Save Ye Whales

Save Ye Whale Placard
Pharaby Protests Whaling

It’s been a whale, er, a while, since Pharaby had an update in her wardrobe. Stays were next on the list since no 18th century female would be caught dead without them. I dreaded it though, not only because I’m not a staymaker, but because Pharaby is so feisty and I feared she would not be very accommodating.

I was right.

Pharaby comtemplating violence.
Pharaby comtemplating violence.

It wasn’t hard finding some period glazed linen, and stitching was tedious but not difficult. The challenge was making a pattern and making it fit. Hooboy. I have no talent for patterns to begin with, and Pharaby was utterly unyielding. Her curves would not give an inch. I must have drawn two dozen versions before we came to terms. I think she herself came close to desperation, because late one night I caught her reaching for the seam ripper when she thought I wasn’t looking.

Pharaby Stays Boning
Pharaby plays well with knives.

Well, between tracing and taping and heavy use of aluminum foil, we made it. The next part was finding appropriate boning. My first thought was to use old whalebone, but the idea of cutting them to fit was rather daunting. And Pharaby feels strongly about whaling – see above. I experimented with plastic ties (too soft), wooden skewers (too hard), cardboard (too bendy), and even some perfectly shaped plastic applicators I found in a cosmetic box (too thick). I decided on reeds, and Pharaby and I spent considerable time shaving them to size. I think she rather enjoyed that part, but I can tell you I had to get new blades for my Exacto knife before we were finished!

Eleventy weeks later, they were done. All but the lacing holes. It looked so simple to do and there were plenty of nice images available to help. But if I thought pattern making was a chore, figuring out the spacing for spiral lacing required three afternoons. Gee, the back of the stays is only 3 inches, how hard could that be? For me? Ha.

Persistence pays, however, and she is now laced in her stays. I’ve sewn a little pocket inside the lining so I can make her a busk. And I think, despite her protests, it may be made of baleen. She’s now ready for the next garment: I expect it will be a petticoat.

P.S. I did add buttonholes to the shift cuffs, so she could wear pink silk ties. Have you ever tried sewing buttonholes to fit within 1/8 of an inch? I recommend a nice Pinot Blanc.

P.P.S. If you haven’t read ye etymology of “Ye Olde,” you might enjoy it.

Pharaby Stays Front 1
A Queen Anne wooden doll gets new stays – shorter than originally intended since her hips were more than I could cope with.
Pharaby Stays Front 2
Doll stays, front view.
Pharaby Stays Back
Doll stays, back view.
Pharaby Stays Side
Doll stays, side view.
Pharaby Stays Full
Pharaby speaks her mind.

Little Biggin

18th C Cap 1a
18th century linen cap for a baby.

Babies look so sweet in caps, and once upon a time they wore them from the time they were born. They wore a lot of things actually, as Thomas Jarrold wrote in this 1736 excerpt:

18th C Cap 1b
Infant’s linen cap, lace insertion on brim.

Formerly, the dress of an infant was cumbersome and oppressive, it is now much simplified, but still it admits of improvement; many parts are unnecessary, and even injurious, and require an experienced person to adjust them, and, in dressing the infant, so much time is consumed and so much toil occasioned as must greatly exhaust and weary it; to this it ought not to be subjected, that cannot be proper which distresses the child …. its dress should be light and warm, and so constructed, that the time occupied in dressing may not be greater than the capacity of the child to bear it.

18th C Cap 1fIndeed! The Foundling Museum’s record books also list a great variety of garments, and those for the head include cap, bonnet, biggin, forehead-cloth, and head-cloth – not necessarily worn simultaneously. I’m particularly fond of these little caps because they show such exquisite stitching. I don’t think anyone today does plain sewing so fine and dainty.

18th C Cap 1e
A measure to illustrate just how fine the work is – can you see the backstitching?

This elegant example is made of linen, and it measures about 10 inches across the double brim. From the front to the back hem is about 8 inches. The lace insertion is on the upper brim only. (If you can identify the lace, please let me know!)

The embroidery worked along the edge of the insertion and where the crown is gathered to the brim is typical of 18th century whitework on infant clothing.

Closeup of lace insertion on cap.
Closeup of lace insertion on cap.

One puzzling feature is the running thread along the hem of the brim. On the under layer, it terminates a couple of inches short of the center on each side. It appears to function as the familiar “stay stitching” of today. However, on the upper layer, it continues from both sides, meeting in the middle. And the threads are left hanging!

The back is finished simply, with two tiny cords to draw for a closer fit. There are no ties (or pin marks) on the cap, another feature that was common into the early 19th century. Does that suggest that another head covering was worn with it? I don’t know of a baby today who could keep such a hat in place.  And “that cannot be proper which distresses the child!”

18th C Cap 1d
Little ties to adjust the fit of the back.


Shift Full
Maybe Graceless, Pointless, Feckless, and Aimless – but not Shiftless!

Shiftless no more! Pharaby can compost the fig leaves now.

To make her shift, I used some fine old linen with a silky feel, and  I scaled a pattern in Costume Close-Up (is there anyone who doesn’t use that pattern?). Then I proceeded to sew up the gores, body, and neckline. Shift Hem When it came to the sleeves, though, I was perplexed. What was typical, plain or gathered? I reeeeally wanted to do gathered.

Not being an eighteenth-century-fashionista, I pulled out costume books and scoured the internet for guidance (see this awesome study). Most of the images of extant shifts I found – there were a few exceptions – had sleeves without gathers at the armscye, or shoulder. But period art seems to imply that  shifts did have them; otherwise, how so fluffy? That means that 1) I didn’t look in the right places,  2) I couldn’t see details and misinterpreted the pictures, 3) they didn’t survive as often, or 4) some dates were wrong. Maybe all four, plus some more reasons I haven’t thought of yet.  Oh well.

Shift Left ShoulderHowever! I found two or three images of exquisite little shifts on early wooden dolls in museums, and those had sleeves that were gathered at the armscye. I think. Anyway, I love setting in gathers and it’s my toy, so that’s what I did.

Now another dilemma. To stitch or not to stitch, that was the question. I was so accustomed to seeing the stitching (now called backstitching) on the wristbands of men’s shirts, that her little cuffs looked as bare as she did.   But, duh for me, I’d already set in the gathers. Could I do it, post hoc stitching?  Why not – if there’s a harder way, I’ll find it. You don’t see any close-up photos of the cuffs here, do you? Ha.

Shift RightNext came the binders, those reinforcing strips that are a standard feature in men’s shirts. I can only guess how common they were in women’s shifts, because they don’t usually show in photos, nor are they noted in descriptions. But I’ve long speculated that originally binders were there just for “setting in” gathers – support for a stress area was just a bonus. So in they went.

Now the question you’ve been too polite to ask: did it fit? Pharaby said it would do. She’s not fussy. Any doll destined to wear fashions spanning a century or so – at the same time – can’t afford to be.

Oh, but she does expect me to mark her shift and add ties for her cuffs. She hasn’t decided about frills.

Shift Pharaby

Shift Gathers

Shift Right Shoulder

Shift Neckline

Shift Gores

Shift Sleeve







Disarmament (En) Treaty


It occurred to me this morning that I left out something in my last post. I forgot to mention the delay between doll wiggery, and doll wardrobe.

My dear, long-suffering husband! I like to modestly claim that he owes his great patience to me. I not only set the example myself, but I make it a point to try his, regularly.

Pharaby was all ready to dress, except for attaching the arms. I knew if I made that simple little hammer tap through the layers of linen and reinforcing leather, I’d mess it up. So I wanted him to do it. I made the request, a time or two, and waited. And waited.

After a couple weeks I thought it was time for another delicate reminder. I know he is very fond of dangerous metal things that make loud noises. So I tried a new approach, thinking it would have particular appeal, especially if spoken with a charming southern drawl.

It worked! 🙂

Playing with Dolls, or the Reign of Queen Anne


My mother always told me I had “a bad case of The Wants” whenever I found something that I just had to have – something usually beyond my means. Well, I’ve been grown up (sort of) for a long time now, but I can still get a bad case of The Wants. There are a few cures.

1. Get the means (mildly difficult to sometimes impossible)

2. Wait it out (The Wants are often fickle and fade away)

3. Make it myself (may provide many hours of hilarity at my own expense)

This time, my want was a Queen Anne wooden doll, and I decided on option #3. I researched dolls in books and on the internet. I saved pictures, read descriptions, watched YouTube videos, ILL’ed references. I didn’t want a cloth, clay, or resin version, I wanted real wood.

Want would’ve been my master, if it weren’t for my father. His hobby is woodcarving. He’s been retired for many years and mostly carves birds and decoys. But he was willing to try this for me. Hooray!

I revere authenticity in historical crafts, but for this doll I had my own vision, not to mention my own skill limitations. Therefore she would be more like what I wanted in a toy than a replica of an antique. And besides, when you award yourself a disclaimer like that, you’re free to mess with chronology, styles, materials, and measuring up to the experts! No guilt! Yay!

I was very excited when he finished, and ready to start my share of sanding, painting, and assembling. It’s taken a lot of time and trial and error.  That’s where the hilarity has come in.  Funny how the ends of paper clips make a perfect pattern for eyebrows.  And if you dot the eyebrows really fast without thinking, they’re much more even.  But … what to do about hair?

Pharaby attired in “Paper or plastic?”

Did you know there isn’t much (free) information available on how to make wigs for wooden dolls? No? Well, there isn’t. So I painted her hair, figured I’d hide it with a cap anyway. Unfortunately, that left her looking like she was recovering from a virulent fever.

A wig would have to be attempted, using the little info I could gather and my own ingenuity. I decided to make it removable in case it was a total disaster, so that meant a wig cap. I found a scrap of antique linen dress lining to use, but I could have saved the scrap, since after the cap was finished you couldn’t tell it was anything special. Oh, well. You can see, left, how I protected her paint job.

The linen would have to be slathered with glue, so more protection was in order. Keep in mind I was making this up as I went along. I still didn’t know how I’d make goat fur look like people hair, especially dressed for the 18th century.

Pharaby kidnapped and held for ransom? Hardly.


YouTube to the rescue! There are some generous dollmakers out there who are also very tech savvy. I found one who showed how to glue the little locks and then attach them.

So I ordered the wool. It came in a lovely loooong skein, woohoo! Plenty here to allow for mistakes! That set the stage for the first one, because I cut into the skein, a good 6 inches or so, and began to separate it into little clusters. Duh!

What was I thinking? Goats grow hair three feet long? Yeah, right. You see them tripping all over the pasture, tossing their heads like little Rapunzels as they graze.

Perhaps you can imagine my dismay as I combed the first tiny strands and watched over half the wool pull away. I realized then that 1) I’d better not donate my brain to science,  and 2) I’d need every inch of that mohair.

Reminds me of Ben Franklin.
Clothespins: the other duct tape.

After two days of playing Psyche gathering wool and peeling hairy glue off my fingers, face, and furniture, I never wanted to see a goat again. But the fun really started when I got to the top of the wig cap and couldn’t decide how to style it. When I was a girl my dolls had awesome wardrobes, but their hair was pathetic. I relied heavily on rubberbands.

In the end, I decided to leave some long in back, and poof the rest up on top of her head. (What that will mean when I come to making a cap is yet to be seen.)

So. I got the wig finished and styled. A nice braid hanging down in the back and the crown piled high, with a few strands hanging loose – just to make sure she had that modern Hollywood version of an 18th century hairstyle. But I wasn’t completely satisfied. The strands were all straight and wispy, no curl. I’ve got curly hair myself that I’m always trying to straighten, but I love curls on everyone else. So how to curl wool in tiny ringlets?

Why, you make your own curling iron, of course. Take an ice pick, clamp it in your flat iron for a minute, then veeeery carefully wrap a wisp around it. Hold it till you think you smell something burning, and voilà! You’re done!





Next we move on to the wardrobe…