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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Old Doll Came with Two Dresses: I'd forgotten about them.

This post is just the most recent of several concerning an old cloth doll that has come into my possession lately. If you have not read these earlier posts, you might want to go back a few posts and read forward.

First, though, I'm tired of calling this old doll "Old Doll"--it seems somehow improper and lacking dignity. For one thing, although she is "old" in years, she has the figure of a young lady and a rather stylish wardrobe, not to mention a full head of black hair, so "old" doesn't seem an adjective that applies to her. Henceforth, at least for the time being, I will call her Miss Dolly Rock, a more respectful and dignified name and title befitting this wonderful doll. The " Dolly" part is obvious and Rock is the surname of the family who acquired her most recently. Also, my cousin informs me that the Rock contingent of said family hailed from Minnesota, so she is assuming that this doll most probably entered the family from the Rock side.

In all the excitement, I'd overlooked the two "extra" doll dresses that arrived with the doll, one of which is pictured here; I wasn't even sure they belonged to this particular doll, but the size looks right and the sewing looks similar to that on the brown dress Miss Dolly Rock was wearing when she arrived at my place: both of these dresses have gathered fabric stitched in the same rather unusual way: a gathered piece added to a flat piece by folding an edge of fabric down, running a long gathering stitch through the doubled fabric edge, and then top stitching it to the right side of another flat piece with smaller stitches:

The reason I say that it's not the "usual" way of adding a gathered piece to a flat piece is that, in my experience, the more common way is to gather an unfinished edge of a fabric, and then join it to the flat piece by means of a seam. That said, I don't know much about how items of clothing were sewn in the past, and perhaps this was a "style feature" at the time these dresses were made. I'm hoping someone with more knowledge of historical sewing methods will read this and offer some insights; I know there are some Civil War Reenactors on the Treadle On list. At any rate, seeing this method used on both these dresses is one reason for thinking the same person made both.

The red print dress has this treatment at the waist and the brown dress has it on the bodice. I'd say this red print dress was made earlier, though, as the brown dress shows evidence of more sewing skill: it has a faced bodice and waistband and buttons and buttonholes on the back, while the red print dress has no facings and only pins on the back to fasten it closed:

The brown dress also has a more complicated design, whereas the red dress is pretty plain. Another possibility is that an older person and a younger person sewed doll clothes together, with the older person making the brown dress while a younger person, just learning, made the red print one. These are just guesses and we really just won't know, unless some person is found who knows the actual history of this doll. Wouldn't that be great?! To know the TRUTH and not have to guess?! (maybe?)

The red print dress is interesting in that it is mostly hand sewn, but there is some machine stitching on it, too, whereas I don't see any machine stitching on the brown one. I am wondering if this red dress was possibly constructed using a portion of old curtain or clothing and that the machine stitching was part of the fabric's earlier "incarnation" and simply incorporated into the design of the new dress. Another explanation could be that a sewing machine was only available some of the time, so the maker of the dress used it when she could, and when she could not, she sewed without the use of the machine, by hand. This fabric in this dress is unevenly faded too, which is another reason to suspect that this fabric was formerly in use in some other item. Boy! I feel like a detective here! Maybe it IS more fun to guess!

Anyway, I hope some of you that read this, and look at the pictures, will chime in with your ideas about this doll, her construction, and the possible reasons for some of the things I've noticed and perhaps some I haven't noticed.

Very Old Cloth Doll: The Story Continues

Three faces! And that's not even counting the outermost face. I believe, in this picture, the face below the other two was actually ON a doll at some point--whether it was on THIS particular doll, I don't know. My reason for thinking this is that, not only is the head complete (it has three pieces: a center panel which has the face, top, and  center back, and two side pieces)  but there is evidence of remains of  brown yarn hair on its top. The other face, the darkest one on the left, might just be a face that the maker rejected, as it's just the onle piece (no back)  but I'm not sure why it's so dark, if it was never on a doll? That's perplexing.

This is a closer look at  the rejected (?) face that was inside the doll's head, mixed in with the family rags used for stuffing.

This is a mixture of light colored rags used to stuff the head; centermost is a handmade buttonhole, letting us know that this piece was once part of a piece of clothing--other pieces in there MIGHT have been from old clothing or from flour or sugar sacks, it's hard to know.

This is the doll's body as I was washing it, inside out and wet. Now I can see what I couldn't  before: some printing on the fabric, indicating that it  WAS once part of a cloth sack holding some manner of household necessity, perhaps flour or sugar. The printing seems to read "TR LIGHT." My husband said maybe it held tobacco. Perhaps someone who knows more about late 19th century products will have a better idea of what kind of sack this was. I DO know that cloth bags were used to package many different things and that frugal housewives used them for everything from dishtowels to clothing items for their children, and in this case, for a doll's body.

Here is one of the doll's arms, showing no less than FOUR layers. I got it a little wet at the top, so that is why the fabric looks so dark there. The hand, though, is not wet; it got dark on its own from being loved so much.

This picture shows how the arms were sewn to the doll's body, with string, not thread. Some of the work on this doll seemed to be done by skilled hands; other parts look as if someone less skilled, perhaps an older child, did the work. One thing is certain: this doll was around for a long while and underwent many "incarnations."

Her she is without her clothing, wearing only some very "holy" black stockings that had been sewn onto her legs. Under the stockings, the lower legs were of a darker fabric. Later, other knit stockings were sewn over these.  She is quite the shapely young lady. 
In taking apart the second layer of shoulder fabric, one can see the rather large "seam allowance" (the whiter fabric) that the person doing the sewing used. To me, this means that the person remodeling the doll wasn't that interested in precision, but just wanted to get the new head and it's attached "shoulder plate" fastened down securely. One would expect that an experienced seamstress would pin the new piece in place, mark the seam line, and then trim the seam allowance to a uniform width to get rid of excess bulk. This person may have been rather unskilled or they may have been in a big hurry to finish the project in time for it to become a birthday or Christmas gift. I DO wish this doll could speak and tell us about her long life and her various owners!