Tips for the Beginner

So you’ve decided to try to sew doll clothes, and not just any doll clothes, but clothes for 1/6 scale and smaller dolls!

Perhaps you’ve already been to the fabric store and the nice lady cutting fabric off of bolts for you asked you what you were making. And you told her. And you saw the look of dread flash over her face. There’s a reason for that.  It’s fiddly, small work.  1/2″ or even 1/4″ can be the difference between too baggy and too tight.  It requires you to be a lot more exact than most sewing projects.

But do not despair!  Here are some of the AWESOME things about sewing for dolls:

  1. They don’t take nearly as long to make as ‘real’ clothes.
  2. Patterns rarely use more than 1/4 yard, so even the most expensive fabric is still really cheap!
  3. You never have to worry about fabric care, laundering, or shrinkage!
  4. Hand sewing a sleeve only takes ten minutes for a doll!
  5. You can try out new things without having to worry about wasting fabric or time.
  6. Adorable!

The thing to remember with doll clothes is that although they look like clothes, and to some extent they function like clothes, they really aren’t clothes and the same rules don’t apply.  For example, lining, something that makes human clothing wear much better, makes doll clothes look worse.  Same goes for layering outfit pieces: anything beyond two thin layers of cloth starts to make a doll look tubular.

So what’s the most important thing when sewing doll clothes?  The fabric!  Whenever possible, pick out your fabric in person.  It’s important to be able to see it, squish it in your hands and rub it between your fingers.  Doll fabric has to be:

  • THIN.  The smaller the doll, the thinner the fabric.  Anything thicker than a millimeter is probably too thick.
  • Flexible.  Seamstresses refer to how fabric ‘drapes.’  Lovely high quality satin that drapes well on a person drapes horribly on a doll.  Gather the fabric you are considering between your fingers.  If it sticks out instead of falling away, it probably won’t work for anything but a tutu.  Floppier is better.
  • To scale.  With a print, obviously you want a small print, but the weave of a fabric is important too.  A pair of socks cut up and sewn into a doll’s sweater looks just about right, but a cut up human sweater, even a thin one, looks ridiculous.

Different fabrics also suit different purposes.  Any close-fitted clothing that requires a lot of flexibility is probably best suited by something with a 2-way or 4-way stretch (if you take a fabric in your hands and it stretches in one direction but not another, it is a 2-way stretch.  If it stretches in any direction you tug it, it is a 4-way stretch).  For clothing that needs to retain its shape (puffy sleeves, gathered skirts) a non-stretch fabric works best.  Some kinds of clothing, like pants, can be done with either type, but usually a pattern will only work for one type of fabric.

Seam allowance is important, too.  I use a 1/8″ seam allowance on my patterns because even if I didn’t sew this allowance in initially, I would be trimming down to this allowance because in doll clothes any seam adds bulk and can restrict movement.  1/8″ is about as small as you can get without most fabrics fraying, and using a bit of fray-stay/fray-block will take care of the ones that do.

And finally… stitching.  You can get by with a basic straight stitch (the ‘ole in-0ut stitch that you probably know how to do even if you’ve never sewn in your life!) but you only need to know two more to do just about any kind of doll clothing you’ll come across: A zig-zag stitch (/\/\/\/\/\) is very good in the direction of a stretch that still needs to stretch after it is sewn.  An invisible stitch will let you sew things that can’t be turned without tearing (I often use an invisible stitch on Monster High girls’ sleeves, for example).

That’s pretty much all you need to know to get started sewing doll clothes!