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  • Karole from Kimberling

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

BETA TESTING: SIMPLICITY PATTERN 1391 – KeepersDollyDuds Civil War Pattern


It was time to STOP buying fabric and cutting out more outfits; time to open my Rubbermaid bins, look through my almost 150 “Ziploc-ed” outfits, and pick one out to sew. (I started May 2017 with 100 Ziploc-ed outfits -- now have 150.)

I picked out five outfits (committing is hard for me), and finally opened the one marked “Civil War, Simplicity 1391, View A dress, View D Bonnet, and View F Pantaloons.” On the Simplicity pattern jacket, KeepersDollyDuds is given credit for designing the pattern.


The Ziploc bag contained everything needed to sew these garments together, except the trim for the dress, and the elastic and trim for the pantaloons.


The dress, bonnet and pantaloons are made with three fabrics: two coordinated cotton prints, and a solid light pink poly-suede. The light ivory satin ribbon used for the bonnet ties was in the bag, and as you will see, it was fortunate I still had a few yards left.


When I cut out this Simplicity pattern, I didn’t know anything about patterns for 18 inch dolls, or about KeepersDollyduds. Since then I have made several outfits using KeepersDollyDuds patterns, as well as other outfits using other patterns. I have found that the reason clothes made from KeepersDollyDuds patterns fit the American Girl doll so well is because they are designed with much more precision than most patterns. Pattern pieces must be cut out exactly. Seams must be exactly ¼ inch. You must pay attention to the type of fabrics suggested – in terms of thickness and amount of stretch (or non-stretch). And you must Beta test each pattern, to get a feel for how the garment will fit your 18 inch doll. In other words, fit might be an issue on your first try.


As you can see, this Civil War outfit fits the newer American Girl doll well. (Trying to maintain ¼ inch seams when sewing through four layers of fabric presented a challenge.) If sewing for an older Pleasant Company American Girl doll, I would increase the width of the back bodice pattern piece by 1/2 inch.


The Bonnet

There are only two pattern pieces for the bonnet; they are used for the bonnet and bonnet lining.. After the fusible interfacing was ironed to the back of the exterior bonnet pieces, those bonnet pieces had no “give”, and were a little smaller than the lining pieces. To adjust for that, I trimmed the lining pieces to the new size of the exterior pieces. I also trimmed the brim lining a little (again) before sewing it to the bonnet.


The pattern calls for lace or eyelet under the brim (sewn to the brim lining.) After sewing the gathered lace, the gathered edge looked unfinished, so I sewed 3/8” satin ribbon over that edge – the same satin ribbon used for the bonnet ties.


The Panataloons

Only one pattern piece is needed for the pantaloons; the casing for the waistline elastic is also part of this piece. I chose to make the pantaloons out of the same cotton fabric used for the lining of the bonnet, and the dress collar and cuffs.

If you look on the pattern cover, you can see that the pantaloons’ legs come to the ankle – even with the lace trim. I would have preferred to make them longer so that they touched the top of the shoes. Too late – I cut them out a year ago, and there was no more fabric. (So, all of the pantaloons I cut from this pattern a year ago, will be the same – I can possibly find coordinating fabric to lengthen/trim them. OR, I could just keep them the length intended.)

The Dress

It looks like the dress has a weskit/vest/spencer over it – but it does not; everything you see is part of the dress. Because the peplum at the waist and the "caps" at the tops of the sleeves are part of the dress, one is sometimes sewing through three and four layers of fabric, rather than the usual two. I found it difficult to maintain the ¼ inch seam width when dealing with these thicknesses, which resulted in a very close/tailored fit. Had the fabrics I used been thicker, the dress would have probably been too narrow at the waist.


The Collar

I had not cut trim for the collar, and did not have anything that looked good with the other fabrics. I did have a lightweight ivory satin fabric that matched the color of the ribbon on the bonnet, so I cut diagonal/bias strips from it, and made cording for the collar, trim for the cuffs, trim for the false placket down the bodice front, and bias tape to finish the edges of the back bodice facing.


The Bodice

Lined bodices hide most bodice seams and fabric edges, so I use them whenever possible. This pattern does not have a lined bodice; edges of the back bodice facings need to be finished so they don't fray. Since I don’t have a serger (YET), I decided to finish the seam by making seam binding from the bias strips I cut from the ivory satin, and bound the edges.


There is a false placket that goes down the center front of the bodice. I folded a bias strip of the ivory satin in half, and sewed it to each side of the placket, ironed the sides of the placket to the back so that the satin piping showed at the sides, and then sewed the placket to the bodice.


I searched through my button canister to find buttons for the placket. Buttons were also needed for the back of the dress. There were enough of these pink buttons for both the front and back of the dress. Because they are slightly concave, they had to be sewed on by hand.

The fastening at the back.

The pattern calls for buttons and buttonholes. The buttonhole attachment on my Singer does a great job sewing buttonholes on a child’s garment. But, doll clothes are small, the buttonhole attachment large, and it catches on any seam or uneven fabric thickness it encounters. If there is only one buttonhole needed, I will sometimes risk making a buttonhole that will almost always take more than one try to get right. More than one buttonhole? No way. If there is even a 50% chance one buttonhole will go in right on the first try, statistically there is only a 25% chance two of them will go in right on the first try, and a 6% chance for all four. Not being a masochist, I didn't wish to jeopardize ruining the garment when pulling out stitches, so, I hand-sewed snaps down the back. The buttons on the back bodice are hand-sewn on top of the snaps.


The Sleeves

The pattern called for the cuffs on the sleeve to be open, as well as an inch or so of the lower sleeve; buttons or snaps were to fasten the sleeve cuffs. If the cuffs are sewn together, the opening has to be wide enough to go over the doll's hands. I wanted the sleeve cuffs sewn closed, so, I sewed a 1/8 inch seam on the lower end of the sleeves and cuffs. The cuffs are snug, but do go over the doll’s hands without a struggle.

The Skirt

I debated about putting trim near the bottom of the skirt -- sometimes no decoration is better than too much. In my “stash” was a pretty embroidered flower trim I had bought at Walmart and used for two other outfits, but, by itself, would have looked out of place. Sewing the ivory satin ribbon used for the bonnet over the flower trim tied the outfit together. The stitching for the trim also served as the stitching for the hem.


The pattern calls for sewing a seam down the back of the skirt from a few inches below the waist to the hem. When possible, I prefer having the back of a dress completely open, and using Ultra-thin Velcro to fasten it from the neck to a few inches above the skirt’s hem. Because I had very narrow facings at the bodice waistline, the Velcro would not fit properly, so I hand-sewed snaps with buttons sewn over them on the bodice, and snaps part-way down the skirt. At the waist I sewed a hook and eye – not only because the facings there were narrow, but also because the hook and eye were the strongest fasteners for the waist.


The Shoes -- are purchased from a vendor on eBay.

How does the outfit look on another brand of 18" dolls?


Because all 18 inch dolls are not created equal, clothes will fit other eighteen inch dolls differently.


This is the same outfit on a very pretty Cititoy doll -- 2017 My Life As Winter Princess African American New Holiday Doll (I purchased her new last week on eBay for $29.98; shipping was free.) She is a little narrower in the shoulders and a little taller than the American Girl doll pictured above. Her hands are slightly narrower, so the cuffs come down further on her hand.



Going through my "To Be Sewn" outfit bins was fun; kind of like going through an old picture album. Last week, I picked out five outfits -- one down, four more to sew!


Hope you have a good week!

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