• Karole from Kimberling

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

Updated: Jan 16, 2019


In mid-December 2018, I decided to make KeepersDollyDuds' Double Cape and Bonnet pattern. That was the plan.

So, how did my plan change into making a turn of the century Working Girl's wardrobe?

It has been my experience that the sole reason for a plan is to provide a marker to help one know what she is deviating from. I find that, armed with this philosophy, I don't have to own up to making mistakes; I can instead think of them as unexpected challenges.

Over the years, I have also found that working around unexpected challenges can result in wonderful outcomes.

In this instance, my double cape and bonnet project ended with a double cape and tam/beret, AND a turn of the century skirt, blouse, and bonnet. My journey took a month -- because I must admit that when I make a mistake, I have to put the project down for a while to re-energize my enthusiasm and convince myself that this "mistake" is just an unexpected challenge; as well as get comfortable with the fact my project is not going to look like the picture on the pattern cover. Then, of course, it takes time to visualize possible alternatives.


If you have used a KeepersDolly Duds pattern before, you know that it is very exact -- you must cut the pieces out exactly, making sure there are no wrinkles in the fabric, and your seams must be exactly 1/4". Since I have previously blogged about how I came to learn these things, I will just brag that I did not make these mistakes this time.

One thing I did forget was that looking at the picture on the pattern cover can be deceiving. The picture on the pattern looks like the cape almost touches the floor. It does not. Nor, was it meant to. Traditionally capes and even cloaks are not floor length and do not even reach the ankle. In addition, the back of the cape dips lower than the front. Another factor when making the cape is the body measurements and height of the doll who will be wearing it.

Unexpected Challenge Number 1

It was only after cutting out the cape and lining that I realized the cape was not going to be floor length on the American Girl doll; as a matter of fact, it was going to fall between the ankle and mid-calf. Even though I knew the length would be a "proper length" I was uncomfortable with the fact that it wouldn't completely cover floor length dresses and skirts underneath.

Possible Solutions

  1. Make a dress of coordinating fabric to go under the cape that will be a little shorter than the cape. Surely with all the fabric I had, I could do this.

  2. Make a full length skirt of the same fabric as the cape that would look like an extension of the cape when worn under it. There was enough of the wool-blend fabric used for the cape to make a full length skirt.

Unexpected Challenge Number 2

For the cape and bonnet, I chose a soft wool blend fabric with flannel-type nap, a tightly woven polyester fabric for the lining, and a medium weight textured polyester fabric for the bias trim, underside of the bonnet brim, and the bonnet ties. The fabrics I chose were appropriate for the cape. However, the medium weight textured polyester fabric was a poor choice for the bonnet ties.

The bonnet ties in this pattern are very narrow at the the end attached to the bonnet, and the fabric I chose, even when cut on the bias, had very give. No matter what tool I used to turn the ties right-side out -- I could not do it, and, even had I been able to, the ties would have been too stiff. Given that the ties needed to match the trim on the completed cape, the bonnet was not going to work.


Try to find another fabric that would coordinate with the wool-blend and bias trim already on the cape. The wool blend fabric was a deep blue -- but not a navy -- it had a green tone to it, and I had nothing that would coordinate well.

I did have enough wool blend fabric to make a tam/beret, and enough of the bias trim left to accent the band. Simplicity 1179 is my "Go To" tam/beret pattern; it is simple to make and works with many fabrics. I only needed to add my bias trim to the hat band for an accent to get it to match the Cape. From the picture you can see the result. (I luckily had a narrow piece of single fold cotton/poly bias tape that matched the other trim, which I used for the half bow on the hat band.

Note: Even when using a lightweight fabric with more give, I found the ends of the bonnet ties to be too narrow and widened them about a 1/4 inch on each side.

There are two minor points, and one major point I want to make about the KeepersDollyDuds cape and bonnet instructions.

The first minor point is that the cutting layout indicates cutting three 20 inch bias strips for trimming the cape collar and smaller cape. However, a 29 inch bias strip is needed to trim the short cape -- and you will have to piece together the bias trim if you only have 20 inch pieces. My trim had a pattern and texture to it, and would not have looked good if it were pieced. Fortunately, I had barely enough of the fabric left to cut a 29 inch piece (It would have been safer to cut a 30 inch piece, but I didn't have enough fabric left to do that.)

The second point regards the interfacing for the bonnet brim. The fabric suggestions indicate interfacing -- later on the bonnet instructions tell you to iron the interfacing to the outside brim -- so you need fusible interfacing.

The major point regarding the bonnet. I suggest fusing a lightweight interfacing to the brim lining/underside as well as to the outside brim to get a smooth clean look to the underside of the brim. The underside of the brim sags a little without it.

Third Challenge -- What to do with the unfinished bonnet.

I had almost finished the bonnet when I encountered the problem with the ties, and was pleased with it. Since I was going to make a skirt of the same wool blend fabric as the bonnet, I removed the underside of the brim, kept the finished crown portion of the bonnet and the brim, and decided to finish the underside of the brim and bonnet ties with the same fabric I would be using to sew a blouse to coordinate with the skirt.

The New Skirt

A skirt pattern that I really like is the underskirt pattern that comes with Hint of History's Victorian Walking Ensemble pattern. (I have modified the waistband of the underskirt to be raised in the front, and curve gently down at the sides and back, and have modified the way I sew the back opening.)

The Bonnet

You can see in the picture, how the bonnet turned out using the same fabric for the bonnet brim lining and ties that I used for the blouse. To better tie the blouse to the bonnet, a rich embroidered white polyester trim was added to the hat brim to match the trim on the bib of the blouse.

As already mentioned, I slightly lengthened and widened the upper portion of the bonnet ties.

The Blouse

Farmcookies' Bodice Basics pattern is often my "GoTo" pattern whenever I make a blouse, or dress. (I have lengthened the bodice pattern to make blouses, and made the neckline higher for the American Girl doll to hide the neck string and neck "seam" between the doll's vinyl neck and the fabric body.)

The pattern is very versatile and provides numerous options for bodice bibs (overlays) and collars, and has short and long sleeve options. The bodice is lined, which I prefer to use whenever possible instead of neck facings.

The Petticoat

I wanted a petticoat to help hold the shape of the skirt, and needed one that would not add bulk at the waist. It couldn't be too full because the Victorian skirt has very little fullness at the front and bells out at the back. I didn't have a pattern for this -- just cut a rectangle out of a soft cotton print for the upper slip that could be folded at the top to make a casing for elastic, and would fit over the doll's hips, and a wider deeper rectangle to gather at the hip for fullness. A white polyester rick-rack trim added to the bottom of the hem stiffens the hemline and is easy to apply.

The white satin bow with small satin rose at its center adds a touch of sweetness -- under the tailored look of the skirt.

Working -Class Wardrobe

I did not set out to make a wardrobe of interchangeable clothing. But in hindsight (the 20/20 kind), I realized that these clothes looked something like what a teacher, office worker, or columnist might have worn at the turn of the 20th century --serviceable office-wear and outerwear. What such a wardrobe lacks is a Sunday/party dress. So, using the blouse fabric with different trims, and Farmcookies' Bodice Basics pattern, I have cut out a dress that will match the bonnet and fit under the length of the cape.

Hopefully, I'll finish it this week.

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