We all know that cottom is one of the best and most comfortable fibres in the world for clothing and, of course, for quilts. However, we also know that dyeing it is much more difficult than dyeing silk or wool, and requires some very harsh and toxic chemicals that contribute to the world’s pollution problem.
CSIRO in Canberra has been experimenting with genetic engineering to produce cotton fibres that are coloured rather than white. They have had some success in petrie dishes but the first crop is yet to be harvested so we won’t know if it’s a success for some months. (I also suspect that this is one of the crops that was destroyed by the hailstorm in January, so everything may have been put back by a year or so.) Once they have mastered that, they are going to work on wrinkle-free and elastic fibres which will reduce our dependence on nylon, rubber and polyester, all of which take a long time to break down in landfill.
I know some people don’t like genetic engineering, but it’s just a tool — a very powerful tool, yes, but just a tool. Like any other tool it can be wielded for good or for evil. If it can reduce the hazards that dyeing poses to both people and the environment then it’s being used for good.
I found the missing stomacher so here is a picture of Pearl (Our Generation doll) in the finished dress with buttons and a new petticoat. The old cream petticoat is underneath. It think it drapes much better now, but the added thickness around the waist has pushed the bodice up a little. I may have to modify future under-petticoats so that they are shorter and can tie around the hips rather than the waist.
Even with the pushed-up bodice, it still looks much better than the original finish:
I’m still working on the 1850s day dress. I’ve had awful problems with the sleeves and trimmings, which I’ll discuss when I eventually get it finished.
I’m also working on some masks, using various patterns and seeing which modifications add value and which are not worth the effort. I am going to have to get more 100% cotton thread — I usually use 100% polyester, which is fine for most things but can’t be sterilised at 165°C as cotton can.
Do you ever look back at something you did and ask yourself “What the hell was I thinking?”
That’s how I feel about the last six months.
In September 2019 I suddenly had a whim to start making doll’s clothes again. They were among the first things I ever sewed, way back when I was small, but I hadn’t made anything for about thirty years. It’s also something I wanted to practise so that by the time I move to Tasmania with my cousins we could have an occasional handcrafts stall with doll clothes as one of the items (along with the usual decorated towels, napkins, aprons, tea cosies etc etc).
The dolls I had made clothes for all those years ago were the ones I had had since childhood: Sandra and Julie.
Sandra is a Little Beauty doll that my parents gave to me for Christmas when I was seven. I always thought she was 45 cm (18″) but she’s actually 42 cm (16½”) and very slim, with a slightly shaped waist. She has a hard vinyl body and legs, and slightly softer head and arms. Her hair is rooted and, as you can see, is in a typical 1960s style. No matter how many other dolls I acquire, she will always be my favourite. And yes, she does need a bit of a clean-up but she’s in very good condition for her age.
A few years later my grandmother gave me Julie, a 22″ doll, which she had obtained from a neighbour of hers whose daughter had grown up. Julie came with a set of homemade knitted clothes that were probably done by the neighbour. I don’t know what brand she is — I’ve seen similar dolls from time to time but never found one exactly the same, and I doubt she’s a bona fide collectible. Superficially she looks like a German porcelain or bisque doll, but she was made in England and feels more like Bakelite (a precursor to plastic, used extensively for telephones, appliances and toys in the early to mid-20th century). She used to say “mama” when she lay down but the voice box stopped working a long time ago and may have broken off as there is definitely something loose inside her body. Her hair is wigged rather than rooted, and is quite sparse and very coarse. When I got her, around 1973, she came with a feather cut which I didn’t like so I cut it shorter (if you don’t know what a feather cut is, it’s like a mullet for girls only more layered). She used to have teeth, but they’ve gone, too, and she has a crack in one hip. One of these days I’m going to take her up to the Doll Hospital in Sydney and see if they can restore her a little bit.
Given that today’s “standard” doll is 18″ / 45 cm, I knew that neither of them would do as a model, so I looked at several 18″ dolls on the market today. At first I was very sensible: I bought one each of the dolls that are available in local shops: Positively Perfect, My Sweet Friend, Design-A-Friend, Our Generation and Soy Tu. Of these, only the Soy Tu by Paola Reina was more than $40 — she was $125 (and, as it turns out, she’s only 42 cm in height so instead of being a clothes-for-sale model she’ll stay home as a sister for Sandra). I decided not to buy an Australian Girl or Florrie doll as they were $150 each plus shipping and I thought that was far too much to spend on a doll.
I had heard of American Girl dolls, of course, but I knew they were also expensive and not sold in Australia so at first I didn’t even think about buying one new. After watching some YouTube videos on washing doll hair and bodies, I found that there was a thriving second-hand market on ebay and, after a couple of weeks’ browsing to get a feel for the conditions and prices, I found a Truly Me #22 in reasonable condition with an opening bid of USD 16.
While waiting for the auction to end (six days; I eventually won her at USD 22.50), I kept on browsing and discovered Marie-Grace. Although she wasn’t new she was in pretty good condition, with her braids intact and dressed in her meet outfit and accessories, so I bought her for USD 85 (with postage and import duty it came to AUD202).
Then I saw a #25 and thought, “She will make a wonderful contrast to the #22 — like Snow White and Rose Red”. So I bought her as well. And then there was a Samantha …
This is where the madness starts. I have no way to explain it other than “I went into a shopping frenzy”. I found more dolls available on ebay and Amazon so I bought more dolls … lots more dolls. I’ve always been an archivist / completist, so it was easy to justify getting one each of all the available 18″ dolls (Journey Girls, Kindred Hearts, Sophia’s, etc etc). Within the American Girl range that compulsion extended to one of each mould, and then one of each skintone in each mould, then all the historical dolls. Over the next four months I bought 63 more American Girl dolls and 18 more non-AG dolls, including the previously too-expensive Australian Girl and Florrie. I spent about $6000. I didn’t bankrupt myself or go into credit card debt (thank goodness) but I definitely spent far more on shipping and import duties than I want to think about.
I have 90 dolls now.
Seriously, what the hell was I thinking?
I don’t need ninety dolls. Of course I don’t.
Over the next year or two I’ll work on reselling some of the dolls and the outifts that came with them. Some dolls need hair washing and skin cleaning; some clothing needs repair. Given the current quarantine I’ll wait until much later in the year to start putting them up for sale (not that anyone will have much money for buying by then). A few may go to Christmas charity drives if non-new items are acceptable, though I suspect not. I’m not going to try to make a profit, far from it, but recouping even a quarter of the outlay would be great.
Welcome to the eighth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.
Size: 80″ square
Fabric: cotton flannel
Batting: 100% wool
Backing: cotton flannel
Pieced and quilted by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) July 2005
In July 2005 I wanted a quilt to wrap around myself when watching TV or reading. I was back in Canberra full-time by then and the cold winters required warm covers. While I had several quilts in the cupboard, they were all fairly smooth cottons, which feels cold to the touch, and they didn’t drape well. I decided I was going to make a quilt out of flannel instead (technically it’s flannelette, flannel being a wool fabric, but the term cotton flannel is used more and more these days).
The choice of patterns in flannel is much more limited than in quilting cottons, but I found six that coordinated reasonably well in pink, purple and turquoise (even if the patterns themselves were nauseatingly cutesy) with a plain pink flannel to use as sashing. I cut out 8″ squares, put sashing around them and assembled the top. I chose wool batting for its warmth, and used another flannel print as the backing. It was machine-quilted around the sashing, leaving the squares themselves open and fluffy. All told it was finished in a week.
Even though it is not a beautiful quilt by any means, it’s the one I’ve used the most since it was made. It sits on the sofa and gets pulled around me any time I get cold — it’s soft, it drapes well and it’s very warm. I’m not afraid to pull it or twist it, or to eat or drank near it. It will probably wear out fastest (some of the fabrics are of a loose weave and now, 15 years later, are pilling badly and pulling at the seams), but I can always make another one.
1. It’s a good idea to build a small flannel stash because good quality and decent patterns may not be available when you want them.
2. Pre-washing flannel at high temperature to shrink it would be a good idea to combat the loose weave.
3. Flannel cotton + wool batting is heaven.
It’s been a weird month — I’m in Canberra, so fire and smoke has been prominent in my life and to be honest, it’s hard to be creative when you’re checking the ACT Emergency Services website several times a day and sorting all the food and water stores for the umpteenth time. I think I’ve had the balcony door open all of four times since the New Year, and both I and the cats are getting increasingly fractious.
As a consequence, I didn’t accomplish much in January — I put buttons on the sacque dress and made a new petticoat for it, but now I can’t find the stomacher, so no photos. (I’m sure it will turn up eventually — things usually do, like the three costume books I couldn’t find for six months which I found two days ago hiding under a pile of other books.)
I also made a slip for the Regency style dress I made last year — you can see it above, modelled by Julie from American Girl. I made my own pattern for it and I didn’t allow quite enough room at the sides to get it over the arms of the doll — I was hoping to get away without a centre back opening, but I think the only way I can manage that is to make the fastening at the shoulders, and that will be tricky to do without altering the fit of the dress itself. I’ll have to think about it some more and try a couple more experiments. It’s also a bit too long for a quarter-inch hem, but that’s an easy fix.
Alternatively, I could add a skirt lining to the dress (the bodice is already lined so it wouldn’t be too hard).
For this month’s goal I’m going to make another doll dress, this time from the 19th century:
The pattern is by Shari Fuller of Thimbles & Acorns, which I bought through Pixie Faire.
I have the perfect fabric for it — a diagonal plaid print that I bought a couple of years ago, with the intention of using it for laundry bag linings, but it will suit the pattern very well.
As always, I will make some alterations — there will be no pleating of the sleeves, for a start (in real life this was done only as an economy measure when puffed sleeves fell out of fashion but the dress was otherwise serviceable and the cost of replacing it too high). I’m keen to try the ruffling/pleating attachment on my Singer 99K — I’m not sure if I can do that in both directions or if it will mean all the pleats going around the skirt in one direction, but we’ll see. As for the trim, I’m not sure whether to use a black/grey or to find a bright contrast like green or red.
I’m also preparing a series of posts on my new doll acquisitions — this was supposed to have been done last October but I kept adding dolls to the collection. The last few are on their way now and I should be able to start posting later this month.
Here’s my finished version, as modelled by Caroline from American Girl:
I actually made two versions of this pattern, and I’ll probably make a few more before I’m happy with it.
The first version was done in cheap cotton homespun, just to see how the pattern came together without any adjustments or alterations. It wasn’t as difficult as I had expected, except for the sleeves (part of which was my own fault because I read “cuffs” as “ruffles”). Once I got my head around the back pleats they were easy to do; the side pleats were a little harder.
There were several issues with the test garment (ignore the petticoat length, that was me being ridiculously stupid).
1. One thing I wasn’t actually prepared for was that this pattern isn’t fitted as loosely as the commercial doll patterns (Butterick / McCalls / Simplicity). Even with the modifications this dress is too tight for my very early Pleasant Company dolls (Addy is the largest I have). It may not even fit early Mattel dolls, but anything after 2011-ish should be OK.
2. Even on a later AG doll (Felicity is from 2013 and is my thinnest AG doll) the front edges didn’t drape properly — this may be a function of the variation that is inevitable in soft-body dolls, but it’s still annoying.
3. The pattern included pockets and pocket slits — they may be authentic but with dolls they are also useless.
For my second version I made several changes.
I wasn’t all that happy with how the test gown draped at the front so I made a couple of minor changes to the armscye (I added 1/8″ to the back just behind the side seam and 1/8″ to the front at the shoulder) and the front edge (added 1/4″ to the front edge; reduced the angle of the seam at the yoke) and it fits better now.
I altered the back pleats so that there was one central box pleat and then three knife pleats on each side. It looks OK but I think I’ll fiddle around with it some more — maybe two box pleats either side.
I also replaced the box pleats at the waist with gathers. This wasn’t very successful, as you can see, because the gathers went right up to the bodice side seam. If I do gathers again (and I probably will). I’ll sew a straight seam out about half an inch and then gather to the edge – the gathers are only needed to allow the skirt to curve over the extended hip.
I made the stomacher a little narrower — the original version was too wide and looked out of proportion with the dress. I embroidered the front with a decorative stitch on my Janome 9400 — unfortunately I didn’t align the starting points as precisely as I had hoped, so that is something to work on in future. It’s pinned in these photos because I want to fasten it with 5 pearl buttons and thread loops on each side, and I only have 6 buttons. I could use hooks and eyes, but in my experience they never fit as well as you think they will, especially at this scale.
I wasn’t happy with the sleeve length on Caroline, so I tried the dress on two other dolls that have longer arms: Pearl from Our Generation and Galina (unnamed ballet doll) from My Sweet Friend.
I really liked the sleeve length on Pearl but the button on the back (to control the hair extensions) made the dress drape really badly so when I make a sacque for her I’ll put an opening in the back of the bodice lining so that the button is between the lining and the outer back.
Unfortunately Galina’s torso is a fair bit slimmer than any American Girl doll, so the extra centimetre in her arm length was counteracted by the looseness of the bodice – you can see it bulging outward under the arms.
Overall, though, I am fairly happy with this project.
Things I will change for future versions:
— the sleeves themselves are a little too long for AG dolls — by the time the ruffle is added the sleeves reach to the wrists, which is a little long. Next time I make this I’ll take out about 1 cm from the sleeve. I’m also going to reduce the sleeve cap a little (just a little) so that it’s eased in rather than gathered in.
— I really need to consider handstitching the sleeves to the bodice. Between the tight curves and the gathers it’s extremely difficult to sew an accurate seam on the machine, and that doesn’t help with the fitting issues.
— It may be worthwhile to make two stomachers (one narrow, one wide) to allow the dress to fit more than one doll.
— I also want to make a hoop skirt to go under this gown. It’s always a mistake to make a dress without making the relevant underwear and I should have remembered that.
1. Doll dresses need fitting and tweaking just as much as human dresses do.
2. Doll seam allowances are not at all forgiving. Be better!
3. Period dresses need period underpinnings.
4. I need to practice decorative stitches more so that I can align them more precisely.
I should have made this report yesterday, but the bushfires held my attention and I make no apology for that. I’ve been affected by smoke haze for the last month, but luckily there are no actual fires in my vicinity (fingers crossed it stays that way). I was very relieved to learn that Rosemont The Patchwork Shop (their Facebook page) survived the fire in Mogo, though I have no doubt that the fabric will be badly affected by the smoke.
2019 was a reasonably good craft year for me: some achievements, a couple of fails and a surprising new direction.
Firstly, I managed to finish and send off seven quilts and twelve laundry bags for Aussie Hero Quilts. Unfortunately I forgot to photograph two of the quilts which I regret deeply, as I like to keep a record of what I make and there’s no way to get a photo now unless the recipients choose to send one to AHQ.
For myself I was able to finish one large quilt (En Bourgogne) and one small quilt (Tumbling Blocks), both as part of the 2019 Finish-A-Long project.
Other work during the year included 30 stained glass blocks and the partially completed Blue Christmas, which is still only half-quilted. Eh, I’ll get around to it before next Christmas, I’m sure. I also worked on Pentastic 2: Flame Rose as my wrists and thumbs permitted — I overdid it in March and I’m still feeling the effects, though it’s much, much better than it was a few months ago. I haven’t finished the green units yet but that’s not a huge issue as there is no deadline for this project.
Last, but by no means least, I had a sudden and unexpected diversion into doll dressmaking, which I would like to continue into the next decade — there’ll be much more on that next month when I write up my FAQ Q4 project.
My goals for this year are modest:
1. Finish one full-size quilt
2. Finish piecing Penrose 2: Flame Rose
3. Make a dust cover for my 9400
4. Improve my doll dressmaking skills (those tiny curves are so hard!)
So … I honestly thought I’d posted this last week, but it turns out I hadn’t. Please ignore my embarrassment.
AHQ: I’m halfway through another three generic bags for RAAF Butterworth. I need to get them finished as well as this month’s goal (see below).
FAL: I was supposed to finish Blue Christmas by 10th October but failed dismally. I hope I’ll get the rest of the FMQ done by the end of the month so I can put it up as a decoration in December, but we’ll see how I go.
In the meantime, I’m working on the doll-size sacque dress I nominated as this quarter’s goal. I made a toile of the bodice lining to fit the bodice, but then I wasn’t sure how to alter the back to fit the revised lining, so I’m going to make the dress without alterations first and then I’ll work out how to alter it. I know that precise fitting on a sacque isn’t important, because the loose fit was the whole point, but the design as printed seemed to be sagging in the pattern illustrations and I wanted to eliminate that.
Still going on the green rosettes for Flame Rose, plus I’ve figured out how to tweak the last round of roses so I only need two brown fabrics instead of four. At the rate I’m going I estimate a finish date (for the units, anyway) of March next year. I’d like to get the top assembled by May 2020, which will be the two-year anniversary of the start.
AHQ: I picked up a quilt in Monday’s request list (28th October) with a due date of 02 December, so that will be my goal this month.
Welcome to the seventh in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.
Size: 235 x 280 cm (93″ x 110″)
Design: traditional basket block
Batting: low-loft polyester (I think)
Pieced: by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) 1998-2000 (blocks) August 2002 (top)
Quilted: by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) September-October 2002
Completed: November 2002
In my early years of quiltmaking (the late 80s, early 90s) I purchased various packs of fat quarters and fat eighths in order to build my stash. Many of these were “ditsy” prints (small floral sprigs) which I found I didn’t care for very much, so they languished in the cupboard.
In 1998 I decided to use up as many of these fabrics as I could by making a scrap quilt. In order to have as little waste as possible I chose a very simple basket pattern (basically a half-square triangle with a bias-curve handle). Over the next two years I made hundreds of blocks … literally, hundreds of them. I had so many blocks I had no idea what to do with them.
In 2002 I was posted to Sydney. I was living in a furnished apartment close to work during the week and commuting back to Canberra at the weekends. I wanted a quilt to use as a bedspread (it being too warm there for a doona) so I picked out around 260 of the basket blocks to assemble into what I hoped would be a colourful and cheery quilt. I quilted it in the ditch by machine (which took a fair amount of effort and a lot of rolling and clipping to get it through the small harp space) and bound it in a yellow print similar to those in the top.
When I put it on the bed, I discovered that while it was, indeed, colourful and cheery, I just didn’t like it. The fabrics were not to my taste and in all honesty I hadn’t arranged them as carefully as I might have done with a little more effort. Still, it did the job intended and saw me through another two years in a city I dislike. The silver lining is that I wasn’t terribly upset when I spilled a cup of tea on it (some of the stain remains to this day).
Apart from two baby quilts I made for my mother’s church fête, I never did anything with the rest of the blocks (approximately 500) which remain in a bag in the cupboard. From time to time I play around with ideas on sashing and embellishments, but I suspect that they’ll probably end up as a charity donation one day.
1. If you don’t like the fabric, you won’t like the quilt.
2. It’s hard to quilt in a small harp space.
3. An ugly quilt is still a useful quilt.
4. Tea stains add character.
Well, after having failed miserably on my Q3 project (I still haven’t finished the FMQ) my only hope of achieving anything in Q4 is to choose a small project. I’m branching out from quilting and trying my hand at doll dressmaking. I’ve already done one Regency-style dress from a Carpatina pattern (more on that in another post) so now I’m being a little more adventurous and I’m nominating this 1770s sacque gown from Thimbles and Acorns (disregard the mistake on the cover – it’s actually “pet en l’air”):
I’ve always loved the look of the sacque-back gown (and its jacket equivalent, the caraco) but I could never work out how to put it together. Luckily this pattern is fairly detailed.
Even better, after buying the doll pattern I found that American Duchess has a a sacque pattern available through Simplicity (8758 for the dress and 8759 for the relevant corset and panniers) which also has very clear instructions. After having read both patterns carefully I’m now much more confident in how to achieve the final dress.
On the downside, I am constitutionally incapable of following any pattern to the letter, whether it be quilting or dressmaking. I don’t know why, but I have to alter something — the colour scheme or the size or the setting or the fabrics or the trimmings, or some other small detail. Usually it works out all right but there have been one or two mishaps along the way.
In this case, I’m ditching the fabric ruffles — I know they were wildly popular at the time, but I’ve never been a fan of this particular detail and there are several examples (in both paintings and surviving costumes) where the dress is decorated by lace or embroidery instead. I’ll use lace this time and see how it turns out. I may try machine embroidery (or even hand embroidery) in the future. I’m also thinking about the sleeves and cuffs — the pattern wants me to line the sleeves and use doubled-over fabric for the cuff which will be very stiff so I may cut that back to single layers.
The pattern really needs silk but for this first effort I’m going to use cotton. It won’t look as authentic, perhaps, but it will still look better than these horrific examples (which I’m sure have only survived because no one on Earth has the complexion to wear them successfully):
When selecting the cotton for this gown, I first thought of using this very pretty small-scale chintz:
But then I realised that it’s too nice to be used as a first run, given the likelihood of mistakes. My next though was one of these two:
But that would be hypocritical given my comments on the two museum gowns I showed above *snort*.
Eventually I chose this one — there is a design there but it’s subtle enough that it won’t interfere with the shape of the gown, and it was a cheap purchase from Spotlight a couple of years ago (I think it was $6/m) so I won’t cry if I have to scrap the gown and start again. (And yes, I know I could use muslin or a solid, but where’s the fun in that?)