Sunday, 3 April 2016

17 April 1880 - 'How to Dress Dolls' by Dora Hope

In an old cookery book, much admired by our grandfathers, is the very true and practical remark that you must first "catch your hare, and then cook it".

This statement, true of hares, is even more true of dolls, since there are so many more varieties of the latter than of the former. The materials provided for dressing one hare would probably serve equally well for another, while the very idea of dressing the aristocratic French doll in the stuff grown of her wooden sister recalls the fair Saccharissa's horrified exclamation:

"Odious! In woollen! 'Twould a saint provoke."

There is, indeed, a vast difference between the old piece of rag with one corner tied in a knot to make a head, and supplied with eyes and mouth of ink, which delights the village baby, and the elegant waxen creature whose real hair is arranged after the latest fashion, and whose hands and feet are a triumph of artistic modelling; yet both alike are dolls.

There are many simple ways of dressing dolls, beginning with the very summary process of nailing or sewing the clothes right through the poor creature's body, the hat and hair being fastened on at one fell swoop by a nail, which must have seriously disturbed the victim's mental arrangements. Then there are the dolls whose dress is arranged to suit the convenience of our baby brothers and sisters, who always seem to me as if nature had originally intended them to be cannibals, for however life-like and natural their doll is, they instantly put it into their mouths, with an air of enjoyment worthy of a starving savage. For these omnivorous little people it is better to avoid too much bright paint, as it is apt to be poisonous; and, though they cannot obtain much nourishment from eating their toys, we can at least prevent them being poisoned by them. Unfortunately, too, little children have generally such a thirst for information that they persist in tearing everything to pieces to satisfy themselves as to how it is made; but for any who are blessed with an uninquisitive mind the most comfortable dolls to nurse are those dressed entirely in wadding. Of course the clothes cannot be made to take off and on, but that is not necessary for babies. The skirt is made first; a straight piece of wadding, button-holed along the bottom with red worsted, and then sewn together on the doll. Another straight piece is used  for the body in the same way, only button-holed up the front as well as round the bottom. A hood and cape cut in one piece, and button-holed all round, and a muff, makes the comfortable little creature complete. But for girls who have come to years of discretion, and value their dolls as they deserve, much more elaborate dressing is required. They must have at least one dress and complete set of underclothes to take off and on, and if the doll is the happy possessor of a cradle, there should be a prettily-made night-dress, and of course she will require a hat and jacket for her daily walks.

But it is a great mistake to dress dolls too grandly; they do not give half so much pleasure as plainer ones. One wax doll in my possession was most elegantly dressed in fine cambric underclothes, trimmed with real lace, and sewed with almost microscopic stitches. Her silk underdress was made very long, and covered by a lace and gauze polonaise, looped up with bows of scarlet velvet and golden butterflies. That doll was an utter failure. I never could persuade any of my numerous child visitors to do anything but gaze with solemn awe upon the gorgeous vision, till, one happy day, some schoolboys seized her in my absence, and she returned to me with her poor nose melted away, great spots of wax on her dress, and one arm broken and hanging by a single thread. Of course I did not spare those wicked youths, but poured forth my wrath upon them freely; but they were in truth the doll's best friends, for ever since she has been the object of the tenderest sympathy and the most gentle nursing that motherly little hands can give. Her wounds have atoned for her extravagant splendour. It is a good thing for a young beginner in plain needlework to make a set of clothes for her doll, as a trial, before attempting a set for herself. True, the little things are rather awkward to hold, but the seams are shorter, and the rows of stitching do not appear so endless as in the worker's own garments.

If your doll is often taken out to tea, or on any other visits, she certainly ought to have two dresses - one of serge, or something plain of that sort for hard wear, and a more dressy one for visiting. It is rather difficult to advise anyone what kind of dress to make, as they can be copied not only from any English lady's dress, but from all sorts of foreign ones too; and a doll's tea-party, when the visitors are all dressed in the costumes of different nations, is almost as amusing as a fancy-dress ball. But, as a general rule, I find it is better to make some style of dress which can have a separate body and skirt, because if it is anything like a princess dress it is so difficult not to break the dolls' arms while putting them into the sleeves, and with a separate body you have more room to move the arms.

For the every-day dress, a kilted skirt with a sash round looks as nice as anything, with a plain jacket-body made to button down the front. Some girls always make their dolls' dresses to hook, to save the trouble of making button-holes; but they never look neat, and the hooks always come undone.

 For the better dress you might work a small pattern in crewels on a long cashmere skirt, and make a jacket-body with a silk waistcoat, as they have been so much worn lately, and work the same pattern round the body as you have on the skirt. Suppose your cashmere is grey, blue forget-me-nots would look very pretty, and the waistcoat might be of blue sulk to match. The skirt should have a small kilted flounce round the bottom, and the embroidery just above it.

A princess who was married a little while ago had a doll dressed in exact copy of each costume in her trousseau including even gloves and stockings, so that she might know just how the dressmaker intended them to be worn. I hope she will give them to some one who will appreciate them when she has done with them, for they must look very beautiful.

Girls who can knit will, of course, make their dolls' stockings themselves. They are not difficult, and look very pretty. It is best to knit them of silk; such a small quantity is used that it is not extravagant, and it looks much better than cotton. I advise girls who are fond of dolls, and cannot knit, to learn to do so; there are so many pretty things to be made in that way that it is well worth the small amount of trouble required.

The long fur-lined cloaks which ladies wear now can be made of either silk or cashmere, and lined with swansdown calico instead of fur, while in place of clasps a common hook and eye sewn over and over with coloured silk, and stitched on outside the cloak, looks quite grand.

It is hardly worth while to make dolls' hats, as they can be bought so very cheaply, but for those who prefer to make their own the simplest way is to crochet them. I have one before me now, of white Berlin wool, with a brim and feather of blue Shetland. It is begun in the centre of the crown and worked round and round till the hat is large enough, but where the crown and brim join there should be one row of one treble and one chain stitch alternately. The feather is formed of a series of little loops made by twisting the wool several times round the finger between each chain stitch. Make this about three times as long as you want the feather to be, and then sew it on to a foundation of chain stitch, the extra fullness making it look rich and thick.

A very small piece of fur will make a muff by lining it with silk, and then simply sewing it up into the right shape. It should be fastened round the doll's neck with a small cord and tassels, such as you see on umbrellas. If you have not even a morsel of fur, silk or satin, or the material of the dress will do quite as well. Cut the lining of the muff just the right size, only leaving enough for turnings; then cut the silk about three times too long, and gather it on to the lining; and if you have a little lace or a tiny bow to finish it off with you will have a most elegant and fashionable muff. I have never succeeded in making dolls' gloves to my own satisfaction, but mittens, with a separate hold for the thumb, can be knitted in fine silk. Mob caps, too, can be made in imitation of the prevailing fashion; but if the doll is made of china they are difficult to fasten on, and I have sometimes, in despair, been reduced to gum.

Boys are always supposed to be troublesome creatures, and certainly boy-dolls bear out the character of their originals, for few things are more troublesome to make than a suit of clothes for a small masculine doll. But here again knitting is useful, for instead of making a coat, which is the greatest difficulty of all, you can dress your boy as a sailor, and knit him a jersey and cap. A friend of mine, who cannot knit and refuses to learn, has given up English boy-dolls in despair, and dresses them in all the costume of some foreign nation. Her favourite style is that of the Chinese, because, as she says, "They are just as easy to cut out as English ladies' dresses, and there is only half the work in them." A glance at the pictures of Chinese gentlemen in THE GIRL'S OWN PAPER  for the first week in February will show how simple their dress is to make; but they should be, if possible, composed of rather rich material, as the dress of the native gentlemen is generally of brocades satin, or some other equally gorgeous fabric.

I have also seen a boy-doll dressed as a gentleman of the reign of Queen Elizabeth with very good effect. The long hose were, in this case, made of pieces of white silk, tightly wrapped round the legs and sewed up; but would of course, look better knitted. The shoes were also of white silk, and very large green and crimson rosettes concealed their rather faulty shape,  for the skill of the dresses had been hardly equal to the task of shoe-making. The short trousers were of green silk slashed with white, very wide, and gathered into band at the waist and above the knee, so as to give the full and puffed-out look peculiar to the style. The jacket, of white silk slashed with green, was rather long, and had a belt of green round the waist and a sword belt across the breast. On the front of the jacket a heraldic lion was neatly painted, and a crimson cloak was fastened on to the left shoulder by a large gold spangle.

Many girls who are quite too old to play with dolls have yet a pleasant recollection of happy hours spent in nursing them, and are not at all sorry to have an excuse for going back to old habits. IF they have no little sisters to delight with triumphs of the dolls' dressmaker's art, or if they have supplied them with everything they can possibility desire, let me remind them that there are many poor children in our hospitals and workhouses who have never had even a rag doll, and whose delight at the gift of one for "their very own" would well repay the pleasant labour of the kind donor.

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