Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Lizzie In Progress - And A Hard Week

I've not posted for a while as we've had some tough times. The beautiful 10 day old son of my best friends sadly passed away. He fought against all odds, overcoming everything he could. But his tiny, premature size meant he could fight no more. And the very much loved Travis Jon Luke Michael has left a very loving family behind him to miss him in the worst way.
Everything happened so fast, from when he arrived unexpectedly, to the changes in his health day to day and hour to hour, to him being taken so suddenly, that I've not felt like making anything at all. And haven't got very much done to Lizzie at all. I was also asked to decorate a frame for Travis's portrait so that all those that had never had chance to see him could see his pretty face with it's long eyelashes at his funeral, which was yesterday. So I've been concentrating on completing that over the past week. I've not shared it here as it's such a personal thing for the family. I've spent today trying to get myself back to some sort of normal before returning to work tomorrow. I hope that Sarah, Liam and Thom can find the strength somewhere to carry on. And all my love is with them.

The work I have done to Lizzie has been mostly on the embroidery for her overskirt.

It's been a pleasure to work with such beautiful fabrics as the silks I've been using for Lizzie. It's so tactile and easy to use that I've had no trouble creating anything that I've wanted to. From her silk cotton highly gathered chemisette, and her soft cream silk underskirt with an embroidered hem in silk threads. All have come together quite naturally for a change. With no battles or fights as can usually happen. I really think that, for once, Lizzie really wants to be made as I can see her in my mind.

This is a corner of her open overskirt, that's not quite finished yet. I still have a few more details to add, and another row around the hem to finish off.

This overskirt will be fully gathered at Lizzie's waist when I'm done. Open in the front to show her underskirt, with a slight train in the back.

The lovely stripped green silk I've used for Lizzie's gown has a slightly stiffer texture. And I crush treated it first before I began her gown to try and give her a softer, more antique look that's also more in keeping with the time when she would have lived. I really can't imagine anyone being able to keep one of these huge voluminous dresses perfectly ironed. Especially an artist that didn't always have a lot of money or popularity.

It's quite easy to crush treat this slightly stiffer type of silk. Giving it the look of Princess Diana's wedding dress as I remember it from my childhood.

Firstly soak the silk in warm water to get rid of some of the fabric size.
Then soak in fabric softener, making sure to squeeze the silk to make sure it gets into all the folds.Then quickly rinse in more warm water.
Be quite rough and squeeze, twist and ring out all the excess water.

Stretch the fabric back into shape and hang somewhere to dry naturally.
While still a little damp iron really well.
Wet the fabric again and then iron dry so that you get the nice tight creases that don't look like you've just screwed up the fabric and left it in a mess.

I've only ever been able to get this to work on pure silk, so I'm not sure if it will work on synthetic or not. But I'm pretty sure that I get the effect because of the silk itself and the way it reacts.

I've also finished off the embroidery on Lizzie's bodice, which will have a pointed waist as well once her over-skirt is added. As well as the embroidery and tapestry trims on her sleeves. She already has that slightly medieval, but still Victorian, look as I've found favoured by the artists at the time. Which was later still very popular with the Aesthetic movement.

I'm hoping to get the rest of the embroidery finished this week. So I'll hopefully have more to show you soon :)

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Lizzie in Fancy Petticoat, Chemisette & Sleeves

I've been working hard getting all of Lizzie Siddal's underwear sewn up and getting her dressed.
She's not quite so cold now, even though the weather has been nice here recently :)

She has on her Bloomers and Chemise, as you've already seen. And now wears a pair of white cotton petticoats under a fancy petticoat made of my favorite fabric of the moment. A beautiful beige stripped cotton lawn. The same fabric I made Rose's dress from, as it's just so nice to work with and has a wonderful feel to it. This time I've trimmed it with a rich embroidered ribbon edge.

All Lizzie's petticoats have been cartridge pleated to wide waistbands. She has no other shaping support under her clothes as would have been usual at the time. And she has no corset!
This bohemian, artistic, free spirited women didn't conform to the fashion restraints of her times. And you really have to admire her resolve to go against the grain.
Having no corset has brought it's own problems for me while dressing Lizzie though.

The big baggy shifts and chemise's can be hard to keep under control. It's only made of soft white cotton, so gathers in quite neatly under tight bodices, but it doesn't really stay in place very well without the wide elastic faux corset I'd normally have added over it.

The neckline of Lizzie's chemise is very wide, as was one of the styles during the 1860's. So I had to work out how to keep it in place so that it wouldn't ride up and cause bulk under her bodice. To solve this the only thing I could think of to start with was making sure the waistband on her petticoats was as tight as I could make it. So I added a few crossed stitches at the back of the waistband to her white cotton petticoats, and pulled them tight before tying off. Very much like you would with a corset really. It has made me wonder if the freedom gained by not wearing a corset really gave a woman as much freedom as was really thought. Many dress bodices would still have been boned and re-inforced to compensate for the lack of stability and clean lines that were lost without wearing a corset.

I decided to splash out a little bit on the fabric for Lizzie's dress and bought a selection of different silks. I'm trying to follow the values of the Victorian Aesthetic Dress Movement and use only natural fabrics, and non-chemical colours. So silks seemed like a good choice, as there is a lot of photographic evidence that it was widely used.

I've made Lizzie's chemisette, or false blouse, from a silk cotton fabric that has a lovely crisp texture. I gathered this to form the high round neckline, and then pulled it into shape before sewing the side and back seams. To stop this un-tucking from the bodice of her dress I've back stitched it around the lower edge, pulling tightly to make sure that everything stays where it should be, and to make sure that pesky chemise doesn't move.
Her sleeves, made from a stripped Olive silk that will match her bodice and skirts, have a tappering pointed hem and will be decorated to match the rest of her gown. Which I've very bravely decided (only today) that I'll be embroidering. Something I've not done for years, so I may change my mind yet.

Next to do will be to sew her a matching bodice and sew her underskirt and sash of cream Antung silk, as well as her over-skirt of the stripped Olive silk. I'm really hoping that I can make Lizzie look as I want her to, as it's not the easiest costume I've made for one of my dolls. I can only wait and hope that I may be able to do justice to the picture I have in my head. But sometimes things work, and other times, who knows :)

Art Dolls Only Blog Feature

I was so lucky this week to be featured in the New Member Spotlight on the Art Dolls Only Blog.


Thank you so much Fairiesnest for the article. You've really made my week :)

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Lizzie Siddal - Work in Progress

Little Rose La Touche was finished and left my hands so fast I've been able to get my next doll started already. I was a little sorry to see Rose go, but I'm sure she'll enjoy her new home in America :)

I've been really looking forward to getting Lizzie Siddal dressed and finished. I've wanted to make her for ages, and have finally got up the courage to see if I can make her look as I'd like her to.

Wife to Dante Gabrial Rossetti, and one of the first Pre-Raphaelite artists in her own right, as well as being a favored model of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Elizabeth Siddal can be seen in many of the best and brightest paintings of the movement. With her distinctive flame red hair and classical features she must have made a striking model. And the beautiful painting of Ophelia by John Everett Millais is one of the most stunning, ethereal delicate paintings known. And I love it dearly.

Lizzie is constructed in the same way I make all of my sculpted, jointed dolls.
I start with a wooden ball base mounted onto a body armature made from a scrap piece of dowel or, more usually, a couple of wooded chopsticks. Which I then build up with foil before covering with tape and then layers of paperclay.

Her face is made by again layering paperclay over the ball. Starting with the eyes and building the small features around them. And her arms and legs are made from wooden birch dowels with the hands and feet sculpted onto the ends from paperclay. Keeping them quite primitive to help give the feel of an older, simply constructed doll.

All parts are drilled and sanded thoroughly before painting with a pale flesh tone I mix myself to get the right colour, and varnished twice, drying between coats.

After stringing all the parts together with my Nanna's strong vintage thread (I'll be lost when this runs out), I mark their hairline and individually apply the fronds cut from marabou feathers. Making sure I mix two or three colours together evenly to get some highlight / lowlight tonal difference into it.

I can't really explain how I do this as it's sort of developed as I've gone along. Because the feathers are so fly-away I lay them down in layers overlapping so that they don't detatch later on. They always shed one or two loose feathers, but the end result is strong and full. And can even be tied up or crushed under a bonnet and still not loose any strands and spring back into shape when you blow on it a little.

The eyes and lips get a little coat of gloss to give them a little sparkle.

I have to tie my dolls hair up in a rag to keep it out of the way when I'm sewing. But I've tried putting their hair on last and it just doesn't work out. They really don't look like themselves before they have their hair.

Lizzie is wearing here just her bloomers, which are huge baggy things of individual legs joined at the waist and front only (I really can't keep saying crotchless), under a chemise with a wide neck and short sleeves that reaches to below her knees. All made of scrubable white cotton.

As she was part of the new bohemian, artistic set Lizzie was known to be what we would probably now call Alternative. I had to decide if Lizzie would have been one of the very few Victorian women who didn't wear a corset as the dress reformers of the Aesthetic dress movement advertised as a much healthier way to dress. Scandal indeed!

This movement didn't believe in the body modifying hoops, bustles, pads and tight corsets. Preferring the more natural lines of the body, and natural fabrics with no chemical dies. So I decided that I'd dress Lizzie in this way, using only natural fabrics, and using only petticoats to shape her skirts. This style had the added advantage of having a slightly Medieval look that was greatly used by the Pre-Raphaelites in their depictions of women.

The next layers of clothing to be added to Lizzie will be two plain white cotton petticoats, followed by a fancy petticoat of cotton lawn with a decorated hem. Following the styles of both periods with the number and style of her under-skirts. After those I'll be making her a very gathered chemisette, or false blouse, to mimic the gathered shifts of the 12th / 15th Century, and false sleeves both made of cream silk cotton. And then lastly her gown which I've ordered a stripped olive coloured silk and cream silk dupion.

I really hope she looks as I want her to in the end :)