Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Treasure Hunt and Old Lace

One of the things I love to do in Paris is to lose myself in the neighborhood antique fairs. If you plan a trip to Paris, you can find when and where the merchants plan to be by consulting the schedule at: Here you will find a variety of interesting fare from old toys and miniature perfume bottles to vintage crystal and period furniture. Occasionally you can find trims or old lace perfect for making a sensational dress or coat for your doll.

As luck would have it, I found what was probably a yellowed square doily and a tiny piece of beaded silk tulle. Both were not in the best shape, but for me, they were one of those rare treasures that can be transformed into a one-of-kind "couture" garment for dolly.

The lace square is easy. The lace has a lot of open work. I simply found holes that allowed for the doll's arms to pass through. Since the lace was broken in one spot, one arm only needed reinforcing. However, I had to enlarge the openwork on the other side to allow the other arm to fit through. Make the openings are low enough so that you have enough margin to fashion a collar. Now decide where you want this overcoat or dress to fit and pinch the open work around the body closed then hand stitch. (The doll's top is simply a lace collar I have wrapped around her and pinned in place.)

The black beaded material is more complicated in that when cut, the beads--which are attached with a chain stitch--will unravel. If you can design something where you don't have to cut, all the better. However, I hated this fabric as a gathered skirt. And since I don't design anything for the doll that I, myself wouldn't wear, I decided to take a chance and cut the trim in half.

I wrap the fabric around the doll, pinning in the back and then mark the pins with chalk. Then I carefully cut down this line and around the pins. You will probably lose a few beads, but you can reattach them later. Remove from the doll.

Next, make a tube underdress. I used the top part of a panty hose, but you can also use a stretch fabric. In any case this garment will not be seen.

Now take the length of trim you cut for the skirt and lay it over the dress. Using the same technique we used for making the 1-piece skirt, create your darts in the front and back. Adjust. Pin and stitch directly onto the underdress. Stitch the darts directly onto the dress, but do not stitch horizontally because you will not be able to get the dress on and off the doll.

Now take the rest of the trim and drape over the shoulders. Make a slit in the fabric over each arm (about 1 inch down) then slip the top over the doll. Fold the fabric at the shoulders front over back and hand stitch. Cut away excess fabric from under the arms. Turn the neckline under and stitch or glue in place.

For the back, I decided to only attach the top at the back of the neck with hook and eye. You can stitch it down the back leaving enough space to slide it off, but I found the beads give this piece enough weight to hold the top closed and I didn't want the beads to catch onto the beads of the underdress when taking it on and off.

Afterwards, I sewed back on beads which had fallen off and I added a few extra sequins to make up for those beads which were lost over the tears.

Both of these outfits only cost 2€50 (about $4). What a find!!!!!

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Doll Couture: Simple Drapes

At the "Paris Haute Couture" exhibition, one dress in particular, caught my eye. It was a faded boudoir pink velvet dress by Madame Gres, lush with the type of intricate, sculptural draping for which she was best known. My purpose if this posting is not to do a "how to make a complicated couture creation in 10 easy steps" (impossible feat), but rather, tips on interpreting the draping you see in these exceptional works of (fashion) art.

Photo: Gres dress courtesy Musee Galliera

A simple undergarment, well fitted to the doll's body is essential. It will support your most whimsical ideas. You can use the corset, the maillot, or a strapless version of the sheath dress for your foundation (everything is found in the index). If the drapes are to radiate from the side, the closing of your undergarment should also be on the side. Otherwise the back seam is okay. The rule is: the longer the garment and the more control you want over the body of the dress, the longer the foundation you will need. In other words, if most of your draping is over the bust, a corset will suffice. However, if you plan to do a lot of fancy draping or work over the skirt or body of the dress, you will need a dress length foundation (over which you attach and tack down another piece of draped fabric).

To illustrate my point and to get you started, we began with a 3x3 foot (or 1x1 meter) sheer scarf. Fold this in half and pinch in the middle to make a point. Take a small bit of wire--which you have bent into a necklace fitting the doll's neck--and wrap the point over the wire and tack in place. You can also use a ribbon (using Velcro on the ends to close).

My doll is wearing a strapless maillot (April14 post), made from a stretch material to ensure easy removal of the gown from the doll. Put the wire (with attached fabric) around the doll's neck. Wrap the fabric around both sides of the doll then pin it in the back and stitch it in place (with tiny stitches). One idea is to grasp each side and tack on each side. I've added a rhinestone to give the look a more glamorous look.

Here's another idea. After attaching the wire necklace around the doll's neck, I grabbed the fabric and twisted it to one side. Hold this close to the doll's body as you pull out the ends of the fabric and wrap them around the body, tying in the back. If you want to make this permanent, you will need to tack the drapes to the foundation, being careful to leave enough length at the ends so that you can wrap and unwrap them without totally unraveling everything else. Just be careful not to "sew" things down too much. You want to keep your drapes light and lively.

It helps when you have a photo of something you would like to emulate.

For the white dress, I used a longer foundation. Again, I twisted the fabric and pinned the drapes in place. I then adjusted them, tacking them at spots where I wanted to introduce direction or control the amount of fullness. Both dresses can be easily slipped on or off the doll. When finishing your dress, consider using hooks and eyes for your closures.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Queen Tut

At the Cannes' Film Festival tonight, viewers were treated to a refurbished viewing of the classic movie, "Cleopatra." It has been nearly 50 years since this blockbuster hit the movie houses with all of the drama, scandal and love story surrounding stars, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Over time, the original tape suffered color fading and scratches. The restoration division of Twentieth Century Fox
is said to have spent two and a half years restoring the film's original luster and beauty.

Though I doubt the release of Cleopatra on Blue Ray (May 28) will set off any fashion trends, I would still to acknowledge such a memorable movie. Ancient Egypt is a very difficult period to interpret into contemporary clothing. (Though this never stopped students of mine from trying.) This is why, today's posting is not about clothes, but rather, accessories that tell the story.

The secret to making something of Cleopatra's Egypt is to understand the essence of the period then break it down into the simplest lines. For me that suggests gold jewelry worn as statement pieces: collars, cuffs, necklaces.

Once again, I had fun with oven bake, polymer clay. I found gold powder which brushes on before the item is baked and hardened. I wanted the same type of rich gold you find on vintage frames or parlor chairs. For that reason, I started with a red clay as a base.

I roll out a small ball of clay then press it into a rectangle. I was afraid of staining my lighter skinned dolls, so I fashioned the jewelry on one of the darker dolls. Later for the cuff bracelet, I used a pencil, roughly the size of the doll's arm as I continued to work. For the bracelets and the neck sculpt, shape it as close to the doll as possible, allowing just enough space to get it on and off the doll.

Use a sharp object to etch patterns into the clay. For beads or collars, don't forget to pierce holes where you intend to introduce thread or wire.

Use a small brush and carefully pat the metallic powder into the clay object. Make sure you work in a well ventilated space to avoid inhaling the dust. Place in an oven at a very low temperature. The package says to bake for 30 minutes, but 10-15 minutes is usually enough due to the tiny size of the objects. Pay attention to remove it immediately should things start smoking. Allow to cool. Varnish to fix the gold.

For the white collar, I used air dried clay for a totally contemporary look. Note: the metallic powders will not work with this type of clay, although you can paint it after it hardens.

On my next posting, I will discuss the techniques used to create the white and the black gowns within the context of the Haute Couture exhibition currently on at the Hotel de Ville in Paris.

Stay tuned!!!

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Gatsby: The Fringe Benefits

In the movie, Jay Gatsby's lavish parties were so renowned, every socialite was clamoring to get on the invitation list. What a delightful excuse to get dressed up, sip champagne and dance till dawn!!! Gatsby the Magnificent focuses on an era of unabashed wealth, opulence and luxury. Everyone danced the Charleston and the Flapper Girls wore dresses that moved with every swing of the hip and kick of the leg. If there was ever a vehicle to rev up your creative juices, this is the movie to turn to for lots of fun and inspiration. Let's party!!!!

All three of the dresses featured in today's post are super simple to create even for those lacking in sewing or construction skills. They begin with a simple one-seam "tube" dress, over which rows of fringe are pinned in place and stitched. Add beads, glitter, sequins or feathers and your Flapper Girl is good to go!

For the blue dress, I used a piece of the leftover pantyhose from the black dress featured in the previous posting.

Tape the top of the material to the doll (to keep it from moving) then stretch it around the doll and pin down the back. Mark the pins (the sewing line), then trim away the excess. Lay this out flat. Then lay out a row of fringe along the bottom of the dress. Mark the placement for each subsequent row to ensure you keep each one level. Stitch the fringe in place. When finished, stitch up the back, making sure the rows of fringe are aligned at the seam. Leave the last inch open at the top (so that the doll can get in the dress). Use a hook & eye closure. I used rhinestone trim across the top of the dress. A small rhinestone clip and a bit of silk cord is used to make a necklace. (Try to find jewelry or bits of jewelry as tiny as possible to respect the scale of the doll.)

The white dress is made pretty much the same, using a novelty fringe dotted with small teardrop crystals.

For this garment, I stitched the foundation dress (using stretch lace) down the back first. Then I positioned each layer of fringe--starting from the bottom and moving up--and stitched in place. You don't want this type of fringe too dense which is why I pinned it directly onto the stitched up dress while it was on the doll. Hand stitch. It too, is fastened with a hook & eye.
My final dress starts out, again, with a tube dress which is completely stitched up first.

This tube (made from a piece of pantyhose) is totally stretchable and needs no fasteners. Even when completed, the doll slides easily into the dress. I bought a small packet of feathers. You don't need too many. Note how I have placed the first row at the hem, hand stitching the tip of the feather in place against the dress. Your next row (placed above) will be staggered so as to cover the tops of the first row. For your last row, use the feathers with the finest tips so that their tips are barely noticeable. If all of the tips are a bit thick or if you can still see the individual clusters, here is where you might want to add a tiny bit of ribbon topped off with a bow. This dress did not take very long. Admittedly, if I were to make this again, I might choose a better quality sheer fabric or lace since so much of the fabric in my design is visible. After finishing this particular dress, I felt it needed a bit of sparkle with the help a a few rhinestones glued randomly in place.

It's raining. It's pouring. But nobody is snoring. We still have our eye on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. Stay tuned!!

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013


The year is 1922 and America is in full swing in the Jazz Age. Nick Carraway (played by Tobey McGuire in the latest version of "The Great Gatsby") leaves the Midwest for New York in search of the American dream. He stumbles into a fascinating world of millionaires complete with their illusions, their loves, their lives and especially....the magnificence of their fashions.

Long before this film opened, it was already a huge commercial success. Fitzgerald's novel is renown for its references to one of the most flamboyant and elegant eras in fashion. Beading, lace, drop waists, and short skirts, all make for fun, flattering styles with generous doses of old fashion glamour. Anticipation for the film spawned trends all over Fall 2013 runways and beyond.

Brooks Brothers, Prada, Tiffany's have come up with exclusive lines inspired by the film. Even manufacturers of stockings, makeup and costume jewelry have gotten into the act.

For my postings this week, I was very inspired by the flapper girls of those times. This being 2013, however, I felt the need to remain in touch with current financial woes. My challenge was to create glamorous looks which are as lush as they are inexpensive and easy to make.

For the two looks created expressly for launch of the film in France, I went to a store called C&A (equivalent to Walmart in the US) where I found a pair of beaded pantyhose on sale for 4€50 and feather earrings for 5€. The second (beige) outfit was made from a cheap pair of panties I found at the farmer's market for a scant 2 €.

For the black outfit, cut off the part of the stocking with the beading and slide the doll inside. Pull up the stocking on each shoulder and pinch and hand stitch in place. Now, stretch the rest of the stocking so that it fits snug from the top of the hips to the knee then straight down and pin in place. Cut away the excess, leaving the upper part of the dress loose. Note how I have made a perpendicular line from the loose top to the slim hips at the back. The bottom edge of the back draped is pinched into a point and stitched shut. I glued on rhinestones to mark the tip and I stitched on one of the feathers and its chain from the earrings I bought.

I removed the other feathers and tacked them onto the dress under the knees, saving one on its chain for a necklace. The fingerless gloves are tiny tubes I cut and stitched directly on the doll. The headband is a bit of ribbon with hot glue rhinestones and the tiniest feather.

The beige outfit consists of a tunic over a skirt. I cut the panties in such a way to make use of the elastic. This is really one piece of fabric stretched over the doll's waist and hips. My hand stitching was not so pretty, so I cut designs out of the lace and stitched them over the seam.

For the tunic...I begin with the bodice slopers. I ignore the darts and lengthen the slopers at the waist to my desired length. In my case it's +1 1/4 inch. (Check to make sure the front and back side seams are equal.) I cut a V-neck at the back which is 1/2 inch down the CB. Add seam allowance only at the shoulder and side seams. I did this because I intend to roll very tiny edges under.

It is best to hand sew this due to the fragile nature of the fabric. Roll the neck and armholes in and glue in place. When you are finished, you can add a border by cutting out designs from a length of the lace and stitching onto the hem (that's how I got the geometric edging.) I added a few tiny sequins as well as a bit of soft glitter glue to give the lace a subtle sparkle in spots. (Unfortunately you cannot see it in the photo.) But it is an easy way to add a touch of sparkle without beads. The back is closed only at the top and marked with the bow (from the underpants). Otherwise, it is left open, thus allowing the skirt to show at the back.

We're not finished with Gatsby yet!!! Next up....our Flapper Girls are on the fringe!!!! Stay tuned!!!

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Garden Party

After the fashions, the food, the monuments and the sites, Paris is best known for its lush gardens and parks. The Jardin d'Acclimatation (botanical garden), the Tuileries, Palais Royale gardens, the Champs de Mars, Jardin de Luxembourg, Parc Monceau have the best floral arrangements in the city. But what is even more wonderful about the city is how every little nook and cranny--from the round-about at the Rond Point des Champs Élysées to the modest planter boxes on the balconies of the city's inhabitants--is abound with fragrant buds and blooms.

This spring is particularly pretty in the French capital. Like the parks around them, current fashions spotted on the street are abloom with fresh flowered prints splashed over either simple sheath or shift dresses, fit and flared silhouettes, even pants with matching little 60's jackets a la 1960's. The look is unassuming fresh and quintessentially youthful.

The dolls were more than willing to exchange their hip hop fashions for something so pretty. I used the quilter's squares we bought last week at the Marché St. Pierre. The flower prints were perfectly in scale with the dolls' proportions. I even went back and revisited the floral printed jeans we saw in Monoprix and two weeks ago.

The bottom of Sissilie's fit and flare dress features a gathered flared skirt. Most people make a gathered skirt using the simple, predictable way: a rectangle with a running stitch along the top edge which is then drawn close to the waist. The problem is that it creates a bell shape--the volume around the waist dissipates at the hem, so all of the initial fullness runs out and the fabric pulls your silhouette back towards the body. With the pattern featured today, there is as much fullness at the hem as there is at the waist. Since the length from the waist to the hem is equal all around the way around the doll, your skirt will bounce up and flare away from body (like the dresses in those romantic perfume commercials).

First, refer to the pattern section of this blog for instructions on drafting the 4-gore skirt. As shown, draw a line from the bottom of the dart straight down to the hem (cutting along this line) Fold the dart out, thus releasing the volume into the hem of the skirt. Take this dartless pattern piece and cut into 4 pieces.

Spread those pieces equally apart as much or little as the desired fullness. Remember, the thicker the fabric, more fullness equals more bulk, especially around the waist. Conversely, if you use a lightweight or flimsy fabric (like chiffon), you can add lots more volume.

Create the new pattern piece by tracing the new silhouette around the cut pieces. Add seam allowance and repeat for the back skirt. Whatever amount of spread you made in the front, you should maintain in the back, unless you are designing a dress with more fullness planned for the back.

For my dress, I have attached my skirt to a basic bodice. However, if you are making a skirt, I would recommend using ribbon or grosgrain cut slightly wider than the doll's waist for the waistband. Close with Velcro or hook & eye.

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