Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Rose La Touche (1848 - 1875)

She was described by artist John Ruskin as the love of his life. Blonde, fair and blue eyed; she “walked like a little white statue through the twilight woods”.

She was 11 years old when Ruskin fell in love with her. He was 30 years older than her, and was nicknamed St Crumpet by a young Rose. Some say their relationship later became the basis of Nabakous’ novel Lolita.

Rose’s parents did not approve of their daughters relationship with Ruskin. And he had to wait until she came of age at 17 before he could propose. There were religious differences as he had given up his faith years before, and Rose turned him down. There were also many rumours about his first marriage to Effie (Euphemia) Gray. Five years after this first marriage Effie was still a virgin. And it’s said that he was never able to consummate this marriage as the naive bachelor was so accustomed to the smooth contours of classical statues that he was revolted on his wedding night to find his wife had pubic hair and never tried to bed her again. Effie, then Mrs Millais, warned Rose’s mother that he was “quite unnatural”.

This sounds like an awful situation: a young Rose, who we would now think of as a child, being romanced by a man 30 years her elder. But Victorian Britain was not the same as it is now. Although the age gap was large, it wasn’t unheard of. And the romance itself would have been very proper, with no more contact than the occasionally held hand or petted cheek until Rose had reached what we would think of as a more acceptable age. Anything further would have been scandal indeed. If Rose’s parents had liked Ruskin she may have been married to him by the age of fourteen or fifteen, with all the responsibilities of a household and husband. Childhood as we know it is a modern invention. And during the Victorian era the teenager did not exist at all. Once a child had reached puberty they were treated very much as a young adult, with very difference than if they were much older. In the same way, until a girl left her parents household she would have been expected to be submissive and respectful and in many ways behave very childishly.

Rose died 10 years after this proposal at the age of 27 in a Dublin nursing home, suffering from anorexia, a broken heart, and religious mania. She’d always been considered as strange in her behaviour from a very young age. And her death tipped Ruskin over the edge in his own boughts of insanity.

Rose wasn’t the only child that Ruskin fell in love with. Again in 1887, at almost 70, he fell in love with and proposed to a young teenager – Kate Olander. A letter written to her really shows the odd way he saw these girls. “I was lying awake last night and planned what you will wear around your neck… it is to be finest and purest chain of Venice… no gold is so pure and they make the links so small it looks like the white of Avenel’s girdle… but I’m going to have it seven times round; rather tight for a necklace to show what a perfectly chained and submissive child you are; so mind you send me the measure carefully, just above the shoulders.” Kate’s letters back to the white bearded Ruskin were kept from him, and he was left with just his art and the Lakeland fells.

Inspired by this true account, my Rose wears a period correct outfit from around 1860, when she would have been 12 years old. I’ve taken certain liberties with the length of her skirts as they should reach to just about above her ankles, donating that she was almost an adult, but I wanted to emphasis her childlike appearance. Her underwear as well as her dress is as correct as I could make it. She wears a pair of crotchless baggy bloomers under a shift that reaches to her knees and an under-petticoat, all of strong white cotton and undecorated so they could be scrubbed clean. Over these she wears a corset instead of a younger child’s stays, showing that she is no longer really seen as a child herself. And a crinoline of round steel hoops, covered in pink satin, that come to just below her knees. To ensure her legs are covered completely a frilly pair of pantalettes stick out from under her skirts. After another plain white cotton petticoat over her crinoline is a fancy petticoat that matches her dress, with a deep flounce and trimmed with a delicate blue embroidered ribbon. Next is one of the first layers you can actually see, with a pair of under-sleeves and a chemisette (false blouse) of silk cotton. Her dress itself is made from a fine semi-transparent pale beige cotton lawn fabric that has a beautiful feel to it. It has pagoda sleeves, a fitted back buttoning bodice, three deep flounces, and a wide sash tied in back in a big bow; all trimmed in a cream satin ribbon, pearl bead buttons, and a touch of lace.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A First Look At Rose La Touche

Rose is finally finished, and these are the first photos of her. I'll be following with full details and some more pics tomorrow, but I've been editing all night and it's bed time for me now. I just really wanted to show her off a little before I shut down for the night. The photos really don't do the beautiful striped cotton lawn fabric I used for her dress justice, but I really hope you like my first doll with a real crinoline :)

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Rose Is Almost Dressed!

After my mess last week when I had to undo all the work I'd done to Rose's sleeves and bodice she's finally getting back on track. She now has silk cotton undersleeves and a chemisette (false blouse), and I've decided to make her dress of the same stripped cotton lawn as her petticoat. I'll need to redo her pantalettes as well as they matched the original fabric, so I have a lot of re-working to do over the next few days. And I have to admit I hate having to redo things.
It's a beautiful sunny day, so hopefully I'll get some sewing done at some point.
Even the little lizards in my garden are enjoying the sun. This little guy is missing his tail!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Work in Progress - Rose La Touche

A few photos of Rose in her smart petticoat and corset. And one of my beautiful Lilac, just starting to flower.

Her top petticoat is made for a fine stripped cotton lawn that's been trimmed with an embroidered ribbon. Underneath she has one of plain white cotton over her crinoline. Her corset has pulled her baggy shift into pretty gathers, and she's very happy to get her tiny waist back again.
Next she'll be getting a white silk cotton chemisette and false sleeves under a peach gown. Which will have a little ribbon and lace trim.

And isn't my Lilac starting to look pretty :) It smells great already!

Rose in Petticoats and Corset

Rose is starting to look quite pretty in her second layer of underwear.
She now has a plain white cotton petticoat over her crinoline, as well as a smarter stripped cotton lawn one that has an embroidered ribbon trim.
Her corset has pulled in all of her baggy shift into pretty gathers. And sure very pleased to have her tiny waist back again.
Next on my to do list is her chemisette and false sleeves. Then onto her dress.
I'm trying this from my phone for the first time ever, so I really hope it works ;-)
The photo's are following in just a minute.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Rose La Touche in her Undies!

Finally got some work done and started dressing Miss Rose La Touche.

It's taken a while to figure out the style the of clothes for Rose. I really wanted to dress her as she would have been at about 15 years old. But it's surprisingly hard to find picture reference of adolescent girls at around 1760.

All the fashion plates and illustrated reference I could find shows either young women, or small children, with nothing in between. I know that at the time girls wore only slightly different clothes to their mothers, and the differences were only slight to distinguish adult from child. The idea of child specific clothing didn't exist.

Young girls went from wearing stiff stays when quite little to wearing a full corset by their early teens. And the short childish skirts grew as they did until they reached the floor.

I'd not really thought about it, but growing up then must have been nothing like what we know. I got to run around, ride my bike, skate and generally be silly with my friends. If I'd grown up when Rose had, I'd have had to sit quietly, learn to sew and darn, and how to run a household.

Playing dolls then was a very serious business to teach young girls to be mothers before they were married, sometimes at what we would think to be a very young age.

Rose was one of these girls. Still in short skirts and Pantalettes when the artist John Ruskin fell in love with her, although he didn't propose until she came of age at 17 as her parents disapproved of him for his lack of religion.
This seems extreme, but although there was a big age difference (her 20 to his 50 years old) even then, it wasn't unheard of for older men to marry very young women.

I started Rose's underwear with her Drawers (or knickers) which are big baggy things, gathered at the knee and with an open crotch (it doesn't seem like I'm ever going to dress a doll without crotchless knickers!). The bagginess of the bum in these bloomers keeps them closed  really well. You'd think that there would be quite a draft, but the cut of them seems to work.

Next came her Chemise, with short sleeves and a round neckline that's almost off the shoulder. It's gathered to a narrow yoke neckline and reaches to below her knees.

Like all her bottom-most layer of underwear, her under-petticoat is made of a plain, undecorated white cotton. As far as I can find out all underwear at this time was made of sturdy stuff that could be washed and scrubbed repeatedly. I cartridge pleated this under-petticoat to a wide waist band, and added a corset on top.

I have to give a major big Thank You to my father-in-law for his help with the Crinoline.

He gave me a few funny looks once I explained why I needed them, but he helped me cut the flat metal bands I used to the right lengths, and then helped me figure out how to fix them together into hoops.

I covered these hoops with a satin ribbon before hanging them on 6 vertical bands which are attached to a waistband with a tie in the back.

I decided to make the crinoline removable in case there was a problem with positioning her or getting her to sit. But the hoops work really well. I can't imagine having to wear one myself, but I hope I get the chance to try one out for myself one day. There's something really girly about it.