Sunday, June 1, 2014

Purple Colonial Babydoll Gown

Several years ago while shopping at the Colonial Williamsburg visitor center, I found this: Evoking Period Style for Dolls Revolutionary War Era Informal Gowns pattern collection. I bought the kit for my daughter. It's actually a sewing booklet of instructions with a bit of period information and sources, along with pattern pieces.  We supply the fabric and the 18" doll. I love that for the money spent it is reusable! I have gobs of fabric so my daughter's dolls can all be well dressed! Well she has some smaller dolls but maybe we an accomodate for that.

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Later I finally talked my daughter into starting this project. She was quite reluctant because she needed vision therapy, which I didn't realize at the time.  She needed lots and lots of help and wore out quickly, lasting only 30 minutes at a time.  However this story has a happy ending, so stay tuned!


First she chose the fabric so of course she chose purple! In fact, she chose to use the print of her own favorite gown. I let her choose which clothing item she wanted to make first, then I taught her how to lay out the pattern pieces. Then I taught her how to read each step and sew each step.


The directions are actually arranged for machine sewing, because the designer wanted users to have a delightfully quick experience. However the smaller an item is, the more difficult it is to sew it on the machine, and this is not a good sewing machine project for my daughter who had eye tracking issues.  I knew that even though I didn't know there was a name for it.  Even with a larger project I could just see that machine sewing her fingers right up. She did use a machine for a sewing class at the Colonial Williamsburg Costume Design Center and had a wonderful lady whom we love help her step by step, but my daughter was terrified! That fear of the sewing machine definitely motivated her to sew by hand, but only at 30 minute stretches at a time.  Besides, my daughter was interested in someday sewing a proper gown for herself someday, and that would mean hand sewing. So she was up for that challenge, albeit in bits and pieces!


One nice thing about handsewing is that it's portable and we were able to make so many trips to Colonial Williamsburg back then, that this gave us something to do in the hotel room in the winter evenings when there wasn't anything else to do.

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The above is about as far as she got way back then and it stayed buried in the sewing basket until I encouraged her to pull it out last summer. By now she had started a year long journey of vision therapy and we knew that hand sewing would be great for developing eye tracking.  I sort of instinctively knew that before, but now I had the power of a great doctor to confirm that! =)


Now that my daughter was a few years older and understood the diagnosis and prognosis of her eyes, she was more determined to conquer.



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Diligent work next to me day by day produced this! She was quite pleased to have a 3D handsewn recognizable object in her hands! Meanwhile I was hand sewing a new colonial shirt for my son. Even though her project thus far had been of a bodice, she could tell from looking at my pattern pieces what I was going to do with each major item (minus the confusing to her gussets-those will come later). She felt so bold that she snuck behind my back and sewed on the skirt! By then we got super busy with visiting family and visiting colleges, on top of gobs of vision therapy homework, and the gown was again set aside. This time instead of burying it she let her 18" doll wear it and it looked pretty good!  She said all that was left was to fasten the back and add trim. 


My daughter recently finished college for the year and vision therapy, even though she still has a few week spots. By now we had learned about spatial reasoning, one area where she is still a bit weak! Guess what? Sewing is perfect for devloping spatial reasoning skills!  I could tell because she had shown much progress last summer in learning where different pattern pieces go, and in how to conceptualize a 2D pattern piece to a 3D garment. Lots of higher level thinking there!


When she first completed finals we did a spring cleaning of her room and I reorganized her baskets to put one sewing/craft project with all the pertinent supplies in each basket and set them on a special shelf. it looks so pretty now and I told her all she had to do is grab and go whenever she worked on something, instead of digging for bits and pieces.  I thought this would give her extra energy to sustain tedious eye tracking work.


Last week I encouraged her to finish her baby doll gown. She brought it down and I found a couple of mistakes, that I encouraged her to rip out. She hadn't quite understood the spatial reasoning on a couple of things and that is still a weak area that we are addressing.  Vision therapy costs thousands of dollars and much has been invested in her to have an easier life, one which most of us take for granted. 


Basically the back seam had been sewn wrong sides together, so we chatted about that. That's a rather significant skill that must be understood for all sewing to look it's best.  I made it all light hearted, because she certainly did a superior job to previous efforts of merely wrapping her baby dolls in fabric. The complexities of sewing had never made sense and this one little skill will reap huge benefits in the end. That and a couple of other things basically meant redoing all the skirt.


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This year she spent from about 10 in the morning to 8 in the evening diligently working on the gown.  By the end of the day the gown was done, minus the trim! The next day I showed her how to cut and pink trim and how to sew it on. Again she worked diligently and then proudly dressed her baby doll, complete with proper colonial fancy red shoes and a hair decoration (one of her own bows from childhood) as well!

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The decorations do not suggest any trim around the neckline..but the gowns I sewed for us have trim around the neckline so I asked my daughter what she wanted to do. She wanted the neckline trim!

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The pattern actually calls for velcro for the back.  I didn't have velcro so we went with a more historical application, ribbons!
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I've seen extant girls' gowns with ribbons tied in the back to close the gown. My daughter dug in her recently organized ribbon box and quickly found what else? Purple ribbon!

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Front detail

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Almost immediately she started a new colonial doll gown project. This is a preset kit that we bought at Michie Tavern a few years ago of precut fabric and instructions.  My daughter has spent every spare minute, between chores around the house, vision therapy, working at the restaurant, and studying for another driver's permit (vision therapy issues)...to sew this gown! It is almost finished so stay tuned!


The pattern is only sold at Colonial Williamsburg. The link for on-line ordering through the designer's website is dead. I looked and looked at the CW website but couldn't find it so I did a google search and found this.

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