Thursday, July 4, 2019

My Biggest Project Yet

I had originally planned a patriotic-themed post to celebrate the Fourth of July today, but this time I had a very good excuse--I've been working on something big. (I will begin "reviewing" Molly's collection once I finish Addy's, since patriotism is a big theme with her). But first:
Teaser photo!
If any of you peruse American Girl Wikia (now run by you may have seen some edits by user "Veralidaine". That's me, referencing a series of books by one of my favorite authors with my username. After reading Grace's books from 2015, I decided to replicate her entire collection. Which of course included THE largest accessory ever produced and sold by AG: Grace's French Bakery.
Of course, this image (official AG website photo, used in the Wikia article) wasn't nearly enough to reference while trying to build the thing, let alone describe it in detail for the article itself. For the latter, I turned to the YouTube channels of agoverseasfan and americangirlideas, both of whom bought the $500 "real" bakery and did in-depth review videos. I am very grateful to both of them for publishing their content that tells so much more than a photo ever could--for instance, which knobs on that little oven click and which turn freely. To americangirlideas goes the most gratitude though...not only did she buy the set and review it, she measured every piece and uploaded free plans! Having the real deal, of course, I completely understand her lack of motivation in posting pictures of her replica--there are several screenshots of a detailed 3-D CAD model, but only one or two pictures of what the plans result in if you use real wood. And that's where I decided to come in.
Most of the bakery in americangirlideas's tutorial is made of 1/2" thick plywood. There was fortunately enough of it lying around my garage that I only ended up needing to buy one small (2'x4') piece and I just might have enough left to build Lea's Rainforest House as well. To make sure I wasn't wasting anything, I made paper patterns following the plans, then simply traced those onto the plywood. Here are two more shots of the "pencil stage":

The smallest piece in the plans is the under-counter support. I cut it from a scrap.
Then I used an ordinary hand saw (I prefer the more direct control of manual tools over the speed of power tools) to cut the pieces out. I'm a novice at woodworking, but once I found the right saw I could get it going pretty fast.
See that piece of chipboard in the middle? That's the floor. The plans call for a 3/4" thick floor, and I wasn't about to go out shopping again (I do have a job now, but why waste money?) just to cut one piece. Instead, I cut the floor from 1/2" chipboard, which we have a lot of, then cut another identical piece (not shown above) from smooth, thin hardboard and glued'n'nailed it on top. The result wasn't quite 3/4" thick, but it's definitely an improvement. After this picture was taken, my dad helped me cut out all six window holes with his mini jigsaw.
Prime time!
Next step--coat all surfaces except the already-smooth top surface of the floor and the smooth 1/4" MDF countertop piece with primer. I started with the bottle of Acrylic Gesso I found at a free art-supply swap last fall, then when that ran out I switched to the wall primer shown above. Both are intended as a surface primer, and there's no visual or tactile difference in the results. The wall primer does contain latex and could trigger allergic reactions while it's being applied (pretty sure it's safe once it's dry though). If you're worried about latex, just use gesso. And don't pronounce it with a hard G either, for some reason.
After the primer has dried, sand lightly with coarse-grit sandpaper. The brush is to sweep away sawdust or primer-dust that collects on the surface and makes it feel smooth when it isn't. Trust your hands, not your eyes, to tell you when a piece is smooth enough. I primed the wood first to sort of seal in the fibers and reduce the risk of splinters, but there's another benefit too--the primer fills the deepest gaps, partially smoothing the wood all on its own, so you don't have to sand so much!

I've been told to hold nails in place with pliers so as to keep your fingertips away from the hammer. These pliers decided not to cooperate. Take from this what you will.

Time to attach the walls! Either side wall will do for your first one, but I started with the right side (the one with the curved pickup window) because I'm right-handed. I glued first with wood glue, then added nails for extra security. Next comes the back wall, which in my case had decided to warp for some reason...
While I waited (and weighted) on the back wall, I decided to install the counter through the right wall window. This may have been a mistake--it would have been easier to turn the bakery over without the counter sticking out. Oh well.

I added the little support piece first and then the counter shelf. It was the same process--glue, clamp till the glue dries, then nail. HINGE ISSUE #1:You might notice that the notches in the edge of the wall are larger and less numerous than AGI's plans suggest--I just couldn't find hinges small enough yet sturdy enough to support both folds of the big front doors and still make room for three of them, so I opted for just two hinges per door. Don't worry though, the hinges I used are more than strong enough.
It looks like a lot has happened here, but all I did was install the back and left walls and rest the two smaller door panels in place. HINGE ISSUE #2 was the fact that the hinges I bought could not open in the right direction AND fit the center...axle? the notch while being completely on the inside of the bakery. So when I installed the doors I had to attach the non-moving halves of the hinges to the outsides of the bakery walls instead. Of all the trouble the hinges gave me, this single problem actually worked out for the better later on. But I'll get to that. Here's the small doors installed:
The doors don't open very far, but that at least is not the hinges' fault. The outside edge of the door is just bumping into the wall. Much later, I convinced my dad to shave those edges at an angle with his router (didn't take much convincing, he was eager for an excuse to use the thing). After that the doors opened much further. HINGE ISSUE #3 was a mess though--finding four dozen screws with heads big enough not to just slide through the hinges' screw holes but shafts short enough (unlike the screws that came with the stupid hinges) not to poke straight through the wood. THEN, due to future hinge issues, I only ended up needing HALF of the screws I'd scavenged in the first place!
Next came installing the "Door Stop", that little stick of wood that keeps the doors from swinging inward. Glue and a single nail on each end did the trick for the time being--once the top wall was in place everything would be much more secure.
And then came HINGE ISSUE #4, the most frustrating one yet. I set the large doors into place temporarily and picked up a hinge, only to discover that said hinge was so big that it intruded into the window opening near the top of the door! Here are the extra steps I had to take as a result of this:
1. Go back to Home Depot and buy four of their small "hobby" hinges. Either I had dismissed them for being "too expensive" the first time around, or (more likely) I simply hadn't seen them. They came in two-packs, and even buying six of those (for the twelve hinges recommended by the original plans) would still cost only about $25, give or take a few dollars. Four two-packs would have been sufficient for two hinges per join, which would have cost less than $25 and had the single, minor drawback of not looking exactly like the original bakery. Plus, their screws worked perfectly.
2. Take the small door panels off the bakery, rotate them 180 degrees so the too-large hinge notches were on the outside, away from where they would cause trouble, then carve out two smaller notches in the un-notched edge for the hinges I was using. 
3. Then mark and drill pilot holes for the large hinges' new positions, and screw THOSE back into place.
At last, the large doors were attached...and they wouldn't close. This was less of a hinge issue and more of an I'm-clumsy-with-a-saw issue, but it still meant taking the doors off AGAIN to shave down the offending lumps with a chisel (a tool I wish I'd "discovered" sooner due to its efficiency!)
FINALLY, I was able to attach the top wall above the doors. In this photo, I've also started work on the paneling that decorates the doors and the exterior of the side walls. The "real" bakery just has painted lines to indicate the panels, but making mine out of cardboard does three things. First, it looks more realistic and fancy. Second, I can trim the thin-cardboard panels around the big hinges so as to disguise their shape somewhat. (This is what I was talking about for HINGE ISSUE #2...there's no paneling on the interior side walls, which would mean no way to disguise the hinges!) Third, it conceals some imperfections in the very wood of the walls, stuff that a) wasn't my fault and b) showed through the primer. Here are some more shots of the paneling.
Left wall (glue still drying)

Right wall

Doors wide open (thanks Dad!)

And doors shut.
I hadn't planned it that way, but the position of the garage workbench light worked out to illuminate the interior of the bakery as if there were ceiling lights inside. The AG bakery doesn't even have a ceiling, let alone ceiling lights, but it does have two nonfunctional wall sconces. But with a couple of $1 LED headlamps from WalMart and some luck, I hope to make my bakery's sconces functional. Before that, however, I needed to add the last few details of this stage.
Inexpensive molding strips make the top of the bakery look so sophisticated. They were also really easy to cut--I suspect they're made of something almost as soft as balsa wood. I was even able to use an ordinary Xacto to shave the 45 degree miters down just right.
Button, button, who's got the button?
Lastly come the little medallions that AG lazily decided to paint onto their bakery. I don't know where I got the big bag of wooden buttons, but I've had it for years and they worked perfectly. Once they're painted, you won't even be able to tell they're buttons, since the hot glue I attached them with filled in the holes.
Phase One of the bakery project is complete! Grace hasn't even seen it yet (I don't want to risk getting any of my dolls dirty or damaged by taking them to the garage). And speaking of Grace herself, there's an interesting quandary when it comes to the AG bakery and her stories: Which bakery does the AG set represent? Here are the facts from the books:

The cover of Grace (the first book) shows her seated outside a patisserie painted red, with a dark gray stone patio. She's feeding Bonbon the dog, whose lack of a collar indicates that she and Grace are still in France.
In that same book, Bonbon visits Sophie and Bernard's bakery (simply called La Patisserie) to be fed by Grace, basically confirming that the patisserie on the cover does belong to Grace's aunt and uncle.

The cover of Grace Stirs it Up (the second book) shows a kitchen painted light robin's egg blue, the same color as the AG bakery's interior. There is a white cabinet visible. However, the "marble" countertop shown is tan, not black like the one in the set.
In that same book, Grace and her friends do all their baking at Grace's house, in her kitchen. Therefore, the matching wall and cabinets can be seen as just a coincidence--or an oversight in the visual department.

Though the cover of the third book, Grace Makes it Great, does not show any bakery buildings inside or out, the story reveals much more. Grace and her friends must find a new kitchen, one that does not house any pets, to bake in if they want to make their business (called La Petite Patisserie and currently consisting only of an online ordering website, blog, and the little cart faithfully represented by another AG set) official. They end up borrowing the kitchen of First Street Family Bakery (run by Grace's maternal grandparents) on afternoons, when there are few customers there. Ella's father (who lost his job previously) hangs around as their primary adult supervision and delivery driver. Grace panics when she hears that her grandparents are getting so few customers that they've decided to sell their building and retire. She's inspired to give the place a makeover when she realizes how old it looks, hoping that a fresh new look will bring in more customers. Her grandparents agree (if nothing else, the place might sell faster) and Grace calls her French cousin Sylvie for advice. Sylvie suggests a color scheme of red, pink, and light blue. After the big building makeover, rumors start that La Petite Patisserie has taken over First Street Family Bakery, to Grace's exasperation and her grandparents' amusement. Eventually, Grace suggests a business merger--she and LPP gain premises, two experienced bakers with all the official business licensing taken care of, and Ella's dad as a true employee. Her grandparents gain all the customers Grace's business has generated, plus four new co-workers. The building is renamed La Grande Patisserie. 

Here are the facts from the set:
Most obvious, of course, is the exact color scheme Sylvie told Grace to use while decorating the building that would soon become La Grande Patisserie. Just like artistic Maddy directed, the exterior is cherry red and the interior is light blue, with small accents of pink here and there.

The signs, however, all read La Patisserie. This was the name of Sophie and Bernard's bakery in France.
Click on this picture for a closer look at the fake money.
Most important, though, is the pretend miniature money included in the set. The notes are not in US dollars, but in euros. The bakery, therefore, represents a patisserie in France and not Grace's own business in America.

So why does it look just like the description of La Grande Patisserie? My conclusion is that Sylvie told Grace to use the same colors her own parents' bakery was decorated in, as yet another connection to her American relatives. Maddy might have hit on the same uses for each color (red outside, blue inside, pink accents) as La Patisserie used by accident, or she may have looked closely at the pictures Sylvie sent of patisseries all over Paris--including her family's own--and decided to copy La Patisserie on purpose. What do you think?

Sunday, June 30, 2019

June HSM: Combination Undergarment for Miriam

Between graduation, plans for Father's Day and my brother's birthday, and a weekend 4-H retreat, June has flown by. Luckily, I had an idea for this month's HSM (Favorite Technique) that was quick and simple, yet fit the theme perfectly:
JuneFavourite Techniquemake an item using your favourite sewing or embellishment technique.
Found this diagram online.

My favorite technique, at least when it comes to machine sewing, is French seams. The book "How to Dress an Old-Fashioned Doll" (formerly "How to Dress a Doll", published in 1908) explains the technique better than I can, despite using the term "French fell". A fell is any seam that shows no raw edges, but the term "felling" has become synonymous with the flat felled seam, so the French fell is now simply called a French seam. Felled seams in general were very popular in undergarments, where raw edges would result in frayed threads tickling the skin in some unfortunate areas. From the book:
"A French fell is much easier to make [than a flat fell, termed a 'felled seam' in the book]. Sew the edges in the narrowest possible seam, first on the right side of the garment. Then turn, and on the wrong side make a seam just large enough to cover the raw edges of the other seam."
When I'm sewing with satin or other fray-prone fabric (especially long seams where FrayCheck is inadvisable), I'll often make a French seam. Even my own prom dress was made this way! French seams are my favorite technique because it makes a seam far neater than a serger without needing four giant spools of thread.
The Garment: Starting in the later half of the nineteenth century, most women would wear chemises and drawers as usual, but some were experimenting with an undergarment that was a combination of the two. The name "combinations" was more popular east of the Atlantic--in America they were called "union suits", a name that very quickly came to mean long flannel or woolen combinations only. I decided to make a base-layer combination for Miriam from plain white cotton trimmed with narrow lace.
The pieces are identical, based loosely on a combination pattern from "The Collector's Encyclopedia of Doll Clothes". This combination will be an early-twentieth-century style, sleeveless with short legs. First comes the center back seam:
Stitch R side out,
turn and pin,
then stitch normally!
I won't show you every French seam I made in this thing, but here's a brief "slideshow" of the combination coming together.
Lace in armholes...

...shoulder seams...

...lace at neck and leg hems, then the front seam.
In the above photo, you can see I've sewn a box pleat into the square neckline. This is to control the garment's fullness and keep it from sliding off Miriam's shoulders. With her superpower of disassembling herself (or a normal human being's flexibility) it can still be put on and taken off. Between the above photo and the next one, I sewed the inner leg seam and added a small bow of white satin ribbon to the front.
By the way, that chair Miriam sat in for the March challenge? I finally figured out what it was. I've been reading up on other doll brands and discovered the Magic Attic Club dolls. The dolls had names, books about each of them, and outfits/accessory sets based on each book--just like AG. Unlike AG, the books were fantasy books with the basic premise that trying on an outfit from the big trunk in the attic, then looking in the magic mirror, would send the girl on a magical adventure related to that outfit. When Magic Attic released their first dark-skinned doll (Keisha), one of her first adventures transported her to her ancestors' home and time in Africa. And she sits on a wicker throne.
Scanned from a Magic Attic catalog by a kind soul on the Internet.
That's the same chair, all right!
Honestly, I had no idea. I'd been looking for original Pleasant Company items at that particular doll show but without reference images all I remembered about the chairs was that Samantha's is made of wicker. I remember pointing out the chair (and a desk that I've since confirmed is either actually Samantha's or the identical Springfield-brand desk) to my mom, then finding them months later under the Christmas tree...after checking AG Wiki and discovering that Samantha's wicker chair is square, not round. I kept it anyway since it looked nice, then discovered it fits a Smart Doll perfectly. But I felt a little guilty about placing such a pale-skinned doll from Japan on a throne designed for an African princess, so I talked with Addy about it.* She said something like "If that thing was designed by the same people who think thin cardboard painted gold makes a suitable collar and crown for a princess, I don't care who sits on it. Besides, Mirai's the only one tall enough not to look silly up there." She had a good point, so I stopped worrying.
My next HSM will be a surprise--literally:
JulyUnexpectedmake an item with an unexpected feature. Will it be a snazzy lining, a hidden pocket, or something else? Surprise us! 

*Not out loud, of course. She's made of vinyl and can neither hear nor speak, but since my Addy was made the same year Mattel took over Pleasant Co I imagine she would be a little snarky on matters of quality.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

May HSM: Book Nellie's Pink Floral Dress

So I was totally going to make a floral apron for the May "Florals" challenge, but then I remembered I'd already made something that fit the challenge (so long as it's finished in the challenge month it qualifies). And it fits my collection goal of By The Books! Remember this picture in Meet Samantha?

Nellie is wearing her pink dress, which does not have a pinafore over it. That fact and the fact that it's a floral print (which logically requires more work to make than say, a stripe or a check) leads me to believe it's her best dress, worn only for occasions like traveling. It's still pink and (by the O'Malleys' standards) fancy in the second version, but the flowers have been replaced with little white dots.

Because it's floral and because I like the style of the older illustrations better, I chose to make the first version of this dress. Every dress Nellie is illustrated in prior to her adoption (in the older illustrations) is made from basically the same pattern, which I have drafted to fit my custom Journey Girls "Book Nellie". I hope to finalize and upload an AG-sized version at some point.
Anyway, the closest match to the original print that I had was a lovely pink rose-print cotton left over from making my own curtains...which I wanted to post a picture of, but my window faces north so the lighting is pretty bad. But here's the dress:
The main difference between this and Older-Illustrations Nellie's other dresses is that it has some fullness in the sleeves, which is gathered into cuffs:
This would be seen as a waste of fabric on an everyday work dress, at least by people as poor as Nellie's family. That was my other clue that this is Nellie's best dress. And here it is on the doll.
That's a Journey Girls Kelsey with eyes colored slightly blue and hair trimmed to Nellie's length (I couldn't do bangs without it looking funny, but it would have been easier not to maintain bangs with Nellie's busy schedule so I call it accurate). As well as the dress, she wears a pair of generic black doll tights (I think they're "Sophia's" brand) and my extra pair of Addy boots--the Mattel pair. They're a little bit big for her slender Journey Girl ankles, which totally fits the aesthetic of "undernourished servant girl" that Samantha notices when she meets Nellie.
Oh, yeah, it's an HSM:
The Challenge:
MayFlorals: Create an item that features flowers in some way.
100% cotton "Keepsake Calico" pink rose print.
"Nellie's Basic Dress" pattern (made by me) with added fullness in sleeves
White thread. Buying only a few shades of thread rather than multiple colors was a way many poor families saved money; they just picked the closest match. In my case, I didn't have an empty bobbin to wind with pink thread!
How historically accurate is it?
The thread may contain synthetics, but as rayon existed in 1904 that isn't as big a deal. Machine stitching was commonplace at that point. All in all, I'd say this is one of my most accurate HSMs so far!
First worn:
As soon as it was finished (sometime in May)
Total cost:
$0.00! I already had everything I ended up using.