Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Tipster 2

Between fashion month and the new jackets you just learned to make, one can say, we've had a hectic couple of months! Now is a perfect time to stop and take it all in. While you're doing that, we'd like to offer a few tips to help you along your path as doll fashion designer.

1. Embellishing the Truth 
Even if you've been sewing a long time like me, making doll clothes has its own set of unexpected challenges. You followed all of the instructions. Took perfect measurements but for some unexplained reason....something went wrong that you did not discover until AFTER you stitched up the garment. The neckline doesn't lay right. (The muslin was so perfect.) The seam is pulling away. (And yet you took the time to baste.) You tried to take it apart, then OMG, there's a hole. Wait! Don't throw it in the trash! Treat it as a learning experience then save the garment with embellishments. Add bits of lace, beads, trim or appliques to the troubled spot!

Case in point....I was not happy with the jacket neckline in the photo at the top of this post. The center front points did not line up. So I added lace trim. Once you've covered the error, don't stop there. Make a statement. I then continued to add lace to the cuffs and hem of the jacket then onto the matching skirt. I ended up with a much more dynamic suit than I originally had planned. Ditto for the jacket with the mandarin collar. The proportion of the collar was a bit too large for the doll, so I added beads to the collar and continued down the front of the jacket with "stickers" (found in the scrapbooking section of the craft store).

2. Sew or Glue?
When it comes to hems, armhole openings, this is a personal decision based on a variety of criteria. Personally, I feel the worse thing for doll clothes is bulk. I want the finish to be as "clean" as possible which is why I tend to turn down edges and hems then glue in place. The exception is, of course, fine fabrics. If the glue changes the texture of the fabric or shows through, you must hand stitch. Fabric glue sticks are even better than the paste that comes in tubes because they're cleaner. Normally used for basting, the glue sticks are not as strong as the tube variety and you will need to apply heat. However, when used in conjunction with an iron, it yields an impeccable finish.
3. Velcro or Snaps or Hooks & Eyes?
We live in an H&M society of mass produced clothes. Your doll is no different . Velcro is quick and easy, however there are times when you may desire a more professional finish. Like when the garment you make is to offered as a gift or for sale or...when your doll puts her plastic foot down and demands a couture finish for special items in her wardrobe! Fabric dictates what you use. You cannot use Velcro on sheers, and it won't adhere to thick, fuzzy or napped fabrics. Often people use snaps, but they generally add bulk. Hook & eyes tend to be found on many upscale doll clothes because they are discreet and they keep the garment close to the body. Use the tiniest ones you can find. For the suit below, I've used metal eyes. Advanced sewers should consider making crochet eyes for a more professional look. Whenever you do use Velcro, here's a tip: use a textile marker to color it so that it matches the color of the garment!
Hook & Eyes hold the garment close to the body and remain discreet.

4. Hand Sewn or Machine Stitched Garments?
Some of you may not have a sewing machine and that's okay, too. Did you know that for many years, haute couture garments were sewn entirely by hand! A hundred years ago, hand sewing was considered a more reliable, "quality" way to put together a garment more so than with that which was assembled using that newfangled invention: the sewing machine! Of course today, machine stitching is faster and yields a strong stitch. But there are times when I hand sew parts of a garment I find difficult to sleeves or collars for example. The strongest hand stitch is the backstitch. This stitch is as firm as machine stitching. Similar to the running stitch, take one small stitch at a time, always beginning just inside the end of the proceeding stitch. Here's a demonstration by tailor, Sten Martin Jonsson. For the doll, keep your stitches less than 8 per inch. Use your fingernail to help guide you. Mark the seam allowance in advance to keep your stitches straight, if necessary.

Do I ever use glue to assemble a whole garment? Only when I'm making something out of leather which is too thick to sew. We'll show you how that works in an upcoming post.

5. Sewing in Sleeves
Okay, by now you know to sew in sleeves while the garment is only joined at the shoulders and still flat. If you missed that basic tutorial, you'll find it here. Be sure to hem your sleeve FIRST. Make a running stitch along the cap of the sleeve and gather as instructed. But before you pin it to the bodice, press those gathers first, then pin. This will help to shape the sleeve and it will make it easier to adjust the fullness. Be sure to hem your sleeve before you stitch it up and be sure you pin it right side to right side of the bodice. (The wrong side will be facing you.) I can't tell you how many times I still make that mistake!
Draw up the running stitch and press before setting the sleeve into the armhole.

One last tip: make sure your sleeve cap is not too small for your bodice armhole. If necessary, make a muslin (toile). Pin the sleeve to the bodice. Slice the sleeve vertically down the middle from the cap to just beneath the armhole. Tape in fabric. Re-mark where the sleeve meets the bodice. Remove and make your pattern.

6. Waist Not
I've purposely left out waistbands in my drafts of skirts and trousers. Again, the reason is due to my wanting to avoid bulk. You can either choose to turn down the waist edge and sew or glue (which is what Mattel does). Or, you can add a waistband. In the images below, Adriana on the far right is wearing a skirt with a waistband cut from the fabric. It's quite thick. The problem is due to the number of layers involve. You stitch the waistband to the waist. Fold it over, then fold under the waistband on the inside of the skirt! If your fabric is thin enough, it's okay. Assuming this is a garment where the waistband won't show, a better solution would be to use ribbon. I used a 1/2-inch ribbon for the black  pants (left) which is folded in half and stitched down. A 1/4-inch bias tape is sewn directly to the waistband of the yellow skirt. The skirt remains close to the body underneath the camisole normally worn with it.
Waistbands using (l) ribbon, (c) bias tape, and (r) fabric.

7. Lining vs Facing vs Rolled Edge
This is a personal choice. Once again, I cannot emphasize the importance of eliminating bulk. Most of the time, I simply turn the edges and glue or hand stitch down. However when it comes to coats and jackets, especially those with collars that fold outwards, you will need to either face or line the garment. If you choose to line the garment, use a lightweight cotton or silk. Personally, I don't line the sleeves. Instead, I hand stitch the lining to the armhole seam. Apply a fray guard to keep the armholes from unraveling. Facing the jacket is a viable and simpler option. You can finish the outer edge of the facing with pinking shears or by sewing a tiny bit of lace edging.
For lining, cut jacket pattern in lightweight fabric and stitch all around.

You can pink or add lace to the edges of the facing. Also, a single snap holds the jacket shut.
The edges were rolled over and glued in place and pressed. Thin Velcro holds the jacket shut.

8. Check Seams That Meet
After drafting your pattern, lay it back to front to check that the side seams, shoulder seams and any other points where the pattern is joined, are of the same length. If you have a curved silhouette (as in the case of our shaped jacket), make sure the curve is the same from front to back. If not, adjust so that the curve is the same.

9. Easy Buttons
Even in New York City, I could not find notions that were 1/6 scale (the size of Barbie & friends). For that you will need to order from specialized online vendors such as Doll Artist's Workshop. Another solution is to hit the crafts stores and check out the scrapbooking aisles. Here's where I found sheets of "stickers" with tiny adhesive pearls, rhinestones, "beading" that can be used to create the illusion of buttons or beaded embroidery. Consider using tiny "seed" beads or even bead crowns as well for fancy buttons. I also found something called "brads" (attaches parisiennes). These make for generic, everyday buttons that you can paint, glitter or embellish. It's also a "no-sew" option. Simple push through the fabric and spread the stems on the underside.
Craft stores offer a multitude of items that can be used as buttons

Brads can be painted or decorated to match the garment.

10. Press On
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of pressing your seams. It makes all the difference in the fit and finish of the garment. I use my regular iron for pressing fabric. But for my tiny doll clothes, I will tell you frankly, I love working with my (Dritz) mini-iron! ( can find it on

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1 comment:

  1. A very informative post, as usual.

    I used to think that when I used glue, it was cheating and that my sewing errors were the end of the world.

    Thanks for sharing.


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