A Sunday Afternoon Walk

This walk actually took place back in early June, when we had a few hours of sunlight and my husband wanted to take us to a new park he’d found. I wanted to take Kirsten to take her birthday photos but also got a little too excited and wound up taking FOUR dolls. This was the first time I’d ever taken dolls to photograph away somewhere, rather than just to a park or something around my house. At first I was a bit shy but found that the more I photographed, the less I Really cared about the people walking by. It probably helped that my husband and toddler son were with me.

So here are some of the pictures I took. It started to rain towards the end so we had to wrap it up. Also I refused to edit my photos because I have just do not have the time, haha.



Snow for some 19th century girls

OH MY GOSH, this never posted?? I’ll post it in May, fine. Obviously this did not just happen in May.

We got more snow! And despite the fact that my backyard is small and ugly, I still wanted to snap photos of a couple dolls out in it. Kirsten was an obvious choice because this is the first winter I’ve had her snowshoes and ribbons. And Addy made even more sense as well because it’s Black History Month (separate celebration post coming) and taking pictures of this beautiful girl is one of the small ways to celebrate.

So without further commentary, some pretty pictures!

Of course I JUST realized that one of Kirsten’s mittens slipped off. I had my toddler and two puppies out with me so there was a lot going on. But I rarely wear more than on glove (I keep one hand free to do things and just put it in my pocket to keep warm) so maybe Kirsten takes after me. 🙂
I also repainted Kirsten’s and Sam’s lips recently and I think I finally got the color right! Hurray!

Ok bonus pictures of my son and pups.

Happy birthday, Ellen!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’d like to dedicate some special time to each doll around their birthday to make sure no one is getting left out, and because in general I want to do more individual doll stuff but also find it a bit overwhelming.

In theory, great. In practice, much tougher when you have a full time job and a baby. Ellen’s birthday came up first, and while I would have really liked to take her out to some historic Boston landmark since she’s my historic Boston girl, it just didn’t happen because her birthday fell on a rainy Thursday and I didn’t plan ahead to do it last weekend. 😡 Oops! An additional excuse for this lackluster photoshoot is that there really isn’t anywhere good at my house to shoot. My backyard is tiny and surrounded by neighbors and chain link fence, and inside my apartment is crowded with poor lighting. It’s the whole reason I got the lightbox, and now I’m realizing that long term it’d make sense to get some more backgrounds.

So in the end, this is a very simple and unimpressive photoshoot. But that combined with her new purple dress and photos yesterday, and me doing some writing on her story (which I won’t post here because it’s work on her grown up story, not her child story), I don’t think it’s such a bad birthday for her.


A little bit more about Ellen then, some of which will be recap. Mary Ellen Templin (TOTAL COINCIDENCE that AG later released a Maryellen…grrr) was born in 1830 near Galway, Ireland, the youngest of a large family (three elder brothers and two elder sisters) of tenant farmers. Mary Ellen knew little of life before famine hit Ireland, though she considered her early childhood warm and loving and happy. The famine years brought great difficulty as her family fought to survive against starvation, exposure, and disease after losing their land. Finally, after several family deaths and unsure how much longer the famine would continue, the remaining members of Ellen’s family began to flee Ireland through various means. Ellen’s mother and grandma managed to get her into an adoption program in Boston, off to be the new daughter of Catherine and Matthew McLeskey in 1849.

Irish nightclothes in an old chemise of mama’s and with grandma’s broach

Catherine, the daughter of local Boston politicians, and Matthew, a businessman and entrepreneur who’s done well for himself. They have two grown sons and always wanted a daughter but have accepted there won’t be another baby in their future. Their view of Ellen’s Irishness is complicated. They take her to Protestant church and change her name to Ellen Catherine McLeskey and at first want her to completely forget her previous life in Ireland. Over time they all come to better terms, and eventually Ellen finds her way to balance the poor Irish farmgirl of her past and the wealthy Boston doll she is now.

Until she gets older and tragedy strikes again but that’s a later story. 🙂

Ellen’s Easter dress was a way overzealous early sewing project. Notice the Catholic cross, another valuable heirloom from Ireland.

Ellen’s personality is shy with streaks of daring bravery. A lot of her shyness stems from uncertainty about her new life and her place in the Boston world, as she’s very aware though not usually ashamed of her differences –her wild hair, her freckles, her accent. She develops a love of reading and wishes to travel the world, an idea put into her head by Gabriel, her brother’s best friend back in Ireland who turns up in Boston after stowing away on a ship. She’s naturally polite and orderly and strives to do well but finds her voice as she grows and will question the status quo when she sees injustice. She is overall optimistic, something even the famine didn’t destroy in her, and kind-hearted and very, very fond of hot cocoa.

ellen5When all I’d done was rewig her and wasn’t sure about her time period yet. Yikes, that pale face!

In terms of the doll, so much of her is in homage to my family, as I’ve got Irish on both sides. Her names are all family names, and even her brown eyes-red hair combo (rather than the more common red hair with blue eyes) is after my mom’s and grandpa’s coloring. I’ve been fascinated by the Irish potato famine since I was a little girl, and upon moving to Boston grew to appreciate too the city’s history in the 1840s and 1850s, so of course the first custom I ever did would be a doll exploring those things.

I hadn’t realized until right now that actually Ellen is one of my older dolls in general. That Kirsten isn’t with me anymore, so other than my childhood dolls (Sam, Kit, Josefina), Felicity is the only one in my collection older than Ellen!

Ellen is much prettier in person than she usually photographs. She was my first little ragamufin custom doll, and there’s still some work that needs to be done on her (her eyelids need repainting and her legs are LOOOOOSE.) I’ve never been totally satisfied with her face paint and yet somehow it suits her. I’ve had great fun making and collecting pieces for her wardrobe, which spans really the late 1830s to the mid 1850s. In Ireland she would have worn mostly hand-me-downs and the quality would have deteriorated during the famine, whereas in Boston she’s at the very front of the fashion curve since her family has money, has always wanted a daughter to spoil, and they live in a harbor city so near Europe. Her hair does have a side part, which was not the fashion then. But her hair is wild and unruly, a key trait in her story, and it makes sense to me that trying to part it in the middle as was the fashion just didn’t go well.


For her birthday, I photographed Ellen with her Papa’s fiddle and potatos, but in her pretty red birthday dress (which is Cecile’s fancy dress and one of my favorite dresses American Girl ever released). Though fiddling would not be considered appropriate for a woman in Ellen’s time, her father had taught her to play and so she was given his fiddle to take with her after he passed away.


As for the potatoes, it was not the blight and famine alone that caused such a catastrophe in Ireland in the 1840s, but a much larger problem with how England viewed and treated Ireland, and how the country was structured as a tenant system. Actually a great deal of potatos were grown during the famine, some say enough to have staved off the famine for most of those years. However, the potatoes not affected by blight were shipped off to England and there was not enough money in Ireland to buy their own crop back.

New school dress but no lips yet!

Of course, there was more to it than even that. I could write a whole series on the  Irish potato famine and the religious and political factors that went into it, creating one of the largest diasporas in history and one that had a great impact on the development of the United States and Australia both. If you’re interested in reading more about it yourself, Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 by Susan Campbell Bartoletti is one of my absolute favorite references.

IMG_9776Caroling with Josefina

Happy birthday, Ellen!


Ellen’s Purple Dress

As promised, I have photographed the redone Marie-Grace’s meet dress. And I have to say, I like it even better on! However… it does not work with the crinoline. I think it’s extremely lame for American Girl to release undergarments that don’t actually fit the clothing, and I wish now I’d photographed wihout it. Uh well, too late.


Look how wonky that crinoline made the too-tight skirt!!


The white background looks terrible, but oddly enough, Ellen looks better in these photographs than I think she’s ever looked. She’s a pretty doll in person, but doesn’t tend to photograph well.

Ellen’s birthday is coming up TOMORROW, and I’ve decided that one way to make sure my dolls don’t get lost with there being so many of them is to give each some special focus around their birthday. Originally I’d thought “Oh, I’ll go do big photoshoots with each one!” but I have a baby and a full time job so that’s just not realistic. But I can certainly do something to celebrate each one.

So these pretty portraits are part one of Ellen’s birthday celebration, with her actual birthday post tomorrow!

Marie-Grace’s Altered Meet

So… look. Marie-Grace’s meet dress is pretty awful. I’m not sure why that’s what they went with for her. I can’t believe that possibly was the primary choice among 10-year-old focus groups unless the others were even worse. Especially when Cecile’s meet dress is SO pretty. I’m not sure why they didn’t design the two dresses to compliment each others. Marie-Grace’s should have been a lovely purple or a deeper burgandy or magenta.

Anyway, over on AGPlaythings there was a thread about dying Marie-Grace’s meet, and the results were pretty awesome. Though green was my favorite, I had actually bought a package of navy blue Rit Dye a few months ago intending to dye some shirts of mine that have yellowed with age. Why not experiment?

Well, because I’m sort of afraid of bleach and toxic things and the clean up sounded like it would be a nightmare. But today for some reason, I finally got a bee in my bonnet to do it, so I did. I did it. I even cleaned up both buckets afterwards with bleach, and I survived it all, and the result is fun, though the whole thing was enough of a hassle that I won’t be a frequent dyer.

So I present to you, before and after:

The trick with the dark dyes is to only leave them in the water very briefly. I bet the drses was in the dye for maybe 10 seconds. Basically enough to dunk and swoosh a couple times and then out it came and into a cold water and vinegar bath, and then a cold bath, and then the sink until it ran clear (by that point, it already did). Then through the washing machine, but not the dryer since the dress dries basically instantly.

I like the result, I think! I CERTAINLY like it better than the original. There’s a bit of unevenness on a sleeve band and on the front ruffles (they get lighter up towards the shoulders, which you can sort of see in the picture). I may end up ripping the ruffles off anyway. I’ll see how I feel once it’s a bit dryer and I put it on one of the girls. I think it’ll be an Ellen dress but I might give it to Kirsten as a fancy fancy party dress. I feel like Kirsten tends to get the short end of the clothing stick.


Ellen’s Yellow & Green Dress

I bought this fabric ages ago and have been saving it because I absolutely love it and wanted to make something special with it. I’d intended it for Tinu but lucky Ellen stole it away when I stumbled across the Heritage 1850s Summer In Blue Dress pattern, especially since I still have about 99 yards of that green woven fabric that needs to get used up.

What can I say? The pattern was easy to follow, although I messed up the lining like I ALWAYS do because I didn’t read ahead, and I didn’t encase the seams on the skirt ruffles because I’m lazy and was tired of sewing with the green fabric. I actually ran out of the pretty yellow and green one and so the underskirt is green, but I might have done that on purpose anyway!


Did I mention there are ruffles? Lots of them. I’m glad gathering has gotten easier over time because boy is it the #1 thing to do in doll clothes.

IMG_5714Ok, I’ve got nothing more to say for once. This was one of the least eventful things I’ve ever made. I didn’t notice until just now that I didn’t make a colored sash. I might hunt down some green ribbon at a later date; I’m sure not using the green fabric to make it!


It’s a very fitted bodice on my fatty PC doll!


My dog Nellie wanted to be in on the fun. Watson was actually sitting pressed against my back as well. Heaven forbid I do anything without them!

Delaney’s Holiday Dress

Delaney may not live in a time (world…) that celebrates Christmas, but they do still celebrate “Saturnalia,” similar to winter solstice. And regardless, she needs a festive dress to wear in the month of December in my house.

I actually comandeered this fabric from what was going to be Cordelia’s dress, deciding I’d rather Cordelia wear purple and Delaney wear red. I knew I wanted a fancy dress for Delaney, as this would be a special gift for her in her not-well-off family, and that because she lives in such a cold place, she’d need warm undergarments and a coat.


Well… the coat and dress are finished. No undergarments yet. I’ll need to make the girl some socks, woolen underthings, including long sleeves to wear under this dress. But at least she’s got a warm coat and a muff! I had fiberfill but didn’t put elastic in the ends like the pattern required because I didn’t feel like it and didn’t think it was necessary. 🙂


I used a Simplicity pattern to make the coat. I was a bit worried it would turn out a weird size. I’m not crazy that the hood is so pointy but it’s also kind of cute. I lined it with rose-patterned satin (I think?) that I’ve used before and is a pain in the butt because it threads so bad, but the result is very pretty. And the fit isn’t so bad!


The dress itself uses the 1850s Promenade pattern from Dollhouse Designs. I hadn’t wanted to re-use a pattern, but I’m a sucker for those puffed tiered sleeves. I spent a GREAT deal of time debating fabric and lace and pattern for Delaney’s dress, and still wasn’t quite sure about it until I finally just made the call and started sewing.


Turns out, I’m quite happy with it! In addition to the woolen underthings the poor girl needs (and boots instead of silly slippers), I will probably hunt down one more pearl button when I’m at JoAnn’s next. I didn’t think the space would bother me but I think it does…


But now Delaney is festive at least, and ready for mulled cider and window shopping at the winter market! Look how pretty she is!! The lighting in these photos is awful (my house is just not good for photo lighting) but boy does the fabric make her blue eyes pop!


(Tagging as 1850s even though that’s not Delaney’s time period, since the dress is an 1850s pattern.)

Now I’m working on Cordelia’s Christmas dress which might be the death of me… but then everyone will have a holiday dress!