Sunday, 24 June 2012

So Why Dolls?... My Dolls

So... Why Dolls?

It's a question that nearly all doll makers get asked from time to time, and I am no exception.

It's a really hard thing to explain. That special, magical feeling you get when you hold a doll is really unique. All the imagination and possibilities that go into making a doll, and those that you get for yourself as the owner of a doll just let me picture my own little world. They help me understand the past, present and future. They give me love and remind me of those that love me. And it all started a very, very long time ago.

Beware of the dodgy 70's photos coming up. The haircuts and decor are scary!

This is me. And yes, I do have a hold of my Dad's beer. And no, I'm not letting it go. What can I say, I was mad even then.

I particularly like the stripy romper suit my Mam has picked out for me. And I did warn you about the haircuts - I've no idea what my Dad looks like but he's always been on his own I guess. My Mam, as always, managed to look pretty and stylish no matter what she wears, even in that dodgy stripy cardie and odd top.

Don't get me wrong, I love vintage. I'm just not sure the 70's are my era. I'm more of a 50's girl.

Just a little older my blond chubby cheeked self (with obligatory dummy in gob) is standing here with my toy Giraffe. I can remember that cot and the odd mouse character at the top, even though I'm sure I was much too young to remember it really. Maybe my little sister got to sleep in it too a few years later...

Many people wouldn't believe me, but I it's true I still have that pink and white blanket upstairs in my closet. And of course Emma the Giraffe still watches over me as I sleep each night.

She's a little old and worn now. Her spots have faded, and her fur has gone rough. She even has one or two small bald patches, as does Nellie my pink elephant who is about the same age.

I've no idea how these beloved things have managed to stay with me all these long 35 years, but there's no way I'd ever leave them behind now. My old toys are some of my most treasured possessions. And I have to thank my Mother for managing to keep them safe and cared for for me as I grew up so that I can enjoy them now.

Just a little older again, just a little bit, and hear I stand at Christmas time surrounded by books and toys.

I loved that pushchair and proudly wheeled my dollies around just like any other little girl, but there's one treasure amongst the rest that's more special to me now that I'm grown - Can you see Molly in her brown and cream dress?

And hear she is just yesterday. Older now, and a little worn and faded. She has a dirty looking face where the sun has cooked in the dirt of years, her eyes are faded and her clothes have some tiny stains. But her soft cotton dress is still so pretty, her hat will still not sit quite right, and her stiff curls look just as cute as ever.

She was my Christmas gift that year, I think maybe from my Grampa Albert, and has been my friend all these years. Her plastic smile never fading, she's always been there, a permanent fixture in my life.

Molly in her brown and cream sits next to Sally in her pink and cream. I got Sally around the same time, and they've always sat together, side by side. These days they sit in my bedroom with a few other friends on top of an old dark trunk in the corner. and seeing them always makes me smile.

I never really understood why Sally's black wool plaited hair is only on the sides of her head, the back being totally bald. But she's happy and smiles no matter what so I guess it's not up to me to judge her maker. Now her plaits are a bit scruffy, and again her clothes are worn and faded. Being fabric she also has a small repair to one of her seams and around her left eye the fabric has gone very thin. But just like Molly, Sally is special to me.

These are the dolls that started it all. My very first dolls, and in some whys my most loved. It amazes me now that I still have them. The magic they hold inside them has kept me from discarding them even when I was a stroppy Goth teenager.

They've always been there, and hopefully always will be. Stained and battered, loved and worn. Looking over me each and every night. They are the earliest dolls in my life. And all those that came after through my childhood just couldn't compare to them.

Now, I make my own dolls, letting my imagination and heart spill into these new things that I hope will be just as loved by others as they are by me.

Madeline Smith here is coming on well and is almost done. And after taking this photo yesterday I managed to finish off all the lace trimming on her dress. She's sitting staring at me at the moment demanding to have some hair added to her shiny bald head so I better go and see to her. But she wont be listed until next weekend as I'm waiting for a special little accessory to go with her.
I mean, what would a poisoner be with out her very own vintage poison bottle :)

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Work In Progress - Madeline Smith

Since making Jack I've been busy as usual. But to be honest I can't really tell you why ?!?!

I have made a few dolls - 2 little peg dolls, Peggy Sue and Dot, and a small Victorian nurse, Nurse Foster. As well as working on a new doll for my Necropolis series - Madeline Smith.

(I suppose when I think about it, as well as dolls getting a load of things done around the house, helping Hubby with a bumper load of photos of new treasures for his shop, my birthday (tons of fun!), and somehow fitting in a full time job as well probably has something to do with the Busy thing :S)

I'm really enjoying making Madeline. A young woman from a good family that was charged with the murder of her lover by Arsenic poisoning. At the end of her trial the verdict came back as Not Proven. And at that time in Victorian Scotland it was enough to see Madeline walk free (I still can't decide if I think she did it or not).

She stood strong and proud throughout it all - not even needing help to recover herself when all of her love letters to the deceased Emile were read out in court (although the most sensational bits were edited out for decency). Madeline was an attractive 21 year old, seemingly respectable, lady. But the proof of her affair was enough to shock and fascinate the general public.

(Caught on camera by my husband, comfortably sewing a covering to crinoline bands after getting caught in the rain coming back from town. He hates my vintage house dress, but it's just Sooo Comfortable!)

The poison Arsenic was used for many things during the 1800's. And at Madeline's time (1850's) it was still widely used as a medicine which many took under their own care, just like we take paracetamol today. It was used in colour dies for clothes and wallpapers, in everyday household objects, and, as admittedly used by Madeline, as a cosmetic for the skin.

After general research the most unusual example of arsenic poisoning I could find was the absorption through the skin of the substance by wearing fashionable green fabrics. These women were literally killing themselves for fashion.

It's a really interesting subject, and I found a great book on Amazon called The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play by James C. Whorton that I'm really looking forward to reading it to find out more.

To make the crinoline itself I measured and cut each band, making sure that each was equally smaller to the last. I joined the ends together to make hoops with a little tape and by sewing a small piece of the covering ribbon tightly around the joint to give extra reinforcement. After covering all the bands I measured out 10 equally spaced points around all 6 bands, and equal spacing on 10 straps to hold everything together. I sewed each strap into place adding a loop at the top of each. It ties to Madeline's waist making a lovely bell shape to support all of her skirts and petticoats. Even on a doll this size I'd need to make at least 12 petticoats in a combination of corded and flounced design just to get the same shape. The layers needed on a full grown woman must have been staggering!

I had a bit of a delay when making Madeline unfortunately. I remembered to get the metal banding I needed to make her crinoline nice and early, but of course did not remember to make sure I had enough of the right width ribbon to cover them all. So while I waited for the longed for weekend to roll around so I could get to the market to get what I needed I set to work on Madeline's petticoats, bodice base and sleeves. Over her shift she has puffy silk cotton under-sleeves with tight cuffs. they make her look daftly like Popeye The Sailor, but they do work with the later added pagoda sleeves. You can see here a high necked false blouse or chemisette and the start of her finished bodice. At the moment it's quite a plain tightly fitted bodice with a deep V-front. Later I'll be adding a draped shawl like layer to finish it off.

Over her crinoline she has a stiff calico petticoat with a deep ruffle at the hem to get extra width. And over that she now has a soft navy blue cotton petticoat that I'll finish off with some lace and ribbon at the hem. I'm really pleased at how her finished sleeves have come out. And I managed to get the fitted shoulder and gathered bell shape for the pagoda sleeve without too much trouble. I lined everything with plain white cotton as the dress fabric I've used is a lovely chiffon with a really lovely drape to it. I still have to add all of the fussy trimmings and things to them, but Madeline looks really pretty in the beginnings of her soft lilac gown. Next I'm working on a triple layered ruffled skirt and the shawl draped overlay for her bodice, then all the trimmings. I've even managed to find a tiny little bottle I can use for Madeline's "cosmetic" arsenic supply.

Note On The Colour - I know that strictly speaking Madeline shouldn't really be wearing lilac or purple. I know that these colours for fabric were very difficult to produce and didn't become popular outside of the Royal Court where Aristo's

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Jack The Ripper - The Whitechapel Murderer

All of us are familiar in some part with the infamous Whitechapel Murders, and the legend that has become Jack The Ripper. But who was Jack The Ripper? And why are we fascinated by the Whitechapel Murders?

Jack is an almost mythical character - no-one knows who he was, and there are thousands of theories out there. Was it one man, or a gang? A medical man or a knowledgeable maniac? A man or a woman?
The only certain thing is that whoever he or they were they were almost the sickest and most disturbed killer in British History. And defiantly the most mysterious and successful uncaught serial killer/s.

I didn't really know where I was going when I started my Jack. He's one of those dolls I've always wanted to make, but one that I've always been uncertain of. Trying to decide how I would portray him was a nightmare in itself, let alone the nightmares I've been getting from the research - And I'm not easily frightened. The facts of these killings are horrendous, and I avoided the one I knew would upset me most before I could face it - poor Mary Kelly. I can't even start to imagine what would possess someone to carry out such an awful act as what was done to Mary. All the murders are awful, but for some reason this one always sticks with me.

As I started making my doll Jack took on a life of his own. I started out thinking I was making a scruffy, dishevelled dirty looking killer. But he's had other ideas and has turned into very much the imagined Victorian image of himself.
It's a very interesting history, and I'd highly recommend it if you can stomach the gruesome facts. Learning about the resources available to the police at that time really shows us how far we've come withing the last few hundred years. The lack of technology and technique available to them meant that unless a witness was found that could provide solid proof it was almost impossible to make an arrest in this kind of case. And Jack was an incredibly clever killer. At times he must have been stood right next to the police looking down at his own victim. Seamlessly blending in with all the other onlookers. Calculating, clever, cunning... Jack was the perfect killer. He knew what he wanted to do, and how to accomplish it without being caught or seen by anyone at all in one of the busiest parts of London.

Jack wears dark grey trousers and waistcoat over his white cotton underwear and shirt. His stiff white collar was attached separately, and he has a smart charcoal grey satin cravat. His double breasted coat is black with shiny buttons. And over all he has a cape overcoat to keep off the rain. On his head is a very tall top hat in black felt, and in his hand he carries the knife with which he carried out his dreadful murders.