Merry Christmas, Jessamine

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You’re never too old for dolls at Christmas! At least I’m not. I’d like to introduce Jessamine, a lovely doll made in the style of Izannah Walker, by the incomparably brilliant artist Paula Walton.

I’ve always longed for a doll like this lovely girl, and waited years before I was able to bring her home. I’ve had her for a while now, but that practice waiting has served me well – because it’s taken over a year to dress Jessamine in her first (hand sewn by me) outfit! But Christmas is here and she is ready.

The chemise came first, and I tried to make it with the same details that a real mid-19th century young lady’s might have had: gussets, gores, and binders. I know, unless you’re used to period costume terms, they sound like instruments of torture. I guess they were, actually, for me! It would have been a lot easier to make a simple doll chemise, and from now on any others will be quite plain. They’ll have to be; this one is so bulky that a dress has to be specially cut to fit over it. Live and learn.

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Next came the drawers. Since Jessamine is an older girl, I decided she would have split rather than closed ones. Well, really I just wanted to make them that way. Of course that means it’s trickier for her to pose with them while retaining her modesty. But we managed. I suppose you can tell from the photo that this wasn’t taken in December? And surprise – it wasn’t this year, either!

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A petticoat was essential, and this one is so full that she wouldn’t need another. It was made from the embroidered ruffle of an early 20th century, mass-produced, low quality, damaged piece. The elderly lady I purchased it from was apologetic over its condition, saying she was told that her great aunt had stood too close to the fire. While it’s sad to take apart anything, thereby tearing it from its history, some things wouldn’t survive at all otherwise. (I’m sounding rather apologetic myself, hmm?) But now this scorched phoenix has a future and a past!

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Every young lady would need a corset, or if she wasn’t quite ready for that, a corded waist or stay-waist (or some other term for the same garment). Even though there are a zillion doll corsets out there for inspiration, I went exploring Cassell’s for a likely pattern.

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I adapted it to Jessamine’s age (@150 or so) and used the fabric from a c1900 scrapped doll corset. What girl wouldn’t love lilac stays? There was a lapse of time between the modeling session below and the actual completion of the corset. Months, maybe? But I eventually finished the eyelets and added the straps.

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After many more months (Pharaby was taking all my time) I began Jessamine’s dress. The fabric was a happy accident: an online store sent the wrong print years ago, and it’s been in my stash ever since.  I made so many mistakes that I lost count. Yep, sleeves again; one went in upside down. Aaaalll the seams and gathers had to be picked out and redone. What’s so embarrassing is that I didn’t even notice it was upside down until I’d done all that unstitching for another reason – to make the gathers match the other side. Duh. Maybe that was why they weren’t even?

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If you spend any time looking at 19th century portraits and daguerreotypes of children, you’ll notice that many (most?) girls wore coral necklaces. I was delighted to find a bargain to finish her ensemble. It was sold as a doll necklace but looks suspiciously like a bracelet. No matter. The graduated coral pieces make it look enough like a necklace to suit us just fine.

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I wish I could claim credit for the  pretty red shoes, but that goes to the her incredibly talented maker. Here’s a peek at Jessamine’s feet – too sweet! Transported back to 1860 as a child, I would have been sooo tempted to take her wading in the summer! (My dolls suffered worse.) But it’s December, I’m grown up, and there’ll be no such mischief. We wouldn’t want St. Nicholas to leave only a lump of coal, would we?

 

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Pharaby’s Photo Finish

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Pharaby, all 16 inches of her, is finally dressed. And contrary to my original intentions, this may be her only outfit! No Pharaby, it’s not you, it’s me.

Since I haven’t posted our progress on the gown and final accessories, I decided to say it with (mostly) pictures. For the gown, I’d purchased a red and white cotton that proved not to be colorfast. Guess who has a cute little pink spotted ironing board cover now? However, I’m so in love with the fabric that I’d choose it again. It reminds me of the dress on the Dudmaston doll, seen here.

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We started with the usual nightmare of pattern-making misery, as I tried to draw a bodice that would fit her form. Yes, I know some people can do this in 3 minutes or less.

It looks so simple. I cropped out the empty wine bottles on the table.

It looks so simple once it’s cut. It wasn’t.

You wouldn't know that I took a dressmaking workshop at Williamsburg once upon a time. The nicest memory I have of it is their relaxed attitude toward mistakes. Yaroo! as Flavia De Luce would say!

You wouldn’t know that I took a dressmaking workshop at Colonial Williamsburg a lifetime ago. I was too dazzled for much to stick. The nicest memory I have of it is their relaxed attitude toward mistakes. “Yaroo!” as Flavia de Luce would say!

When it starts to look like a teensy little gown I begin to get excited.

When it started to look like a teensy little gown I began to get excited – motivation to see it through!

Do you know what the "B" and "F" on the sleeves stands for?

Do you know what the “F” and “B” stand for?

I had to sew the skirt to a paper strip in order to get the pleats even.

I had to sew the skirt to a paper strip in order to get the pleats even sort of even.

At last! The gown is finished. Or is it? Maybe you'll notice the alteration in the final photos.

At last! The gown is finished. Or is it? Maybe you’ll notice an alteration in the final photos.

And here's the petticoat, the only really easy part to sew.

And here’s the petticoat, the only really easy part to sew.

A close-up of the the gown open, showing the linen lining, pieced just like originals could be. Theirs were probably due to a scarcity of fabric. Mine was due to inept fitting.

A close-up of the gown folded open, showing the linen lining pieced just like originals could be. Theirs were probably due to a scarcity of fabric. Mine was due to inept fitting.

Gown with matching petticoat.

Gown with matching petticoat.

A closer view from the back.

A view from the back.

I was complaining earlier about the accumulation of stuff around Pharaby's middle. At this point I decided to replace the waistband on her under petticoat to make it more to scale - and reduce her girth.

I was complaining earlier about the accumulation of stuff around Pharaby’s middle. At this point I decided to replace the waistband on her under petticoat to make it more to scale – and reduce her girth.

With the gown and petticoat finished, I moved on to her apron. I wanted to use some original 1770s patterns for the embroidery. However … with my limited fancywork repertoire, I had to choose REALLY SIMPLE designs that could be done in a couple different stitches. Like chainstitch. Buttonhole. Running.

I scanned the original pattern and then scaled it to different sizes to find one that would work. Ok, it's really still too big, but it worked for us.

I scanned the original pattern and then scaled it to different sizes to find one that would work. Ok, it’s really still too big, but we settled.

The edges are buttonholed, the leaves are simple running or darning stitches, and the sprigs are chainstitch. The leaves looked horrible when I was working them, but once they were all done it wasn't quite so bad.

The edges are buttonholed, the leaves are simple running or darning stitches, and the sprigs are chainstitch. The leaves looked horrible when I was working them, but once they were all done it wasn’t quite so bad.

The apron, modeled by Pharaby.

The apron, modeled by Pharaby.

Next came her handkerchief (or fichu, or half-handkerchief). I didn’t do any lace or embroidery on it, since she planned to wear it tucked in. It’s made of the same lovely muslin as her apron. It’s different from her sleeve ruffles, which were salvaged from an antique piece. The older stuff just can’t be matched today, although this came pretty close!

Her fichu, tucked in place.

Her fichu, tucked in place; tiny brass pins keep everything secure.

And from the back, with her falling wig curls.

From the back, with her hircine wig curls wimping out in our Georgia humidity.

Most all of my silk ribbon was for embroidery and too narrow for Pharaby's cap. So like everyone else in the colonies, we had to wait on the latest imported goods to find just the right ribbon.

Most of my silk ribbon was for embroidery and too narrow for the cap. So like everyone else in the colonies, we had to wait on the latest imported goods to find just the right ribbon.  A couple of little thread loops were required to hold the ribbon in place on the back, since I wanted it removable. And without having to pick out tacking threads!

Last of all were the shoes. I hadn’t a clue how to do them and I’m afraid it shows. This time I didn’t even bother reading or watching tutorials. I just jumped in with both…hands. Pharaby’s poor little feet are only an inch and a half long, and unique. I don’t mean compared to other doll feet, I mean compared to each other. So I made paper ones for patterns, and then used silk scraps and lined them with linen. They’re green because that’s what I had, and I happen to adore green shoes. They’re bound with blue ribbon because the only ribbon wide enough was some left from her cap!

She has Cinderella tendencies. The right shoe likes to go its own way when we're not looking.

She has Cinderella tendencies. The right shoe occasionally goes its own way when we’re not looking.

The soles are made from bits off a leather apron. These shoes are probably the least well-done (excepting perhaps the wig or the face painting or...) of the whole project. But I lam so relieved to have them done that I don't really mind!

The soles are made from bits off a leather apron. I’m a little embarrassed to show them since they fall so far short of the exquisite slippers I’ve seen done by experts. But everybody needs shoes to relax in and not worry about spoiling. Right?

Pharaby gazes blankly at a wall of ivy, so you may see her from the back. She's wearing her bum roll under there somewhere!

Pharaby practices directing traffic or perhaps gazes blankly at a wall of ivy, so that you may see her from the back. She’s wearing her bum roll for a little poofiness in the petticoats.

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So Pharaby’s finished, for now anyway. She’s very dear to me, after this long adventure.  And she’ll always be a reminder of my father’s love of fun – and love for me.

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Mother’s Day and Night

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In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d share one of my happiest memories. I don’t have many things saved from my childhood, but I do have this beloved dress made by my mother. Barbie was the doll when I was growing up, and oh how my sister and I loved playing with ours!

We put them through the tortures and triumphs of every book or TV plot we knew – and invented even more. They pioneered across raging rivers, got lost in space, and escaped drowning in  birdbaths. Once we discovered that flour paste hardened into the perfect cast for a broken limb, our poor Barbies fell out of so many trees that they looked like mummies on crutches.

But best of all was dressing them. You hadn’t really played Barbies until you’d changed their clothes at least a dozen times. One special Christmas my mother made Barbie clothes for us – and if you have two little girls close in age, you don’t make a few different ones for each child. You make two of everything, both alike.

To a seven year old, surprises just happen. I never wondered how the splendid array of doll costumes came to be under the tree. But my mother told me later that she had to sew late at night, after we were asleep. Two. Of. Everything.

Here’s the skating costume that she made out of red satin, lined with white flannel. She couldn’t have known the night she sewed this that her work would still mean so much, so many years later. I’ll be sure to tell her today.

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Pharaby Sets Her Cap

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Actually, that should be “Pharaby Sets Her Cap Aside” – for now, anyway. I haven’t completely neglected Pharaby all these months, but sometimes remembering to take photos, and then remembering where I saved them, delay my writing about her wardrobe’s progress.

This project also took longer than I thought it would. It was hard figuring out what I wanted her to wear. Most surviving Queen Anne dolls just have little bits of lace and silk gathered and stuck atop their heads, or if they’re wearing more constructed caps, the photos don’t show sufficient details for me to copy. And sometimes the surviving headwear is not original to the doll, being so obviously 19th century that even I can tell!

In the end I decided on this style, because it was easy to make a pattern and I’m familiar with the sewing techniques. The cap is formed from a simple half circle gathered at the base of the neck and the crown and trimmed with plain frills.

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I did experience one of those aha moments when attaching the headpiece/band/brim to the crown. It was easy to “set in” the little gathers on the top thanks to the fact that the band was double. It worked just the same way as setting a gathered sleeve into a cuff! Maybe that’s why they so often had double brims?

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My attempt at narrow hems was a flop, at least compared to what 18th century women could do. But I did manage a very nice tiny eyelet for the back drawstring. It would have been nicer if I’d also remembered to put in the strings and tack them in place before I hemmed the casing down! Did you know that you can thread a large needle and retro-fit a string into a casing?

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Perhaps you’ve noticed none of these pictures show Pharaby wearing the cap? That’s due to my inadequacies as a perruquier. Every time I place something on her wig and then remove it, a few mo-hairs (groan) come loose from the carefully arranged style. In order to keep it all together until her final dressing, I had to limit the try-on’s. Pharaby won’t be modeling her cap for a while, so I let a wineglass serve as a mannequin – and then serve to celebrate one more project done!

Picking a Pocket

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Pharaby’s pocket’s been picked!

(If you expected the Lucy Locket quote on this one, maybe I succeeded in surprising you?)

There are so many images available online that it was hard to choose a model for her pocket. I finally settled on “the look” of a sweet little doll version in the online Pockets collection at the VAD. (Click the link and then search for “doll´s pocket Nottingham.”) It resembled a couple of others, also worked in yellow thread, that were made for women rather than dolls. And it only required a backstitch!

The pattern: traced, pricked, and pounced. The fluff of canary-colored silk is the remains of

The pattern: traced, pricked, and pounced. The fluff of canary-colored silk is the remains of my fight with the floss.

The design I used was loosely based on an 1770s pattern from The Lady’s Magazine. I scanned the original pattern and scaled it down to Pharaby-size. Then I raided a stash of old 1890s embroidery silks. I tried using the thread as it came from the skein, but it was way too thick – using only one ply made it almost small enough. And I can tell you that it did NOT work like the illustration on the wrapper!

Pocket 4As you can see from the remaining yellow fuzz, it was a struggle. But once that was done, it was pretty simple to cut out the front and back, then bind them with some matching yellow silk.

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I tried. It didn’t work like the picture.

To finish the pocket, I added narrow tapes on the ends. Yes, one MORE thing to go around her waist. But now she has a place to carry her handkerchief – when I make her one.

Pocket 5Oh! And while she was showing off her pocket, I took a picture of her wearing her marked shift. I neglected to do that in the last post, and she let me hear about it.

Pharaby's Marked Shift

X Marks the Spot

Pharaby's shift is now marked.

Pharaby’s shift is now marked.

“The art of marking was brought to perfection many years ago, and if our great grandmothers could but see the meagre attempts made by us now-a-days, I fancy they would have some contempt for the system by which our needlework abilities are tested.”

– A. K. Smith, 1892

They would certainly have some contempt for how long it took me to mark Pharaby’s shift, regardless of the quality of my work! I should have tended to this little essential when I first made it, but better late than never. We can’t have her single shift getting lost in the laundry, can we?

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A lovely linen baby shirt marked with Turkey red cotton; note the quarter next to it for size. I’ve kept the image full size, for anyone who wants to view beautifully done original marking up close – just click the image.

First I had to do some practice stitching. Sampler collectors and makers would laugh at how astonished – and intimidated – I am by the miniscule cross-stitches made during the past 200 years. You can see from this little baby shirt (last quarter 19th C) how blithely they marked countless linens. I’m guessing at the “blithely” part, but since I have many shirts from this baby, somebody was doing a lot of marking!

Making it to Pharaby’s scale would be impossible, since barely matching ordinary period work would be the best I could hope for.

I used a pretty little c1900 linen collar to experiment on (damaged – I wouldn’t inflict my needle on it otherwise), as you can see in the picture.

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A linen collar marked with ink that I used for practice. “No textiles were harmed during the making of this experiment.”

Since the threads in linen are not all exactly the same size, my stitches over two threads looked a bit messy. I tried sewing over four (too big) or over however many made a perfect square (too awkward). By this time I was just about ready to use ink, like the collar owner! But hey, I’m all about plain sewing, right?

A lot of trial and error showed that to be small enough, I’d have to work over two threads, no matter how lumpy my letters looked. I found that just like many projects, things that look pretty awful as I’m working, look a little better when I’m done. Or maybe I’m just cross-eyed by then!

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The baby shirt, Pharaby’s shift, and the practice piece, all together. The little birds I tried were from a pattern by the most knowledgeable sampler collector I’ve ever met. Maybe Pharaby will make a sampler one day….

 

Tick Tack Tocking, No Clocking on Her Stocking

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“A Lady’s Leg is a dangerous Sight in whatever Colour it appears; but shewing us your Legs in White, is next to shewing us them naked.”

It’s fun how a search for one thing can lead to other quirky discoveries. That’s what happened when I looked for information on stockings for Pharaby. Who knew that clocked stockings were the subject of a racy little song in 1902? (Will F. Denny, on archive.org)

I’m sure ornamented stockings were worth a peep in the 18th century as well! And did you know that wearing silk stockings could be hazardous to your health? At least during a thunderstorm.

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A late 18th century stocking, metmuseum.org.

According to the Scots Magazine in 1773, a lady in Switzerland nearly suffered a shocking fate:

Her disease, like all others which the doctors can make nothing of, was decided to be a nervous one; but it was afterwards discovered to be owing to her wearing silk stockings, and wires in her cap. How little do our ladies imagine, when they surround their heads with wire, the most powerful of all conductors, and at the same time wear stockings, shoes, and gowns, of silk, one of the most powerful repellents, that they prepare their bodies in the same manner, and according to the same principles, as electricians prepare their Conductors for attracting the fire of lightning.

Ladies may laugh at all this, but it is too serious a matter to be made a joke of. A very amiable lady, a Mrs Douglas of Kelso, had nearly lost her life by one of those caps mounted on wire. She was standing at an open window during a thunder-storm: the lightning was attracted by the wire, and the cap was burnt to ashes. Happily her hair was in its natural state, without powder, pomatum, or pins, and prevented the fire from being conducted to her head.

A good strong head of hair, if it is kept perfectly clean, and dry, is probably one of the best preservatives against the fire of lightning. But so soon as it is stuffed full of powder and pomatum, and bound together with pins, its repellent force is lost, and it becomes a conductor.

Hmm… personally (and modern-tastefully) I find the “loaded” hairstyle more repellent!

But I digress. Pharaby most certainly wanted stockings, and I wanted to make them. Well, I wanted her to have them. To be honest, I was at a loss for how to make stockings, so first I spent some time searching for ready-made.

What would fit her? Her limbs are not exactly the same size and shape (well neither are mine), and her feet are shaped to stand flat on the ground. Or table. So off-the-rack doll stockings, unless I was willing to accept nylon tubes, were not an option.

Stocking Foot

I know what it’s like to have baggy socks around my ankles.

I decided I’d have to make them after all. Knitting was out of the question since I don’t know how. The stockings would have to be cut and sewn. Pondering a source for slightly-aged stretchy silk one day, I experienced a flash of brilliant resourcefulness. Gloves! With silk lining! Ebay! I found a worn vintage pair that were just right and managed to extricate the lining from the leather.

Next I found and adapted a pattern on this lovely site and practiced fitting it, using an old t-shirt so I wouldn’t waste the silk. That took a while, but once I settled on the size, I had another idea. Why not embroider clocks on her stockings? My brilliant ideas are often followed by some real flops, and so this one proved.  I made three attempts to embroider a half-inch design on thin stretchy silk. It looked horrible, no matter what thread or stitch I tried. There would be no clocks this time.

Fortunately Pharaby didn’t know I was even trying, so she suffered no disappointment; she was pleased to have any stockings at all. They may be her only pair. We have a lot of thunderstorms.