Welcome to My Red Cape. Long ago in another time my husband Jack and I lived in a little old red house. It was the stuff of dreams to us for the few years that we were there. I live there still a number of hours every day in imagination, with old dolls and paintings and fabrics and feather trees. I draw inspiration and happiness from the memories of that space in time and share some of it here with friends who remember how to step with Alice through the looking glass and take delight in whimsies and antiquities. ~Edyth O’Neill

Monday, January 27, 2014

For Cathy Thoughts on working with rummage wool.

It feels good to me to re use things and make something useful again.  Rug Hooking, as  I am familiar with it in this country, began as a recycling craft.  I like that.  Rugs were made from worn textiles of wool and other fibers. The Grenfell mats are made of stockings. Many old rugs have a lot of cotton knits. Yarn was sometimes used in among woven textiles. A wide variety of fibers have been used to hook rugs. Wool has proven to be a favorite for most ruggers over time.  To start with, wool sheds dirt rather than holding on to it as does cotton.  For another reason wool takes dye well, keeping it's color better than many fibers. And wool has that little tooth or burr to each fiber which helps felt the surface of a rug and hold  it together.  It is pleasant to work with and has a nice hand to it. So contemporary rug hookers overwhelmingly choose to work with wool.  This discussion is about wool therefore.

Looking at rugs in general, most of them have quiet backgrounds and livelier central motifs. Yes I know red backgrounds are beautiful and they happen!  but in general a large part of a rug is neutral or low key in color and just the center of interest has the higher accents.  It is possible to have a lot of rug wool at minimum cost by recycling.  Some of it can be over dyed to provide more exciting colors. Or that wool can be bought by the yard. A big advantage to dying your own is the intentional color variation of hand dyed wool.
The rooster rug was my first one. The background was made from swatches of three different short coats, and the bodies of the chickens were from a man's heavy dark overcoat. Only the reds had to be purchased of more expensive hand dyed wool which I had not then learned how to make for myself. So most of this rug was made from as is rummage wool.
Colors for the simple whale could be found from rummage wool without hand dying at all.  Adding rummage wool to your stash is time well spent for most of us and is fun besides.
Start with closets at home. A good Pendleton plaid skirt may turn up unworn for a year or so. Searching for good 100% wool garments in tag sales or thrift shops is a good next step.  Let friends know you are using these things so they will not toss them out when closets are cleaned this spring.
In selecting pieces to buy, blankets are too heavy and thick. Coats often are too.  (These items can be used for wool appliqué craft work.)  Skirts are better than shirts, because there is less work and larger pieces come from skirts than shirts or Jackets. Jackets are the least to be favored because of the small pieces and more work to take apart. Second to Skirts for me are wool trousers.  Do not get worsted found in a lot of wool men's wear. Desirable wool is a medium heavy flannel.  Beautiful Pendleton plaids make those shirts with their little darts and many seams still worth having. I do not use pure black. Dark brown or dark grey is as deep a value as I use.
Note here: Why not blends? Why do I say 100% wool only? One reason is the superiority of the wool after you have it in a rug. Another is the inability of many blends to take up the dye evenly. A huge reason is that the cutter blades on a strip cutter will dull in a single session if forced through blends!  Never put anything except wool through a conventional strip cutter that has blades. If you have a blended fabric you wish to use, hand cut it with scissors.  You will hear and feel the difference when you try to tear the fabric to make usable swatches.   The wool says th th softly. The blend says CRICK CRICK ack ack ack  harshly. Try it I am not exaggerating. 
When other fibers were used in some of our antique rugs, they were hand cut, not put through our expensive little strip cutting machines. 
When I bring home rummage wool, I take it straight from the plastic bag to the washing machine.  If any slight preparation is needed before washing,
like removing shoulder pads, I do that outside but generally do not like to handle someone's dirty clothing.  No chances must be taken that might bring in moths or silver fish bugs.  So into the washer it goes, on warm not hot and for a gentle cycle just a short time with normal laundry detergent. Too much agitation or hot water will result in hard felted wool, ruined as far as I am concerned.
Dry the wool with a gentle tumble on low heat and remove when you can and just let it be in the air, fluffy and soft we hope.   Now it is time to cut away seams and zippers and hem tape and waist bands, all of that can go in the trash.   By snipping along an edge, tear the big pieces of wool and make swatches about 4 inches wide and however long you can.  Do not shorten them, the length is desirable. Fold these swatches and stack them in a neat bundle tied with a bit of wool like a seam you have cut off.   They are ready now to be pulled out and put through your strip cutter for use in your next project.    E

Thoughts on being 83

Mostly I have been sewing for my dollies this week. It is cold for our area, and I am going in and out covering and uncovering my winter garden.
I am grateful to God for having had a better year and my birthday wish is for another in good health also.  This assessment is relative, old age is not for sissies!  I feel very fortunate to have so much family close by and in my daily life.  I am trying hard to accept the loss of my sweetheart,  understanding that we are part of nature and winter comes. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Some things you lose the knack for.

 I am 83 this month.  I was 23 when I first began to make bodies for old china heads, ordering the arms and legs at first from Kimport.   They were ceramic but not porcelain. Gradually I found better parts from mailing lists and advertisements in Hobbies magazine.  I used the same patterns for my original cloth dolls as I did for replacement bodies on old doll heads.  In my forties and fifties I could really turn out batches of them, drawing off many torsos and stitching and turning them to replenish my parts box as needed. Then I could reach for several and try them to a doll head and stuff as I used them

I developed the patterns in a huge number of sizes, some thin ones and some fuller ones.  Then came a long stretch when I made almost zero dolls after having made and or restored several hundred.   

I was 74 when the house burned, 75 before I set about to try to restore some and make fresh bodies for some and rebuild a doll collection, never to have the prizes I once had, as our shop was gone after the fire and we did not make the long buying trips to New England.  Jack and I both wondered if I still could sew the doll bodies. Hands are different as well as minds. Things change. Many things I used to do I no longer can although I try!   I found I could really turn them out again, with the spur of all those repainted papier mache heads, their bodies gone.   For several months I made about one a week while we were in a rental house watching for a house we could move into.  These were great big dolls.  Then they needed clothing!  Ugh I do not like to dress them.   Never found it easy at all and less than ever now.  One reason I like the really big ones is that they can wear antique clothing in a child’s size.

 A large number of projects and parts are still part of my collection as I am winding it down.  Now  I have pulled all the bodiless heads from drawers and boxes and want to see if I can get some back to being dolls and not just parts with their pitiful lost expressions looking up at me.  Friend Linda came today and set up my little featherweight and oiled it for me and it sews!  Not with pep and vigor, but with a lovely stitch.  
 Tonight a small parian doll is sitting propped up on my bathroom counter to dry the glue holding her head on her new body. I think tomorrow will bring another small one to completion.  I will picture them here on this same post soon.   Once I have them back to being whole they have a doll's existence again, and someone sometime will see to dressing them.    I have not had a machine set up to sew in at least two years now.  I am pleased to have it. Thankfully some things I have not lost the knack for.  e
I believe all three of these small heads date in the 1850's.

Good thing I do not have an attic.

As I wrote to a friend this morning,  I do not have a work room/ sewing room any more. So the only thing to do seems to be to use the top of this bed to sort these out and work from there to the sewing basket in my lap or beside my chair.   There is also a closet partly filled with dolls, I have so many too many and want to display what I can and sell away the rest.

  My garage is very full of fabrics and trims and stuffing and spare wigs and so forth.  I will try again to bring some order to a part of this and each big effort helps a bit. Then I put it all away till the next time I get the urge to  work on them.  Wish me luck on this!  I will post some progress along. E


Friday, January 3, 2014

Hanging Old rag dolls on the wall

 Always click pictures on my blog to see them larger

I am having fun on this cold winter day looking ahead to the UFDC convention week next summer in nearby San Antonio, when several friends from a distance away have promised to visit my home. I am making a little wall arrangement above the sweet child-size cherry desk that Santa brought this year.
The first collector to show me how great a group of cloth dolls can be displayed this way was Carolyn E, a prominent doll dealer in Pennsylvania. Carolyn had a stunning group of black Lancaster rag dolls. They were on her hall wall and it was breath-takingly good, like most of her collection.  In a sitting room by the fireplace two Izannah Walkers also were displayed on the wall in this way.
The little boy is an Ida Gutsell printed doll patented 1893.  The large doll which I call a spoon head doll was made by me more than 20 years back. Her head is a three part shoulder head sewn on my usual cloth body pattern.  I would like to offer this pattern and a few others this year as pdf's. "Old Spoon" is wearing a dress of true homespun given to her by Barb Carroll and "Spoon" is holding a tiny new doll bought off the web. Cloth dolls have an affinity for other textiles like quilts and samplers.  The little sampler with a 1794 date is a recent acquisition.   I am indebted to friend Barbara for that one, Barbara has a case space at Parker French in NH.  Maybe my very favorite shop in the country!  (I have by no means seen them all).  e


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