Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Lady in White, an Art Doll

After many many meticulous hours spent hunkering over my work table I am finally finished with my latest art doll! She is seriously one of my very favorite creations of all time, so this post is going to be long and filled with pictures. You've been warned.

Anyhow. It all started when I purchased this lovely Biedermeier-style porcelain doll head a few years ago.

You see, in the mid 1800's, a porcelain doll factory in Germany was cranking these puppies out for the toy market. This particular head was fired and glazed before being discarded because it was imperfect (she has some charming little speckles and smudges on her face and hair). Fast forward a hundred and fifty years or so, and the discard yard was excavated, uncovering all of these lovely damaged dolls and doll parts.
I was interested in making a doll like this but the head needed to be just right for the project. My major requirement was that it must have a full neck and part of the chest plate in tact so that it could be properly anchored to a cloth body. Originally, these doll heads were made with a solid chest plate drilled with little holes in the corners so they could be sewn in place on the body without too much hassle. Most of the heads I could find (and I specifically wanted one of these unpainted and "imperfect" doll heads. It would have been so much easier to find a complete "perfect" one!) were missing most or all of their necks and chest plates. This one was just right! As soon as I got her I was completely in love with her, imperfections and all.

An original doll of the era would have a body something like this:
I knew I wanted to keep the entire project in shades of white, to match the minimalist unpainted face of the doll head. Ghostly, I suppose. So, I made her body entirely from scratch out of bleached cotton muslin, which was then painted in white textile paint. I didn't have a pattern or template to work with, so the entire thing was built up through trial and error.
Trying on body parts:

Deciding on a waistline (that weird ruffly business was removed later):
Rejected feet:
Painting the body and feet/boots:

And then there were the clothes! I wanted her to wear an accurate 1850s dress and underthings, a fashionable lady with the very finest day dress. This period has never really been my favorite decade for historical fashion, though (let's face it, crinoline "hoop" skirts are just kind of ponderous and awkward) so I had to do some research before getting started. Here are a few of the extant gowns that inspired me.
I was especially fond of this one, with it's pleated bodice and pagoda sleeves (which were VERY popular at at the time), worn over engageantes (removable poofy undersleeves, almost always in lightweight white fabric like lawn or lace):

Here are a few more:

My standard method of dressing dolls is to make it up as I go along, and this one was no different. There were definitely details, here, that I didn't know about until I got to them. I built her costume up layer by layer, starting with her bloomers and boots, then adding a petticoat and undersleeves, and finally draping the skirt and bodice and adding trim as I went along.
After making the bloomers out of silk satin I decided that I wanted to do the entire outfit (except the petticoat) in silk, as well. Because I am a perfectionist, and that is all I could see in my mind, now.

Fiddling around with ideas for the bodice in muslin:
Finishing up the bloomers and boots:
Adding layers one at a time:

And now she's finished!

Here is an extant doll of the same Beidermeier period:

And here is the Lady in White (who is, I don't mind saying, about a thousand times cooler than the originals ever were. I find a certain delicious quality in the fact that this discarded "imperfect" girl is now considerably more magnificent than she would have been if she had passed muster back in 1855):

Here is a link to her item page on Etsy: linky linky link!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

the Scarlet Pimpernel

I've been focusing on little things, recently, as the nature of business has left my regular fashion shop languishing and unpopular. C'est la vie!
The past year has been ten pounds of awful in a five pound sack, and my favorite escape from life is reading. But you know what? Reading depressing and miserable things or books starring unlikable hero figures is just too much for me right now. So I've been reading a LOT of classic brain candy. Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett, the Scarlet Pimpernel. Especially the Scarlet Pimpernel.
When I was growing up in the sticks the field at my father's house grew a profusion of wildflowers (or as some would call them, weeds). White bindweed, which is sort of like a morning glory except that people don't like them. Blue speedwell, a tiny flower with blue and white stripes. Wild geranium. Lawn daisies. And my favorite, a little orangey red flower with a purple center and yellow stamens. When I was about 11 someone gave me an Audubon guide to wildflowers, and the very first one I looked up was my little orange friend. It was a Scarlet Pimpernel. Honestly? This is the only reason I was at all interested when a new adaptation of the Scarlet Pimpernel series aired on TV.
But I kind of loved it. In fact... I've never met a version of the Scarlet Pimpernel that I didn't like. And I have seen basically all of them that I could get my hands on (admittedly I have not watched the musical). The premise is the same simple idea of a millionaire dandy who saves the proverbial day that you have seen in every other show throughout time. Of course, I am also inordinately fond of Zorro, so you can see where I am coming from, here.
In any case, the stories and the flower inspired these little button earrings. I took a bunch of awful pictures of them last week but they all turned out blurry and something had to be done! This is the new photo for the listing, inspired by the 1930s film version. In all honesty, that book is not a bible (as it was in the movie) nor even a copy of one of the Scarlet Pimpernel books (I've read them all on my e-reader) but a cheesy compilation of ghost stories. But SSHHH! Don't tell anyone!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I'm BAAAAAAACK. That was supposed to be in a creepy voice, but it loses something in writing.

So, I moved! And now I have my very own sewing room (but let's call it a "studio" because that sounds way more impressive) to fill with works in progress. And to keep cat hair out of! Woo! No cats allowed!
Ahem... anyway.
So, I've got my new space set up. Here is a picture of it from back when I was first getting things together. it has changed a bit since then, and is now a little bit on the disorganized side (not true. It's far too organized. I always know what pile of crap on top of which piece of furniture something is in. But after I moved and organized everything? No idea where anything is. It's going to take a while to break this room in.)
It will never be this tidy again.

Anyhow... so we moved, and just as I was getting all excited about my new space my summer work schedule started, I came down with an ulcer, my cat was diagnosed with anorexia secondary to inflammatory bowel disease, and I was handed a large pile of raggedy dance costumes that needed to be fixed and spruced up for the ballet studio where I take class.
In other words I didn't get much accomplished project-wise until the end of August. Now I'm back and falling in to a routine of work (it's so hard to motivate yourself, you know?) so things are actually getting posted in the Etsy shops again. 
Of course, posting this is probably jinxing myself, but let's hope for the best.

I'm proud of this one, a new scarf idea that I came up with months ago but only juuuuuuust finished up this week. It's hand painted with textile paint on silk habotai and comes packed in a sweet little (giant!) felt fortune cookie. I have made so many "test" fortune cookies in myriad shapes and sizes recently... I tried and failed at a few different types, and when I finally found a pattern I liked I made them continuously for a day or so, just to make sure I had it down pat. This is the biggest, naturally, but the smallest was teeny weeny tiny!

Oh! And I have decided to post some of my non-wearable art in my destash shop. I have been working on (procrastinating on, really) an art project for several months, now, and it's not even vaguely ready to add to the shop, yet. BUT I decided that I should air out my ACEO collection and see what I could part with in preparation for making a bunch of new ones. This one, which I made several years ago and always kind of liked, is pretty simple, but I thought it might be a good place to start.

Monday, April 15, 2013


It always frustrates the heck out of me when artists (in any medium) claim to function in a creative vacuum. Like musicians who say they don't listen to any music from other artists. What a pity! To not experience the great body of art that is out there seems like a shame as well as an outright lie. No one will think less of your music if you listen to Mozart and are inspired by Etta James.
I am constantly inspired by other artists, from all genres. One of my favorite sources of inspiration is fashion history. Sometimes I will pull an embellishment idea from a Regency gown, a neckline from an Ottoman coat, or a colorway from a flapper's fringed skirt.
Here is an example of an inspiration that is much more direct than many of my designs.
This wool and silk tuxedo vest for the shop was inspired by a lovely Norman Norell suit from the 1960s. Here they are together:

Friday, March 1, 2013

Anchors Aweigh! No, it's not "away" and no, I didn't have to look *that* up, either.

I can take absolutely anything and make it nautical. Sailor collars and stripes all around! Nautical jackets! Nautical rompers! Nautical toaster ovens! Nautical push brooms! Hmm... maybe not everything...
I've been lucky these past few years, as sailor-inspired fashions have been popular. I can almost always count on my sailor collars and such to find a happy and obliging audience. Now, this hasn't always been the case. A few years back it was nearly impossible to find anything with big bold stripes on it. Why, I had to shop for my Prisoner-inspired wardrobe very very carefully, indeed! I am thankful for the uptick in rockabilly-resort-whatever style that has brought my love of all things sailor to the mainstream.
But... what is it about nautical style that I love so much? I ... really don't know. I think it's timeless and fun and flirty and Spring-time fresh and clean. Plus, I love the sea, the coast, beaches, and standing on cliff-tops pretending to be the captain of a jaunty frigate. Or something of the sort, anyway.
Anyway, yo ho yo ho, hoist the mains'l and etc etc.

I didn't just have to look up how to spell "mains'l" by the way. That probably says something ...
and I've owned this hat for something like fifteen years.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

One of Those Projects

Sometimes there is just no winning with a project. Sigh...
Some time in the past year I sketched out this design for a shrug, made in natural speckled grey linen with off-white silk organza overlays. I couldn't find the linen that I wanted for a while, but eventually it turned up in my favorite local fabric store and that's when the real fun started.
Originally I had planned to gather the sleeves in to the binding at the cuff in the regular way. But after I was already halfway there I realized that gathering it would make it completely impossible to iron the pleated overlays when it was washed, or after taking it out of storage. I really don't like to send designs out in to the world that are not going to last or that can't be cared for. So then I had to rethink and re-engineer the whole silly thing.
Eventually I thought of the idea I used here, which is to gather the cuffs in to shape with a series of loops and buttons that could be released and rebuttoned as required.
With the thinking out of the way the construction then entered in to a series of small but nearly fatal catastrophes. After two weeks or so I am happy to announce that it is finally done... and that I never want to see it again in my life, thankyouverymuch.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Oh My God, Guys

So. It's been a while...
Okay okay okay.
So first I went on vacation, right? And while I was gone I fell and sprained my hand so bad that I had to go in for x-rays TWICE over the course of a month. So, I had to take down all my custom stuff and spend quite a few weeks sitting in front of the TV with a look of vexed frustration and boredom on my face.
THEN, when my wrist was starting to feel good enough to sew again I left town again for three weeks, to stay with my Dad after he had surgery. I was stymied in my attempts to get some holiday sewing done while I was there (sewing machine on the fritz) so the first thing I did when I got home was make something insane like five or six stuffed rabbits for the babies in the family this year (DUDES, for serious, enough with the babies already).
And, now I can finally sew for the shop again! Yaaaay! This is a little project, for sure, but I am super excited to have accomplished something. It's up in the shop already because I couldn't wait another day! It rained today but I managed to get some (maybe not amazing, but photography is not my forte) photos this afternoon.
I'm opening back up for custom orders, too, so feel free to send me convos and emails again.