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.

Well hi there!

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!

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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.

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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!

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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! IMG_1259.jpeg

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.

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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!

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