Creating Historic Costuming for Art Dolls
Sometimes we start a project with grand ambitions to do it right. Once you’ve decided to dress a doll in historic costume you have decisions to make: what era am I depicting, how accurate am I going to get with the costuming? I’ll walk you through my approach and tell you some of the tricks and tips I use.
You can have a lot of fun with a project like this; there will be many questions to answer. I start by researching the era. Once I have found the look I want in one of my books, I look for the pattern shapes. These are the best way to get an authentic cut for a costume, no matter what size it is. Evolution of Fashion: Pattern and Cut from 1066 to 1930by Margaret Hamilton Hill and Peter Bucknell, or Patterns of Fashion by Janet Arnold are both excellent resources.
Now I fold and pin a pattern on the doll. You can use paper towel for this or soft interfacing. I lay it over the doll’s body and mark it with the period patterns in mind. Certain things, like the placement of the grain lines on the skirt panels are very important to give the authentic look.
An 1860 -1885 skirt, for example has several panels, with the straight of grain on the front edge of each panel. This has the effect of pushing the fullness of the skirt back, adding to the bustle effect.
The right fabric
Using the right fabric is important. Heavy fabrics won’t pleat or gather softly and be much too heavy at the waist. A trick I use here is to make the doll’s waist small, so that it can accommodate a pleated or gathered skirt, without losing the dolls’ waistline. Fabric can also be edited out of the top of the skirt to reduce bulk. If the bodice will cover the waist, don’t bother with a band at the skirt waist, just stitch the pleats or gathers flat and then lay the bodice over it.
Seams can be eliminated to simplify the construction.
This soldier’s coat should have side seams and side back seams. I have eliminated them here without losing the effect of the era. This 1812 coat has facings sewn with raw edges. Accurate for the period, it meant using a fabric that wouldn’t fray.
I was puzzling over the trim for this general’s jacket. The portraits I was studying showed elaborate braid across the fronts. Further research showed a jacket at a museum, without any braid. So I can be accurate and simplify the costume at the same time! The bicorn hat was created by studying an actual hat. I happen to own one I found at a charity shop, but a museum visit would be useful here too.
Other ways to simplify costuming is to fake it. The Marquis here has a lovely vest.
It is only the front, however. I lined and then sewed the fronts closed down the center, added buttons and stitched it to the insides of the coat. There’s no shirt either, just a strip of cloth to simulate the shirt and neckerchief. I used very soft cheesecloth for this. The lace cuffs are sewn to the ends of the sleeves.
So you see that you can create an authentic looking costume, using a few shortcuts to simplify construction. It’s all about researching the cut of the clothing, then choosing appropriate fabrics for the scale, then deciding which parts of the costume can be simplified to make the whole thing work. I wish you success with your next project.
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