Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Lizzie Siddal

Lizzie Siddal was the daughter of a working class family that rose from obscurity to become one of the most recognisable faces of Victorian Britain. The most famous image of her, Ophelia by Millais, shows her floating in a shallow stream by a bed of reeds, overhung with dogwood and willows; her red gold hair floating behind her in the water, she’s dressed in a white medieval gown.
 She was a poet, artist, artist’s model and muse. An attractive woman, she had striking red hair, pale eyes and pale skin. Her future husband, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, became fascinated with her classic looks and flame hair, and he seduced her into living with him in a squalid apartment in Blackfriars London, where she first began to demonstrate that she was much better at the arts than at domestic duties. Her paintings caught the attention of John Ruskin, who bought all her paintings and settled an annuity of £500 on her future work. Her relationship with Rossetti became more and more strained as he struggled with his own work, took numerous lovers, and became disinterested in Lizzie as her health declined. His portraits of her around this time show her becoming more wraithlike as time passed.

            Lizzie began to suffer with Tuberculosis, and took ever increasing amounts of Laudanum to control her symptoms and pain, but showed no improvement to any of her doctors recommended treatments. She grew worse as Rossetti betrayed her again and again with his frequent conquests of the more nubile model he began to prefer. And only took pity on her and married her in May 1860 when she was gravely ill.

            The final blow in Lizzie’s sad short life came the following year when she gave birth to a stillborn daughter. She was profoundly depressed, and took her own life by an overdose at the age of 33. She was found shortly after in her bed. An empty phial of laudanum beside her and a note pinned to her nightdress asking her husband to take care of her disabled brother. She was buried at London’s Highgate cemetery.
       Sometime after her death, deeply depressed himself, Rossetti had an experience that led him to a final, tragic insult towards his wife. While walking with a friend on a trip to Scotland a small bird came across their path. The small chaffinch did not fly away, but remained still even when picked up. Shaking with emotion, Rossetti was convinced that the bird was the soul of his dear Lizzie, whom many believed he did truly love. On his return to the house he stayed in he was told that the great bell at the door had rung, but that nobody had been there when it was answered. Within hours he was back in London, determined to retrieve the notebook of his sketches and poems he had buried with his wife. Taking what had happened as a call from Lizzie. He persuaded the Home Secretary to waive the exhumation order, and stayed at home in a state of agonised suspense while his friends went to Highgate Cemetery.

            “The book in question is bound in rough grey calfskin and has red eyes to the leaves. This will distinguish it from the bible, also there as I told you.” A doctor was on hand to disinfect the book once it was retrieved. Lizzie’s body was reported to look quite perfect by the light of the fire they lit. And when the book was lifted a strand of her red gold hair came away with it.
            Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s sister Christina wrote the following poem about her sister-in-law.
One face looks out from all his canvases,
One self-same figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel – every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more or less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

I hand sew all of my dolls clothes from a mix of brand new and recycled fabrics; designing each piece individually to ensure a unique period outfit. I make each layer of clothing that would have been worn by real women to make a truly unique doll. And even though many of these layers can’t be seen they really help to create the right shape and feel to the outfits, as well as giving support to the finished layers. I research not only the lives of the women for my portrait dolls, but also the styles and fashions they would have worn, making each doll truly special.

I’ve made Lizzie Siddal as she would have been at what was the height of her career, when she would have been in her late 20’s. She has rich flame red hair, with pale white eyes that catch blue tones.
Lizzie’s clothing is full of details to make it as authentic as possible. The skirts of this period would have been fuller with most of the bulk at the back, but I think Lizzie would have worn them in a simpler style in keeping with her artistic life-style. Lizzie was one of the first to adopt a more aesthetic style of dress. And over her white cotton open crotch drawers and shift she may or may not have worn a corset which would have been quite shocking at the time. She has layered petticoats of white cotton under a fine, stripped cotton lawn (my favorite fabric at the moment), which is trimmed with a tapestry ribbon at the hem.
She wears no pads, bustles or hoops for extra shaping under her skirts, and her dress has a very medieval look in keeping with the Pre-Raphaelite style. Her full sleeves and gathered chemisette are made of 100% silk cotton. Lizzie’s entire gown is made of pure silk with a soft cream underskirt trimmed with a border of hand stitching, under a stripped sage green silk that has been crush treated to add a fine texture. Her wide bell sleeves have a tapered point to match with the high pointed front of her hand embroidered bodice, and both have a tapestry ribbon trim and matching dark red tie. Her overskirt has a short train and a matching hand stitched border and decoration on the lower front corners.
This doll stands at 49cm tall, weighs approx. 300g

Monday, 13 June 2011

Harvey - An Altered Head for Zuzu

Harvey is an altered doll head for my Friend Louise, better known to some of us as Zuzu.

Zuzu has a challenge to alter a dolls head for the Alter It Monthly Challenge blog - http://alteritmonthly.blogspot.com/ - but has a bit of a problem. Dolls creep her out!

It's not something that bothers me in the slightest :)
And as you can all probably tell I like my dolls as creepy as they come. So she asked me to come up with something.

I'm really flattered that Zuzu thought of me, and I've been cooking up Harvey to see if I can make an altered head that will be that little bit extra different.

I started with a medium sized plastic dolls head that I'd already painted and grunged up ready to make into an assemblage doll when I had the rest of the bits and pieces collected together. And had to cut away one side of it's face to make room for the hard core that I needed for the sculpted side. This was kind of creepy even for me, seeing a smiling dolls face with a great bit hole where it once had half of it's nose, and eye and a cheek, but I had to get a rigid core to sculpt on, so cut the shiny pink plastic away with a scalpel.

While I had a hole big enough to reach inside I mounted a green button from my hoard behind the empty eye socket, and then stuffed the inside with foil, tightly packed. After covering that with tape I got to my favorite bit, and started to sculpt the other side into one of my dolls heads. Giving it a large green eye to match the dolls other one.

So far my sculpt has only had it's first sand and smooth. And once I've done a second finer sand I'm planning to paint the sculpted side as I usually would one of m dolls, and give it a big shock of marabou feather hair. Where the two halves meet I'm going to paint the higher profile of my sculpt with a darker colour to highlight the difference between them. And them give the head a little base to sit on.

I know Harvey looks like supremely odd right now, and is only going to get weirder. But I really want to show the difference between a mass produced dolly, and a hand made, one of a kind art doll by showing them both together, side by side. There are so many wonderful doll artists out
there, pouring their creativity into original, heartfelt art dolls that many in the world just dismiss as a mere dolly. A child's play thing or a mass produced "collectible" rather than the true expression of an artist that has been created from the bones outward to produce a beautiful, detailed, wonderful piece of true art. Where every tiny part has been thought about, researched, hand-crafted and just Loved!

I'm really enjoying this little side project. And really want to thank Zuzu for asking me to get involved. It's been a real challenge to work out the construction I needed to use. And I can assure you the air was quite blue when I was trying to get the line of clay to run straight down the profile of the plastic dolls head while trying to keep that line sharp and not spreading. I'm quite pleased with how Harvey is coming out, and hope she looks as I want her too when I'm done.
If you haven't guessed yet my lovely geeky husband named her after the Batman character Two Faced Harvey Dent. Sometimes he comes up with some good ones.

Zuzu makes wonderfully detailed pieces of altered art, mixed media and jewellery. If you'd like to see some of her creations you can see her work here - http://zuzuspetalsstuff.blogspot.com/

Also, I've not been able to take any proper photos of poor Lizzie Siddal as the weather here at the moment is awful, and I just can't get a result I like using artificial light. But I'm hoping I'll be able to get them taken some time this week. She's looking really pretty now that I've added a few tiny flowers and let her hair down. It's not often that I'm totally happy with a doll, but I'm so glad that Lizzie came out the way I wanted her too :)


Thursday, 9 June 2011

Lizzie Siddal - Almost Finished!

Today has been a good day!

For the first time in ages I've had a really productive day, as well as it being a really relaxing one. I was woken in what has to be my least favorite way, by the Post Man knocking at the door. Which of course means a mad rush to find my pajama bottoms, which I can't sleep in, and the key. All the time worrying just how asleep I really look and if I have major bed hair. But, he brought with him some lovely things, so I forgave him. One of which was a money order in payment for two dolls that will be on their way to the States soon.

The next good thing was that lovely feeling you get when you realise you don't have to go to work. So back upstairs I went to lay in bed with a book in one hand and the other scratching our kittens belly while he purred loudly. Just for a little while.

Up and dressed I headed in to town to run errands and pick up some shopping, then home for the part of the day I was looking forward to most - the sewing.

I was determined to finish the embroidery on Lizzie's gown today. So settled into my favorite chair, put on a new period drama and got to work. Now Lizzie is wearing her newly finished over skirt, and I only have a few details left for her to be completely finished.
As the embroidery is the same colour as the fabric it doesn't show up to well in my quick pictures here. And I promise to take better ones when she's properly finished. But above you can see the corner detail that's on both sides of the open over skirt, and below is a little closer detail.

It was the zig-zag looking stitch that fills in the border that was the one I couldn't remember how to do. It's a really easy stitch, and has a twisted version that looks a little more like a scallop, but after trialing both the more open zig-zag looked better. 

I used two tones of normal sewing thread in a combination on chain, stem, satin, and blanket stitch, as well as the stitch that caused all the issues for me to try and add texture to Lizzie's skirt while trying to keep focus on the beautiful silk fabric that I've used. The border really helps finish the shape of her gown, especially in the back where there is a short train, and the fall in front to frame the soft cream underneath.

Next, to finish Lizzie, I'm adding an embroidered ribbon band over her bodice to match the detail on her sleeves. She'll also need a few things done to her sleeves to refine the shape, some detail added to her bodice and I think maybe something for her hair.

Lizzie Siddal was buried with a notebook of her husbands of blue calfskin. Soon after her death, as he realised his popularity was growing, he exhumed poor Lizzie to get it back again. Adding one last tragic, and a very odd, episode to her life.

I hope you'll like my Lizzie once I'm all finished. I've really tried to add as much detail as I can to her very mixed sence of style. It's been a challenge to try and create a Victorian outfit which still has a feel of that period while incorporating the early ideals of the Aesthetic Movement and the Medeavil Fantasy images that many of the new romantics painted and upheld as their perfect world. But her life has really touched me, and I was determined to try and bring her story forward for others that may not have heard of her.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Embroidery and Catching up

I've been having one of those months that we all dread. I just can't seem to get anything finished!

After spending weeks making and sewing a gown for Lizzie Siddal, I've been stuck on the embroidery to finish her for ages. And still she waits for that one final layer of clothing that will make her complete. It started off because I was stuck with a particular embroidery stitch, and just couldn't remember how to do what I wanted. I searched all over the internet, fiddled with countless trial scraps, searched through books, and even checked the clothes in my wardrobe just in case I had something embroidered in there I'd forgotten about (like I own any embroidered clothes!).
Finally, I gave in and ordered a book to arrive next day so I could crack on and get the skirt done. And what happens? It didn't arrive. Four whole days later my book shows up. And yes, I did get my money back. But another whole week had passed by and Lizzie was still sitting there with her gown unfinished and her hair wrapped up like my Nanna with her curlers in. Another few days of fighting distractions and research found me my stitch, and I was already to start when that life thing got in the way again and I found myself with no time to sit down to it.

Needless to say I'm now determined that Lizzie's gown will be finished this weekend and I'll have photo's of her to share with you all :-)
I have a few days off work to make a nice long weekend. So as well as finishing the very patient Lizzie, who's sitting quietly on my table getting very bored, I'll  be working on an altered dolls head for a friends blog, Alter It Monthy. While I've not been able to work on Lizzie I've been cooking up ideas for my little plastic dolls head and I'm hoping I can pull off the ideas I've come up with. I'm keeping them secret just in case :-)

Really hope your May was more productive than mine.

PS - It's my Birthday this weekend, so I'm celebrating with a sale in my Etsy Store.
There is FREE SHIPPING WORLDWIDE all this week, on all my dolls, until 12th June.
After doing the math this was the best offer for all my lovely customers, wworking out to 40% off the already reduced sale dolls, and up to 25% on the others. If your interested in a bargain, or just want a nose around, I've moved all my stock over from Folksy too, so there's a lot of new dolls in store as well.


More photos coming soon