Meg March

I admit it has been decades since I last watched a Little Women film so I had to refer to the crib notes for a bit of background on Meg. She is the oldest of the 4 sisters and what I read described her as fun loving with a penchant for luxury.

I purchased this Yield House Meg doll completed with the intention of remaking her clothing. As a young woman she would have wanted to wear the latest fashions and not the frumpy frock she arrived in. Since I have been wanting to explore this category for a while it seemed the perfect opportunity.

Red and black with obvious box pleats

Looking at Victorian fashion plates and photos from the mid 1860s I was consistently drawn to the Garibaldi shirtwaist and skirt combination. This was a high fashion look and was sometimes paired with a bolero jacket. On a small scale I decided just the shirtwaist and blouse would be sufficient.

Inspiration drawing

In a previous post I detailed how I made Meg a cage crinoline. She arrived with a decent set of drawers and one petticoat I reused. Additionally I made her a chemise and petticoat of fine lawn.

New chemise & petticoat
Cage crinoline and underpetticoat

I found a lovely red silk charmuse at a local yardage store and originally thought to make her skirt in black velvet. It might have been made that way originally but I realized working the waist would be complicated and it would likely turn out bulky. Taking to eBay I found a remnant on Japanese kimono silk.

I’m getting better at drafting patterns for dolls but I feel I could have done better on this shirtwaist. It’s not my best output. I like the skirt – it’s made with double box pleats and I loved the hand of the silk. So nice to work with! But honestly I like her undergarments better.

C’est la vie I suppose!

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

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.

Refreshing the Fairy Garden

Almost a year ago, Melody created a fairy garden. It was modest, small by some standards, but it thrived under our gardenia bush and we picked up a few more bits and pieces over time. Due to some work we had done in our yard, we have had to relocate the fairy garden. Don’t worry, the gardenia is still beautiful! :-) We collected all the accessories, stones, and little items we had made, and set to work on a new and improved fairy garden.

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Melody chose the placement near a rosebush

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Here she is laying down a pebble path from the house to the garden gates

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The fairy’s house, mailbox, and the path from the gate, plus a little visitor

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A bird’s eye view of the house and path, plus the little garden where the fairies are having a picnic!

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A close view of the house and the pebble path, plus a fairy resting in the shade of the bush

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Here is the “mama” fairy, sitting on a bench Melody and I made from clay and beads

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A top view showing the entry to the garden, the small stones leading to the garden gate, and the fairy resting on the bench

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The proud girl with her garden of fairies and pretty things!

We reused the sides of the old planter box we started with last year. The bottom of it rotted out completely, and so the sides, which were painted to say “fairy garden” were still of use to us. One is in the rosebush and the other is along side the brick border, on the other side of the garden. It will be clear to all fairies who fly by that this is the place for them!

Handmade Fairy

Here’s a fun little activity brought to you by FairyMomCreations.com. We met the Fairy Mom at a recent event. Melody was fascinated by her little dolls and their houses. These are not just any doll and doll house. These are whimsical, dream-inspiring, beautiful little dolls. Melody and her friend Lily played all afternoon with these dolls – see Lily’s grandfather bought them each a doll, then Lily’s grandmother bought them each a doll kit, then Melody’s mommy bought them each a key…these girls know the power of shopping with different people with a soft spot for the littles. :-)

Anyway, the kit was more than we could do at the event, so yesterday Melody and I sat down to make her very own handmade fairy. I wish I had taken progress pictures, but I was so absorbed with the doll that I completely forgot! The kit cost $5. FIVE DOLLARS!  What a bargain.

As of yet unnamed fairy

As of yet unnamed fairy

Fairy wings

Fairy wings

The kit includes everything you need to make a flower skirted fairy, including wings, flower, yarn to wrap the body, wool for the hair and lots of beads and sequins. All it takes is glue and a little time. Took about 30 minutes start to finish. The kit includes photo illustrated instructions.

Whee!

Whee!

Here she has landed atop the fairy house we also purchased from the Fairy Mom. She has a variety of really neat and clever houses, castles, cabins, pirate ships and even a mushroom house. They are so cute, and the sides of the standard type structures come off easily because they use velcro!

Melody and fairy

Melody and fairy

Fairy family

Fairy family

The fairy abode came with this little family. They are so adorable. The quality is very high, too. They won’t fall apart at the first play session. They definitely are not for little littles, but girls 6 and up will find hours of entertainment with them.

The Fairy Mom is going to a number of events throughout California this year, but it looks like the next time we will run into her is during the Huntington Beach Civil War Days event over Labor Day weekend. Check her website for amazing creations, ideas and her calendar. They are worth the $5-$7 you will spend!

Working with an antique bed frame

I love my antique bed. It has been in our family for over a hundred years. My grandfather slept in it, my mother slept in it, I slept in it, and now my daughter sleeps in it. I don’t know why a bed, such a mundane item of furniture, should hold my affections so firmly, but for some reason it does. I remember a long long time ago in Sunday School they were asking us littles about what we would be most sad to lose in a fire. I had no thought of the clothing, toys or other childhood treasures. For me, it was the bed. Even at that young age I had been captured in the spell of history, antiques and family treasures.

As a kid, I liked to crawl under the bed and look at the support structure, wondering about all the people who had slept on it. The supports of the bed originally consisted of five 2×4 slats that rest on small footers, a framed spring, and then the mattress. The top of the mattress was lower than the top of the footboard and it had a lovely sleigh bed profile. But, since that support structure was worn out and very old, my parents had a new box spring and mattress built. Of course, it is a non-standard size, so it had to be custom built. With the addition of the box spring, the top of the mattress became higher than the top of the footboard and for a while I was upset. I felt it spoiled the look of my bed. :-) We retained the slats to disperse the weight of the mattresses.

As an adult I learned about bed skirts. Particularly for an antique bed, which usually has a 12″-15″ opening below the bed, these are a great way to hide anything you store under the bed, or just give it a softer look. Since my bed has been modified from it’s original structure over the years, this project does not damage it any further. If your antique bed is in its original condition, think about whether you plan to take it on Antiques Roadshow before making alterations.

Because of the slats under my bed and the large box spring, I can’t simply lay the bed skirt over the box spring and leave it at that, so I had to devise a way to attach the skirt. First I tried a system of rails that lay over the slats, but I still had to remove the mattress (heavy) and box spring (insanely heavy) to install and remove the skirt. The other day I came up with the simplest of all methods: velcro.

Slats, underside of the bed

Slats, underside of the bed

Here you can see the slats and a bit of the underside of the bed. I apologize for how terrible these images are, but have you ever tried to take a picture of the underside of a bed? It’s not easy, haha.

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Velcro placement

I used adhesive backed velcro and placed it right on the edge of the inside underside of the bed frame.

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Velcro placement on the skirt

Next, I cut the center out of the bedskirt so that I had one long ruffle. I placed the other side of the velcro along the seam of the ruffle. Do not cut on the ruffle side of the skirt – I left about 2″ of the center portion as a buffer, just in case my measurement of the drop was off. I broke the velcro into three sections – side, foot and side – making sure to allow room to go around large corner posts. First, place the velcro on the bed frame. Then place the velcro on the skirt. The measurement should match up exactly. With this particular bed, I used a queen sized skirt because the bed is not a twin and not a full. I took a large pleat in the center of the foot section to make up for the overage. Continue along the other side until the skirt is placed.

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Completed bed

The finished bed looks lovely! Since my black cat likes to go under the bed to hide, it will now be much easier to remove and wash the skirt to remove her hair that sticks to the skirt. If I decide to change the skirt for some reason, I will leave the velcro in place on the bed frame, and just reuse the pieces on the skirt. Keep in mind that the adhesive may wear out over time and you may need to baste the velcro onto the skirt.

Good luck with your antique bed, just remember to work with it, not against it!