• Karole from Kimberling

Sewing for 18" Dolls - How Hard Can It Be?

A Victorian Steampunk Outfit -- seemed like a good idea -- last year -- when I cut it out.

This year? Well, a closer look and a year of experience exposed a few "challenges".

I've mentioned before that over a year ago, I spent months cutting out complete outfits for American Girl dolls, which I then packaged in Ziploc bags.

Well, last week, I decided to sew one of the steampunk outfits waiting in those Ziploc bags. After choosing one, I searched through my pattern file to find the patterns listed on the Ziploc bag for the outfit. There were two -- one for the short jacket and corset; the other for the dress. I then read the pattern instructions for those pieces to be sure I had the notions I needed, and to determine whether any changes were necessary -- changes to the pattern, or to the pieces that were cut out.

The major changes needed were for the dress -- View B, Butterick Retro '56 Pattern 5865; there were a few minor changes for the Jacket -- Simplicity pattern 1392.

The Dress

When cutting out the pattern pieces over a year ago, I had decided to add a lined overskirt to the dress. The top of the dress and overskirt were to be a solid black satin, and the skirt was to be a black and white gingham taffeta. I hadn't noted that the instructions called for the back closure on the dress to be standard Velcro, and the method for sewing it on the back bodice was to have the right side of the Velcro sewn so that it extended out from the bodice piece (not on top of it.) The harsh Velcro would not be a good choice for the satin fabric, so, now I decided to use the Ultra-thin Velcro which is much friendlier to delicate fabrics, and I wanted to sew it on top of the back bodice fabric. This meant making the back bodice pieces about 3/8" wider.

But ..... I didn't have any of the solid black satin fabric left to re-cut the back bodice pieces (to make them 3/8" wider) -- so, I not only had to re-cut the back pieces, I had to re-cut the entire bodice, bodice lining, overskirt and overskirt lining. Fortunately, I already had three black fabrics that would serve; a rich mid-weight black satin with black flocked roses for the bodice and overskirt, a solid black charmeuse satin for the bodice lining, and a soft solid black polyester fabric for the overskirt lining (there wasn't enough of the charmeuse satin for the overskirt lining.)

I also decided to put a trim around the edge of the overskirt, so I searched through my notions and found a black eyelash trim that would work.

The black and white checked taffeta and red poly-suede fabric pieces used for the dress skirt, corset and jacket, were already cut out and in the Ziploc bag, as was the black and red trim.

Result: The dress fits the Mattel American Girl doll very well -- it also fits the original Pleasant Company AG doll, but is a little more snug.

The Long Sleeve Short Jacket & Corset

(See Pattern -- Bottom row, middle)

I had not cut out fusible interfacing for the jacket and corset, so that had to be done.

After reading the pattern instructions, I did think one change was necessary.

The pattern calls for making the lining just like the jacket (minus the collar) and then sewing the lining into the jacket. As you can see on the pattern cover, the jacket fits very snugly. I was concerned that lining the sleeves with the taffeta fabric might make the jacket too tight and/or very difficult to put on the doll, so I decided not to line the jacket sleeves. Instead, I cut the lower end of the sleeve linings off, and used them to make cuffs for the sleeves.

As it turns out, the jacket does fit snuggly, and the doll's arm must be brought almost completely back to get the jacket on her. I do believe lining the sleeves would have make it very difficult to dress the doll. It also helped that the red poly suede jacket fabric had some give to it.

If sewing for, American Girl dolls, I recommend not lining the sleeves on this jacket pattern, and perhaps using a fabric that will provide a little stretch/give to the sleeves.

One of the biggest the challenges I find when sewing doll clothes is that I really can't tell how well the clothes will fit until I am almost completely finished sewing them. Which means that the first time I use a pattern, it really is a Beta test!

As you can see, I did not put fasteners (frogs) on the jacket. I did hand-sew two ornaments to the jacket fronts -- two silver metal "gears" with a black button sewn at the center of each. The metal "gears" and buttons were purchased on eBay from sellers in China.

I sewed the corset as per the pattern instructions, and put in metal eyelets for the first time. I had to watch a few YouTube videos about inserting eyelets, and then test on scraps of fabric about ten times, before putting eyelets on the corset.

As for how the corset fit the American Girl Doll, in the future I would make the back panels of the corset about 3/8" wider so that they are closer when laced. Although the corset I made laces over a lined bodice and the corset in the pattern goes over an unlined blouse, the blouse bodice is much fuller than the dress bodice, so I think the fit would be the same.

The Hat

I purchased a white/lt grey molded poly-felt hat. It came came with the black lace on the brim, a white satin bow with a large rhinestone center at the back, a floppy black feather attached at the back of the hat that curves over the crown, and two alligator clips underneath the hat brim that secure the hat on the doll. (I cannot remember the name of the company from which I purchased hats; was one of the companies.)

I added a hatband of the same black and red trim that is on the hem of the skirt; removed the large rhinestone in the center of the bow and replaced it by sewing a large black button to the bow, and Gorilla gluing a shiny red domed metal pierced earring to it -- after removing the wire. (I have a bag of single and broken earrings, and damaged jewelry for this purpose.) I also sewed a large flower made with shiny black bugle beads to the front crown. I reclaimed it and several others from a dress purchased at a thrift store. (I often go to thrift store sales in order to reclaim buttons and ornaments for use in other projects.)

As you can see, waiting almost a year to sew this outfit required multiple changes, before I could begin sewing. Most of these changes could have been avoided had I read the pattern instructions before cutting out the pattern pieces. For the other steampunk outfits I have in those Ziploc bags, I will have to devise a way to extend the right back bodice without re-cutting -- since I probably won't have enough fabric remnants left to re-cut the bodice pieces. I think I will be cutting a back center extension of matching or coordinating fabric to the right side bodice and skirt, so that I can sew the right side Ultra-thin Velcro piece on top of it. If I can do that, I can sew the Velcro on it before I attach the extension to the right back side of the dress. I can also have the Velcro extend down the entire back which would make it easier to dress the doll. Perhaps ....

Hope to See You Next Week . . .

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