Fine fabrics for fine dolls

As I stated in an earlier post, I tried to make a chemise out of cheesecloth but with limited success — the fabric was too coarse and too thick for a chemise at this scale.

I was searching for some cotton batiste and found the Australian Needle Arts School where they sell various fabrics suited to embroidery and smocking. I ordered 0.5 metres of four different fabrics to try out (I wanted a fifth but it was out of stock). I picked up the parcel yesterday and was amazed at how light they are in comparison with quilting fabrics.

Fine pique, Swiss cotton-linen, Imperial voile, Swiss Batiste
Fine pique, Swiss cotton-linen, Imperial voile, Swiss Batiste

Left to right: Fine pique, Swiss cotton/linen blend, Imperial Voile, Swiss batiste. The other one I wanted was Imperial Batiste — if it becomes available later I’ll get some to try.

Although it’s hard to tell when the fabrics are folded like that, the variation in thickness, weight and transparency is considerable.

Comparison of weights per linear metre and per square metre:
–Swiss Batiste: 40 g/m, 137 cm wide = 29.2 g/m2
–Imperial Voile: 80 g/m, 114 cm wide = 70.2 g/m2
–Swiss cotton/linen blend: 170 g/m, 137 cm wide = 129.1 g/m2
–Fine pique: 220 g/m, 150 cm wide = 147 g/m2

Ignore the wonkiness of the M in the following pictures — I can’t find my block letters so I quickly hand-cut an M to illustrate how much light passes through each fabric.

Swiss batiste
Swiss batiste

The Swiss batiste is amazing — it’s so light it almost floats and so fine it’s almost transparent. Even though it’s very expensive ($42/m) it’s the one I’ll be using for the finest outfits for my own dolls. I think that the main problem will be trying to find a lace light enough to suit it. I may resort to doing white embroidery using silk thread to simulate needle lace … but probably only once.

Imperial Voile
Imperial Voile

The Imperial voile is much finer than the voile I’ve previously bought at fabric shops in Canberra, but a little less fine than the batiste. Given that it’s half the price of the batiste, this is the one I’ll probably buy the most of.

Swiss cotton-linen
Swiss cotton-linen
Fine pique
Fine pique

The pique and the cotton/linen blend are a little thick for a doll’s chemise but they will be great for Empire (Regency) style dresses. I want to make a gown with an heirloom band down the front (ruching, ribbons and lace) so one of them will be the guinea pig for that, and the other may get some embroidery. It’s a shame that the woven stripe doesn’t show up in the photo of the pique because it looks lovely.

I also have a couple of metres of cotton muslin I got at Spotlight a couple of weeks ago — thicker than the cotton/linen blend but finer than quilting cotton, so I’ll try that too. I also found some 3 mm cotton twill tape while I was there, so I’ll be replacing the ties for the hip pads I made last month.

Retrospective: 2010 My Father’s Quilt

Welcone to the ninth and last in my series of quilt retrospectives. I was going to post this last year but my posting schedule lapsed, and then I decided to leave it for this month as it’s the tenth anniversary of my father’s death.

My father's quilt
My father’s quilt

Length: 155 cm (61″)
Width: 140 cm (55″)
Design: original
Batting: high-loft polyester (unknown brand)
Pieced and quilted: July 2010 by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000)

My father’s health failed in mid-2009 and my brother and I alternated going up to see him and caring for him for the next year or so until it came to the point where I realised I would have to move up and look after him until he died.

He was so frail by that point that even the mild Brisbane winter was too cold for him, and he was using blankets and rugs to wrap around his legs when he was in the living room.  I decided to make him a lap quilt  — large enough to wrap around his legs, but not so large or so heavy that he couldn’t lift it himself.

Both top and backing were flannel, so that it felt warm to the touch.  I chose red for its psychological warmth, mixed with black for strength (and to give the quilt a more masculine look).  The batting was polyester, because I knew the quilt would have to stand up to frequent machine washing, and high-loft for warmth.

The quilt top went together very quickly, of course.  I machine quilted the borders but decided against quilting the centre and instead used small machine tacks (asterisk stitch) at regular intervals, which softened the contour.  The binding was attached by machine and sewn down by hand.  Because of the thick batting it never lay flat, but I didn’t mind – it was never meant to be hung on a wall or over a bed.

My father liked it and certainly appreciated the warmth.  My foresight in choosing a polyester batting was rewarded when I was able to get the quilt washed, dried and back on his lap inside two hours of a spill.  He died only three months later, but I’m glad that I was able to make something that helped him in those last few months.

Lessons learned:
1.  High-loft polyester will never lie flat.
2.  When doing machine tacks, either start and finish with a lockstitch so you can cut the threads, or make an intermediate stitch far enough away to ensure thread tails are long enough to knot and bury.


That is the end of my retrospective series: nine quilts finished before I began the blog.  There was actually a tenth quilt, a variable star design in Quilt-As-You-Go technique, which hung on my office wall for a couple of years before I gave to a co-worker who had admired it, but I never took a picture of it so there was no point making a blog entry for it.  I still have a large pile of WIPs/UFOs that date back to the early 1990s but I’ll talk about them as they become nominated for Finish-A-Long goals … if I can bestir myself to get back onto a schedule.

1770 English gown for 45 cm (18″) doll V1

English gown in indigo cotton, over a yellow petticoat.
English gown

Close-front English gown in indigo, over a lemon petticoat, with a fichu. Modelled by American Girl doll Marie-Grace (because she’s my favourite, even though her hair is definitely not right for this period).

English gown ensemble

There are many layers to this outfit:

Basic chemise
Basic chemise

1. Chemise, stockings and shoes. The stockings and shoes are from American Girl; and I made the chemise from cheesecloth entirely by hand. You can read more about making the chemise here. I found that the chemise made it almost impossible to get the bodice sleeves on, and since it was going to be completely covered by the fichu anyway I figured it wasn’t essential and removed it.

Underskirt and hip pads
Underskirt and hip pads

Hip pads back view
Hip pads back view

2. Underskirt. I made this from white cotton homespun without a pattern, mostly by machine. I wanted a wide waistband so that the gathers would be slightly lower than the gathers on the petticoat. I cut it 1½” wide but I think 2″ would have been better. I also made the skirt a bit too full, with a circumference of 91 cm / 36″ — the usual circumference for an underskirt is approximately twice the hip measurement, so it should have been closer to 60 cm / 24″.

3. Hip pads. I realised that this gown needed a little more padding over the hips so I made up a couple of pads from the same homespun and filled them with loose polyester stuffing. I joined them with ties so that they are versatile — they can be tied close together for a bum pad or separated for hip pads. The ties are polyester-cotton bias binding but they are very stiff so I’ll need to find some 100% cotton bias (or make it myself — I can see I’m going to be using a lot of it). They were also completely stitched by hand.

Fichu and petticoat
Fichu and petticoat

4. Fichu. I have about fifty old handkerchiefs, some of which came from my grandmother. Four of them are very fine white cotton lawn and are perfect for a doll’s fichu. This one has an initial embroidered in one corner but that’s tucked under the bodice, so it looks plain and very suitable for a day dress like this.

5. Petticoat. Made from the pattern, mostly by machine. To be honest I’d like this to be about ½” to 1″ longer than it is now, but it will do. I’m not sure if you can see it in the photo but it’s actually a very fine lemon and white stripe. I’m toying with the idea of adding embroidery in either white or blue along the bottom.

English gown front view
English gown front view

English gown side view
English gown side view

English gown back view
English gown back view

6. Gown. The gown is made from half a metre of an indigo quilting fabric with small floral sprays in yellow and green, and has sleeve ruffles of cream broderie anglaise. I haven’t quite decided on the fastening yet so it’s pinned together at the front for now (which is historically accurate but impractical for a doll that will be handled). It’s lined with a grey cotton voile. I didn’t add the ties inside as I don’t want to pull the skirt up en retroussée.

For complete accuracy there should be a mob cap or similar, an apron, a pair of pockets and a pair of stays, but I don’t have any lawn or gauze fine enough for the apron and cap, and since dolls can’t actually put their hands in any pockets I figure she can live without them. I thought the stays would add too much bulk but I may make a set anyway for the next time.

Gown construction

En Fourreau Gown pattern cover
En Fourreau Gown pattern cover

The pattern I used was Thimbles & Acorns 1770-01 En Fourreau Gown. The name is technically a misnomer — it’s a closed-front English gown. The term “en fourreau” has been used frequently for the English gown back (Janet Arnold uses it in her book covering the period) but the original meaning was apparently “a frock for a child” without any reference to style (Source: American Duchess Guide to Eighteenth Century Dressmaking). My Collins-Robert French-English dictionary describes fourreau in two ways: as a noun, meaning a sheath or scabbard, and as an adjective, meaning narrow or tight-fitting. The “tight-fitting” is certainly accurate, but could equally well apply to most forms of fashionable dress from 1500 onward.

The pattern is well written, but because it was my first attempt at the pleated back it did take me several read-throughs before I felt comfortable enough to start cutting. Everything went together fairly well, and most of the small errors I think are due to my lack of precision or trying to do things in the wrong order. The gown was almost entirely stitched by hand, the exception being the seam that joins the sleeve, cuff and ruffle, which was too thick. For the seams and top-stitching I used Superior Threads Kimono 100 wt silk thread which absolutely melts into the fabric, and for overcasting I used single strand DMC embroidery floss.

English gown inside view
English gown inside view

There are some things I’ll change when I make this gown again:

1. The centre back of the bodice is three to five layers deep over the pleats and it was difficult to turn the seam over once it was stitched to the bodice lining. I’d like to trim it to the seam line and cover it with bias or ribbon, but I can’t do that on the current pattern because the outermost pleat on each side involves the seam with the side back panels. Consequently, I’ll have to adjust the pattern slightly to add half an inch to each side of the centre back portion and remove same from the side backs so that all the pleats are in the centre back portion.

2. I’m not entirely happy with the way the bodice is buckling at the sides. Technically the bodice should be sitting over a pair of stays but I thought they would add too much bulk, and there would still be problems arising from the hip pads and petticoat, which sit over the stays. I may add some interfacing to the next version. The other option is to overcast the bodice/skirt seam and turn it downwards so that all the fullness is below the waist seam and not above it.

3. The armholes in the bodice lining didn’t quite match up with the armholes for the bodice — I’m not sure why. It could have been that one or the other was stretched or distorted or that the shoulder seams were slightly off-true. I may cut a slightly larger seam allowance in future and leave the curve-clipping until the last minute.

4. The cuff and ruffle make a very bulky seam at the end of the sleeve. Next time I’ll do a single layer cuff (If I add a cuff at all) and I’ll make a pair of engageantes (lace ruffles bound at the top) that can be hand-tacked to the sleeve. I may also cut the sleeves a quarter-inch shorter.

5. I managed to get the skirt pleats the wrong way around because I was working from markings on the wrong side of the fabric. It doesn’t look too bad but traditionally pleats always fold to the back so I’ll make sure I do better next time.

6. The skirt gapes very slightly at the front on each side — I thought this was another personal error until I saw someone else’s version of this gown in the Bbeauty Designs etsy store (the doll was actually modelling a wig) and saw exactly the same issue. On looking back at the pattern it’s also there on the front image. This does need a small pattern adjustment to give the front edge of the skirt a slightly steeper angle than it has now.

All in all, though, I’m very happy with the result and I’ll definitely make this gown again. In fact, I’ve already started on the next version so I can do it while all the above issues are fresh in my head.

Basic chemise / shift for a doll

I haven’t been entirely idle the last few months — I’ve started stitching together the units for my second Penrose tile quilt, and I’ve been doing dressmaking for dolls.

Basic chemise
Basic chemise

I started making an English gown for Marie-Grace and decided that I ought to make her a chemise to go under it. Since I was watching DVDs in the evenings I also decided that I would make it by hand. I haven’t sorted out my new printer yet so I wasn’t able to print out a pattern but I figured I could use her measurements and do a basic shift, which is a T-shape with added gores and small square gussets under the arms. You can see the general idea here.

Oh, how wrong I was. I mean, I finished it, but there were so many mis-steps along the way, it’s ridiculous. First and foremost: the fabric I chose was cheesecloth as it’s the thinnest and softest fabric I have. I wasn’t prepared for the stretchiness — it moves. A lot. Pins shifted very easily so most of the seams and hems were basted before I stitched them, hence it took about four times longer than I had anticipated.

I drew the pattern on parchment (which I use for all my patterns) and cut it out with scissors rather than a rotary cutter. Then I discarded the pattern and drew the rectangle directly on fabric instead. I also cut a couple more small rectangles to extend the sleeves but ended up not using them. I cut the gores and pinned them to the sides. The underarm gusset squares were cut from the neckhole and set aside.

I stitched the shoulder seams using a fine backstitch and then overcast them. That and the final hem are about the only things that were done right without any incidents.

I stitched the gores along one side and overcast them. When I went to press them and stitch the side seams together I found I’d stitched the gores to the wrong side of the fabric. I unpicked them and after looking at the shreds that remained I figured I could live without the gores if I trimmed the side seams to have a shallower angle.

I next went to stitch the gussets in place but couldn’t find them (I still can’t). Oh well, I told myself, she’s a doll, she isn’t going to be swinging her arms a lot. I stitched the side seams in place, adding a short angled portion at the underarm. I over cast the seam, snipping the corner under the arm (this also went well).

I was going to use polycotton bias around the neck but it was too much of a contrast so I went with a one-inch strip of cheesecloth doubled over instead. I stitched a small buttonhole for the ribbons and then attached it to the shift … the wrong side of the shift. The trouble with backstitch is that it’s a pain to unpick, especially when you’re using a fine silk thread. Still, I got it undone eventually and re-stitched it to the correct side. Given that it’s now six thicknesses of cheesecloth, it’s understandably a bit thicker than I wanted.

Sleeve trim
Sleeve trim

I turned over the sleeve hem once and covered it with lace trim on the wrong side, using backstitch. The stitching didn’t show much on the right side but that’s because of the coarse weave of the cheesecloth — I don’t think I could get away with it on voile or lawn, but I’ll experiment.

Hemming the bottom was tedious but uneventful. It has scalloped a little but not enough to bother me.

I bought some 3mm white ribbon and threaded it through the buttonhole and around the casing using a very small safety pin — I would never have managed with a bodkin. The pin caught in one of the shoulder seams but I was able to wiggle it through eventually. The ribbon is a bit stiff for this scale, though, and I should have taken the effort to make a cord from cotton floss.

The end result is … well, it’s acceptable, I guess, and I’m sure it’s adequate for a poor person, but it’s not a chemise that a gentlewoman would wear. I would still have used it underneath the English gown but as it turned out I couldn’t get the bodice sleeves over it so it wasn’t used in the final ensemble.

If I make another chemise I’ll try and find a very fine lawn or batiste (I do have voile but even that is a little too thick). I’ll also try using a fine lace strip as both casing and trim around the neckline in order to reduce bulk.

Lessons learned:
1. Cheesecloth isn’t really appropriate for clothing at any scale.
2. If you have small pattern pieces, put them in a bag or container so you don’t lose them.
3. Make sure you attach pieces to the correct side of the fabric. If in doubt, baste and check before backstitching and overcasting (why do I still have to remind myself of this after fifty years of sewing?).
4. Stitch down any seams that will be inside a casing.
5. Use cotton embroidery floss (plaited or twisted) as cording rather than ribbon.

Pre-dyed cotton may be the way of the future

We all know that cottom is one of the best and most comfortable fibres in the world for clothing and, of course, for quilts. However, we also know that dyeing it is much more difficult than dyeing silk or wool, and requires some very harsh and toxic chemicals that contribute to the world’s pollution problem.

CSIRO in Canberra has been experimenting with genetic engineering to produce cotton fibres that are coloured rather than white. They have had some success in petrie dishes but the first crop is yet to be harvested so we won’t know if it’s a success for some months. (I also suspect that this is one of the crops that was destroyed by the hailstorm in January, so everything may have been put back by a year or so.) Once they have mastered that, they are going to work on wrinkle-free and elastic fibres which will reduce our dependence on nylon, rubber and polyester, all of which take a long time to break down in landfill.

The story is currently on the ABC News website.

I know some people don’t like genetic engineering, but it’s just a tool — a very powerful tool, yes, but just a tool. Like any other tool it can be wielded for good or for evil. If it can reduce the hazards that dyeing poses to both people and the environment then it’s being used for good.

1770s sacque dress

Pearl in 1770s sacque
Pearl in 1770s sacque

I found the missing stomacher so here is a picture of Pearl (Our Generation doll) in the finished dress with buttons and a new petticoat. The old cream petticoat is underneath. It think it drapes much better now, but the added thickness around the waist has pushed the bodice up a little. I may have to modify future under-petticoats so that they are shorter and can tie around the hips rather than the waist.

Even with the pushed-up bodice, it still looks much better than the original finish:

1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Pearl (Our Generation) front view
1770 Sacque dress version 1

I’m still working on the 1850s day dress. I’ve had awful problems with the sleeves and trimmings, which I’ll discuss when I eventually get it finished.

I’m also working on some masks, using various patterns and seeing which modifications add value and which are not worth the effort. I am going to have to get more 100% cotton thread — I usually use 100% polyester, which is fine for most things but can’t be sterilised at 165°C as cotton can.

Do you ever look back …

Do you ever look back at something you did and ask yourself “What the hell was I thinking?”

That’s how I feel about the last six months.

In September 2019 I suddenly had a whim to start making doll’s clothes again. They were among the first things I ever sewed, way back when I was small, but I hadn’t made anything for about thirty years. It’s also something I wanted to practise so that by the time I move to Tasmania with my cousins we could have an occasional handcrafts stall with doll clothes as one of the items (along with the usual decorated towels, napkins, aprons, tea cosies etc etc).

The dolls I had made clothes for all those years ago were the ones I had had since childhood: Sandra and Julie.

Little Beauty doll - Sandra
Little Beauty doll – Sandra

Sandra is a Little Beauty doll that my parents gave to me for Christmas when I was seven. I always thought she was 45 cm (18″) but she’s actually 42 cm (16½”) and very slim, with a slightly shaped waist. She has a hard vinyl body and legs, and slightly softer head and arms. Her hair is rooted and, as you can see, is in a typical 1960s style. No matter how many other dolls I acquire, she will always be my favourite. And yes, she does need a bit of a clean-up but she’s in very good condition for her age.

Julie - unknown brand
Julie – unknown brand

A few years later my grandmother gave me Julie, a 22″ doll, which she had obtained from a neighbour of hers whose daughter had grown up. Julie came with a set of homemade knitted clothes that were probably done by the neighbour. I don’t know what brand she is — I’ve seen similar dolls from time to time but never found one exactly the same, and I doubt she’s a bona fide collectible. Superficially she looks like a German porcelain or bisque doll, but she was made in England and feels more like Bakelite (a precursor to plastic, used extensively for telephones, appliances and toys in the early to mid-20th century). She used to say “mama” when she lay down but the voice box stopped working a long time ago and may have broken off as there is definitely something loose inside her body. Her hair is wigged rather than rooted, and is quite sparse and very coarse. When I got her, around 1973, she came with a feather cut which I didn’t like so I cut it shorter (if you don’t know what a feather cut is, it’s like a mullet for girls only more layered). She used to have teeth, but they’ve gone, too, and she has a crack in one hip. One of these days I’m going to take her up to the Doll Hospital in Sydney and see if they can restore her a little bit.

Given that today’s “standard” doll is 18″ / 45 cm, I knew that neither of them would do as a model, so I looked at several 18″ dolls on the market today. At first I was very sensible: I bought one each of the dolls that are available in local shops: Positively Perfect, My Sweet Friend, Design-A-Friend, Our Generation and Soy Tu. Of these, only the Soy Tu by Paola Reina was more than $40 — she was $125 (and, as it turns out, she’s only 42 cm in height so instead of being a clothes-for-sale model she’ll stay home as a sister for Sandra). I decided not to buy an Australian Girl or Florrie doll as they were $150 each plus shipping and I thought that was far too much to spend on a doll.

I had heard of American Girl dolls, of course, but I knew they were also expensive and not sold in Australia so at first I didn’t even think about buying one new. After watching some YouTube videos on washing doll hair and bodies, I found that there was a thriving second-hand market on ebay and, after a couple of weeks’ browsing to get a feel for the conditions and prices, I found a Truly Me #22 in reasonable condition with an opening bid of USD 16.

While waiting for the auction to end (six days; I eventually won her at USD 22.50), I kept on browsing and discovered Marie-Grace. Although she wasn’t new she was in pretty good condition, with her braids intact and dressed in her meet outfit and accessories, so I bought her for USD 85 (with postage and import duty it came to AUD202).

Then I saw a #25 and thought, “She will make a wonderful contrast to the #22 — like Snow White and Rose Red”. So I bought her as well. And then there was a Samantha …

This is where the madness starts. I have no way to explain it other than “I went into a shopping frenzy”. I found more dolls available on ebay and Amazon so I bought more dolls … lots more dolls. I’ve always been an archivist / completist, so it was easy to justify getting one each of all the available 18″ dolls (Journey Girls, Kindred Hearts, Sophia’s, etc etc). Within the American Girl range that compulsion extended to one of each mould, and then one of each skintone in each mould, then all the historical dolls. Over the next four months I bought 63 more American Girl dolls and 18 more non-AG dolls, including the previously too-expensive Australian Girl and Florrie. I spent about $6000. I didn’t bankrupt myself or go into credit card debt (thank goodness) but I definitely spent far more on shipping and import duties than I want to think about.

I have 90 dolls now.

Ninety dolls.

Seriously, what the hell was I thinking?

I don’t need ninety dolls. Of course I don’t.

Over the next year or two I’ll work on reselling some of the dolls and the outifts that came with them. Some dolls need hair washing and skin cleaning; some clothing needs repair. Given the current quarantine I’ll wait until much later in the year to start putting them up for sale (not that anyone will have much money for buying by then). A few may go to Christmas charity drives if non-new items are acceptable, though I suspect not. I’m not going to try to make a profit, far from it, but recouping even a quarter of the outlay would be great.

Retrospective: 2005 Cuddle Quilt

Welcome to the eighth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.

2005 Cuddle Quilt
2005 Cuddle Quilt

Size: 80″ square
Design: traditional
Fabric: cotton flannel
Batting: 100% wool
Backing: cotton flannel
Pieced and quilted by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) July 2005

In July 2005 I wanted a quilt to wrap around myself when watching TV or reading. I was back in Canberra full-time by then and the cold winters required warm covers. While I had several quilts in the cupboard, they were all fairly smooth cottons, which feels cold to the touch, and they didn’t drape well. I decided I was going to make a quilt out of flannel instead (technically it’s flannelette, flannel being a wool fabric, but the term cotton flannel is used more and more these days).

The choice of patterns in flannel is much more limited than in quilting cottons, but I found six that coordinated reasonably well in pink, purple and turquoise (even if the patterns themselves were nauseatingly cutesy) with a plain pink flannel to use as sashing. I cut out 8″ squares, put sashing around them and assembled the top. I chose wool batting for its warmth, and used another flannel print as the backing. It was machine-quilted around the sashing, leaving the squares themselves open and fluffy. All told it was finished in a week.

Even though it is not a beautiful quilt by any means, it’s the one I’ve used the most since it was made. It sits on the sofa and gets pulled around me any time I get cold — it’s soft, it drapes well and it’s very warm. I’m not afraid to pull it or twist it, or to eat or drank near it. It will probably wear out fastest (some of the fabrics are of a loose weave and now, 15 years later, are pilling badly and pulling at the seams), but I can always make another one.

Lessons learned:
1. It’s a good idea to build a small flannel stash because good quality and decent patterns may not be available when you want them.
2. Pre-washing flannel at high temperature to shrink it would be a good idea to combat the loose weave.
3. Flannel cotton + wool batting is heaven.

January Achievements and February Goals

It’s been a weird month — I’m in Canberra, so fire and smoke has been prominent in my life and to be honest, it’s hard to be creative when you’re checking the ACT Emergency Services website several times a day and sorting all the food and water stores for the umpteenth time. I think I’ve had the balcony door open all of four times since the New Year, and both I and the cats are getting increasingly fractious.

As a consequence, I didn’t accomplish much in January — I put buttons on the sacque dress and made a new petticoat for it, but now I can’t find the stomacher, so no photos. (I’m sure it will turn up eventually — things usually do, like the three costume books I couldn’t find for six months which I found two days ago hiding under a pile of other books.)

Regency slip front view

Regency slip side view

Regency dress front view

Regency dress side view

I also made a slip for the Regency style dress I made last year — you can see it above, modelled by Julie from American Girl. I made my own pattern for it and I didn’t allow quite enough room at the sides to get it over the arms of the doll — I was hoping to get away without a centre back opening, but I think the only way I can manage that is to make the fastening at the shoulders, and that will be tricky to do without altering the fit of the dress itself. I’ll have to think about it some more and try a couple more experiments. It’s also a bit too long for a quarter-inch hem, but that’s an easy fix.

Alternatively, I could add a skirt lining to the dress (the bodice is already lined so it wouldn’t be too hard).

For this month’s goal I’m going to make another doll dress, this time from the 19th century:

Thimbles & Acorns 1850 day dress pattern

The pattern is by Shari Fuller of Thimbles & Acorns, which I bought through Pixie Faire.

I have the perfect fabric for it — a diagonal plaid print that I bought a couple of years ago, with the intention of using it for laundry bag linings, but it will suit the pattern very well.

Grey plaid fabric

As always, I will make some alterations — there will be no pleating of the sleeves, for a start (in real life this was done only as an economy measure when puffed sleeves fell out of fashion but the dress was otherwise serviceable and the cost of replacing it too high). I’m keen to try the ruffling/pleating attachment on my Singer 99K — I’m not sure if I can do that in both directions or if it will mean all the pleats going around the skirt in one direction, but we’ll see. As for the trim, I’m not sure whether to use a black/grey or to find a bright contrast like green or red.

I’m also preparing a series of posts on my new doll acquisitions — this was supposed to have been done last October but I kept adding dolls to the collection. The last few are on their way now and I should be able to start posting later this month.

2019 Finish-A-Long Q4 finish

As usual, I am linking up through Sandra of Sew Of Course.

Well, after last quarter’s dismal failure I am pleased to say that I’ve completed this quarter’s project. In October I nominated this 1770s sacque gown as adpated for an 18″ doll from Thimbles and Acorns:

Doll sacque pattern
Doll sacque pattern

Here’s my finished version, as modelled by Caroline from American Girl:

1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Caroline (American Girl) front view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Caroline (American Girl) front view

1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Caroline (American Girl) side view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Caroline (American Girl) side view

I actually made two versions of this pattern, and I’ll probably make a few more before I’m happy with it.

The first version was done in cheap cotton homespun, just to see how the pattern came together without any adjustments or alterations. It wasn’t as difficult as I had expected, except for the sleeves (part of which was my own fault because I read “cuffs” as “ruffles”). Once I got my head around the back pleats they were easy to do; the side pleats were a little harder.

1770 sacque trial version modelled by Addy (American Girl)
1770 sacque trial version modelled by Addy (American Girl)

1770 sacque trial version modelled by Felicity (American Girl)
1770 sacque trial version modelled by Felicity (American Girl)

There were several issues with the test garment (ignore the petticoat length, that was me being ridiculously stupid).

1. One thing I wasn’t actually prepared for was that this pattern isn’t fitted as loosely as the commercial doll patterns (Butterick / McCalls / Simplicity). Even with the modifications this dress is too tight for my very early Pleasant Company dolls (Addy is the largest I have). It may not even fit early Mattel dolls, but anything after 2011-ish should be OK.

2. Even on a later AG doll (Felicity is from 2013 and is my thinnest AG doll) the front edges didn’t drape properly — this may be a function of the variation that is inevitable in soft-body dolls, but it’s still annoying.

3. The pattern included pockets and pocket slits — they may be authentic but with dolls they are also useless.

For my second version I made several changes.

I wasn’t all that happy with how the test gown draped at the front so I made a couple of minor changes to the armscye (I added 1/8″ to the back just behind the side seam and 1/8″ to the front at the shoulder) and the front edge (added 1/4″ to the front edge; reduced the angle of the seam at the yoke) and it fits better now.

I altered the back pleats so that there was one central box pleat and then three knife pleats on each side. It looks OK but I think I’ll fiddle around with it some more — maybe two box pleats either side.

1770 sacque dress 1 waist detail
1770 sacque dress 1 waist detail

I also replaced the box pleats at the waist with gathers. This wasn’t very successful, as you can see, because the gathers went right up to the bodice side seam. If I do gathers again (and I probably will). I’ll sew a straight seam out about half an inch and then gather to the edge – the gathers are only needed to allow the skirt to curve over the extended hip.

I made the stomacher a little narrower — the original version was too wide and looked out of proportion with the dress. I embroidered the front with a decorative stitch on my Janome 9400 — unfortunately I didn’t align the starting points as precisely as I had hoped, so that is something to work on in future. It’s pinned in these photos because I want to fasten it with 5 pearl buttons and thread loops on each side, and I only have 6 buttons. I could use hooks and eyes, but in my experience they never fit as well as you think they will, especially at this scale.

I wasn’t happy with the sleeve length on Caroline, so I tried the dress on two other dolls that have longer arms: Pearl from Our Generation and Galina (unnamed ballet doll) from My Sweet Friend.

1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Pearl (Our Generation) front view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Pearl (Our Generation) front view

1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Pearl (Our Generation) side view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Pearl (Our Generation) side view

I really liked the sleeve length on Pearl but the button on the back (to control the hair extensions) made the dress drape really badly so when I make a sacque for her I’ll put an opening in the back of the bodice lining so that the button is between the lining and the outer back.

1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Galina (My Sweet Friend) front view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Galina (My Sweet Friend) front view

1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Galina (My Sweet Friend) side view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Galina (My Sweet Friend) side view

Unfortunately Galina’s torso is a fair bit slimmer than any American Girl doll, so the extra centimetre in her arm length was counteracted by the looseness of the bodice – you can see it bulging outward under the arms.

Overall, though, I am fairly happy with this project.

Things I will change for future versions:
— the sleeves themselves are a little too long for AG dolls — by the time the ruffle is added the sleeves reach to the wrists, which is a little long. Next time I make this I’ll take out about 1 cm from the sleeve. I’m also going to reduce the sleeve cap a little (just a little) so that it’s eased in rather than gathered in.
— I really need to consider handstitching the sleeves to the bodice. Between the tight curves and the gathers it’s extremely difficult to sew an accurate seam on the machine, and that doesn’t help with the fitting issues.
— It may be worthwhile to make two stomachers (one narrow, one wide) to allow the dress to fit more than one doll.
— I also want to make a hoop skirt to go under this gown. It’s always a mistake to make a dress without making the relevant underwear and I should have remembered that.

Lessons learned:
1. Doll dresses need fitting and tweaking just as much as human dresses do.
2. Doll seam allowances are not at all forgiving. Be better!
3. Period dresses need period underpinnings.
4. I need to practice decorative stitches more so that I can align them more precisely.