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.)
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:
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.
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.
Here’s my finished version, as modelled by Caroline from American Girl:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, after having failed miserably on my Q3 project (I still haven’t finished the FMQ) my only hope of achieving anything in Q4 is to choose a small project. I’m branching out from quilting and trying my hand at doll dressmaking. I’ve already done one Regency-style dress from a Carpatina pattern (more on that in another post) so now I’m being a little more adventurous and I’m nominating this 1770s sacque gown from Thimbles and Acorns (disregard the mistake on the cover – it’s actually “pet en l’air”):
I’ve always loved the look of the sacque-back gown (and its jacket equivalent, the caraco) but I could never work out how to put it together. Luckily this pattern is fairly detailed.
Even better, after buying the doll pattern I found that American Duchess has a a sacque pattern available through Simplicity (8758 for the dress and 8759 for the relevant corset and panniers) which also has very clear instructions. After having read both patterns carefully I’m now much more confident in how to achieve the final dress.
On the downside, I am constitutionally incapable of following any pattern to the letter, whether it be quilting or dressmaking. I don’t know why, but I have to alter something — the colour scheme or the size or the setting or the fabrics or the trimmings, or some other small detail. Usually it works out all right but there have been one or two mishaps along the way.
In this case, I’m ditching the fabric ruffles — I know they were wildly popular at the time, but I’ve never been a fan of this particular detail and there are several examples (in both paintings and surviving costumes) where the dress is decorated by lace or embroidery instead. I’ll use lace this time and see how it turns out. I may try machine embroidery (or even hand embroidery) in the future. I’m also thinking about the sleeves and cuffs — the pattern wants me to line the sleeves and use doubled-over fabric for the cuff which will be very stiff so I may cut that back to single layers.
The pattern really needs silk but for this first effort I’m going to use cotton. It won’t look as authentic, perhaps, but it will still look better than these horrific examples (which I’m sure have only survived because no one on Earth has the complexion to wear them successfully):
When selecting the cotton for this gown, I first thought of using this very pretty small-scale chintz:
But then I realised that it’s too nice to be used as a first run, given the likelihood of mistakes. My next though was one of these two:
But that would be hypocritical given my comments on the two museum gowns I showed above *snort*.
Eventually I chose this one — there is a design there but it’s subtle enough that it won’t interfere with the shape of the gown, and it was a cheap purchase from Spotlight a couple of years ago (I think it was $6/m) so I won’t cry if I have to scrap the gown and start again. (And yes, I know I could use muslin or a solid, but where’s the fun in that?)