Fairytale Mushrooms and Tutorial

Alice in Wonderland mushrooms
Giant Alice in Wonderland mushrooms lit up at night

 In the middle of September, it was still boiling hot here in Israel and I was hiding inside in the air conditioning, working on my website. My neighbor stopped by and told me she was planning a big, fancy 40th birthday party for herself, with an Alice in Wonderland theme, Fun! She hired me to make four GIANT  (3′, 4.5′, 6′ and 7.5′ tall) mushrooms as decorations for the party. I’d never made giant paper mâché mushrooms before, but when I had my store, we made lots of big props, so I was confident that I could do it. I went shopping at a hardware store and a fencing shop for supplies.          

Alice in Wonderland base structures
base structure of chicken wire, tape and paper mâché

 Each mushroom was made with chicken wire, masking tape, electrical tape, sewing boning, newspapers, golf umbrellas, sheer fabric, twinkle lights, paint and varnish.          

Alice in Wonderland mushroom, base
6' tall base structure

 It was important that the base of each stem was wider than top part. This stem had to be reinforced with 2 broom sticks and a big flower pot after it was finished because the weight of the cap started to make the chicken wire buckle.          

Alice in Wonderland mushroom, caps
building the mushroom caps

  The mushroom caps proved to be the most challenging part to build. Because each cap was built on an umbrella, many paper balls were needed to fill in the spaces between the umbrella wires, or each cap ended up looking exactly like an umbrella!          

Alice in Wonderland cap
The mushroom caps were built on top of umbrellas

 Many layers of paper mâché were needed for the cap to keep it’s rounded shape; the caps became very heavy in the end. The dried, paper mâché cap shapes were pulled off the umbrella before the cap was put on top of the stem.          

Alice in Wonderland, umbrella base
The paper mâchéd umbrella was too heavy for the mushroom stems

 I started working on the mushrooms early in the morning so that the first layer of paper mâché would dry and I could apply at least one more layer that day.         

Alice in Wonderland mushrooms
Building the mushrooms

 I started working on the mushrooms mid September and by the end of October, the weather each evening was very humid. I carefully carried each mushroom piece into my house so the layers of paper mâché would dry completely.         

Alice in Wonderland, stem and cap
A stem and cap in their begining stages

 Sometimes people would be walking by our garden as we were coming in our out of the gate. They would stop and stare at the mushrooms and ask why we had giant mushrooms in our garden. It was quite a site to see as each mushroom “came to life”.         

Alice in Wonderland party mushrooms
The mushrooms were all very different shapes and sizes.

 I had envisioned the mushrooms looking very geometric, but in the end they were all different sizes and shapes and not so perfect. I liked the way each mushroom was a different shape and the imperfections took on an organic/realistic feel.         

Giant mushrooms
The 7.5' mushroom as seen from my kitchen window.

 My neighbor wanted the mushrooms to be psychedelic. I used tie-dyed looking fabric for two of the smaller ones, the tallest one was red and yellow and the 6′ mushroom was painted in natural colors. At the party, the mushrooms colors couldn’t be seen because they were set up in a dark corner 🙁 but the twinkle lights that I put inside the gills were beautiful and the best part of the mushrooms.          

Party mushrooms
The two smallest mushrooms with tie-dyed fabric tops.

  The small, delicate layers under a mushroom are called gills. I made gills for each mushroom from sheer, gathered fabric. I gathered about 5 to 6 meters of fabric for each section of the gills. The gills for the biggest mushroom took about 20 meters of fabric!         

gills of a mushroom
It took 20 meters of fabric to complete the gills of this mushroom!

 I thought the mushroom gills were beautiful; it took a long time to gather and sew the gills. I made the gills from sheer fabric so the twinkle lights could easily be seen through it.          

white mushroom gills
White mushroom gills

 It was getting very near party time, December 18th. By this time, I’d been working on the mushrooms for 3 months. Every morning I would carry them outside and every evening, I’d carry them inside so the dew wouldn’t make them soggy.         

Mushroom gills
A close up of the white mushroom gills

 By the first week of December, the mushrooms were almost finished and I had pneumonia. I did a little more work putting the twinkle lights inside the gills and putting wool around the bottoms of the stems. The girls posed with the mushroom so you can see their scale.    

Giant mushrooms, party
Elli is standing under the tallest mushroom, 7.5' tall
giant mushroom
The girls are showing you the scale of the biggest (not tallest) mushroom.

 I wasn’t able to attend the Alice in Wonderland themed birthday party to see my mushrooms twinkling in the background, but I know they were wonderful!        

Alice in Wonderland mushrooms at night
Mushrooms at night

 I’ve been asked how to make the giant mushrooms, so I’ve included a tutorial at the end of this post. Continue reading “Fairytale Mushrooms and Tutorial”

Alice & the flamingo

Alice and the flamingo dolls

This Alice in Wonderland piece is two dolls (Alice and the flamingo) put together. The Alice dolls were pretty much like a lot of other dolls that I’ve felted, except that she has hand-painted (beads) eyes and I used colored pencils to color parts of her face.

hand painted eyes

One of my goals for this set of Alice in Wonderland dolls was to felt expression into the faces of the dolls. I needed to hand paint the eyes of all my Alice in Wonderland dolls to give them the exact expression that I wanted. Alice needed to be looking at the flamingo, the direction of her eyes are looking sharply to the left. I wanted to color parts of Alice’s face (also parts of the Queen’s face) but I wanted the coloring to be subtle so I used high quality colored pencils to color parts of the lips, under the eyes (of the Queen), the cheeks and lines in the face. The eyelids were felted over the painted beads (eyes) after they were set into the eye sockets; I embroidered the edges of the eyelids to better define them. The Alice doll is made of up of 6 pieces (the head, body, 2 arms and 2 legs) The arms and legs are jointed by sewing them onto the body with embroidery thread. Alice’s hair was made separately, then felted onto the head, so it would have a 3-D, puffy look and not appear flat on the head. I made the traditional blue dress and white apron for Alice because I love the original costume. Alice’s legs are felted white (as stockings) and her black MaryJane shoes are felted onto her feet.

Needle felted Alice in Wonderland doll

The flamingo had to be made after the Alice doll was finished in able to achieve the proper proportions of the flamingo to Alice. The body of the flamingo fits into Alice’s arms, his neck loops around and the head comes face to face with Alice. The flamingo’s neck stays in this position because there is a heavy gaged wire inside the neck allowing you to bend the neck so it comes to exactly the right spot to stare at Alice.

flamingo detail

My favorite part of the flamingo are his legs. His legs are boning sticks (for sewing), wrapped in black wool yarn. The flamingo feet are pieces of black felt. How many people can say that they’ve made a pair of flamingo knees?!”  I sewed the flamingo into Alice’s arms. Stay tuned for more Alice in wonderland dolls….

Needle felted Alice and flamingo dolls

The Queen of Hearts

 

 I‘ve been working on Alice in Wonderland dolls off and on for over 6 months.  There is so much work to be done on one of these felted pieces, I needle-felt till I’m burned out, then I stop for a few weeks, then I continue till I finish. I felt to a point that I’m overwhelmed with the piece because I think about it and work on it constantly, till I get to a point that I can’t go on. At the point that my interest wanes, I take the doll home, I put the doll on my kitchen table and I look at the doll for a week or so. In the week that I stare at the doll on my table every day, new realizations come to me. I’m able to see what’s wrong with the piece, what needs to be changed, what will make it better…Maybe if I worked on one doll at a time, it wouldn’t take me so long to finish, BUT when I start a project, I have so much energy for it that I can’t do just one design, I start two or three pieces at a time. I really need to focus my energies or I can start multiple projects and not finish any of them. 
Queen of Hearts collar detail

My goal for this project, something that I felt would bring this group of dolls to a new level in my work, was the abiltiy to convey expression on the dolls’ faces. In previous felting projects, my doll faces were pretty, but not expressive. 

The dolls are all about expressions.

 The characters in Alice in Wonderland, especially the Queen of Hearts are so expressive that I didn’t feel the dolls would be successful if they didn’t convey the feelings of  the characters in the book by Lewis Carroll, original illustrations by John Tenniel. I took Emili, my  most expressive daughter and I asked her to “act out” specific feelings.  I took photos of the “feelings”  she acted out and I used these photos as the base for the expressions of the doll faces. The secret of the crazed anger of the Queen of Hearts, the slightly inquisative, amused look of Alice, the clearly pissed off look of the Flamingo and the bulgy eyed enthusiasm of the Rabbit are all in the eyes. 

The Queen's eyes, expression

Normally, I needle-felt the eyes or use doll eyes or beads. None of these methods could convey the feelings that I was looking for, so I had to make the eyes of each doll. I took beads shaped like eyes (fresh water pearls were the right color, shape and size for the Queen and Alice.) I put them in the heads of the dolls, marked where the pupils and irises should be for the expressions, then I painted each eye with acrylic paint and sealed it with semi gloss varnish. The eyes of the flamigo are small, round pearls with pupils painted on them. I couldn’t find beads or pearls suitable for the rabbit’s eyes, so I made balls of paper clay to fit into the head, painted them with acrylic paint and sealed them with semi-gloss varnish. I made Alice’s clothing just like that of the book, but the Queen’s dress is an original design. I made the patterns of the dress to reflect card designs, but in an origianal way. 

The dress is tailored to the doll form.

I thought about sketching out designs for the dress, then making my favorite design, but I ended up designing the dress as I made it. I am now attached to each of these dolls and even though I want to sell them, it will be hard for me to do so. Someone recently bought my Marie Antoinette puppet and they had to talk me into selling her. She offered to pay the price that I asked, she did not try to bargain with me, it wasn’t the money, it’s just that I had a relationship with the doll. I told myself, o.k., fine, sell her, I’ll just make another one, a better one next time. After the woman walked out the door with my Marie Antoinette puppet, I felt like crying, I was really upset. I’m past that now, but how will I ever part with Alice and the Flamingo, my favorite of the Wonderland dolls? Now that the dolls are finished, I’m thinking of costume designs. I made Emili a Renaissance collar and crown similar to the Queen’s for our photo shoot. The small details of this project took just as long as the felting process. These classic characters abound with beautiful, creative and fun designs for many projects; I’ve fallen to sleep many nights contemplating Alice in Wonderland designs. Stay tuned for more Alice and Wonderland dolls……

The Queen of Hearts

Mad Hatter Teacup Hat

Emili in teacup hat

The teacup hat is more for me than for the kids. All that a teacup represents, socialing with friends, domesticity, acceptable behavior or not being accepted (as Alice wasn’t in the tea party scene, in Alice in wonderland) are dashed by wearing this hat. Like wearing a lampshade on your head, wearing my teacup on your head says to me “#!*!” to all that is expected of you. Are you brave enough not to wear the latest fashion? to look silly? to call attention to yourself? This hat says “fun” to me and don’t we all need a little fun? I added a base and handle to the hat, I added bias tape around the edges to imitate gold leaf trim found on fancy teacups and I appliqued some fruit that I cut out of an antique piece of cloth. Voila-teacup!