Saturday, 28 January 2012

Nancy's Almost Finished - A Victorian Harlot

It's taken me all week, but finally Nancy has her skirt all finished. It took well over a meter of fabric to create the right width, and double that each for the two ruffles at the hem.
I think I'll have to admit that I'm a bit overloaded on ruffles after this doll and might have to avoid them for a little while.

Now that Nancy is almost finished she has a lovely weight and feel to her when I pick her up. Her skirts fall in a lovely full bell shape, and the silky fabric feels lovely and soft. Now she has her hair she seems to have calmed down a bit and developed quite a gentle nature. She's not half as demanding as she was.

I made Nancy's blouse from a soft, white cotton voile and gave it the same wide gathered almost off the shoulder neckline as her shift. The sleeves have deep three quarter length cuffs and baggy puffy sleeves. I've had to tie the bulk of it down around her body so that I can fit her bodice over all the folds.

As she was so outspoken and bossy, clamouring inside my head demanding to be made so urgently, I chose my favourite dark cherise feathers for her hair, and added in bright red highlights to give it some texture. Almost immediately she started to settle down and became almost a totally different person. Much calmer and content now that she felt more like herself.

It really is weird how things change as your making a doll. How each new layer and element that you add does something special and lets the doll herself speak to you and tell you what it is she wants next. Sometimes the bossiest and most urgent dolls turn out to be the sweetest and most likable, and sometimes those that stay in your mind quietly developing over a period of time suddenly turn out finished from your needle what seems like seconds after you start them. I don't like to think of those that sit staring at me and stubbonly refusing to dress as I want. Demanding something that I just can't see. But they do happen to us all.

Even though my husband thinks I'm nuts I'm not the only doll maker that can hear the little voices that come from my dolls. And not the only one that knows how bossy they can be when you try to dress them in a way they don't like.
I have to say a major thank you to all the doll makers out there that share these stubborn frustrating times with all of us as it really makes me feel better that I'm not the only one :)

I flew though getting Nancy finished today once her skirt was fitted and sew into place, and managed to get a few photos of her half way to the end once her bodice was done.

I added an extra layer underneath her tight black bodice of a flowery fabric that just peeks out from the top to give a little bit of extra detail, finishing it in a heavy black cotton fabric. Then, I got completely stuck!

I sat in my chair today with boxes of lace, ribbon, fabric and trims around me wanting to finish Nancy and give her all the little bits that would make her complete, and was totally stuck. She just refused every pretty little scrap I offered up, and in the end I turned to all the lovely people I've met through Twitter and Facebook.

As always I wasn't let down and got the little prompts that I needed to set me off again in the right direction, and an idea for a brand new doll of a little street urchin selling violets from a basket. Seems my brain was having a nap without me as all she actually wanted, instead of all those fancy bits, was a simple black bow for her bodice, a steel grey ribbon for her neck, black lace mittens and a warm woollen shawl, and she's now sitting pretty on my table waiting until tomorrow's daylight allows me to take some decent photos of her.

I'm always amazed by the kindness of strangers. And I hope I can offer the same support to others along my way too.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

A Harlot Named Nancy - Work In Progress

Right after finishing Mr Darcy and Elizabeth the young Nancy shouted out loud and started nattering away about being dressed and brought to life.

She's been very specific about what she wants and what she'll wear. The only problem I've had has been keeping up with her demands and very sore fingers from all the stab wounds I've given myself as I sewed all her ruffles (I'm starting to hate Ruffles!!).

Nancy is a Victorian Harlot. A street walker, a lady of the night, or, more bluntly, a Prostitute.
She's a very pretty young lady, and has had quite a bit of success because of her good looks and easy smiling charm. She's been lucky enough to gain the attention of the better class of men and has become quite popular. And she thinks herself quite a cut above her street corner sisters.

Nancy doesn't realise that the attention she receives won't last, and those that she looks down her nose at look back with sympathy as they know the disappointments she'll face just as soon as her looks begin to fade.
For now she earns her living entertaining the wealthy clientele that frequent the smarter Gin Shops and Inns, occasionally accompanying a gentleman to one of the private clubs, and sometimes having easier nights earning a few pennies singing by the fireside of a tavern in her sweet lilting voice.

Even a Harlot needs underwear, so Nancy has the usual set of long crotchless drawers and a knee length loose shift that she wears with the neckline gathered wide on her shoulders.

She insisted that her corset was black, even though I offered her white, red and blue. And I fitted her Chemise sleeves tight even though it's not in the right style so that the loose gathered sleeves of her blouse will look as good as possible. She's showing off a lot of her fair complexion with her shoulders almost bare and a very low front.

Nancy has very little, and works hard to maintain as fashionable a way of dressing as she can. Her rich patrons are generous with their gifts, and her clever nimble fingers help her alter the second hand fine gowns discarded by affluent ladies.

She wears the usual type of plain white cotton under petticoat to help protect her legs from the heavy layers of her skirts. And a second petticoat of stiff cream cotton voile that I've made with three ruffles at the hem. All the ruffles are of different lengths, but all fitted to be floor length to make it appear like she has many more petticoats on than she really has. It's a clever technique that I came across in one of my books a while ago. And I've been waiting to try it out on a suitable doll. It really does help to give the skirts the proper shape without the weight of extra layers. It uses much less fabric than full skirts that I'm sure that poorer women would have used it to save money.

I made Nancy's last petticoat from a bright red cotton fabric with another ruffle at the hem to add bulk and support. Trimmed with a peachy coloured tapestry style ribbon. The layers look so pretty when she sits. Like a mass of frilly lace hidden away.

I want to make Nancy look as I've pictured her in my head, which means giving her a slightly gypsy look with lots of layers and mixed texture and patterns. So have decided to give her a skirt, blouse and bodice combination, with layers of shawls and lots of extra detail that she may have added thinking it made her look more fashionable.
I've already started her skirts in a very patterned dark blue and white fabric that has a silky feel. And am working on even more ruffles to decorate the hem to add as much detail as possible.

It might be a bit difficult to get Nancy to look how I want as it has to be the most overboard costume I've ever attempted before. I'm hoping that I manage to get her looking as I see her, and I hope you like her too :)

Monday, 16 January 2012

Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennett

It seems as though I've been dressing these dolls for ages. So much has been happening, and we've been so busy, that I just haven't had as much time as I would have liked to create and comfort myself with my dolls. I'm still trying to recover from a very low dip in my iron levels on top of everything else and my dolls are the one thing I know will always make me feel better and give me a sense of achievement.

Christmas is always a busy time in my house, and this year was no exception with our home full of family and friends and lots of visiting to do. It was a relief to spend a quite night in with Cris and quietly see the New Year in by ourselves.

Since then we've both been back to our day jobs, and have been busy buying stock and setting Cris up with his own Etsy shop -
He loves to treasure hunt at all our local thrift stores, car boot sales, house clearance shops and vintage and collectible fairs for small hidden Vintage, Retro and Re-Found objects and treasures. So we've set up Curious Cris so that we get to share what we find, and stop filling the house with stuff I love but have no room for :)

Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennett both capture the heart. As he changes from proud snobbish spoiled brat to the best romantic hero, and she learns to see past her first impression to see the man behind the attitude we all fall in love with the wonderful story brought to life by the wonderful Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice has to be my favourite book of all. I read it at least once a year, as well as watch the wonderful BBC adaptation (staring a very sexy Colin Firth) regularly – It’s even on my iPod!

I’ve wanted to make Mr Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennett for quite a while, but have always been put off by all of the tiny tailoring I knew they would involve. I finally plucked up enough courage to make them both and am so pleased with how they came out. Elizabeth in her soft empire line simple gown, and the tightly laced My Darcy in his chin high collar and tight waistcoat and trousers, a tall top hat making his imposing height even more distinguished.

I made Darcy wearing a long white fine cotton shirt that has baggy sleeves and deep cuffs and a separate collar over long drawers. He has long tight fitted trousers with a high waist and flat front, a gold satin waistcoat, high collar, long white cravat tied high under his chin, and a sage green double breasted tailcoat that’s pleated in the back. I made his top hat from layers of thick cotton fabric formed around an oval base so that is keeps is correct shape, which has a black satin ribbon band.

In comparison to Mr Darcy's straight laced tight buttoned looks Miss Elizabeth seems floaty and soft in her gown of layered white and cream cotton voile with a peach bodice and sleeves with a pin tucked hem. Underneath she has a long shift that has a gathered wide neckline and short tight sleeves, with a set of short stays to support her figure. Her dark red short jacket has sleeves that come down over her hands as they would have been styled during the Regency period, with lace at her neck to protect her dignity. I trimmed Elizabeth’s cream stripped bonnet with satin ribbon, lace and a satin flower.

After spending so long getting their clothes just how I wanted them I was so happy that they actually looked quite pretty, and stopped looking like aliens, when I finally put their hair on.

It makes such a difference to how they look, all those soft feather fronds drifting in the breeze. I normally like to add their hair first before the clothing, but on the last couple of dolls I've made I've left it off until the very end so it wouldn't get in the way when I was adding the sleeves and back of the bodice. Think I prefer this way for the dramatic effect, but they do look really odd and I'm not sure I can carry on worrying about if they will turn out ok or not until the very end.
Before I start my next doll I'm going to have to decide which method works best. But my brain doesn't seem to work yet this year.

I have managed to learn a lot about the tiny tailoring I'm always so scared of while making these dolls. A lot of it to do with making sure I have enough fabric to do things over if I need to and not knotting off all my threads until I'm totally sure things are right, but I've picked up a few new sewing trick's too.

Fitting Elizabeth's and Darcy's coat sleeves took some working out as they are very fitted right up to the shoulder. It's never so tricky with softer fabric, but the thick cotton I used wouldn't behave at all. On Darcy's I held them in place with pins which was a bit awkward in such a fiddly spot. And I found a better way when I sewed Elizabeth's first coat by tacking the very top of the sleeve to her shoulder before sewing on the body, then folding that back and taking out the tacking stitches.

You may have noticed I said Elizabeth's first coat, which was a long pelisse with a pretty pleated back and rounded corners at the front. I was really pleased with it until it was all done and I took a good look at my handiwork.
I looked like a raincoat, and not a nice one!
In fact, it looked like the kind of raincoat a very unfashionable granny might insist wearing everywhere, even in the heat of summer. It was terrible!

I made her a short jacket instead with the deep collar and double breasted front and I think she looks much younger and fresher now. I couldn't even bring myself to show you all the horrid Granny Mac as it was just too bad.

Even though I've only just finished these two my mind has already wandered off to my next doll. I want to make a large sized doll again as I've not made one in a while and have the perfect doll waiting for me all curled up naked in a box. In my mind I keep coming back to a Victorian Street Walker, all decked out in bright colours and tatty round the edges. In some rich woman's cast off gown that's been badly altered to fit and overly trimmed with extra lace and ribbon to try and attract custom. Her whole outfit made up of slightly mix matched layers as she trys to do her best with what she has available and can afford. Her legs flashing and too much of her bust on show. I've not got so far as the details yet, but I know she just has to have thick red hair.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

A New Year and Darcy & Elizabeth Finally Have Clothes!

Happy New Year to one and all :)
I hope that 2012 brings you all nothing but happiness and comfort.

It's the first day of the new year, and I've spent it quietly at home with my lovely husband, relaxing and steadily getting a few bits and pieces done to properly launch the January sale at my shop -
There are a lot of my little ladies there that now have 25% off. And a few that have been reduced even further, up to 60% off, as I'm trying to make room for all the new dolls I'm planning on making this year.

The very first dolls of 2012 are my Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett. After waiting so long to get started on them, and after a bit of a delay while I found fabric for her gown, both finally look somewhat respectable and have some clothes on. Although there's still a way to go on them yet.

Mr Darcy now has his fitted straight black trousers that have a flat flap front and a high waist, giving him a very trim narrow waist. And I finally found the perfect fabric for Miss Elizabeth's gown, of all places in a home furnishing store.

It doesn't show up to well in these photos as Wales hasn't seen proper sunlight in a few weeks now. But Miss Elizabeth's dress has long narrow sleeves and a bodice of peach voile fabric that has a textured finish with some thicker shiny threads. She has a second petticoat and gown skirts on cream cotton voile. And I've added some detail by adding pin tucks to her hem. Around her waist in a darker peach satin ribbon.

I spent some time with test pieces of fabric trying to find the perfect patten to use for the pin tucked section of Elizabeth's skirts. And had a little trouble with the scale at first. Women during the Regency where fantastically talented when it came to making their simple gowns. Although they look very basic, every detail of their dresses was carefully created to make sure the finished product fitted perfectly and conformed to the latest fashions. All of the detailing was done carefully by hand in a great range of fabrics. And as Elizabeth was a young women when she first met Mr Darcy I decided to keep with tradition and use pale soft colours, and delicate opaque muslin-like voile.

Sewing pintucks is both a very simple technique to decorate fabric, and complicated to do at times. You can get a special foot for a sewing machine that sews perfect straight tucks every time, but I sew even clothes for myself by hand, so getting things straight can prove a bit difficult, especially if your using a very pale thin fabric that you don't want to wash afterwards as it means you can't draw lines on the fabric and have to measure everything repeatedly and rely on pin placement to mark where your going. To sew a pin tuck you fold the fabric and measure down from the folded edge how deep you want your tuck to be, then sew across the width of the fabric. To make the next, you measure from your first sewn line the distance you want between tucks plus the depth of your tuck, then fold at that measurement and sew across the width of fabric again at the depth that you want. Repeating until you have as many as you want.

I experimented with alternating depths of pin tuck, and different distances apart. As well as copying the beautiful complicated pattern as seen worn by Fanny Brawne in the film Bright Star (a great period film if you get the chance to see it).
In the end everything I tried just seemed too over the top for Elizabeth. I never think of her as a showy character, and even though you get the impression she likes fashion I always think her tastes are more simple and elegant.

My husband bought me the 2007 ITV version of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey for Christmas, and just as I was giving up on what to do for my Elizabeth I thought to watch it for some inspiration. Right at the beginning the young Catherine is wearing a beautiful simple white muslin dress with a deep pin tuck hem of 5 or 6 rows. Each tuck the same distance apart and quite deep. It was perfect. Exactly what I wanted for my Miss Bennett. Simple and elegant, and just the right kind of detail. What I'd been trying to do was much too elaborate, and now I knew exactly what I needed to do to finish Elizabeth's gown.

These too will soon have hair to make them stop looking quite so alien. And I still have Darcy's sage / olive green tail coat and tall top hat to make. As well as a long pelisse coat and bonnet for Elizabeth. Tiny tailoring is always scary, but I hope I can make what I have in my head come from my hands.

Best Wishes for the new year ahead of us.