Viking Dress and Overgown

Viking dress and overdress modelled by Julie
Viking dress and overdress modelled by Julie (American Girl)

Pattern:
Viking Dress can Cover
After the intense frustration and hassle of the gauze gown, I decided to do something completely different. For this outfit I used Viking dress and cover by Read Creations. The pattern doesn’t specify a date but clothing styles changed extremely slowly at that time and something of this sort could have been worn anytime from roughly 500-1100 AD. I’m calling it 1000 for indexing purposes.

It’s actually been finished for a week, but I decided I needed beads to complete the outfit so the post was on hold until I picked them up yesterday.

Fabric:
Brown solid quilting cotton for the dress (not sure of brand but a bit too thin for imitating wool) and a light mushroomy / lavendar warm grey solid for the overdress (also too thin). I had less than a half-metre of each so there wasn’t much room for error, as I found to my cost.

Seams were stitched in 100-wt silk thread and overcast in blanket stitch with single strand embroidery floss as usual.

If you haven’t been to your local Lincraft store in a while it might be worth while checking it out — there are lots of jewellery findings there now that are ideal for doll accessories. For this outfit I bought jump rings, thin leather cord (which I didn’t use in the end because it wasn’t supple enough at this scale) and knitting cotton (originally bought for hem decoration but I ended up using it for the lacings).

I was able to find some small-scale beads on etsy that were ideal for the bead string on the overdress. I was going to use oval beads to simulate turtle brooches, but from what I’ve read they were restricted to married women so I’ve left them off this outfit. The string of beads is a little long for the width but it looks pretty good and it’s sewn onto the shoulder straps so I’m not changing it now.

Construction:
Gown
I cut the gores first and found that instead of four identical isosceles triangles I had three (almost) identical ones and one that was significantly smaller. I still don’t know how that happened. Given that they were supposed to be applied in pairs at the side that was a big problem. I didn’t have enough fabric to cut another triangle so I decided to use the three identical ones at front and sides, and add the two end triangles (which were almost the same size as each other, though smaller than the other gores) to the back. This was not a wise decision — I should have cut down the three bigger triangles to the size of the fourth — as it led to a further issue (see below). Since I was going to add a front gore I decided to split the front into two halves because I hate inserting triangles into a point — there is always a wrinkle, no matter how much you try to hide it. Because I was adding gores to the back I had to reduce the length of the opening at centre back, so the ability to add a larger slash at centre front was a bonus.

Actual construction went fairly well. I found my white chalk pencil a couple of days earlier so I was able to draw seam lines on pieces as I needed them. It turned out that two of the triangles weren’t symmetrical (which I should have predicted with one of the four being wonky) but luckily (or possibly subconsciously) I had attached the shorter sides first so I was able to trim the long sides. I was pleased that the front gore had no wrinkles at the top — it was worth sewing the extra seam at centre front. Once all the seams were done I smoothed out the hemline curve and did a 3/8″ double turned hem (the pattern said 1/4″ for the first turn and 1/2″ for the second but I prefer to have both turns the same size). The hem is a little wobbly on the inside because of the difference in circumference — I should have adjusted the seam line or added a gathering line to help pull in the fullness. It doesn’t look too bad on the outside.
Hem of the undergown
I used my hera tool to make eyelets — nine on each side at the back of the underdress, spaced at half-inch intervals. They were secured with quilting thread in blanket stitch. (Sorry, I didn’t get a photo of the eyelets.)

Overdress
The overdress was even more simple — five panels (back was split) and four gores (all of which were actually identical this time). The top hem was a double-turned quarter inch and the hem was a single-turned quarter inch with the raw edge overcast. The back opening was also supposed to be a single turn but I really didn’t want that so I made it a double-turned eighth of an inch. The shoulder straps were way too long — I didn’t want to waste effort sewing two when one would do so after checking the fit I cut one in half and used a half on each side. I’m sure I’ll find some use for the other one. I did think about doubling them up and making loops, as some of the original dresses had, but that requires functional pins and/or brooches and would be bulky, so I stitched both ends instead. The overdress is just large enough to pull on over the feet and hips but not over the head and shoulders and the shoulder straps are long enough to go over the hands.
Inside the overgown
For the closure I sewed jump rings to the back. I don’t have any jeweller’s pliers at the moment (my old set went to my cousins a few years ago and the new ones I’ve bought are still in transit) so I ended up using scissor-action eyebrow tweezers to get the jump rings closed properly. I was very close to giving up and sewing eyelets instead but I persevered. The rings are at one-inch intervals instead of half, though. I may add the rest of the rings later on when I have the proper tools.

Both the gown and overgown are tied with knitting cotton rather than leather cord — the cord just didn’t work at this scale.

Fit:
Viking dress undergown Julie with arms up
Below the waist is fine, but the undergown is very baggy above the waist and the sleeves are too long. I know that underarm gores are a real part of these gowns, but the in extant garments the armscye is usually a lot smaller so it’s needed. Doll sleeves and armscyes have to be fairly wide to allow the hands to go through, and reaching overhead isn’t essential, so the gores don’t add much to the fit. The slope of the shoulders was good though.

I’m not sure why the front opening is slightly longer on one side — I’m sure I lined it up properly when I did the seam. Oh well, I’m sure there were similar errors in the viking era, and a brooch would hide it. I also note that it was quite difficult to get the undergown on and off the dolls. I had allowed 6 times the length of the opening for the lace, but it was still too short and the ends got a bit messy having to re-thread the tapestry needle I was using. I need to re-do the laces to be a little longer and also seal the ends with glue. (Leather cord wouldn’t have frayed but, as I said earlier, it was too stiff and didn’t close the dress properly.)

Because the sleeves are a bit long on Julie I decided to try the outfit on Pearl (Our Generation) and Matilda (Australian Girl), who both have longer arms.
Undergown front
Undergown side
Undergown back
Overgown front
Overgown side
Overgown back
Pearl has the hair button at the back so the fit around the middle isn’t great. Her shoulders are flatter than AG so the top of the gown doesn’t sit very well. The sleeve length is a little better though.

In spite of being 2″ taller Matilda has much the same chest and arm measurements so I figured the dress would fit her too. I was very wrong. Her shoulders are actually quite narrow — the straps of the overgown barely cover the joint — while the point of the upper arm (where the acromial process/origin of the deltoid would be in a human) is quite wide, so the gown looks remarkably odd on her. I’m glad I found this out, though, because I’m planning on making a 16th century dress for her and now I know I’ll have to do a mock-up of the bodice first.

Lessons Learned:
1. “Measure twice, cut once” applies to sewing as well as carpentry.
2. Quilting cotton really doesn’t pass for wool very well. Stock up on plain flannelette when you find it, as you can be sure there will be none available in stores when you need it. Cotton drill or canvas would also be good options.

Notes for future versions:
1. Make the dress and overdress gores a little narrower.
2. Make the back seam of both dress and overdress half an inch wide or add a placket.
3. Reduce the size of the underarm gores to 1″ or leave them out.
4. Shorten the sleeves by ¼” for American Girl dolls.
5. Deepen the facing at the front if you want a keyhole neck opening.
6. Only cut one length for the shoulder straps.
7. For the undergown, cut lacing 8 x the length of the opening and trim afterwards.

1790 Round Gown in Gauze

… or, “How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.”

1790 round gown modelled by Caroline
1790 round gown modelled by Caroline

Before I go any further, I have a piece of advice for anyone who is contemplating making a similar doll dress out of gauze: DON’T DO IT. It was never-ending hassle and frustration and absolutely not worth it. I have come to hate this project and am only posting it because I need closure.

Although this resembles a chemise à la reine from the front it’s not. The chemise is basically a tent dress open at the front, with three drawstrings (neck, under bust and waist) and usually has long sleeves and one or two deep ruffles over the neck and at the hem. This dress has short sleeves and a fitted bodice back with gathers on the back of the skirt.

Pattern:
The pattern I used as a base was the 1790 Open Pelisse and Regency Dress by Thimbles and Acorns, purchased through Pixie Faire. I know I had issues with this pattern when I made it in March but they don’t apply here because I made several modifications for this dress. All the new issues are due to the modifications I made and the fabric I chose.
1790 round gown pattern modifications
I wanted to avoid a closure for the bodice because the fabric is so sheer that any snaps or Velcro would stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. Given that the neck and waist were going to be gathered, I re-drew the pattern, adding about 5″ to the centre front of the gauze overlay pattern piece and cutting one bodice back on the fold. This yielded a neckline of 17″ circumference and a waistline of 26″ which allows the dress to be lowered over the head and arms of a doll (it actually helps if the strings are a little loose so that the arms can be more vertical). The front skirt was a rectangle that matched the bodice width, while the skirt back was both widened and lengthened with a train. Both front and back skirt pieces were allocated a half-inch seam allowance at the waistline to enable a casing to be made (more on that later).

Fabric:
1790 round gown trial bodice back
The fabric I used was a gauze-like “muslin” from Lincraft — much looser in weave than the muslin from Spotlight that I have used previously. After a trial run of stitching the back and side pieces to check the pattern (wise decision, as I did need to make an adjustment to the bodice back) I found that it moved around constantly and I knew that I would never be able to cut or sew it without some from of stiffening. I didn’t want to treat the whole 2 metres so I tore off a strip.
1790 round gown - torn gauze
Pro-tip: don’t do this with gauze. The weave is too loose and many threads will pull. I managed to straighten out most of the pulls but it was one more hassle I didn’t need.
 1790 round gown - stiffened gauze
I knew that my fabric stiffener was pretty strong so I diluted it by half in tap water (1:1) but the gauze ended up much too stiff all the same — I would have been better off diluting it 1:3 or weaker (but see below for more issues). However, it made marking and cutting the gauze a breeze. I used an old rotary cutter blade and paper scissors as I wasn’t sure if it would dull the blades. I rinsed some of the stiffener out before stitching down the gathers on the sleeves and skirt back. Even so, the stiffness affected my wrists so I was only able to stitch for about 1-1½ hours a day (as opposed to 2-3 hours on a normal day — I have issues with my scapho-metacarpal joints in both wrists).

For the sash I used 80 cm of red organza ribbon.

As usual, all stitching was by hand. All seams and seam allowances were stitched with Superior Threads Kimono 100-wt silk thread (no cotton floss in this dress).

Construction:
Bodice
1790 round gown bodice
I first stitched the bodice back and side seams together. Given the transparency of the fabric I elected to trim the side back seam allowance to 1/8″ and fold the bodice back seam allowance over it. The raw edge was secured by herringbone stitch. For the shoulder seams (and the side seams at the waist) I did the same trimming of one side but stitched the folded seam allowance down to the dress so that there would be no loose pocket to catch the gathering cord when it was inserted. It looked a little messier because of the pull on the threads, but it had to be done. There are no photos of the seam treatments because white silk thread on white gauze is almost invisible (even with a 5x magnifying lamp I had difficulty seeing the stitches at times).

I faced the neckline with a bias strip to make a casing for a drawstring. Once it was stitched on I made two eyelet holes with a hera at centre front and secured them with white coton à broder (50 wt) from DMC. The facing was narrow enough that I couldn’t make the eyelets big enough for my bodkin but I managed to get around that (see below). I discovered when basting down the turn that I had applied the facing to the wrong side of the bodice, not the right side. Oh well, it doesn’t look too bad and it’s all going to be obscured by the gathers. It was also at this point that I realised I would have to rinse the remaining pieces to remove some stiffening as there was no way I was going to be able to stitch down gathers with the fabric literally as stiff as a board.

Sleeves
I inserted the gathering stitches on the sleeves (both top and bottom) and then rinsed them in cold water. This enabled the gathers to be stitched down more securely. It proved impossible to turn the gathered seam allowances so they were trimmed to 1/8″ and overcast with blanket stitch using coton à broder. The binding was stitched on and then, after the side seams were sewn, turned and basted in place and left until after the hem.

Skirt
1790 round gown skirt
I stitched the side seams first and finished the seam allowances with herringbone stitch as for the bodice. For the top inch I stitched the seam allowance down so that it wouldn’t catch the bodkin later on (a wasted effort, as it turned out). Next I started on the hem. I had drafted a half-inch hem allowance (a quarter-inch turned twice). Because of the curve around the train I inserted a gathering stitch at a quarter-inch from the edge. When the hem was turned twice this thread allowed me to ease in the excess without much puckering. A steam iron greatly helped with the turning as it softened the fabric temporarily. I basted the hem in place then left it while I attended to the waistline. The gathering stitch along the top of the skirt back was inserted and then the skirt was gently rinsed. Once I had attached the skirt to the bodice I realised that my original plan of turning it down to make a casing wasn’t going to work for the back as it was all gathered. I didn’t want to make a separate casing so I decided that because the back bodice wasn’t gathered I could get away with only having the drawstrings run from the side seams to centre front. The front skirt seam allowance was turned over the bodice; two eyelets were inserted at centre and then it was stitched down to make a casing (I didn’t want the eyelets to show on the bodice so the waistline has to be tied from the inside, but the skirt has plenty of fullness so it isn’t too fiddly).

Drawstring
I tried to find some very fine cording but was unsuccessful. Instead I made my own from white cotton floss. (Oops — I lied. There is cotton floss in this dress!). The finished waist cords had to be about 20 cm / 8″ long and I wanted them to be four-ply so I cut two lengths of 1.2 metres which gave me a comfortable margin in case twisting took up too much length or the swing point wasn’t exactly in the centre. I folded the cords in half and marked the centre of the doubled length. Then I hooked the floss through a door handle and started twisting. There was a lot of twisting — about ten minutes for each one — and my wrists definitely did not like it. The cords ended up around 9″ so there wasn’t that much excess.

Of course, three days later I found a YouTube video on making rope using a marlinspike — that definitely would have made things a lot easier. Unfortunately that particular design (with the crossbar) isn’t common at all but I’ll keep looking. I’ll probably end up with a normal marlinspike and an improvised crossbar … or basically anything vaguely cylindrical with a neck and a freely moving crossbar.

In order to get the cord through the casings I had to resort to an intermediate line because the cord wouldn’t fit through a needle and the eyelets were too small for a bodkin or safety pin. Instead I threaded a tapestry needle with some leftover basting thread and looped it through the end of the cording. I had to massage the cording through the eyelet but after that it was fairly easy. Once the leading edge of the cord reached the side seams I stitched it down — luckily the twisted end made it easy as I could poke the needle through the loop. Once that was done I trimmed the back bodice and skirt seam allowances to 1/8″ and overcast them as one.

I started to make a drawstring for the neck using the same method, but my starting length was 4 metres and I figured it was going to take forever. I made the very stupid decision to double it before twisting and use a single twist. Those of you who have ever attempted this will know what happened next: as soon as I cut it free it started unrolling so the whole thing was useless. Instead I opted for 3 mm white ribbon — given the previous mistake with the neckline casing it was probably a better choice anyway, as the ribbon is visible at centre front of the bodice.

Washing:
Even though I had rinsed pieces of the gown while working on them, there was still a lot of stiffening in the fabric and I wasn’t able to get it to fit well enough to be confident of placing the petticoat neckline correctly. Since I had some white flannelette to wash I put the finished gown in a lingerie bag and threw it into the hot wash with the fabric. It came out as a tiny ball which took me a while to straighten out but most of the stiffness was gone and I thought it would be fine when it dried. Unfortunately, it wasn’t — it was still very much stiffer than the original gauze. A second wash produced no further improvement. I’m not sure if the stiffener reacted with the fibre itself or was fixed into the fabric when I pressed it, but either way it’s now there to stay.
1790 round gown - pressing
When it came to pressing, I was able to use my Clover mini iron on the bodice, and I improvised a tiny ham for the sleeves by using an old cotton sock. I also have a miniature sleeve board that I made from a 6″ wooden ruler so I used that for the sleeve bindings. For the skirt I used my normal iron on the standard sleeve board.

Fit:
1790 round gown front
1790 round gown side
1790 round gown back
Although the dress looks a lot better than it deserves, there are still issues that are clear to see. The neckline casing is too thick and bulky and doesn’t sit right. The waist seam is a lot bulkier than I like, too. The skirt back doesn’t flare out as I intended because the front panel is too narrow at the base — I should have made it a trapezoid instead of a rectangle. The back and sleeves are good but they are the pieces I didn’t change (well, I took a quarter inch out of the centre back but that’s all). The petticoat doesn’t sit just inside the bodice as I hoped it would and the margins are clearly visible under the gauze.

All in all the dress is pretty much a failure … but I have learned some important lessons so it wasn’t a waste of time.

Lessons Learned:
1. Never use gauze for this scale of work. Just don’t.
2. Never tear gauze. Cut it instead.
3. Synthetic starch doesn’t wash out completely. If you need to stiffen fabric for clothing (human, animal or doll) use actual starch, preferably starch you make yourself from rice or cornflour.
4. Skirt backs with a train need a trapezoidal skirt front to avoid that dip above the ankles.
5. Casings at neck and waist need to be planned more carefully to ensure that the thickness is kept to a minimum.
6. A cord made from hand-wound floss is feasible for short lengths but if a long cord is needed I need some sort of two-axis spinning device to speed it up.

Notes for future versions:
Yeah, no.

Petticoat for 1790 gauze round gown

Petticoat for 1790 round gown modelled by Caroline
Petticoat for 1790 round gown modelled by Caroline
This petticoat was made specifically for the 1790 round gown in gauze, which I’ll post tomorrow, but should be compatible with other Regency/Empire style dresses.

Pattern:
1790 petticoat pattern pieces
For the petticoat I started with the bodice lining pattern pieces from 1790 Open Pelisse and Regency Dress by Thimbles and Acorns. I’ve noted previously that the bodice was very loose on Mattel AG dolls, but that was actually an advantage here. I trimmed 1/8″ from the neckline and armscyes so that the fabric would not be seen over the gauze, as well as taking 2 mm off the neck side of the front shoulder seam so that it would lie flat. The pattern pieces actually show further trimming of neckline which I’ll have to correct it I ever make this again.

I added 11″ long generic skirt pieces, adding extra width at the side seams because the original plan was to have open sides tied together with twill tape, but I realised once I basted the shoulder pieces together that there wasn’t enough room for the head so it changed to a shoulder fastening, which required more pattern adjustment. With the shoulder straps pinned in place (allowing enough overlap to accommodate the button closure) I put the gauze dress on over the petticoat, tied the drawstrings and then marked the neckline with a pencil. Luckily the armscye was low enough that it didn’t need any adjustment. I over-trimmed the shoulder straps, though, and ended up having to sew 1/8″ seams.

Fabric:
I used white voile which I found at Lincraft a couple of weeks ago — it’s the first time I’ve seen plain white voile so I bought 5 metres. That should last me a while! I toyed with the idea of adding a lace trim but decided it wasn’t in keeping with the simple style of the dress. I might add some white embroidery around the hem, though.

Construction:
I dithered for quite a while as I couldn’t decide between simply turning the raw edges or making a facing. In my previous not-very-successful effort a couple of years ago I had turned and overstitched the edges, but it didn’t look very good, and since voile is quite thin I decided I could cope with the double thickness — it would help with the shoulder strap fastenings too. The facing came down to about half an inch below the natural waistline on the doll.
1790 petticoat side sems and hem
Actual construction was very simple. I stitched the front and front facing pieces together along the top edge from side to side, then clipped the curves, turned and pressed. I repeated this for the back and back facing.  I stitched the side seams and overcast them with blanket stitch and also overcast the bottom edge of the facing. Then I top-stitched very close to the edge on the neckline and armscye. I added some twill tape just under the armscye of the petticoat –I should have inserted it in the side seams, of course, but I forgot. The hem was a double-turned quarter inch secured with running stitch.
1790 petticoat shoulder fastening
Finally I attached a small button to the back shoulder strap and made a small thread loop on the front strap.

Fit:
1790 petticoat -- Caroline v Addy front
1790 petticoat -- Caroline v Addy side
1790 petticoat -- Caroline v Addy back
There is a 4.5 cm difference between Addy and Caroline around the chest, but the twill ties allow a smooth flat front with all fullness pushed to the sides (or to the back, if that is preferred).

Lessons Learned:
1. It’s impossible to make a non-stretch, non-gathered closed neckline that fits over a doll’s head.
2. Don’t over trim — shoulder straps should be about half an inch finished, so at least 1″ before stitching — yes this looks very wide, you have to trust that it will end up the right size.
3. I could make it a little slimmer around the chest and waist without risking it being too small for pre-Mattel dolls.

Notes for future versions:
1. This could probably be done by machine in a fraction of the time as there are no tight curves.

A Teaser

I have one project finished but I’m not really happy with the result so I’m trying to fix it before posting it, probably tomorrow or Monday. I have another project that is three-quarters done and I’ll post that once it’s finished, in about ten days or so. The project after that is going to be something completely new and I’m both excited and apprehensive about it.

If you recognise this —
My next project
— you will know exactly what I’m attempting. Wish me luck!

1810 Regency Dress

1810 Regency dress modelled by Felicity
1810 Regency dress modelled by Felicity

Pattern:
Carpatina D12 - 1810 Regency Dress and Spencer
For this outfit I used Carpatina PATD12 1810 Regency Dress which I bought through Pixie Faire. This was actually the very first dress I made for an American Girl doll. I started it back in 2019 and it was modelled by Julie in this post, along with a very poorly constructed slip. Recently I took it up again and decided to make a lining for the skirt instead of the abandoned slip and also to add closures and embellishments, so it’s finally getting its own post.

Fabric:
The main fabric is a tiny floral on a cream background that I’ve had for many years. For the bodice lining I used a yellowish cream cotton that wasn’t too thick, but I must have used scraps because I can’t find any more of it. Instead I used a lighter cream solid for the skirt lining.

Construction:
All the seams in 2019 were sewn by machine, and although it turned out reasonably well I found it incredibly fiddly and very difficult to keep the seams at the correct quarter-inch distance from the edge, especially around the sleeves. Almost all subsequent dresses have been made by hand — yes it takes longer, but it’s something I can do in front of the television and it’s much more relaxing.

Construction was easy for the most part. I wanted all the skirt flare to be below the waistline so instead of turning the bodice lining up and covering the skirt seam I sewed the bodice and lining onto the skirt as one piece, leaving the edges raw. While this required more overcasting, I liked that it made the bodice sit flat and puffed the skirt out a little more.

For the skirt lining I cut a rectangle that is as wide as the skirt tops (not a great idea, as it turned out). Because the back of the skirt is heavily gathered, I ended up with about two inches on either side of the centre back that needed to be reduced to fit the bodice. A sensible person would have simply cut some fabric away at an angle but I decided to make pleats (at least I had the sense not to do gathers).

I first finished the top edge with blanket stitch which was one of the few good ideas I had. Then I sewed the centre back seam up to the bottom of the placket, and double-turned the seam allowances. The hem was a double-turned 1/8″ because the skirt was a little shorter than I had anticipated. I made quarter-inch knife pleats from the side seam to centre back and basted them in place. I pinned the lining to the bodice seam, starting at centre front, and only had to make a small adjustment on one side to make the pleated section fit the back bodice.
1810 Regency dress - inside view
The waist seam had already been sewn and finished but because the seam allowance was hanging down I was able to attach the skirt top to the inside bodice just below the seam line. I pressed it fairly heavily to get the pleats to lie flat but the waist seam is still pretty bulky. When I tried it on Julie (who is one of the chubbier AG dolls I have) I wasn’t able to get the back pieces to meet, let alone overlap. Felicity, however, has a slightly narrower chest and a significantly slimmer waist, and it fits her reasonably well considering it wasn’t actually fitted to her.

After failing to find an olive or yellow ribbon that worked, I sewed a 1 cm cream satin ribbon above the waist seam. I crafted a bow from the remaining ribbon (the bows and the wrap/tails were two separate pieces) and sewed it down at centre back. I found some small yellow ribbon flowers at Hobbysew and used one of them at centre front.

Bodice closures — my Julie is an older doll (2007-2009) and I think she’s a bit chubbier than the doll Carpatina used. I can’t quite remember at what point I realised that the bodice wasn’t going to close properly, but I ended up with a raw edge on the proper right that I secured with blanket stitch. I left the actual closures (clear snap fasteners) until last, which was advantageous as I ended up changing the doll I used.

Fit:
1810 Regency Dress side view
1810 Regency Dress back view
I’m fairly happy with the fit (as I noted, it wasn’t fitted to her, and I think it would be a little better on a doll with the same chest measurement but a thicker waist). The skirt sticks out a lot at the sides, though, and I think it would look better with a slightly slimmer cut of the front panel.

Here is the front view with bonus Vanima:
Felicity in 1810 Regency Dress with bonus Vanima

Lessons Learned:
1. Sewing machines and doll sleeves don’t play well together.
2. A raw edge at the bottom of the bodice is not necessarily a bad thing.
3. Linings don’t have to be the same size or shape as the outer pieces.
4. Olive green is an exceedingly hard colour to match.

Notes for future versions:
1. Check the bodice fit and enlarge the pattern if required (preferably before cutting fabric)
2. Add a half-inch to the skirt if you want it a little longer (noting that shorter hems were increasingly the fashion from 1810 to about 1830).
3. Take off an inch at the sides of the skirt so it’s not quite as wide at the bottom.
4. If adding a lining to the skirt, integrate it with the skirt fabric or make it flat at the waist.

1824 Christmas Dress

1824 Dress modelled by Addy
1824 Dress modelled by Addy (Pre-Mattel)

Pattern:
Josefina's Pretty Clothes pattern collection

After the disappointing size issue of the last dress, and being determined to make Addy a dress that would fit her, I decided that for this outfit I was going to use an original Pleasant Company pattern. This is the Christmas Dress from “Josefina’s Pretty Clothes”, which I downloaded from AG playthings (along with the other five collections). With a date of 1824 it’s a little late for Regency, but it has the raised waistline and puffed sleeves that I wanted. In fact, my main concern was distortion, given that I was using a PDF scan of a photocopy of a pattern, but as far as I can tell the distortion (if any) is minimal). I left out the long sleeves and the neck ruffle, and added a lining to the bodice.

Fabric:
The fabric I used was a pretty white-on-lilac cotton that I got from Hobbysew a few weeks ago. Although the print resembles the white-on-yellow print I used for the Bib-Front Dress, the base fabric is much thicker and has a lot of sizing in it.

For the lining I chose a purple cotton voile which is a bit dark — pink would have been better but I didn’t have any pink at the time. Of course I found some a couple of days after the bodice lining was finished. Typical. I’m glad that the purple doesn’t show too much through the lilac, but I’ll definitely use pink for this fabric in future.

As usual, all seams were sewn with 100-wt silk thread and overcasting was with single strand cotton floss.

Construction:
Bodice fitting
I tried the bodice and the bodice lining on Addy to check the fit before going any further. I was very pleased to see that the shoulders were flat at the neckline and the bodice circumference was good with a 3/8″ overlap for closures. The darts didn’t add much, to be honest, but leaving them out would add a half-inch to the bodice circumference at the bottom so I’ll have to work out how to modify the pattern.

I wasn’t happy with the side back attachment. The seam is curved (which makes sense for human backs but not for dolls) and try as I might I was not able to get the pieces lined up so that the armscye was smooth. (Yes, I did pin through the seam lines and intersections but it still didn’t work.). Given that the overall fit was good I simply trimmed off the excess. Bias edges are very forgiving of that kind of fudging, luckily. I also resewed the bottom of the seam to eliminate the fold you can see.

The sleeves were supposed to be long but I didn’t want long sleeves so I cut a 5½” x 1¼” strip and bound the bottom of the puffs instead. The thick fabric made stitching the gathers down a little difficult — there were some small gaps when I checked the seams so I ended up stitching each set of gathers twice, once from each side.
Inside bodice
No lining was included in the instructions but I wanted one to cover all the raw edges. I added 2 mm to the armscye but ended up cutting most of it off, which amused me.

Finally, I added a white ribbon above the waist seam to echo the skirt edge (see below) and to raise the apparent waistline a little higher (it’s on the low end the Regency range). I managed to add a bodice closure this time, using some small clear plastic snap fasteners — they aren’t very strong but this dress isn’t going to be subjected to a lot of handling and there won’t be much stress on the stitches.

Skirt
Hem treatment
Skirt construction went very well for the most part, but when I checked the pattern instructions (long after cutting out the material) I found that they had only allowed a quarter-inch for the hem — presumably the intention was for the maker to overlock/serge the edge and then turn it up. If the fabric had been thinner I would have tried a 1/8″double-turned hem (I’ve done it before, on the cuffs of the English Gown V2) but this fabric is too thick. I really didn’t want an overcast + single turned hem as it would have been too visible, and turning twice would have made the hemline too high. Instead I used another technique I’ve used before (mainly with lace) and covered the raw edge with trim. Because this trim was going to be all on the outside, rather than peeping out from underneath, there was an additional step — when I got to the final 1/2″ of the side and centre back seams I cut the seam allowance (very carefully!) down to the stitching line and sewed the final part of the seam with wrong sides together, so that the raw edges were on the outside. I turned up the 1/4″ hem to the outside, basted it and then stitched white satin ribbon over the raw edge. I wasn’t able to enclose the ribbon ends in the seams, of course, so they had to be doubled over and stitched down, making it a little thick at the centre back. The hem is slightly curved so I made sure that the ribbon was pinned down frequently enough that I could ease in the excess without any visible puckers.

Petticoat
Petticoat
Because of the thickness of the fabric I opted for a separate petticoat, which I made from the same purple voile as the bodice lining. I made the skirt front flat, added knife pleats at the sides and gathers at the back. The ties are 6mm cotton twill. It ended up a little short, but then the hem is relatively high so it fits well.

Fit:
1824 Dress front view
1824 Dress side view
1824 Dress back view
I am really happy with the way the bodice turned out, especially the shoulders. The sleeves don’t puff as much as some of the other dresses but I think that’s a combination of the thicker, stiffer fabric and my mediocre gathering skills. The hem is a little high but that was the fashion in 1824 so I can’t complain. I love the way the white ribbon looks — I may add a bow over the centre back and maybe also centre front, but that’s a decision for another day (and after I practise making bows over a two-tine fork). The colour is fantastic on Addy and I can see more purple clothes in her future (also crimson and bottle green).

Lessons Learned:
1. Read the instructions before cutting the fabric!
2. Curved side back seams are not good for doll clothes.
3. Thick fabric + gathers is not a good combination.

Notes for future versions:
1. Change the curved back/side back seam to a straight seam.
2. Add another half-inch to the hemline to allow a 1/2″ or 3/8″ hem, and an additional half-inch if I want the dress to be longer.
3. Add half an inch or so to the puffed sleeve length.
4. Extend the area over which the gathers are sewn on both the upper and lower edges of the sleeve — you only need an inch on the upper and a half-inch on the lower edge to be flat.

1790 Regency Dress

1790 gown MG1 posed
1790 gown MG1 posed

1790 gown with heirloom insert, modelled by Marie-Grace 1

Pattern:

1790 Open Pelisse and Regency Dress T&A 1790-01 2020
1790 Open Pelisse and Regency Dress T&A 1790-01 2020

The pattern I used was the 1790 Open Pelisse and Regency Dress by Thimbles and Acorns, purchased through Pixie Faire.

I modified the pattern by removing the gathered overlay from the bodice, inserting an heirloom strip at centre front and adding a lining to the skirt.

Fabric:

For the dress I used the 100% cotton pique that I bought from Australian Needle Arts School last year. It’s a lot stiffer than cotton voile at doll scale and unfortunately it frays easily, but otherwise I was happy with how it handled. I was very pleased to find that the half-metre I bought is enough for two doll dresses, so there will be another white dress somewhere along the line. Because this is a fairly substantial fabric I didn’t use the overlay pattern pieces, just the base. For the lining I used white muslin.

As usual, all stitching was by hand. I used Superior Threads Kimono 100-wt silk thread for the seams and single-strand embroidery floss for the overcasting.

Construction:

Bodice:
I avoided gathers by having a plain bodice but I added lace and ribbon to echo the skirt embellishment. Making the bodice went well with no significant issues. The puffed sleeves are shallower than the ones in the previous dress and the gathers are concentrated into a smaller area of the armscye which made them more fiddly, but they are still very pretty.

Here’s what happens when I don’t pay attention:

1790 round gown big mistake
1790 round gown big mistake

I remembered to add 2 mm to the armscye of the bodice lining. This helped enormously and I was able to turn and stitch the lining over the sleeve seams.

The closure is off-centre, as is usual when buttons are used. I planned on using hooks for the closures rather than buttons, but I don’t like using the metal eyes at dolls scale because either they show or the hook has to be set so far back that the opening gapes. Instead I intended to baste a strip of 2 mm white ribbon to the proper right before stitching the bodice neckline … guess who forgot that step. Now I’m undecided between buttons (which will require buttonholes, and I hate making buttonholes at this scale) or snap fasteners.

Skirt:

1790 gown heirloom insert
1790 gown heirloom insert

I’ve wanted to do an heirloom-style insert for ages, even though it’s not really true to the period (it belongs to the late 19th / early 20th century). Rather than a true insert I chose to apply laces and ribbon to a fabric base, so instead of cutting one front skirt on the fold I cut a straight central strip to act as a base and then cut two side-front pieces. In retrospect I should have anticipated the slight shrinkage that happened while stitching all the lace to the base – an extra quarter-inch at each end would have made all the difference. I tried to remedy it by stretching it to fit the side fronts but there is a slight buckling that you can see along the seams. It ended up about 1/8″ short at each end, but the waist seam is covered and the hem is twice-turned so I don’t anticipate any issues.

I used various polyester laces that I’ve had for a while plus some ribbon beading and two puff strips made from the same white muslin that I used for the linings. My original intention was to use pink for the ribbon insert, with a wider strip of ribbon in the same shade on the bodice. The single length of pink ribbon I had was a bit too wide for the beading so I went up to Hobbysew and got what I thought was three pairs of ribbons: light pink, hot pink and pale green, all in 6 and 9 mm widths. Unfortunately the lighting in Hobbysew isn’t daylight spectrum and when I got home I found that the light pinks were slightly different shades. *sigh* The hot pink was too bright for the fabric and the green didn’t thrill me so instead I chose a 6 mm lavender ribbon that I’ve had for years … I could have saved myself the trip if I’d been sensible.

The actual stitching went together without any problems. Because I was making a skirt with a lining (rather than with a gauze overlay) I layered the skirt and lining wrong sides together rather than both sides facing up as directed in step 16 of the instructions. I made sure to overcast each seam as soon as it was done, and I pinned up the hems temporarily so fraying was kept to a minimum.

One thing I didn’t really like was the the two sides are different: the placket on the proper left is turned under but the proper right placket is finished first and then stitched with the raw edge at the bodice seam … I checked the pattern three times because it felt so wrong, but it’s definitely what the pattern says. It made a difference to the tightness of the gathers which I can see but I guess isn’t immediately obvious to the casual viewer. If I make this pattern again I’ll add additional fabric to the proper right so that I can turn the edges and still retain the modesty underlay.

The skirt back pattern is in two pieces in the document and I stuffed up initially by mistaking the joining mark for the point at which the centre back seam stops. I realised this when I came to put the dress on the doll so I had to remedy that– the lining made it a little harder but not impossible (and I had to fix the lining too). This would have been extremely difficult by machine so it’s one point in favour of hand stitching.

1790 gown bustle pad
1790 gown bustle pad

I added a small bustle pad, made from scraps of white fabric and some polyester stuffing. For this version I used a long half-oval rather than a rectangle, and made the outer layer larger than the inner, easing it in with not-quite gathers and a couple of pleats (rather like a biscuit quilt unit). The tie is 6 mm cotton twill tape.

Fit:

1790 gown Addy
1790 gown Addy
1790 gown Addy neckline
1790 gown Addy neckline

Unlike the bib-front dress, this bodice is a fixed size and was very loose on the first doll I picked up (Felicity 2, the Pleasant Company version). I tried it on Addy, my largest doll — the bodice circumference was fine but the neckline stood away from the body when the bodice back was aligned (her shoulders are too square) — if I made the neckline fit, the bodice fastening was at an angle and the waistline ballooned out. The colours looked fantastic on her, though.

1790 gown MG1 front
1790 gown MG1 front
1790 gown MG1 side
1790 gown MG1 side
1790 gown MG1 back
1790 gown MG1 back
1790 gown MG1 bodice ease
1790 gown MG1 bodice ease

I compromised with Marie-Grace 1, who has a chest only 1.5 cm smaller than Addy, and it fitted reasonably well, but it’s not great — it’s way too loose around the waistline and the neckline is still a little proud. If I make it again I’ll alter the bodice pattern to fit a particular doll (and no, it won’t be Marie-Grace — I do have other dolls and I need to dress them all).

The length was good and the dress was fairly easy to get on and off. I’m very happy with the way the heirloom strip looks, and I may try another insert later on.

Lessons learned:

1. Any applied trim will have a shortening effect. Plan accordingly.

2. When choosing colours that have to match, make sure you have a daylight spectrum light source to compare the colours.

3. If you are making any changes to the pattern, make a note in the instructions so you don’t forget!

4. Bodice fit is important but a fitted bodice won’t fit most dolls.

Notes for future versions:
1. I really think that the shoulder seams in this pattern are too slanted for most American Girl dolls, who tend to have very square shoulders. I’ll reduce the angle by 1-2mm at the neckline and see how it fits.

2. The bodice circumference is fine for pre-Mattel dolls but not the newer dolls. I could make the bodice a little narrower or add a ribbon at the side seams to pull in the excess fabric.

3. I’ll add another quarter-inch to the proper right bodice back so that I can turn the skirt placket on both sides.

1810 Bib-Front Dress

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a champion procrastinator. Faced with the prospect of spending a maximum of two hours finishing the outline on the blackwork embroidery, I decided that I would spend twenty hours on another doll dress.

1810 Bib-Front Dress posed
1810 Bib-Front Dress posed

1810 Bib-Front Dress, modelled by Marie-Grace 4

Pattern:

1810 Bib-Front Dress Thimbles and Acorns Pattern
1810 Bib-Front Dress Thimbles and Acorns Pattern

The pattern I used was the Thimbles and Acorns 1810-01 Bib-Front Dress which I bought in February. I’ve wanted to make this style of dress for a while but the pattern I already had didn’t inspire me with confidence, so I was delighted to see this one had been released in 2020.

Note for non-US readers: the pattern pieces exceed the printable margins on A4 paper at actual size. If you don’t have access to US letter paper, print on A3 instead. [I actually have a ream of letter paper I bought in the US about six or seven years ago, but once it runs out I’ll have to use A3 like everyone else, because it’s impossible to get here in Australia and buying it via ebay does not make sense — a ream of A3 paper is $13-20, while a ream of letter paper via ebay is USD 7 plus USD 30 shipping and then GST as well, so AUD 50 or more.]

The fabric I used was a lightweight white-on-yellow quilting cotton that I’ve had for many years, and the lining was yellow cotton voile. Both were easy to use, though subject to fraying because of the long straight cuts. I couldn’t find my chalk pencils so I used a fine-point mechanical pencil instead, but the marks do show through in some areas.

All stitching was by hand. For seams and hems I used Superior Threads Kimono 100-wt silk thread. For overcasting I used single strand embroidery floss (possibly DMC but it’s so old I can’t be sure).

Construction:

1810 Bib-Front Dress Bib close-up
1810 Bib-Front Dress Bib close-up

(I apologise for the errant thread — I did brush the dress before putting it on Marie-Grace so I guess it came off my T-shirt while I was rearranging her.)

The bib in this pattern is supposed to have a gathered front overlay over a straight lining. I’m really bad at gathering so I decided to do narrow pleats instead. I measure the distance between the dots on the lining and added twice that to the pattern length. I marked off 1/8″ intervals in the seam allowance and made pleats. Somehow I ended up half an inch short after basting and pressing … I’m still not sure how that happened. I had to snip the basting stitch and relax the pleats a little to get them to fit, and unfortunately I was too lazy to re-baste, so a couple of the pleats slipped a bit too much when I was sewing the seam. If I do this variation in future I’ll cut a very long strip, do the pleats and then cut the strip to size. I used lightweight interfacing instead of a second layer of fabric between the outer layer and the lining.

The other goof was using 6 mm / ¼” ribbon for the button loops — I had already bought the ribbon to use as the tie and thought it would be narrow enough for the closure. It isn’t. I should have doubled it over or made bias cording as the pattern suggested. I also eschewed the Chinese knot buttons, using pearl buttons I had on hand instead. I’ll try the Chinese knots one day, just not right now.

1810 Bib-Front Dress internal view
1810 Bib-Front Dress internal view

The bodice went together really well. If making this again, I’d cut the back lining from a single piece rather than back + side back, since the seam is a straight line (it would be curved on a human, of course). Because I was using voile instead of “sturdy fabric” I added a layer of interfacing to the front flaps. I didn’t want a button in the centre so I added an inch in order to have two buttons/Velcro patches, but it was too much — a half-inch would have been much better. As I’ve noted previously in patterns where the bodice lining is turned and stitched over the sleeve seam, I ended up a few millimetres short and had to overcast instead. I had made a mental note to add 2 mm to all lining armholes before but of course I forgot this time.

The sleeves themselves are fantastic — I think they are the prettiest sleeves I’ve ever seen on a doll dress. They went together very well even though I am terrible at gathering, and the sleeve band was just the right width at 1¼” cut.

Skirt construction was very easy, being all straight lines. I was a bit perturbed by the amount of fraying — I think that temporarily basting the hems or pinking the long edges would help control this in the future. I made the tie channel a little larger than the pattern stated (3/8″ rather than 1/4″) because I knew I would be using a 6 mm / ¼” ribbon. Once the ribbon was in place I basted it to the centre front through the lining.

Fit:

1810 BFD bustle pad
1810 BFD bustle pad

Because the dress is fully lined I decided that a chemise/petticoat wasn’t necessary. I did, however, make a bustle pad, which was worn under many Regency dresses to add volume to the back. It was a folded strip of homespun filled with six layers of cotton batting, and tied with a length of 6 mm cotton twill tape. I think I’ll try for a half-oval shape for next time rather than a rectangle.

1810 Bib-Front Dress front view
1810 Bib-Front Dress front view
1810 Bib-Front Dress side view
1810 Bib-Front Dress side view

1810 Bib-Front Dress back view
1810 Bib-Front Dress back view

The dress fits Marie-Grace 4 perfectly. Even with the botched bib front it’s a very pretty dress.

I tried to get it onto my mid-1990s Addy (my chubbiest doll) but it just won’t fit over the shoulders and I didn’t want to force it. I would like Addy to have a Regency dress of her own, so I may use Josefina’s Christmas dress pattern from Pleasant Company, since it was designed for a mid-1990s doll (I know that with a nominal date of 1824 it’s a little late, but it does have the high waist and puffed sleeves of the period) or I may try the Simplicity 8714 pattern (by Keeper’s Dolly Duds) — in my experience, the paper patterns tend to be a little larger than the PDF patterns.

Conclusion:

A very well written pattern, easy to follow. All the issues I noted were due to changes I had made or poor sewing on my part. I’ll definitely make this pattern again with different bib variations.

Lessons learned:

Pleats take up more fabric than they are supposed to. It’s better to make the pleats and then cut the piece to the size required.

Graphite pencil will show through fine fabrics. Buy another chalk pencil if you can’t find the three you already own.

Bodice linings will always fall short in one area or another. Adding a couple of millimetres will save a lot of angst.

1920s Dress in Gold

1920s dress 47 posed
1920s dress, modelled by #47

Pattern

1915 Dress and Skirt patterns
1915 Dress and Skirt patterns

For this dress I used the Sweetheart Plaid drop-waist blouse from Fashioned by Rebecca, which was based on a 1915 design. I thought it included the skirt but it doesn’t — it recommended the Pleated Skirt by Liberty Jane Clothing so I bought that as well but ended up not using it. In adding the skirt and making the dress very columnar (no over-the-hips poofiness) I think I’ve shifted the year closer to 1924-25 so I’m calling this a 1920s dress.

Technically this is a mock-up but it’s turned out quite well. I used some rather unattractive (to me) fabric that I have previously used for laundry bag linings because the geometric design resembled those used in the 1920s. I was able to use the reverse of the fabric for the collar and trims.

The pattern was quite well-written and illustrated, though I believe that the original design it was taken from was a front-opening blouse rather than a back-opening and there are some residual elements that should have been removed or altered further in the adaptation. As I’ve said previously, I am constitutionally incapable of following a pattern as it’s written anyway, so it didn’t fuss me to make the appropriate changes.

All stitching was by hand.

Construction

1920s dress - neckline detail
1920s dress – neckline detail

The top went together reasonably well. I changed the front neckline slightly because the front overlay was a couple of millimetres lower than the full front which was just awkward since the whole overlay was going to be stitched down. Instead I trimmed the full front neckline down to match the right front neckline. I also used only one layer for the right front instead of two as it was going to be stitched down over the full front.

If I were to remake this as a front-opening blouse then I would use two thicknesses on the right (or at least a wide facing) and extend the piping up to the shoulder seam. As it is, the buttons on the front of this dress are purely decorative.

The collar pieces as given in the pattern are slightly too wide/long. I left a 2 mm gap at the front but even if I had left no gap there would be insufficient space at the back for the closure without overlapping the collar ends. Removing 3-5mm from the collar should eliminate this problem.

1920s dress - sleeve cap
1920s dress – sleeve cap

The sleeves were fiddly (as they always are) and I wasn’t happy with the set right at the top of the sleeve cap. If making it again I would trim 1-2 mm off the top arch. I also made a much narrower binding (cut 1″ rather than 1 ½”) to avoid the rather unsightly translucent portion below the seam. I’d like to try this with a piped edging next time, though it might require that the sleeves be lined which they aren’t in this pattern.

The biggest change I made was to the skirt.

Instead of making a separate skirt with a gathered bias-cut waistband I decided to attach the pleated portion of the skirt directly to the blouse. In order to attach the skirt neatly I had to ensure that the pleats would fit exactly onto the bottom of the blouse, and so I was not able to use the pattern provided by LJC. Instead I measured the bottom of the blouse (35.5 cm), adjusted the overlap (1 cm) to give me a whole number of pleats (23 @ 1.5 cm = 34.5 cm ) and then cut a strip that was three times 34.5 cm plus seam allowances (2 @ 0.5 cm). [I normally sew in Imperial units because I’m a quilter, but I wasn’t able to make the pleats fit using inches, so I tried it with centimetres and it was much easier.] I marked out intervals of 1.5 cm along the strip and folded the pleats. They were pressed while pinned, then basted and pressed again.

1920s dress - inside join with bias glue-basted
1920s dress – inside join with bias glue-basted
1920s dress - outside join before trim
1920s dress – outside join before trim
1920s dress - outside join with trim glue-basted
1920s dress – outside join with trim glue-basted

Because of the large number of thicknesses at the front of the garment I decided that a normal seam would be too bulky. Instead I adapted the binding around the bottom of the blouse to be a trim that covered the join. I simply butted the two sections together and glued a bias strip on the wrong side to hold them in place until stitched, and then glue-basted the trim on the front. Once I had most of the top and skirt stitched down I stitched the side seam of the skirt and finished the edges, overlapped the back openings and resumed stitching the bindings down. Stitching through all the layers was manageable – I only had to resort to stab-stitching over the seams, the overlap and that front trim.

1920s dress - back closure
1920s dress – back closure

The back closure had to be fudged a bit because of the collar. I made a small extension to the left back which will allow me to attach low-profile Velcro … when I can find the box it’s in. *sigh* The blouse was a little bit looser around the shoulders than planned, but it didn’t look too bad.

1920s dress - 47 front
1920s dress – 47 front
1920s dress - 47 side
1920s dress – 47 side
1920s dress - 47 back
1920s dress – 47 back

I chose #47 as the model for this dress as she has warm golden undertone to her skin that complements the colour of the fabric. She’s from 2017 and fairly slim, so unfortunately the dress is a little large for her and sags in places.

1920s dress - Addy front
1920s dress – Addy front
1920s dress - Addy side
1920s dress – Addy side

I also tried the dress on Addy (my chubbiest doll) to check the sizing: it fits much better but the colour is absolutely wrong for Addy’s skin tone, which has a cool, almost blue undertone.

Conclusion:
Pretty good pattern; easy to follow the instructions; minimal alteration or fudging required if making it as the pattern dictates.

Lessons learned:
Check collar placement against centre back line before stitching.

Notes for the future:
If remaking as a front-opening blouse, do a simple paper/interfacing mock-up of the collar section so you can work out where and how to attach various pieces.

For any future version of a pleated skirt I would advise finishing the bottom edge after pin-pressing and before basting. Also start the fold at the second mark rather than the first, as that will allow the seam to be the inside fold of a pleat rather than the junction of two straight sections (though this might affect the hem).

[Note: I’ve almost finished the blackwork sampler but I needed to do something a little more practical for a few days.]