Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Lady of The Shrine Has Clothes!

I've looked in all my usual places, read many articles, and done a lot of research, but can't find the name of the model used by John Waterhouse for The Shrine. I don't like to keep calling my doll The Lady, and really wanted to find her proper name but it's defeated me. I've read up on lots of Pre-Raphaelite models, from Alice Arter to Beatrice Hackman to Edith Richardson, all used by Waterhouse as models. But no mention of which lady is featured in The Shrine, and I don't like to guess at which one it could be, so I'll continue to call her The Lady. It seems she wants to keep her identity to herself. I added her hair first this time as I knew what colour it had to be, and as her gown is black and white I wanted to make sure she had some colour to stop her looking monochrome. I decided to add a touch of red to the rich brown hair of the lady in the painting, and made up her locks from milk and dark chocolate brown with some mahogany red brown mixed in. She looks very striking with her hair wild around her shoulders, but I'm still considering tying it back at the nape of her neck once she's finished.

The Pre-Raphealite Brotherhood and those involved with them had a very distinctive style. Many of them following the Aesthetic Movement in their style of dress which favoured a more natural body shape and healthier fabrics such as cotton, wool and silk. They were also against the unhealthy practise of tight lacing corsets and many of the women involved shunned them completely. After wrapping up her hair to keep it out of my needles way I made The Lady a pair of standard long crotchless drawers trimmed with lace at the leg. And a more Regency looking shift that is more fitting while still being loose and comfortable, with three quarter length sleeves, a high rounded neckline and a pleated skirt section to allow easy movement. The sleek lines of the gown the lady in the painting wears just didn't seem to fit with the voluminous gathered wide necked shifts worn in this period by Victorian ladies, so I thought the more old fashioned style would be better.

Next came a petticoat, and I couldn't resist using the black and white stripped cotton fabric I found recently at one of my local market stalls. To give The Lady a little more bulk around her middle I made the petticoat quite high waisted, but not so wide that it would cause lumps and bumps, and made sure it would lay nicely under the finished gown. I added a tapestry ribbon trim to the hem that has a sweet Arts and Crafts look to it. I got a bit stuck trying to decide what fabric to use for her black under dress. As you can imagine I've got a few plain black fabrics, and one or two that have a slight pattern in the weave. But none of them looked quite right. Just as I was about to go out and buy some plain black cotton, the one thing I've run out of, I remembered an old velvet scarf that my mother had given me to use for something as she'd managed to catch in on something and had pulled a hole in it.

As soon as I held it up to The Lady I knew it was the right fabric. The depth of colour and rich look was perfect, and it fitted into sleeves and dress perfectly after some adjustments to the shoulders, which came out a bit bulky the first time round. I trimmed the hem with lace to finish it off and then got on to starting her silk over dress or tunic. I love sewing in silk. It has such a soft light feel, but with still a crispness that gives a nice sharp finish to hems and edges. I made an attempt on the tunic style gown yesterday, but somehow ended up with a very nice shift shaped garment that will make lovely underwear for another doll, but just hasn't got the width or drape needed for this outfit. Tonight I'll start it over and make sure I add the extra width that's needed. I've no idea how I ended up with such a nicely tailored shift rather than the draped tunic I wanted, but there you go.

We've just finished off a pretty hectic weekend moving all of our furniture, books and a lot of my supplies out of the dining and living rooms ready for builders to show up tomorrow and fix the patch where we had a leak caused by blown off roof tiles and the hole in out living room ceiling from when Hubby and his Dad cleverly left all the doors open in strong wind and let the doors slam, bringing down a large patch of black plaster. At least the lath stayed up I suppose, and I'm now achy all over from packing and carrying stuff up to our spare room.
I did get the pieces cut ready to make myself some new skirts once The Lady is finished. And Wales won the Rugby and the Grand Slam :) But for now I need to concentrate on getting this lovely doll finished and ready to be sent off to her new home. And then decorating when all the work here is finished. Hope to get some time to read The Scarlet Letter at some point too. Think I'm going to be a busy girl.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Pretty Dolls, All Bald and Waiting

There wasn't anything new to share with you last week, so I saved posting here until today. A lot has happened in the last two weeks and my house has looked a little bit like a doll factory, with dismembered bits of bodies laid out to dry or waiting to be attached on every free surface. As you can see, my clay finally arrived and I got to work straight away sculpting my dolls bodies and faces.

I always start by covering the dolls bodies first before letting it dry thoroughly so that while I sculpt my faces I have something solid and firm to hold on to. I like to keep their shape very simple as old dolls would have been, and only add shaping to the shoulders and bust. Because of the many layers it usually takes to make the costumes I like to give my dolls I try and add a little extra length to the bodies of the ones I know will have many petticoats and skirts. That way I know they will still look like they have some sort of body when I'm finished with them.

While their hip area is narrow enough to let me drill a hole through them so that their legs can be attached, the shoulders of these two largest sizes of dolls has always given me problems as I just can't find a drill bit that's both long and strong enough.
I've found a way now of drilling through the dowel base of the body and then building up the layers of foil core and then clay while using a long doll sculpting needle through the hole to make sure that I keep a straight usable hole ready to attach their arms when they're done.
It isn't easy to work around the needle, but when I've tried wire the clay always seemed to bend it as it dried. I find problems if I'm not careful to make sure everything is still straight inside before moving on to the faces as things move. It's surprising how much paperclay shrinks as it drys, but it has such a lovely finish to it.

Next come one of my favourite parts of doll making - The Faces. By adding layers of wet clay to the area where I want the face to be, making sure I add the thickness in the right places to give the head the tilt that I want, I get the faces ready to have the eyes set in. I remove the shank from the buttons I've chosen and push them into the wet clay, letting it squish and bulge up around the buttons to create the temples and forehead, working it with my fingers to get everything even and smooth. I push a hole into the moth area and pull it into the expression I want and then let the clay dry a bit on a warm (but not hot) radiator to let it firm up while I work on the next doll.

I try and let the faces dry completely before moving on to the other features, but sometimes it's still only semi-dry before I start on the nose, cheeks and lips. I'm not very patient once I get going. If the clay has shrunk back around the eyes in any area I build it back up again with more clay now too. I like best to take my time with my faces to not get caught making every one look very much like the next. Even if I think them ugly when they are sculpted I try to only tweak a little. Everyone is different and unique, and if that's how a doll wants to look who am I to argue with them. The strangest looking dolls very often turn out to be very beautiful once they have some clothes and their hair added.

Now that they have all been sanded smooth, wet polished, painted and varnished tonight I get to choose arms and legs for each lady and the two gentlemen mixed into the group, stringing them all together with tiny glass seed beads and vintage thread in a special way I've developed for myself which is good and strong. For the first doll I'll be working on further, The Lady of The Shrine for Neiaushie which will be dressed in a silk gown in the style of the beautiful John Waterhouse painting, I first chose a dark sage green / brown pair of buttons from my stash. After setting a larger pair the same in one of the larger dolls they looked very black, so instead I searched out the lovely pearly swirly brown and copper coloured buttons that you can see in the face above (bottom left corner). The different colours that show in these eyes when you turn her in the light made me think they'd be perfect for an artists muse. What artist could resist trying to capture their beauty :)