• Karole from Kimberling

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

I Just Wanted to Make a Gown Like Anna's in The King & I -- and on March 25th I had gotten as far as figuring out how to make the hoop petticoat. It has taken me 3 1/2 months to get the dress done. Why? Challenges, Challenges, and Obsessing. The Fabric

I knew the fabric had to be satin, and thought it was a beige pink, so when I found this gorgeous beige crinkle crepe satin, I bought it. Yes it was crinkle, and Anna's gown was smooth satin, but what were the chances I would find an exact match anyway.

First I needed to figure out how to get the petticoat shape needed for the gown -- my last post (late March) is all about that. Mission accomplished -- I had the hoop petticoat.

I had found the pattern, Pemberley Threads' Victoria. An 1830s Evening Gown, but hadn't used it yet. What if I made a mistake? Satin doesn't lend itself well to mistakes.

For several weeks (yes, weeks), I procrastinated because I couldn't figure out how the sleeves fit into the bodice -- was the upper sleeve part of the neckline or not. I have limited ability to interpret drawings and physical construction, no matter how good the illustrations and instructions, and obsessed over this until my rational, impatient self said, "For crying out loud, contact the designer!" and with Elizabeth's help finally figured out what to do.

Now it was time to make the dress, so, I cut out the dress of crepe satin, and the lining out of a shimmery taupe beige synthetic.

But, what if I make a mistake; I could still ruin the satin, I reasoned. Solution: Make a test dress


Now most people, people with even a modicum of sense, would have chosen cotton, a very forgiving fabric, for this Beta-test. But when looking for a fabric in my stash, I looked for a fabric that was beige, so it would look close to the color of Anna's dress. I found a gorgeous almost iridescent beige fabric that would look great as an evening gown, and cut out the dress and bodice lining with it. Did I have a concern that this fabric was a medium to heavy weight stretch iridescent fabric, that is was a lot heavier than satin, a lot stronger than satin, and had much more give? Not until I tried to gather it for the skirt , and ended up pleating it so it would fit inside the bodice. I had already determined that I could not line the skirt because extra fabric at the waist would be a problem, so I had to think of a way to make the hem attractive. (The pattern does not call for a skirt lining, but Anna's dress has a plain skirt and stitches from a sewn hem would change the look of the skirt, so I would have to line the satin.)

There were several more decisions that had to me made because of my choice of the weight of my test fabric. What lace would I use -- it couldn't be too dainty, because, well, the fabric wasn't dainty. If I used a heavier lace, should it be sewn below the sleeve band or above. Should the heavier lace stand up at the neckline? Now, I'll remind you, as I did myself, that Anna's dress doesn't have any lace on it, so I was introducing issues I wouldn't have with her dress.

Test Result

As you can see, I had to put a horizontal pleat at the hem of the dress to cover the trim and add some balance to the black trim at the neckline. You can't see the trim on the sleeve band, because I sewed it at the top of the band and it faces up toward the sleeve.

Of course, this dress needed gloves, a choker, and a hair ornament, so I HAD to make those. The gloves are a sparkly sheer black stretch fabric, the choker is made of a satin beaded trim that fastens with ultra thin Velcro. The hair ornament is made of a narrow bow of the sparkly stretch fabric with an alligator clip sewn underneath. On top of the bow is a black feather with a sparkly small flower on top. At the center of the flower is a plastic heart-shaped "rhinestone".

The shoes are purchased, but were in my stash, as was everything else, so I didn't have to go out and buy anything. I do draw the line at some things, and purchasing materials for a prototype test is one of them.

When I posted the prototype dress on one of my Facebook doll sites, one of the members said,"This is the test? I can't wait to see the target dress."

I responded, "That is a problem -- what if the dress isn't as nice as the test!"

(Because I knew that the fabric I used for the test was a lot stronger than the satin and the stretch provided much more "give".)

At this point you have an inkling as to why it takes me so long to finish anything -- I constantly give way to distractions!

Note: the pattern was easy to follow, once I got past worrying about the odd shape of the full sleeves. In my prototype, I was also testing a modification I had made to the pattern; instead of a sewn-in band at the bodice waist, I lengthened the bodice pieces so I could eliminate the band. As I mentioned earlier, I had also planned to fully line the skirt so the hem seam would be at the very bottom of the skirt and would not show.

To bring you back to the initial thread of my discussion -- I am still explaining my fabric challenges for Anna's dress.

So, while making the prototype, I got a call from a friend of mine who runs a thrift store. I LOVE thrift stores, but with COVID19 looming towards Southern Missouri, had not been shopping. My friend told me they had gotten framed "pictures" of actual LP records -- all from musicals, and The King & I was among them. She assured me that almost no-one was in the store, so I put on a mask, drove to the store, and bought the album.

And what is the first thing I noticed? Anna's dress is not a pinkish beige. It is a lavender-pink!

Now what? I had already cut out the crinkle beige satin! I knew, I was never going to match the color of the dress exactly, but that lavender-pink is not beige. So, I went to Etsy, and bought a yard of the closest color satin I could find -- it was really a pink-lavender, not a lavender-pink, but it was closer than beige, And, horror of horrors, I had to pay full price PLUS shipping! At this point I had so much time invested, I convinced myself to grimace and bear it.

But that cut out dress of beige crinkle-satin was taunting me, and I wasn't going to waste the money I had spent on it too,

So, as soon as I finished the proto-type dress, I went to one of my GO-TO patterns, Farmcookies' Bodice Basics, found lace in my stash to use as an overlay, re-cut those pattern pieces, and made this dress.

I had the brown velvet ribbon and brown ribbon flowers I used for the sash, as well as two of the three flowers, and light beige hat in my stash. The third flower on the hat was made from the lace scraps.

The crinkle satin was heavier than regular satin, so the dress needed a petticoat underneath, so I made one from muslin and stiff, wide lace -- also from my stash.

By the time I finished the lace dress, the satin had arrived. It was more lavender than pink, but would do. NOW, you think, I will make Anna's dress. Well, it was a week and a half before the 4th of July, and I had fabric earmarked for a colonial dress & bonnet , so I made them, and added a petticoat. I had less than half a yard left of the red, white and blue, so used Farmcookies' Bodice Basics to cut out two more modern day dresses (also using two other fabrics in my stash). I made one of those dresses, as well as a white felt hat, and put the other in my "To Be Sewn" bins.

NOW it was time to sew Anna's dress!

I had a lightweight, pale lavender, poly fabric for the lining. Since satin cannot take much stress, I decided to use the lining fabric as an underlining sewn to the satin bodice pieces, as well as for the bodice and skirt lining.

The underlined bodice went together pretty easily. The front bodice pieces for the Victoria Dress are cut on the bias, because some stretching is needed to sew them together. I was careful to pin (I didn't want to pin, but had to) the pieces in the 1/4" seam allowance, to keep pin holes from ruining the satin. I also had to check all pins for barbs because satin snags easily.

When I went to sew the bodice lining to the bodice, the dress bodice front was over 1/4 inch shy from the lining at each of the armscyes, so I re-cut the bodice and underling and made another dress bodice. The second time I attempted to sew the bodice lining to the dress bodice, one side of the lining was off-kilter, so I re-cut the bodice lining, (I am always very careful about cutting, but both the lining and satin were very slippery, and even though the lining was cut separately from the satin, I still ran into these problems.)

  • Since it was expected that making this dress with satin, was going provide challenges, I had prepared my impatient self to "walk away" when encountering them, and to address each of them on the following morning when I would be in a more expansive mood. So, most of the elapsed time spent while making this dress was "walk away" time.

It doesn't really seem possible that such a simple frock should cause so much angst, does it?

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