Inspiration can arrive in many forms. Usually, we are beset by the visual that brings such florid images to our imagination. But when you have a commission request from one who is blind…well, one’s thoughts of fashion-traditional ideas leave us for another type of inspiration – one that is tactile. It’s an intriguing thought, and one I thought I had nailed in the concept – but as you will see, things just don’t always go the way you want them to. And at Tommydoll – they rarely do… For this project, I wanted to appeal to my client’s ability to ‘see’ with her touch – she can only see light; but her perception of color and shape is realized through touch and some extra-sensory perception. I have a niece that is blinded through her challenges with Cerebral Palsy – but unlike my client, LoLo can also see shapes and colors. You have an interesting world; one without the eye’s provided visions – and if you’ve ever tried blind-folding yourself for any period of time to experience blindness – well, you’ve only just touched on the subject (pun intended).
However, my client wasn’t short of a magnificent sense of humor. She specifically was looking for a gown for her Tyler Wentworth doll – a gown so opulent and breath-taking, that when Tyler would show up to a gala where her attention-stealing bitch of a daughter, Marley, would also arrive in some aberration of fashion origami – Tyler would glide in with an air of sophistication, maturity and style that clearly told Marley, ‘fuck you, amateur bitch – this is how you do it.’ Naturally, I had to accept. If you are new to my blog and are unfamiliar with my history with Tyler Wentworth – this link will help you to catch up.
I knew that this project would involve a great deal of beading – what a great way to achieve ‘sight‘ through texture! Many years ago, when I first took to miniature sewing, I loved the idea of a center focal point of heavily encrusted beading. Such designers as Bob Mackie and Nolan Miller come to mind with their intense sense of texture provided by extensive beaded embroidery – techniques that shaped the point-of-view of these designers, and launched such embroidery houses as Lesage into legend. Now understand, I only aspire to the monumental work these artists undertake – I’ve a long way to go before resting my laurels on their skills.
One of my favorite tricks early on was to make a skirt, or use a manufactured skirt, and build around it using dense beading. It really does work nicely, leaving lots of room for interpretation as you go.
But it is time-consuming, and when you consider the works of miniature couturiers like Magia 2000, Ninimomo, Cho:lo, and Artist Creations (among many others), you begin to possess a working knowledge of what they know and experience with each project they undertake. Beaded embroidery is no simple task – it takes mastery and patience – time and love – and these artists bring it in varying levels of the extreme.
The one thing I had never done with this technique was to create a fully lined, removable miniature garment. Much of my early works were sewn onto the doll, allowing for abbreviations on the interior and certain finishing/closure details. It also gives you the cleanest of closures, closely mimicking human scale couture. But to take it a step further, you add to the handwork necessary to make this frippery sing.
I wanted my focal point at the bodice, and a fluffy fit of luxury at the skirt in the form of one large, sculptural rose. It was a great idea on paper and in muslin. And so it came to pass that I focused on one thing more than the balance – an ongoing trend with my creative process. I just choose to accept it and go with the flow…you’ll see why a little later on… Using nylon tulle, I constructed my long-sleeve bodice – the intent was to create a backless top full of drama and a clean, heavily beaded front with sleeves. I’ve used the analogy before about a material that is so lightweight, it’s like sewing air. You need a smaller stitch than usual, and you also need to observe that tulle has no grain, so you have an advantage in how you cut it, and how you piece the items together – making curved seams such as the inset sleeve armscye forgiving, but tricky. The beads I chose to use came from France – they are tiny seed glass beads with the occasional bead drawn up onto my needle having too small of an opening, requiring me to withdraw the needle and thread, and start over. Partner that with the fact that I only had a set amount of beads, with no resource to match them – well, the challenges just keep building up, don’t they?
I could give you a long tirade on the next 16+ hours – but suffice it to say over the course of 4 days, this is what transpired:
My longest session was 4 hours solid – and that’s just too much for anyone. It fatigues your eyes and fingers, thereby applying a handicap to your overall project. You have to take a break often when doing this kind of work. Sewing is one of the few things that has taught me patience, because without it – you’ll never learn or see achievement in your results. That, and you spend more time re-making things than you do creating, and who wants that? Using a method of beading three beads at a time by needle and thread, my supply of roughly 4500 red beads was finite. That became very apparent about the time I reached the bottom of the bustline – so I knew I had to improvise. I still hadn’t done the backs of the sleeves, and the red was starting to look monotonous, so introduction of a contrasting color was warranted – why not gold? Everyone loves gold, right? I recall days past when doll marketing fools would exaggerate the amount of beads used in a doll design – specifically, manufactured dolls. One such claim was that over 10,000 beads adorned a particular doll costume. At my estimation, it wasn’t more than 2,000 – which is still appreciable – but these marketing morons figured no one would be counting, anyway. Idiots – I count, thank you very much. The gold beads were larger than the red, so there needed to be some balance observed. The idea then was to extend the beading into the skirt – but with the giant rose feature, much of it wouldn’t be seen anyway. What I didn’t realize at this point was the rose with withering into obscurity as the bodice became more realized. But onward I went, adding the gold beads and creating a lovely cummerbund effect. As I started with the draping of the skirt, the muslin hesitated in my pin-pricked fingers, as if to say, ‘dude…really?’ It wasn’t working, and I knew it – but I had to see it in the final fabric so I could thoroughly berate myself for wasting time on an over-designed treatment that just wasn’t going to end well. Pinning the silk charmeuse skirt into place gave a tremendous rush of emotion – for all the wrong reasons. Not only was it detracting from the beading, but the over-sized element still needed an underskirt so her lady bits weren’t exposed at the side, and to bring a little bit of unity to the eye – I’m not really certain which was more important. I had a truly stunning sequined/embroidered gold fabric I bought in DC this past spring just begging for attention, and I felt it would make a great underskirt. It did – however, there was something in this new shape that just worked…something I hadn’t seen in the original design. I added extensions to the sleeves in the same material, borrowing from an idea used in previous designs.
The result was heavy, but I was determined to make it work. The giant rose had been reduced to smoldering embers in my imagined burning pyre of failed designs – something new was stirring in the ashes… If only…well, this… Tyler smiled – yes, there was something here…but the skirt was still too heavy. A Facebook friend suggested a smaller rose (thank you, Ricky!)…and another questioned the heaviness of the sleeve (thank you, Bill!).
Although there are times when I see something clearly in my head, never underestimate the power of others’ observations. You can’t let it drive your creative decision-making, but you should always be open to suggestions. Ultimately, the design has to work in your eye, and not that of anyone else (except the client’s, that is) – but if you float around farting ego faithfully telling yourself you can do no wrong, you’re fucked from the beginning. Recalling another early project, Scarlatto, I knew I had my compromise – especially with this fabric. Tyler was pleased, displayed by a soft smile (described as ‘vapid‘ by previous Tyler Flame-Throwers) – she beamed into the satisfied glance her couturier returned.
As the lining took shape, I remained oblivious to two things: I hadn’t draped this skirt solution (with regards to the lining), and I was using silk dupioni. I had already exhausted a full bottle of fray check securing beading stitches at beginning and end of each thread…but I proceeded constructing the lining while this outrageously loose, plain-woven silk fell apart in my hands. Will I ever learn?
During fit check for the lining, the sleeves were wrong – they were too bulky for the beaded sleeve. Tightening the seaming on the underarms produced a sleeve lining that would not pass over the vinyl arm – so off they went, trimming the sleeve a quarter of an inch outside the armscye seaming. This gave me a semi-finished armscye that could be overcast by hand for a finished interior. If I had studied this more thoroughly, I would have done this differently, but in a true ‘make it work’ scenario – the solution was pleasing and clean.
During the hand-installation of the bodice lining, the dupioni weave gave away into threads. You think China silk is bad for raveling – this shit is woven with about as much tension as a Tibetan monk on Quaaludes…just looking at it will cause it to come apart. I couldn’t use a stabilizer for bulk reasons, so I repaired lining openings with a tight overcast stitch and a bit of fray check for good measure. By the way, I’m not afraid to admit mistakes – and their subsequent solutions – many of my readers find it helpful and educating. It’s one thing to create unbelievably executed miniature couture – it’s another thing to throw it all in the trash after days and days of work. Besides, this is no different than restorative work, so I accept it as it is…and move on. If you are one of those people that can only accept perfection, then you must be very uncomfortable waiting for that lump of coal in your ass to transform into a diamond. Before the skirt lining was installed, extended beading at the waistline brought a unified embellishment. The zipper was hand-installed, and the lining stitched in place. I opted to not use a hook and eye, as it wasn’t needed – and the client would have a difficult time managing it. Before stitching the lining down by hand, I had to see the dress on the doll many times during the process. My client’s Tyler is one of the bending arm variety, so removal of the hands was not an option. But the use of a snipped plastic bag corner works wonderfully to keep the fingers away from the threads – the beaded tulle had a bit of elasticity – and it slid on nicely over the baggie-covered hand. It’s an old trick, one newer collectors do not know with the vast amount of removable hands available today. None of my remaining Tyler dolls have the newer bodies – I don’t even have a bending wrist doll anymore – and this model just needed a makeover before the final fitting check and big lens…
Tyler was ready for her close-up…and like the fabled phoenix, glory rose from the ashes:
Yes, yes…I know JAMIEshow already used the name for it’s Gene Marshall resin – but the name works here, too – and no one owns the term ‘phoenix’ outside of the Marvel Universe – but just to be respectful, I invoked the French.
And so I present to you, my latest drama – Le Phénix. Rest well knowing that Marley went into bitchy conniptions when all the attention turned away from her, and toward Tyler in all her radiant glory. The message had been solidly delivered.