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I write well researched but readable historical and contemporary novels and some non-fiction. I live in a Scottish country cottage with my artist husband. I love gardening and I also collect the fascinating antique textiles that often find their way into my fiction. This blog is about all these things and more!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

An Old Scottish Fashion Doll

 I don't know what she's called and I'm not even sure how old she is. She is a little like a doll called a 'Pandora' - a precisely and beautifully clothed 'fashion doll' . You can read all about these kind of dolls in an excellent research paper called Pandora in the Box, Travelling the World in the Name of Fashion.
Fashion, dress, is certainly her purpose. I don't think she was ever played with in the conventional sense - her condition is too beautiful. I found her in a local saleroom, here in Ayrshire, many years ago. I can't remember what I paid for her, but it wasn't a huge amount of money and she seemed like a bargain. I know that her dress is a variation on the 'Polonaise' style of eighteenth century dress, but she definitely wasn't made at that time - well, I'm fairly sure she isn't as old as that! She has the face of a Lenci doll in a way, but by no means so precisely moulded or so characterful, and if she were a Lenci doll she would be a lot more valuable. She is a rag doll of sorts, made of something that looks and feels like stuffed stockinette, with a head and face of stuffed linen, gessoed, I think and then with painted features and a (slightly spooky) wig of real human hair.

 She stands about 18 inches high, and as you can see from the pictures, she is fully clothed in layers and layers of hand stitched costume. These seem so very authentic that they taught me a great deal about how this mode of dress worked! Working from the outside inwards, she had a hat in pale pink satin, trimmed with little glass beads and with a blue glass hatpin. She has a pink satin 'Polonaise' overdress, with embroidered net sleeves, and tiny frills of hand made lace edging at collar and cuffs.




 The underside of this pink satin overdress is lined with a different peachy coloured material which is hand embroidered with beautiful little flowers and leaves.
Beneath this is a deep strawberry pink underskirt, consisting of a double layer of satiny fabric, peach on the inside, deep pink on the outside, all hand quilted together and fastening at the back with a little button. She has a white linen camisole laced with pink ribbons, and under that is a deep peachy pink satin corset, neatly laced, with under that a short linen shift (the kind of 'cutty sark' that Burns wrote about in the poem Tam o' Shanter.) You can just see the bottom edge of it underneath the pink corset, as I undressed her, below.



As you can see, she has a beautifully hand made petticoat under the quilted skirt. This too is in white linen and has a deep frill of scalloped cutwork embroidery, making a double layer with the plain edge of the skirt, and fluffing out the whole costume still more. 



Underneath that is a frilly peachy pink flannel petticoat (for warmth!) again buttoned, and with a little line of hand embroidery around the waist.
After that, come a pair of utterly gorgeous linen pantalettes. with tiny pintucks and tinier lace trim at the bottom, pulled together with pink ribbon.
And below that, a pair of handmade cotton stockings, with - an absolute triumph - a tiny but very handsome pair of white kid leather shoes with coloured beads trimming them.



She even has a little handmade hankie, with lace trim in her podgy fist. 


 I think she's wonderful. I keep her wrapped up in acid free tissue paper, but sometimes I take her along when I do talks about textiles, especially about Scottish whitework. I let people handle her with great care and admire the needlework. Many people see these kind of things in museums, but seldom get to handle them. I keep thinking there may be a story in her somewhere! But I'd dearly love to know more about her. I suspect she may have been a Scottish version of a fashion doll, a dressmaking project on which some seamstress demonstrated her many skills. I get the sense that she might not be that old, but the style of the work may well mean that she could be a hundred years or more. I've researched and hunted, but I have never seen anything quite like her. There are rag dolls in plenty and fashion dolls too but these are generally more lifelike and delicate with carved wood or porcelain heads. I've never seen such a marriage of a fairly crudely made doll with really exceptional needlework.

If you're reading this and you have any ideas, do comment below!

1 comment:

Susan Price said...

What a little character! And what a completely fascinating blog, in all sorts of ways. Thank you, Catherine.