Doll Clothing · Restoration and Conservation

Antique Fabrics and Quilts Gone Wild – Creating a Bit of Order From Chaos

quilts galore!
Thank goodness this is a sturdy table!

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.

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. ❤

A clear table and one quilt to take apart to make a dress for Emmaline…
Just perfect to go with Emmaline’s petticoat and pantalettes embroidered in blue…
a second quilt, to be washed, restored and placed on the bed in the studio loft…
and a third quilt, to be mooned over, mourned, and dream of restoring…
Restoration and Conservation

A Tale of Two Restorations Part 2 Emmaline

Here is a photograph of sweet Emmaline when she arrived on my door step. I instantly fell in love with her beautiful eyes!

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.
16 inch Izannah Walker doll purchased at Withington’s Auction August, 2016


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 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!

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.

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.

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!!!

Emmaline after restoration. She still looks like an adventuresome doll who loves to play, but now her years sit more lightly upon her shoulders. ❤


Good-bye Emmaline, we miss you little “Nantucket Doll”…

My Izannahs loved having Emmaline come stay with us! They have all declared each other to be best friends for life!!!

And they all lived happily ever after!


(*** Move  your cursor over the photos to read the captions, click on photos to enlarge.)





Antique 19th century children's clothing · Celebrations · Restoration and Conservation

Happy 198th Birthday Izannah Walker! – What to wear to the party?

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.

Hannah and Isabeau carry the party dress out to the wash tub.
Hannah and Isabeau carry the party dress out to the wash tub.

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…

It was a hot day so the girls decided to do the wash in the shade of the apple tree.
It was a hot day so the girls decided to do the wash in the shade of the apple tree.
Zanna came along to pick up windfalls to make into pies.
Zanna came along to pick up windfall apples for pies.
“Hannah I think the water temperature is just right.”
“Go ahead and put the dress in.”
“Now we can let it soak, while we help Zanna pick up the rest of the apples.”
“What a perfect day!’ “I hope we have time to sit outside with our quilting later.” “Maybe if we hurry and get finished here we can find a little time to sew before dark.”

If you would like to know Isabeau’s method for washing antique textiles take a look back at this previous post (click here).

Time To Get Dressed

It’s almost time for the party to start, so you’d better get dressed. The girls have laid your clothes out on the bed for you.

Here is your freshly washed chemise and dress.
Here is your freshly washed chemise and dress.
Fancy scallops on the sleeves <3
Fancy scallops on the sleeves ❤
Every party dress needs lace!
Every party dress needs lace!
The dress fabric is a woven white on white cotton that has turned to a lovely pale ivory over time. All of the long seams are machine sewn, with the detail work, such as this tiny cartridge pleating done by hand.
The dress fabric is a woven white on white cotton that has turned to a lovely pale ivory over time. All of the long seams are machine sewn, with the detail work, such as this tiny cartridge pleating done by hand.
The back of the dress is fastened with large brass hooks and eyes.
The back of the dress is fastened with large brass hooks and eyes.
And what should little brother wear to the party? A blue linen jacket trimmed with black braid and brass buttons!
And what should little brother wear to the party? A blue linen jacket trimmed with black braid and brass buttons!
A close up look at the hand sewn c. 1850's boy's jacket. <3
A close up look at the hand sewn c. 1850’s boy’s jacket. ❤
Awards · Doll Clothing · Restoration and Conservation · See Me in Print · Where to Shop

A Great Weekend

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 🙂