(D)rag Doll 2



This is the second in my short series of (D)rag Dolls.  I am very proud indeed of those brackets.  They are very trendy at the moment in social studies and now I have my own.  I have used Text(lies) for some time but that isn’t exclusively mine.  Yippee.

That aside, this is the second rag doll I have made for a paper about women in organisations.  I haven’t finished thinking the analysis through, so don’t want to write too much about it here, but in a nutshell, I am playing with ideas about Orientalism.  This is a concept which is much debated and critiqued.  It was originally developed by Edward Said in his foundational book Orientalism (1978).  His contention roughly is that the Orient was positioned against the the Occident by imperialists and colonisers in a way that legitimated occupation, conquest and exploitation.  People from the East were portrayed as exotic and very different from the Christian West, not like us and in need of civilisation.  It is the same argument used in Africa and even in Ireland.  The East was a place, according to the narrative of Orientalism, of decadence, indolence and heathenism, full of odd customs, harems and slavery.  So there was quite an element of eroticism contributing to the Victorian notion of an Orient that needed British men of moral fibre to sort it out and modernise it.  The essential element in all this the idea of Othering – always written with a capital, in which the strange person who is not you becomes almost a thing rather than a human being, and certainly less than you, and in most cases something to be scared of and subdued.

So, this doll is about that.  About women in organisations being Othered from the sober-suited men through their drag performance as idealised feminine women.   The Other is by definition not included in the other group and so is always alien and generally unwanted, even though there can be a rhetoric of desiring diversity in order to stimulate growth and corporate renewal.

I am still working on all this, so it is probably worth just having a look at the doll.




This photo shows her pink trousers, made from quite expensive metallic cotton which came out looking like cheap lining which was a bit of a shame, but something to meditate on.  The jacket over the top was originally made for an IKEA soft toy rabbit, who sat with me during quite a nasty illness, so I decided to make him a sort of king of the rabbits coat.  That phase, thankfully, passed, and I never finished the coat.  So I got it out to make a very Orientalist coat for the doll.  While I was doing it, I think I channelled a lot of the images in a brilliant exhibition I saw at the Tate a few years ago called The Lure of the East.




This loose tunic or jacket with harem pants was a recurring theme.  This is one of my favourite pictures ever.  I have very low-brow taste, but I love the rose pink and chartreuse green combination:




This is Leila by Frank Dicksee (1892).  Secretly I suspect this is how I would like to spend my afternoons.  My doll reflected this.




There isn’t any machine stitching at all on this.  It is sewn with some brilliant viscose threads that I bought years ago with my mother in India.  They look lovely but they run if you so much as breathe on them.  So the construction and some of the stitching on the front is done with the gorgeous perle threads from Winifred Cottage that I have mentioned before.  I really enjoyed tailoring a bit of a fit and using flared panels to give it some shape.  As ever, the whole thing came to life when I put beads on it.




It was also a lot of fun making the turban out of an old metallic scarf that I found in a junk shop.  I fixed it in place with the big blue glass beads you can see here.  I found the tassel thing on the front on the floor of my workroom.  (The great tidy-up has temporarily stalled).   It was a swatch of the yarn I used for another doll’s hair.  The turban was really lacking something according to my Orientalist eye and I tried a lot of beads and odds and ends, but it was the little sample tassel that looked most like a peacock feather-type thing:





The problem is that with the turban and the moustache and beard, she really does look like a man and the Medieval Historian moving it aside called it ‘him’.  So more to muse on.

But (D)rag Doll II was a real delight to make.  Coming soon: (D)rag Doll III:  This time it’s feminine.

, ,

Inspirational book




Sometimes on the blog I like to give a recommendation for an inspirational book and this one, Conflict and Costume: The Herero Tribe of Namibia is wonderful.  I found the book featured in Selvedgewhich is also inspirational.  The book, by Jim Naughton, is about a tribe in South West Africa which was colonised by the Germans in the nineteenth century.  There was a war in 1904-08 and the Germans withdrew in 1915, but they left behind a weird combination of militarism and Little House on the Prairie chic.  So there are young men in uniforms complete with homemade cardboard trappings like this:




But more interestingly for me, women still wearing extraordinary patchwork dresses inspired at least in part by missionary influence under colonial rule:




The cow headdresses show the importance of cattle in the culture and they get much smaller as women get older and less fertile.  But the patchwork dresses are quite extraordinary, more so because they are supposed to be long to give the impression that the women are floating. The effect is also heightened by Naughton’s photographs which are shot in the arid desert landscapes.  The book is published by Merrell and is an absolute treat.  I don’t know how I will use it yet, and I think that some of the Laura Ashley dolls are not unlike the dresses in the photographs purely by accident, but I am sure that I will draw upon this imagery at some point.



















, ,






Once again, I apologise for the long gaps between posts, but yesterday I finished not one but two dolls: lovely Howard pictured here, and (D)rag Doll II who will appear later in the week.  There are probably four more male dolls and one more (D)rag Doll to go for those of you who are waiting for a return to normal service.  One of my blogging friends bought the book I recommended, We Make Dollsand having meade a Frida doll like the one I made as a Christmas present, seems also to have been bitten by the bug.  So think before you make even one!

Back to Howard.  The Laura Ashley Ghost Dolls have been in an exhibition in Cirencester and have only just come home, and so introductions have yet to be made between them and their consorts.  I think there are seven of them, and being a huge fan of the Golden Age of MGM musicals, I couldn’t help thinking about Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, where the mountain boys carry off the local women after a particularly energetic barn raising/ square dance sequence:



I love the sheer stupidity of the film and the glorious technicolour and the costumes.  The brothers all wear different coloured shirts, and the women end up in dresses made from patchwork quilts, still with the cinched in fifties waists.  Apparently they were made from real quilts that the costumier found in the Salvation Army shop:


They get snowed in for the winter but propriety is maintained and come the spring thaw everything and everyone is still intact.  I ask you.  If Howard Keel in all his pomp had given me a quick blast of ‘Bless Your Beautiful Hide’ the story might have had a very different ending.  If in any doubt watch him in Kiss Me Kate.

So, Howard Keel plays Adam Pontipee (?),  the eldest brother (all of whose siblings happen to be expert dancers and several of them refugees from the New York State Ballet), and so I decided to make a Howard doll to lead the charge when my dolls do finally all get together.  Because Howard has red hair in the film I thought my Howard should have red hair too.  And because he is the oldest brother I decided to make him larger than the other dolls.  He is probably about two feet high.  This is a nod to all those medieval paintings in which the donors are much smaller than the most important figures, the saint or the Virgin Mary:




So.  I made Howard’s head out of a lovely Laura Ashley cream furnishing fabric which had a sort of damask pattern woven into it.  I got it on my fateful trip to Llanidloes when this whole project started.  I think the weave gives it an added dimension, not quite so smooth and lovely as when they are made out of calico:





I made his shirt from a dark blue cotton and wool blend fabric I bought years ago in one of the great fabric sales they used to have in the Laura Ashley stores.  It was probably £2 per metre and I have used it a lot since, including as a background on the Saint Laura Quilt:




My story for Howard is that he is a failed actor who convinced himself that he never got any great parts because of his ginger hair and now teaches drama at a girls’ private school:




This is the back of his head.

It’s a bit of a family joke that Actorrrrs when they are offstage or offscreen do what we call lovely scarf work, so lots of dramatic flourishes and mufflings up even when it isn’t that cold, so I decided to give him a long hand-knitted scarf.  He claims Helena Bonham Carter knitted it for him in her trailer while he was doing some film extra work to keep his hand in.  I know that it was knitted with some classy Noro sock wool, Kureyon Sock Yarn, which I got in a bin end sale:



I was also quite pleased that I found some snake skinny trim that I got in a bit bag to make his belt.  You can see it in the sample swatch thing I usually do for my own records (and have no idea why).  You can also see the paint which I used for his green eyes:




So here are photos of Howard doing lovely scarf work:

IMG_1503 IMG_1498


No doubt there will be others.

To finish Howard’s story, it is rather sad.  Having convinced himself that gingers never get the lead in action films or romances or historical drama, he has had to deal with the extraordinary success of the British actor, Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers, Homeland)




He consoles himself with the fact that times have moved on, and the odd flirtation with one of his drama students…


The Drag Doll Workbook





On my travels this week I have had a lot of positive feedback about the Drag Doll, so I thought you might like to see some of the pages from my workbook.  I did a fair bit on separate pages and then stitched them into my notebook which worked well.  I usually use a portrait orientation notebook/sketchbook and I don’t much like this landscape one, but it was lying about unused so I thought I would give it a go.

Anyway, it is mainly about tailoring.



These are my sketches largely based on ideas around Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking.  They tend to show that his sketches are rather better than mine!  There are also some samples of the fabric used to make the doll:




And on the left here is a rather intriguing photo clipped from the Financial Times.   I like it because the man in it looks so ill at ease – a very odd shot to choose to try to sell expensive suits.  He seems to have all the cares of the world on his shoulders:




I’ve been reading quite a lot of science fiction/horror stuff on dolls and automata, and his face evokes this kind of haunted expression that the stories deal in:






In the top left hand side of the photograph is a metal panel which is a bit obscured by my own text, (which also conceals a lace pocket containing the toile for the doll’s suit), which seems to have a face contorted and staring out of it.  I can’t help but think of Dorian Gray and trapped souls like you get in MR James and Richard Matheson.  I think it might be time for a holiday!






One more thing about my drag doll


I suppose I should have said as part of my last post, how much I enjoyed making this doll, and how much, now she is finished, I love her.  I was telling my colleague, Patricia, about this at a dinner we were at last week and it struck me how difficult it is to say how much we love the things we make and how special our relationship with them can be.  It is almost unthinkable to tell someone, ‘yes, I did make and I’m really proud of it because I think it’s fantastic.  I think it’s beautifully designed, conceptualised and executed.  I am so glad that I made it because now I get to keep it and have it.  Lucky me.’  We just can’t say this.  At least I can’t.  We have to adopt modesty and self-effacement like we assume the drag the doll is made to explore.

But, I love this doll.  I love the cut of her coat and the excess of her underwear.  I love the cloth with the gesso over it and the way that it felt like high fashion which could be scaled up as I was making it.



And I love my own skill in being able to get the effects that I want.  I am surprised by the results because I do not plan that much in advance, but I know how to fit trousers and turn a lapel or fake a lapel if I want to.  We are not really supposed to take delight in this or celebrate our own handiness.  As children we are taught not to show off or become big-headed, but I want to record how great it feels when something you have made with your own hands turns out beautifully and surprises you with your own ability to make something that you love so much.  It is a rule of thumb that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient at something.  I think that I have done my 10,000 hours and am ready to claim a bit of expertise and to be counter-cultural doing it!

My latest doll


I  apologise for the large gap that there has been between posts.  The first reason for this is that I have been travelling a lot for the day job, but the second reason, which is more interesting, is that my latest project involved quite a lot of stages which have taken a while to complete. This is my latest doll, an offshoot of the Laura Ashley project but not actually, directly part of that work.  This doll is part of a piece I am working on about the maleness of academic writing.  I am reasonably successful at publishing, but I often feel that I have to take on masculine characteristics to do it.  So the work is supposed to be objective, neutral, detached, linear, sequential, smooth and assertive.  There is no room to be modest, tentative, open to dialogue.  One of the great theorists of gender and very trendy still, is Judith Butler, who suggests that women wear drag all the time.  We cannot live up to the stereotyped image of what we are supposed to look like (see for example all those goddesses at the recent Oscars) and so we spend our lives in drag, approximating but never quite getting the feminine persona quite right.  So, I decided to make a drag doll, because women in a man’s world know all about trying to pass as a pseudo man but never quite achieving it.  This is for a paper I am writing on feminine writing.

That’s the background to the doll.  I decided that I wanted to make her a typical male suit.  Originally I thought I would make it out of dark plain cloth, but then I thought it might be nice to have a fabric which was a bit distressed and distorted, a bit stretched at the seams, to show the effort involved as passing as a man.  And then I thought it would be nice to have some feminine fabrics blotted out with a layer of something dark, like the need to put an attempted masculinity over the top of one’s femininity.  In the end I took a sample pack of fabric that I bought on one of my trips to Copenhagen and used that.  The sample pack wasn’t that exciting, but it was truly random, and it was interesting just because it was Danish.  I am quite shallow.  I stitched the cloth onto a thin cotton wadding with hand and machine stitching.  I thought it would be a more solid ground for what was basically appliqué, but it did, of course, yield quite a bulky cloth.  So this first stage of making a large piece of cloth to cut into took quite a long time given the amount of hand stitching I did:


The flower at the top was stencilled on using acrylic paint.  I don’t think that I even used a fabric medium.  Then I machine embroidered on top of it:


When all the stitching was done, I used a sponge/foam roller to paint black gesso over the top:


I didn’t plaster it on, but I put enough on to show the quilting and the various textures in the cloth.  Then I used this piece to cut out the clothing for the doll.  I decided that I would make a toile as this was going to be at least partly fitted.  I started with the trousers which I fitted using pleats at the waist.  This a shot of the trouser legs which shows the quality of the cloth:


One thing that I have noticed as this project has gone on is that I really have enjoyed fitting the clothes which have become more complex as the work has progressed.  By the time I had made the trousers, which were pretty baggy and reminded me of either the Yves Saint Laurent pierrot cut or David Bowie in his Japanese phase, I realised that I seemed to have stumbled in fashion rather than some sort of statement art doll.  I thought the fabric looked fantastic and would have loved a similar pair of trousers myself.


After the trousers came the jacket.  I am very pleased with the way it fits, apart from needing some back shoulder darts – as these dolls do have funny shoulders to fit behind.  I got a nice fitted line and the sleeves were okay and I remembered how to do collars and lapels from years ago when I used to dress up Ken and Paul, the boyfriends of Barbie and Sindy respectively.


The back of the jacket has a large black sequinned motif:


The seams are deliberately exposed to draw attention to the manufactured or contrived or constructed nature of this disguise.  I finished the whole thing off with some lovely bobble trim from Aarti J which I bought as a remnant a couple of years ago at the Festival of Quilts.  The scale and slightly muted colours seemed to fit perfectly.  Finally, I put on the false moustache which was made from perle cotton stitched onto the ribbon which had bound the bobble braid into a bundle:

Doll with false moustache

Doll with false moustache

Doll wearing false moustache as a choker

Doll wearing false moustache as a choker

The hair, by the way, is a cheap Sirdar yarn which I found in a bargain bin.  The silvery thread in it suggests greying hair to me.

You may well have noticed that this doll has rather prominent underwear:



This was originally intended to show how difficult it is to pull off this whole drag business.  It is hard work trying to be a read man, even for men.  So, even though we try to put on men’s suits we end with smart riding coats in gorgeous textures that even the most dandified metrosexual would blanch at, or our underwear shows.

It struck me, though, that this appropriation of male clothing had been reappropriated by the masculine.  The invention of the trouser suit on which this look is based, is credited to Yves Saint Laurent and his version, le Smoking, which was part of his first ready to wear collection in the 1960s.  It was an instant success, but was originally quite gamine and tomboyish and always worn with a frilly white blouse and demure black bow.  Catherine Deneuve wore it particularly well, but this gives a pretty good indication.


The emphasis here is on the line and carefreeness and freedom and a certain childlike innocence, I think.  But very soon women wearing men’s suits became eroticised.  This is a famous shot of another Yves Saint Laurent suit:


This one is androgynous but definitely sexualised.  As I began to look out for images of women in Le Smoking, it became apparent that the look was very much open to titillation.  Bianca Jagger caused a stir when she married Mick in a white version without the blouse, coincidentally made for her by Saint Laurent.  Everywhere there were women wearing the tailored look with their underwear showing.  The current version of GQ that I picked up had one of the stars of Homeland  in a variation on the theme:


I was all set to theorise this as the masculine colonisation of our spaces for drag, or assuming masculinity, when I picked up the Radio Times only to find Sue Perkins, one of the last people you would expect to be posing for cheesecake pictures, using exactly the same visual trope.  Then I saw her again on the cover of Diva, a magazine for lesbians:


This turned out to be at least her second cover using this idiom:


So it is not just the patriarchal hegemony that has colonised this form of drag.  It has clearly been claimed by gay women as well.  I suppose this leaves me with the realisation that the hint of underwear is a universal fantasy image, which reminds me a bit of the notorious slogan for Lovable bras from the 1970s: ‘underneath they’re all loveable’.  Putting on a man’s suit is sexy because it is taboo (it is how Joan of Arc was finally entrapped and condemned).  The underwear both heightens this, and undermines it: it is okay, they aren’t really men, they wear bras which we as men know that we do not do, and possibly, we as lesbians know that men do not do.

S0 when people ask me how arts methods move me on in my thinking, I think that this is an interesting example.  Without making the moustachioed male Laura Ashley dolls I would not have arrived here, and I would not have nearly as interesting angle for my next academic paper.

After all this, there seems nothing left to do but end with Madonna in her tux and underpinnings phase: