Pretty Paula

Today’s doll is one I don’t have to redress. She is quite beautiful and I don’t plan to change a thing about her.

Paula in soft dimity

The dress she wears was described as dimity. I had to look up what that is, because while I have heard of it I don’t think I have ever seen it. According to JoAnnMorgan.com, dimity’s trademark feature is a line in the weave, and a windowpane dimity looks like it has boxes. This pretty dress appears to be of windowpane dimity as you can see the boxes in the weave.

Sheer windowpane and ruffles

The dress is just exquisite. It is sheer and airy, so incredibly fine. The pattern likely is from the 20th century. When Paula emerged from her shipping box, I was thrilled to discover she has a hoop skirt. It’s is a single bone bridal-style hoop, but nonetheless it helps with the shape of her dress. The hoop was completely crunched up, but with some gentle adjustment it went back to a round shape. Her drawers feature some of the tiniest tucks I have ever seen.

Paula’s dress has a bit of a train, or is in an elliptical shape. This shape came into fashion in the second half of the 1860’s, moving more fabric to the back of the skirt. You can also see in this photo the 3/4 sleeves with the repeated three rows of lace trim. The ribbon trim is an 1/8” velvet. It may have originally been a brighter teal color.

Paula in profile

The bodice of the dress features a starched wrap, probably made of batiste. I hesitate to remove the wrap to see the bodice underneath. I am not certain if this wrap piece is considered a bertha or not. A bertha was often part of a ball gown. Take a look at the tiny buttons. They are a teal color. Maybe the are really beads, I’m unsure.

One of the unique features of Paula’s styling is her hair. I don’t know if you will be able to see in these small photos, but she has a braid that goes all round her head and then a cluster of curls on the crown of her head. This is hair styled for a ball.

Another thing that attracted me was the inclusion of a letter from a previous owner of this doll. It was written in 1972 by an unnamed person, and explains the doll was a kit designed by Julia Hoople, and Paula was created by Merry Lane in Florence, Oregon. I think Merry Lane might be a person, but it could also have been a doll boutique. She originally had a yellow bead necklace and a white picture hat decorated with flowers. Those items have been lost to time.

Paula has joined the rest of the gang in my cabinet and I am pleased to include her in my collection. I hope you have enjoyed hearing all about her. See you again soon!

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 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.

Mid Century Drawers

No, not drawers, drawers!

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They fit – whew!

Undergarments in the past, the sort of thing that covers your backside, were called drawers. While I can’t find a definitive source, most people are speculating that long underwear type garments were called drawers because they were drawn up the body (as in drawing the curtains closed, drawing up your chonies). At least since the later 1500s, drawers referred to what we now call interchangeably pantaloons, bloomers*, underwear, pantalettes, underpinnings, unmentionables, linens, etc. During the mid 19th century, they were called drawers, and so that is what I will be calling them here. The item was designed to keep a person’s legs covered, both for modesty as well as cleanliness. Typical drawers for girls reached to the mid calf.

For my Mid Century Sewing Project, previously I made the child’s chemise, and almost immediately went onto the drawers. The pattern consists of one piece cut twice on a fold, and then a small portion is cut away from only half of it, creating a distinct left and right leg. Since I had surprised myself in enjoying the hand sewing so much making the chemise, I decided to make the drawers in a combination of hand and machine sewing. Around the crotch area, I hand sewed the seams and felled them so they would not ravel. I chose to make closed crotch drawers for Melody’s modesty. The legs came together so easily, I hardly need to explain anything. My only caveat is that if your child has hips wider than the waist, you will want to cut the pattern to the hip measurement, not the waist measurement. You can see in the picture above that although these drawers fit Melody, a bit more ease in the hips might serve her nicely.

Next I added the growth tucks. I put in three tucks, and it should be noted, I lengthened the pattern by 3 inches in order to have the tucks! This girl is tall. :-) I did not add any embellishment to the hem of the drawers. The pattern suggests white embroidery in between the tucks, but my embroidery is laughable at best! Auntie might be playing with this at the next event we do together haha.

Once the side seams and plackets were prepared, I attached the waist bands. The drawers have two bands – a front and a back – which button together at the sides. For the front treatment, I pleated the drawer body onto the waistband for a more flat front. On the back I gathered the fabric and also decided on a semi-adjustable waistband. The semi-adjustable waistband is made with a short drawstring inside so the band lays relatively flat, but can allow for a bit of ease. Although the pattern called for cotton tape as the drawstring, I didn’t have any so I used cotton cord. Also, I learned how to make hand stitched eyelets! These were easy and look so nice.

Hand stitched eyelets

Hand stitched eyelets

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Untied drawstrings

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Bound ends of the cords

Here I chose to bind the ends of the cords with thread. Since it is cotton cord, it can’t be warmed to create an aglet. But also since it is cotton cord, I didn’t want it to unravel.

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Finished semi-adjustable waistband

Once this was finished I went on to learn how to sew a buttonhole. Mine are not quite attractive yet, but they are functional, heh.

Button button

Button button

I found in my stash two nice 1/2″ shell buttons. Perfect! Modern mother of pearl is so thin, but these will be sturdy for use by a busy little girl. Around about this point, I was asked to give Melody her first sewing lesson. I am delighted that she is interested, and she did a great job for her first attempt!

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Finally, the drawers are finished. Here they are paired with the chemise and a child’s cage that I picked up second hand from another reenactor. The cage is from the Originals by Kay line and are known to be historically accurate. I have to make a minor alteration to it. The previous owner added a button & buttonhole, but it’s a bit snug for Melody’s waist. So, I’m adding a short extension to cover and strengthen the previous buttonhole and give us another inch on the waistband.

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Altogether now

Next up will be the stays. Melody asked for them specifically, and I figure if I’m going to do this, I better do it right and how she wants it!

* Bloomers in the 19th century were a type of pants, not drawers or undergarments, that were worn underneath skirts, and touted as a progressive manner of dressing. They were originally introduced in the 1850s by Elizabeth Smith Miller, and based on the harem pants and other types of loose trousers worn in Asian countries. Mrs Amelia Bloomer popularized the garment through her own wearing of them as well as advertising and writing about them in her newspaper. She was also known as a “radical” because she believed women should have the right to vote in national elections and that alcohol should be outlawed. And she was radical for her time! She owned a newspaper specifically for women; she served on the Iowa Suffrage Committee; she was friends with other reformers, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Mrs Bloomer helped women take on the rights we all enjoy today.

Mid Century Party Dress

Last year, my family went to the local county fair. Of course, I always take a look at the sewing entries, and the costume entires. The items in last year’s display were……interesting, to say it politely. I’m a dedicated admirer of historical clothing and sewing techniques. Some of the “historical costumes” submitted last year were exactly that – costumes. There is a huge difference between historical garments used in a modern stage play about the Antebellum South and actual reproduction garments worn by history enthusiasts. To most people, the two types of clothing look identical, but to those of us who know, the disparity is drastic. It was at that moment, as I gazed on a silk child’s dress made by a competent seamstress in a completely inaccurate manner to replicate the look of a Colonial child’s dress, that I decided I would like to make and submit to the county fair a full set of clothing in period accurate materials with period accurate construction techniques.

Um, what did I just say?

I’m taking on a project to create a mid-century (19th century for those who don’t know me well) party dress for my seven-year-old, made as though it came out of great-great-great-granny’s trunk after having been put away after the last big party, and then forgotten for 150 years.

Girls Dresses (c) Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Co.

To do this, I will be following the techniques in Elizabeth Stewart Clark’s Historic Moments Patterns, Girls Linens 1840-1865 and Girls Dresses 1840-1865. These two patterns were carefully researched by Ms. Clark to best represent the home sewing techniques used by most women of the era. There are various options for sleeves, necklines and trims that allow for styles across the classes – from poor to upper class.

Girls Linens (c) Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Co.

Now, I have been thinking about this project since last August. I have purchased white bleached muslin for the undergarments and two cuts of silk for the dress. Today I ordered fancy imported Swiss embroidered edging. I got out the pattern and read through the booklet. It’s a tiny bit intimidating when your pattern comes with a 30 page booklet of construction tips and instructions. But, this is one of the best patterns on the market, and I hear wonderful things about it, so I’m going to roll with it.

I took Melody’s measurements tonight. I have always said she is tall and lean! Her measurements fluctuate between three of the sizes in the pattern and one measurement isn’t even on the chart it is so small.

Chest 25″

Waist 21″

Back Neck Length 12″

Neck 11″

Arm Length 19″

Hip to floor 27″

Inseam 22″

Hips 27″

Her chest is between size A-B, waist is not even on the chart for A, BNL between B-C, Neck between A-B and arm between B-C. Sigh…I will have to make a muslin and do some alterations, I suppose. I expect I will start working on this soon as I’ve only got a few months before it must be turned in to the fair committee. Watch for updates as I proceed!

And wish me luck. Lots of it!

Extending the life of a dress

Here’s a little project I did last week…

Mrs Brewer's Parlour

Our 19th century counterparts were very good at using every resource until it was completely used up. They didn’t have a local Walmart or Target available to run over and buy a replacement. Stores were sometimes a full days ride away from home, and so they stocked up on certain things, and used and reused things diligently. In their day, it was called “being frugal.” These days we have rebranded it for school kids and we call it recycling.

In a woman’s repertoire was the ability to remake dresses from one fashion to another, or to update a look with new trims and decoration. In particular with children’s clothing, it was important to make them last as long as possible because children grow! If you ever read Laura Ingalls Wilder, she refers to Ma “turning” hers and Mary’s dresses. This involved removing the skirt from the bodice and turning it…

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