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. ❤
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.)
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…
April is starting out to be a terrific month. Friday was my son Blair’s birthday. The whole family got together to celebrate for the entire weekend.
Friday also brought some very welcome news, when I learned that I have been chosen for Early American Life’s 2011 Directory of Traditional American Crafts. This makes my 23rd time to be juried into the directory. Thank You EAL! Please look for the Directory issue of the magazine which will be on newsstands on June 21st.
In between all of the partying, I managed to squeeze in a little shopping time. On Saturday I went to a couple of thrift shops with one of my sons and his girlfriend. We found quite a few small treasures. Sunday brought the opening day of the Elephant’s Trunk flea market. I was able to replenish my supply of antique white cotton fabrics and I found a wonderful antique paisley shawl. Now all I have to do is decide if I can possibly restore the shawl, or if it is so far gone that it is fair game for doll clothing! Always a dilemma 🙂