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 :)

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