This dress was made many years ago, before embroidery machines, before grandchildren and before I had any idea that grandparenthood would be such a busy time. Again and again I am grateful for all my class samples, like this dress, which seem to have been lying in wait to be worn or played with by a grandchild.
When Mildred Turner and I were doing our Sewing for Dolls schools around the country, we designed unique, personalized wardrobes for porcelain dolls, made by my mother and included in the class kits. Each school had a different doll–the same body but different face and hair, like American Girl or Cabbage Patch dolls, so all the clothes and patterns were interchangeable.
Each doll was like a participant in the Witness Protection Program. She was given an identity and fictional life, even an adoption certificate, then outfitted to fit the character she became.
In Maggie Valley, North Carolina, there was Millie Lavonia (little Mildred Lavonia Medford Turner), a child who loved to sew. Daisy Renee was another little mountain girl who wore her Meadow Dress to romp through the countryside. And there were others.
In Atlanta, the doll was named Melanie. This Southern Belle claimed to be the great granddaughter of Goody-Two-Shoes Melanie from Gone with the Wind. And, of course, she had a debutante ball gown and a plantation play dress.
It was so much fun hearing the details and particulars of the doll’s life generated by the adoptive, sewing “mothers.” As I recall, it was reported that one Melanie had run off with a wild biker gang, breaking her family’s hearts. But like the Prodigal Son, she returned home to her Mama. her Daddy, and her Christian, Southern Belle roots. With no tattoos! So she will still get Grandmother’s pearls after all.
Each day during lunch, I read selected passages from The Southern Belle Primer and we all had a good laugh as we learned, or were reminded, of the finer points of proper Belle-dom.
I especially remember the admonition that there is absolutely NO PROPER way to serve deviled eggs but on a deviled egg plate and that every proper Belle must own AT LEAST one. Indeed.
A week after the school was over, Mildred and I were walking the streets of downtown Waynesville and saw a pretty glass egg plate in a general store window. So we bought up the store’s entire inventory and sent one to each student. Later, at home, I shopped around and found two for my daughter Rebecca’s hope chest—one for everyday and one for company. Since then, I often include a deviled egg plate with a bridal shower gift.
I can’t recall in which school this smocked dress was featured. Each wardrobe had at least one bishop, for a dress and/or nightgown. Then there were the “unmentionables” (underwear) and usually a party dress. Fortunately, all the bishop style dresses we made for the standard 20″ doll school doll body also fit the American Girl dolls. So when my granddaughter Laurel got her first AG doll two years ago, she walked right into an extensive, ready-made wardrobe of smocked and heirloom garments. I’d love to have told her that I made these things just for her, but it just isn’t true.
Cotton batiste, lace tape and Swiss edging are the components of the dress. It is smocked and embellished with pinstitched shrimp colored lace tape but it is the embroidery which I think is the most interesting detail. Created with only a machine feather stitch and a modified bar tack, it is a far cry from what today’s embroidery machines can do. And yet it is effective.
Drafting the bishop pattern for a doll is a fairly easy proecess. If there is any interest, I will do a tutorial in a future post. Meanwhile, there are many. many commercial patterns available for dolls of every size. Why not make a little girl happy and use up some of your scraps? Making doll clothes is such fun.
Please share any doll dressing pictures or tips you might have. We’d all love to read about them.