• Karole from Kimberling

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


Hint of History's Victorian Walking Ensemble was the second 18" doll pattern I bought online.

Although this was the first time I was going to attempt to make the hat, and I have never made the bustle, I had made the jacket, skirt and blouse several times. So, when I cut the ensemble out a week ago, I didn't even bother putting the components in a Ziploc bag or making notes about pattern modifications; I placed the pattern back in the sheet protector, and put the fabric pieces by my sewing machine.

The Petticoat

The pattern doesn't come with a petticoat, so, in the past, I made a petticoat using a separate pattern, but thought I could do better this time. The Victorian skirt has 2/3 of the fullness at the back, so it would be best to have a petticoat that also had 2/3 of the fullness in the back.

"Why not use the skirt pattern to make the petticoat?" I reasoned. It would just need to be a little shorter than the skirt and have a fancy trim at the bottom to give body at the hem. A white nylon/taffeta type fabric and a thick white polyester trim fit the bill.

I decided to put elastic inside the waistband, and a hook and eye to fasten it at the back to make the petticoat adjustable. Because the nylon/taffeta fabric frayed easily, I made 5/8" seams and sewed French seams at the sides. At the back seam, I left 4 inches open at the top. The 5/8 inch seam enabled me to fold the top part over twice for a finished look at the opening, and gave me room to fold over the edges of the rest of the seam and sew them down.

The Blouse

I was excited about making the blouse, because a few yards of embroidered tulle had arrived from China a few days before that immediately led me to thinking, "Victorian." After searching out the fabrics I needed from the wardrobe in my guest room (come to think of it, it's a Victorian wardrobe), I cut out the outfit.

As I mentioned, I didn't bother making notes about my past experience with the pattern, I just set the pieces by the sewing machine and started to work. Big Mistake!

The main blouse fabric is a poly-cotton fabric. I cut overlays from the embroidered tulle that I sewed to the collar, sleeves and bodice pieces.

The pattern does not call for lining the bodice. The way the mandarin collar is supposed to be sewn at the neck, hides the raw neck edges well. But, I usually modify the pattern to line the bodice, -- that way, if the material is sheer, the raw seams at the shoulders and sides don't show through. Lining the bodice does change how the collar is sewn on -- I think it's easier.

Everything was going well. I must have measured the garment on the doll six times to get the right sleeve length, and placement for hidden snaps at the back. Even though I had previously enlarged the width of the back bodice pattern to allow for Ultra-thin Velcro, I actually cut it a little larger that that -- which wasn't necessary -- but not a problem. After pressing the finished blouse, I was very pleased with the result -- until I put it on the doll! It didn't fit right!

It was gaping in the front at the neckline! How could the blouse be too large in the front and fit right in the back and across the shoulders?

Pretty easy to understand if I had glanced at the instructions before I began. This blouse pattern, unlike most blouse patterns, is gathered at the front neckline.Because I didn't read the instructions, I had forgotten to gather the front bodice at the neck before I sewed on the collar.

I'd like to tell you that over the years I have learned to "roll with the punches" and immediately took this as a challenge for my ingenuity. But, first I felt a little sick. Then, I cussed a blue streak at the imbecile who didn't even glance over the instructions before sewing the blouse. (To my way of thinking, it really isn't cussing, if there's no-one around to hear me do it.)

The two diagonal lines of burgundy stitching at the front neckline are Karole's tailored enhancements to the pattern.

The Skirt

The lines of this skirt are graceful -- there are three A-line shaped panels -- one in the front; two gathered at the back. I modified the burgundy velveteen waistband to be slightly higher in the front than the back. The burgundy taffeta skirt fabric was a remnant I found in a thrift store. The thin black stripes that surround the thin beige stripes are raised and feel almost like cord; the burgundy fabric between the stripes is slightly puffed. In addition to being unique, the fabric was also surprisingly easy to work with. After overcasting the panel edges by machine and sewing the seams, I ironed the seams open and top-stitched each side. The waistband fastens with a soft Velcro a little wider and stronger then Ultra-thin Velcro.

The Jacket

After sewing my first two Victorian jackets, I had made two major modifications to the pattern.

1) I shortened the cuff end of the sleeve pattern one-and one-half inches. The jackets I made from this pattern were all made for an American Girl doll, and shortening the sleeve 1 1/2 inches was required to get the length you see in the pictures.

2) I lined the bodice and peplum. In this pattern, the entire jacket is unlined. Since the sleeves have so much fabric at the top, it is better to leave them unlined, but without a lining, the edges at the neck, collar, and peplum looked unfinished to me. So, I cut lining pieces for the front, back and peplum.

Another reason for lining the jacket was to add body to the lightweight black polyester brocade fabric I chose. A medium-weight black cotton fabric worked well for the lining.

Adding a lining required changes to the steps for constructing the jacket; especially since the front of the jacket at the sides is longer than the back. Due to my limited ability to envision how those changes would affect construction, I am not sure I arrived at the best sequence for assembling the jacket. A lot of hand-sewing was required on my part in the assembly process.

Fastening: The four buttons on the front are sewn above snaps.

The Hat

I love the the hat shown on the front page of the Hint of History Victorian pattern – but, after looking at the materials needed and instructions provided, had opted in the past to seek other alternatives. The pattern calls for 15” of narrow wire, which I never had on hand. I also found the instructions intimidating, since I very seldom understand two dimensional diagrams indicating how to construct three dimensional objects.

But this time, I was determined to make the hat. After collecting the needed materials, I proceeded to follow the instructions, even labeling the netting with pieces of paper that matched the labeling in the diagram. After two hours of sewing the base, hand basting the netting, and trying to follow the veil diagrams in the instructions,, I could not get anything that resembled that hat. So, I salvaged the netting and the front half of the hat base, used the fabric from a black vintage hat found in a thrift store to for the rest of the base, gathered fabric pieces and decorations from an odds & ends box, and fashioned a hat to look as close to the one shown on the pattern as I could get. I like the result, but have no hat pattern or instructions to follow for making future hats.

After creating the new base, I gathered and arranged the net/veil across the front crown, and sewed black gimp over it to keep it in place. Sewing elastic at the middle of the hat -- from one side to the other (on the underside) -- gave it the curved shape needed at the crown. A black ribbon flower, and black feather were fastened to a "pad" that was then sewn to the left side of the hat for decoration. An alligator clip on the underside makes the hat easy to accommodate any hairstyle.

Victorian Ensemble Completed . . . (I still haven't made the bustle/overskirt, but . . ..)

Personal Note: Over the past six months, sharing my experiences learning to sew for eighteen inch dolls has been a wonderful outlet for me, and, I hope, has in some way lightened your day -- that has been my intention. This week's blog post will be my last, as I have little more of value to share.

If you wish to revisit them, past blog posts will remain on , and I will periodically add pictures of my new 18" doll outfits on this website, which are usually for sale in my Etsy shop KimberlingCouture.

Thank you for your readership and positive feedback.

Have a Great Week!

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