A 16th Century Inspired Fashion Doll

 
 
(Edited September 2011)
 
 

Inspired by the little doll preserved in the Livrustkammaren, Stockolm, c. 1585

 Description

A 19” linen doll, stuffed with lambswool, dressed in linen drawers with blackwork embroidery, chemise, farthingale, silk doublet with “mutton leg” sleeves and garnet buttons, and silk skirt with velvet guards lined in calico. 

There are significant differences between this doll and the one at the Livrustkammaren.  For one thing, the former is assembled by linen wrapped on a wire armature, whereas mine is a stuffed doll. 

I cannot document stuffed dolls in the 16th Century, but I wanted to make a doll that emulated the little one at the Livrustkammaren and dress her in a proof-of-concept gown that I intended to make later as a full size dress. 

History

The history of fashion dolls is an interesting one.  For instance, there is a record from 1396 of Robert de Varennes, the Court tailor of Charles VI, receiving 450 francs for a doll’s wardrobe that he had executed, to be sent by Queen Isabeau of Bavaria to the Queen of England.  As this was a considerable sum for those days, it is to be assumed that the dolls were life-sized dummies, made to the measurements of the English Queen[1]

In 1496 Queen Anne of Brittany ordered a large doll to be dressed for the Spanish Queen, Isabel la Católica, who was famous for her attention which she lavished on her dress.  So high were her standards considered to be, in fact, that the doll was dressed twice over, in an effort to satisfy her[2]

It is reported that Queen Catherine de Medici, wife of French King Henry II, had all eight of her fashion figures in the palace attired in full mourning dress after the death of her husband in 1559. He died 10 days after sustaining a lance wound to the temple in a tilting contest with a French count. He was only 40 at the time, and he and Catherine had been married for 26 years and had seven children[3]. 

Leonie Frieda, in her biography of Catherine de Medici, states that the Queen of France was an enthusiastic if eclectic collector.  Among the objects that she lists in Catherine’s collection (including seven stuffed crocodiles hanging from the ceiling) are dolls attired in various types of dress[4].   

For her part, Janet Arnold indicates that Queen Elizabeth I seems to have obtained most of her news of foreign fashions from portraits, or by having dresses sent to her from abroad.  It is possible that dolls dressed in the latest foreign fashions were used in the Wardrobe of Robes, although no record of them seems to have survived[5].  

The little doll preserved in the Livrustkammaren, Stockolm, dating from around 1585 (Figure 1), which was the inspiration for mine, is thought to be a fashion doll although it has also been argued that it could very well have been a toy. 

Figure 1

A portrait of Arabella Stuart, dated 1577 (Figure 2) shows the little girl holding a doll, a miniature adult dressed in the fashionable clothes of a couple of years earlier.[6].  

Figure 2

In the 17th century we see the appearance of the Pandoras, fashion figures that were first made at the request of French King Henry IV while he was courting his second wife, Marie de Medici, of the noted Florentine family. She had sent word to him that she would like some examples of French Court fashions. These first two Pandoras were the Grande Pandora, 36” tall, and the Petite Pandora, 30” tall, made of paper mache, the larger in lavish court dress, the smaller in everyday dress. These figures had human hair wigs that could be removed and exchanged depending upon the costume. The figures had no legs, instead from the hips down there were wooden slats around which was wrapped canvas in a cone shape to support the skirt. Arms were removable for ease of dressing. These mannequins were a great success, and were copied and sent among the courts for many years, some of carved wood and some of paper mache. They are very rare to find today. By the 1700’s the term Pandora was replaced by “dolls of the Rue St. Honore.” [7]

Materials, Design and Construction

  • The Doll:

I made my doll our of linen, and hand-stitched with with linen thread.  For the stuffing I chose lamb’s wool.  Those materials were widely available in the 16th Century.  However, as I said before, I cannot document that a doll like this would have been stuffed.  The one extant piece in the Livrustkammaren is strips of linen wrapped on a wire armature and a head made out of an unidentified stiff material.  The little extant doll in the Livrustkammaren also sports human hair.  However, because this was my first doll, and I didn’t have any experience handling human hair for a doll wig, I chose mohair wool as it is easier to handle.   I braided her hair with faux pearls for decoration.  Her face is embroidered with black and brown stranded silk (eyes and eyebrows), and linen thread (mouth) to resemble the little doll in the Livrustkammaren.  The latter is 15 centimeters tall, while mine is 19 inches and considerably taller.

I wanted to use this doll to dress her up in a proof-of-concept miniature gown that would later allow me to make a full-sized gown for myself.  For that, I used one of Lynn McMasters doll patterns, which I scaled down from the original 26″ down to 19″.   I have christened my doll with the name of Wilhelmina and I will refer to her by that name from here on.

  • The Clothes:

Drawers and Chemise:  I designed Wilhelmina’s drawers based on the 16th Century Italian white linen drawers from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, [8] as well as the linen chemise, which ended up being a hybrid between the pattern featured in The Tudor Tailor[9] and Mistress Grace Gamble’s Elizabethan Chemise (as published in The Oak[10]).   Both are made out of lightweight linen, and hand-stitched with linen thread.  The drawers feature tiny blackwork embroidery in black silk.

Farthingale:  The pattern for the farthingale was designed after Juan de Alcega’s, as featured in the “Tailor’s Pattern Book 1589”[11].  I chose a gold-colored bridal satin which, although polyester, gave me the look and structure necessary for such a garment.  I did not pick silk satin, as the price of pre-dyed silk satin is very high and the availability limited (but it would have been nice). 

For the guards, I used a deep burgundy wool felt, and I used faux whalebone for the hoops.  In period, willow would have been used, but I had the plastic boning at hand, and it worked rather well.   The entire piece has been hand-stitched.

Skirt:  Again, Alcega to the rescue.  I wanted to have a structured look, compatible with the French silhouette of the late 16th Century.  For that, I used Alcega’s pattern No. 58, which is a kirtle of silk for a woman[12].  Because my full-size gown will be made in mulberry silk charmeuse, I decided to use the same material for Wilhelmina’s outfit.  And because charmeuse is too light and slinky to give me the structure I wanted, I lined it with pink calico.  I used matching cotton velvet for the guards, and used size 0 hooks and eyes to close it. Like the other pieces, this one has also been hand-stitched.

Doublet:  I designed the doublet based on the Princesse de Condé drawing by Clouet (Figure 3).  The doublet I redacted from Alcega’s pattern No. 14a[13], and the sleeves from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion[14].  I had to re-design the sleeve-cap in order to get the “mutton leg” effect as depicted in the portrait.

Figure 3

The outside shell is made out of the same deep burgundy silk charmeuse utilized for the skirt.  The inner layers are linen, calico and gold silk dupioni, and it is boned for structure like what was done in that period.  An example of a boned female doublet is an extant velvet doublet of c. 1585, preserved in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg.[15]

For the boning, I used broom bristles.  Reeds would have been used in period, and broom bristles give a very similar effect.  The sleeve-caps sport a light padding of lamb’s wool in order to achieve the necessary puff for the “mutton leg” look.  The tabs are put together and bound in the inside with white linen bias tape. I used garnet beads for buttons and Japan gold for the button closings.  The doublet closes with size 0 hooks and eyes.

Finishing Touches:  The hair was made out of light brown mohair, which was stitched to Wilhelmina’s head and styled accordingly.  I used a hank of straight mohair for the base, and braided mohair for the details.  Bridal faux pearls were braided into her hair for effect.  The face was embroidered in silk and linen, and I tried to stay true to the little faces from the Livrustkammaren and the Arabella Stuart dolls.

Wilhelmina in Various Stages of Construction

Wilhelmina gets a chemise and some drawers.

 

 

 

 

 Then she gets a farthingale!

Gets her hair done.    

  And of course, a nifty doublet with a ruff.

 

 Endnotes:

[1] Fraser, Antonia, Dolls.  Octopus Books Limited,99 Grosvenor Street,London, 1963, p. 30.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://members.aol.com/maryidolls/history.html  (This site was consulted in 2006, but appears to be dead now.)

[4] Frieda, Leonie, Catherine de Medici, Renaissance Queen of France. Fourth Estate, HarperCollins Publishers 10 East 53rd Street,New York,NY10022, 2003, p.290.

[5] Arnold, Janet, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d.  W.S. Maney & SonLTD,Hudson Road,Leeds. 1988, p. 157-158.

[6] Ibid.

[7] http://members.aol.com/maryidolls/history.html

[8] Arnold, Janet, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d.  W.S. Maney & Son LTD, Hudson Road, Leeds. 1988, p. 209.

[9]  Mikhaila, Nynia, and Malcolm-Davies, Jane, The Tudor Tailor, BT Batsford, Bramley Road, London W10 6SP.  2006, p.57.

[10] http://www.houseffg.org/resources/Elizabethan_Shirt.pdf

[11] Alcega, Juan de, Tailor’s Pattern Book 1589. Costume & Fashion Press, New York – Hollywood.  1999, p.49.

[12] Alcega, Juan de, Tailor’s Pattern Book 1589. Costume & Fashion Press, New York – Hollywood.  1999, p.44. 

[13] Alcega, Juan de, Tailor’s Pattern Book 1589. Costume & Fashion Press, New York – Hollywood.  1999, p. 23.

[14] Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c.1560-1620.  Drama Book Publishers, NY. 1985, p.21.

[15] Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c.1560-1620.  Drama Book Publishers, NY. 1985, pp.106-108. 

Bibliography:Alcega, Juan de, Tailor’s Pattern Book 1589. Costume & Fashion Press,New York –Hollywood.  1999. 

Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c.1560-1620.  Drama Book Publishers, NY. 1985. 

Arnold, Janet, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d.  W.S. Maney & SonLTD,Hudson Road,Leeds. 1988. 

Fraser, Antonia, Dolls.  Octopus Books Limited,99 Grosvenor Street,London, 1963. 

Mikhaila, Nynia, and Malcolm-Davies, Jane, The Tudor Tailor, BT Batsford,Bramley Road,LondonW10 6SP.  2006. 

Frieda, Leonie, Catherine de Medici, Renaissance Queen of France. Fourth Estate, HarperCollins Publishers 10 East 53rd Street,New York, NY 10022, 2003. 

Lynn McMasters Webpage: http://www.lynnmcmasters.com/

Mary Isabella Dolls Webpage:  http://members.aol.com/maryidolls/history.html  (This link appears to have gone dead since)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Responses to A 16th Century Inspired Fashion Doll

  1. Pingback: Fashion: A Very Short Introduction by Rebecca Arnold » Fashioning Circuits

  2. Liz says:

    Wow! The research you have done here is just wonderful and your own doll looks adorable. I was hoping to make a very similar doll, but of later fashions (1590-1610). You have inspired me to consider making an earlier style of doll, especially if Catherine de Medici owned dolls of her own (though I assume those would be larger figures than a child’s toy).

  3. belfebe says:

    Hi Liz!

    Glad you liked it and I can’t wait to see your version of a fashion doll! And by the way, I love your website :-)

Leave a Reply