Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Crazy Crafty: The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Lamp

Bad taste runs in my family.  For the sake of familial accord at the holidays, however, I'm not naming any names.  But there is a certain relative of my mother's who is notorious for her living room, an unprecedented combination of purple chenille sofas, red-and-orange throw pillows, modernist art in a traditional-southwest palette of peach and turquoise, and reproduction Louis XIV-style chairs upholstered in toile.  It doesn't end there.  Like the shallowing gene pool of European royalty, I am a victim descendant of inbred tackiness.  When my paternal grandparents were alive, they made their home in the desert where "rock lawns" are not an unusual landscape option; they decided to up the ante by covering the rocks in their front yard with a rich, if wholly-unnatural, coat of deep-green, semi-gloss paint - touching up annually or as needed.  Somehow, instead of disdain, I find comfort in my forebears' gifts of eclecticism and spirit of make-do that were certainly a byproduct of Depression-era economics.  wacky tacky courses through my veins.

It should come as no surprise then that I was beside my self with joy when my older brother gifted me a figural lamp in the shape of a woman.  It didn't matter that the lamp came with no harp, no shade, no base, and more than a few nicks and dings.  He couldn't even be bothered to throw down a lightbulb.  No less than ten years later, I have finally made time to give this lady lamp a makeover and allow her to really shine!

This old girl has definitely been around the block.

Fortunately, the wiring was sound, so all she needed was a skirt, a shade, and some TLC.  I had spent portions of the past decade halfheartedly searching for the proper base.  It wasn't until I was making the Put A Lid On It Sun Hat for Mary's Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Matchy-Matchy Rufflekini, that inspiration struck.  I didn't need a factory-issued base; would Grandma have bought new or would she have just made-do?!?!!   All this crazy crafter needed was a sun hat, a glue gun, and a dream!

The chipped paint on her yellowing face and an improper base might turn
some vintage purists away.  I, however, like the character of an imperfect
piece and the challenge of a make-do craft project.

The strapless bodice, opera-length gloves, and hands-behind-the-head posturing all seemed slightly provocative, implying that this was a lamp that could really "turn on."  In researching similar lamps, I found that the earliest examples of this style were really quite demure; the bodies were originally ceramic, affixed on a domed, wire-cage base covered in a fabric skirt (housing another bulb as a secondary light source), and topped with a dainty, ruffled lampshade.

Two views of the lady lamp on Mary Sue's (Reese Witherspoon) dressing table/desk in a
scene from Pleasantville, proving the lamp's provenance goes back at least as far as 1998.

When Underwriters' Laboratories, Inc. took over the patent, they 
began producing this and many other  lamps in molded plastic.

A basic sun hat would become the new skirt/base for the lamp.
To accommodate the cord, I cut the point off of the hat and created a
reinforced hole in the lower side panel where a small hole already existed.

I had the lamp.  I had the foundation for the skirt.  What I was lacking was direction.  Should I go authentic "repro" or should I go full wacky tacky?  Well, it took only two seconds before that question answered itself.  But I still needed inspiration...

wacky tacky, for sure...but I just couldn't get past the inherent va-va-va-voom!!!
"Pardon me, I'm undressed!"

Yes, the pose was saucy.  Yes, the extant examples were ladylike.  Was there a wacky tacky way to split the difference?  To quote wacky tacky icon, Carmen Miranda, "Sim, Sim!!!"  "The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat" would become the Lady in the Tutti Frutti Lamp!

An electrified ode to Ms. Miranda!!!
The skirt's ruffles are made of the same sparkling material from which Mary's most recent Happy Holiday Frock
was made (only in the acid-green colorway).  I strung a cluster of beads in an attempt to recreate Miranda's iconic layered jewelry.  I sewed on the puffed sleeves by hand before digging through my basket of whatnots to find
two fruit clusters that I salvaged from a weird pair of thrift store sandals.

 I added some flowers and leaves and fixed the hip corsage to the gold
rick rack trim.  There was already a lot going on but she still needed a topper.

The only item that I had to purchase for this project was the
least-expensive lamp shade that Ikea had to offer.  I, of course,
had to paint it gold inside and out, add a couple of fabric ruffles
bound by rick rack, and finish it off with the matching fruit cluster.

The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Lamp in action with my 1940s
Carmen Miranda Coloring Book (a special gift).  It just so happens
that we, like a million other Americans, have some of the same mid-
century, French Provincial furniture seen on the set of Pleasantville

I didn't want to permanently secure the lady lamp to the skirt/hat/foundation; just in case I ever got the 
notion to transform her again, I cleverly stabilized her by attaching the two uppermost layers of the skirt 
to each other and putting a sort of gasket inside the hat.  I love the fact that I didn't touch this lamp for
ten years and all of a sudden I think I'm going to need costume changes!!!

Did I mention that bad taste runs in my family?  No sooner had I started this Crazy Crafty project than my younger brother told me that he had the exact lamp in the exact same condition just waiting for Mr. Tiny's Copacabana Makeover.  It might not be too long before the Lady in the Tutti Frutti Lamp has a twin sister!  In fact, rather than a lamp, I might transform the twin into the most glorious toilet paper cozy that ever was!!!  Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi like that very much!

"The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat" - Carmen Miranda
from The Gang's All Here (1943)

"Boa Noite e sonhos doces, você wacky tacky gargantas do peru!"


Mr. Tiny


  1. I love this so much! Looking forward to seeing her twin sister! Also enjoyed the anecdotes about your family. Perhaps there could be a series of Familias Tiny Room Tours??

    1. Thank you so much! I hope my brother gives me the matching lamp sooner rather than later so I can get back to work!

  2. That lamp is fabulous! Great job. I love it.

  3. Love it! What a great transformation!

  4. I love it. I can see this lamp coming to life at night and shimmying around your home. I'm really glad I did not have access to such a treasure when I was a child. She would have met the same fate as my granny's toilet paper dolls with the crocheted skirts, which I force integrated into my Barbie play. This was until I realized that bc they had no legs that they were t fun to dress in Barbies wardrobe!! I feel like your lamp would have fit right in

    1. Thanks, Kimmie!!! I honestly would be thrilled if she came to life so we could reenact Busby Berkeley numbers!

  5. Well, this is the best thing. I liked it in its austere, dinged-up-with-character and plain state BEFORE the makeover and OH SO MUCH MORE after you gave her the glamour treatment. Another Mr. Tiny win!!! :D

    1. Thanks, Lisa!!! I don't know why it took me so long to get going but I'm sure glad I did!

  6. I absolutely love it....want want want :)

  7. Now I have to find one of these lamps and do my own makeover. I see seasonal costumes too. Oh no, you have infected my brain.

    1. I looked and saw some on eBay and etsy; I would LOVE to see your creation!!!