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

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!