• Karole from Kimberling

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

Updated: Jul 19, 2019


The first time I do anything, I know it will take at least ten times longer than it should for me to "learn the ropes." This effort was no exception.

My initial motivation for designing this 18 inch doll pattern was to modernize Kaya's wardrobe.

[Kaya is American Girl's Native American doll.]

Sewing patterns available for Kaya seemed limited to the traditional clothing worn by Native American women prior to the 1900s.

I wondered if I might be able to design a pattern for Kaya that would give her more modern wardrobe choices, while retaining the simple elegant lines of traditional Native American dress.

And because the simplest clothing lines provide the most versatile canvases for sewers to experiment with fabric textures, prints and colors, this new pattern could also be shared with Kaya's friends.

From Motivation to Concept

To my way of thinking, there are several aspects of traditional Native American dress that should be included in this pattern: a comfortable fit; an A-line silhouette; wide 3/4 length sleeves, and a tailored look without gathers and flounces.

So, with a pencil, and copy paper, I sketched several concepts that might meet these criteria. Since I have no artistic ability, my renderings looked more like a one minute Pictionary exercise.

These renderings led me to a basic concept. The pattern would have two components -- a semi fitted, sleeveless dress with a tailored skirt, and a short jacket with wide 3/4 length sleeves. When worn together, the dress and jacket would have lines similar to traditional Native American dress.

Because I wanted the pattern to be versatile, I decided the dress would have two skirt options -- an A-line skirt and a sheath/pencil skirt. As I tested different modifications of the pattern to improve the fit, I determined that two lengths of each skirt would add more versatility -- an over-the-knee length (more in keeping with traditional Native American dress) and a length coming just above the knee.

The decision for the dress to have a separate bodice and skirt, instead of the bodice and skirt being one piece, was also made for versatility; a separate bodice and skirt allows for greater experimentation coordinating fabric textures, colors and prints.

The curved, asymmetrical overlap of the jacket in front, preserves the loose, semi-fitted style of traditional Native American dress, as well as its soft curving lines.

From Concept to Pattern Prototype

Over the two years I have been sewing 18 inch doll clothes, I have modified many patterns, and created my own bodices, skirts, etc. to fit the look I was trying to achieve; such as, an Eliza Doolittle flower girl outfit, a Minnie Pearl outfit, a Scarlett O'Hara barbecue dress, and replicas of clothing my Mother made for me over sixty years ago. So, I had a collection of my own dress, blouse, sleeve, vest, and skirt patterns that fit the American Girl doll well. Starting with them, I patched together a pattern that I thought would work, and sewed my first outfit.

Here is the first outfit made with the test pattern.

When I found the fabric you see on the dress bodice, the large scale of the stylized feathers caused me to hesitate. But, the feather theme and the coral and turquoise colors fell so much in line with a Native American theme, I couldn't resist it. I already had the turquoise peach-skin fabric, and orange heart buttons in my stash, so the rest was a no-brainer. I chose to make the sheath skirt, with the over-the-knee length, and as you can see, the original pattern did not have a short stand up collar.

Happy with this result, I deemed only three pattern changes necessary; the dress needed some type of belt (you see a purchased belt here that has been cut down), the sleeves on the jacket should be a little shorter, and the shoulders of the dress needed to slope down a little more. I made those changes and added a cummerbund to the pattern. I also thought that a mandarin type collar might be a good bodice option, so also added it to the pattern.

Writing the Pattern Instructions

Before writing instructions, it was necessary to test the pattern changes and additions. To the left is the result of test two with cummerbund and stand up collar. The fabric on the jacket and skirt is a white stretch denim with a subtle geometric print.

The dress bodice, stand-up collar, jacket lining, and cummerbund are two coordinated geometric cotton prints in white, turquoise blue and goldish-brown.

Happy with these results, I was determined to write instructions and take relevant pictures while making a dress with an A-Line skirt and stand-up collar.

One of my objectives was to produce a pattern and instructions appropriate for a person at an advanced beginner sewing level; a person with basic experience sewing on a sewing machine, and some experience sewing from a pattern.

So, as I sewed my third dress (an A-line daisy print dress with stand-up collar), I took pictures with my digital camera, and hand wrote instructions. When done, I uploaded the pictures to my computer. and from my hand-written instructions created an MSWord document, inserting pictures as appropriate.

Testing the Instructions

What is clear to me in a set of instructions is usually clear to everyone else, because I have no hands-on talent for understanding spatial concepts, and if I get it, so will everyone else. This does not mean that I if I write a set of instructions that I understand, everyone else will understand them. So, I found a friend, new to sewing doll clothes, and asked her to make a dress and jacket for me.

Surprise! I did not expect my friend to sew from instructions downloaded to her smart phone! I know that, unlike me, many people do not have to print instructions to paper to use them. But the screen on a smart phone is too small to evaluate instructions and pictures at the same time, which is necessary to get the full value of the detailed instructions. My friend provided valuable feedback for improving the instructions, which included adding a notice to potential seamstresses, that using a smart phone to read detailed directions is not recommended. Here are pictures of two other outfits made during testing.

Another Surprise -- scanning pattern pieces into Adobe Acrobat to create a pdf file did not go smoothly. The reason I use Adobe is to fix the formatting of what I am scanning, so people downloading the file see the pattern the way I created it. However, when I scanned in 7 sheets of paper containing pattern pieces in landscape format; Adobe chose to scan some of the pages in portrait, and others in landscape. I still am not sure that when a person downloads the pattern file she will get all pieces of the pattern on the printed sheets.

Before I attempt to create another pattern, I will need to get more specialized software that will not require me to scan pattern pages into Adobe.

Or, perhaps it is my old printer/scanner that needs replacing, and a newer one would interact better with Adobe.

Or, perhaps a more patient person would have found a way to force Adobe to do what she wanted . . .

If my next post is to be my next pattern .... It will probably be a while!

PS: Several of you have asked when this pattern will be for sale. It is for sale in my Etsy shoppe KimberlingCouture. Here's the link.

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