Kathleen Rouse’s dolls’ clothes: dressed-up for the camera
Photograph Nina and Kathleen Rouse c1883. Nina (left) & Kathleen Rouse. Photographer unknown, c1883, Freeman & Co. Sydney. Rouse Hill House & Farm collection, Historic Houses Trust
This delightful c1883 photograph of sisters Nina (1875-1968) and Kathleen Rouse (1878-1932), one of several taken at this sitting, evokes the pleasant Victorian childhood they spent at Rouse Hill House amongst treasured books, dolls and dolls’ clothes, some of which survive in the collection. The pretty dress and shoes worn by Kathleen’s doll in the photograph are great examples, and they’re just part of a small group of dolls’ clothes and accessories that are the icing on the cake of the larger costume collection at RHH&F.
Her dolls’ clothes enchanted Kathleen as she swathed her tiny companions in satin as brides, clad them in smart walking outfits, slipped on a silk for elegant evenings and spun an imaginative world of play and stories around them.
Silk satin doll’s dress c1883. Rouse Hill House & Farm collection, Historic Houses Trust Photograph Maria Martin, © HHT
Comparing the dress as it is today with Mrs. Cockram’s creation in the c1883 photograph reveals some alterations; the addition of a band of un-matched lace, a little askew, across the skirt front and the removal of the overskirt altogether, which reveals the hurriedly snipped edges of lace at the side seams.The tiny floral spray is no longer there either, but we are luckier with the doll’s shoes, for they closely match three in the collection. These are of burgundy glacé kid bound with hand-stitched brown cotton fabric fastening with tiny buttoned ankle straps, and while their leather soles are a little scuffed from the odd toddle about, an imprinted star and the ultra smart ‘Paris’ brand are quite visible as is their size, ‘3’, near the tips.