Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tips for sewing itty-bitty doll clothes aka Barbie and other 11-1/2" fashion dolls

I've been sewing up a storm!  Just nothing I can share with you yet.

One thing I am working on is some Barbie® doll clothes. 

So, how about some tips for sewing itty-bitty doll clothes?

Having sewn for Barbie® for years and years and years the first piece of advice I'll pass on is to not be afraid. They may be tiny but they really aren't as difficult as they look.

I've got a lot to share so this is a three-part post.  Today is all about patterns and fabric.

First of all, sewing for Barbie® - or any small fashion doll - is actually pretty fun.   You get to create high-quality, one-of-a-kind fashions while saving money.  Nice!

Like many folks, when I first started sewing doll clothes I began by using commercial sewing patterns specifically designed for 11-1/2” fashion dolls.   After awhile I began making my own patterns for miniature versions of the current fashions.

All of the major pattern companies—Butterick, McCall’s, Simplicity and Vogue—at one time or another have all offered patterns for doll clothes. They can be found in craft section of the pattern catalogs. As I write this, McCall’s and Simplicity have 11-1/2" fashion doll clothing patterns available.

You can find out of print patterns on eBay (search Barbie doll patterns), Etsy (search Barbie patterns in Supplies), at thrift shops or garage sales.  Prices can vary greatly. Familiarize yourself with the average price so you don't over pay in your excitement to find the "perfect" pattern.

Barbie's size has changed a little bit over the years so be aware that a fabulous vintage pattern from the early sixties will probably require a bit of tweaking to fit today's Barbie. 
Now I know sewing tiny clothing for tiny doll bodies is more difficult because of itty bitty seams, facings and hem allowances, but a few tips and tricks will have you producing a high fashion wardrobe for your fashion doll in no time.
The pattern
  • Trace the pattern pieces. If you plan on sewing the doll outfit multiple times trace the pattern pieces. Otherwise pinning and unpinning those itty bitty pattern pieces will quickly lead to torn and tattered patterns. Use lightweight woven interfacing, pattern-ease or tracing paper from your local art supply store.
  • Ensure the pattern markings are inside the cutting lines. Sometimes pattern companies will print the pattern number, piece number, grain line and number to cut outside of the cutting lines of the pattern. You need to transfer that important information to the pattern piece, or else you won’t easily be able to identify the pattern pieces in the future.
  • Cut precisely.  Because the seam allowances are only 1/4” and the seams themselves are tiny, it is imperative that you cut accurately. Being off just a fraction of an inch can affect the entire fit of the doll’s garment.
  • Add extra to center back seams.   Usually the opening is in the center back.  When cutting out the pattern, add an extra 1/4" to the center back seam to give yourself a little "wiggle" room. If you happen to sew the seams a teeny bit more than 1/4" or discover your fashion  doll is a bit bigger than the pattern you'll be glad to have the extra.
    Selecting fabric and trims
    • Scraps and remnants. Use up those scraps!  Barbie® doll clothing is a great way to use up scraps from your own sewing projects, from fabric store remnants, fat quarters or even charm packs!  Many items of doll clothing require less than 1/4 yard and some as little as 1/8 yard.
    • Upcycle old clothing.  Check thrift stores, estate sales, garage sales or your own pile of clothing waiting to be donated.  Look for tiny prints or expensive fabrics, such as velvet or leather.  Old woman's slips work great for gloves and itty-bitty sized lingerie.
    • Cotton fabric. For best results when you’re just starting out, choose a tightly woven cotton fabric, like the cotton you would find in a quilt shop. When working with tiny seams you don’t want to deal with fabric that unravels easily or is difficult to work with.
    • Man-made fabric.  Unless you have a little bit of sewing experience under your belt, steer away from some of the man-made fibers as they can be harder to work with. If you’ve ever tried to sew and hem polyester chiffon or a man-made sequin knit you know what I’m talking about. After you’ve perfected your technique with these little garments you’ll gain the confidence you need to work on any fabric.
    • Choose solid colors or tiny prints. There are so many beautiful prints out there that it's easy to fall in love with one that isn't the right scale.  A large floral or plaid might be gorgeous on the bolt, but when you try and create a designer outfit for your doll you'll loose all the detail.  Keep the scale in mind when sewing for these tiny creatures and choose small prints.
    • Fabric thickness.  Not only do you need to keep the pattern scale in mind, but you need to keep the thickness of the fabric in mind. Not only would a stiff heavy-weight denim or a wide-wale corduroy not look good on a small doll, you’ll discover you won’t be able to turn pant legs or sleeves right side out. 
    •  Trims.  Doll clothing is the perfect way to use up scraps of trim that are too beautiful to toss. Almost any trim will work, but again, keep the scale in mind. Use narrow ribbons, trims and pieces of tulle.  Prehere.

      Sewing the itty bitty fashions
      Next post I’ll share tips and tricks for successfully sewing the itty bitty doll clothes. If you have any specific questions about sewing Barbie® clothes, please leave a comment so I can be sure to address them in my next post.

      In the meantime, if you're ready to get started why not follow one of my tutorials and sew Barbie and apron, a dress or a Snuggie (TM)
      (Parts of this post were originally post on TheCircle.orghttp://www.thecircle.org/sew-barbie-clothes

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

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      1. Great tips! I'm sure I'll be referring back to this very soon =)

      2. Great post! Thanks for noting the adjustments needed due to the tiny size.

      3. Great article. A tip I have that you can share with others is for items like the Chef's Hat pattern you offer to keep that tissue paper pattern you made on the fabric when sewing. Especially for the very narrow line of stitching used for the gathers. I learned this trick from my grandmother when I was a young girl in the early 1950's so it is not something new. For a newer version today there is fabric stabilizer used for applique in quilting and sewing.

      4. This is actually a great way to save money and I like the idea of shopping in my own closet. The problem is I am the type that wears the same thing all the time simply because there are not enough nice clothes that fit me. Here are some plus size fashion tips for people to learn more and enjoy.

      5. I'm just now getting into making custom Barbies and Kens and I just wanted you to know this info is so helpful! Thank you six years later!!!

      6. I have been sewing doll clothes since I was a child. Now I am sewing Barbie clothes for my granddaughters. The problem I am having now is finding closures (velcro) small and thin enough to use on the tiny Barbie clothes. I have been using small snaps which seem to be a problem for my granddaughters to open and close. Do you have any suggestions?

      7. Anita T4:45 PM

        In this article in the Trims section, there is a prehere. Choose that and it brings you to zipperthatdoll website. They have the flatter velcro for Barbie doll clothes. Just have to cut it to desired width.



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