Meet Allegra!

You can see by this photo that Allegra was well loved. Her velour body had been completely worn out. Her sweet little wings and lace edged collar were in decent shape but the bonnet was so dirty, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
This close-up shows how her face had been repaired and half of her mouth and nose were missing.

This sweet doll was originally made of the finest stretch velour and soft crepe-back satin and equipped with all the right components that any baby girl would love. Her soft velvety-smooth skin was carefully embroidered with a tiny duck appliqué and her facial features were sweet and gentle. Her little woolen bangs were covered by a sweet moppet style bonnet, edged in lace and her little sleeves were adorned with similar lace edging. Inside her was the subtle sound of a baby rattle and I thought my heart would melt when I discovered she had been altered many times as to last the lifetime of expectations from a baby girl into teenage dome. My mission was to restore her to her former beauty while keeping as much of the integrity of the original doll as possible. As I accepted the challenge, I asked God to give me the ability to meet the high standard of the challenge, a prayer I make before all commissions.

The sweet little duck applique was originally done by machine but I wanted to do the new one by hand. Luckily I had a scrap of soft yellow wool fabric in my stash that would work perfectly for the new applique.

Allegra is the prize possession of Luana, one of my summer camp students. Luana is very grown up young girl now but still cherishes her favorite baby toy. Although Allegra is still very cherished, Luana decided it was time to restore her to original glory so I was called in to do the job. This task turned out to be my most daunting challenge of all time. As I examined the well-worn doll in disbelief, I listened intently as Luana carefully explained in detail how she wanted me to change out the stuffing so her head didn’t bobble but to preserve the rattle inside her body, fix her face so the rip didn’t show, re-sew or replace her lace edging, and clean her collar and bonnet so it looked like new again. Then Luana asked me to replace the fuzzy texture of her skin so her soft skin would feel smooth again. My son had a blanket that was his lovey and as it was loved to death, he often told me not to wash it because it wouldn’t feel or smell right, so I knew texture was just as important as visual image.

Baby Luana cuddles her adorable Allegra doll. Notice how soft and cuddly her skin is and must have been such a comfort to Luana.
Here is Luana as a toddler holding her beloved doll. Notice how she is gripping the fabric. That fabric is the soothing aspect of the cuddle.

The most challenging aspect of any restoration is finding the proper materials. I scanned myriad websites to find a pale pink velour stretch fabric and the best I could find was something called “doll skin”. I set out to find the best color and type and held my breath until the packages arrived.

Next, I decided it was pointless to try and rescue the original doll to a reasonable fact simile, so I started out dissecting the specimen. Very carefully I cut away the old stitches and separated the satin elements such as the collar, hat and laces aside to be soaked until the years of dust and smudges disappeared. As usual, I used my favorite cold water soak, Delicare by Arm and Hammer*. It took almost three days to wash away the years of handling, leaving only a glimmer of loving. Then, I let the pieces dry completely and they were ironed smoothly.

After trying to iron the pieces flat to no avail, I used water soluble tacky stabilizer to hold the body parts flat.

The body sections were in terrible shape so I decided to reproduce them entirely. I carefully labeled and laid each section out on sticky stabilizer so I could get an accurate measurement for pattern reconstruction. Once all the pieced were separated and carefully placed, I scanned the images into my computer so I could create a master pattern of the doll’s body. I pulled the scans into my drawing program and re-traced the outlines of the original body parts. I also made an exact template of the facial features and ducky applique.

The velour had been completely rubbed away and the fabric had become thread-bare. She still looks so sweet and happy even at this stage.

It was now time to transfer the facial features and re-create the embroidered parts. I used fusible water soluble stabilizer such as “Wet ‘N Gone Fusible” to trace the facial features then fused them onto the right side of the velour fabric. I was careful to use a large enough piece of stabilizer and fabric with which to fit entirely inside my embroidery hoop. Because the fabric was stretchy, I knew it would be more stable if I fused the entire face while embroidering. It worked beautifully. I used Floche to do all of the facial features. On the bodice front, I recreated the ducky appliqué using a scrap of pale yellow wool I had in my stash, outlining the shape in “trailing” stitch. (See stitch guide).

Here is a good image of the pattern pieces and embroidery template and a photo of the old doll before disassembly.
Allegra’s face, the most critical of all pieces.

Next, I soaked the embroidered pieces to remove the fusible stabilizer. With a deep breath, I boldly cut out the pattern pieces and began to re-construct the cherished doll. I have to admit, I was almost distraught at the thought of the pieces not fitting but I powered through it. In the end the pieces fit well except for the mitts and boots which had to be adjusted slightly because they didn’t quite fit the body correctly. Thankfully, I purchased extra fabric to prevent undue stress which proved to be an excellent idea. I also made a small stuffed heart from the original body pieces and placed it inside the new doll so at least a small bit of the original doll was remembered.

I decided to keep the satin elements because I wasn’t sure if I could find the appropriate fabric to replace them, then later decided it was the correct choice to retain as much of the original doll as possible.

Allegra was beginning to take shape and become her old self again and I began to worry if I had taken the “restoration” a bit too far. Doubts crowded my mind as Christmas approached and the due date leered. I decided it was time to call in the professionals, so I scheduled a quick trip to the North Pole to confer with his Excellency, Santa Clause. On my arrival and after my hot chocolate, the elves inspected my work and matched against the original documents of Allegra’s birth, and only then could a reliable decision be made. It was the general consensus that I had done the correct thing and Allegra was given the stamp of approval by the experts at Santa’s workshop. After a few small nips and tucks, Allegra was ready for her cameo appearance. With a wink and nod, I was on my way back to my studio to deliver the most important commission I had ever undertaken.

Meet the new Allegra! I know the fabric isn’t an exact match, but it had all the correct texture and stretch needed to recreate the doll.
I chose to use the original wool bangs but used stronger color embroidery threads because the fabric was a bit darker than the original. I backstitched around the eyes and satin stitched inside the eyes. I used satin stitch for the nose and trailing stitch for the mouth. I think she looks lovely.
As you can see, she has a new plump body with a stable head and her sweet little wings are again where they belong.

I wasn’t around when Luana unwrapped the new Allegra but I was told she was delighted with the result and her old friend had made a huge comeback. And so my Christmas t’was complete.

Luana and her mom, Cris and of course, Allegra.






Recovery of an Antique Vestment

This gorgeous antique vestment was purchased by Fr. Garrett O’Brien sometime after his ordainment into the Catholic priesthood. The day I received Fr. Garrett’s phone call, I happened to be between projects and his request was quite unusual and interesting. I love a challenge so I was intrigued with the opportunity. He was seeking someone to recreate missing elements of his antique vestment, which he planned to gift another young priest at his ordainment the following year. He happened to be in the vicinity of my studio so I decided to meet with him at once. It would be the beginning of my friendship with a very young priest with very good taste in antique vestments.

Fr. Garett O'Brien with his antique hand embroidered vestment with thread painting an goldwork.
Fr. Garett O’Brien with his antique hand embroidered vestment with thread painting and goldwork.
The gorgeous hand embroidered and painted antique vestment of Fr. Garett O’Brien, which was restored by another source.

As it turned out, I was recommended to Fr. Garrett by someone from my church in downtown New Orleans. Word travels quickly in New Orleans, a place of undeniable heritage and intrigue. In other words, everybody knows everybody and I suspect he just happened to speak to the one person who knew of me. He was seeking someone to recreate the missing elements of the vestment ensemble for his friend and given I had almost a full year to complete it, I readily accepted the commission. At last, the opportunity to utilize the skills I learned while achieving a Certificate from the Royal School of Needlework in London.

The elements he was missing was a burse, which purpose is to protect the hosts while in the chalice, and the shall, which is laid over the burse, much like a small square tablecloth. The design was taken from the piece that the priest drapes over his arm and was made to match the embroidery on the vestment. The embroidery was done in three colors and was stitched in Beauvais stitch, or chain stitch. The challenge was to find the appropriate fabric and the exact color threads so the reproduction pieces would match the originals to exacting specifications.

This photo is the completed burse with front and backs joined together at the side and held in place with a twisted cord holding thread. The embroidery is mounted on acid free card and lined with goldenrod colored silk fabric on the inside of the “book-like” accessory.


A tight close-up of the center of the burse showing the stitch pattern and looped border which frames the central figure.
Shawl A
Here is the completed shall I reproduced placed beside the original antique sleeve drape which is lined with goldenrod silk and trimmed with bullion fringe.
Shawl B
A close-up comparison of the arm drape and shall.

The fabric was easy to find, but imported faille is quite costly and most important to the work. Finding the thread proved much more difficult. It seemed there never was a thread made to match these three colors in shade, intensity, and weight. I finally decided to use silk thread, which matched the antique almost exactly. And I decided to use my slate frame and trestle stands rather than hoop. I determined to try my hand at Tambour stitching, which would have been the best application of this work, but that darn needle was tricky and I didn’t have time for the “learning curve” which was required to become proficient at the art. I settled on using a hand needle with a bit of bee’s wax to tame the fibers slightly and darken the color a bit for a more pleasing match.

I worked diligently on the project between other projects and teaching jobs and finally, it was done in time for the newly ordained priest and my friend, Fr. Garrett O’Brien.

shawl work in progress
The design of the shall is transferred to the fabric with pounce and carefully painted with a fine brush and a steady hand. The lightest color areas were echo stitched first.
Shawl C
The work in progress. The entire design is outlined in the darkest color using chain stitch.

If you have an antique garment you wish to have restored, please inquire via email. I am open to complying within your budgetary requirements. Please allow ample time to complete the project.


Continuing a Legacy

The Dubret Family Christening Gown Slip

Out of the blue one day, a lady phoned on the advice of someone who recommended a hand embroider. She was looking for someone to add a few names on a Circa 1920s christening gown slip. At the time, my father was quite ill so I told her I would be glad to do it on condition she wasn’t in a big hurry. I never dreamed it would take almost a full year to complete. Well, not exactly.

My client, Lisa arrived at my home the very next day and when she removed the slip from its plastic bag, I was astonished. I have embroidered many, many christening gown slips with birth names and dates but I’ve never before seen one with so many names. This slip was incredible!Continue reading

1850’s Ayrshire Christening Gown Gets New Life

Recently, my adult niece asked me to fix a rip in her husband’s family christening gown in preparation for the christening of her daughter, Norah. Norah was adopted so it was necessary to wait until paperwork was finalized before her baptismal and as a result, was almost a year old and had grown larger than the gown could accommodate. I asked to evaluate the gown before proceeding.Continue reading