Tips on Sewing for 18″ Dolls
I’ve been in the designing mode for the past week and some of my “rules” are poking me, as I try out some new styles. I thought I would share some of the ideas I keep in mind when I am designing.
Anytime you sew something, you are designing. You may not be drafting a pattern. You may not even be making any structural changes to the garment. But make no mistake, you are designing. You are making choice after choice on how and what you are going to do when sewing something up. The choices you make along the way, such as fabrics and trims, give it a specific look or design. Using a pattern, you are ultimately creating a unique design with it.
Here are some things I keep in mind when I am sewing and designing for 18 inch dolls.
Small Scale Everything
Scale is probably the single most important element to making good-looking doll clothes. Everything should be scaled down, so the outfit or accessory looks like it fits. From the embellishments to the fabric, everything should be scaled down and in a uniform way. If you don’t pay attention to scale, your creations may start looking strange or odd–or worse, bordering on clown-wear.
Think about it in terms of proportions. If a child is 54″ tall (average 10 year according to some clothing websites) and the AG dolls are 18 ” tall , then we have a 3:1 ratio. That means everything dolly should be about 1/3 the size of human stuff.
Fabrics should have small pictures on them (small scale print) Medium scaled prints may work, but remember the front of a bodice, shirt, or skirt will be about 5-6 inches total on fitted clothing. I will sometimes cut a 5 or 6 inch square of a fabric and place it on the doll to see what a swatch will look like all by itself.
The pink and navy plaid is too large, even if you want a large scale print fabric for a doll dress.You would only get 3 vertical stripes if that and that won’t look very stylish. A medium scale print would make for a large scale in a dolly world. The one in the middle may work as a dolly large print skirt or dress. The micro checked print on the right would look super for dolly duds–and it’s a seersucker, so it will mimic real people clothes and drape well.
Trims: I almost never use anything bigger than 1/2 inch. Test them out before you sew them on, by putting it up to the doll. If the lace covers the length of her forearm or from the knee to ankle–it’s too wide and will look off. You wouldn’t put that size lace on a child’s hem or sleeve–am I right? A 1-inch wide lace on an 18″ doll garment is like using a 3 inch wide lace on a little girl’s dress. 1 1/2 inch lace on a doll is like a 4 1/2 inch wide lace on a child.
This goes for elastic, too. Don’t make huge waistband casings, so you can use the 1 inch elastic you have on hand–it will look similar to a 3 inch waistband on an 8 year old.
Make sure it’s the look you’re going for. Search for tiny trims and petite laces. I look for 1/4 inch and 3/8″ trims, so I can have plenty in my stash for designing extra little details. They will make your doll clothes look very polished.
Buttons are a big one for me. They make really tiny buttons–use them! They will make your doll clothes look like a miniature masterpiece! In terms of ratio and proportions: if the button that you use for a girls dress shirt is 1/2 inch diameter, then you should not use the same size for your doll’s dress shirt. You should use a button that is about 1/3 the size of the 1/2 inch button. (which is really tiny! For this reason, you will not see me sewing for a Barbie or Blythe doll)
Tip: keeping the button where you want it when you first start sewing it on is tricky. Use a small piece of wonder tape to hold in place instead of your fingers.
Stitches and Details
All the details should be consistent with the scale. Such as: Pleats on a dolly garment should be 1/3 the size of the pleats on a child’s garment. Same goes for cuffs, casings [or as close to as possible], and ruffles.
This one’s not as big of a deal, but worth mentioning…top stitching detail should be done with a short stitch length. You wouldn’t use a stitch length of 10.5 on a dress for your granddaughter or niece, right? If you use a 3.5 stitch length to top stitch a dress for your 18 inch doll, that’s kind of what you’re doing. [Do machines even go that high? ]
I use a 2.5 most of the time for stitch length on top stitching doll clothes, and 3 stitch length occasionally when the area is bulkier. You can’t really do too much smaller than that, since top stitching usually means you are sewing through multiple layers.
Natural fibers and content
Natural fibers usually drape better on small articles. Check for how the fabric will hang. Avoid fabrics that are stiff , thick, or bulky. They won’t drape well and may cause your seams to be too bulky. I like light-weight quality quilting cottons from a quilt shop. Art Gallery Fabrics and Dear Stella Fabrics work really well for doll clothes–both also make a lot of nice small scale, all over prints. Look for apparel fabrics, cotton, linen, chambray, light weight corduroy, shirting, and drapy special occasion fabrics like silk.
It’s also better to use natural trims, such as cotton lace.
That Pesky 1/4″ Seam Allowance
[so important that it gets its own section] Quilters will tell you. If you are even the slightest bit off your 1/4″ inch seam allowance, your whole quilt can be thrown off. Sewing doll clothes isn’t as bad. What I do see a lot of of is not staying consistent and not sewing an accurate 1/4″.
The first one is common with kids. They start out great, but then merge onto a larger or smaller seam allowance–especially when sewing curves. The other problem I’ve seen is not finding your 1/4″ allowance on your machine and finding out after the fact that the machine is off. Here are some solutions and tips to help with that.
Tools are very helpful and can make our sewing experience easier. Check your machine for needle position. Some machines get off centered over time. Sew what you think to be a 1/4″ seam and measure it.
Change your foot
Use a 1/4″ peicing foot. The presser foot helps keep the fabric moving and keeps it steady and in place as you sew. Most presser feet for regular sewing is wider than you want. Trying to sew with the edge of the fabric in the middle of the presser foot is tricky and can cause the fabric to shift or be shoved into the needle hole. Using a piecing foot stops that from happening.
Move the needle
If you don’t have a piecing foot or you are doing a narrow zigzag stitch for your seam (like when you sew knits), move the needle over, so it is set at 1/4″ from the edge of the presser foot you are using. Perkins has a handy tool to help you find your needle position. Cool, huh?
It’s always good to be with help
Once you have it set, add some visual to help you stay on track. Seam allowance guides are great for beginners and kids. We use them in class all the time. We also use bright colored sticky tape, like narrow painter’s tape or electric tape.
Those strips and tape won’t help with tight curves though. You can mark your stitching line and sew right on the drawn line. Use a fabric marker so your marks won’t be permanent. And remember to sew slowly, with a short stitch length.
Tip: Sometimes it’s hard to get started when there’s not much to hold on to. After you put the fabric under the presser foot, lower the needle by turning the hand wheel, then hold the threads in back of the presser foot taught. As you begin sewing, keep a hold of the threads and gently pull the thread to help you get going. Don’t pull it necessarily, just help the feed dogs move the fabric as they should. This helps to prevent the fabric from being shoved into the hole in the throat plate where the needle goes in.
Sew it by hand
One of the easiest way to control your sewing is to sew it by hand. Necklines and collars are tricky on doll clothes, because they are so darn small. [ about 1/3 the size] I will sometimes hand sew some basting stitches (long straight stitches) before I sew with the machine to make it go a little more smoothly on an intricate design.
Tip: everything is so tiny. Inset sleeves, even when working in the flat, can be a challenge. I sometimes will use wonder tape to hold stuff together–either instead of pins or along with pins. I’m a big fan of wonder tape. [It’s so wonderful!]
To finish or not?
Most doll clothing companies do not finish the seam allowances of the doll clothes they produce and sell. This is probably not because they are lazy [or is it?]. It may be because it’s hard to serge curves on such small pieces and curves. It could be because the added bulk. Doll clothes don’t get washed as frequently [or ever in some cases], so there is less need to finish the seam allowances.
But more importantly: for the same reason you won’t want to use overly bulky, thick fabrics, you may want to leave the seam allowances unfinished. It’s a personal choice. Finishing the edges adds bulk at all the seams you finish.
What to do? There’s no right or wrong here–it’s your project, therefore it’s your choice. You could pink the edges with pinking shears [very carefully]. A zigzag stitch works well, too. If you do serge the seam allowance, be sure to use a 3 thread overlock and don’t use too short of a stitch length. These things will reduce the excess bulk 9extra threads). When I sell doll clothes, I do finish the edges. I use a 3-step zigzag stitch [i like the way it looks]. If the project doesn’t have any exposed curved seam allowances, I may 3-thread, narrow overlock the seam allowances. It seems to be expected nowadays for handmade to have finished edges.
Don’t forget pressing is just as important when sewing doll clothes [when sewing anything really]. When sewing doll stuff, it gets tricky. Using a tailor’s ham can be helpful. If you sew a lot of doll clothes, then you may want to purchase a mini iron. It’s able to get into small areas more easily.
Finger pressing is something to utilize when making doll clothes. Finger press those small areas first, then hit them with the iron. Sometimes all I need to do is finger press a crease on a tiny curve and sew.
Balance in all things
A key element to having a stylish doll garment is balance. You want doll clothes to mimic real people clothes as much as you can. Mini-me clothes. Don’t over do just because she’s a doll. Too big, too much and the doll will get lost in the outfit. Doll clothes should highlight the doll, not the other way around.
For more help with sewing for dolls, knots, or other questions about sewing with my patterns, join our Avery Lane Pattern Sewing facebook group here
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