Saturday, April 17, 2010

This One Is For My Sister

Just a "little" history.

Of course, this lovely old doll house did not always look this old and worn. But it came by it's "patina" honestly! And I will share some of that history with you friends (and family!) who might not know it all as well as I do. You see, this house is very dear to my heart. I can still remember the exact moment I first laid eyes on it. It was Christmas morning and my sister and I were coming down the stairs and from the bottom landing one could see into the livingroom where the Christmas tree was set up and there it was! My sister said "Oh look, a house!" But I was trying NOT to look, because it wasn't wrapped and we never opened our presents until AFTER breakfast, and she was only three years old and didn't know any better, but I was FOUR years old and knew better! And besides, there was just the tiniest worry that maybe it wasn't for me! So I was trying hard NOT to look! But there it was! And I don't remember whether or not it was given to "Us" or just to "Me", and I hope you have forgiven me dear Sister, but I claimed it as mine!

But I shared!

And oh how we played with that house! It was made by my Grandpa from drawings done up by my architect Daddy, and fortunately it was sturdily built. We climbed on it and could lie down full length in the attic when we were still small. We tipped it on its side and pretended it was a boat and climbed right in. (I'm pretty sure that was my brother's idea!) We "decorated" it ....with crayons of course! My brother wanted the upstairs bedroom to have palm trees on the walls. At six years old he was an authority that we gladly followed! I remember some terrible plastic furniture that even at that age I knew was out of scale - way too small for the house - and we didn't even try to treat it gently so none of it lasted more than a few months. But for the longest time, I seem to remember there were no dolls!

Then came a day of enlightenment. When I was six years old we were taken to the Children's Museum in Boston. At that time it was still old fashioned - not so much a hands on place - but full of fascinating exhibits. They had a whole ROOM full of dollhouses of the most AMAZING details and furnishings! I had never imagined such exquisite things existed! They were all protected by glass covering the open sides so I pressed my little nose right up to that glass and stared and stared and stared. They couldn't make me move to another exhibit and they had to pry me out of there when it was time to go home! I can still see the tiny chess set on a little table and mini playing cards dealt out in a game, and kitchen brooms and dustpans! Such funny things to remember! But I knew right then and there what MY dollhouse was lacking! And it was just about everything! And from that day forward I have been trying to make things (with varying success) for my dollhouse.

This was my first attempt at a doll's gown, influenced clearly by Cinderella's gown in the Disney animated movie which had probably recently come out.

"What, you still HAVE it?" you ask!

Well, of course I do! I have a whole collection of tiny things which I have been carefully saving for the "Someday" of my dollhouse being "Finished"!

My sister and I spent countless weekends and summer mornings sitting on our beds with the scrap cloth bag and our needles and thread sewing tiny clothes for our dolls (and our trolls and stuffed animals too!).

Here's a lovely stylish coat with a real fur collar! And a tiny leather jacket with a button!

Check out that button-hole stitching!

And nightgowns made from flannel scraps from our own nightgowns!

And an almost functional parasol made from pipe-cleaners and cloth!

And an especially stylish outfit with a hat made by my sister.....she is so clever I always had to copy her ideas! The skirt was made from an embroidered sleeve cuff....I am not sure at what point we started cutting up clothes that weren't quite "all used up" yet!

And as time went on we got more and more sophisticated! This ensemble was made at least in part by altering some Barbie Doll clothes! The Muff and Stole were adapted from a Barbie outfit. Oh, did you have that Barbie outfit too? The one with the black evening gown?

And speaking of Barbie's contributions, I'm sure she never noticed that her curlers and glasses went missing. I KNOW.... they aren't QUITE the right scale........

But I still have them!

And speaking of making things... we tried our hands at furniture too! Here are a little painted spool table and a matching umbrella stand, complete with umbrella, for the foyer.
(You can't quite see the pink flowers and edges we painted.)

And yes, the umbrella is OLD too!

And did I mention that old easy chair?

I FOUND it !

My sister made it and I have always loved it! So I still HAVE it!

Well, you might be justified in thinking I have said enough about the "Little" history. But it is a much longer story than that and I am just getting started! If you are bored you can skip the rest of this post and I will not mind at all! But if you are not bored yet and you want to hear more then here goes more!

I remember finding some beautiful wrapping paper all covered in lovely little violet blossoms that I thought would make a lovely wall paper. Of course, at nine years old I knew nothing about wall-papering, so I was not at all daunted and I jumped right in! Glue! Ordinary Elmers glue and lots of cutting and snipping little pieces to cover little gaps later there was some paper on some walls. There wasn't enough paper to do the whole job. But it was a good learning experience! That particular decorating job was removed at some point in favor of a more unified look.
And as for dolls....well, that has been an elusive and unsatisfactory part of the whole history. I remember at some point having some rubbery-bendable dolls, a little too small for the scale of the house (which is true 1:12 scale) and which had felt clothing STAPLED to them! I took the clothing off! And then it wouldn't go back on! Hence the NEED to learn to sew and make the above clothes. But the dolls were really not much fun. And then at some point I remember trying to make my own sewn doll........with hideous results! The pipe cleaners just wouldn't stuff right into the stitched body WITH the stuffing.... so I gave up. For the time being. And years passed and I became a teen-ager interested in boys and full-sized clothes and the dollhouse sat in solitary splendor at the end of the hall in our third floor attic. But it was just waiting for me to stop being so distracted! And to gain a few more skills. And to try again. Which I did!

We moved to a farm in a very rural part of Maine when I was 16. Many toys were sold or dispersed prior to the move, but NOT THE DOLLHOUSE! And soon I was back to work! This time I was really intent on upgrading the whole decor. I mean, the house had no doors between the rooms, just openings. I wanted real doors on little hinges. And the windows were just holes in the walls! They needed glass panes at the very least! And while I was at it, the whole house could use door and window trim and wainscoting in the better rooms! I had my work cut out for me. And I made good progress too! Doors for the downstairs rooms were built and painted. And wainscoting went in in the parlor and the hall (carved from some wood my brother had planed to the right dimensions in his woodworking class at school). And some attempts at wallpaper (again) with a little better success. (But more on that another time.) And even one whole window completed with tiny panes of real glass set into a frame constructed by me!

But I was MOST proud of the new attempts at furniture making! I had gotten hold of a book with photos of dollhouses from all over Europe and down through the ages and I was VERY inspired! I was able to get hold of some needlepoint cloth and some wool and I stitched the covers for this settee, which I had carved and built myself!

And I painted a few miniature paintings sort of copied from pictures in a costume book I had - hoping they would pass for "Old World" oil paintings.

And I tried my hand a a very tiny quilt for a cradle I had built (but which has since broken).

But as is the way of TIME... it was passing, and I was growing up and there came a day when I was leaving home for the wider world.

So all my treasures were packed up and fitted into one small box (the stuff is tiny, after all) and labeled very clearly:


And did I leave it behind? I most certainly did NOT!

It AND the doll house came with me!

But I was too busy. First with college, then with marriage and eventually with children, to spend any time on the doll house. Wherever I moved, it moved with me. Until the time came for me to let my Sister's daughters love it for a while.

The old house was already showing signs of age. The chimney, which had always fallen of really easily, was removed and stored in the attic for safety during transport.

Here's the old house with my first son, then age two, leaning on the roof, and my sister with her two daughters about to take the house with them.

So I Share Again!


  1. I have enjoyed reading the story so much , Betsy (?). :). And of course, marvel at your handiwork. They are so amazing! But even more amazing is the fact that you still have them, in that box. Don't ever, ever get rid of that settee, do not even let the kiddies play with Way too precious! It is very very well made and you were in your teens? Those paintings were drawn by a master! And for little tweenies (age 7-12), you guys are amazing mini seamstresses.

    You didn't say much about the doll in that earlier post. That cannot be a plastic doll with bad felt clothing, right?

    I hope your nieces take great care of the dollhouse and if they do, then there is no better way to share your grandpa's superb heirloom and legacy.

  2. Thank you Sans for your lovely comment! I didn't mention the doll because she comes into the picture much later, even though she is also old. And the story has more parts to nieces are grown up and the dollhouse did come back to me....but more on that in another post! The story is really just begun! There is so much more to share! I hope you have the patience to wait for it all!:)

  3. The clothes are amazing!Miniregards,Sonia.

  4. Thank you, Sonia! They were at least too good to throw away! :)

  5. I love stories. Especially those from the heart :). I will be here with every new stories and if I am not, give me a tinker and I will come right over with a pot of freshly brewed Darjeeling and some sunflower seeds (me on a diet :( ).

  6. Darjeeling! Anytime at all! Sunflower seeds are beter in the garden....(just kidding!)But do have patience with me... I am new to this blogging, so I am slow. But I have so much to share! I am so eager! But must go to work in the morning......But I promise MORE coming soon! I spent today working on another little settee... green velvet and little carved legs.But it is not done yet. Soon!

  7. Betsy, I just wanted to say that I love your writing and I find the stories around your dolls houses, old toys and relationship with your sister very touching.

    Thanks so much for sharing them!

  8. Thank you Nina! :)The love runs deep! It's wonderful to find an audience that understands!