Recently two of my favorite worlds collided. You know…like when peanut butter collided with marshmallow fluff to become the “Fluffernutter” sandwich I grew up eating. Maybe it’s a New England thing but, trust me, it’s amazing.
World #1 is ooak (one of a kind) doll making, and world #2 is Outlander. Outlander, for those of you who might not know, is the first book in a series of eight (soon to be nine) books by author, Diana Gabaldon. The story revolves around a World War II British Army nurse who, after the end of the war, travels to the Scottish highlands for a honeymoon of sorts with her husband who she has only seen sporadically during the war years. She mysteriously vanishes and is transported via a circle of standing stones to 18th century Scotland where she is thrust into the rough and tumble world of a band of Highlanders who suspect she might be either a British spy or a “hoor”. There aren’t a lot of vocational choices for women of that era, so the confusion by the Highlanders is understandable. I must say that it took me awhile to “discover” these books. Outlander was first published in 1991, and I was busy having children and attempting to raise them. I had never heard of the series until about two years ago when a doll friend and master seamstress, Brenda aka Matisse, began urging me to watch the television show on Starz and read the books. I smiled, nodded, and intentionally ignored her. I knew from her descriptions that this Outlander thing could easily become an obsession. Brenda was right about how good the show was and how amazing the books are. “I” was right about it becoming an obsession of mine. It happened a year or so ago when I purchased the Kindle version of Outlander and read the words, “People disappear all the time.” I was hooked. I didn’t put down my Kindle for two days. And then I bought the second book and the third. Well, you get the picture. I have several Outlander boards on Pinterest. I have all the episodes on DVD. I have read the books multiple times. We purchased a Starz subscription via Amazon specifically for Outlander. My husband now knows that if he gives me a gift somehow related to Outlander, he’s on the “nice list”. I drink my morning coffee from an Outlander mug my daughter gave me. I recently heard that Diana Gabaldon will be at a nearby Comic Con in a couple of months. I’m thinking I need to go. Outlander obsessed? Um…yeah, just a wee bit.
The thrilling collision of these two aforementioned worlds occurred when another doll friend who is also the chairperson for the Grant A Wish Doll Convention’s live charity auction asked me to create an Outlander doll since this year’s theme revolved around the Scottish Highlands. My friend has her own Outlander obsession going, so in that regard, we are kindred spirits. How could I refuse? The only problem was choosing what type of doll to create. I could create Jamie, the king of men, who wins Claire’s heart. Or, I could create a doll representing Claire, our heroine, who is clever and intelligent and brave and stubborn and beautiful even when covered in mud and labeled a whore or a witch or both! I settled on Claire several months ago. But, it took me another few months to decide on which Claire I would create. The television show on Starz gives us so many costuming choices. Costume designer, Terry Dresbach, and her team are amazing magicians, so it was rather difficult for me to pick just one particular Claire costume to recreate. In the end, with the convention looming, I chose to create Claire in her now iconic wedding gown. If you don’t know what the human sized Outlander gown looks like, simply do an online search for “Outlander Wedding Gown”. The television gown is not the gown described in Diana Gabaldon’s book, but since television is all about eye candy, an amazing fashion was created by Terry Dresbach for the show that shimmered in the sunlight as well as the candlelight inside the ancient church. The human sized costume had actual flakes of mica sewn behind the front panel and the embroidery was done with metal thread painstakingly applied by hand. Shrinking those attributes down to 1:6 scale doll size wouldn’t be possible, nor was it necessary, in my opinion. Miniature Claire was going to look just fine without them. I hoped.
Once the decision was made, research began in earnest. I scoured the internet for as many images of Claire in the gown as possible. Claire, aka actress Caitriona Balfe, in the gown, the gown without Claire wearing it, the gown’s front, the gown’s back, side views, underpinnings, production close-ups, cosplay designs…all of it was important. What became clear was that I had bitten off quite a project with a month to go before shipping deadline. I asked friends, “Tell me again WHY I do this every year? Why do I wait until the last few weeks before the convention when I have months and months within which to work? Why do I agree to create a one of a kind doll when I don’t really work with dolls anymore? Why do I put myself in these stressful positions?” And they would chuckle, shake their heads, and tell me that I am unable to say “no”, that I’m a pit bull, that I am certifiable, etc. It’s all true, I’m afraid. I am all of those things. I pretty much gave up miniatures for a solid month. I filled orders from the OSS Etsy Store when they came in, and I made a few (a very few) new items, and clients wanting to commission miniatures were politely told they would have to wait until April. The month of March was all about mini Claire.
I gathered fabrics and trims and beads and bobs and anything else I could think of in shades of white, cream, gray, and silver. My doting husband became an errand boy, running here and there to find this or that. He loves Hobby Lobby. That’s a lie. He despises that store, but I think he visited the store often enough in March to be on a first name basis with the women in the fabric department. Fortunately, I have a large fabric stash of my own. My dedicated doll room as more craft supplies than dolls. A favorite drawer is filled with dupioni silk, and I knew I had the perfect gray shade for the wedding dress. I adore sewing with dupioni when I sew doll fashions, which isn’t very often. I sew for dolls once a year, for GAW. I wonder if they realize how special that makes them? Ha!
The next step was to find a pattern. Riiiiiiight. Like THAT was going to happen. Here’s a fact for you, dear readers; the perfect pattern for Claire’s iconic wedding gown in 1:6 scale does NOT exist. If it does, I couldn’t find it. What do I do when reality throws a wrench into my works? I fall back and punt. (My dad would have loved my use of a football analogy.) I knew that I wanted to sew Claire’s underpinnings. I watched the wedding episode of Outlander at least a dozen times…especially the part where Jamie helps Claire out of her clothing before she helps him out of his kilt. Yeah, it was tough duty. No one will ever be able to say I am not devoted to my research. However, this research made me realize that I did not want to make Claire’s underpinnings (love that word) as revealed in the television show. Her shift and stays would not be seen once she was fully dressed, and I didn’t want to add any more bulk than absolutely necessary. I also chose, after research and recognizing my limits as a seamstress, to forego the “hip box” panniers for a hoop skirt which is not true to the era, but which would hold out the voluminous skirt of the wedding gown quite nicely. I have never made a hoop skirt in any size, but I managed to find a human sized Simplicity pattern that had a hoop skirt as well as stays. I might make use of the stays pieces one day. The next step was to shrink the pattern pieces to doll size. I found a copy place that would do so. After some blank stares and behind-the-hand titters, they managed, after several attempts to get the pieces down to a manageable size. I used my own flatbed scanner/printer to do the rest. The skirt pattern was a Designs by Jude pattern inspired by Claire’s red gown from Season 2…THE red gown. If you are an Outlander book reader, you will understand the emphasis. The pattern was in 1:4 scale, so again, I had to shrink it. I also had to alter it to include the white panel of the wedding gown. I chose to make the white piece a panel in the front of the skirt rather than a separate underskirt, again to reduce bulk. Bulk? What bulk? The bulk comes into play when you gather a full yard of silk dupioni fabric into a 3 inch waistband! The answer to that also came from the Designs by Jude pattern which made use of “cartridge pleats”, something I had not heard of prior to reading about them in the pattern instructions. They are an ingenious tool! I don’t know who invented them, but I love him/her.
Fabrics…check! Notions…check! Trims…check! Patterns…check! (Well, sort of. Never did find a bodice with stomacher pattern that suited me, so I had to punt again. So, let’s begin!
The doll I chose to work with is an Integrity Toys Holly Golightly doll. She has the face sculpt that would lend itself to Claire. She needed a full re-root. I used My Sammy Katsilk from Restore Doll.
I had not rooted a doll in at least two years. The muscle memory in my hands was gone. It took me awhile to find the rooting groove, but once I did, the work went pretty quickly. I knew the hair would be styled in Claire’s wedding episode upswept style, so I didn’t need to fully root the head. I rooted in several full rows all the way around from the hairline inward and then added some sparse plugs on the crown. Next up…the repaint! It really is amazing how much you forget when you don’t do something for a year. Again, it took me awhile to find the repaint zone, but once there, the work went pretty quickly and easily. It really is so cool to see a tiny person staring back at you once you get the facial features painted in! I chose to go with blue eyes to match the television show’s version of Claire played fabulously by Irish actress Caitriona Balfe. Diana Gabaldon’s Claire has amber eyes the shade of sun-kissed whisky, but since I was making the television version of the wedding gown, I chose to make the television version of Claire. I waited to style the doll’s hair until after all the gown fittings as I knew I would be handling her a lot, and I didn’t want to have to re-do the hair time and time again. I boil-permed mini Claire’s hair and then sewed it up into the final style, leaving a few loose tendrils around the hairline.
My mini Claire also received pearl earrings. The television version of Claire was not wearing earrings for the wedding, but the Holly Golightly doll already had earring holes in the ear lobes, so I added the earrings…artistic license.
Another wrench in the works presented itself when I realized that there were no images of the shoes Claire wore in the wedding episode. We caught a flash here and there, but that was about it. I decided to do my own thing with the shoes. I used a pair of IT Poppy Parker black shoes as a base. I cut off the bows and sculpted new heels more in line with the 18th century.
I then decorated the shoes with the same dupioni silk I had chosen for the skirt and some trim and shredded white organza that would echo the gown’s sleeves.
Et voila! Claire wedding shoes! Above the shoes were white stockings anchored mid-thigh with teensy weensy ties created by braiding 3 individual threads of embroidery floss together. Embroidery floss has 6 threads in it, so you can imagine how thin the actual ties are for mini Claire’s stockings. My hands ached for an hour after that particular task. I also gave mini Claire a pair of white panties which are decidedly not 18th century garb, but in my world, dolls require underwear. It’s just a thing with me. Ask those who know me best. They already think I’m nuts, so what’s one more thing to add to the list?
Before sewing the gown together, the embroidered leaves and acorn branches had to be completed on the white skirt panel and the white stomacher on the front of the bodice. I still sew on the Sears Kenmore machine that my grandmother used when I was a kid. It weighs about 50 pounds, and it does nothing fancy. If doll sized embroidery was going to happen, it was going to be done by hand, one meticulous stitch after another, under bright (and hot) lights, and with the aid of magnifying reading glasses over my prescription glasses. I lost count of how many leaves I embroidered on the skirt. There are around 100, I think. I
realized, about a dozen leaves into the project, that the embroidery floss which was labeled “Pewter” and which looked totally like what pewter should look like in the skein, actually took on a greenish tint against the white fabric. This was most decidedly NOT what I wanted. However, I did not have the time or the inclination to start over with a different thread. It was just going to have to suffice. “No one will notice,” my darling husband told me repeatedly. After almost 29 years of marriage, the man still thinks that those words will make me feel better. Silly man!
Once the embroidery was finished, I began assembling the gown. The skirt and bodice are separate pieces as gowns of the period were even though the television gown was not. The stomacher would have also been a separate piece that attached to the two sides of the bodice, but I chose to make it part of the bodice itself.
The bodice laces up the back. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the lacings. Sorry! I used the “eyes” from several hook and eye sets and 2 mm ribbon. I searched and searched for gray ribbon. I even had my daughter search in stores where she lives in a much larger city. Tiny gray ribbon was not to be found, so I dyed my white ribbon. It worked, but it wasn’t “plan A”. Oh, well…sometimes you just have to…yes, punt.
The skirt was mostly machine sewn, but the cartridge pleats were done by hand as was the actually stitching of the skirt to the waistband. Reading the Designs by Jude instructions of cartridge pleating and examining her small photos were helpful for this newbie, but I am a very visual learner, so I went in search of an online tutorial. I found only ONE, and even it didn’t give me any close up shots of the actual process of attaching the numerous pleats to the waistband. So, I took a deep breath and just did it. I ran two hand stitched rows of basting stitches 1/8 of an inch and ¼ of an inch from the top edge of the skirt section, making sure to align the stitches of the lower row precisely with those in the higher row. The fun part is the actual gathering as, like magic, all that dupioni silk slid, accordion style, into a tightly compacted 3 inches! Attaching all those pleats to the waistband took careful slip stitching so that the actual height of the pleats flare out on the hips rather than being bunched into the waist. The end result was amazing to me. The gown retained the tiny waist while allowing the yard of skirt fabric to billow out just as it should. Hooray!
A treasured part of this project was being able to sculpt Claire’s two wedding rings. The fingers of the doll are tiny, and not all the fingers are completely separated. I knew, however, that I had to give her the rings…one a gold band, her wedding ring from her marriage to Frank Randall in Claire’s “real time”, and the other a silver (most likely would have been made of iron) ring forged from the key of Lallybroch, Jamie Fraser’s family home. I used two part Apoxie Sculpt which has a working window of about two hours. Once the two parts are kneaded together, the “clay” begins to harden, so you need to keep working until you’re happy with the results. After the rings had cured sufficiently, I painted and sealed them.
Mini Claire’s stand was painted to resemble the pattern and colors of Fraser plaid. Several versions can be found if you Google “Outlander Fraser Tartan”, and I’m no expert, so I just picked the one I liked best and went with it.
Her wide skirt hides it, but “I” know it’s there. Jamie Fraser dons his clan colors for his marriage ceremony, and Claire (as written by Diana Gabaldon) has this to say about him in Outlander, “A Highlander in full regalia is an impressive sight…any Highlander, no matter how old, ill-favored, or crabbed in appearance. A tall, straight-bodied, and by no means ill-favored young Highlander at close range is breath-taking.” And Jamie, in the television wedding episode, says this to Claire after the ceremony as he is recounting to her how he felt when he first saw her in her wedding attire, “It was as if I stepped outside on a cloudy day and suddenly the same came out.” How romantic is THAT?
I have plans to make a 1:6 scale Jamie in his wedding attire, but who knows exactly when that will happen. I have plans rolling around in my head from a decade ago! Hopefully, Jamie won’t have to wait quite that long to come to miniature life at the hands of OSS.
And that, my friends, is my rather lengthy explanation of my recent Obsession Overlap. My one regret is that I couldn’t keep mini Claire for myself! She traveled to GAW for the convention’s charity auction. I hope she does well for them. I know she will always have a special place in the heart of this obsessive Outlander fan.