Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bikini Boudoir (Doll, That Is)

A life-sized boudoir doll

I spent this week cleaning up after the hectic last weekend and preparing for another guest. My husband has a business trip coming up, this time in Seattle, and I'm going along. I've never been there and I want to take advantage of his new job with its spectacular travel opportunities while I can. I hope to catch up with one of my college besties while we're in town as well. So, my mother-in-law is here to watch the children while we're away.

With all the end of school activities and testing and swim team practice and packing and laundry for our trip, not to mention the regular household and garden chores, it's hard to get much else done. I was able to finish one doll. This is the second life-sized doll ordered by one of my best clients.

My client sent me the vintage pattern I used. I finished the mermaid option a couple months ago. You can see that one here: As I described in my mermaid post, I had a lot of trouble with the doll's neck flopping backwards. I suggested felt or knit might work better, so the customer sent pink knit for this doll's body.

The head is less floppy with the knit fabric.

There are pros and cons to using knit. The head is much less floppy, although it still does have some tendency to fall backwards. The knit helps the doll pose more easily than the woven fabric. The wax colored face was more difficult with the knit fabric. I could color easily with crayons on the mermaid's woven fabric face, but the knit stretches with the pressure required to transfer wax, so the features have a fuzzier look.

I sewed the seams by hand.

Another issue I had with the knit was some puckering around the limb seams. This pattern instructs the seamstress to sew the body and limbs by machine and then sew them together by hand. Hand sewing is more difficult with the knit fabric. You have to make sure the stitches are placed very close together or the fabric will gape open as it stretches.

Hand stitching puckers the knit.

I wasn't totally thrilled with the look of the seams along the limbs. It isn't as smooth as I'd hoped. I solved the issue with the bikini outfit. I added sequin straps to the shoulders to hide the seams, a choker necklace to hide the neck seam, and I pulled the bikini bottom down over the hip seams.

A choker and straps hide the seams.

I'm pleased with this giant twist on the traditional boudoir doll. Boudoir dolls were usually large, but more in the 30 inch range, not four and a half feet! They had the same soft, pillow-like bodies, but usually they wore elaborate, decorative dresses that spread out to cover the bedspread. This bikini girl wears a skimpy costume, like lingerie. Lenci produced a boudoir doll called Fadette a bit like this. She was a "modern" 1920s woman, elegantly attenuated, with exaggeratedly long, thin limbs. Fadette wore pants, had cropped hair, and smoked a cigarette. She was a decided rejection of the traditional feminine and was wildly popular.

This bikini boudoir girl is a product of another era of such transformative change in women's roles. When this pattern was produced in the 1960s bikinis were new and shocking. Using lace, as my customer chose, accentuates this daring ensemble even more. Our lovely girl has the wild, teased hair and big, lush eyelashes of Brigitte Bardot, a far cry from the structured, shellac-finished hairdos and subdued makeup of the previous decade.

I've written before about the intertwined history of dolls and women and my love of studying feminine history through dolls. Women are traditionally the primary creative minds behind doll design. I don't think it's any accident the boudoir doll, denizen of the bedroom, would be the first to push the boundaries of acceptable attire for women. If sexuality can't be expressed in the bedroom, then where? These dolls were designed to provoke, as well as decorate, to educate as well as entertain. I find the history of these dolls as interesting as the restoration, and I hope you're inspired to find out more about the genre of dolls for the boudoir. Make sure to visit my store to find many finished dolls or order your own custom doll:

In addition to the doll making, everything has gone on as usual here recently. We are still waiting to hear from the specialist in regard to our son's surgery. The garden has developed a couple new holes, which I hope are the garter snake's habitat. We haven't seen him since he got rather too much attention for his liking the first day we relocated him. I am inclined to believe he's in there eating insects to his stomach's contentment, because it seems like everything jumped up in leaps and bounds this week. I think we will have a pepper and a couple tomatoes ready when we return, barring any disaster.

We are bringing in a respectable half cup or so of strawberries every day, not bad for a year-old garden. Next summer I hope we will start getting close to our old garden's production of a pint or two every day. The great thing about strawberry plants is they will put runners out to form new plants if you let them. I let them multiply as much as they like the first few years and then start pinching off the runners to increase fruit production once I have enough plants.

Our herbs are doing well enough to harvest daily. Today we smoked some salmon with our homegrown dill and for supper I'm baking chicken breasts topped with rosemary, basil, and oregano, wrapped in nitrate-free bacon, and brushed with olive oil. Bake these at 350 for 40 minutes to an hour and you have a delicious, easy meal.

I will try to take many beautiful photos of Seattle to share with you. Have a wonderful week!

Knit fabric makes the doll very poseable.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Memorable Memorial

Memorial for a terrier

Well, "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men..." as Robert Burns put it, "gang aft agley". I sure found that out this weekend. Other than a little gardening and Instagram photography I hardly got a thing done, and we had just about the worst holiday ever.

On Thursday, a routine checkup turned into an hours-long ordeal when our oldest turned out to have an issue that will probably need surgical correction. That's still going on, as we were at the doctor again this morning before 9. Thursday night we attended the spring band and chorus concert, which stretched on for over three hours. Friday brought my parents to town with their dogs, one of which was acting sick. Saturday my sister brought her family and we all planned to go out on the boat. However, that morning my mother announced she wanted to go shopping in a little town near here. So, Jerry and I made a big lunch for everyone and then I drove my sister and mother to Lincolnton, about a half hour away.

A pretty evening at the lake.

We made it home around two hours later and packed everyone up to go on the boat, but just as we were leaving my sister realized she'd forgotten her diaper bag for the baby, so we all waited for my brother-in-law to go get it. It turned out to be a fortunate delay, because just as he arrived, the boat cut off. While the men all worked on the engine trying to re-start it, we ladies took the kids to the pool. We were thankful we weren't out in the middle of the lake when the engine went! After a couple more hours it was evident the boat was dead, so the men gave up and I went home and cooked supper for everyone. All that day my mother's dog was acting more and more sick, but we couldn't get her to attend. He was an old dog, though, and had apparently been acting sick or old for a few weeks already, so I don't know what a vet could have done for him.

On Sunday my mother wanted to shop at Ikea, so we took her over there, about 45 minutes away, while my dad and son went fishing. By the time we got home it was clear the dog was deathly ill. I gave him water with an eye dropper because he couldn't lift his head. Around eight in the evening he died. We'd promised to take the kids fishing and they were upset about the dog, so we took them, but then afterwards the men were out burying the dog in the dark of the night. Our daughter made a nice headstone for him out of a rock the next morning.

Monday's harvest from garden and lake.

My parents went home on Monday afternoon, and I proofed a research paper for my teen and corrected his friend's, since he's apparently offering my editing services while at school! I was able to harvest nearly an entire meal from the garden and lake Monday afternoon. We caught two decent-sized fish, perfect for smoking, and harvested about a pound of rhubarb, along with strawberries and herbs. That made me feel like I did accomplish something, at least! Tonight swim team starts, so that will take up the entire evening for the next few months. We also have to find a boat mechanic. Whew!

I have managed to get the wax color face done and the body sewn for the life-sized custom doll I mentioned in my last post. I'm working on sewing and stuffing that one and as soon as I'm finished I'll write my post about it. The technique is the same as my Mermaid of Lake Norman post.

I hope the rest of you had a somewhat less memorable Memorial Day, and certainly a better one. I guess, though, if we had to go through a terrible weekend, at least it was appropriate for this holiday. When we remember the sacrifices made by those who have fallen in the service of our country, and by their families, it certainly makes our own troubles seem small in comparison.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Around the World and Back in Time

Some of the work for the weekend.

This weekend was so taxing, Jerry had to literally drag me out of bed this morning. I just could not wake up! I don't know why everything always has to happen at once. We had more going on than we could attend Saturday. Toward the end of last week I got a big box of international dolls, mostly from the late 50s to early 60s, to fix and sell. None of these particular dolls are by Lenci, but many are Lenci-inspired. Without digging my reference books out I can't state this unequivocally, but I don't remember anyone else producing "tourist" dolls on a grand scale before Madame Lenci. She took great joy in reproducing the various regional costumes of Italy and the rest of the world for her dolls, and they became staple souvenirs for travelers. Everyone started copying her regional dolls. Even Gorham was producing Lenci copycats in Italy!

Polish dancers

I love the amazing intricacy of the costumes adorning these minuscule dolls. My newest lot has a late 50s or early 60s Roman woman wearing the signature Magis Roma dress. Then, there's a pair of tiny Polish dancers stunningly decked out in necklaces, belts, and flowers despite being only about five inches tall! They really look like they're dancing, they're made with so much movement.

Madame Alexander got into the act with her "Friends From Foreign Lands" Alexander-kins, and there is a pretty Italian Wendy-kins in the lot. She's an early 60s doll, my favorite Alexander-kins face mold, with her big brown eyes and star-shaped lashes and delicate coloring. These needed cleaning, and the Polish woman needed a few dots of paint. I finished those and then went shopping for more inventory.

The Warrior Dash in Rural Hill, NC

Our neighborhood, which is huge at over 400 houses, had its annual yard sale Friday and Saturday and most of the other large churches and neighborhoods held theirs to coincide. I shopped Friday evening and early Saturday morning and picked up some good vintage stuff for my store, but my teen had his first mud run, the Warrior Dash Saturday afternoon and both he and my daughter had sleepovers Saturday night, so I didn't get to hit all the sales. I spent Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon cleaning and photographing my new inventory. Then I worked in the garden for about an hour. After that we took the boat out and went swimming. When we got home I gave my teen a haircut. Then I stayed up until after midnight listing new stuff in my store. Friday alone I walked about 21000 steps, around 10 miles. That's pretty high for incidental walking, not doing a marathon or anything. So, I've had it! And I still have a mountain of muddy, wet laundry to wash.

The Sunshine Family, by Mattel 1973

Even without making it to 90% of the sales I did pick up some great finds. I got a 1973 Sunshine Family with their truck. I had the Sunshine Family and I adored them! Little baby Sweets looks so familiar! The Sunshine Family, Steve, Steffie, and Sweets, lived in their truck. It had a "piggyback shack" craft store you could attach to the back so they could travel around and sell crafts for a living. They did a lot of gardening and rode around on a tandem bicycle with a rickshaw cover. What's not to love, especially in 1970s California? They were just like practically everyone we knew! Back then my best friend was another little girl called "Ladybug."

Then I got the 1976 Mickey Mouse Club Weeble Woobles ("They wobble but they don't fall down!", Jerry exclaims every time I mention them). I had those too, along with the cowboys and Indians and their fort. My fingers respond when I close the club house door as if they were only yesterday replicating the action. It's amazing how time disappears when you find an object loved in youth or childhood.

I also found a giant sewing basket full of notions I can use in my work. Poor Jerry lugged it all around the neighborhood until it scraped his hands. I did offer to carry it, I want you to know! This contained several cross stitch and knitting patterns I doubt I'll ever get around to using, so I have those for sale in the store.

A garter snake hiding in the rhubarb.

Friday I also found a garter snake in the road and brought him back for the garden. Snakes are great pest control. I don't mind holding snakes. When I was a little girl I was always bringing animals home. Over my childhood I kept snakes, mice, turtles (one I hatched from an egg), frogs, rabbits, and all kinds of insects. I was legendary among my grandmothers for being a difficult girl. I showed up at my Norwegian grandparents' carrying an enormous flipping carp I pulled out of the lake with my bare hands when I was four and brought a live, enraged sparrow I captured, also with my hands, to my other grandparents' a few years later. My parents didn't care if I kept my animals in the basement but my grandmothers drew the line at wild animals in the house!

The garden is doing well, as you can see from my photos of the snake cleverly concealing himself in the rhubarb. All my tomato leaves from my earlier post rooted. You can read about that here: We have so many between those and the volunteer tomato plants from the compost, I'm going to have to till another few feet of garden somewhere for them!

Pretty scene on the lake: a forest of sailboat masts.

This week I have another life sized cloth doll to make for a customer, and I hope to get at least one composition doll finished. This weekend I had to chase down a person I found linking her doll listings on an international eBay site to my blog, making it look as if her dolls were made by me. I love when people learn from my blog and even use it as a reference, with attribution of course, but it's never OK to try to pretend another person's work is linked to yours or to copy someone's blog without permission. I have to admit, I was a little flattered, though. Jerry said, "You're famous enough to get plagiarized!" Just like Madame Lenci, right?

To purchase any of my fab yard sale finds or order your own custom creations, please visit my store: I hope you have a productive week!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Cissy, Grande Dame

Custom accessories for Cissy

About a week ago, when I was sitting on the tarmac waiting for our connecting flight to Charlotte to load, I got an email requesting a custom Cissy sale. This is why I love, love, love the Internet and smart phones in particular! Although I kind of never stop working, technology makes it possible for me to never stop working. And since my job is more of a labor of love than work, I enjoy it. My hope is to someday make an actual living from the work I adore.

Cissy's custom gown

Anyway, Jenn, my new customer, asked if she could buy the outfit off my Scarlett Roses Cissy for her own Cissy. This is the green velvet Madame Alexander dress I got all torn up and covered with water marks and rust stains. I altered it to restore it into a custom Cissy gown. You can see the post about that restoration here:

I'm totally fine with selling Cissy's clothing, since it isn't original to her. Now I will have the fun of designing a new outfit for her! This time I might do a cream colored satin gown with red embroidery. I have quite a few dolls ahead of her in line, though.

Photographic "sketches" I send to clients

Once Jenn received the green gown she loved it so much she ordered a headdress and bag to match. I sent a few different "sketches" as ideas for her. Instead of drawings, these are photos of the actual fabrics and materials folded and pinned so she could get an idea of what the pieces will be. I still have the jacket that went with the gown, so I used it to show the color of the gown against the accessories.

We ended up going in a different direction than the typical 50s styles Cissy might have worn. Jenn wanted something unusual and "grand". I thought, Cissy has always been a trend setter, so why not let her start the vintage clothing rage? Cissy found these fabulous fin de si├Ęcle pieces in her grandmother's armoire and she just had to wear them out. All her friends burned with envy when they saw her!

Jenn's doll doesn't have the flowers in her hair, so I think the headdress will look better than on mine. I think the ensemble has a very Downton Abbey feel. I can just see Cissy gliding down those gilded halls. This is a reason I welcome custom commissions. I learn about so many dolls and crafts new to me, like the series of 70s Barbie pets I'd never heard of, and I am able to stretch my creativity and try projects which might never have occurred to me.

My "elephant" tree

Besides Cissy's grand accessories, I've been enjoying having my Instagram profile public. I've been inspired by several photographers around the world, many of whom are just amazingly talented, and that's made me try harder to see possibilities. Yesterday I walked all around in the rain looking for neat photo opportunities and taking pictures. I pass a certain tree every day, but not until I saw it rain-drenched did I realize with its scarred smooth bark (where someone cut it all up and carved their initials long ago) and twisted gray branches, it looks just like an elephant!

Orange moon over Lake Norman

Night before last my walking buddy, Julie, and I had to stop several times to photograph the rising moon, enormous and orange, laced with shreds of sunset clouds. It's wonderful to work on my dolls, which I can churn out pretty fast nowadays, but it's also a great pleasure to try a new type of creation.

You can place your own custom orders by contacting me through my store:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Lenci Lass? Trying To Identify A Vintage Doll

Beana, a vintage felt doll

Sometimes my blog brings me a new "friend", a person of similar hobbies and interests with whom I talk online. This is one of the great wonders of the Internet. My grandmother spent many happy years playing Bridge daily with her "club", a group of Scottish ladies. They never met in person but were a wonderful, enriching part of each others' lives.

My newest online friend is Julie. Julie, an artist, loves Lenci dolls and Edith the Lonely Doll in particular, just like myself. Julie acquired a felt Lenci-type doll and wonders if I can help identify her. I warn people all the time, I'm not an expert. I do look at dolls every day, however, in my studio, on eBay, at thrift stores and estate sales, in books, so I've picked up some knowledge. I am more familiar with Lenci dolls than most because I studied them closely to learn to make the same molded felt figures. I am using the Dorothy Coleman Lenci Dolls book as my main reference.

Beana before restoration

Julie's doll, whose name is Sabina or "Beana" for short, is made just like the pre-1930 Lenci dolls, with crossed zig-zag stitching on the back of the head and a buckram-stuffed, pieced body. Later Lenci dolls of the period had a molded hollow body. Beana has stitched fingers and toes, and her feet have a cardboard insert sewn in the sole to help her stand. She has separate stitched ears applied to her head. These are all Lenci hallmarks. Beana isn't marked, however.

Beana has the early Lenci pieced body.

She has the zig-zag stitching.

Beana also has had some paintwork done, both recently and in the past. She has been re-wigged as well. I'm showing photos of her before and after the most recent restoration. I didn't realize she'd had re-painting at first and thought it was odd that her construction looked just like Lenci's, but her face looked more like a Messina-VAT or Alma doll, or even a Gre-Poir. Re-painting makes it a little harder to identify the face mold but it is very often necessary with the old fabric dolls.

Photo from the Coleman book showing the Lenci head construction.

The early Lenci body construction

Another issue with identifying unmarked Lenci dolls comes from the history of the Lenci company. Madame Lenci started making dolls as a hobby before World War I. She started her doll company around 1920. Her dolls were wildly popular and very expensive, so they spawned a rash of copies. As early as 1923 the Lenci company was running ads warning against patent-infringement and urging customers to make sure they were purchasing an authentic Lenci. World War II saw the Lenci factory bombed and nearly destroyed. A lack of materials resulted in substitutions that made Lenci dolls barely recognizable. One Lenci, for instance, was purchased in 1938 and had a bisque head marked with the Star of David. Historians speculate the political climate at the time resulted in the bisque heads, made by another company, being available for purchase by Madame Lenci at an extremely low price. In 1941 the Garella brothers, friends of Mussolini, took control of the Lenci factory and some believe forcibly kept Madame Lenci on hand for advice on running it.

Messina-VAT dolls were made by a former Lenci employee
and are nearly identical to Lenci.

A consequence of these changes resulted in many former Lenci employees scattering across the globe, where they started their own doll companies. Perotti, of Brazil, is one such, as is Messina-VAT (sometimes also called VAT-Messina). Many of these former Lenci employees' dolls are so similar to the authentic Lencis as to be almost indistinguishable.

In the case of this doll, Beana, there are many similarities but also some notable differences. Beana's eye paint seems flatter than Lenci eye paint to me, but that could be the result of re-painting in the past. With her new, heavy eyelashes she looks very much like a Gre-Poir doll, but those are made of a silky cotton rather than felt. Messina dolls also typically have more depth to their eye paint than Beana has. Beana's mouth has the typical Messina rosebud shape, but Julie tells me it has obviously been re-painted. Alma dolls have a similar face shape and eye paint, but their body construction is different, and each of their fingers is usually stitched separately.

Series 149 or 159 Lenci

Series 111 Lenci

Based on the body construction, I believe Beana is a Lenci doll, made prior to 1930. Any discrepancies in her face paint can be attributed to restorations. The face mold looks like either the 111 or 149 series to me. I welcome suggestions from any of you who have different ideas. Please comment or contact me with your ideas about Beana's true identity.

Series 149 Lencis

Series 149

Lucy Loves Summer

Last night I finished the last of my big box of small toddler dolls. This one is Lucy, by Virga, dressed in an altered Vogue Ginny outfit. I don't know the name of the Ginny outfit, but it has a frayed and barely legible Medford Vogue tag.

As you all know, I'm not a collector. I don't care about amassing a bunch of certain dolls in each outfit. Dolls that don't need work bore me, in general. I do occasionally buy a well-priced doll I can quickly resell to keep my store inventory up, but for the most part I'm in this for the restoration, for the costume design.

I know some people really love the 50s doll outfits, however, and collect those more than the dolls themselves, and can identify each outfit by name and recount all its variations. For those of you whose passion is for the clothing or identifying mint dolls or figuring out which outfit a doll might have originally worn, a helpful reader has recommended the following books: The Muffie Puzzle by Roth/Maciak, Small dolls of the 40s & 50s by Stover & The Collectors Encyclopedia of Vogue Dolls by Izen /Stover. Unless I happen to pick up another huge toddler doll lot I doubt it would be worth the investment for me, but you never know. My husband laughs at me because a typical Friday night relaxation activity for me is reading about old dolls on various blogs!

Little Lucy had a slight crotch split and otherwise needed cleaning and re-stringing. Nothing major. Her paint is really good and bright,  her mohair wig is thick and shiny, and her eyes and walker are working. I got her all fixed up and she was ready to dress.

As you can see, the dress received the greater part of time in this restoration. Originally the cotton skirt would have had alternating metallic gold, white, and purple stripes. The gold has largely rubbed off, leaving a green stripe underneath. The bodice was a loose weave linen-type mustard yellow cloth, and there was an attached metallic gold sash. Her panties matched the bodice. The bodice was shredded to the point it was almost completely gone. I couldn't even tell exactly what style it was. The skirt was also splitting apart. If I applied any pressure to the fabric it would just tear along the vertical grain.

To repair the dress as best I could, I added a new bodice made of gold satin ribbon. I thought a halter top dress would be cute for summer. I shirred the bodice and added a lavender glass bead embellishment. I made the halter ties from metallic flat braid. I preserved the original gold braid sash. I repaired the splits in the skirt. Many of these were right along the hem, so I sewed a band of gold braid all along the edge of the skirt to stabilize it and hide the tears. The skirt is still very fragile, so this is a display outfit only and should not be removed too often. The original panties are intact, though stiff and fragile.

I gave Lucy gold sandals, most likely vintage Madame Alexander pieces, and trimmed a vintage hat for her. This hat is tall and domed with a shallow brim. It's not quite a coolie hat, but it has a similar look. Those were so fashionable in the 1950s. Now Lucy really looks the part. She's ready to head for the beach! Lucy is heading to my store. I'll probably get her listed sometime tonight, so please check:

We are having unseasonably warm weather now, so I might head out for some summer fun today. I think I will go swimming while my youngest is at preschool. I have to drive the band carpool again tonight so I doubt I'll get a chance to walk.