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.

Mid Century Child’s Chemise

I have finished the first installation of practice on the Mid Century Sewing Project as I referenced a couple posts back! The first item I decided to try was the child’s chemise from the Elizabeth Stewart Clark’s Historic Moments Girls Linens 1840-1865 pattern. While the pattern comes with a 30 page booklet, do not let this intimidate you, as it did me at first. It is packed full of helpful tips on making your garment as period correct as you want or can, plus complete instructions for three garments with a variety of options.

I am glad I made this as a practice run because I made a few mistakes and some decisions on construction about half way through the project. First off, I learned how to make the run and fell seam, an historic technique that encases raw edges inside a seam and adds greater strength to seams. In the armscye area, I hand stitched the seam on one side and machine stitched it on the other. I must admit that I prefer the hand stitched side. There is a little more forgiveness in hand sewing that you don’t get on a machine. I also found it easier to maneuver in the small area by hand.

Hand stitched run and fell seam

Hand stitched run and fell seam

Machine stitched run and full seam

Machine stitched run and full seam

I stitched the side seams on the machine and they are very neat and tidy. I like that.

Sleeve finishing

Sleeve finishing

On the sleeve, I chose to add a whitework border. Pictured is the “cheap” eyelet from a local chain store. Even though I measured the opening carefully, I still found my eyelet border to be a tad smaller than the opening of the sleeve. I ended up taking some ease stitches over the top of the sleeve. I don’t like how that puckers there, and on the “official” garment I will measure even more carefully.

Sleeve placement

Sleeve seam placement

Once the sleeves are attached and the side seams stitched, the neckline is ready to be bound. I chose the fixed band option, which is a simple process of basically gathering everything and then binding it. There are no notches or dots on these patterns – something I really hate on Big Three patterns but which I could have seen the benefit of here. Once the band was placed at the correct location on the center of the sleeve, I wasn’t sure where the seams of the sleeve should fall. I took a reasonable guess placed the seam about 2 1/2″ to either side of the center point.

Center back

Center back

Here is where my hand stitching really kicked in. Once the binding has been stitched to the outside, it is turned and then stitched inside. I took as small of stitches as I could and every fifth stitch I took another stitch right on top to prevent the work from slipping. I added the 3 x marks because the chemise is identical front and back except for a small line on the neck band.

Hem inside

Hem inside

Hem outside

Hem outside

Here is the hand stitched hem.  I took a very deep hem because Melody tends to grow up but not out. I expect she will wear this for several years. By the time I started sewing this hem, I had received my order of sewing wax. I used a single thread, waxed it, and again took an extra stitch every fifth stitch. While I can’t say that my running stitch is of very high quality yet, it is even and straight. :-)

Finished neckline with whitework

Finished neckline with whitework

Finished chemise

Finished chemise

This will be Melody’s “every day” chemise, which she will use as early as the Vista Reenactment coming up in March! As you can see, this is a generous garment that should fit nearly any child comfortably. I am looking forward to making the drawers next. In fact, I want to go cut them out right now!