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Saturday, 29 August 2009

Handmade dolls, Heidi Ott dolls and smocking

When I was a teenager I was inspired by some tiny peg jointed dolls in a Museum in the town where my aunt still lives. Even though I didn't have the tools or the skills to make really good dolls, I started experimenting with twigs, small pieces of roughly carved wood, and pins. Eventually I succeeded in making a 1/12th scale wooden jointed doll that somehow satisfied me.

I can't recall how I managed to bore the holes through the main body of the doll for the arms and legs, it may have been with a hand drill (I wasn't brave enough to use an electric drill), but I know my woodcarving tools were pressed into service for the shaping of the bodies, and and glue for the feet. The joints were fixed with steel pins and solder so the doll is definitely not of a safe quality for child play (I did use flux for the solder, but cannot vouch for the joints), and I painted her carefully with gloss paint (which I wouldn't use now, as it gives an unnatural shine). But these were the best materials I had to hand at the time.

I was obsessed with creating hair that looked more natural than the traditional painted topknot, so painstakingly stitched different cotton threads into a small piece of material which I glued to her head. As you can see from the photo I even used different colours in her hair to make it more realistic. Then I had great fun making her white bloomers and miniature smocked dress, with the tiniest print material I could find. I was really proud of this dress, and more than 24 years later I'm still pleased with my teenage efforts.

I then made this little doll a younger brother. He has rather a spiky hairstyle, as I didn't want to glue his hair flatter, so he has the appearance of a rather cheeky, naughty little boy. I also sewed his clothes.
Their faces aren't very good - I was still a beginner at that time in painting detail, and some paint has flaked off the side of the girl's face. But they look happy.

These two dolls were my best efforts - although they gained parents and a baby sibling, none of those dolls were anything like as good as these two: the others were rather clunky in style and the joints didn't hold up so well, so I threw them away not so long ago, as they didn't stand the test of time.

About 2 1/2 years ago my elder daughter acquired three Heidi Ott dolls for her dollshouse which we built from a kit. I made clothes for all these dolls, as they had none. The boy wears a knitted sleeveless top over his shirt, and a pair of trousers, all of which I made, and the girl wears a smocked dress. I actually referred to the earlier smocked dress I had created all those years ago to remind myself of what looked effective, and of course wanted to improve as much as possible. All these clothes (even on the wooden dolls) are easy to remove or put on again - the earlier outfits have beads and loops for fastenings, the newer dress has miniature buttons with button holes stitched with blanket stitch. The third Heidi Ott doll is an adult - Mrs Harvey, but more about her in the future.

It is interesting to compare the newer dolls and clothes with the handmade dolls. I'm proud of the fact that I got the scale about right and that my wooden dolls have a unique character and charm of their own, even though they are very rough, and definitely cannot stand up to a child playing with them. I like the fine detail in the faces and hands of the Heidi Ott dolls, and their hair, but rather wish that they didn't look so hunched around the shoulder area with their new clothes on. Their bodies are fabric covered wire armature, and the padding is rather too much for their clothes to hang naturally off their shoulders. So the wooden dolls will go back in the doll display cabinet, whilst the Heidi Ott dolls will return to Harveys toy and cake shop (which I'll blog about soon) before my daughter discovers they have been involved in a photo shoot.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Horrible velcro again

Anna in her new Gotz dress

This morning my younger daughter wanted to change my Anna doll into party clothes, and we realised that Anna's own wardrobe consisted of her original outfit with the lovely suede boots, a skirt and the navy party dress I had made, her ice skating dress and silver skates, but no party shoes - she had borrowed black boots from one of the other dolls at Christmas for the party dress photo. So I decided to give her a present which had been hidden away since I had bought some of the 2009 catalogue clothes earlier this year for my girls dolls. This was the only item still not brought out from that secret stash of clothes and I had always intended it for the Anna doll.

It is a lovely silvery dress with red and white patterned rouched skirt, matching silver shoes and handbag. However after putting the dress on, my daughter decided the other party dress had to go on first for a dance before this new dress could be worn for a picnic, so off came the dress again. However the long velcro strip down the back kept catching the inside of the dress, and in taking it off, the top of the dress was damaged on either side (and I was being careful).

Both sides of the back of the dress were damaged when removing
the dress for the first time - all because of the velcro

I also noticed that the little handbag was vastened with velcro, but the tabs didn't line up well, and the bag was closing in a distorted fashion, and the flap was gaping badly. Additionally, the velcro was catching on the silver threads in the material.

The not properly closing handbag and
the badly position velcro which caused the problem

I was really disappointed and annoyed about this - nasty velcro once again was causing problems for the clothes, resulting in destruction.

There was only one solution, and I acted immediately. Out came needle and silver thread (rather stiff stuff to use for sewing) and I used careful blanket stitches to repair the damaged dress. Later in the evening I sewed press studs (silver rather than black) on the handbag and removed both strips of velcro so the bag now closes properly and I've pulled the slight natural distortion straight again.

The little handbag with press studs, without velcro

In the afternoon three of the dolls joined my young daughter for a picnic tea party in her bedroom. Samantha was dressed for ballet, Jayne was dressed in some of Samantha's original skating outfit and Anna came in her new party dress.

Picnic tea party

The ruched skirt is kept in place by a white band stitched on the inside of the skirt which makes the skirt narrower than it looks, so this meant getting her to sit could only be done by pulling the skirt up a bit. But despite this annoyance, and the irritation of having to do repairs and adjustments to a new bought outfit, it is still a lovely dress, shoes and bag set.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Sorting clothes

I still haven't had a chance to make Susie, my childhood Roddy doll, any new clothes. However today I raked out the bag of clothes that I had for my childhood dolls (including some I had made) to sort out. Several items (very creased) have gone to wash (in a bag) and will be ironed and repaired where necessary. But one little dress that I bought years ago on a home made dolls clothes stall at a large annual fete was clean and just needed a little ironing, and the shirt I had made to go with it was fine. So Susie had a change of clothes and now looks very fetching in orange and white gingham and white shirt.

One of my early childhood dolls was given to me by my brother, who won her on a tombola stall at a show when I was about four. She has the body of a baby doll (hard plastic) and a vinyl head, and came with long brown hair which seemed a bit odd on a baby body, so she was always treated as a child doll rather than a baby. Unfortunately her eyelashes are mostly missing and her hair inevitably got trimmed but fortunately never had the drastic treatment that poor Susie endured, and is still quite acceptable now, with no missing plugs. I named this doll Amelia-anne after the character Ameliaranne Stiggins (Ameliaranne and the Green Umbrella), as we had several of those books which had been my mother's. I've re-dressed Amelia in a blue gingham dress for these photos, a colour scheme which seems to suit her. Whereas Susie is rather a serious but sweet looking doll, Amelia is unfailingly cheerful and rather cheeky.

Susie and Amelia in their gingham dresses

It hadn't occurred to me what type of doll Amelia is until this evening, so I checked her over for marks and discovered 'Chiltern dolls' 'Made in England' on the back of her vinyl neck. She must be early 1970s but I haven't found anything quite like her in a quick web search, so have a bit more sleuthing to do. She is 13 - 13 1/2 inches tall, and looks like the 'Debbie' doll face, but with bent legs.

Susie, Amelia-anne and Anna (my Gotz doll) are on display in my bedroom. Occasionally my girls ask if they can play with them, and they always treat them carefully then put them back. At one point Susie spent a few nights on my younger daughter's bed with her Gotz girls.

Susie, Amelia and Anna

Susie and Anna
(about time Anna changed out of her skating outfit)

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Caravanning dolls

I've been away caravanning with the family and the dolls! Back in May I made sleeping bags for the 4 Gotz dolls owned by the girls when we went caravanning, and these were very popular with both of them, and were also a good way to transport the dolls in the long car journey - they were slipped into their bags which protected them and their clothes and made them easy to grab and carry into the caravan.

Jayne, Peter and Harriet all comfy in their fleecy sleeping bags,
which have proper zippers

This time however I thought we might not take them, as we were taking my cousin's two children (boy and girl) with us, so space was at a premium. However not only did we take the four, but also my cousin's daughter decided to bring her three, and suddenly the caravan was overrun with 7 dolls besides all the humans (and the family dog!). For the purposes of sanity preservation, the dog slept in the awning for the whole 6 days (especially as he is danger to anything precious that is chewable).

Fortunately the two elder children decided that the 2 berth tent in the awning was the best option for their sleeping arrangements, so the table and seats which convert into a bunk could remain as a useful table - and ice rink! Because Dancing on Ice competitions was what the 2 younger children did all week with the dolls (thank goodness the table surface was scratch resistant). I didn't have time to take photos of this event, but inbetween cooking and co-ordinating 6 people, it was fascinating to eavesdrop on their competitions and the interaction between the two girls (aged 7 and 5). I've noticed that the doll play of my younger child has definitely developed and moved on since she acquired her first play (rather than baby) doll at Christmas. At first all she did was change the doll's clothes and perhaps have short conversations with the doll, but now the dolls 'talk' to each other or she holds slightly longer conversations with a doll, and storylines are starting to emerge, usually centred around the current event of the time (like getting dressed for something, preparing to go somewhere or treating a doll with a sore tummy).

Just before we went away, my elder daughter spent a whole evening quietly enjoying the Harriet and Peter dolls, and the horse! She has decided that the horse is Peter's, as the boy doll looks so smart in the dressage outfit. In fact she was the one to suggest that the dolls come caravanning with us again. She had just spent two weeks at 2 different camps with lots of other teens, and I commented that it was interesting seeing her playing with the dolls, to which she replied that she didn't often get the opportunity (term time is so busy). I think she was really appreciating having a chance to chill out on her own without all the socialising she had done in camp (both of which she enjoyed) and doll play was an undemanding, relaxing pastime. By the sounds of it there will be a certain amount of collaborative doll play this week during the holidays, and she has placed an order for Girlguide/Rainbow uniforms for the dolls to help celebrate the Centenary year! Help - it looks like I'll have to get the sewing machine going again soon.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Close ups of inside the Triang House

I realised that the photos I posted of my earliest dollshouse are not very close up. They were taken over 25 years ago with a very simple camera and were the closest I could get without blurring the images. Now that I have a rather better, digital camera, I have tried experimenting with taking close up photos of some of the furniture in situ, though the photos still aren't great but do give some idea.

Bedroom with beds over quilted!

You will see from these photos that the layout of the bedroom has changed a bit. In the earlier photos, there were plenty of little inhabitants of the house, and they all needed beds. The Triang house is very cramped (it was one of my earliest desires to enlarge it, I dreamed of a staircase) and for a family this size, bunk beds were necessary. The earlier photo has reminded me that I actually made a simple bunk out of pieces of wood in my father's garage (where the house had been reassembled by my grandfather some years before), and I now realise why the two remaining beds have so many quilts - because I made quilts for all 3 bunk levels of the rather chunky bed which no longer survives.

In the bedroom, the two beds and the bureau came with the house when my grandparents brought it over, I assume they were the furniture that my mother owned. I adored the bureau as it is lined with red inside the top for the writing desk, and the drawers really come out and in. My sister once found a tiny white feather and we poked this in a bead for the inkstand, to fit the writing desk. The beds and bureau are nicely made of plywood. I bought the wardrobe in an antique shop in Bath during a visit to England in 1985, along with the little bedside table. The jug and bowl were made by fay of Cape Town, there is a similar green one in the sitting room. These items delighted me as a child. Also upstairs is the ancient lead bath, which as you will see from the photos is very scratched, revealing the lead.

The detail of the bath also made it special
to me despite the fact that lead isn't a safe material for a plaything.

In the sitting room are the original chairs that came with the house (re-covered by me), along with the fireplace and coal scuttle, which are made of metal (cast iron I think). These are truly lovely and detailed and I am so relieved we didn't lose them when we were small (though I notice the central bar of the fireplace is broken off), like we did the black plastic (but very elegant) grand piano that my grandparents brought over with a little lamp when the house was rebuilt. They also brought a family of 4 dolls, sadly long since lost. I subsequently bought lots of little plastic baby dolls with sweet faces and moving limbs from the local shop, I've still got these, but they are currently in storage, so I can't photograph them.

The fireplace and coal scuttle - if you can help identify the maker
of these, I'd be very pleased.

The red piano is the treasured replacement for the plastic grand, as my mother visited England without us in 1981 and brought back a collection of items for the dollshouse, including the new standard lamp and the wonderful piano with a lift up lid and smart little stool. The grandfather clock is actually a pencil sharpener cover, but is nicely to scale for this house and seemed to fit the other furniture in this room.

The red piano with the yellow plastic telephone,
and the green jug and bowl by fay.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Alterations to Gotz top

My cousin gave her daughter the Gotz Horseriding Sarah doll set for her birthday. The 2008 stock were retailing in TKMaxx for £29.95 which was a bargain compared to the usual price of around £60.00. The new doll was named Lacey (from the Barbie film of the 12 dancing princesses) and was soon changed out of her general riding outfit into a new AG doll dress bought via ebay. However getting the grey fleece top off the doll was difficult (I did it in the end) as the top had a zip that only goes half way down from the neck, and no other opening to help get the top over the head. The Gotz dolls do not have bending arms and the thumbs got caught in her braided hair when my cousin attempted to get the top back on the doll later.

We agreed a plan - I have some small separating zippers I had bought for making zippered fleece jackets for my girls dolls, so I brought the top home with me and inserted the new zipper, making it into a jacket. I didn't have a grey zipper, it had to be white, but I think this looks fine with the grey.

It is a shame that Gotz designed this top to be difficult - I'm sure it wasn't intentional and I wonder how many little girls have had problems with it. On many of the Gotz outfits they have used velcro fastening, but this is awful especially when it is a skating dress (the special edition pink dress in particular) in combination with the fine tights - the velcro rips the tights if you aren't careful, and when it is a child dressing the doll, the tights have no chance! I notice that the new Australian Girl doll outfits are made with as little velcro as possible, and I certainly avoid using velcro fastenings for the doll clothes I make - buttons or snap fasteners do the job fine. I guess that the velcro is easy and cheaper to fit though when you are mass producing doll outfits in a factory.

Unpicking the old zipper

The new zipper in place - I stitched it by hand then by machine.

Separating the zipper, turning the top into a jacket.