Infanta

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That’s not right…

You know, it’s been a damn long time since I sewed for Barbietoo long. Despite my library of Barbie clothes not being large – I have to admit, there exists a certain charm in making clothes for the world’s most famous doll…and she knows it.

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An early Barbie design…

The creative process isn’t so very different from other dolls, but one thinks in a more grand sense despite her small 1:6 scale. I mean – this is Barbie, after all…a simple house dress just won’t do.

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

So I scooted up to the attic to bring down Ma’s old box of dress patterns to play for a bit. You see, I’ve been having a dark week – as happens with many folks who suffer from depression – and no, I’m not afraid to talk about it. I suppose it’s a bit taboo to talk about such personal things, but we doll collectors are highly personal people – and therefore, it should come as no surprise to you that many of us share this peculiar, if not debilitating affliction. And before you jump on some pity train and say, “oh, poor Tommy…” Don’t. I’ve been dealing with this for over thirty years before I even met anyone in the doll world – and I’m a big boy, thank you very much. Through countless therapists and rollercoasters of medication combination experiments, I’m pretty well-informed about it all…and come to find the best to deal with it is to occupy my brain with creative activity. Sewing fits that bill nicely.

I am crazy...and I've been tested plenty.

I am crazy…and I’ve been tested plenty.

My darkness has brought me an amazing amount of light in my life, too – and after typically poo-pooing everyone and everything by taking to social media, I decided to channel some mental depravity into a creative project. Tag, Barbie…you’re it

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This had better be good…

How unbelievable to discover that I had no Barbie patterns from my old work! So I tasked myself with scaling down a new sheath from one of my existing Poppy patterns. I would have saved a great deal of time by just starting a drape from scratch, but once I’m into it – I’m in, so I just decided to go with the flow. Measurements, age, dyslexia, and logic just don’t blend into a happy quiche, puddings…so after reviewing my model’s ass where there should not have been one, something inspiring came to me…something wonderful.

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You’ve sparked my interest…you may continue…

My crap interpretation of measurements gave me some amazingly tiny seams – but something about the way they moved along the body worked, so I made a few adjustments, and I drafted up a full length version to see what it would look like…

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That will do nicely…

The toile worked…and now it was time to sort out the fabrics. This gown would use a combination of three…but after combing through my fabric bins, most trios seemed off, or the colors didn’t blend well. Other striking combinations looked more like collegiate tributes than something walking the runway (burgundy and gold, really?) – especially with the Le Mans stripes that were now my focus. One fabric truly caught my eye in a special way, because I had the perfect blue taffeta to match it – this embroidered dupioni (more of a shantung in its finer weave) bordered on the bridal, and it needed the right color to offset the blue and ivory.

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Cutting pieces individually to space the floral motif evenly across the back…

Pink was a favorite choice, but the result was too Barbie cliché or Madame Alexander doll box (despite my attempts to justify the ‘Tiffany’ appeal of it all). Gold finally came to me when fussing with white, which made the ivory look dirty – not the best appeal for a gown, mind you. But the gold created a frame from which the center panel would be nicely showcased in contrast.

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Oh yes…but my ass is still bare…

Tiny zippers and I have become good friends, though the scale is still wrong – however, it seemed with the available resources, this was going to have to work…so why not have some fun with it?

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Matchy-match…

Blue – of course…to my eye, it worked well…don’t tell Zac Posen. Once the back was done, it was time to join the front and create a dress. Fraying is always a bitch, and I don’t like using Fray Check on every edge – it just feels weird. Nevertheless, I am going to have to make it a regular part of my routine if I will continue in miniature without a Merrow.

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Always a mess on the inside, no?

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We’ll get steamed later…really.

The initial toile was cut on the grain, but the subsequent muslin was cut on a bias – and this worked very nicely with the ‘give’ I needed across the torso (which would come back to haunt me later, as you will see). Some things I noticed about 1:6 scale sewing and certain lightweight fabrics like taffeta – you’re going to see the stitch marks in a tight fit (make a note of this for future projects!). Also, the fabric can pucker a bit as it glides along the body. Oddly enough…I liked the effect, though not specifically a ‘couture’ detail – eh, what the hell – I’ll press it all later…

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Pouf, anyone?

Since Barbie isn’t a real woman, I figured I could give her more dramatic latitude in a Dynasty kinda way…I just love Dynasty. So we’ll whore this gown up a la Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan – and install an over-sized, asymmetrical sleeve. I wanted to add two, but the bulk on the neckline seam was already being pushed to the limit.

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Let’s make a sleeve!

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Kinda tumor-ish, no? We’ll fix that…

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What if we get twisted?

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It works…

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Inflate…

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Voila!

With the design mostly in place, it was time to examine embellishment. ‘Editing’ can be a challenge for me – especially when I get carried away…so you’ll see some of that process when it comes to the embroidered flowers. Since I couldn’t match the repeat on the embroidery motif, it was more desirable to simply make the flowers evenly placed across the back. That meant some would be enclosed in seams…but there was a way to use that flaw, and make an anthem…

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Fray check the flower…

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Cut it out…

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Add beading…

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Cut out a whole shitload of them…

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Let’s begin…

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Match the floral segment…

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Stitch in place…

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Add the beading…and then cover up the whole damn flower! No…

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Much better…sparkle and embroidery detail preserved…

By subtracting the excess beading from the flowers, I learned a valuable lesson about the rest of the embroidery – don’t cover it up. Beading was then added to simply accentuate the embroidery. But that blue floral overlap on the gold was too much – so it’s the only place where I didn’t extend a full flower. After all, why take all the time to choose the right fabrics if you’re just going to cover it up with a harlot’s pot of beads?

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Gold seed beads work…the big floral overlap does not…

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This is juuuuust right.

Now, let’s line this bitch…as I’ve said before, it’s a real shame, considering it’s a complete, second dress – and yes, I could have simplified the lining, but my fit was tight, and the pieces needed to match perfectly…

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Aren’t you going to apply Fray Check? Silly, silly, silly – but I get ahead of myself…

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Back to bridal with this…

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Perfect match…

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You cannot deny the coolness of this look (note to self)…

Despite the inside-out gown looking way Mugler for its own good (with even a bit of foreshadowing, no?), it was time to hand-stitch the lining at the neckline…

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Follow the pins…

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Watch that needle – it’s sharp…

And as with many things in my life, the truest annoyances come when I encounter a little prick.

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This right on the sleeve front…ugh.

Be that as it may, a little hydrogen peroxide reduced the blood spot to a shadow – still visible, but not as glaring as it was in its crimson. The end of a project brings a certain elation that can only be expressed in a photo…this photo, to be specific:

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Pretty.

Happy with the final fit, it was time to shape, steam and press…so I took the gown off my client…when…

Fuck.

Fuck.

What was I moaning about all along…Fray Check? Maybe she won’t notice?

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I might be plastic, but I’m no fool.

I think I might be able to repair the lining seam…but it won’t happen today, that’s for certain. My mood, although toyed-with at the end, was lifted when I started to really look at her…so I grabbed the camera…

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Infanta – One-of-a-Kind silk taffeta and hand-beaded gown by Tom Courtney to fit Silkstone Barbie.

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I named this ‘Infanta‘, because she is not only our first lady of fashion…she is our Prin-CESS.

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What do you think?

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16 thoughts on “Infanta

  1. Oh Tom, do I ever love reading about what you sew! Oh wait wait, do i say that every blog you post or what? I can’t see the pictures but get enough from your descriptions to imagine the gorgeousness of the gowns, this one sounded a doozy! Thanks so much, as ever, for sharing.

  2. Hi Tom:

    Fabulous job on the Barbie dress!

    I like a good, old fashioned, pinking shear finish for silk seams, especially those tricky curved ones, because the machine stitched finishes add such bulk, and I find Fray check is sometimes too stiff and distorts the line.

    I work with a ton of silk, and the new pinking shears handle charmeuse and china silk and everything in between.

    Just a thought. I always enjoy your blog. Jackie

    my Etsy store for BJD clothes: http://www.etsy.com/shop/KatzMeowDesigns my Ebay store: http://stores.ebay.com/Katz-Meow-Designs-for-Fashion-Dolls

    • Thanks, Jackie…really appreciate it! And I will take another look at pinking shears…my mother suggested them, too…but was afraid of the seam allowance. Thanks for your comments…and for reading, too!

  3. I loved this post! It hits very close to home for me (although, unlike you, I suck at sewing – I really don’t have a productive outlet for depression). I discovered you recently and you are already one of my favourite bloggers. Thanks for taking the time to talk about the creative process behind this beautiful dress.

    • Thank you, Arina…talking about personal issues runs through many blogs, and I know some feel that such personal anecdotes don’t have a place in them – but as it is a highly personal hobby, I feel it adds depth to my writing. It also serves a therapeutic purpose. Thank you for reading and for your kind comments.

  4. Yeah, tell me about it….sewing for Barbie is a B-I-T-C-H!!!!! But I remain faithful to her because, when I started collecting, I couldn’t find current “fashion” for her. (Of course I didn’t know anything about Ebay, Etsy or Integrity Toys. And, silly me thought the toy stores in Paris would have nice clothes for her!) I like your idea about using fray check for the “embroidered” flowers. I was also taking a really close look at the zipper–especially how you handled the top part of the tape. In Paris I can buy 4″ zippers but the pull is too big and I can’t remove it. May I assume that sewing for the 16″ diva is a bit easier?

My blog is satire, but your thoughts are welcome!

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