the hoop so you can stitch through the vertical tape, through the hoop covering under that, then out the vertical tape. You aren’t stitching behind the hoop wire, just catching the tape wrapping it. Repeat on all quarters and then move on to the top hoop.

Pin it into place until you stitch it

Once all the hoops are attached to the vertical tapes you are ready to attach the waistband. Turn the ends of the waistband under and stitch so the raw edges are inside. Remember, the waistband is the measure of your doll’s waist plus 1”.

Finished edges

Find the quarters of the waistband, place a small mark, then pin the tapes in place.

Stitch these in a square that will secure the tape and keep the raw edge inside. Once that has been done you can add a hook and eye or thread bar. You are done!

My doll happens to have a modesty petticoat under her new cage crinoline and then a fine starched cotton petticoat over it. I’m making a silk skirt for her next and this should do nicely to help it hold it’s shape.

All told I used less than the full amount of wire I purchased and less than a full spool of the white tape. Had I made the vertical tapes in white I might have used close to the full spool. I hope you found this little article helpful in demystifying the cage crinoline and will feel confident in trying one for yourself!

Supply List

5/8” Petersham or similar woven cotton flat trim (don’t use twill tape as it will ravel)

2 1/2 yards white

1/2 yard red (to make in all white add this to the length above)

Aluminum jewelry wire – 16 gauge – 72”

1 size 1 hook

Needle and thread to match

Ruler or tape measure

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!

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!

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!

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.