England’s Gill Leaf is enjoying a highly meaningful and productive retirement. Not only is she committed to her loving family and cherished borzoi dogs, she has developed a remarkable talent based on her love of medieval history. Gill Leaf’s hobby is recreating history through handcrafting remarkably detailed and beautifully costumed dolls. Who is her favorite subject? Well Queen Anne Boleyn, of course! Gill’s craftsmanship is painstaking, and given the work involved in creating her art, dolls are not sold on commission. Occasionally Gill is compelled to part with a few, and all dolls pictured below are currently available for sale. (To enlarge any of the dolls highlighted, click on the picture.) QAB recently caught up with Gill, and our online interview follows…
1. Gill, your dolls are absolutely exquisite. When did you develop an interest in designing historic period dolls? Do you have previous experience in fashion design or sewing?
Actually it was by accident! I was looking on the internet and noticed some Anne Boleyn dolls. Most of them did not catch my interest, but a couple did. They were so expensive, as they were hand made. I suddenly thought, “I can do that.” That’s how I started. I have no experience is fashion design, although I can do basic sewing and follow a pattern. Sewing was not one of my interests.
2. Your dolls’ clothing design appears remarkably period accurate. How did you research the fashion designs?
I try to make my designs as accurate as possible to the eye, but obviously in dressing a doll there has to be compromises. I found out quite early on that my gowns would not be able to be removed, as this would prove too difficult with the amount of fastenings needed and also the bulk it would create. I must admit, I had a few failures before I created the right patterns for the gowns. Most of my research was done on the internet, but the beading is my own design. Although I wanted them to look accurate, I wanted also for them to look stunning with all the decoration.
3. Many of the dolls you provided QAB pictures of are from the Tudor Era. Do you have a particular interest in Queen Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII’s remaining five wives?
Yes Anne Boleyn is my favourite Queen of all time, but I do have an interest in all of the other wives as well including Henry.
4. I am absolutely blown away quite frankly by the detailing on the gowns. Do you bead the detailing by hand? Some of these gowns literally have thousands of beads sewn into the hemming, hair pieces, sleeves and head dresses.
Yes, I do all the beading on the gowns, headdress, and decorative jewelry on the gowns by hand.
5. How many hours does it normally take you to complete a single doll? Is the craftsmanship as painstaking as it appears?
Normally it takes me approximately forty hours work usually over four weeks to dress a doll according to my schedule at the time. Some of the parts I enjoy more than others, and surprisingly to some people, is actually the beading. I enjoy beading most of all, although this literally takes hours to do.
6. Each doll is exceptionally unique, and the fabrics used are very beautiful. Do you think about and plan the different fabric combinations and dress styling in advance? How do you find the lovely fabrics and detail beading you use?
The fabrics can be the hardest part to source for a umber of reasons. I like to use quality fabrics, but in a design suitable with the Tudor era. A lot of modern fabrics do not fit the bill. Sometimes I find that upholstery fabrics come the nearest, but often I can find the perfect fabric quite quickly only to wait weeks before I can find a contrasting match for the gown. I mostly find the fabrics from vintage markets and on the internet.
7. Do you have any thoughts about other historical period dolls you might create?
Sometimes I do dress dolls in other eras, like other medieval dolls. I have also crafted Queen Marie Antoinette . I am currently watching The Borgias DVD, and I must admit the costumes on that series have got me thinking about dressing a doll as Lucrezia Borgia.
The exquisite dolls pictured below were lovingly hand crafted by Gill Leaf and are also available for sale on the date this interview published. Please keep in mind that by the time you read this online interview, any of the pictured dolls may no longer be available. As stressed earlier, Gill Leaf creates her beautiful dolls as a cherished hobby. Consequently, they are not handcrafted on a commission basis. If you are interested in more information about purchasing a doll from Gill, including pricing and shipping costs, email her at email@example.com. Gill will let you know what she has available and will send along pictures. She also has pictures of each doll’s detailing.