Monday, 10 August 2015

Great Queens of History

I'm very lucky to have wonderful strangers contact me asking me to make their ideas for them. Each one of these people have been kind and friendly, and interested in what I do and how I make my dolls. Many are from far away lands and can tell me about their homes as well as asking me about my country Wales and what it's like here. Recently I received a message from another of these lovely people, and this one has been very special.


Sari sent me a beautiful message after he came across my dolls on Etsy and ordered two of my ladies. His kindness was so touching, and really brightened my day. He has the rare skill of being able to make someone feel very special with only a few words. And he made me realise that there should be more of his kindness in the world. I will be taking his example and showing my appreciation for what others create in future by e-mailing and messaging them. I know how difficult it is to put what we make out into the world for others to judge, and hearts and likes on websites don't always convey how much someone else's art has touched us.


Our conversations turned to a mutual love of historical women and how women have been treated through the ages. Sari admired many of the same women that I do, and is fascinated with historical dress and the oddities that come up about social history through what we wear. I was thrilled when he asked me to make him not one but three very special ladies - Three Great Queens, Catherine de Medici, Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I.


Each of these regal ladies are from different time periods - Catherine born in 1519 I chose to portray at age 34. A famous portrait of her by Francois Clovet shows her in black silk richly trimmed with gold and jewels and wearing a French Hood. Anne was Queen of England between 1533 and 1536 when Henry VIII had her beheaded for suspected adultery. And Elizabeth became a young Queen at age 25 in 1518 and went on to rule the country for 85 years. I find Elizabeth especially fascinating, and making Mother Anne and Daughter Elizabeth has been very interesting as Elizabeth was only 2 and a half when her mother was killed.


I started these three Royal ladies by researching costume design and ordering up the fabrics and trims I would need, and after carefully sculpting bodies, arms and legs, sanding and painting and stringing together I started on their underwear. The order I finished them in would depend on which order the fabrics I had ordered arrived. So I thought it best to start all of their underwear at the same time.
Catherine de Medici is rumoured to have introduced the wearing of drawers into France from Italy, but it was a long long time until such things became popular in England. Not until the sheer clinging styles of the Regency period in Britain did women start to wear underwear that now we wouldn't leave the house without (well, most of us anyway). And before then wearing such things was considered risque, not the lack of them.


So Catherine got her drawers while both Anne and Elizabeth had only their shifts to cover their modesty. All of them wear the same style of shift a this didn't change over a very long period, and I decorated them all with different patterns of blackwork. After this the underwear for each starts to differ, with Catherine and Anne needing softer stays while Elizabeth gets a stiff unbending corset. Catherine wears 2 petticoats of mustard coloured cotton lawn trimmed with gold lace under one of gold silk jacquard. Anne has one of red, one of Embroidery Anglaise, and another of fine white cotton lawn embroidered with Tudor roses. And Elizabeth has a red petticoat under one of thick stiff linen decorated with a wide tapestry band instead of a Farthingale (either were worn to hold the large skirt shapes).


Catherine is a very smart sophisticated French  Queen who is often shown by her portraits wearing black silk. I made her an underskirt of white silk decorated with gold and ruby coloured glass beading which she wears under a split over skirt, Barely visible over her neck and shoulders she has a silk panel before the square neckline of her gown, and her sleeves are simple with slight lace cuffs. She has a ruff of white and gold lace tied tightly at the neck, and her whole gown is decorated with an edging of gold lace and silver lined beads, ruby glass beads and tiny tiny pearls. On her head she wears her French Hood that I made using millinery sisal silk fabric, silk organza for the veil to hang in back and more beads and pearls. At her neck hand gold chains and a sparkling tear-drop shaped jewel.


Elizabeth has a more complicated over-decorated gown. She was known as The Virgin Queen and renowned as an icon of her country. All of her portraits show her dripping with rich silks, jewels and pearls, so I wanted to make sure I showed this in the gown I made her. Her silk jacquard underskirt is a bright gold with orange tones which works well with the cooler colours of the heavy silk brocade of her sac-back gown. She has mutton shaped sleeves with lace at the cuffs, and a gold silk open ruff around the neckline of her gown. The deep V of her bodice is layered over more of the gold jacquard and laced up each side, the stomacher decorated with lace, beading and pearls. I attached a rich gold wide Venice lace around the whole edge of her skirts, down the front edge of the split skirt and around the hem with it's slight train in the back. I also used parts of the lace to create designs in the front corners and on the back of her gown to add more detail.

Elizabeth sparkles and shines like nothing you've seen, but I'm afraid this doesn't show well in the photographs. It took me many hours to fill this lave edging with a mixture of gold lined beads in 2 sizes, opal glass beads, sterling silver, real pearls and cut crystal beads until every open space of the lace was filled with jewels. as you can imagine she now weighs quite a bit and again my mind is wondering on how these women managed to move at all with all that on.
On her head Elizabeth wears a pearl and gold tiara with a crystal jewel to match the one she has hanging at her neck. The back of her hair is decorated with loops of gold beading and pearl hair sticks.


Poor Anne is still being dressed as the silk for her gown took a long while to arrive from India. For all of the waiting this silk is a wonderful quality and has a beautiful sheen to it. I have her skirts and bodice attached, and her sleeves are half done. Next I'll be working on hanging velvet sleeves and her decoration.
I hope I can show you her very soon xxx

Sunday, 28 June 2015

A Fashion Designer's Request - Custom Art Doll

Over quite a long period I've been working on a very special custom doll order for Ashley Pearce of Mystic Magic - http://www.mysticmagiconline.co.uk/
Ashley had used one of my dolls as a part of his fashion shoots in the past for Project RED ( http://www.mysticmagiconline.co.uk/#!project-red/c11ss ), and wanted a special doll for his upcoming Redemption Collection (which you can read about on his blog here - http://mysticmagicmasquerade.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/supporting-our-creative-fashion-campaign.html ). I was thrilled to work with him to make the doll that he imagined.
PS - Sorry for the link overload but Ashley's work is well worth the visit to have a look at. He has some truly amazing pieces.


On the last link to Ashley's blog you can see a newspaper article with a tall net like mask structure next to the man himself while he hold the crown as worn on Strictly Come Dancing, and this was the mask he's chosen for the inspiration to our doll, who we named Katrina.
The list of requirements was simple and well thought out by Ashley to match his new collection, and included that the doll would be Black and White only, would have a miniature mask for the doll to match the full sized version he had made, and a dramatic gown. And over a few months we worked together to come up with a design to meet his needs. I searched far and wide for just the right lace netting to use, and sourced a beautiful off white bridal silk to make Katrina's dress from. The headdress was an issue for me as I'd never made anything like it. But at first I put thoughts of it aside and concentrated  on her gown.


Of course when dressing a doll you start with the underwear, and after giving Katrina stripped black and white drawers I worked on her silk shift. This needed to be tightly gathered around the neckline as I knew it would show in the finished costume, and the soft light Haboti silk allowed me to pull tiny gathers that sat very prettily almost but not quite off the shoulder. As Katrina would need to be held and carried I decided against making her a stiff wire crinoline as they can make the skirts very unwieldy and make odd movements. Katrina needed softer bulk to hold out her wide skirts so she could easily move and sit in any position Ashley needed, so she got layers of cotton and heavy cambric petticoats to make the same effect.


Once all these layers were in place Katrina already weighed a fair amount and I hadn't even started on her gown, which is were I met my first problem - getting the bulky lace net and heavy bridal satin to work together as one piece of fabric. Now it may not look it, but the skirt hem is almost a meter and a half wide and made in two layers. I had no idea how I'd even get so much fabric gathered around Katrina's tiny waist (in the end I had to resort to the heavy strong vintage thread I use to string the dolls arms and legs to be able to pull it all so small), let alone how to get the ridged satin and stretchy lace to sit comfortably together. But after some experimentation I laid it all out on the floor and very carefully tacked the lace to the satin at a few inch intervals all through the length and width, making sure that it wouldn't sag when I held it up. In fact I hung it that way for a few days in case any unsightly bulges appeared that I'd need to fix. Next the lengths were hemmed and the bodice and sleeves made up in the same way.


One of my favourite things when making my dolls is the decoration, all those tiny little details that make up the finished piece and make them shine. And Katrina needed beads - lots and lots and lots of tiny shiny glittering beads.
From the neckline of her bodice trailing downwards, and from her skirt hems trailing upwards lie wandering trails of silver lined and jet beads. Each of them individually strung and sewn into place, creating a second web over that of the lace and concentrated on the front right side of her skirts. To add even more glitter I then glued around 300 tiny crystal diamante all over her dress which catch the light when she moves.


Katrina's hair is made up of mixed smoke grey and black marabou feather fronds. And around her neck is a wide black organza ruff edged with more of the tiny silver lined beads. She looked just perfect to me, but the mask I had ignored was looming large now and needed to be made. How to make such a thing was baffling! And I sought the help of my dear American friend who specialises in wire crochet (well, all types of crochet and jewellery making) if she could help. Of course Dear Linda agreed straight away, but the poor thing was just about to have surgery on her eyes and her recovery took longer than she'd have liked before she could work on such a small scale gain. I'm happy to say that she's all well now.


I can crochet myself, but the neatness needed for such a thing as this mask was not something that I was confident in. And Ashley came to my rescue when a friend of his was willing to make us the needed crochet panel for the mask. So after taking some careful measurements and a short wait the exact panel I needed arrived in the mail from Amanda. Exactly the size and shape that was needed.
I measured again and made up a wire test piece to make sure I could fit the mask to the doll when the Crochet piece was attached, then very gently wet through and blocked the panel on a cork board. To get the right strength of wire to hold the shape I plated together three strands of thinner wire rather than use a thicker one so that my stitches would have something to hold onto rather than them slip about of the frame. Then I carefully shaped the area to go across Katrina's face. The wire I used was plastic coated black so I knew it would scratch her eyes or face, and I hope it'll last through time as wire isn't a material that I'm used to using. I pinned and then sewed the crochet panel to the frame, adding more wire around the sides and top to make sure the shape held. Then added wire straps to go behind her head, through her hair, to hold it in place.


After the last bends and tweaking to get the wild curve to the top of the mask Katrina sat before me looking beautiful and regal in her gown and mask. She's not like anything I've ever made before, and I've learnt so much while making her. In the end she was very hard to part with as I'd fallen in love with her, but I knew that she was going to a good home with Ashley. And now I can't wait to see what he does with her and how his wonderful Redemption collection looks. I truly hope he gets to show it off on that catwalk. xxxxxx

Monday, 8 June 2015

The Joker - DC Comics Art Doll

Styled after the costume worn by Heath Ledger in the 2008 The Dark Knight Batman film I made my fiest version of this doll for my husband. He now lives on our mantle with my doll collection, and I’ve made this version in my small size for you. For me, no one will ever make a better Joker, but the character will soon return in the new The Suicide Squad film now in production.

I love the costume designed by Lindy Hemming with the strong colours and scruffy roughed up look of his suit. To add the scars to his face I’ve carved jagged rough lines and then covered them with smudged red to match his lips.

My Joker has a smoky blue shirt with a black tie under a grass green waistcoat finished with glass bean buttons. His trousers and Jacket are both deep Cadbury purple with marks of dirt and smudges of the white make-up he uses on his face. His dirty, greasy green blonde hair is slicked back from his scared painted face.

He weighs approx. 45g, and she is 27cm tall.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Messing Up My Arty Time!

I've not been here in a while as I got myself a new day job, a bit of a promotion, and have been manic busy trying to get myself and my new responsibilities organised. The problem of course is that it's been messing with my art time :S
My head is now stuffed with ideas and they're all trying to come out at once. I'm going to have to settle in with my sketch book and try to separate them all out again soon. But in the meantime I have a very fancy Victorian lady started and a commission for a Joker in the outfit worn by Heath Ledger so have some photos to share with you.


I'm not sure of this young lady's name right now as she hasn't yet told me it. She's playing very hard to get and is very fussy, demanding all sorts of fancy trims and embroidery on her silk gown. So far she has her layers of soft cotton lawn underwear and petticoats with a dark royal blue underskirt that's pleated to the knee. Her bodice has a cream silk gathered layer around the neckline trimmed with tiny lace and surrounded with embroidery and more lace layers. And her sleeves have a ruffled cuff just below the elbow with more ribbon, beads and lace.


A few years ago I made a Joker for my husband and he sits on our mantle grinning at me all day long. And I've been asked to make a smaller version for a lady in America that I have half dressed so far. Under his purple trousers he has long drawers on to help fill out his skinny hips and legs and give them a proper shape. His shirt is cut very short to save on bulk around his waist and give him a skinny look, and I've left the fabric from around his shoulder joints to help ease the movement of them once the thicker suit fabric is gathered into place.
I carved his face up to imitate the scars the Joker has and painted him gaudily with white, rich red and lots of smudged black around his eyes. He still looks quite alien without his hair, but I'm hoping to have that added soon as well.


Nest will come his waistcoat and long coat as I'm not sure I'm going to be able to fit his jacket in as well without him looking like he has a thick body builder neck, but we'll see what happens as I go along. You can hardly see this blue suit jacket in the film of stills from it, but you can just see it peeking through if you look very closely.


I hope to have more to share with you soon xxxx


Monday, 6 April 2015

New Dolls At Last

Since the holidays I've been a bit lax keeping up here, but I have been busy making lots of new dolls and finishing off some I had waiting. Take a look below to meet my new ladies xxx
All are available now in my Etsy shop - www.NatashaMorgan.etsy.com


The Storyteller - Fantasy Art Doll

My Storyteller travels the country searching for new tales to tell and people who will listen to them. She sometimes gets invited into very fine mansions and is rewarded with fine food and a bed for the night, and sometimes she sits under a tree between the cottages where she is given humble soup and bread and allowed to sleep in a hay barn listening to the animal’s soft breathing nearby. Everywhere she goes her gentle nature draws even the shyest of children to her; they follow her in a long train until she finds the right spot, and then gather at the edges of her quilt to listen to her stories. The adults follow too and sit behind them or stand at their grand fireplaces to listen to her musical voice as she weaves her magic and carries them all away into the story.

This Storyteller wears layers and layers of petticoats, some of silk with an embroidered hem. Her gown is a magical marbled silky fabric with hints of gold over a pink silk chemise, and is trimmed with quilted designs, soft velvet and tiny glass beads. She has a quilt that she uses to sit under the trees when she wants to read that she made from the leftover pieces from her dress and a rich hand crochet shawl around her shoulders. She carries two antique books with her of her favorite authors Tennyson and Rossetti.
I was inspired to make her by one of my favorite prints by Alphonse Mucha


Charlotte – A Young Victorian Girl Art Doll

Charlotte is a quiet gentle young girl that has a soft smile and laughing eyes. She’s a very good girl, but that doesn’t stop her giggling at all the silly things she sees around her. She’s been to the market for her mother and has a basket full of roses for her. She’s hoping that she’ll be allowed to watch Cook make the dessert this afternoon as she always lets her taste what’s in the bowl and nibble on the candied fruit.

Charlotte has lots of white cotton lawn petticoats trimmed with lace and matching drawers underneath. Her cotton dress has a deep pleated hem and matching pelerine across her shoulders. Her dress is trimmed with chocolate brown and gold lace with a large hanging bow in back, and she has a brown silk bonnet trimmed with gathered ribbon and rosettes.


Guinevere – Medieval Fantasy Art Doll

Queen Guinevere is such a romantic legendary figure that makes you think of stone castles and rolling green hills dotted with woodland and shimmering lakes. Here in Wales tales of Arthur and his round table, knights in shining amour and the beautiful Guinevere are never far away. With the Lady of The Lake water high in the Brecon Beacons and old tales of a standing stone where Arthur is said to rest. We have huge crumbling castles with high towers and massive gates, and mountains and hills like you’ve never seen with green pastures alongside craggy rocks with nimble sheep trotting up sheer hillsides. The coast here can be both wild and gentle, and you’re never far from big open spaces. It’s no wonder I find all the old tales fascinating, and I’m so lucky to have such beauty around me.

My Guinevere has embroidered silk underwear and a gown of Silk Noil fabric. Her long hanging sleeves and skirt hem and train are embroidered in silver and a darker shade of turquoise than her dress in Celtic patterns. And she has a gold lariat and necklace with gemstone and glass beads and a gold chain circlet in her hair.


Louise – Regency Art Doll

My Louise is inspired by the wonderful portrait of Queen Louise of Prussia painted by Wilhelm Ternite in 1810. She looks such a happy content lady in all of her portraits but I don’t know much else about her. She has such gentle eyes, and I hope to learn more of her in future.
There are many portraits of Louise dressed for riding in her navy blue outfit and I couldn’t resist trying my hand at all the gold braid and military styling.

Louise has embroidered silk petticoats under a soft cotton lawn riding habit embroidered in a gold colored thread. Her jacket is trimmed in military style braiding and more embroidery with tiny gold lined beads as buttons. On her head she has a smart riding hat with a large black pom pom on the front. She’s ready to go riding.


Gabrielle - Art Doll

Gabrielle is a mischievous young woman who loves to go exploring. She daydreams about other lands and strange languages. And wishes she was allowed to go abroad like her brothers, but Farther says that it’s not ladylike and she should stay at home with her mother and learn to keep house. Her friends from her music class have all travelled to Paris and Rome, some even to Venice, but she must do as she’s told. She finds it very unfair.

Gabrielle has layers of petticoats, one of stiff calico pin-tucked to make the hem more ridged to hold out her skirts. She doesn’t like to wear a cage crinoline at home while she sits and works at her piano practice as they just get in the way and slow her down. She’s very busy, and always ready to head off into the woods and fields whenever she can to explore. Over another petticoat of red cotton ruffles and one of embroidered lawn she has a skirt of black decorated with flowers, and she wears a silk blouse with a neat round collar and a silky black corslet.


Effie Grey Art Doll

Effie Grey’s life with her first husband John Ruskin was one of cruelty and abuse, and to escape it she had to endure humiliating exposure of the most intimate details of her life. When she finally did she went on to marry Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais and thankfully found a happy family life.
I was inspired to make my Effie when I saw the beautiful costume designs by Ruth Myers for the 2012 film directed by Richard Laxton. It’s full of wonderful details and stunning scenes and costumes, and well worth watching.

Effie has layers and layers of petticoats in cotton and Egyptian linen to hold out her skirts, with a top one of silk with an embroidered hem. I have textured the navy silk fabric of her skirt to create a slubbed or nubby pattern as in the original, and she has a silk blouse trimmed with lace, ribbon and embroidery. Over her shoulders she has a velvet caplet, and she wears a silk hat trimmed with peach flowers, embroidered ribbon, silk gauze and pearl bead hat pins.


Elphaba, Wicked Witch of the West Art Doll

Who doesn’t love the cackling, long nosed, green skinned witch from Oz with her flying monkeys and determination to get Dorothy “and your little dog too”. But in Wicked by Gregory Maguire we meet a very different person from the one that was depicted in the film, and even though it’s true that Elphaba is allergic to water and cleans her gleaming green skin with oil instead, by the end of the book it’s not her that I thought of as the evil one. In a very cleaver twist you come away from this tale with a very different view of Oz and its characters.

Elphaba has a red taffeta petticoat with lots of ruffles and black lace to hold out her skirts, and smart black underwear and stripped drawers. I’ve stamped the silky black fabric of her dress with a tree branch fabric that can be seen as the light moves over her, and trimmed her hems and cuffs with ruffles and tiny jet beads. She has a draped apron front to her gown and a pleated back drape layered with silk chiffon. And her tight fitted jacket has a high standing collar and deep V lapels trimmed with more tiny jet beads.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Doll Tools And Research

I've been lucky enough recently to be able to invest in some tool sand research books that I've been wanting to get for ages. I've been saving my pennies for my very own mini hobby pillar drill. I treated myself to a beautiful pin cushion. And I finally got a set of Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion books.

It might not seem like much, but having a nice pin cushion really does make a difference when you do a lot of sewing. And as soon as I saw these ones from Lorna Bateman on Etsy I knew I'd found the perfect one. It's made specifically to add pretty vintage embroidery to the top, but I decided to add one of my favourite Welsh Wool fabrics to it instead. It was very easy to cover and came with easy to follow instructions, and it's of very good quality.
The little potato pearl bead pinned to it has been in every pin box or on every pin cushion I've had for years :)
Have a look at Lorna's lovely shop here - https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/lornabateman22?ref=related-shop-18&ga_search_query=wood+pin+cushion&ga_page=2&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery

I like to make my dolls in batches, making up to 10 or 12 of each size at a time so that I can do all of the messy stuff over a few weeks. I don't have my own craft room and work in our dining room when I'm sawing and sanding all of the wooden parts I use for my dolls limbs and sculpting my hands, feet and faces with clay so I try to keep the room as tidy (??) as I can most of the time. Right now I'm in the middle of my next batch of dolls and have things drying on racks all over the table. It's only so long I can expect Cris to put up with it so once they are all made I'll have a clear table again and lots and lots of new dolls to dress and bring to life.

Each of my arms and legs is made of 2 cut and drilled wooden dowels, that's 8 pieces to each doll. And each body has to have two drilled hole so that I can string the limbs to the doll with the vintage thread and tiny glass beads I like to use. It usually takes me ages to drill the holes in each piece, half of which have to have a hole at each end so the arms and legs will bend. It was taking me days to get them all done so I thought it was time to invest in a little hobby pillar drill. It took me a while to find one small and light enough to pack away in my dresser, but I found one here - http://hobby.uk.com/
It's a really great tool and I'm so glad I got it at last. It's quiet and easy to use with a nice solid feel to it. And getting all of my pieces drilled only took me an hour or two rather than days. I'd highly recommend it to anyone needing a drill that can handle small delicate work.

These books by Janet Arnold are a set of 4 beautiful books filled with endless details, illustrations, pictures and instructions that show you how historic dresses are constructed with pages of patterns that can be scaled up to use and to show you the shapes in fabric that are used to make all of the lovely layers, drapes, fancy swags and tailored bodices. The books lead you through the years showing you all the styles and cuts of different gowns with historic details, as well as references to the women that wore them and where you can see some of them in person at different museums and collections.

I first bought Patterns of fashion 4 when working on some of the details for my on-going Elizabeth I project as I wanted to see up close details of how to construct a ruff, supportase and stomacher for her. This beautiful book is full of stunning photographs and illustrations of the items themselves along with the embroidery, trimmings and construction. They have given me loads of ideas and I can't wait to get started using them for my doll designs. I'm just waiting on my Patterns of Fashion 3 to arrive to complete my set :)

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Woodwork, Taxes And A Commission Doll



Tax Season hit and passed quite quietly this year, and I had it all done out of the way before I knew it. I was very happy after doing all of that paperwork to just relax for a few days and let my head come back to creative things. And I decided I'd get myself started on a new batch of dolls. I'm hoping to soon be able to pick up a miniature pillar drill to help me drill holes in all these wooden arms and legs as every joint needs to be strung together. I normally manage to persuade Hubby into helping me but he gets very fed up after the first 60 or so little bits of wood it's time I got myself some proper tools. Here on my work bench I have mugs all lined up with all the different sized legs, thighs and arms in all sorts of sizes, and a big jar with lots of lollipop looking wooden beads and dowels ready for me to build up into heads and bodies.


I have been doing some sewing, and here on my knee is the Toadstool top for a fairy I'm making my mother for her birthday. The wonderful Cynthia of Fairy's Nest is helping me out with the wings as I've not yet managed to find a solution I like yet when I make them. Cyn's are so pretty and delicate looking with just enough sparkle to match my Fae's dress, which is pale sage green, yellow and gold.



I've also been working on a commission Asylum doll for a lovely lady in the US. She's to be a middle aged lady with a family named Amelia. She's dressed in a chocolate brown gown that has a fine pinstripe, and will have a strait jacket, shawl and bonnet. She hopes soon to move to the nice new modern Asylum where they don't use restraints or make the patients do drudge work or be shut in all day. The new place has gardens and bright clean rooms. She's just hoping her son will agree to pay the extra costs...
I'll tell you more of Amelia's story when she's a little more decently dressed. But for now here are the details of some of her underwear.
PS - Sorry for the phone photos :S My computer doesn't seem to like uploading them from the camera at the mo.