Nuances of an Art Recapitulated

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A reproduction Lydia china doll with well done face painting

Antique dolls are an art form. It is easy to see the art in the beautiful French bisque dolls of Bru, Steiner, and Jumeau, yet the less complex porcelain china dolls exhibit their artistry in the design of their face and shoulder mold, in the purity of the porcelain from which they are made, and in the beauty of their hairstyles and face painting. As one who collects and studies antique dolls, I often come across reproductions of the antique dolls in my searches. The durability of the one piece porcelain shoulder-heads renders them quite attractive for making new molds from the antique heads.

In all fairness though, molds, or copies,  were being made of the old doll heads when they were still contemporary. Old papier mache heads have been found that are copies of German china dolls, and not all have a known maker. Martha Chase modeled her cloth dolls after French or German bisque dolls of the time, possibly using a bisque doll as a mold for her oil painted dolls. Even the Schoenhut “Miss Dolly” was modeled after a German doll owned by a child in the company’s family.

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This Schoenhut wooden Miss Dolly doll in my collection dates to about 1915.

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Schoenhut, an American manufacturer, found it profitable to add the Dolly Face doll to their line of character dolls at a time when dolls could no longer be imported from Germany during WWI.

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Here is an antique German bisque dolly face by Heubach. The Schoenhut doll above is quite similar with fat cheeks and pretty, but non-descript, features.

Many antique china dolls (as well as other antique dolls) are so rare now that a well executed reproduction can be a blessing for collectors like me who may never see one of these older revered dolls, much less ever expect to own one.  For this reason, a few artistic reproduction dolls, as well as a reissue doll, have gained entry with respectable status into my collection of antique dolls.

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I have already introduced you to my reproduction Izannah Walker doll, Miss Ruby. She is a faithful and artistic rendering of an antique doll, made by Paula Walton. She is very close in her production to an antique Izannah Walker doll, and very likely as close as I can come to owning an example of this highly sought after and extremly expensive example of American folk art at its’ best.

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Miss Ruby is my reproduction Izannah Walker doll

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Cordelia, a reproduction china doll, has pleasant face painting, but it is not the same as an antique German china doll. Also, the glaze on her porcelain causes the crisp lines of the detailed braids to be lost. She is not signed by the artist.

Another reproduction doll in my collection is my first china doll, Cordelia. She was most likely molded from a Parian doll, a porcelain doll that was not glazed, but made from white bisque. This hairstyle was also reproduced by Emma Clear and named “Toinette.” I have not yet found an antique doll with braids like Cordelia to add to my collection.

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This antique Parian doll has the same hairstyle as Cordelia, but with added flowers in the loop of the braid. She also has molded lace around her shoulders and glass eyes. Her braids are crisp with individual brush strokes in the hair. She is much more exquisite, and better artistically rendered than Cordelia.

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An antique  Hertwig “Curl on Top” china doll is shown next to a reproduction of the same doll.

The Hertwig “Curl on Top” china doll is uncommon, but not rare. I purchased the reproduction of this doll, on the right above, while waiting to find an antique one to add to my collection. I was not happy with the reproduction. In comparison, the porcelain quality is inferior, the hair color is a bit garish and lacks crispness, and the face painting has no depth. I am happy to have found my antique Hertwig doll. Notice that the reproduction shoulder-head is slightly smaller that the original. This shrinkage occurs when a mold is made of an existing head. The new head is molded from the antique and shrinks when fired in the kiln.

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The face painting on this 13″ Hertwig doll is typical for this manufacturer, circa 1900. The hair is nicely molded with brush strokes.

Another doll on my wish list is an 1840’s Lydia china doll. Unfortunately for me, this antique doll is quite rare, and well out of my price range when she is to be found. I have, however, seen a few good reproductions of this doll, and I was fortunate enough to have added one to my collection.

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An antique china doll with Lydia hairstyle circa 1840. The face painting on this doll indicates that she was made by the A. W. Kister Porcelain Factory. Note her pink tint with whites of eyes.

The reproduction that I purchased has an appropriate reproduction body with flat soled shoes and spoon hands. Her face painting is well done. She cost me 1% of the $5000 to $6000 that an antique Lydia sells for.

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This is the reproduction Lydia, marked “Rossi” on the back of her shoulder-plate. She may have been molded from a doll like the one above. Her coloring is not as high as the antique doll pictured above, and her lips are painted differently, yet her painting is good. As with the antique Lydia, she has a pale pink tint and the whites of her eyes remain white.

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The little doll in the pocket of the antique dress is an antique “baderkinder” or Frozen Charlotte with a Lydia hairstyle.

“Curly Top” is another uncommon, though not rare, china doll that is often found reproduced. This one with black hair is marked “P S” on the back of her shoulder-plate.

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The painting on this 3″ reproduction Curly Top is well done, but not quite like the originals. Again, the hair is not crisp through the thicker applied glaze. Some antique Curly Top dolls have delicate wisps of hair painted at the tips of the curls.

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This circa 1880 antique Curly Top in my collection, with Cafe Au Lait hair, is larger than the reproduction above, with a shoulder-head that measures 5 3/4″. She is beautifully painted in the style of Alt Beck & Gottschalck dolls. The accent line painted between her lips has a very slight V dip in the middle which gives her an introspective smile.

Almost all of the newer china doll copies are reproductions; however, there is one that is a re-issue of an antique doll made by the original company. This is the Royal Copenhagen porcelain doll with a brown bun that was originally made in the 1840’s. Royal Copenhagen re-issued this porcelain shoulder-head from their molds beginning in 1977 with production lasting into the 1980’s. This doll (along with a larger lady and a boy doll) is well made and artistically rendered from the original company. It is difficult to tell the difference from the original antique doll. She is a work of art, beautifully sculpted with her long lady’s neck, mature face, pale pink tint, and face painting details.

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The smaller re-issue Royal Copenhagen Bun Lady doll in my collection is also known as “Amalie” by collectors.

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This antique 1840’s Royal Copenhagen doll, from the collection of Kirsten Johansen, was featured on the May 2015 cover of Antique Doll Collector magazine for their article on Royal Copenhagen Dolls.

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“Denmark” and the Royal Copenhagen waived blue lines are clearly visible on the back of the shoulder-plate of the re-issue doll in my collection.

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I recently found an appropriate body for this doll with low heeled shoes and lady-like hands, but she has no clothing yet.

With much of what we consider as art at its’ finest, we must visit a museum to see it in all of its’ splendor. It is the rare and wealthy collector who can hope to own a Degas sculpture or a Carl Larsson painting. We may decide to bring home a small reproduction of a favorite sculpture, or a print of a painting we admire. Likewise, some of the most lovely antique dolls are so rare that bringing one into our personal collection is just not possible. Of course an oil painting will be much higher quality than a print of that painting. And so an original antique doll will be superior to a reproduction. With this maxim in mind, it is best to bring the antique doll into a collection whenever possible. Yet a good quality reproduction of an antique doll can bring the art of the doll recapitulated into our space, and bring joy to our collection when the original doll is out of reach.

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Antique photo of girl holding a Covered Wagon style china doll

May you surround yourself with art that speaks to your heart and soul.

The Making of Moira

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Some antique dolls are just special, and you know it when you find them, even when they are not whole. Moira is such a doll. I found her as a shoulder-head with no body sitting on a shelf with another more common shoulder-head. I brought them both home with me.

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Moira’s hair is puffed around the back of her head and covered by a snood. Some of the black color has worn off the high points on the back of her hair–a sign that a long-ago little girl played with her and loved her.

China dolls are unique among many other dolls because their molded hair does not change with time, and it holds a record of a specific fashion in its time. Of course, the most commonly found china dolls are the lowbrows, which were made into the 1920’s or 30’s. The flat tops, while older and dating as far back as the American Civil War era, are still common and readily available. Dolls with more unusual hairstyles add variety and interest to a collection, and incentive to study their history. I was immediately attracted to this doll’s hairstyle which has a puffed roll around the back of her head covered by a snood, with the front of her hair exposed with a center part. She also has beautiful face painting with a serene expression.

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German Chinas page 155 has a photo of a doll similar to Moira in the Conta & Boehme section.

When I turned to my invaluable reference book, A Pictoral Reference Guide for German Chinas by Mary Gorham Krombholz, I found a photo of a doll very similar to Moira in the section on Conta & Boehme dolls. This was exciting for me because I rarely see dolls made by this factory. Conta & Boehme made porcelain products in Poessneck, Thuringia from 1800 until the factory closed in 1931. The earliest china doll shard found on the factory site dates to 1845. This doll with a snood dates to the mid 1860’s. Some Conta & Boehme dolls are marked with the company’s trademark of a shield with a bent arm inside. If Moira had such a mark, it is now lost because her shoulder-plate was broken and is professionally repaired. The repair is so well done that I cannot find the edges. The only difference in the repaired part is that the porcelain is more opaque and creamy. It does not have the ice-blue luminous quality of old porcelain, as does the face of this doll.

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It is difficult to tell that Moira’s shoulder-plate has been repaired, though the light from the photo flash shows the color difference from her face and neck to her shoulders. She has the added interest of three sew-holes front and back.

After identifying Moira, I wanted to find a body that would suit her. Within the year, I found one that is the right size, quality and age. Moira’s shoulder-head is 5 1/4″ tall and 4 1/4″ across the shoulders. Completed, she is 19″ tall. While her shoulder-head could take a slightly larger body, she is buxom and becomming on this one. The body is old cotton with cloth feet and leather arms. It is stuffed with cotton batting and horsehair. The leather is old and cracked. Her right arm has a break that is held together with masking tape. Because of the condition of the leather, I will not attempt to repair it by sewing. It will just be how it is.

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Moira has quite a mid- 19th century silhouette with her silky sloping shoulders and the horizontal neckline of her new chemise.

Moira’s body came with a set of drawers and a short petticoat. I left them on and added another set of long drawers and petticoat with matching knitted lace. While 19th century undergarments consist of three basic pieces–chemise, drawers, and petticoat–a number of the dolls I find, or undergarment sets, are missing the chemise. The chemise, of course, is a simple knee-length shift that is the first garment worn next to the skin. It is often undecorated, or may have lace at the neckline and sleeves, but never at the hem since that part never shows under the petticoat. I made this chemise for Moira. It was cut simply from one piece of muslin folded in quarters and cut to Moira’s size. It is machine sewn on the long seams with the lace hand sewn, and the neck is just gathered with the red ribbon beaded through the lace.

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Moira serves tea in her antique morning dress with waived braid trim.

One never knows when a special doll will make herself known. Moira is one of those unassuming beauties who may have been passed up by many because she was just a repaired shoulder-head. Now she is made, and a complete doll again.

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Antique photo of a girl holding a china shoulder-head

The August Dolls

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Along with Augusta, these four dolls came home with me from the Portland Doll Show on August 20th.

Some seasons, at the semi-annual Portland Crossroads Doll & Teddy Bear Show & Sale, I find  my bag filling up with every manner of doll accessory. Doll clothing–ranging from late-1800’s to modern–abound, and one can spend hours rummaging through the dollar bins, sometimes to fair advantage. I come away from this show with crocheted items, chairs, mini books, little old tea cups, old leather shoes, fabrics and laces, teeny cards of buttons, and teddy bears. Sometimes after hours of wandering and choosing, I realize that I have not bought a doll. But not this time!

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An enigma–a Hertwig (ABG?) Currier & Ives doll, and a Kister doll with very curly hair.

These two 20″ tall chinas found their way into my bag early in the morning. The first girl, on the left, is a Currier and Ives hair style. She has tendrils of hair falling onto her neck all the way around, and her ears are exposed. This girl, who I have named Clara, has all the characteristics of a doll made by the Hertwig factory. She has long single stroke eyebrows that almost wrap around her eyes, which are not outlined or highlighted, and the pupils gaze upward. She has a pursed heart-shaped mouth, and a large incised size number “6” on the back of her shoulder plate. And finally, she has the quintessential Hertwig lower legs with horizontal ribs and short brown boots. Her cloth body appears to be original.

I have not previously researched Currier & Ives dolls, and now, after looking her up in Mary Gorham Krombholz’s book, A Pictorial Reference Guide for German Chinas, I have conflicting information. The Currier & Ives doll in the book is in the Alt, Beck, & Gotschalk chapter; however, she defies Mary’s criteria for ABG dolls. She is a large doll and does NOT have eye accent dots or outlines, and she does not have the darker lip accent line or the V dip in her lips. Furthermore, ABG made the Spill Curls doll at about the same time (1870’s to 1880’s) which is a very similar style to the Currier & Ives doll, and is undeniably from ABG. The Currier & Ives doll has face painting that fits all the criteria for Hertwig dolls, she has the large size number incize mark on the back of her shoulder plate, and my doll, Clara, has a body with unglazed porcelain arms and Hertwig type ribbed legs with brown boots rather than ABG type C-cup hands and black heeled boots with the V-shaped top. She looks different from my other ABG dolls. Therefore, in my opinion, the Currier & Ives doll is a Hertwig factory doll, and not an ABG doll. I welcome further comentary on this issue!

An Alt, Beck, & Gottschalk china doll with the Spill Curl hair style is shown on the right. This doll is clearly from the ABG factory and is similar to the Currier & Ives hair style doll on the left. Note the similarities and difference in the face painting.

 

Clara came dressed in split drawers and a lace petticoat. The red cotton dress with feather stitched embroidery was one of those endearing finds in a pile of newer baby doll clothing. It is a perfect young girl’s dress for this doll, and layers nicely with her petticoat. (A child of this late 1800’s period would wear a shorter knee length dress, and not a full length petticoat. However, I think Clara should get to keep the clothing that she brought with her.)

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The Currier and Ives doll, Clara, shows off her Hertwig ribbed limbs with brown boots.

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Even the lady dolls enjoy a bottle of Maryhill wine!

This lady china doll has an unusual curly hairstyle that is similar to, but is not, a flat top style. Her hair, with comb marks in the back, falls smooth to her ear level, then ends in tight round curls all around. It is this unusual hairstyle that recommends her. She has the facial features of a doll made by the A. W. Fr. Kister factory with straight single stroke brows, eyes that are not highlighted or outlined, and an upper lip with low, far-spaced peaks. This doll has a professionally rebuilt shoulder plate and a new made body with cloth feet and newer unglazed porcelain lady’s lower arms. She came unclothed. She currently has no small cloths, and is wearing an antique silk gold and honey striped wrapper dress. I bought this dress to try and clothe Miss Bettina or Edith of the white chemises and petticoats in the doll’s house bedroom, but this dress’s sleeves are too narrow for those dolls. This new curly headed doll has narrower arms, and the dress fits her fairly well.

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Bessie greets the Hertwig twins in the child-sized Seth Tudor chair. She is thinking about pushing the twins out of the chair so she can try it–just her size!

The smaller blonde china is without a doubt a Hertwig lowbrow doll. At 12 1/2″ tall, Bessie is just right to be a child in the doll’s house. She has nice quality china arms and smooth (not ribbed) china legs with black boots and blue painted bows. Bessie came dressed in a nice lace trimmed pinnafore style petticoat and tucked drawers.

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Bessie is delighted with the ABC blocks, the story books, and the wee china doll that are now her toys! The lady doll is an ABG curly top hairstyle in the Cafe Au Laite color. She has brown leather arms, blue leather boots, and is wearing an 1880’s polonaise style antique dress with a new underskirt.

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The smallest all-bisque doll is also a Hertwig. At 6″ tall, Chelsea has nicely molded features with crisp curls, comb marks in her yellow hair, and detailed hands with molded knuckle dimples and fingernails. She wears a molded camisole and drawers with blue trim and blue bows at her knees above her bare feet. Her legs were un-strung when I got her, and the edges of them are chipped at the hip. I kept the narrow elastic cording that had been used to string her, but added china buttons to keep the knots from pulling through the holes again. Her arms have the original wire armature. She fits nicely as an infant in the Breton cradle in the doll’s bedroom.

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Augusta is all freshened up with a new place to sit on a small Windsor sewing rocker with an age appropriate quilt remnant.

I was content with my china and bisque doll finds this time, and was wandering around, peeking at my favorite booths and looking into all the corners. Then, Gussie just sort of leaped into my arms later in the day. Although I had been looking at Greiner dolls for a number of years, I was not intending to buy another doll this day. She was the right doll at a very good price, though she was a shoe-less waif with a dusty dress when I found her.

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Here is Gussie all ready for bed in a night dress made of 19th century pink calico. (It is quite long and was most likely made for a baby.) She didn’t want to give up her new shoes (found at the doll show just for her) while she waited for her dress to dry from its’ laundering.

 

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Undies all freshened up and a good look at her mid 19th century cloth body.

German born Ludwig Greiner came to the United States in the 1830’s, settling in Philadelphia. He made papier mache dolls and patented his process of reinforcing the papier mache with cloth. The patent label reads, GREINER’S IMPROVED PATENT HEADS Pat. March 30th ‘58. Some pre-patent Greiner dolls have glass eyes, and there are variations in the hair styles, though all the Greiner dolls have a distinctive look. Gussie is 26″ tall with a cloth body and legs, and dark brown leather lower arms and hands. She has black hair and dark blue painted eyes.

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Augusta’s patent label, glued on the back of her shoulder plate.

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A linen petticoat.

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China and glass buttons all down the back, including the blue ringer on the petticoat just visible at the bottom of the photo. The cotton dress is gorgeous, but is in frail condition.

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Freshly dressed in her deep burgundy dress with gold floral print, “new” old kid leather shoes, and a golden real sanddollar pendant.

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Antique photograph of a little girl holding a Greiner doll with dark leather arms.

We’re wishing all of you all the joys of poking around, viewing, and purchasing at your favorite antique show or rummage sale. Take joy!

Artful Accomodations

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Bettina and Edith are quite at their ease in their small cluttered bedroom space.

Now that the dolls are home and comfortable with each other in their family, we can turn our attention to creating their home environment. A doll room can be a cozy backdrop for displaying our cherished antique dolls, and it can offer an abundance of whimsical elements to delight. The 1:4 size room is the perfect size to reward the senses–with little things to look at, and with treasures just right for holding–with alluring pleasures.

As with our home environment, there are elements of style to be considered for our doll rooms. One need only to gaze into the magnificent array of The Thorne Rooms to realize how varied the choices can be for small antique rooms. Of course, most of The Thorne Rooms represent affluent estates.

Dining Room 1770-1774 Hammond-Harwood House, Annapolis, Maryland

Thorne Rooms Dining Room, 1770-1774 Hammond-Harwood House, Annapolis, Maryland

Tasha Tudor’s Doll’s House, while cozy and inviting, also includes furniture and accoutrements that are more appropriate for an affluent household.

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Tasha with her miniature birdcage in front of her Doll’s House. This photo was taken when her dollhouse was on large shelves in her home, before the house was built to display at Colonial Williamsburg.

Joy Harrington’s Izannah home is more modest in its furnishings, yet it still contains many lovely antiques that are scarce and relatively expensive when sought in today’s markets.

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Joy’s Izannah home contains many lovely antiques such as tiny peg-wooden dolls, Staffordshire dishes, miniature paintings and drawings, books and photo albums, tiny needlework, and paper boxes, as well as the Izannah Walker dolls.

Antique furnishings are most desirable when creating a home for antique dolls. The ambiance and patina of the era is necessary to best preserve the presence of the doll. The doll, herself, will have a lot to say about the style of room in which she would like to reside. A French fashion doll demands an affluent residence, while a German bisque may like the modernity of an early 20th century abode. Early cloth dolls such as Izannahs, and mid 19th century china dolls, seem to prefer Early American and middle-class Victorian surroundings.

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French Napolean III doll furniture of 1865 for an antique fashion doll.

Having at least some antiques in the room setting furthers the antique doll’s presence. Yet, when one cannot supply a house-full of antique miniatures, it is still possible to create a charming space with vintage collectibles and found treasures along with antique furnishings. A key factor is a strict adherance to natural materials. Even when some of your doll room furnishings are new items rather than antiques, they must be made of wood, metal, cotton, paper, pottery, etc., and never of plastic, polyester, acrylic, or any other man-made substance, if they are to have a chance of blending into an antique setting! Allow me to  share some ideas and combinations that have worked for me in creating my doll rooms.

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The antique kitchen cabinet is perfect for displaying the Staffordshire toy dishes. The antique milking stool is a fair alternative for a table. Antique calico fabric peeks from the laundry basket. The stool under the laundry basket was a second-hand store find. It was covered with daisy decals when I bought it. I painted it with dusty blue/grey paint left over from a larger painting project to bring it into style for my small display.

Of course, the foundation of a doll room is the furniture. Chairs seem to be plentiful. It is easy to find doll size wooden Windsor chairs, that are a fair copy of the life-size chairs, with turned spindles. Even new or vintage chairs can look authentic. My doll rooms started with my Victorian bed, purchased at a flea market over 30 years ago. Adding the dresser from the Brimfield Antique Fair, and the ladderback chair, furnished the bedroom. I then found a perfect rustic antique doll kitchen cupboard for displaying my toy Staffordshire dishes.

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Caroline shows the stack of unusual green Dresden Flowers Staffordshire plates. Other kitchen necessities include a tiny tin mold, a little key, two antique silver salt spoons, a victorian doll set of two knives and two forks, and a wooden kitchen spoon, that is a new handcrafted baby spoon.

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The antique milking stool and spice cupboard that furnish my tiered keeping room. The dolls are 17″ and 15″ tall. Behind them is the antique doll quilt made of tiny triangles of 19th century cottons.

The wooden spice rack also works well as a kitchen cupboard in the doll room. I have not yet purchased a table for the dolls, but my antique milking stool fills in nicely for now. A good modern alternative for antique furniture is that made for the American Girl historic dolls. I especially like Felicity’s tea table, though the AG furniture is just about as spendy as antiques!

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Mary Morgan has quite an array of wooden toys, dolls, and books, as befits a middle class Victorian child. She is 21″ tall.

Toys and dollies add whimsy to the setting for child dolls. Mary Morgan has plenty to choose from! The little bisque Highland Mary is a perfect companion for her, though this dolly was not the right toy for Miss Ruby, the Izannah doll. Mary also has a rocking horse and a hobby horse, both vintage second-hand-store finds. She holds a little Japanese Kokeshi doll with a wobble head, while several more, including a teeny pair, are on the floor. I found these at a flea market in Japan. They add that popular Victorian flair for the Orient to Mary’s playroom.

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The little Kokeshi dolls were a vintage find in Japan when I lived there. The kitty was a new catalog purchase.

Mary also has a little hand-turned music box that plays “Greensleeves,” a Russian doll spinning top, a wooden house consisting of three blocks, a wooden kitty, and a set of ABC blocks in a basket. The blocks were purchased new at a craft store. They blend fairly well, their drawback being that they are pastel colors, rather than the authentic primary colors for antique blocks. The little Beatrix Potter books were purchased new, and came as a complete set in a box. Since Peter Rabbit was first published in 1902, the era is fairly close to blend with Mary Morgan’s play room.

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Little Davie spends hours playing with his wooden animals and trees set. He is almost 18″ tall.

A wooden Noah’s Ark toy was a popular Victorian era toy, especially nice for boys, and as a Sunday toy. I do not have a Noah’s Ark. Instead, I have this marvelous little German set of wooden animals and trees. It came with other little blocks for building. It is just right for Little Davie’s toy. I purchased these toys new from a toy store in the late 1970’s. They were included with the several sets of wooden blocks that my children played with in the 80’s and 90’s. This is a case of just waiting long enough for a new purchase to become vintage!

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An assortment of small books includes an antique reprint (Don’ts for Mothers), a small journal in antique style, Little Gift Books, a small antique autograph album, and an antique gem tintype photo album, along with the paper cover new Beatrix Potter books.

Since I adore books, and my own home is full of them, they will naturally appear in my dolls’ house. However; I do not have a doll desk or bookshelf yet, so the books tend to lay or lean in inviting stacks. There are some beautiful antique miniature tomes to be had, in leather volumes that are lovely for the doll house. I am not in a position to afford most of them, though. The collection that I have put together thus far includes both antique and new books. Little Gift Books that can be had new from the booksellers can work if care is taken with your selections. The two I have here, under the chair and topped with a little navy blue leather Shakespeare volume, are Love Letters and A Child’s Garden of Verses. They are both editions of antique writings. Also, they are both muted colors with vintage styling to the dust jackets. This helps them to blend with the antique books in the antique setting, while filling out my library affordably.

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An assortment of paintings (prints) and photograghs for the dollhouse wall.

Art for the walls of the dolls’ house also contributes to the sense of realism and completeness of the room. Antique miniature paintings are lovely, and available, but again, the price is more than I can spare. Alternately, small antique frames can be had at antique fairs and flea markets, often for a neglegible price. Usually the art or photograph in the frame can be changed to one more suited for the doll room. Small art prints are also easy to be had. Sometimes, little antique tintype photographs in their cases, like the one above of a young woman, can be found affordably. The three oval prints that I have on the wall are new reproductions. They appear authentic with metal frames and convex glass just like antique frames.

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Bettina enjoys her collection of miniature perfume bottles.

Little trinkets fill out the contents of the doll room. Any Victorian lady would appreciate a collection of fine perfume bottles for her bedroom. These are vintage, found at a local antique mall, while the cobalt bottle in the middle is new and hand blown, from a craft fair.

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The perfume bottles on a crocheted doily.

A Victorian lady enjoys her needlework and textiles, as well. I have been able to include antique fabrics and quilts in my doll rooms. The bed is covered with the lovely rose and grey early 19th century block print fabric, and the dolls have several cutter quilt pieces that they enjoy. They have a variety of doilies that I have crocheted, and several pieces of cross stitch that are appropriate for their home. Again, an early 19th century miniature sampler would be much appreciated for this home, but it  is an aquisition that must wait for now, so personally hand crafted needlework fills in nicely for antique items.

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Bettina displays several cross stitch pieces that I made.

Finally, since I like nature’s art as well, my doll rooms include natural items too. Nature can also supply miniatures. Small baskets for the doll rooms are easy to come by. The little coil basket in the display below was handmade and has a long cord to wear as a necklace. The little band boxes came from a craft store.

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The little natural wonders that Caroline shows include a basket of seashells, a cobalt plate with even smaller shells, a bottle of malachite chips, a tiny wasp nest, a little feather, and several crystals and amethyst.

Little treasures can be found where antiques are found. They also show up at flea markets, secondhand stores, craft fairs and stores, retail stores, outside in nature, and in the hands of those who craft them. Anything of an antique nature that shows up in your home can most likely adorn your doll rooms as well. And the little 1:4 whimsies will indeed delight you and your dolls alike!

Miniature Scales in Perspective

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People of any age are fascinated by miniature whimsies!

Doll houses are unabashadly charming and whimsical. They hold the attention of children and adults, offering a material realm which is part of our world, yet is a separate fantasy place for our imagination to dwell.

Miniature houses, like dolls, have been part of the human experience for thousands of years, with the earliest known examples found in Egyptian tombs and having religious purposes. Baby houses, which were handmade valuable and expensive collections for adults, became popular in Europe beginning in the 16th century, followed by childrens’ toy houses in the 19th century. These early dollhouses did not use a standardized scale.

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These chairs show a progression of sizes. The first on the left is a full-size adult windsor chair. Next is a child’s chair at approximately half size. Third is a 1/4th size doll chair that fits for an 18″ doll. Fourth is a 1/8th size chair for an 8″ doll, and last is a 1/12th size chair that fits 5″ to 6″ dolls.

Although there is now a range of scales for toy dollhouses, we will focus on scales that are useful for creating a doll space for antique dolls and miniatures. Only a small math lesson is required to figure out the scale perspective, and there are two ways that the perspectives are commonly represented. Let’s start with the common hobby dollhouse size of 1/12th scale. In this size, 1 inch of the miniature equals 1 foot, or 12 inches of the full size article it represents; therefore, it is 1/12th of full size. Sometimes this is written as 1:12. 1/8th size was a common size for 19th century play dollhouses. So in this size, 1 inch of miniature represents 8 inches of full size, or 1:8.

The size of miniature that is our focus for antique dolls such as Izannah Walker and lady china dolls is 1/4th scale, or 1 inch of miniature equals 4 inches of full size.  If you consider that an adult person is generally around 5’6″ to 6′, and divide that by 4, then you get to the doll size of 16.5″ to 18″ which fits nicely into the 1:4 size room.

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These chairs, from left to right, are 1:4, about 1:6, and 1:8. I adore the middle chair, which is an exact miniature copy of the one that Tasha Tudor used at her artist desk. This little chair was made by her son, Seth, with the seat woven by his wife, Marjorie. While it is too small for the 18″ dolls, I find that it can work in the 1:4 room setting as a child’s chair with the dollies sitting on it. I love its detail and style so much that I want to include it even though it is smaller.

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A perspective of furniture scale does not always correspond exactly with a decrease in doll size. In the case of 1:8 scale furniture, the doll size tends to be 8″ rather than the exact mathematical decrease to 9″ because these Ginny, Muffy, and Madame Alexander dolls represent children and have wider bodies. A slender bodied 9″ china doll would fit this scale too.

Okay! Our math lesson is over! Knowing about miniature scales is a good foundation for putting together a miniature display or dollhouse. But as we can see, it is only a guideline when bringing together little antiques and small found treasures.

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Antique china dollhouse dolls

Here is a progression of antique dollhouse china dolls for perspective. Hazel, the largest doll on the left, is 6 1/2″ tall. She is too large for 1:12 scale furniture, and looks better with items that are closer to 1:8 scale.  Next, in the blue dress, is a child doll, 5″ tall. She also does not work with 1:12 scale because her childish stature is out of proportion even though she is the right height. She works well as a child for Hazel, and both being Hertwig dolls of the late 19th century, they look appropriate together.

The middle doll above, in the pink dress, is a wee covered wagon style from about 1850. She was a very special purchase from Sara Bernstein, who’s fabulous selection of antique dolls for sale can be found on Ruby Lane. This doll is also 5″ tall, and with her slender lady body, she is quite the 1:12 scale dollhouse lady. The1860’s flat top lady in the striped dress is 4 5/8″ tall, also fitting well with 1:12 scale. Her baby, a 1 1/2″ Frozen Charlotte has a covered wagon hair style, and her left arm is broken off. These three dolls work well together in both size and era, or age.

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These wee dollhouse dolls are adorable and appopriate dollies for Ruby.

Not only do these small mid-19th century dolls work for a small dollhouse, they also are perfect as little dollies for the girls like Ruby who inhabit the 1:4 scale rooms. Once more, size is a factor here, but also the era of the dolls. Several same size 5″ bisque dolls in my collection do not blend well with Ruby. They need contemporary early 20th century surroundings, while Ruby and the lady chinas appreciate older, more modest surroundings.

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Three teapots and cups with saucers show a size progression for doll room accessories.

Accessories in the doll room can be evaluated for size and era appropriateness too. In the above photo, with the exception of the smallest white cup and saucer on the left, these are all examples of English Staffordshire wares, which we will enjoy in more detail in the upcoming post on Staffordshire toy pottery. The antique Staffordshire childrens’ dishes typically came in three basic size ranges, though they were not specifically “to scale.” There were child-size sets for children to learn and entertain; there were toy-size sets for doll play; and there were miniature sets for use in doll’s houses. Shown above on the right is a full size English cobalt blue teapot with a blue transfereware cup and saucer. The middle set is a child size set from the turn of the 20th century. The smallest teapot on the left is a doll sized one from around 1830. Both the size and the era of these teapots are factors to consider when choosing their best setting.

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Miranda Jumeau is 25″ tall. She is too large for 1:4 scale settings. Though she is not up to three feet for 1:2 size, as a child she looks fine with a slightly larger-than-scale appropriate tea set. She was made in about 1880-90, so this circa 1900 tea set works with her for era as well.

While scale is an important guideline when creating doll and small antique settings, it is not a hard and fast rule. In the “real world,” we don’t live by “scale.” The objects that make up our household come in all sizes, and most likely come from different decades and centuries as well. That is part of the fluidity–the comming and going–of our possessions. A doll’s space is fluid as well. Some things in this space may be intended for a scale dollhouse, and some will be wee objects that we like, and add to the setting. Some may be treasured antiques, some may be little natural objects, and some may be new items that carry whimsical charm. The doll setting will likely change as we remove some things, add others, and rearrange, just as we do in our homes. Ultimately, the goal is to  exercise your own creativity in imagining your whimiscal setting for your enjoyment.

May you always find comfort in your home, be it large or small.  ~Jennie

Antique photo girl with doll bathing scene


A  Long Regard for Small Things

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Karen with the bedroom furniture. 2014

As long as I can remember, I have had a special affinity for small things: little natural wonders like seashells, tiny bright stones, feathers and acorns, and miniatures. As a child, I made rooms for my dolls in any likely place. My mother’s fireplace clock on a table was a favorite spot to make a cozy little doll room, and pulling out blocks of encyclopedias from the bookshelf left nice smaller doll rooms with a book on top for the ceiling. Smallest of all, the low cinder block wall around our Little Rock, Arkansas front yard had cubbies that were perfect room-size for an inexpensive 5″ doll with long brown hair that I bought with my own money. In the summer, she had a magical garden fairy world with an unexpected bit of high tech–if she was kidnapped and stranded on the shelf of a higher stone wall, my brother’s battery powered helicopter would come and rescue her!

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The fireplace clock now belongs to me and is still a favorite centerpiece for little doll displays. The fire is lit with a Christmas tree light bulb. Here are Karen and Vicki’s Ginny and Muffie dolls enjoying the fire’s warmth as they watch the clock for tea time.

As a young adult, I became enthralled with 1/12th scale miniatures after several trips to see the Thorne Rooms at the Chicago Art Institute. I could stand for hours gazing into those glass fronted boxes where everything was so lifelike, even with perfect lighting and shadows. I felt like I could fall right into that eighteenth century kitchen! There were no dolls to break the suspension of disbelief in these tiny realms. You expected a live person to walk in and resume living there.

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Thorne Rooms Pennsylvania Kitchen 1752.

Of course I had to make my own mini house which, given my limited means and space, was made of stacked sturdy boxes. I called it “Der Kline Haus,” which means simply “The Small House.”

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This hand-made intricately detailed 1/12th scale cradle once resided in the master bedroom of my dollhouse. I crocheted the tiny little coat and hat, that are shown here in the cradle, from size 20 cotton thread in the 1980’s when my eyesight was better. This crochet set and the rug, which is actually a vintage lamp mat, were all part of the sadly demolished Der Kline Haus. The china dolls, circa 1850’s and 1860’s, have not had the pleasure of visiting Der Kline Haus in its prime.

Then I discovered the wonder of antique toy furniture in 1/8th scale, perfect for Ginny and 8″ Madame Alexander dolls, at the Fowler House Museum just two blocks from where I lived in Lafayette Indiana. It must have been a joy and an adventure for the original owners of that dollhouse to find those little wooden treasures of furniture, and copper pots and pottery dishes, on world travels! This house was made to be played with, dolls in their settings in the rooms.

My dollhouse has been packed away for many years. The box-rooms were discarded as the wallpaper (some of which was made from wrapping paper from my wedding gifts!) faded and turned brown. Yet I still can’t resist picking up little things in the course of my wanderings. And like Auri in Patrick Rothfuss’ tale, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, I listen to the things to know where they best want to be; to know where they will be comfortable and where they belong. Until now, the little things have been in various places throughout the house, some more comfortable than others. Teeny tiny seashells found in the sand of a long-ago Far East beach are in a little bottle in the bathroom. A doll-size Japanese clasp purse is on a shelf of the desk. Little wooden and metal toys are in a small cabinet in the bedroom. Miniature books are in a drawer or on the shelf near larger books. Fingertip sized perfume bottles are in the “powder room” cabinet. Child sized dishes live in a wooden box on top of the antique sewing machine, or get overwhelmed among the larger Depression Glass. (No, they are not comfortable there!)

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These small kitchen items, including a cordial glass, a silver corn scewer, two silver salt spoons, and toy pans and dishes, are now collected together on an antique spice cupboard that is the right size to be a doll cabinet.

Last summer I gave you a glance at my long-ago packed away and brought out anew doll bed and the newly acquired dresser to go with it, along with a coordinating ladderback chair. These, along with some of the scattered minis as accessories, make a lovely little bedroom for the lady china dolls. Paula Walton’s post (IzannahWalker.com) from July 2014 showing Edyth O’Neal’s wonderful large scale closet doll house inspired me to clear off enough shelf space in my hall closet to tuck in a little bedroom for the ladies. Besides, where else would I have room to display this 1/4th scale doll furniture? It could have ended up in the closet packed away for lack of display space, so why not as a display in the closet instead? Near perfect solution! I don’t see this enchanting room every day, but when I do slide open that closet door, I can peek in at Edith and Miss Bettina Bumblebottom as they sit on the bed in their crisp white undies, drinking tea and confiding secrets to each other.

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Edith (in the red boots) and Miss Bettina Bumblebottom spend hours and days with each other in the closet bedroom as they await new wardrobes. Edith is sharing her favorite sentiments from a mini book of Love Letters while her tea gets cold in the little blue Depression Glass cup on the chair to the left. Bettina’s cup is Blue Willow transferware from Occupied Japan, and was an excellent second-hand store find!

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Little white kid leather shoes that long ago belonged to a bisque doll have a home now under the ladderback chair. I have had these shoes for more than 30 years before finding a place for them to truly belong.

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You can see on the dresser-top a doily that I crocheted, and on it is a red English transferware bowl that is probably a salt bowl. It was not intended as a child’s or doll dish, yet it fits perfectly in this setting. Barely visible in the bowl are tortoise shell hairpins for a bisque doll. They also find a place to belong here, even though neither the Chinas, nor the Izannah can wear them! Behind the bowl is a little tintype in its case. Three perfume bottles are on the right, with more small bottles and a little fan on the left.

Like my closet bedroom, Tasha Tudor’s acclaimed doll house is also 1/4th scale, consisting of special items from her childhood dollhouse made for her by her mother, of fabulous antiques collected by Tasha, and of special gifts from her friends and family. Her dollhouse, originally set up on large shelves in her home, was created for dolls that Tasha made herself. Later, a special house was made for her treasures and displayed in Colonial Williamsburg for twenty years. Now, Tasha’s dollhouse is back at her Home, Corgi Cottage. Tours, run by part of her family after her death, are very limited and are quite expensive.

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Note the antique toy Staffordshire plates on the wall shelf, and the matching tureen on the table.

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The furniture in this house is quite exquisite. These dolls have a more affluent lifestyle than my dolls who prefer their primitive style surroundings.

And now, who among China, Papier Mache, and Izannah Walker doll lovers wouldn’t fall in love with an Izannah home like Joy Harrington’s, featured in the August 2015 issue of Antique Doll Collector magazine? Not only is this small house a delightful home for antique dolls, it’s the perfect way to bring together and display a lifetime of collected small antiques! I have pored over this article, gleaning every little whimsy, and again, I am inspired to bring together my own collection in a display that is more doll house-like, if not actually a large scale dollhouse.

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“A Visit to an Izannah Home” by Joy Harrington

At this point in time, my best option beyond the closet bedroom is my stairs which are wide enough to accommodate a multi-level keeping room display. Perhaps later in the fall or winter, when renovations to our apartment building wind down, I can try a two room display on my extra antique dining table.

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On my stairs, an antique doll cupboard holds an abundance of French, and English Staffordshire, doll china and pottery. Laundry waits to be put away in a basket near the cupboard. On the step behind the cupboard is my newest find–a little silverplate coffee pot that came from Goodwill! It is waiting to find its best place to belong.

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More of my stairstep display with twin Hertig dollhouse size little girls on the Seth Tudor made chair.

I am so enthusiastic about the large scale doll houses that I would like to write about more insights in several more posts. Coming up will be postings on miniature scales and choosing the right size of furniture and accessories for the dolls, on furniture and little things for putting together the displays, which seem to be fluid as collections grow and change, and on English Staffordshire toy or doll china, my newest antique collectible love. We could even have a tea party!

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There is so much information on 1/12th scale miniatures, and so little on doll sized small things. The small things, unlike “miniatures” are large enough to be a pleasure to hold. It is also a sensual delight to contemplate small things not meant to be toys that can be seamlessly added into a doll’s space. What a fun and endearing venture into the world of the whimsical and enchantment! Come and play with me!

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Ruby has a new soft and cuddly quilt just her size, and some very special little china dolls to snuggle up with.

Clothes Maketh the Doll

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As we know from revered doll collectors and historians such as Mildred Seely, the best and most valuable antique dolls to collect are those that are all original.  That is, they retain the head, limbs, body, and clothing which they had as new dolls.  We also know that these all-original dolls are now scarce, and expensive when they are available. As Mildred said in her book, Beloved China Dolls, there are more collectors now than there were in the mid-twentieth century, and the same number of antique dolls.  I would add that there are likely fewer dolls, as some of them break and deteriorate, though we can always hope that more are being recovered from years spent sleeping in attics and closets.  Furthermore, the price of desirable dolls goes up so that only wealthy collectors can afford and hoard them, while the economy in the USA has decreased the ability of most of us to be able to buy luxury items such as dolls for our beloved collections.  If you follow auctions in Antique Doll Collector magazine and similar venues, then you know that the price realized for many of the antique dolls on auction, or for sale, today is enough to cover the wages of a woman such as myself for a number of years!

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Fear not, kindred low-income doll collectors!  There are still many opportunities to find inexpensive not-so-perfect antique dolls that can become lovely additions to our collections with just a little bit of creativity, and perhaps a small stash of sewing remnants.  Such was the case for Florence, a little unassuming doll-house sized china head doll who I acquired a few years ago, for about the equivalent of one hour of my wages.  Florence has an unusual hair style with her black hair covered with a net in back.  I have never before seen a small doll with this style.

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Because of her small size, it is difficult to photograph Florence with my inexpensive camera. Sorry for the poor focus.

Florence is 7 1/2″ tall and has her shoulder head glued to her body since she has no sew holes.  Her face painting is well done for such a small doll, yet I cannot tell which factory made her, or which 19th century decade she originated from.  I do not know if her body is original to her, or if it was placed with her head later.  Her limbs are bisque in the style made in the early 20th century for inexpensive play dolls.  Her coarse woven fabric body and legs are made all in one piece in a rather blockish shape.  She seems to be stuffed with cotton batting.  I sewed across her legs at the hip so that she could sit in a chair.  Her body has mildew stains as well, and is not very pretty.

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Choosing fabric and trim for Florence’s new clothing,

Even though Florence has a well-painted face and an unusual hairstyle, she came clothed in a poor child-made dress of cheap wide-width lace, and she is modest about her less-than-perfect body.  A new outfit is just what she needs to improve her self-esteem!

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Blocking out the small clothes.

As usual, I did not use a pattern for the simple lines of this outfit.  I measured and estimated size, adding seam allowances.  In the photo above, the white undergarments are cut from an antique petticoat remnant.  The large rectangle at the top is Florence’s petticoat, the small piece under it is the waistband, and the two rectangles to the left are the drawers.  The final shaped piece on the right is the chemise.  You can see that the antique indigo remnant is narrow, and this size dictated the overall width of the dress.

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Florence already appears more shapely in her new small clothes made of antique fabric and vintage lace.

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The drawers, made from two tubes of fabric, are “split” and only connect with the drawstring waist. The vintage lace on all three undergarments matches.

Creating the dress took many fittings.  I wanted it to be high at the neck, long of sleeve, and to have a mid-19th century look.  The shoulders are slightly dropped and the sleeves are slightly flaired at the shoulders.  I added darts at the waist of the bodice for a more fitted look.DSC01921

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Florence’s pinafore is made of the same fabric as her under things, but I gave it a trim of new lace that is crisp and white to accent the white striped pattern in her indigo dress.  My plan for the shape of her apron was to rely on a photo of an antique doll in a similar costume. The apron part is perfect, and the bodice part is a bit unique, as I didn’t want to make it just like the one in the photo.  That’s the way mommy and auntie made doll clothes were sewn in the past, so it’s still authentic, even if I just made it up!  The tiny mob cap renders Florence fully dressed and ready to go out and tend to her sheep.

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Creating this outfit for Florence took oh so many tiny hand stitches!  I worked on it during spare moments and quiet times intermittently throughout the winter and spring. It consists of six pieces and transforms Florence from a rather modest and unremarkable doll into a winsome beauty!  I think the cotton country work clothes fit her countenance perfectly!  Admittedly, she is not all-original, and perhaps not that most desirable doll sought after by wealthy and discerning collectors.  Yet she is now rather irresistible in her unassuming way.  And all for under $30 (including the antique fabric) and some diligent sewing!

Happy creating!  ~ Jennie

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