BY CHARLOTTE GUST
I have been porcelain painting, or china painting, since 1997 under the tutelage of Wilma Manhardt in Naples, Florida, until 2003 when I moved to California. While studying with Wilma, I was fortunate to take seminars from other well known artists throughout the country. Upon moving to California, I found some painting buddies and continued to further my knowledge of this art.
Lace Draping porcelain figurines was something I wanted to learn, so I searched out internet sites, books and articles for information on how to do this art form. As luck would have it, one of my painting gals had done some lace draping 30 years ago and even had some porcelain doll greenware forms. We decided to lace them; learning as we went along. The following article is my experience and pictures of the dolls I’ve finished.
This is not an easy or fast procedure and sometimes there are disasters. But, with patience and perseverance you can create a very beautiful doll. Finding a flesh colored porcelain greenware doll is difficult; you might try a ceramic studio and ask if they would pour one for you, or buy your own mold and pour it yourself. The lace dolls usually are 10”-12” tall or you might find some smaller children’s sizes. The dolls we had were old and brittle as they had been sitting on a shelf for a number of years. Fresh greenware is much better to work with. Fortunately, my friend had some molds and we began pouring our own after a few disasters using the old ones.
Let’s start with the supplies you will need to begin:
- Porcelain Greenware Figurine:
- The figurine must be porcelain and in the greenware stage.
- Round or Octagon Kiln Shelf:
- This is used for sitting your doll on to drape and to move your doll in and out of the kiln. Be sure it has kiln wash on it.
- Elevated Turn Table:
- Place the kiln shelf and doll on the turn table.
This is essential for draping all around your doll.
- Lace Tool:
- This tool has a very long narrow point on one end and a flat spoon shape on the other. Used to attach the lace to the doll form and pick and pull the lace into shape.
- Finger File Tool:
- This is a tool with a very long thin file on one end and is used to file between the fingers of the doll’s hands. Do this very carefully, as these fingers are very, very fragile.
- Cleaning Tool:
- This is a knife edge tool used to clean the greenware. Always check the bottom of the doll and clean around the hole and edge making sure it is perfectly smooth. You will want to clean the seam edges left from the mold. Save these scrapings for later. The knife will take these edges off and then you will want to smooth them out lightly with a damp sponge.
- Small Sponge:
- I use a natural small sponge.
- 2 Plastic Bowls:
- I use Cool Whip containers. One for water and one for colored porcelain slip.
- Paint Brush:
- I use an inexpensive 1”-2” brush. I find one this size is better for brushing the colored porcelain slip onto the lace or fabric you are using.
- Small Bottle for Liquid Slip:
- You will need some porcelain slip or porcelain clay to attach the arms to your doll. I usually make my own from the scraping and cleaning of the doll. Just add a few drops of water until it is the consistency of thick cream.
- Laminate Board or Plastic:
- This is used to lay your lace or fabric on to saturate it. I have a piece of laminated board 8” x 14”, but a heavy piece of plastic would work just as well.
- 100% cotton fabric is the best to use. Nowadays, it is hard to find 100% cotton lace; it usually has some nylon or poly combined with it. Check the content and buy the one with more cotton and less nylon or poly. You will need the same content for netting. This is used for the dolls under slip or petticoat and also makes the dress fuller.
- Scissors, Needle and Thread:
- I cut my lace 1 ½ to 2 times the distance around the doll. Don’t cut ahead as you will be starting from the bottom and going up; so the doll will be smaller around as you go up. After you cut the right length of the lace or fabric, run a basting stitch about a ¼ of an inch from the top edge; don’t knot it, leaving a tail at each end to pull for gathering.
Now the fun begins, you get to design your own dress. This usually takes me a couple days of thinking and looking through pictures. Once you decide on the design it’s time to chose the lace or fabric you want to use. Use more than one pattern of lace; it gives the dress more character.
Do the under slip or petticoat first. Cut the netting 2 ½ times the distance around the doll at ¾ of an inch down from the waist (I usually mark it lightly with a pencil) and the length to the bottom of the skirt. Baste the top edge as mentioned above. Place this fabric in the bowl of colored porcelain slip and saturate it thoroughly. Squeeze it out by pulling your fingers over the lace from top to bottom and lay it out flat on your board or plastic sheet. Take your paint brush and paint another coat of slip on both sides of the lace. Now pick it up and slap it against the board or plastic sheet to remove the slip from the holes in the netting. Do this procedure to the entire piece of fabric. When finished, gather the lace to fit around the place you want to attach it and tie the ends together with the thread. I always lay the lace on the front and tie it together in the back of the doll. Turn in the raw edges for a neater finish.
Using a brush, apply slip on the line where you want to attach the netting, place the netting on the slip and using the spoon end of your lace tool, press the lace against the slip as though you were gluing it in place. It will set up rather fast so make sure it is securely fastened to the doll. I usually run another brush full of slip over the top of the lace and press that in place as well. While the under slip or petticoat is still damp, you might want to turn under the raw edge at the bottom as if it were hemmed. Or you might want to attach a row of 1” lace to the bottom; but, let the netting dry a little before adding the lace.
Let the netting set up or dry for about an hour or so before adding the skirt of the dress. This will keep the dress fuller as the under skirt will be semi hardened and will support the skirt of the dress. Depending on the design of your dress, you may have several layers of lace. Always start from the bottom and work your layers up to within ¾ of an inch below the waist.
After you have completed the skirt of the dress you are ready to do the bodice. Bring the seam of the bodice together under the arm for a smoother back. Gather lace to go around the waist. This will cover the lower bodice edge and the top edge of the skirt. By placing the skirt ¾ of an inch below the waistline, it eliminates bulk and the lace ruffle will lay better.
Now it’s time to attach the arms of the doll. This can be done in a few different ways;
You can use the non-colored liquid slip on the shoulder and top of the arm, hold it in place for a few minutes until it feels secure enough to let go.
Position the arm so that it rests on the skirt for more support.
Use a small piece of porcelain clay, flatten it, add some slip and hold it in place until secure.
When using any of the above, I always cut a narrow strip of netting, dip it in the non-colored slip and wrap it around the joining. You will want to add a sleeve or drape over the shoulder to cover the seam anyway.
And lastly, add short or long sleeves, depending on your design, or a draped shoulder effect. Now your doll is ready for the 1st firing.
Let me tell you want happens when the doll is fired. This 1st firing is a very hot fire, Cone 6 and all the lace will fire away leaving only the imprint of the lace in porcelain. There will be smoke coming out of the kiln, so vent it well; it’s burning the lace and fabric away. That’s the beauty of this art form, the fragile porcelain lace. If you saturated your lace well, there should not be any holes; and if you used mostly cotton lace or fabric the dress should be in tact. Holes are made where you didn’t have enough slip on the lace. Remember, the lace will burn away, but if there is no porcelain slip to leave the impression, there will be a hole. I used a lace that had more poly in it and it crumbled in the firing; that was a disaster seeing all that work in the bottom of the kiln. If the dress does have a few holes, don’t worry, you can use a rose or an embellishment to cover it.
If an arm or arms fall off during the firing, you can always glue those on after the last firing.
The next step is to glaze the entire doll as the 1st. fire has left it in a bisque stage. Using a clear glaze, airbrush the glaze on the doll using 2-3 light coats. Be sure to get the glaze into the folds of the lace. The glaze is a pink color, but will fire out clear. This color also makes it easy to see if you’ve missed any places. Let this dry overnight before firing.
2nd Firing Cone 04: The doll will be a beautiful clear glaze all over and ready for china painting.
China paint her hair and face. Add a little Yellow Red to her cheeks for blush.
3rd Firing Cone 017: Your doll is almost finished.
Now you can embellish you doll with roses, gems, pearls or anything you choose. Roses are my favorite. I couldn’t find any porcelain rosebuds so I was forced to make my own. In the craft store I came across a product called “Craft Porcelain” non-fire porcelain, the perfect answer to my problem. I made several roses, painted them with acrylic paint and sprayed them with a clear gloss. Attach them with “Bond 527 Multi-Purpose Cement”.
To make a Picture Hat: Cut a round from a piece of cardboard the size you want the hat. Saturate it in liquid slip the color of her dress. Cover it with saturated lace or fabric in a design you like. Attach it to her head with more slip making sure it is secure to the head. If you want the brim to be bent at the front, do it while the cardboard and lace is wet. After the firing it may droop in places you hadn’t creased, but the results are always pretty. The cardboard will burn away in the firing, so again saturate well.
I’ve had my share of disasters and disappointments, but don’t get discouraged, the results are worth it. Arms have fallen off and dropped to the bottom of the kiln sometimes breaking and dresses have melted away, only to end up tossing the doll in the trash. It’s no wonder these dolls are priceless and almost a lost art. But oh, how beautiful they are when placed in a cabinet for all to see and admire.
Have fun and try one.