My perpetual hunt for antique fabrics has been overwhelmingly successful this summer! So much so that I have had fabric and quilts stacked everywhere… Much of the fabric I use to make dresses for my reproduction Izannah Walker dolls comes from the backs of damaged and worn antique quilts.
I search for and buy the quilts, take them apart, use the backing fabric that is stable enough to sew with, then save the tops to be restored if possible (sometimes this means removing the damaged blocks, then reassembling the tops into a smaller size), or at the very least I keep the tops so that even the tiniest bits of usable fabric can be re-purposed to restore other quilts and antique clothing.
So that means that I have an on going storage nightmare! The whole quilts and tops are stored in my painting studio… I know NOT paint… but my sewing studio completely ran out of space for any more fabric!!! Antique fabric, that isn’t quilts (which includes damaged antique clothing) IS kept in my cozy little sewing studio. Everyone who sews knows that you can never have enough fabric, the only question is “where do you keep it?” 🙂
Since I could barely walk into the storage closet of the painting studio, something HAD to be done. I purchased some heavy duty chrome shelves, spent a couple of afternoons putting them together, then yesterday re-folded all of my quilts and organized them on the shelves. Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not a person that spends a great deal of time cleaning… in fact cleaning is pretty low on my to do list, but… I needed my work table back, where all of the quilts have been stacked for the past couple of weeks. Now that my table is empty, I can get to work on the how-to project and accompanying magazine article that I am writing for the Christmas issue of Early American Life.
working my way through the stack…
Blacks & Greys
Wondering About My Choice of Shelving?
For those of you interested in conservation of antique textiles, the reason I chose the chrome shelving is because the chrome will keep the metal from rusting. Wood shelving was unsuitable because of the acid in the wood, and while you CAN paint the wood to seal in the acid, I prefer not to rely on a painted barrier. Plastic shelving is not strong enough to bear the weight of the quilts, and museum quality acid free storage boxes are impractical in this situation since I need constant, ready access to the quilts.
After I got all the quilts placed on the shelves, I covered the shelves with large dust covers to keep the quilts clean and prevent exposure to sunlight. I will periodically refold all of the quilts so that the fabric won’t wear and crumble along the fold lines.
When I need to wash quilts, I hand wash them using Orvus and cool water saved from my dehumidifier ( purchased distilled water can also be used). Then I air dry the quilts outside in a shady location, preferably flat – especially for very fragile quilts, but occasionally on the clothes line for especially sturdy ones. ❤
The wheel of the world has turned once again and it is time to welcome in a new year… Even more so than Thanksgiving, New Year’s is a time that causes me to think about all the things I am thankful for and to consider all of my hopes for the upcoming year.
I AM GRATEFUL…
Everyday I realize how exceedingly fortunate I am to be able to do the things I love. I can not express how thankful I am to be the current custodian of eight of Izannah Walker’s dolls! I am constantly amazed that these dolls are mine to love and care for. It’s been a long time coming, with years upon years of searching and more hours than I can count of work to pay for them. If you had asked me 25 years ago if I would ever own even one Izannah Walker doll I would have said no, but the longing for one these amazing dolls never waned. So I continued to search for a doll I could afford and try to save money to pay for her… It’s good to hold on to your dreams, whatever they are, to continue to strive for your goals and not get discouraged! It also helps to be tenacious and downright stubborn! 🙂 Because I know that I am blessed, I try to share my Izannahs, both old and new! I have always been grateful to others who have been kind enough to show me their dolls, in person, in photographs and online, so I attempt to repay my thanks by doing the same – plus adding in bits of my imagination and the world it lives in… Come by in the months to follow and see the dolls at play ❤
THANKS TO YOU…
Thank you all for your support of my work these past 30 years! I didn’t say much about it, but 2016 was the 30th year I have been making and selling my handwork.
Thank you for your purchases, both large and small! Thank you for your kind words of encouragement and your compliments. It is a scary thing to expose items you have lovingly created to the world! Thank you for making it a rewarding experience, and much less frightening.
Thank you for being the kind of customers and students who turn into friends and brighten my days!
A huge thank you to those who have entrusted their precious dolls to me for restoration!!! I have appreciated the chance to take care of your treasured dolls, and to carefully undo the worst ravages of time and past accidents. I learn so much with every doll I have the opportunity to study and observe! I know I’m slow and cautious when restoring dolls, so thank you also for your patience.
An immense armful of thanks to those few special individuals who feel the same way that I do about sharing the beauty of Izannah’s dolls, and who have graciously allowed me to make reproductions of their antique Izannah Walker dolls! I truly can not thank you enough. ❤ ❤ ❤
One of the good things about being older is gaining a deeper understanding of yourself! After a lot of trial and error, I know many of the things that make me happy. I know that I am the happiest creating beautiful,intricate, time-consuming things. I do make and sell a large number of items… and I used to make even more. Yes, I can make simple, less expensive dolls, bears, clothes, pincushions, etc. etc. etc… but doing that is more like drudgery. I strive for special, amazing, perfect work. That is what makes my heart sing. I may not always reach my ideal, but that doesn’t keep me from trying again and again. I know this is not the right way for everyone, but it is for me. So know yourself! Be kind to yourself and follow the path that is uniquely yours. Don’t follow the crowd, follow your heart! ❤
HOPE FOR THE NEW YEAR
A new year traditionally brings new beginnings. My hope for 2017 is to be more creative. To try projects that I’ve been daydreaming of for years. To let that spark of creativity light all the days of this brand new year!!!
My hope for you is that you will be able to turn some of your long held daydreams into reality in 2017, and that you will be surrounded by those you love and care about! Try something new! Happy New Year to us all!!!
Being a doll maker’s doll is a lot like being a shoemakers child, you always come last… You may remember how terribly bedraggled Izzybelle was when she arrived on my doorstep a couple of years ago. I finally found just a handful of moments to start cleaning her and making her appropriate replacement arms and legs. Once upon a time Izzybelle was a charming, small example of one of Izannah Walker’s dolls. She was loved, played with and almost used up, then sent to the Martha Chase factory for repairs, so that she could be loved and played with some more. I own several dolls, and have seen and restored a handful of others, that were refurbished by the doll makers working for Martha Chase.
Izzybelle has been in desparate need of atention.
Little by little I slowly cleaned years of dirt, grime and what looked like possible smoke damage away from her head and shoulders.
Poor Izzybelle, someone got quite carried aaway with bright red paint! Her lips and both eyes were lined in red.
Little Izzy is looking better, but there are still some very stubborn bits of paint reamaining from when she was re-painted at the Martha Chase factory…
I love Martha Chase dolls, but I have to admit that as I attempted to remove the stubborn Martha Chase factory re-painting from Izzybelle, I was thinking VERY dark thoughts…
Now you can catch a glimpse of what Izzybelle looked like earlier in her life. I still have more restoration work to do, but now she truly looks like a tiny Izannah Walker doll one again ❤
and now my tale continues… Today it is time for Emmaline’s story. It’s a rollicking adventure of coincidence, fate, and love!
In June, 2014 one of my doll club members told me that a friend of hers who lived in Wilton, CT was putting all of her dolls up for sale at the Withington August auction. She then showed me a photo of a doll that her friend called a “Nantucket Doll”. Imagine my surprise when the “Nantucket Doll” was actually an Izannah Walker doll! The doll was dressed in a pink and white calico morning dress and had been repainted, but was clearly an Izannah Walker doll. It just so happened that another Izannah Walker doll was up for sale in the same Withington auction. I didn’t go to the auction, but several of the members of my doll club did. When our club met in September, the one other Izannah collector in the club brought the doll she bought at Withington’s to show me. No it wasn’t the “Nantucket Doll”, it was the second doll, a tiny 16 inch Izannah Walker.
Sometime later I happened upon the “Nantucket Doll” on eBay. The winner of the Withington auction had listed her for sale. Fast forward to the Autumn of 2015. A very good customer, and dear online penpal, contacted me. She had purchased an Izannah Walker doll. Would I take a look at photos of her and see if it was possible to do some restoration work on the doll? Low and behold, there was the “Nantucket Doll” again, now stripped of much of her repaint by a restoration professional (at the behest of the eBay seller). The little Nantucket Doll had been named Emmaline by her new mom, Anita. Anita had a wish list of restoration areas that she would like for Emmaline. Were they possible? Would the restoration be a good idea? She had conscientiously had the doll evaluated by fine art appraisers before writing to me. Together we worked out a minimalist plan for Emmaline that would help her look more like the truly beautiful doll she once was, but still show her age.
So after traveling far and wide during the intervening year, Emmaline once again returned to Connecticut. This time her destination was my studio, a mere 31 miles from Wilton where she had made her home for many years!
The first thing I did after Emmaline arrived was to ohh and ahh over her, introduce her to all of my resident Izannah Walker dolls, and then thoroughly document her condition.
Emmaline before my restoration.
Pre-restoration full length front.
Pre-restoration full length back.
Emmaline upon her arrival at my studio.
Note the seam placement down the back of the leg which is indicative of a very early Izannah Walker doll.
Front of legs.
Feet with painted boots.
This hand looks as if it was repainted at some point.
Emmaline was remarkably intact for a doll of her age. Her only real issues were on her face. Her body was sound, with a bit of reinforcement stitching on the toes of her painted boots and fairly well matched over painting on one arm. Even her pale pink linen second skin was still in good shape!
Wet paint! One of about 20 transparient light layers of color.
After rebuilding the tip of her nose and most intrusive cracks with a water soluable clay (that could be removed. Restoration work should be able to be undone if possible)
Starting the painting process.
Still more painting…
Finally starting to get the paint colors evened out and closer to her original paint color.
Getting close to finishing the painting…
The biggest challenge I faced with Emmaline, was getting all of the many skin toned paint colors on her face to blend into one another. During her lifetime her face was at least partially painted several times. Much of the overpaint on her face had been removed. What was left was a combination of her original paint that had faded and at least two other colors of flesh-tone paint. Fortunately the original paint on her shoulders, chest and back was intact, with areas of slightly yellowed varnish. The original non-faded paint on Emmaline’s shoulders told me what color her face should be, which was very important. When I started painting Emmaline’s face, I was very careful not to paint over any of her original paint. I did very sheer layers of paint over my reconstructed areas and the stubborn remaining overpainting. Because her original paint was chalky looking due to sun fading and cleaning I fed it several times with a very small amount of cold pressed linseed oil. The linseed oil helped bring the old paint back to life and also made it blend better with my new in painting. As my last painting step I wore away a smidgen of my newly applied lip paint. I wanted to make sure that nothing I did stood out or looked new.
Painting finished, it’s time to be fitted for new dresses!
Close-up of restoration in-painting.
Now Emmaline’s face and shoulders are closer to the same color.
The restored Emmaline retains all of the charm she attained during the past 160 or so years, the only difference is that now she looks like her life was a bit more gentle.
Once I finished painting I moved on to dressmaking. Emmaline came with many layers of underclothing, so all I needed to do was make her extra dresses to augment her wardrobe. Sewing for Emmaline was a joy! It was a lot of fun to dress her up in her new clothes and see her in more fitted dresses.
Emmaline is modeling part of the antique underwear she accumulated during her lifetime.
Emmaline looks very pleased with her dress made from madder printed polka-dots.
Emmaline after restoration. Wearing a reproduction dress made from antique fabric.
Short gathered, banded sleeves and a low gathered neckline are very becoming.
Emmaline’s second new dress is made from a very early brown print cotton.
This dress has a fitted bodice and sleeves, with a cartridge pleated skirt.
Emmaline after restoration.
Emmaline after restoration.
Emmaline after restoration.
Emmaline after restoration.
Originl paint and wear marks on her arm. Self piping and cartridge pleating at the waist of her dress.
Emmaline after restoration.
After her new clothing was complete Emmaline was thrilled to be heading back home! Who wouldn’t be with such a loving and caring mom? Clearly Emmaline was fated to find such a perfect new home. Anita was so thoughtful when it came to deciding what was right for Emmaline. There could not be a better care taker for this early example of Izannah Walker’s work. Anita was also amazingly generous to me! She kindly allowed me to tell you about Emmaline, share photographs of her and is letting me make reproductions of her, so that other people who love Izannah Walker’s dolls can add an example of this lovely early girl to their doll families and keep Izannah’s legacy alive. ❤ Thank you Anita!!!
Good-bye Emmaline, we miss you little “Nantucket Doll”…
And they all lived happily ever after!
(*** Move your cursor over the photos to read the captions, click on photos to enlarge.)
Today I thought I’d share with you the story of Lily and Emmaline, and the journey we shared. Lily and Emmaline are two very wonderful original antique Izannah Walker dolls that came to me for restoration. The following is the tale of how they returned to their true selves and regained a glimmer of their youth.
Part 1 Lily’s Story
(Move your cursor over the photographs to read the captions. Click on the photographs you wish to enlarge)
When first purchased.
After removing facial overpaint
One day, out of the blue, my dear friend Susie called to tell me that she had purchased an antique Izannah Walker doll. The doll was in such bad shape that no one else at the doll show she attended was interested in buying her, even though some people did realize that she was one of Izannah’s dolls. Chief among several issues was the very heavy repaint on the doll’s head and shoulders. Thinking that she certainly couldn’t make the doll look worse than she already did, Susie gathered her courage and began removing layers of paint. Finally working her way down to the remains of Lily’s original layer of face paint. What emerged was a charming, classic pre-patent Izannah Walker doll. In due course Susie and Lily journeyed to Connecticut and it was agreed that Lily would stay to visit my family of Izannahs while I endeavored to bring back some of her former glory.
This is Lily when she first arrived at my studio. Note the missing paint on her facial features, the poorly made flat replacement arms, the glued on stockinette covering her original shoulders and the sewn on stockings and leather shoes.
Full back view before restoration.
A close up of Lily’s face and the bodice of her dress before restoration.
Where to start??? One of the challenges I faced with Lily was the glued on, painted piece of stockinette that someone had applied over her entire shoulder area. Obviously there was some reason that they felt the need to do that, but why? I decided to see if I could remove the glue saturated fabric. Starting in an unobtrusive spot under the edge of her second skin I gently began chipping away very small bits of stockinette/glue/paint. This was an excruciatingly slow process. The ill considered repair disappeared a fraction of an inch at a time, to reveal Lily’s original shoulders. There was a small torn area up near her neck, which I repaired with a little piece of antique fabric.
Glued on repair fabric went from neck to chest and was heavily painted.
The neck edged of the glued on stockinette was also sewed in place.
Test area to see if I could remove the glued stockinette.
Close-up of neck edge.
Oh so slowly getting down to Lily’s real shoulders.
The small hole hidden under all that glue, stockinette and paint.
Taking apart a decayed silk quilt block to salvage the antique cotton fabric underneath.
After removing the silk stitch by stitch I came up with an extremely close match to the cotton fabric that Lily’s shoulders are made of.
Fabric comparison. Looks good!
The final repair! Much less intrusive, it leaves her original structure visable and supports weak areas from underneath.
I used some of the same antique quilt block foundation fabric to make Lily a new pair of arms in the proper size, from a pattern drafted from one of my own antique Izannah Walker dolls and re-scaled to fit Lily’s petite size. After making Lily’s new arms I gave them an appropriate amount of wear and multiple coats of paint that I hand mixed to match her remaining original paint.
Next came the thrill of doing a small amount of judicious in-painting on Lily’s face and shoulders. Brushing on many whisper thin coats of hand mixed color, always making sure not to get any paint down into the cracks in her paint surface. Susie is very found of Isabeau, one of my antique Izannah Walker dolls, and we found that when we compared Isabeau and Lily that Lily looks like a smaller version of Isabeau. Both having been made originally from very similar head molds. Since all of the paint on Lily’s features was long gone, I took Isabeau to the studio, where she sat with me and modeled as I repainted Lily’s eyes and lips.
The next decision that Susie had to make was whether or not to leave the sewn on stockings and shoes from an earlier repair. I could tell that Lily’s ankles had once again separated along the seam line, and while the socks were keeping her feet from falling off, they were dangling loose under the red stockinette. After much consideration it was decided that I should remove the red “socks” and little leather shoes. When I did I was very pleased to find that Lily had painted shoes! Not painted boots, but low top shoes.!!! The original paint did not go above the ankle seam. This is a fairly rare detail and it made my whole day when I uncovered it. 🙂 I was able to repair Lily’s feet with a few stitches to keep her worn “shoes” in place over their horsehair stuffing. I used small strips of the antique quilt block foundation to make bands to stabilize her ankle seams.
Red “socks” and leather shoes, a previous ankle repair.
Here you can see that the ankles are detached from the feet underneath the socks.
The bottoms of the legs that were hidden underneath the sewn on “stockings”.
Feet just laid in place. Note the height of the shoe paint.
Before reattaching the shoes, I carefully made a muslin pattern for future reference. It is important to keep records in case this doll should need additional restoration in the future and also for the dolls I reproduce.
Adding the support bands of antique cotton fabric.
The finished ankle repair.
After getting sweet Miss Lily back to her true self, I turned my attention to her clothing. She came with a hand sewn red cotton dress trimmed with black velvet ribbon. The dress is not as old as the doll and while it was made with love, it was not made by an expert seamstress. The dress also had a great deal of sun fading on the front. Normally I would not be concerned with the fading, because that is just one of those things that happens to fabric… However, the dress was quite short and Susie wanted the hem let out if possible. I tried to find a piece of old black velvet ribbon with similar wear so that I could add it as a second row of trim along the crease of the original hemline (once the hem was let out). I looked for quite a long time without success. I wound up letting the hem down, then removing all of the ribbon trim so that I could wash the dress. Normally I use cold water to wash antique fabrics, but in this instance I used warm, hoping that the red dye would run and even out the color. It did run, but the fading was still very evident, as was the fact that I let the hem down. So I wound up re-dying the dress to it’s original turkey red color. This evened out the color enough so that it is now acceptable. Then I sewed the black ribbon back in it’s previous positions, because even after dying the lines where the ribbon was were quite visible. I also moved the hooks and eyes at the waist to make it smaller. The dress fits Lily much better now. since Lily did not come with undergarments, I made her a set from antique fabric and antique waved braid (rick-rack). As I’ve mentioned Lily’s mom is very fond of my Isabeau, so I recreated Isabeau’s chemise, then made a petticoat and pantalettes to match.
See the fading that is still very much evident after the dress was washed.
This is much closer to the dress looked like when it was new.
Chemise with handsewn antique rick-rack.
Petticoat with tucks and muktiple rows of waved braid.
More rick-rack trims the pantalettes.
Lily shows off her new chemise.
Underwear that is almost pretty enough to wear as a dress. 🙂
I thoroughly enjoyed having Lily stay here during her transformation. My doll family is going to be crushed when she leaves, as they have all become fast friends. I’m sure they will be pen pals for life.
“Lily we are so happy you came to visit.”
Lily joined in all of the doll’s adventures in between restoration sessions in my studio.
Lily is much happier now!
She is ready to kick up her heels and dance!
Lily has enjoyed her stay.
“Good- bye little bed, I’ll miss you!”
In addition to trusting me with Lily, Susie has been extremely generous. She told me that she wanted me to make reproductions of Lily and she has allowed me to share this story of Lily’s restoration! Thank You Susie!!!
One of my reproductions of Lily.
This reproduction Lily recently left here, headed to her new home.
Lily and her younger sister pose together. They will live happily ever after at Susie’s house with all of their sisters.
And now we come to the end of this chapter in Lily’s continuing story. Her restoration is finished and she will be going back home. All of the pieces of her previous repairs will be going with her, as they are mementos of her long, interesting life.
Newly made hands and arms.
Eyes, lips and a whisper of blush on her cheeks along with her newly revealed original shoulders.
Please come back to visit Izannah Walker Journal next week to read Part Two: Emmaline’s Story.
It is my very great pleasure to introduce you to “Lily Two”. She is a special commission doll, that is the very first doll made from a mold of the original Lily. This little reproduction Lily is going to be living with her older sister, the real Lily, and will no doubt acquire a new name of her very own when she goes home. 🙂
Thank you so much for dropping by to meet Lily. We enjoyed having you come visit! Please come back to see us soon ❤
❤ ❤ ❤ I have been searching for months for thin antique black velvet ribbon to use on the original Lily’s dress. If anyone should happen to have any that they are selling or know where some can be found, will you please send me a note at email@example.com ? Thank you!!!
You’ve just received an invitation to a birthday party! What is the first thing that you think of??? “What am I going to wear?”
The dolls would like you to step back in time with them, as they show you what a little girl in the mid-1800’s would wear to a party. The dress they are showing off is one of my recent finds from the Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market. It is the approximate equivalent of a modern girls size six.
First Things First
Before you can go to the party, you have to make sure that your best dress is clean. Isabeau, Hannah, and Isane volunteered to do the laundry…
Today I have been rendering a bit of loving assistance to this damaged, but still beautiful papier-mache doll. I’ve been asked by her owner to stabilize her condition, more than restore her. I have glued the very large crack in her head and started repairing the holes in the back of her head. Her antique underclothing is currently soaking in a solution of Orvis and distilled water. The idea here is to conserve the doll with a very light touch. I’m doing just enough to keep her together and stop her from deteriorating further, while allowing the story of her life and enchanting time worn appearance to shine.
This doll has a very nice hand sewn body, with magnificent fingers and hands!
Come back to visit next week to see how she looks when I’m finished working on her…
Although I don’t often mention it here on my blog, I do a fair amount of restoration work when I can fit it into my schedule. During August and September I spent countless hours doing restoration on three antique Izannah Walker dolls, plus a very unique one of a kind antique painted cloth doll. ❤ ❤ ❤
Helping to preserve and restore antique cloth dolls and their clothing is one of my passions! Equal parts scary and awe inspiring, restoration work is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things that I do ❤ As with any type of restoration, less is more. I do the least possible to protect and preserve a doll, while at the same time getting her original beauty to show through her veil of years.
Here are some before and after photographs for all of you, who are equally as smitten with antique painted cloth dolls as I am, to enjoy. I do make all cloth, historically accurate reproductions of all three of these Izannahs; with pressed cloth heads that I make in molds taken directly from the original antique dolls. I’d be delighted to make one especially for you ❤
All of my dolls are finely handmade, one at a time, in New England – just over 100 miles from where Izannah Walker lived and worked in Somerset Village, MA and Central Falls, RI. Each doll is historically accurate and requires from 85 – 100 hours to complete.
I’m always happy to talk to you about restoring your antique painted cloth dolls. firstname.lastname@example.org 860-355-5709 (9:00 – 6:00 Eastern Time).
A LARGE VERY EARLY IZANNAH WALKER DOLL
HEAVILY REPAINTED 18 INCH IZANNAH WALKER DOLL
This doll belongs to me. You may remember seeing previous photos of her here on my blog.