I admit it has been decades since I last watched a Little Women film so I had to refer to the crib notes for a bit of background on Meg. She is the oldest of the 4 sisters and what I read described her as fun loving with a penchant for luxury.
I purchased this Yield House Meg doll completed with the intention of remaking her clothing. As a young woman she would have wanted to wear the latest fashions and not the frumpy frock she arrived in. Since I have been wanting to explore this category for a while it seemed the perfect opportunity.
Looking at Victorian fashion plates and photos from the mid 1860s I was consistently drawn to the Garibaldi shirtwaist and skirt combination. This was a high fashion look and was sometimes paired with a bolero jacket. On a small scale I decided just the shirtwaist and blouse would be sufficient.
In a previous post I detailed how I made Meg a cage crinoline. She arrived with a decent set of drawers and one petticoat I reused. Additionally I made her a chemise and petticoat of fine lawn.
I found a lovely red silk charmuse at a local yardage store and originally thought to make her skirt in black velvet. It might have been made that way originally but I realized working the waist would be complicated and it would likely turn out bulky. Taking to eBay I found a remnant on Japanese kimono silk.
I’m getting better at drafting patterns for dolls but I feel I could have done better on this shirtwaist. It’s not my best output. I like the skirt – it’s made with double box pleats and I loved the hand of the silk. So nice to work with! But honestly I like her undergarments better.
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.
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.
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.
Once you get to the end, tuck the end under and whip all the way around the joint.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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!
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)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Back Neck Length 12″
Arm Length 19″
Hip to floor 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!
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…