Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tips for sewing itty-bitty (Barbie) doll clothes - Part 2

 **** If you're looking for the Barbie Chef Hat instructions, you'll find them on this post *****

Sewing itty-bitty doll clothes continues with part 2 - construction.  You can read part 1 here.

Now that you’ve got the itty bitty patterns cut out - or traced - it's time to start sewing. A bit of practice tempered with patience and you’ll be producing runway worthy fashions for Barbie - other that itty bitty doll - in no time.

Here are some tips that have helped me when sewing these little garments.
  • Ditch the serger.  Sergers are great time-savers, but not for Barbie clothes. I've successfully serged clothing for American Girl dolls, but not smaller than that.  (And if you have, please leave tips for us in the comments!) I think they're not the right tool. Not only is it difficult to serge such a small seam, the extra thread created by the serger would result in too much bulk. 
  •  Don’t remove pattern pieces.  Keep the pattern pieces pinned to the fabric until you’re ready to sew, or clearly mark which piece is which. The pieces are so small it can be hard to distinguish from one another. and not know until you've sewn the wrong ones together. Trust me. You don’t want to rip out stitches on these little things. 

  • Take time to pin.  Until you become very familiar with sewing tiny clothes, take time to pin seams before sewing. One pin will keep the shoulder seams together, while one or two works well for longer seams.  It will help you keep the pattern pieces lined up properly.  Believe it or not, when you’re working with something that small, being off just 1/8” of an inch can affect the entire garment.
  • 1/4” seam allowances. I mentioned this in my previous post. Most of the doll clothes patterns are designed with 1/4” seam allowances.  A 1/4” (quarter inch) quilting pressure foot is a great tool that will help you sew the seams accurately.
  • Stitch length.  Use a smaller stitch length. When I sew garments for myself I typically set my stitches at 3.5 mm.  When sewing Barbie clothes I use a 2 or 2.5 mm. 

  • Use flat construction. This simply means to sew pieces together flat whenever possible.  Your goal is to avoid the need to sew in small circular areas. Usually the pattern instructions will be already be written this way. 
For example:

  • Top or bodice: Sew the shoulder seams. Finish the neck edge, by hemming, adding lace or sewing on a collar. Finish the center front or center back. Finish the sleeve edges or add a sleeve before sewing the side seams.  If this is the bodice to a dress, sometimes it’s easier to sew the skirt front and back to the bodice before sewing the side seams. The pattern you choose will make that determination.
  • Sleeves: Finish the bottom of the sleeve hem and then sew the sleeve to the armhole opening before sewing the underarm and side seam. Could you imagine trying to sew a sleeve into that tiny armhole opening? 
  • Pants:  First, sew the side seams. Hem the bottom of the pants. Next, sew the center front and center back (don’t forget to leave an opening at the center back) and finish the waist edge. Lastly, sew the inner leg seams.
  • Casings:  Elastic casings are popular in doll clothes – including casings at the waist and at wrists.  Add your casing and elastic flat unless you enjoy wasting hours in frustration as you try and insert elastic into a tiny casing and circle. Secure the elastic in the seam allowance before sewing the seam or your elastic could pop out as the garment is placed on and off the doll.
  • Adding elastic:  I have found it much easier, and more durable, to zigzag over soft 1/8” elastic instead of creating a small casing. Don't cut the elastic to the needed length. Instead mark it at the length with chalk or a pin. Gently stretch the elastic as you zigzag, ending with the chalk mark or pin at the seam edge. Cut off the rest of the elastic. Otherwise it can be difficult to sew that last fraction of an inch in place.
  • Neck edge facings.  Some patterns will include facings for the neck (and waist) edges. These look absolutely adorable and can actually be easier to add than a tiny hem.  Instead of finishing the facing edge with a hem, consider fray check with the fabric has a tendency to ravel. 
  •  Line instead of face. The easiest way to finish the neck edge is to line the entire bodice.  Added bonus? The doll’s outfit will look very professionally sewn.
  •  Use Seams Great to finish edges. I know it's designed for finishing seams when sewing garments, but it works beautifully as a bias binding to finish a Barbie sized neck or armhole edge.  Stitch it to the right side of the edge using a 1/4" seam allowance. Carefully clip any curves.  Turn it to the wrong side, finger press and stitch in place.
  • Pressing. Just like when sewing for people, Barbie's clothes will look much nicer if you press while you sew. Unlike the big clothes you can get away with finger pressing many of the seams, especially if you're using natural fibers.  The Clover mini-iron also comes in handy when pressing these little seams.
  •  Sewing my hand.  Sometimes you just can't get the itty bitty item you're working on to behave using the sewing machine.  That's when you just have to get out that hand sewing needle and thread and do a little stitching by hand. 
Next up, I'll share a few tips on trims and closures. 

Until then you can start sewing using one of my Barbie tutorials and sew an apron, (complete with chef hat and oven mitt) a dress or a Snuggie (TM)

(Parts of this post were originally post on TheCircle.org

(I'm not affiliated with Mattel or any other doll manufacturer)

12/19/11 Edited to add: Be sure to read the comments as there are some good tips there also.

12/19/11 Edited to add:
Tip Junkie handmade projects

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  1. Lovely sewed barbie dresses!

  2. thanks for the tips!

    I've seen some purchased Barbie clothes, they must have special feet to overlock those tiny seams.

  3. thanks for all your tips, I'll be back to refer to them.
    have you already seen this book? Hankie couture : handcrafted fashions from vintage handkerchiefs
    fun, fun, fun !

  4. If I may....I always pink my edges it makes them lay better. Barbie always made me dissatisfied with my own sewn wardrobe- if she got full linings why shouldn't I?

  5. Love the your tips. I have usually been frustrated with those teeny seams.

  6. Hello from Spain: I just discovered your blog. I love all your creations. Thanks for your tips for sewing. I am also a collector of dolls. I have a blog devoted to Barbies I invite you to visit: If you're still in touch Blog to Blog

  7. Anonymous10:14 AM

    Do you know anyone who would be interested in sewing barbie clothes for a special project please email

    1. I would like to help you.

    2. I would like to help you.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Thanks for the read and I concur with your instructions. I have been sewing these doll clothes for 40 years and it does not get easier. My tip would be to use iron on interfacing to make neckline and armhole facings with. stitch them one as you would larger clothes, turn them in and iron on. I also stitch after, but you don't have to. Also I use the little iron, but also had my husband make me a Barbie sized ironing board attached to a larger block of wood with dowels. Iron on this as you would your clothes on your ironing board. It's great for these little necklines and armholes.

    1. Great tip! Thanks for sharing.

  10. I love that dotted fabric. It's really cute.

  11. Are there teeny presser feet available for sewing Barbie clothes? What is your go-to foot when constructing clothes for Barbie? Thanks!

  12. Are there teeny presser feet available for sewing Barbie clothes? What is your go-to foot when constructing clothes for Barbie? Thanks!

  13. I cannot live without Fray Check. Makes sewing the clothes easier.

  14. first thing I do with a new Barbie pattern is to lay the pieces on the printer and copy them onto card stock. I find it easier to lay this on the fabric and trace around it with purple disappearing pen.

  15. Thank you so much for writing this!

  16. Thank you for the tip on using Seams Great as am currently sewing Wellie Wishers clothing for my Grand Daughter's doll and am definitely going to try its application to reduce bulk in some areas. -Brenda-

  17. Do you have any tips for sewing close to such small seams and not having the edge disappear down into the plate? This seems to be my problem. Thanks

    1. If you have a straight stitch needle plate for your machine with just a hole for the needle to pass, that works well. The standard zigzag needle plate opening does not allow the fabric to be supported and held by the presser foot as it passes through. Some of the vintage straight stitch machines only come with this type of plate.

  18. Melayahm, yes use a straight stitch needle plate on your machine as it will prevent the fabric on the tiny seams from being pulled down. If you don't have one, try putting painters tape over the zigzag needle plate opening, then "punch" through it with your machine needle. It acts like a straight stitch needle plate in a pinch.

  19. Do you know what the best sewing machine is that cost under 500.00? I just bought an Elna explore 320 from a dealer who sells and fixes up sewing machines and he told me this was the best machine for me. It only has one needle position, no 1/4 inch foot. and the foot that's on it is for straight stitch or zig zag and it is so hard to sew 1/4 inch with it. It is too loud and does not sew at the speed he said it sews. so now I would like to bring it back but it say's sale is final and only can trade in for another one. I seen he has Bernina and Juki sewing machines at his store and he has others but I done remember. I really need some advice on a good machine that has good stitch quality that has a 1/4 inch foot and runs quite.



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