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."


Suzanne said...

Extraordinary work! I must tell our Take Peace Tasha Tudor group on FB is talking about your Annabelle. We have an Annabelle club there. We are loving everything you have made. Visit us if you wish and join the group:-)
Take Peace Administrator

Serenata said...

I have just found your blog. What an amazing amount of work you put into this project and what fun you must have had!

Jane said...

The way you get more width into the skirts is with cartridge pleating. Dresses in that time period were two parts, the skirt and the bodice, and the fabric for the skirts was little pleats sewn to the waist band. Depending on the weight of the fabric and the size of the pleat, you could get amazing amounts of fabrics on a waistband.