There’s a lot to be said about reverse-engineering – but reverse-draping? I’m pretty certain it’s not something taught in design school…but hear me out…

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White Tie

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White Tie

You may recall my post surrounding the making of White Tie. In it, I re-purposed a vintage 60’s cocktail dress that was falling apart, into a couture delight for our dear 16inch Poppy Parker by Integrity Toys. It’s not the first time I’ve re-used vintage dresses for their lovely detailed work. During White Tie’s construction, I mused with a second garment –  a ribbon-embroidered polka dot tulle edged in semi-faded lace. The look was very gothic, and not being a fan of Evangeline Ghastly (yes, yes…I know some of you are – and that’s your choice), I scrubbed the idea.

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A ghastly idea…

The piece from which I absconded that ghastly idea was also a lovely cocktail dress from the 1960s – this portion was all that remained intact of the bodice. I wish I had before photos – because through piecing, both machine and hand, I was able to bring the lines of the ribbon embroidery together into a body-fitting shell. Its open and unfinished back would allow me to use it as I desired. Through piecing the tulle parts, I was able to create an almost zebra-like effect – rather savage and furious. Clear monofilament thread was used to repair portions of the ribbon embroidery – all by hand. But when White Tie needed to go another direction, I set the lacy piece aside in the hopes of finding a perfect finish for it – and that I did. Read on, Puddings…

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Our opening model is 16inch Tulabelle, also by Integrity Toys – but I had some issues with this model’s professional attitude (which wasn’t entirely her fault). A previous purchase of a 16inch Poppy Parker doll had a rather loose body. I contacted the IT Customer Care Team, and they sent me off a new body in the snap of a finger (that’s service, my dears). I asked if I should return the other body in case they needed to review it (some companies do like to share these things with their factory folks to make sure they know what to look for in the future – quality is a two-way street. But they told me I could keep the body; and knowing I liked to sew, they said it would make a good fit model. So I popped a Tulabelle head on it, and used it for just that – pins scratching its surface, and marks from pencils and pens. Bitch has been well used like and old dusty road.

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I installed a zipper by hand, and tested it for fit. But by the time I had gotten to the lining, Tula just wasn’t herself anymore – and her old grandmother, Poppy Parker, stepped in. I love Poppy…and she never disappoints me… Here’s where it gets weird…

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You see, I never made a pattern for the embroidered tulle. Piecing it together, fitting on the doll, and such…there just was never any pattern created. Much like fabric sketching, I used to do a lot of this back in the day when I stitched outfits permanently on the doll. So without a pattern, that meant I had to drape a lining equivalent that would work with the shell, and maintain a see-through appearance.

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Tulle already has stretch to it, and after piecing, there was even more to work with for a tight fit on the body. I figured a knit would be best to line it. Starting with a rough shape cut loosely around the dress, I pinned it to the model. This knit was one used for swimsuit linings, sheer in its tricot-like mesh, and a nude color that closely matched the doll’s skin tone.

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The pinning started along the sewn edge of the lace trim, where it would be turned upward toward the body and neckline. This method of reverse-draping over the dress (which was turned inside out and replaced on the model) allowed me to observe where the knit would pull as I worked my way upward toward the neckline and zipper. Pin, stretch, mark…repeat, repeat, repeat…until I had a taut lining that I could mark my cut lines.

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Once cut, I machine stitched the hemline inside the lace trim – everything else was sewn by hand. This isn’t the most precise method of creating clothing, I’ll tell you – and I did have a tucked piece folded inside on one side – but it all went in cleanly without affecting the drape of the embroidered tulle.

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Prior to pressing, I checked the drape from all angles…and hand-basted in my thoughts for the halter neckline, embellished by bead work taken from – yes – another vintage dress…and this one I do have images…

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It looks like it’s in pretty good condition, but the silk chiffon is disintegrating along the side seams and hem. Hey…one woman’s trash is another doll dresser’s dream…

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I cut out a few dozen of one particular motif – looped jet beads under an Austrian crystal set in a bezel. Some would adorn the neckline…and the balance would be stitched onto the dress and train after pressing.

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Hand-stitching a lining for the halter, I closed everything down, pressed again…and added the beaded motifs to the gown. The fit was great, but that damned zipper sure didn’t like being sandwiched between a lightweight knit and embroidered tulle. It zips up cleanly, but takes effort to get it fully closed under the hook and eye. Once closed, a quick poke of the finger flattens the back neatly into Poppy’s spine. I know…it’s odd…but it works.

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I like to think of this a free-handing a design – you work in little increments to get the dress and lining to marry – and once they do, you have a great result – but unfortunately no pattern for later use. That doesn’t really bother me, this silhouette is pretty easy to draft – but now that I am so used to having a library of patterns, I couldn’t help feeling I had cheated myself. I suppose this really is one-of-a-kind

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Poppy’s work here was done.

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As much as I loved that flash of red hair atop the black textured column – this wasn’t what I wanted to see Poppy wearing. No…this called for a professional Rebel

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I was afraid it wouldn’t fit Precious – she does have that bosom that only makes me think of Roman domed architecture (hey, I am a gay man, right?). As I assembled my set, and readied the camera, Precious stood there, silently – I was certain I could hear foot-tapping coming from her direction.

Why is

Why is no…one…ready…?

For the photo session, I did a few tests, wanting to do something a little different with this shoot. Typically, I use my flash – bouncing light from a white board and/or the white ceiling and/or wall. But something about the face sculpt of Venus d’Royce called for drama. I was going to try this using direct lighting without a flash.

iPhone Test Shot

iPhone Test Shot

Those who follow doll photography know it’s a tricky bitch to get crispy (called ‘tack sharp’) focus and good lighting. But our eyes are much better cameras than even the most expensive digital equipment. The quality of the image is critically dependent on good light, and it’s not always what our eyes see.

Shutter Priority; ISO 100 f/3.5

Shutter Priority; ISO 100 f/3.5

I’ve experimented often with different manual settings on my camera (a Nikon D3100) – but the relationship between aperture and shutter speed has previously eluded me. I shoot many of my macro floral shots in the direct daylight because of the quality of light and contrasting shadows. That being said, I always thought a tripod was my answer – well, it is in a way…but a tripod won’t guarantee a sharp focus.


Manual; ISO 100 f/4.5 1/10th sec.

As some of you may know, a camera’s aperture is the lens opening – this is how much light is allowed to enter the lens dependent on the shutter’s open and close speed, and the ISO setting. I won’t try to teach a photography lesson here, but one of the things that always toyed with my dyslexic brain was the inverse relationship of the aperture number (or f-stop) and the actual size of the aperture opening – the smaller the f-stop number, the larger the opening of the aperture (and more light that is allowed into the lens).

One of my floral shots on a bright, sunny day...

One of my floral shots on a bright, sunny day…

Shooting on a bright sunny day gives you loads of quality light to pour into your lens with typically an aperture setting of f/8 and an ISO of 100 (also known as ‘film speed’ from back in the developing days). A shutter speed of 1/125th  to 1/250th of a second is generally just enough for microscopic photons to race their little way into the camera’s uterus, and make a little photo baby with crisp, clean focus. Well…I thought if I opened my aperture extra wide, I’d get a real surprise (yes, I just actually said that).

Another shot with shadow backdrop, but direct sunlight

Another shot with shadow backdrop, but direct sunlight on subject

In a nutshell, it doesn’t always work like that. Light is a funny little tramp…and the way a camera attempts to capture it is a depressing jaunt into the world of Physics…and I gave up on The Big Bang Theory years ago.  What I did learn through my tests was that a large aperture opening (or small f-stop – in this case, f/4.5 and f/3.5) yielded a good image…but magnifying it in Photoshop revealed the contrary – it just wasn’t crisp. So I mounted my good ol’ standby flash – and presto:



What a boring fucking image for such a magnificent doll wearing a fab gown. I decided I would give it a break…sleep on it…and while going to check my final messages, I sat on my reading glasses…



Yeah…those glasses – the ones I use to sew. Well if Harry Potter can do it…

So can I

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The next morning, it was time to give it a go again, but overnight I thought I might be going about this the wrong way. If it’s about quality of light – maybe, just maybe a good old stand-by f/8 ISO 100 setting would work. As long as I had a tripod and a timer, I could snap as long an exposure as I liked. And here is the result:

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So I am proud to present Superdoll’s Vinyl Sybarite Gen-X Precious wearing ‘FURY’ by Tommydoll – this is not a commission piece, and it will be offered for sale – I’m just not sure when. Please keep an eye on my Sale Page for the latest…and thank you for listening to me moan about reverse draping, aperture bullshit and/or blah blah – and broken reading glasses. Oculus Reparo, my blooming ass.




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Precious – Vinyl Sybarite Gen-X by Superdoll wearing FURY by Tommydoll; photo: Tom Courtney

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22 Comments on “Hell Hath No Fury

  1. As someone who has recently sat on a pair of very and I do mean very expensive darkest mirror lense glasses without which I can’t go outside without Migraine screaming through my head for the rest of the eon, you have my utter sympathy about the reading glasses, Tom. And I adore, adore that dress! Totally gorgeous!

  2. Ditto the above, the dress is an absolute jewel, love the fabric. Yep, photography is a bitch – and my partner Murray is a photographer – and I’m using his camera. He gave me his Fujifilm camera and zoom lens (18 to 135, whatever that means), and I crop in and or adjust a bit in Lightroom/Photoshop. One of the first rules he told me was ‘Always use natural light’. That can be difficult when you don’t want to take your creation outside into the rain and wind, or you have to wait for that special ten minutes of afternoon light… or morning but I can’t remember when that happens. Shame about your glasses, tell them to get well soon.

  3. Love the dress. Poppy Parker photographs better in it (in my opinion). Yes glasses, I constantly look for mine. I probably have three strategically placed so I don’t look for them all day.

  4. As much as I love Evangeline’s style, I have to agree this fabric looks much better in your final dress. I love the halter that looks like a choker. It gives me ideas for doll jewellery. Maybe you can use further reverse draping to create the pattern?

    • Thanks, Arina! You really don’t need a pattern for the choker…it’s just a rectangle that fits around the neck. Some fabrics may require a bit more of a curve, though…

      • Ah, don’t you worry about that, I probably won’t use any fabric at all. I meant a pattern for the dress to use it again. So much fitting work for a single copy of it 😦

  5. I love your newsletter/column, you make the doll world seem much more realistic, full of real life/accidents and problem solving. Keep up your amazing comments which entertain me more than any other doll blog that I read. BTW I read every word and don’t skip anything. I absolutely love your look at doll life. Karen

  6. Another home run, outta the park. Not only is the dress stunning, you have rescued a vintage piece of clothing to boot! As one who has been sewing for 50 years I am always pleased to learn something new — which I often do when you show your work. Thank You for sharing your process — warts and all in true Hogwarts style ;^} J’adore your blog.

  7. Without a doubt, the gown is a jewel, Tommy. Really gorgeous!!! FYI–About your “reversed draping”…Repurposing old/vintage garments is an exercise practiced in many design schools, particularly in Europe (UK, France, Belgium). The idea isn’t to create a pattern for the new garment, but rather, to manipulate the old garment into a new one as a way to get students to exoplore eco-friendly solutions in fashion. (Remember early Margiela!) If, on the other hand, the person is more interested in recuperating solely the fabric from the garment, a toile is created first and the remnant is cut or manipulated to fit the pattern. One question I would like to ask you is this: did you ever consider keeping the gown sheer then making a more simple, ankle length sheath slip to be worn underneath?

    • Thanks…wow! I never knew! We’re learning all the time…right? I did look at a sheath lining…Tonner does that with mermaid skirts…but I wanted to cover the piecing seams on the inside…I like a clean finish; but I also liked the illusion of consistent skin to the hem…it plays with the eye. Thank you, again!!!

      • Well, I learn so much from you!!!! On the screen, it’s hard to see the details of the seaming. Could you have camouflaged the seams with beads, sequins or medallions of lace?

My blog is satire, but your thoughts are welcome!

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