Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sewing for Dolls

Picky Picky Picky

What kind of top will go best with this skirt?

Where should these skulls go?

When one is sewing for tiny bodies one needs to be as precise as possible and extra careful with fabric choices.  These photos were taken to send to a friend who wanted to know what I was up to.  They are action shots- of works in progress. 

People ask : "How did you do that?" 

After the post about Heddy's Fabrics trip- seems like a good time and place to share my thoughts and ways of working on such a small scale. 
Choosing Fabric

When sewing for a doll the size of Monster High- or Barbie or any other small doll, it is important to remember the scale of your doll as compared to you.  Barbie and Monster High are roughly 1:6 size dolls.  That means when you pick out a fabric with a print- the print should be something that translates well into 1:6 size.  To put it more simply- the print needs to be small most of the time. 

The next consideration when choosing fabric is how much body the fabric has- and how fluid it is.  Lots of cotton prints look good- but are difficult to sew properly because they are heavy fabrics- meant for use on quilts and made for daily use.  If you really like a fabric that is heavy- you can still use it.  When I find something I like that is too stiff to drape properly in a small scale, I will wash it several times first.  It simply goes in with the laundry a few times.  Before you wash it- stitch the edges with a zig-zag stitch.  This will prevent it from unraveling and getting tangled in with your laundry.

Certain fabric dyes will transfer to your dolls.  Most often the colors are black, red or dark blue.  If I think I may have a fabric that will bleed in a wash- I will soak it alone in cold water in the sink to see if it does bleed color.  If that fabric bleeds in cold water it has great potential to bleed into your doll.  You can use the fabric- but you need to line the garment so it does not come into contact with your doll.

 I always zig-zag the edges of my cut pieces first- or use a simple whip stitch by hand to secure the edges and prevent fraying.  One cannot afford to lose much edge on these tiny pieces- and it also makes for a messy finished garment if the inside edges are not closed in some way.  You may choose to use thin fabric glue on the edges (like Fray Check)-- whatever you choose, take the extra step for a garment that will last and not come apart. 
(You can also use pinking shears- but that is often impractical for such small pieces of fabric.)

Ribbons, lace, trims and buttons need to be chosen with the same care- too big will look like too much most of the time. 

A Few Words About Velcro

Do Not buy velcro with an adheasive backing.  It will muck up your needle and make it impossible to sew. Buy the clear and the thinnest you can find if you decide to use it.  Yes, it is handy.  Yes it costs less than snaps and hooks and eyes. 

I rarely use velcro. Here is why:

Velcro sticks to itself- and nearly anything else- like your doll's hair and the brand new sofa.  When you want it to stay closed, it often won't if you are trying to pull the fabric tight.   It attracts fluff and nubs and threads- and it can wear out.


If you have not sewn small before, choose a simple pattern to start.  After you've done some "small" sewing and have some experience, then you can step it up with some confidence.  There are some pretty decent patterns out there now that you can buy.  I make my own patterns- but- I have been sewing since the age of 10, and I am just a tad crazy.  The crazy helps :) 

Patterns you can purchase:

AND... if you really like a particular Monster High piece of clothing- you can use your seam ripper and take it apart and trace the pieces to make your own pattern.  Be mindful of what type of fabric they used.
Make notes and or take photos if you do this. 
Make notes of what piece was sewn on top of another - if you see an order to it- making these notes will keep you from wondering where to start later. 
Hey, voice of experience here.  I took a fairly complicated ball joint doll outfit apart to make a duplicate for a friend...and did not take notes.  It took me hours and 1/4 yard of muslin to figure it out.  The self talk got pretty rude too.  What?  You don't talk to yourself while you work? 


Sharp Scissors

Seam Ripper - I have more than one because they sometimes run away from me...!

Good Slender Pins that are sharp

Needles - a good variety

Sewing Machine -- that you know how to use
Okay, this has to sound funny- but really, having attended some quilting classes in years past, I have met both men and women who were clueless about their machines. 
One woman in a quilting class was hand winding her bobbins... I almost bit through my hand trying not to make an inappropriate comment. (What the FRACK are You Doing???!!!) 
The teacher finally saw her and showed her how to wind them on her machine. 
Gee, saved her like 2 hours a day in bobbin winding!
That said, I found myself admiring her- because she wanted to learn how to quilt so badly she was absolutely dogged in her pursuit.  
How many of us would have thrown everything in the trash if we thought we had to do all that winding by hand?

Machines usually come with instructions- read them.  Don't have instructions?  Google it- there is so much information at our fingertips these days.

Ironing Board (unless you are like my brother, and you iron your clothes on the kitchen counter top...)


>>Fit your doll's clothes as you go along. This means trying things on your doll before you are finished.  You may have sewn a seam too wide- and the skirt won't go past her hips. 
There is little room for mistakes on small things.

>>Do your fittings with the garment inside out- so you can mark it where you need to fix things.

>>It is easier to trim a finished 1/4" seam than to sew a seam width that is 1/8 of an inch.  For some items I sew the seam, trim it and then zig-zag stitch it.  It makes for a nice fit and a clean look.

>>Use your seam ripper- its not just a fun looking accessory.  If I sew a top stitch that is not crisp- I rip it out and do it over.  Part of your doll's  garment looking good is good stitching.

>>Use smaller stitches on your doll clothing.  Unless you are making gathers, sewing with smaller stitches will make sewing easier when you are easing in a sleeve or going around a collar. 

>>Sew at a moderate or slower speed.  Sewing too fast on your machine can mean making some big mistakes.

>>Take your doll with you when you shop for the fabrics and the trims.  Hold it up to her- see if the print works well with her size.  Try wrapping it around a leg or arm- how does it look? 

>>Sew on your lace or trim and do your hemming before you do your gathers or your pleating.  Much easier to do that way.

>>Age denim jeans with an emery board or fine sandpaper.  Put the jeans on the doll to decide where they should be roughed up- knees and so on.

>>Spoil yourself and purchase an older book on sewing from etsy or ebay - sit and read and try things out.  You may discover something you can use that will make your clothing look even better.
You would be surprised at what is in here-
this is a great book for a person who is learning to sew.

>>I am always learning. I try different techniques and approaches to sewing different things every week.  It keeps things fresh- and it saves me headaches later.  Win-Win.

>>Buy remnant fabric that is cheap and practice on it.  It is really painful to make mistakes on expensive fabric.  I bang my head on cupboard doors and walls when I do things like that.  It hurts.

>>Every doll is different.  Seems obvious.  Seriously though.  My Frankie or Rochelle would not be caught dead in the Barbie clothes I make.  Think about the doll you are making the clothes for.

When someone tells me that Barbie clothes fit Volks or Obitsu 1:6 scale dolls, and that Bratz clothes fit nicely on Monster High dolls...I do my best not to roll my eyes... but really.  I mean, look at the above photos and tell me that each doll can wear the same clothes.  Bratz clothes fit sort of- but I like my doll clothes to - well- to fit! 

New at Dolly Dolly

Dolly Dolly Fashions on etsy: 

Take your time and have fun. 
It will show in your work.

Remember to leave a comment on this post and get an entry for the September Drawing.  You can leave one comment on each post and get an entry for each of your comments.


  1. excellent tips! I have a sewing machine but it's too frustrating to me and most of the time I end up sewing by hand. I don't know if it's me or the machine, lol. the last time I had a lesson in sewing was over 15 years ago so it's probably me huh? LOL

    1. Sewing machines are all different. If yours has been sitting a long time- and you have trouble using it- it might be a good idea to take it somewhere they repair machines- and ask for help. Let them check it out - show you how to oil it- and how to adjust it and how to thread it. I clean and oil my machine regularly as it gets a lot of use.
      Otherwise, taking a class in quilting at a local shop might be helpful for you- those ladies and gentlemen know their stuff. I watched people that hated their machines learn to use them. Its the practice effect. The more you use it, the better you get :)

    2. With a sewing machine the manual is also your best friend because it will tell you the best settings you need for each stitch. Also needle choice is important. Use a ball point needle for stretch, a fine needle for satins and a heavier needle for denims and cottons and changing them every now and then helps too because a dull needle can completely ruin your sewing and jam up your machine! Also keep the bobbin race clean as well but the manual will tell you that too

  2. Hello from Spain: your creations are always beautiful. I love your skirt with skulls Monsters is wearing. Your sew very well. I do not know how to sew anything .. . . Keep in touch

  3. Thanks for such a great, informative, and as always, cleverly amusing post! (Whew - I'm always relieved to find out I'm not the only person who mutters to herself out loud, while in the art studio trying to make an idea work with me! It REALLY makes me laugh at myself sometimes!). ;) But, in all seriousness, I learned soooo much from this post, and have added lots of it to my notes. Many thanks again, for picking your knowledgable and highly creative brain, and sharing with us! I can't wait to get back to my sewing machine!!

    1. Thank You :) So glad it was helpful :)

  4. I just discovered your blog while searching for monster high clothing patterns. I already sew for barbie but the monster high dolls seem so much more intimidating with their even tinier size. Thanks for the useful tips, I'm a little less worried now :)

    1. If you have been sewing for Barbie I am sure you can sew for these ghouls - a little practice and you'll be off to the races :)

  5. Hello of Pa., I love your patterns and comments on this site. I have a granddaughter with monster high dolls who wants me to make her some clothes. I ordered your dress patterns and am sewing up a storm. Thanks for all the good tips. Frandma Sue

  6. Thank you for your great tips. I will be using your ideas ALOT.

  7. Great tips, really enjoyed reading your blog. Do you have any advice or blogs on making your own patterns?

  8. Loved your article!
    Figured it out myself that velcro is too tricky to use on tiny stuff, so sew tiny poppers on dresses
    xx LW

  9. Thank you for your informative article..starting my first monster high doll outfit