• Karole from Kimberling

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


I have a theory that when we have children, we are so busy coping with their needs that we don't talk much about our pasts, so they don't ever think of us as ever having been children, teenagers, etc. Many years ago, one of my younger sisters asked my mother how it felt to wear those powdered wigs and hoop dresses. Her sense of history was off about two hundred years, but at least she asked!

So, this past Christmas I decided to send one of my sisters a present that would trigger a girlhood memory that she could share with her family

In 1961, my older sister was a senior in high school; I was a junior. She had taken an advanced home economics class as an elective, and the class project was to make a dress or outfit, and model it at the Spring Parent Teacher assembly. She had chosen to make a white wool flannel suit with a silky turquoise paisley print blouse and turban. Three of the seven of us siblings were in high school that year, so our Mother rushed to the high school auditorium after work just as the show was about to start. The auditorium was packed with about a thousand parents, so she and I stood in the back.

Now, my older sister was very shy in high school, and I (who was not) never considered how she must have felt with spotlights on her walking out on that stage. So, I tried to recapture her modeling debut by recreating her suit on a Madame Alexander doll (with my sister's coloring), and sent it to her daughter with whom she would be spending Christmas. Included in the box was a note with my perspective of the fashion show, our Mother's reaction, and a questionnaire asking what my sister remembered about that night.

My sister told me that when she saw the doll under the tree on Christmas Eve, she immediately knew what it represented. More importantly, she was able to give her daughter and granddaughters some insight into her life as a teenager.

My Sister's Suit

To recreate my sister's suit, I needed to find a suit pattern that had 1960s styling: the short box jacket with casual 3/4 sleeves, the fitted straight pencil skirt, and the short sleeveless shell top. The turban my sister made was a softly shirred, unstructured, close-fitting hat -- not as popular in the 1960s as the pillbox hat -- but one thing I have noticed about hats in the 20th century is that when hats were worn, they came in a wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes.

My searches this past year to find 18" doll patterns for the outfits/ensembles I want to create has led me to several conclusions:

  • I do not have enough experience to design patterns for 18" dolls. I must rely on others to provide patterns that have already taken into account the measurements/proportions of 18" dolls, and have adjusted techniques and directions in order to sew for them. (Needless to say, when sewing such small articles of clothing, one cannot use the same techniques used for human clothing.)

  • Sometimes, the pattern I want doesn't exist, so I must look for a pattern that has the style/silhouette I need, and not pay attention to what the pattern is called or the sample pictures on the cover.

  • I may need more than one pattern to create the outfit I want. If one adds the cost of a pattern to the total cost of creating an outfit, buying multiple patterns can significantly increases the cost of making the outfit. An accountant would say that one should amortize the cost of the pattern over all of the clothes made using it. TRUE -- if one plans on making multiple items with that pattern.

  • By using patterns created by different designers, I learn different techniques for sewing doll clothes, and can pick the techniques that work best for me (and my machine.)

In this instance, I needed three patterns to recreate my sister's suit.

The Dress (Blouse and Skirt)

I used Doll Tag Clothing 's-- Simple Ruffle Dress pattern, which is a sleeveless sheath dress pattern, instead of making a separate skirt and short sleeveless blouse. (Last week's post provides more information about this pattern.) The pattern was free on the PixieFaire website, and I had already sewn three outfits using it, which meant sewing the dress would go much faster this time.

The backdrop in the picture is the result of a "happy coincidence." I found the large box in the shape of a Christmas ornament at my local thrift store and bought it thinking I could wrap a fancy Christmas present in it. What were the chances it looked like it came with the doll?

The 3/4 Sleeve Box Jacket

was made by altering the fully lined swing coat pattern illustrated as View H on McCall's pattern M7266 on the right.

I shortened the sleeves and coat, omitted the button, and took out the fullness (swing) by cutting the sides and center back pieces so they were almost vertical.

So far I have used this pattern for two 1960's box style jackets, and I plan to make the swing coat and full circle skirt; so, it will be a "good investment."

I usually buy major manufacturers' patterns on eBay because JoAnn's is about an hour's drive, and they don't always have the doll patterns in stock when there is a sale -- but, as a rule, I pay much less than half the listed price for them.

The Pillbox Hat

was made using a preciouspatterns (Etsy shop) fleece/felt hat pattern.

I added interfacing/Pellon to the crown and band to hold the pillbox shape, cut a lining for the inside of the crown, and increased the band height 1/4" so the inside could be turned under for a finished look. (The Etsy shop owner suggested adding the 1/4 inch to the band if the hat was going to be made using a woven fabric instead of felt or fleece.)

I have sewn two or three hats from this pattern, and cut out several more to go with other outfits, so I plan to lower it's "cost per item sewn."

Patterns by online designers are usually very reasonably priced -- of course the buyer bears the cost of printing it out. (My comfort level with technology has not advanced to using pattern instructions on a laptop, or iPad while I sew.)

I'd like to say that I don't buy a pattern unless I have an idea about how to use it, but the way my mind works, I almost always have an idea about how to use it -- which is one of the reasons, I currently have over 100 Ziploc bags holding outfits ready to be sewn. In order to justify the cost of buying a pattern, I often cut out outfits from it right away, and store them in Ziploc bags. "Some day," I reason, "All I have to do" is sew them."

Even so, I probably have about sixteen major companies' patterns from which I have cut out outfits, and twenty-five I have not used. (Half of those I still have plans for.)

As for the patterns produced by independent designers and sold online, I have many listed as my favorites on Etsy, and have bought about half of them, either when I definitely wanted to use them, or when they were offered on a sale that I just couldn't pass up. I bought a Regency era pattern that has a lot of pleated ruffling and intricate detailing (called Netherfield after an estate mentioned in Pride and Prejudice) that I haven't had the courage or patience to try -- but I "have plans" for the others I have purchased.

I also have a DVD and pattern book produced by Nancy Zieman with Joan Hinds, "30-Minute Doll Clothes." I have cut out several outfits from this pattern book, but, to date, have only sewn the bolero jacket to go with several of the ball gowns I have made.

Full Disclosure: If one counts cutting out, finishing edges, and some requisite hand stitching as part of making doll clothes, I don't believe I will ever make a dress for an eighteen inch doll in 30 minutes.

Credit and Credits

In my posts, I sometimes reference communications with Etsy shop owners, pattern-designers, and small world fashion clothiers. The women in this community are the hidden treasure I have found while launching my small world venture. They are talented, generous and supportive -- and have helped me navigate to reach my destination many times..

Hope to see you next week . . .

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