Introducing Hannah Lavender through The Daybook of Eleanor Rose

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Although an antique doll who comes to us often feels private and personal, we  know that our antique dolls and their clothing have a history of their own. To have provenance for a doll is a wonderful validation of her place of origin and her people who came before us. Many dolls that come to us from “The Market” do not come with provenance. Below is my creative imagining for how this wax head doll, who I have named Hannah Lavender, came to her family of origin, and how she had her wardrobe bestowed upon her:

Antique French Regency dress in muslin

Antique Regency Era Fine Muslin Dress. Notice the diamond shaped back panel.

April, 1811:    It is in this month that I, Eleanor Rose, reach my 16th year. I have received an invitation to the ball to be held at Dawlish next month. I am admonished to keep my deportment demur, tho I must confess here that I am quite overcome with excitement! MaMa has orderd muslin from London. My new gown is to be the latest cut with high waist, tiny puff sleeves, and narrow skirts.

Late April, 1811:    My new gown is ready! The muslin is of pale lavender patterned in circlets. The sleeves and bodice seams are set with tiny piping, and there are self fabric bands accenting the hem. How the muslin does flow when I walk and dance! MaMa has saved some nice lavender sprigs to accent my hair, and I am to wear her amethyst necklace and earrings. The ball is Saturday next!

 

Antique Sheer Regengy dresses Hamburg Museum

Oh what airey muslin!

May 1811:    The Dawlish ball was just the most gay affair! Ever so many ladies turned out in the palest muslin gowns, though mine was not to be bested. I was introduced to Mr. Adam Fletcher, a most amiable dance partner. He attended on me often during the evening and arranged to be seated at my side for the banquet. He is to call on us tomorrow. My heart is aflutter!

Antique Regency cream muslin dress with Spencer

A spencer jacket and lovey embroidery.

June, 1817:    Our dearest baby girl, Juliet Henrietta, arrived this month–the very month that my Mr. Fletcher and I were wed these five years gone. Charles and Hudson are lovely energetic boys yet I am delighted to have a girl child to dote upon.

January, 1823:    Christmas was a fine celebration this year. Charles received a bow with arrows and Hudson has a fine set of soldiers. Juliet was delighted with her wooden doll with black curls on each side of her face. Adam also brought her a wee set of tea dishes made in the Staffordshire district. We all delighted in the artistry of the blue painting on the pot and tiny cups. They will be kept back for Sunday play until Juliet is old enough to care for them properly. We will keep occupied these cold rainy days in making petticoats and frocks from pickings out of the rag bag for the new poppet.

Regency boy and girl

Early 19th century attire for well-to-do children

October, 1847:    Our Juliet has given us a granddaughter. Praise God, the child is born alive and is thriving. She is christened Louisa Elizabeth. Master Graham, being nine years her senior will not be of an age for her playmate. He will soon be learning the estate.

October, 1856:    Louisa is quite the young lady. Adam, the ever doting Grand PaPa presented her with the most lovely wax head doll for her birthday. The doll has curls of real auburn hair and blue glass eyes. She is of a likeness to Louisa. I took my old muslin dress that I wore when I first was introduced to Adam from the rag pile. There is enough good material to make a play frock with a yoke for Louisa and a dress with tiny white braid trim for the doll. Louisa has named her doll Hannah.

Blonde girl white dress wooden doll portrait

Mid 19th century child dress with wide neckline and puff sleeves.

June, 1870: Some days my tired old bones do not allow me to walk down the stairs. Today Louisa came up to sit with me. She is quite the fashionable lady now, and is skilled at copying the latest Paris designs. She learned sewing making simple frocks for her wax doll. She brought that old doll up to show me with a new frock she had created with remnants. It is fashioned of bright red strips with gold tinsel woven in the fabric. The little frock has a low waist and a nicely fashioned coat. I must say, it lacks the elegance and flow of my old lavender muslin dance dress. I wonder what ever became of Juliet’s wooden doll with the black curls . . .

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This is how the wax head doll appeared on the sales table in Portland, August 2015. Everyone, including me, noticed the lovely and demure muslin dress before noticing the doll to whom it belonged!

Again, the above journal is a fictional account. Yet it is an apt provenance for a lovely little doll and her varied wardrobe.

Hannah Lavender is 14.5″ tall. She has a shoulder-head attached to a cloth body with possibly papier mache arms and legs with bare feet. Her limbs are smoothy painted or gessoed. She has blue glass stationary eyes and soft mohair auburn hair with bangs. I believe that she is English.

Dating wax dolls is not easy because they are rarely marked. This little girl seems to be from the mid 1800’s. A post by Dolls By DianeComplete History of Wax Dolls, gives good information on this type of antique doll.

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The lavender muslin dress seems to be the earliest style in the wardrobe , possibly dating circa 1850, while the red dress with the drop waist, pleated back, and longer jacket is an 1870’s to 1880’s style.

 

The lavender muslin dress, which is the highlight of Hannah Lavender’s wardrobe, is a lovely creation in its modesty, even though the red dress is more showy. Muslin is a plain weave fabric which originated in cotton in the Middle East and was imported to England from India. It was a favored dress fabric in the early to mid 19th century in gauzy weave of pale pastel colors. Jane Austen’s Mr. Tilney knew all about fine muslin–his sister wore only white muslin dresses. Today, we know muslin more readily in a denser weave of bleached or unbleached serviceable material that was used for backing quilts and making sheets, curtains, aprons, nightgowns, and undergarments.

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This photo shows the reverse side of the dress with the cartridge pleats at the waist. You can also see the ties that fasten the dress at the back neckline. All is hand sewn.

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The hem is reinforced with a denser cotton which gives the dress more body to hold its flared skirt. This is different from the airy flowing Regency styles shown above.

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Here is the condition of the dress when I received it, after a light laundering. The hem is adorned with two self fabric bias cut bands edged with tiny white braid at the top of each band. Some of the thread holding the bands in place has rotted away, leaving the bands loose and with frayed edges.

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A close-up shows the delicate print of white circles on the pale lavender muslin. It is faded with a few sections showing more color. The top band is newly sewn while the bottom band is tacked in place with pins to position it for hand sewing.

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Hannah Lavender’s wardrobe consists of the featured red dress and lavender muslin dress. She wears a knee-length chemise and ankle-length split drawers under her muslin dress. There is also a cream wool narrow petticoat with a cotton waistband, two coarser made short dresses (one in off-white with black velvet bands at the hem, one in pink with white stripes) and a soft muslin nightgown with a pink satin ribbon. She also has a straw bonnet with blue silk lining, which is cracked at the brim. The added brown velvet cap with red flowers compliments the red dress.

 

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Hannah Lavender is sweet and demure with her freshly mended dress. Though stable, the crack in the wax on her forehead is evidence of her age and endurance.

 

Finding an antique doll with her original wardrobe is exciting! Some dolls had several dresses and accompanying clothing made within a few years as their young mistresses learned sewing skills. Other dolls, as seems to be the case with Hannah Lavender, had clothing evidencing styles from a wider span of years and sewing skill level. The styles and construction are indeed a delight to behold, learn from, and speculate about.

 

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