Sparkly Pink Gown with White Roses

A sleeveless pink gown with a fitted bodice and a full skirt that flares out like a trumpet. There's a ring of white roses around the top of the bodice and the shoulders, dotted with small green leaves. The dress has a subtle scroll pattern and is very sparkly all over.
As you see, this is not the new doll; she’s coming along nicely, but I decided I’d rather put up a substitute post than rush her. So here is a quick sparkly gown to make up for it! Since I didn’t start it until Thursday, it is not the most detailed or original dress I’ve ever done, but as they say, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, distract them with sparkles.” (That’s how it goes, right?)

As for my most recent polls, first, it doesn’t surprise me that not a single visitor to this page particularly dislikes princess stories! Second, I’ll do some sketches for the “fairy tale antagonist” dress soon, as that won the poll. Incidentally, I chose the wording so I’m not boxed into the archetypical “evil queen.” Who knows, after the previous week’s discussion, perhaps she’ll be an evil princess.

I’m thinking of doing another one of those not-a-tutorial tutorials, and I’d love your input on what I should work on next — if you’d like, take a look through my paperdoll reference board and post a link to whatever you’d like me to go through. I’ll choose my favorite, or whichever seems to be most popular. I think my thought process is fairly easy to follow, even if I didn’t write anything with the pin – if the fabric is shiny, I was probably thinking “How can I get mine to look this shiny?” and if it’s draped or folded in an interesting way I was probably thinking “How can I draw that too?”

Next week I will have the new doll! She’s actually close to being done, I just want to make her perfect. Don’t forget that you can now download combined color and black and white PDFs of all of my 2014 dolls and outfits for free! Also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest for sneak previews, paperdoll thoughts and a fabulous jewelry board. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.


Blue and Gold Princess Gown with White Tulle, plus Thoughts on Princess Culture

A royal blue satin ballgown draped in the front to show the light blue reverse side of the fabric and the full layered tulle underskirt. The gown is off-the-shoulders with long fitted sleeves, and there's a wide gold band at the collar with a scroll and heart pattern decorated with small red, green and blue gems. It has a V waist decorated with a gold band and gems, and the overskirt is edged with a gold band with a scroll and heart pattern  and gems. The skirt is bell shaped and very wide, and the underskirt has several tiers of white tulle edged with flower lace. There's also a golden circlet decorated with red, green and blue gems.I’ve had princesses on my mind lately. The popularity of princesses (particularly the Disney Princess line) is often viewed, especially from a feminist perspective, as a rather embarrassing phase for parents to suffer through, but I’m as feminist as they come, and I think there’s more to it. Why are stories about princesses so compelling to such a wide audience, and why is princess culture so pervasive? I believe it’s because stories about princesses reflect the struggles of the readers, because princesses are unabashedly feminine icons in a society that often disparages women, and because princesses as a character archetype have a surprising amount of flexibility and interest.

The word “princess” comes loaded with significance. (Just come up with a good noun and slap “The Princess And The” in front of it: there’s your story title!) We’re all aware of the historical concept of a princess, and readers know in reality that being a princess probably wasn’t such a great gig. After all, a princess’ marriage was likely decided by political factors, her power often depended on the favor of other people, and she wasn’t likely to have much personal freedom. Still, she probably had some influence and resources that weren’t available to an average woman (and to be sure, her dresses were better).

We readers know these things before we even start reading, so when we encounter a princess in a story we immediately understand she has certain pressures and obligations, as well as some degree of power and privilege. Her position in life makes the stakes higher than they would be for a regular person, which adds tension and drama to the story, but at the same time we understand her problems and relate to them. After all, a princess in a story is likely to worry about things like pleasing her family, living within certain restrictions, finding love and making a place for herself in her world — all things that we readers understand just as well. The limitations and expectations each princess has to cope with and the way she finds her power reflect the conflict between the reader’s desires and our obligations and duties.

In other words, a modern story about a princess is likely to be a story about a woman finding her source of power and taking control of her life. There will probably be some existing limitations, because a princess with no problems or obligations whatsoever may seem unrealistic, but there also have to be opportunities for her to try to get what she wants, because a character that is too bound by outside forces to do anything is problematic both from a storytelling perspective and from a feminist one. So for the story to be compelling, a princess character with limitations in one area has to have some degree of freedom in other ways.

How this plays out is different for each story, and depends on the setting and the characters. A character with little agency like Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones who finds herself trapped among hostile people and has to develop alliances and soft power skills to survive is at one end of the power scale; on the other end are characters like Merida from Brave, who’s an excellent archer and is able to just leave the castle on horseback and go climbing mountains on her own, but still has to deal with being betrothed and comes to learn the value of her mother’s way of doing things.

One major source of power for most princesses is that they tend to embody a lot of what our culture considers feminine virtues, and I think that the celebration of these virtues is something else that causes them to be compelling, particularly to young girls. Modern princesses might even throw a mean punch and be clumsy, like Anna, or have magical powers and a repressed desire to wear a slinky dress like Elsa, but they’re fundamentally admirable people. We all respond positively to beauty, open and loving natures, concern for others and so on, and as we all believe we’re the hero of our own story, it’s easy to identify with these figures, particularly young girls who are just starting the process of figuring out this “being female” business.

In this sense, being a princess has nothing to do with birth and is entirely a matter of one’s state of mind — Cinderella was as much a princess in her ragged clothing as she was in her ball gown — and for that reason a princess can be both inspiring and an accessible role model. This is, of course, the whole point of the novel A Little Princess, whose heroine, who was merely rich, not technically a princess, strove to be an admirable, princess-like person even when impoverished and humiliated.

The flip side of this is that we too soon learn that, in our culture, all these virtues come with serious downsides. Being entirely free to express or not express femininity as you please is tricky, because if you’re perceived as overdoing or underdoing it relative to the situation you may get harassed or not taken seriously; the way that you personally want to present yourself is often a secondary consideration to how your appearance will be viewed by others, and not getting it right can lead to social punishment. What should be fun is actually complex and demanding in ways that are hard to see. As for those virtues, innocence, friendliness and generosity often get taken advantage of, and being modest, self-sacrificing and willing to take care of others generally doesn’t lead to financial security and respect in our capitalist society. The image of being “too good” or “too feminine” is one that women sometimes feel they explicitly have to move away from to be taken seriously. Princesses seem to escape all of this: their virtues are precisely what gain them power and respect, they get to wear the pretty dress and sing to wildlife without anyone thinking less of them and they don’t have to compromise what they like and what’s important to them to be taken seriously.

So I see the popularity of the Disney Princess line among adults and children (mostly women and girls, but there are men and boys who love them too) as a way of showing appreciation for the positive aspects of values such as kindness, friendliness and gentleness, as well as for the more theatrical aspects of femininity such as an interest in beauty and clothes for their own enjoyment, not for attracting men or projecting an image. I think we appreciate these things because they’re fun and they make the world a better place, but also because we know that they’re fragile and often not treated with justice in a society that is too often unkind to women and places impossible demands on them.

As the roles of women have been evolving, so too have the roles princesses play in stories, and I think that today there’s a lot of room for interesting stories about princesses. Of course, I’d like just as well to see plenty of interesting stories about girls and women without noble titles, and I worry that the focus on princesses is too limiting — sure, if I was in charge of counting the money the Disney Princess line brings in, I’d probably want all of our protagonists to be princesses forever and ever too, but there are so many other stories to be told. (I get a lot of stories about non-princess women from webcomics these days — Nimona, Namesake, Ava’s Demon. I have to mention Blindsprings, too, even though it’s about a princess.) Still, as I touched on before, princesses come with a history, and skillful, unexpected use of this history can make them relatable and fresh-feeling characters — that’s an attractive thing for a writer. Modern audiences already know the standard princess stories and tropes; as the success of Frozen shows, we’re now interested in seeing them toyed with and used in surprising ways. Princesses have the potential to surprise now more than ever.

I am going to shoot for doing a new doll next week, but it’s just as likely I won’t be able to finish in time, in which case I don’t know what I’ll be doing! Don’t forget that you can now download combined color and black and white PDFs of all of my 2014 dolls and outfits for free! Also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest for sneak previews, paperdoll thoughts and lots of fashion plates. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.


Aqua and Peach Elf Gown with Silver Beading

An aqua-colored gown with three-quarter sleeves and a low boat neckline. It has princess seams and is covered all over with a delicate scroll pattern. At the base of the skirt, the color changes to light peach, and there's a silver beaded vine pattern along the hem. There's an peach underdress that shows at the neckline, extending a few inches above the top of the gown. The light peach scroll pattern on it shimmers subtly, and there's a row of beading along the neckline. There's silver lacing along the collar of the aqua gown, and the dress is open over the bust, showing the underdress. The lacing crosses three times over the opening and is fastened under the bust with a brooch of silver and a coral-colored gem, then the laces hang down nearly to the bottom of the gown. The sleeves have long, delicate lengths of semi-transparent scroll-patterned peach fabric that hang down nearly to the base of the dress at each cuff.This gown is the product of my last contest, in which my readers first chose for me to draw an elf dress, then the contest winner Lorie Harding wrote:

Here is how I would like the dress colored. I picture the sleeves sheer and the dress done in soft pastel colors. My favorites would be peach and aqua. A delicate pattern of your choice would run through the dress. Thanks!

I like doing these contests just for their own sake, but also because I think that it’s easy for me to stick to what I’m good at, and other people’s suggestions help me improve. For example, I don’t think I really do a lot of dresses with this kind of light coloring, and I struggled to get the shading looking right. I still think I could have done better, but Friday is already upon me, and anyways I am pretty happy with this one overall!

Let’s get started with the next reader’s choice contest…

Next week will be a princess gown and some thoughts on princess culture. Don’t forget that you can now download combined color and black and white PDFs of all of my 2014 dolls and outfits for free! Also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest for sneak previews, paperdoll thoughts and pretty illustrations. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.


Correct Size for Last Four PDFs

Sarah and dannyscotland reported that the dresses weren’t printing out right, and it turns out that the problem was on my end: I was resizing them to 80%, not 85%, so they were just a little bit too small. This affects the last four dresses (the 1930s dress, the red dress, the tulle ballgown and the rainbow gown). I’ve updated all of the PDFs on the site as well as the collected PDFs on Gumroad. I apologize to anyone who printed and cut out dresses that didn’t fit, and I’ll take more care in the future. Please let me know if there’s any other problems with them!