Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Story Behind My "Celia's Wedding Dress" Doll

I don't know if you remember the article I posted last year entitled "The Story Behind My Celia's Doll and Doll Pattern."

To remind you, Celia and Elmer are my sister-in-laws parents and have been married for over 50 years. Last year they were having a yard sale because they were downsizing and moving out of their big house into a smaller home. Celia, knowing my love of old material told me I could, basically, have anything I wanted. Whatever didn't sell, including her wedding dress was going to be pitched.

I asked her if she was really going to throw her wedding dress away and she replied, "What am I going to do with that old thing?" I told her maybe she should make a doll out of it for her daughter. At first she scoffed at the idea. Then when she'd thought about it, she replied,"That's a great idea. Why don't you do that for me and give it to my daughter."

So, I told her I would add it to my to-do-list which was already getting to be multiple years to complete. I put it on the back burner.

Well, Celia, is and, I suspect, always has been a bit of a wild child. Just look at the picture of her in her tennis outfit. You can see she's a feisty, full of life, try it once kind of gal. Celia is a ball of fire and I just love her to death. She's over 80 years old and makes me tired.

During the course of the year I happened to be at a church craft show with Celia, my sister-in-law and my mother. On the way out of the church Celia turned to me and said," Linda, do you think you could make that wedding dress doll for my daughter before I die!"

Well, you have to know Celia to know that this was a funny line. Funny, but she meant it. So, I made a mental note to try and get the doll done for Christmas as a present for my sister-in-law.

What I wanted to do was to capture the beauty of the dress. It didn't matter to me whether or not the doll had a face or was faceless. The point was the dress.

So, I sketched out a pattern for the dress and tried to use as much of the original material as I could. Luckily, the dress was still in pretty good shape, as was the veil. Some of the tulle had disintergrated but, a lot of it was pretty much in tact.

If you look at the wedding picture of Celia & Elmer (picture to the left and above) you can see that the dress had a lace bodice insert with lace sleeves, a satin heart-shaped bodice, a satin covered with lace front panel, and satin covered with fine tulle flowing skirt.

The back of the dress had a very long train covered with tulle. There were buttons all along the front of the dress as well as straight up the back. The veil was a cap lined with small pearl beads that had a long section of tulle that would hang down the back and compliment the tulle on the train.

The sleeves were scalloped and had a row of buttons as well. There were two layers of tulle underneath the dress as well. Needless to say there was a lot of tulle and a lot of detail on Celia's wedding dress.

Foolishly I sketched the dress and did not take a picture of it before I cut it up. Why I didn't take a picture, I'll never know. I just didn't. So, when it came time for me to put the doll together I didn't have any pictures to look at. Just my sketch. My sister-in-law provided the pictures for me to use for this story.

Keeping in mind that the sentimentality lay with the dress I wanted the dress to be the focal point of the doll and nothing else. So I decided to make her a self standing, 13" tall, bridal doll without any legs. That way the dress would be showcased. I also wanted to utilize the original buttons for their sentimentality even though they were too big for the doll. I decided that three buttons in the front and two on each sleeve would be good.

I wasn't sure what color Celia's hair was when she was younger and decided because "she's a hot ticket" that I'd give the doll fiery red hair. I also decided that I'd embroider her face, give her a shaped and padded nose, and embroider her mouth with red floss. She might as well be wild all around.

So I started sewing the dress. Everything was going well until I tried to put the dress on the doll. The lace was so old and so brittle that it just started to crumple. YIKES! I had the whole dress together when the lace around the neck just fell apart. What could I do? The whole dress was already together. Tulle underneath, tulle overskirt, train, heart-shaped bodice, lace scalloped sleeves, everything was already sewn together. YIKES!

I decided that I had to add a something to the neck to hold the lace together and had to add a second layer of lace behind the top layer of lace on the bodice that was crumbling. I had no sooner gotten the second layer of lace sewn when it started to crumble. At this point I just wanted to fling the dress. But, I had too much time invested in it and Celia really wanted her daughter to have it.

I had to do something to hold the neck of the dress together so I decided to use some of the satin from the original dress to form a neck band and cover this with a string of embroidered floral lace. I added pearl beaded gathered lace to frame her face. The neck might not look exactly like the original dress but, it worked. At least I could get the dress on without it crumbling any further.

Luckily I had saved her cap veil in tact and could use it as a visual guide for my doll's veil. I used a couple of layers of the crumbling lace from the dress for the cap and supported it with tulle and a row of pearl beads.

When she was finished I decided to add a splash of burgundy and cream silk florals with burgundy and cream streamers for her bouquet. The burgundy was a good compliment to her fiery red hair, red lips, and complimented Celia's fiery personality.

When the doll was finished I wasn't really happy with her. I thought that I had captured the essence of the dress. With the exception of the neck it looked like Celia's real wedding dress. Plus for sentimental purposes it had the original buttons on it.

But, I wasn't happy with the doll itself. I thought she turned out too short, her nose wasn't quite right, and, whether I liked it or not, the collar was too big. However, my sister-in-law loved it and so did Celia. In the end that's all that really mattered.

So my sister-in-law told my younger brother that she needed a curio to showcase her new doll and that became his woodworking project over the winter. My brother moaned and groaned and made it seem like he wasn't amused. But, I know and she knows that he loves making furniture and, truth be told, he loves the dolls. Plus, he's really good at making furniture. So, despite his protesting, he designed a corner curio with lights and mirrored back panels to showcase the back of the dress.

My brother finally finished the curio a month ago and I have to say that despite what I don't like about the doll she looks beautiful in her lighted curio with the mirrors all around. Plus, she really does capture the essence of Celia's wedding dress. And, you can't put a price tag on the joy and sentimentality associated with utilizing the original wedding dress. It is definitely a one of a kind doll.

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