phenix1 (5) 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… phenix1 (4) 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).

Who, me?

Who, me?

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.

An early beaded project...

An early beaded project…

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.

And another...

And another…

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.

There's a  trend here...

There’s a trend here…

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.

And here, too...

And here, too…

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.

Just about 4500 beads...

Just about 4500 beads…

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 onphenix1 (6) phenix1 (8) 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. phenix1 (9) 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?

It's all about technique...

It’s all about technique…

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? phenix1 (12) 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? phenix1 (13) 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. IdiotsI count, thank you very much. phenix1 (17) 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. phenix1 (14) 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. phenix1 (16) phenix1 (15) phenix1 (22) phenix1 (23) phenix1 (24) phenix1 (25) phenix1 (26) 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. phenix1 (27) 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.

phenix1 (21)

There’s something there that wasn’t there before…

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, thisphenix1 (28) 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!).

From Ricky

From Ricky

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. phenix1 (20) Recalling another early project, Scarlatto, I knew I had my compromise – especially with this fabric. phenix1 (30) 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.

I'm vapidly happy...

I’m vapidly happy…

phenix1 (34) 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? phenix1 (32) phenix1 (33)

phenix1 (36)

Am I reaching for the stars? I don’t think so…

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.

This really should be for me, bitch...

This really should be for me, bitch…

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. phenix1 (35) phenix1 (37) phenix1 (39)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. phenix1 (40) phenix1 (41) phenix1 (42) 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. phenix1 (48) It’s an old trick, one newer collectors do not know with the vast amount of removable hands available today. phenix1 (43) phenix1 (45) phenix1 (46) phenix1 (47) 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…

Photoshopped concept of makeover...

Photoshopped concept of makeover…

Picture perfect with actual paint...

Picture perfect with actual paint…and Poppy’s hand…

Tyler was ready for her close-up…and like the fabled phoenix, glory rose from the ashes:


Le Phénix – one-of-a-kind beaded gown by Tommydoll to fit classic Tyler Wentworth by Tonner Doll; Photo: Tom Courtney

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.

Le Phénix - one-of-a-kind beaded gown by Tommydoll to fit classic Tyler Wentworth by Tonner Doll; Photo: Tom Courtney

Le Phénix – one-of-a-kind beaded gown by Tommydoll to fit classic Tyler Wentworth by Tonner Doll; Photo: Tom Courtney

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. _DSC0011 _DSC0019 _DSC0005 _DSC0006 _DSC0008

26 Comments on “Rising From The Ashes

  1. wow, you did an incredible job! I am a beader but don’t like doing flat stitch [like you used in this] but love other peoples pieces. I have numerous good hookups for beads including the old French ones [great company in Washington that has those] so contact me if you want some beadstore suggestions. I also will buy trashed out antique micro beaded purses [especially the steel cut metal beads] and rip them apart for their beads. You should check that out as the Art Nouveau era as well as the late 1800s purses have some incredible colors in both glass as well as more particularly subtle beauty in the French and Englih cut metal beads. I will get this posted, lol, sometimes wordpress can be difficult, gr

    • Thank you!!! I love the old beads…I do have a tambour hook, but haven’t taken to it, yet…need to find beads on shanks, because I am NOT going to pre-string those beads…LOL!

      • still, working with the 18s, 22s and 24s is so rewarding one the project is finished. I usually do the 1 bead at a time with 15s with a needlepoint type stitch but with these I will double up [doll bags] Rhodes Island sellers sometime have old lots of Czech beads on shanks, lol, I never even thought of that. This was such a marvelous project and so wonderful for the client, it truly gives her something to see with her hands. I would have thought of tactile with textures and fabrics but not really beads

  2. BRILLIANT! …yes, the gown is lovely…but the fact that it was designed to be a tactile experience for a sight impaired doll collector is beyond wonderful! Tommy, that was pure genius! (BIG HUG)

  3. I’m going to keep this blog entry forever. I’ve told you before that you rule. I’ll remember it when I get to touch all that amazing work you did. Thank you so much, and for being a joy to work with.

    Lulu. X

      • Of course it is! This creation is sublime… can make one for my upcoming birthday in black and red …. or black and purple. I’m floored by the time and effort you put into this… all those beads! And yes, the giant rose would have been overkill. The skirt treatment you chose offered the perfect balance. Love your designs, love you, my friend.

  4. Your taste is marvelous here, as usual. You have the right balance of textured opulence, almost like coral jewelry laid out as fabric, to a “pause-to-take-a-breath” somehow airy brocade appearance as the eye travels (or the hand passes) down the dress. Yet it isn’t brocade, it’s something else more rare! Lovely transition from the orange-red to the pyrite gold to the embellished fabric of silvered-gold on white.

    The makeup (face-up?) is splendid. The whole package…is right.

    She looks like an old-school heiress at a fabulous art opening that could have taken place anywhere from 1932 to right now. For some reason I can even see Dracula’s daughter as well as the young Gloria Vanderbilt in my mind’s eye. Your work has that much richness for me. And the amazing thing is…she looks like she is thinking! Zowie!

    • Thank you!!! I have always loved Tyler’s expression…it’s a versatile personality…I can see her in any of your fantasies!

  5. Tommy, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the evolution of this dress as well as the thought process that led you from start to finish. The red to gold beaded bodice marries so well with the gold sequined fabric. And that it is for a blind person makes it that much richer. I also love your starting point (the very first photo) with its great big fluffy draped rose–which, for me, works best on a strapless base. I’m hoping, at some point, you’ll go back to that idea and bring it to life as well. Gros bisous!

  6. Tommy you are INSANE! Such care, attention to detail. And the thought process behind each decision. You amaze me. I am but a humble photographer and would someday be honored to shoot your work. To you and your art I bow down.

  7. On the one hand, you make a wonderful Tortured Artist, on the other hand, would it kill you to make a mock-up? I understand about things evolving organically, and I think you’re right to do it that way, but I don’t want you to have a stroke before reaching your potential. When the idea hits, make a sketch or write it down. Walk away. Come back, after a decent interval, with 4 or 5 fabrics. One will be just the ticket, but the others are not necessarily failures, they will generate ideas themselves. If you can see your way to taking some time and doing things you’re curious about, not necessarily things you are contracted to do, it will pay off exponentially.

    • I do that…but writing in drama adds spunk! Many of these commissions have given me full reign on the design/technique…so it does work for me in a creative manner…thank you!

  8. Nice one, a beautiful job, and I love your care and attention to detail and to your client’s needs. (I also like the links to your other posts, the one on marketing was fascinating.) Thanks!

  9. The result is stunning beyond words! Each step added a welcome improvement to the design. It’s very different from the original concept and the rose skirt is very nice, but the sequin one fits better. I’m sure the client will have a lot of fun with the various textures (I think she will be able to tell the transition between the two sizes of beads). Usually when I come across a bead that gets stuck on the needle I crush it with pliers and there’s no need to start anew…

  10. I’ve just been re-reading this blog entry, I said I would keep it forever. How strange to think that La Phenix has been with me for more than a year now! It seems she has always been there, standing serenely on my desk, the glories of her opulent gown carefully spread out, I swear sometimes she moves, though maybe it’s because she’s been lifted to be dusted, but it seems to me, as I touch her each day before I start work, that I know what kind of attitude she’s going to give me by the way her head is. If her face is tilted a bit to one side and she’s giving me a quizzical little smile, I know it’s possibly going to be a productive one. If that upswept hair and that chin are pointing at just that angle that say, don’t you mess with me, bitch, then I’m going to have trouble! Sometimes, when the ideas won’t come and the words back up in my head, running my hand along those beads and the beautiful airy brocade of that skirt seems to clear my thought processes and I can imagine Madame Phenix looking at me as if to say, now was that so difficult?

    She gets so many comments when people come in here. In a room full of dolls, from a life size lady to the tiniest of miniatures, people notice that gown every time. Where did I get her? She’s a Spanish noblewoman, a great Hollywood movie star, an heiress, a Princess, a Femme Fatale, a queen! Everyone has their theory. While I’m proud to tell the world where she came from, I can’t tell anyone who or what she is, but I am grateful every day that she consents to go on being mine. I’ll always thank you for her, Tom. I love you.

    Lulu. Xx

    • What a wonderful sentiment in review…makes me feel your love…it was my pleasure to send her to you. Thank you for reminding me why I love dolls and design so much!

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