When Dixie and I were together in New Hampshire a time back I purchased a very large early doll by Andreas Voit dating about 1840. The doll has had very little modification that I can see other than probable leather arms added. We will not know what other outer clothing she may have had, as her dress is generic. It may or may not have always been with her. Far be it from me to take it away. Her finish is worn but not touched up and she retains her tiny eye lashes. Her bright glass eyes shine in imitation of life and mischief.
Patiently but with an earnest and pleading expression, the doll has been waiting a long while for me to provide hands and freshen her clothing. I began by softly dusting her red dress which I bought from the Velma Driscoll collection. A nice puff of poly stuffing is a good duster for doll clothing. Not so for her head and shoulders, as her gesso finish over the papier mache is lifting and has deep craze lines. This would be easily flicked off by careless handling. It is my responsibility to protect the doll from significant changes in temperature and humidity in the future.
She came to me with one leather arm hanging by a thread and the other torn and laying in her lap. I have a strong doubt that the kid arms are original to the doll body. The upper arm fabric looks right, but the way the leather was fastened below was surely a late make shift with modern glue and coarse stitches.. She may have started her existence with these or other leather arms, but my feeling after handling many early cloth bodies on old Voit dolls is that she is just as likely to have had cloth hands with separately stitched long fingers, all made with small neat hand stitching like the bodies themselves. I have a Voit boy, Heine, who has such fingers.
One solution would be to cover each arm completely in tan or ecru netting. This can still be done by someone else in the future as I took away not a bit of the cloth upper arms, and will sew the torn leather ones in a little cloth bag within her full petticoat. This is in accordance with the guide line to avoid making any change that is not reversible. I abide pretty well by that most of the time if the doll is of merit and has much of her originality like this one.
Having no net that is right, I chose for now to add worn old cloth hands and span the missing arm length with tan linen. I expect to add sheer long white under sleeves.
As I undressed the doll, I was sad to discover how soiled her underclothing was. She has had a mouse for a close friend once upon a time, as in the waist area where thick folds of clothing held and hid it, I found many wee short hairs of a mouse as well as other animal hair, along with stains from the mouse. This was unpleasant so I shook out the undergarments and placed them to soak in detergent, while I brushed the doll’s body out in the yard with an art brush to banish more of the animal hair and evidence of insects in the past. Then I changed MY dress!
Washing the undergarments gave me an opportunity to examine them and admire the tiny stitches which I can barely see with my glasses on. Petticoat, pantalets and chemise are the expected items. The pantalets are ankle length, as would be the petticoat if it had not had a later tuck to raise it more than two inches. Interesting. The petticoat exactly fits the dolls’ waist and seems surely to have been made just for her. Pantalets not so much, and the chemise could have belonged to a human infant. Beautiful perfectly fitted hand knit socks cover her stitched toes and I feel were made just for the doll. Her shoes are a later concoction but are part of her story. I have left them now but I do have better which she might like to change into.
Her early dress is a frail cob web, which once was pink. It is a mid nineteenth century child’s dress which is proper on the doll but is disintegrating. I have kept it on her anyway, as it is part of her story also. Redressing the doll felt like dressing a small child. Over the fragile one she came with, I added a marvelous (and ridiculously costly!) rust red calico dress. I think I will call her Mollie, after my Great grandmother. Now she sits in her chair again, cared for as she should be.