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!