With the Arabella Stuart doll entry I continue the journey of researching and recreating various period inspired toys, which have inspired me over the past decade. Though by far, my personal favorite has been spending time making dolls. Re-stepping in familiar territory, each project presents new challenges and skills never before attempted. This was one of my first projects in the SCA and its been a joy to finally recreate one as close as possible from a period masterpiece of art. The series of research is meant to be in-depth with the known depictions of dolls in 16th century art. Then it is to be meticulously recreated in period materials and methods. This is the third in a series of 10 dolls from these depictions.
In this article we shall discuss the layers of 16th century court clothing worn in 1577; comparing the portrait image represented to the construction of on the extant doll as previously researched. Observing the creative process and material choices for this project. Plus, discovering more representations of other fashion dolls in art around the world in the 16th century.
Extant Fashion Doll:
The only extent one that physically survived the centuries supplies the core research on which all my other depictions are based. The extant doll is housed in the Livrustkammaren Museum (Royal Armory) in Stockholm, Sweden (see image). She is not a display item at this time and would most likely be in storage. So, with a little luck and the internet, I was able to locate some closeup images of the doll from “Isis Wardrobe” a personal internet blog. Some of these images are displayed on other sites like Pinterest, following the trail back to the museum website (see source 3 for the web address). I noticed this doll while turning the pages of my copy of “Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d” over a decade ago. This little doll is depicted in black and white, saddened there wasn’t a color picture in the book. Color pictures were not found untill recently on a persona blog “Isis Wardrobe” and subsequently on the Livrustkammaren Museum website.
Looking at the Livrustkammaren Museum Facebook page there is a small reference of the traveling of Fashion dolls “This modedocka, or pandora as they were called after the first woman in Greek mythology, must have been manufactured by Maria of Palatinate, Duchess of Södermanland, married to Duke Karl which eventually became Karl IX. Fashion Dolls were common in the business of fashion until the end of the 17th century and was a way to spread new trends before fashion journalism took its place. “Pandora traveled by horseback (?) to different countries and not just royalty and nobility was reached.” This is also referenced in the Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d about how the mode of fashion that traveled with the tailor’s trade. Later in this article the changing mode of fashion is discussed; how these did become a feature in art of children, an eventual evolution as a plaything and found in later inventory of the affluent.
The website of the museum supplied many useful pictures and much information. The recently added full color photos of this doll show at least 19 images in total. I also was able to obtain a list of the materials that the doll is made from, though it is difficult to locate some of them. Since either the type of material is no longer made, it called something else in modern times, or for the sheer translation issues into English. I was able to decipher as much as possible and through looking at prior inventory lists was able to figure out a reasonable kind of material. The doll has a steel wire armature body wrapped in silk and silk thread. (source 3) The extant doll has an elaborately embroidered muff with silver gold threads lined in gold silk. (source 3) Painstakingly detailed gold lace decorates the outer dress of lavender silk, including 3 petticoats; one pink silk lined, one gold velvet lined with silver lace, and an outer gown of purple silk lined gold lace trimmed and blue silk hem. (source 3) (See image illustrating the visible silk fabric, 3 petticoats with decoration and linings, also visible are the thread wrapped wire feet.)
From personal observation it is clear the feet are visible in one of the close-up photos on the blog “Isis Wardrobe”, and they look to be silk thread wrapped; unfortunately, closer inspection blurs the images. Her hands are not visible from any angle due to the muff; I tried blowing up the blog images to see if I could see a peek of something, but to not avail. The face seems to be an off-white or tan colored silk, the face is embroidered on and stretched over the stuffing base with some defining features for the chin and nose, I found by studying the 19 images from the museum website. (source 3)
Portrait of Arabella Stuart:
From all this information about the extant doll as a basis then form a real object. Now we also have the portrait painting of Arabella Stuart from 1577 for our fashions for this doll (see close up of the portrait of Arabella Stuart age 23 months. The fashion doll held in left hand seems similar to images of Queen Elizabeth I of the time.) Looking at the image I think the portrait dolls is taller than the extant doll. Therefore, I made my replica about 10” tall. With all the details, I was able to begin the long process of project planning. This entails sourcing materials, pricing and budgeting. Though I also needed to look at the making process of this, how it was going to be done. So also follows; thread wrapping, running stitch, back stitch, couching stitch, whip stitch (wig).
Various techniques like gold-work, wire-work, sewing, and mild embroidery were implemented in constructing my replica. I sourced some handmade bobbin lace in a small enough scale without making miniature bobbin lace. Which I am in the process of learning the skill of making regular size lace. I just gained a book on making miniature versions for dolls. Which during the process would be an undertaking more than I could execute in the current time frame to have the project completed, at least at a semi respectable level. Although it is on the list of learning as my SCA journey continues to develop.
English 16th Century Court Clothing Features:
After seeing the extant doll, I knew there needed to be proper preparation for such an undertaking. I noted a few items with major similarity with the extant doll, as the style of the sleeves, gown and fitting of the clothing. I also observed some features that would have been standard in the 16th century, like hair covering and neck ruff, which were not featured on the doll at all. So I made a small survey of the images similarly dressed to the extant doll including the layers that would be proper for the time period. Some of these images were more difficult to find as identifications changed when persons were identified as different individuals contemporary to the time. I identified as many from court life as possible. When I narrowed it down to a 30-year window, a regional trend in fashion became evident. I discovered similarities of a bedecked headdress, neck ruff, and decorated cuffs that were all in the versions of the portrait paintings I located.
I noted all the examples have a fitted bodice, most likely corseted, with metallic trim decoration and flowing pleated skirt. All the gowns are voluminous due to under layers, some split front some closed. All the clothing has decorated long sleeves; some with embroidery. The portraits show a decorated head covering, neck ruff, all have a lace decorated cuff at the end of the long sleeves. This small survey of court fashion over a period of time in the same country, shows there are some similarities between the decoration, style, and accessories about the time the doll would have been made. With such detail as seen in the extant doll photos, there is no way someone would have rushed in putting this together and achieve such quality. Plus, similar court fashion seems to have travelled to other countries similar to the fashions on the Arabella Stuart doll in England at about the same time from 1570’s (see image of Queen Elizabeth I- Pelican Portrait of circa 1575).
The layers of clothing would been as follows: shift (linen); corset (reed/whale bone); outer (silk fabric); petticoats ( silk); padded roll (bumroll); outer gown (red silk taffeta, gold silk slashed sleeves); neck ruff (starched linen); head covering (silk-net, pearls, gold wire); shoes (thread wrapped silk). This is based on the doll and based on the above English court wardrobe and layers of 16th century court dress.
Preparation Materials selection:
When making selections for this project, I looked at the material list from the museum website. They are listed on the website as follows: taffeta, wire taffeta, silver wire (tip), silk (embroidery), silk on silk-embroidery, velvet-uncut, pearl velvet, lace, and gold thread. (source 3) Not sure if all of it is translated well enough in detail from Swedish, though it gave me a starting point.
I also looked at the colors and textures from the portrait doll and those influenced my choices: steel wire, twine, air dry clay, red dupioni silk fabric, burgundy tablet woven silk trim, red silk velvet ribbon, off white- silk organza, gold-silk chine, white, red, gold- silk thread, gold gilt wire-hard, smooth purl gold gilt no.8, rough purl gold gilt no. 8, gilt o’s 6mm size, seed pearls, gold embroidery twist, hide glue, gesso and gauche paint, wooden plague, linen fabric, cotton batting, wood and glass display case, doll stand. I looked at the prices and over the first three months of the year (2019) budgeted $300 for the materials, shipping, and sheer cost of some of the materials. I wanted it to really look like something for royalty and using as close as possible materials and not shy away from the precious metals.
And I wanted to address the color choices for this project, compared to the portrait doll. I wanted a deep red silk that had some body to it as based on the pictures. Plus, it needed to address the burgundy tones observed on the photos from the internet. I preferred to use a dupioni silk fabric since it has texture. This one is a very smooth weave, more than normally found easily. I wanted to show which bright colors the doll would have displayed as a new creation in the 16th Century.
The hide glue, also known as gelatin glue, I discovered a medieval recipe in The Compleat Anachronist issue 134 by Maya Heath. I needed glue not to just to secure the hairstyle, the hair needed to be dirty of sorts to behave correctly. I knew this information from having done this hairstyle many times and hair needs some oil and unwashed consistency to stick to itself. This glue was used on the washed human hair procured from a beauty supply store. It could maintain the hairstyle and also protect it from being snagged when sewing the silk hairnet with woven gold wire in it and securing the braids.
The Tudor Child pattern for dolls was used on this project. (source 2) I wanted to try this version, to give a nod to more peg like doll features that represent some earlier styles of fashion dolls. In this pattern there aren’t legs on this doll. Therefore, no stockings, shoes or garters are needed for her. Since I modeled after the Tudor Child doll pattern, this doll uses a wood round base inside the linen lining along with the cotton stuffing to hold everything upright instead. (source 2) Studying the portrait, I wanted to maintain the round conical shape of the skirts. I think there is something more sturdy there than two stuffed wired doll appendages. So that is a distinct difference than the extant in Sweden.
I began with the accessories first, since they would be smaller and easier to travel with me. I kept the doll itself as a project at home most of the time, although towards the end I took it to work on breaks, lunch, and after work. I found this to be relaxing as well as another way of directing my thoughts to a better place. A therapy of sorts during the day at work.
My process of making the replica doll is as follows:
The body is made of linen fabric, stuffed with cotton batting (see image showing construction). The head and hands are hand sculpted from air-dry clay sealed with gesso (from hide glue and white gauche). The miniature bust is then painted with gauche paint to a natural skin-tone and features. The wig is a strawberry blonde human hair wig made from hair purchased at a beauty supply shop. Although I am still collecting my hair for future dolls.
The hair is styled carefully in a rounded rolled-form with a large netted bun in back, and gold silk twist along with coiled gilt gold wire woven into the head-covering. This took some of the longest to get right like the portrait image. Hide glue attached the wig to the clay head, needing lots of drying time at home. The image to the left shows the process before any accessories were added to the doll, you can see the linen arms wired to the body, and the wig drying. Great to see that the scale was working for the accessories created while at work. This can be problematic and I kept making sure it was still fitting to proportions.
The smaller parts were easy to transport in my purse. I assembled the ruff and cuffs first, then the miniature silk clothing. Added trims and decoration as much as could be done before sewing the clothing to the doll. The under-layers first, the shift, corset, padded roll and embroidered petticoat. From there I sewed the outer gown with back and running stitch, while taking care to not loosen the hair that had been styled so carefully.
The image (image on left with black dress & ruffs) shows the doll before the outer layer gown was added. You see the styled hair, the sleeves, accessories and under-layers. It is all set for the over dress and all the detail for completing the doll. It was a real joy to see all the pieces coming together to form a good quality replica doll. And knowing it is dressed from the skin out properly, even if you cannot see it. This kind of detail makes a good representation of 16th century fashion for the time, and adds to the overall purpose of the dolls as traveling fashion news for that time in history.
The image (image on right of red dress) shows the base decoration of the outer-gown. With beading on the bodice belted accessories, beaded hanging sleeves. You can see the decorated petticoat underneath. The gold silk slashed sleeves show behind the bobbin lace cuffs.
This became a very eye-catching piece, just like the inspirational portrait. Although this is not the end of the journey for me. On the portrait image of the doll there seemed to be a lozenge pattern laid gold-work, beading in those lozenges, and all this seemed metallic gold thread. There was difficulty finding a good quality image from the internet that had clearer details on the outer gown decoration. Recently obtained images show the gold-plated details of o’s that will have pearls centered inside. Also, rows of O’s of 6 mm hammered gold sewed on the skirt, shine when light hits from all directions. The pearl work will be done soon and will be freshwater versions since those are the easiest to obtain in the scale size needed.
I am working on a good laid gold-work twist that will help with the lozenge pattern. The laid work on the petticoat was troublesome in the smaller gauge so I am looking at something in a thicker composition that would be appropriate.
So far so good, and a sturdy based doll with shiny bedazzled gown, appropriate for court of Queen Elizabeth I in the 1570’s has been created. A fashion doll that could make a journey to a distant land to convey fashion, as ordered by Helena Von Snakenborg for her sister (source 1)
I definitely plan on many other projects like this again. There were challenges around every turn, I filled many pages of notes, including drawings, scale considerations, materials choices, technique notes, sources, picture details from limited sources. I also need to learn to make a more miniature lace version for future dolls. Although the learning process takes time, I don’t want to make a project without proper techniques represented well, even if not my own. I am happy with the basics I have learned in lace making and will strive to make an ever finer finished product. Luckily period artisans didn’t make every step by their own hand, so sourcing is not out of bounds.
If I had to do it all again, I would like to go to Hardwick Hall and take images of the actual painting instead of relying on the internet. Along with the V&A in London and other museums to see the paintings in person, firsthand accounts are ideal. At some-point in the future a visit to the Livrustkammaren Museum in Stockholm, Sweden is warranted. I looking forward to making the many versions of the dolls as seen on the other period paintings.
The Honorable Lady Mairin O’Cadhla explaining all about her elaborate Arabella Stuart Doll project at the Kingdom A&S Championship.
This article is an abbreviated version. For the complete Documentation please visit Mairin’s blog and click the link “Arabella Stuart Doll” under 16th century Documentation.
- Arnold, Janet. “Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d”. Maney, London, England United Kingdom. 1988. Pages 107, 157-158, 248-fig 248 and fig 248A.
- Huggett, Jane and Mikhaila, Ninya. “The Tudor Child- Clothing and Culture 1485-1625” Quite Specific Media Los Angeles, Ca-USA and London, England United Kingdom. 2013. Pages 49-50, 150-151.
- “Costume Doll “Pandora”. Inventory# 77 (56:15) 260, 2016. Livrustkammaren Och Skoklosters. Slott Med Stiftelsen Hallway ska Museet.
- “Meet Pandora: A Fashion Doll of 1600,” 2013.
- “Medieval & Renaissance Material Culture,” 2016.
- “Livrustkammaren Facebook Page,” 2016.
- Heath, Maya. “The Compleat Anachronist- A Practical Guide to Medieval Adhesives” Issue No 134. First Quarter 2007. Society for Creative Anachronism. Pp 23-25.
- “Costume Doll “Pandora”. Inventory# 77 (56:15) 260, 2016. Livrustkammarken Och Skoklosters. Slott Med Stiftelsen Hallway ska Museet.
- Underskirt image from “Meet Pandora: A Fashion Doll of 1600,” 2013.
- Portrait of Arabella Stuart aged 23 months- oil on panel, 1577. Artist: anonymous. Located at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, UK.
- The Phoenix and the Pelican: two portraits of Elizabeth I, c.1575