Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A is for Annabelle, Part 1

In 1954, Tasha Tudor first published her alphabet book, A is for Annabelle, which explores, in 26 two-page spreads, the wonders of an old-fashioned doll's wardrobe, complete with all the necessary accessories. As a child of the 1950's, I would pour over this book, dreaming of the joys of possessing such a doll.  That was not to be.  I did have several dolls, all well-loved, but none as amazingly outfitted as Annabelle.

Then, several years ago, I joined one of Gail Wilson's online classes, the purpose of which was to make a fashion doll -- not one of the modern fashion dolls, such as Barbie, but one from the 1800s, dressed in Victorian fashions.  After I completed the first doll, it struck me that with a few changes, she would make a lovely Annabelle.  So I ordered another kit and set to work making my very own Annabelle.

Here is my Annabelle.  She stands a little over 12 inches tall.  I added 1/2" immediately above the waist and 1/4" below, to make her torso just a wee bit longer.  In the book's illustrations, the doll's torso is even longer still.  The kit came with brown mohair for the wig; I switched a used blonde.  I also lightened the kit's paint for the skin, by adding quite a lot of white, to make Annabelle's skin  tone a little closer to porcelain.

In nearly all of the book's illustrations, Annabelle is shown wearing a black snood.  I think snoods are a wonderful invention, particularly useful on bad hair days.  I crocheted Annabelle's snood using perle cotton thread.  To be completely truthful, my Annabelle has two different wigs, both made with the same blonde mohair.  This is her snood wig, in which her back hair is permanently stuffed into the snood.  The other wig is for wearing with bonnets.

Here Annabelle is wearing her petticoat.  I did not make a chemise or full-length slip for her, to keep down the bulk under the bodices of her dresses.  But she did need a petticoat under her skirts.  This was made with cotton batiste with an edging of valencienne lace.  There is a silk ribbon trim just above the ruffle.

Annabelle had need for other underpinnings.  This photo shows her pantaloons, trimmed with the same lace used on the petticoat.  The photo also shows her black stockings and black boots, all of which I made.  The boots look like they have bulbous toe boxes, but that's just the angle from which the photo was taken.  Annabelle has very nice, non-bulbous feet.

I recently learned that if you click on a photo, a larger version of it will appear.  Then if you click on that version, a supersized version appears, showing all of the details.

We begin with A is for Annabelle.  There are two dresses shown, a pink gingham and a blue stripe.  They were very similar in construction.  One of the things that I have learned in trying to replicate with actual fabric garments shown in illustrations is that one can do things with paint and brushes that aren't always possible with real fabrics.  In this case, it is the amount of fabric that can be gathered around a doll's waist.  In the illustration, the skirt is fabulously full; my Annabelle's skirt, not nearly as voluminous.  With fabric, the thicker the fabric, the thicker the gathers, and the fewer of them that will fit around the doll.  This gingham is about the weight of cotton lawn, a little thicker than batiste.  I gathered as much as I could around Annabelle, and this was it.  The dress has pink silk ribbon ruched around the sleeves.

Annabelle here is wearing her bonnet wig, which has hair on the front, sides and a little on the back, designed to fit under her bonnets.  The bonnet is made of white hat straw, with silk ribbon trim and ties.  I made the bonnet pattern to fit Annabelle's head.  Do click on the picture to bring up a larger version.

The blue stripe dress is made from fabric that I had printed by Spoonflower.  The fabric is a cotton sateen.  I used white voile for the ruffles at the neckline and around the sleeves.  Voile is a very light, thin fabric, and so gathers nicely in tiny ruffles like these.  Getting the sleeves cut out so that the stripes were on an angle proved a bit of a challenge. 

The blue stripe dress also appeared in "B for her box."  The box is a trunk that I bought at Hobby Lobby.  It was covered with a garish embossed print, which I stripped.  The leather strips along the edges were on the trunk originally, and I saved them to reuse.  I recovered the box with paper-backed bookcloth, reattached the leather strips, and added handles to the sides.  The inside was lined with book-making end paper, which is acid-free and thus good for Annabelle's things.  I made a tray for the trunk, to hold little things.  The final touch was printing one of the flower borders from A is for Annabelle to attach to the inside of the lid.

In the book, Annabelle never gets to wear her cape.  She is just shown in the illustration, wearing her blue stripe dress, viewing her cape from afar.  I took a photo of her actually in her cape.  I dyed thin flannel a tannish yellow, but in the photo it came out much brighter than it actually is.  The black trim I did on my embroidery machine.  The only thing that I use the embroidery machine for is to embellish doll clothes.  Since I spent a good handful of money on it, I figure I might as well put it to use!

 The fabric for the dress on the left (the purple plaid) is one that I created the print for in Photoshop and then printed onto cotton batiste.  This dress appears several times in the book.

The dress on the right, which I made in lavender striped fabric, appeared only on the page for "D for her dresses," in a black-and-white sketch.  It is the only dress that Annabelle is never shown wearing and the only one never shown in color.  As there were no other lavender striped dresses, I decided that this could be.  It is a skirt with bretelles (shoulder straps) worn over a white guimpe (what they used to call blouses).

There is much that I love about "E for her earrings."  I love the fullness of the skirt.  I made the dress from cotton voile, which is a very thin, sheer, semi-transparent fabric.  It's thinness allowed extra breadth to be gathered into the skirt.  This also is a fabric that I designed the print for in Photoshop and then printed onto the voile.  The trim is silk ribbon, which appears darker in the photos than it actually is.  If you click on the picture above, you can see the details up close.  I made the earrings from air-dry clay and then painted them an old gold color.  I was pleased with the way they turned out.

I bought the fabric for this dress at Farmhouse Fabrics online.  They call the fabric "Swiss muslin," but it is not muslin in the American sense.  It is more like a voile.  It is lovely fabric to work with.  The flowers on the dress and hair decoration came from  They are lovely roses and I've used them often.  Annabelle's wig here is the bonnet wig.  So that she could have long hair in ringlets down the back, I made a wig extension for her, which attaches to her head via the band of flowers.  The fan itself came from Cats Paws online.  The necklace is made of 2 mm pearls strung on wire.
This blue dress appears only for the letter G.   It also is the only dress with straight sleeves.  Two of the dresses had short puffed sleeves.  The rest all had pagoda sleeves, with a white undersleeve beneath. In the photo, the color of the dress that I made came out darker than it actually is.  I'm not sure how to fix that.  This was one of the first dresses that I made, before I got the embroidery machine, so all of the black loopy trim is hand stitched.  The bonnet is made from blue hat straw, with white silk trim and ties.  The white ruffle inside the brim is made from white tulle lace.  I "ruffled" it on a 1" scale Pretty Pleater board, spraying the tulle with hair spray before inserting it in the pleater so that it would hold its shape when removed.

I made the glove box from cardstock.  The red cover was printed, with its lettering, on my computer printer.  The gloves were made from old vintage gloves that I bought off eBay.  I couldn't find any yellow gloves to buy, so I went with ecru.  The gloves were so tiny that I gave up trying to do a green edging on the white ones.

This dress appeared in the illustrations for several letters, beginning here with "H for her hat".  I call this Annabelle's blue tattersall dress.  Between the several letters represented, the details of the dress vary, particularly in the cut and trim of the oversleeves.  In the illustration here, the oversleeves have no darker blue trim, but in all the other illustration of this dress, they do.  There isn't enough detail in the illustration to make out exactly what that darker blue trim was.  I decided to do it as a little band of pleated fabric.  The hat I made from natural colored hat straw.  I used a mold from PNB Doll Company online.  The hat has a 1/8" blue satin ribbon and a blue feather for trim.

Here is the blue tattersall dress again, this time with the dark blue trim on the oversleeves.  The shawl was interesting to make, as so little of it is actually seen in the illustration.  I made the shawl from a square of Swiss wool challis, which is very thin and thus drapes nicely on a 12" doll.  The fringe was made just by pulling threads from the challis.  The embroidery is a floral border that I did by hand.

The blue tattersall dress appears again in "J for her jacket."  The jacket I made from thin cotton flannel, which I dyed the same color as the darker blue of the tattersall.  The trim is blue rayon braid purchased from  When I finished the jacket and tried to put it on Annabelle, over the blue tattersall dress, to my dismay, the jacket would not fit.  The dress sleeves were too bulky for the jacket sleeves to fit over.  I had tried the jacket on her while making it, but she wasn't wearing the dress then.  I had two choices.  One was to remake the jacket, which I did not have the heart to do.  So I went with the second choice, which was to make Annabelle a blue tattersall skirt just to wear with the jacket.  So she has nothing on under the jacket.  Don't tell!

The blue tattersall dress appears again.  Up until the letter H, the only dress that appeared for more than one letter was the blue striped dress.  Other than that, every letter got a new dress.  And then, beginning with H, four letters in a row have featured the blue tattersall dress.  It appears one more time after this, toward the end of the alphabet.  It is as if Tasha Tudor got tired of creating new dresses.  Either that, or she really liked this blue tattersall.

The kerchiefs were a fun project.  I made three of them, all from voile.  One kerchief has a hemstitched border.  Another has a white ruffle around the edge, the ruffle also made from voile.  The third and fanciest of the kerchiefs has a piece of lace from a lady's handkerchief around the edge.  I also found a little pin the help hold to kerchiefs on Annabelle, as the ends of the kerchiefs didn't tie into very nice knots.

This dress appeared once before, in the illustration of "F for her fan."  Here Annabelle is wearing what must be a party dress to show off her gold locket.  The locket came from Cats Paws and really opens.  I haven't put anything in the locket, because I haven't thought of anything meaningful that would be tiny enough.  Perhaps a sweet remembrance from one of her beaux?

As we have reached the midway point in the tale of Annabelle and her possessions, I shall stop here and continue the alphabet in "A is for Annabelle, Part 2."

A is for Annabelle, Part 2

In the previous post, we saw that Annabelle had a wide variety of possessions, including a box (aka trunk), cape, dresses, earrings, fan, gloves, a hat, shawl from India, jacket, kerchiefs, and a locket.  What wonders will be in store as we examine letters M through Z?

The illustration for "M for her muff" shows three new accessories.  One is the coat Annabelle is wearing.  I made it from dark blue cotton flannel, which in Annabel's size looks very much like coat wool.  The coat is trimmed with gold rayon braid from

The second accessory is the muff itself, which I made from minky fabric.  There is no fur, real or imitation, that looks in scale on a 12" doll.  I tried and I tried, but it doesn't work.  Then I found minky, which looks somewhat like beaver fur on Annabelle.  My difficulty was that I couldn't find minky in a golden brown.  I hunt for a couple of years, and finally decided that Annabelle gave her muff a dye job, and it is now dark brown.

The third accessory is Annabelle's head gear, which is a type of winter bonnet worn in the 18th and 19th centuries, called a calash.  Human-size calashes were designed fit over the elaborate hairstyles that ladies wore and then to fold up for storage.  Annabelle-size calashes fit over her hair, but do not fold up.

This dress first appeared in the "F for her fan" illustration.  The nosegay was made from little paper pastel flowers, the kind that often are used to trim doll hats.  I gathered a circle of val lace for the 'doily' underneath the flowers.

This is the first new dress since "H is for hat."  Here Annabelle wears her pink striped dress that has an overskirt.  I wish I had a carriage clock to photograph her with!  The pagoda sleeves have a double row of pink scallops around the edge, while the front opening as a single row of pink scallops. The bottom edge of the overskirt is also scalloped. All scalloping was done on the embroidery machine.  My Annabelle looks so much thicker here than in the illustration.  And for the life of me, I could not get the same drape to the overskirt as in the illustration.  This could be another case of real fabric on a 12" doll cannot always do what can be done in an illustration.  Nonetheless, my Annabelle is a vision of confection in this pink-and-white ensemble.  Cotton candy comes to mind!

This is the first time we've seen this dress since "D for her dresses."  I call it the purple plaid dress, the fabric for which I designed in Photoshop and then printed out on batiste.  The parasol began life as an umbrella that I bought on a Barbie website.  It originally had a brown wood-finish handle with a curve to it.  I sawed off the curved part, which took considerable effort.  I found some aluminum tubing that just fit over the cut-off handle remaining.  I cut the tubing to length and then glued it over the original handle stump.  It took me 3 tries to find a glue that would hold.  Then I glued a silver bead at the end, for the round knob of the parasol in the illustration.

The umbrella needed to be recovered to become a parasol.  I removed the original cover, rescuing all 8 of the little end caps that held the cover onto the frame.  I then sewed 8 pie-shapes of cotton batiste into a circle for the cover.  It took several attempts to get the right size and proportion of pie shapes.  It doesn't work to just cut out a circle of cloth and poke a hole in the middle, because the grain of the fabric needs to run around the outside of the cover, or else when stretched, four segments will be on the bias and will pull funny.  The edge of the cover was trimmed with gathered white val lace.  I also made a very tiny little white strap with a buckle for holding the parasol closed.

I've been working on the Annabelle project on and off since 2008 (more off than on).  Last May, my daughter and I flew from Montana back to Virginia for my mother's 90th birthday.  I wanted a needlework project to work on while on the very long flight to Virginia and back, and decided that this quilt would be a perfect project.  I didn't get it finished on the trip, but I kept working afterward and finally finished it up.  That spurred me to start some of the dresses and accessories that I still had left to do.  I worked on the project steadily through the summer and finally finished everything by the end of September.  I still had all the photographs to take and the layouts to do, but I could see light at the end of the tunnel.

The illustration for "Q for her quilt" only shows Annabelle's head, covered by a nightcap.  I don't have a doll bed that fit and didn't want to buy one, as I'd have no place to store it.  So I decided to have Annabelle sit with her quilt on a little bench.  As more of Annabelle would show in this scenario than just her head, she would need a nightgown.  I made her a simple one from white batiste.  I did, however, make teeny tiny handworked buttonholes for all 7 of the buttons down the front.  In the illustration, there are a pair of slippers peeping from under the bed.  Only the back of the slippers show, so I was free to design the fronts.  I made the slippers out of white flannel, with hard soles.  I embroidered little rose buds, patterned after the roses in one of Tasha Tudor's borders, on the slippers.

Again, Annabelle is wearing the purple plaid dress.  "R for her ribbons" was an easy letter to do.  I first made a small-size hatbox in which to store the ribbons.  The colors of the hatbox are Tasha Tudor colors.  Then all I needed to do was hunt through my ribbon storage box, and cut lengths of ribbons that were appropriately Tasha Tudorish.

The slippers here are not bedroom slippers, but rather are dancing slippers, to wear to the ball.  The Gail Wilson kit from which I made Annabelle had a pattern for making boots, which I modified to make the slippers.  I made them from silk satin ribbon, which I found isn't the easiest to work with in making shoes.  Leather has the advantage of not raveling when it is pulled around the edge of the inner sole and glued.  The slippers in the illustration had little heels, but my Annebelle is flat-footed, and so her dancing slippers are, too.

The dancing dress itself presented several challenges.  Throughout the Annabelle project, I'd put challenges for which I didn't yet have a solution in the back of my head, to cogitate on.  One of the challenges of this dress was how to do the trim.  I ended up by ruching YLI silk ribbon around the neckline and sleeve cuff.  Then I went back over the ruching and stitched strands of lavender embroidery floss down the middle, to simulate ribbon through beading.  The same treatment was used at the top of the ruffle, with wider silk ribbon.  The dress itself was made with Farmhouse Fabric's Swiss muslin, which made a frothy delight of a dancing dress.

The tippet was the first accessory that I made for Annabelle.  The fabric is voile, which is a delicate, semi-transparent fabric.  It is difficult to determine just from the book's sketch of the tippet how it supposedly was constructed.  I decided to make it a double layer with a little Peter Pan collar, both layers and the collar edged with lace.  The lower layer of the tippet has shoulder seams, so that it will curve down over her shoulders.  The illustration in the book does not show a dress with the tippet, although in the sketch Annabelle is wearing a light-colored bonnet.  I decided that Annabelle could wear the tippet with her pink gingham dress and its white bonnet.  The pink gingham dress hasn't been seen since the letter A, so it was time for it to show up again.

We have reached the ubiquitous umbrella.  The umbrella presented a definite challenge, because I wanted one that would open and close.  Gildebrief's once had a kit with directions for making an umbrella frame from metal tubes and rods, together with strings of vinyl tubing that I found at Hobby Lobby in the kids' crafts section under the name Magic Loops.  I did successfully make an umbrella frame using Gildebrief's method, but the size of it was for a much smaller doll.  I needed to enlarge it, keeping all the proportions correct, which was not easy to do given the triangular relationships to the various parts of the frame.  I never did like trigonometry.  Years later, I found the working umbrellas at the Barbie website, which was a much easier solution.  All I needed to do was paint the handle black and the umbrella was done.

In the "U for her umbrella" illustration, Annabelle is wearing a coat very similar to the one she wore in "M for her muff," except that the trim on that coat was a golden brown (or just gold), while in "U for her umbrella," the trim is black.  Buggers!  In the "U for her umbrella" illustration, the coat is also worn over something that has a green and blue plaid skirt.  I decided to let the coat trim remain gold (seeing as it was already gold).  There was nothing that Annabelle had that came close to being a blue and green plaid, so I made her a Black Watch plaid skirt, which she wore with the guimpe from the "D for her dresses" lavender striped outfit.

 At this point, Annabelle already has two straw bonnets, a white one to wear with her pink gingham dress and a dark blue one to wear with her solid blue dress.  At first, I questioned whether she really needed a third bonnet, just for "V for her veil."  Wouldn't the white bonnet work fine?  Then I realized that not only would I have to find a way to attach the veil temporarily, so that it could be removed, but I also needed to attach flowers to the center top of the brim and a ruffle to the back.  Making another bonnet might prove simpler than trying to find ways to attach all three of those temporarily.  So Annabelle got a natural straw bonnet.  The veil is made from cotton tulle, the lower edge of which has embroidered scallops.  The ruffle at the lower back of the bonnet is called a bavolet, and it's purpose is to shield the wearer's neck from the sun.

 "W for her watch" marks the final appearance of the purple plaid dress.  The watch itself was an easy accessory to complete, as it simply required putting in an order at Dollspart.  They have a little collection of accessories specifically designed for Annabelle.

Since X is the letter for which there is no rhyme, the next letter for Annabelle is the penultimate letter "Y for her yarn."  And indeed, yarn is one of the items in the sewing basket that appears in the illustration.  Also included in the basket contents are a little pair of scissors, a tomato pincushion, a packet of needles and some Annabelle-size spools of thread.

The basket itself is an achievement for me, as I have never before done any basket weaving.  I googled the topic and found an article on making miniature baskets (the 1:12 scale size).   I learned that first I needed a mold over which to weave the basket.  I scoured my house for something with the shape that I wanted and finally found a cologne bottle that was basically an orb with a slightly flat bottom.  First I made a mold of the bottom half of that bottle, using Amazing Mold Putty.  It is a type of epoxy that sets in 20 minutes to become a bright yellow rubbery mold.  I then filled the mold with air-dry clay (the only type of clay that I had on hand at the time) and waited for it to dry.  I finally stuck it in the toaster oven at a low temperature to help hasten the drying time.  Once it was solid enough to use, I could begin the basket weaving.  The spokes of my basket were made of hat wire; the weaving was done with waxed linen thread.  If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll see that the basket has a waxy appearance.  The weaving pattern was the simplest possible, but I did put a braid of the linen thread around the top edge, as well as attaching handles.  I was very pleased with how the basket turned out.

With "Z for her zither," we come to the end of the alphabet.  The pink gingham dress makes its first official appearance since "A is for Annabelle," so it was both the first dress and the last dress in the book.  The zither is my master creation.  The light colored wood is basswood, which was used for the top and back of the zither.  The darker brown wood is real mahogany, which isn't prohibitively expensive when buying sheets of it for miniature work.  The fretboard is a piece of basswood colored black with a Sharpie.  It worked!  The wood is black like ebony, and up close the grain of the wood can still be seen.  The frets are silver-colored wire.  I carved little channels across the fretboard in which to glue the frets.  The pegs that hold the strings are the tops of toothpicks from Cracker Barrel and the strings themselves are simply white sewing thread.  Here is a close-up photo of the zither:

This was a wonderful project to undertake.  It needed creativity, ingenuity, patience and perseverance.  One of the photos that I took of Annabelle while I was making her is dated 2008, so the project took 7 years to complete.  Of course I did a lot of other things during that 7 years.  For one thing, my house has a lot more dolls in it now than it did 7 years ago.  I am glad that I started the Annabelle project and I am glad that I finished it.  All of Annabelle's things fit neatly into her trunk.  She spends her days on the table next to the couch, where she and I can chat in the evenings.  I enjoy looking at her, as she has a sweet countenance.  And so . . . 

The project is done,
And this is the end.