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!

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.

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.

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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