• Karole from Kimberling

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

Updated: Mar 22, 2018


When I see a doll pattern, I start with an expectation that, when I buy it, what I sew will look like the picture on the pattern jacket. I also often envision using it to sew something just a little different. So, should I consider the pattern to be a blueprint that must be followed exactly, or a springboard for creativity?

The answer is -- both -- but use it as a blueprint first!

I'd like to share a few things that I have learned about sewing with 18" doll patterns:

  1. Know where the 1/4" guide is on your sewing machine. I thought the 1/4" sewing guide on my sewing machine was the measurement from my machine's needle to the edge of the presser foot. After complaining to a pattern-maker that a dress I made from her pattern was too tight for my AG doll, it turned out that the measurement from my needle to the edge of the presser foot was 1/16" wider than 1/4". Almost all doll patterns allow for 1/4" seams, and just one sixteenth of an inch too wide or too narrow when sewing seams for doll clothes is critical. Test to determine how to gauge 1/4" seams on your sewing machine.

  2. You should treat the first time you work with a new pattern as a Beta test, and the first article of doll clothing you sew from it as a prototype. The garment may or may not fit your doll like the picture on the pattern jacket or cover, even if you follow the directions exactly. How the armholes, neckline, waist, and length of a garment fit your doll, depends on the pattern designer, and your doll. All eighteen inch dolls -- even dolls produced by the same manufacturer -- do not have the same measurements.

  3. So, when using a pattern the first time, don't use expensive materials -- there are disappointments and there are costly disappointments!

  4. If you know the name of the person who designed a pattern, you can get a feel for how she (or he) tailors clothing for dolls, and if using another of her patterns can often skip the Beta test. Large pattern-makers like Simplicity use different designers for doll clothes, so I wouldn't skip the Beta test unless I know the designer, and have used one of her patterns before.

  5. Don't modify a pattern before you have experience using it. A pattern is a blueprint, a plan, and when deviating from a plan, it is always important to know what you are deviating from. The first time you use a pattern follow it to the letter so you know how it fits your 18" doll. The next time you use the pattern, you can use it as a springboard for your creativity, and make changes to it.

For example, before starting to sew doll clothes, I had some ideas about the styles of clothing I wanted to make. One garment I planned to make was a flapper costume. In my stash was a pretty beaded trim that I had intended to use for a flapper costume for my young granddaughter -- who had different ideas as to what she wanted to wear for Halloween. Now, years later, I thought I could use that trim to make a flapper costume for an American Girl doll. While searching for a flapper pattern online, I found a free pattern that looked like it had the style/silhouette I needed.

The pattern was designed by Liese Brouwer of Doll Tag Clothing and was offered on a website called PixieFaire. (I now know that PixieFaire is widely known as a type of consortium representing many doll pattern designers, but back then my Google search terms took me directly to the pattern, which happened to be on a website called PixieFaire.) I checked today, and the Doll Tag Clothing pattern I used is still offered for free.

My Beta Test

I'd like to say making a prototype (a Beta test) version was my first thought, but I tend to skip steps to make things go faster. In this case however, the beaded trim was not only relatively expensive, but purchased years ago, and not replaceable, so a Beta test was necessary.

The Simple Ruffle Dress pattern by Doll Tag Clothing had a high waist and sheath form/shape, which I thought could be modified to add the beaded fringe for the flapper costume. My Beta test involved making the dress according to the pattern (without the ruffles), and using Ultra-thin Velcro for the back closing.

The dress' skirt is made of a grey and white geometric print cotton fabric with a gabardine texture and weight; the top is a white polyester knit. It was an easy pattern to follow, and came out so well, that I decided to make a complete 1960s outfit and added a box jacket and pillbox hat (using two other patterns.)

This is the cover page of the Simple Ruffle Dress pattern from Doll Tag Clothing.

As you can see, I did not put on the ruffles or the belt -- which made the pattern even simpler.

I did make the back bodice and the back of the skirt a tiny bit wider (1/4 ") in order to use 3/8" Ultra-thin Velcro for the back closing. If you have never used Ultra-thin Velcro, it is very flexible and much softer than regular Velcro -- and doesn't catch as easily on fabric or the doll's hair. It is also very easy to sew with.

I figured that the weight of the beaded trim on the flapper costume would pull the garment out of alignment unless I used the Ultra-thin Velcro -- so using it was part of my Beta test. I left the back of the dress completely open and sewed the Ultra-thin Velcro down the back from the top of the bodice to about 2 inches from the bottom of the skirt.

From Prototype to Flapper Dress

After the Beta test, I made only two changes to the pattern for the flapper costume.

First, I modified the neckline, so it was a little lower and rounded instead of square.

The most significant change was to lengthen the skirt, so that the trim binding tape could be hidden by horizontal tucks in the skirt. The beading was heavy and the twill tape from which it was suspended was lumpy, so working with the fringe was difficult, but knowing that when the dress was done it would fit the doll made up for the inconvenience.

With the Velcro sewn down the entire back of the dress so that the back opened completely, the doll could be dressed without worrying about the beads catching on the doll's hair.

I liked this pattern so much that as soon as the flapper dress was finished, I tried another variation.

From Prototype to Flapper to Southern Miss

During my late nights on eBay, I had found this dainty sea-foam green lace/tulle and had been looking for a chance to use it. Realizing that it matched the satin on the flapper dress, and having just used the Doll Tag Clothing pattern -- the jump was inevitable.

Having already modified the bodice neckline for the flapper dress, all that was required when making this dress was to:

  • Cut lace overlays for the bodice pieces

  • Use the lace to make a gathered overlay skirt to go over the straight satin skirt.

Bottom Line: I have convinced myself that the first time I use a pattern it is a Beta test -- it may not come out like the picture on the cover; it may take a lot of time to adjust the cut out pieces to fit the doll; and even with the adjustments, it might not come out the way I want it to. BUT, if I expect an imperfect result, I won't be frustrated. If I take advantage of what I learn that first time and adjust the pattern and the directions accordingly, the next time will go much faster, and the finished garment will "meet my expectations" (I can't believe I just threw that corporate customer speak into my blog!)

Hope to see you next week . . .

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