March 15, 2013

My New Blog

You can find my new blog at:

No "blogspot" in the address.

Thank you for supporting this blog. 

My new blog is a big step forward. I hope you find me there.

January 27, 2013

Mixing Prints with Simplicity 2458

I love mixing prints--or in this case mixing a pinstripe and a print. This Simplicity design 2458 isn't something I'd normally use. But I think it's cute:

I have not been satisfied with the fit of most patterns recently, but this one is a gem. The top has elastic inserted in the back near the waist which creates a better fit.

I learned much about ribbon while doing this little exercise. From now on I'll work exclusively with silk or rayon whenever possible. Polyester can be stiff, and it doesn't drape the way I'd like it.

I changed my photography set-up, and that was a bad idea. A few unwanted shadows in these photos, but if I wait for perfection, I'll stand still.

One of the purposes of this blog is to show my setbacks as a doll clothes maker and designer. There is more to learn than I had anticipated but this process has given me the opportunity to see what other doll clothes and patterns are available and what other doll clothes lovers are doing.

January 15, 2013

How Do I Set in a Doll Clothes Sleeve?

(Blog author's note on January 25, 2013: After working with more sleeves, I realize that--although doll clothes differ from people clothes--my sleeve problem is in the design of the pattern and not in the skill of my sewing. But I will eventually post some easy sleeve patterns to clear up the nonsense for good.)

I am befuddled when it comes to setting in sleeves for my American Girl doll. I have approached sewing with confidence and patience. I will remove stitches with a seam ripper and stitch again, if I must.

I wish I had photos of the many garments that I've made for myself. When I was in high school my mother took my aunts through my closet while bragging about my accomplishments. I merely boast to provide perspective here because. . . .

I don't seem to be able to set in a sleeve for my dolls. I have succeeded a couple of times, but these were by hit and miss. I've spent so long trying to master the sleeve that I'm close to throwing my sewing machines and Sergers out the window (the visual is somewhat satisfying).

Here is my problem: I do not want tucks in my sleeves. Gathered, full sleeves are another matter, but a jacket or casual dress or blouse should be smooth where the sleeve joins the armhole.

I just praised the book Dressing up 18" Dolly by Lorine Mason in my last blog entry. She gives practical instructions about most sewing, addressing the neatness of the inside of the garment. For instance, she uses a lot of bias tape to finish hems. She also suggests using a different color bobbin thread when making gathers in fabric (for a skirt or a sleeve). The color difference makes pulling on thread together much easier. Removing these temporary threads is easier as well.

I was hoping that Lorine Mason could clear up the mystery of mastering the set-in sleeve, but alas. I'm more confused that ever. Her sleeve patterns are too big for the bodice. I cannot connect them without unwanted tucks and gathers.

To be honest, I notice gathers in some of the photos of her completed garments (she uses the same sleeve pattern for each garment in the above-mentioned book). But other sleeves look perfect. I've almost finished her Cropped Jacket. I need to attach the finished sleeves and the bottom ruffle, and that's it. But I've made several attempts to sew the sleeves to the bodice, and I'm just not happy. I was once an expert sewer or seamstress--or sewest--but I feel like I'm treading water.

I've found some great advice at, a beautiful clothes pattern designer (for BJD size). After addressing the challenge of setting in sleeves of doll clothes, she often prefers to attach her sleeves by hand.

I don't know whether to finish my current project with another attempt to put the sleeve in by hand or whether that method will work with this particular pattern. I wish Lorine Mason--or other doll clothes creators, for that matter--addressed the sleeve issue in their directions. If I didn't have so much other sewing experience, I'd probably quit making doll clothes all together, thinking I simply had no sewing talent or potential.

Once I find a sleeve that works for me, I may hold on to that particular shape for everything with sleeves (nothing of course the size of the arm hole). I will continue to make notations in this blog about my relationship with set-in sleeves.

January 11, 2013

Give Your Doll Clothes a Professional Look

(Update January 19, 2013: I still love the designs in this book. However, I made--or attempted to make--the Cropped Jack, and the sleeve was too big to set in without gathers or puckers in the sleeve seam line. Although I admit to finding set-in sleeves a challenging part of doll clothes making, I've been able to put other sleeves in. I certainly have no trouble with sleeves of my own garments. I visited the author's website and left her a note. No response yet.)


I love this book!

I will tell you why:

I have sewn everything from coats and suits to prom dresses. But sewing for an 18-inch doll is simply another matter. Although I have many cute ideas for doll clothes, I have found myself disappointed in my results.

Most written instructions do not take in to account the significance of the 1/4-inch seam, as opposed to the usual 5/8-inch seam that is used in patterns for people. There is less room for error with the smaller seam; the finished garment will be too snug if the seam is too big or the fabric can easily ravel to the seam line if the seam is too narrow.

Making doll clothes look neat on the inside is important, especially if you're selling them. I've had to change the way I think about seams after years of pressing them opened to get the garment smooth and flat. Most of my seams now face one direction, and I finish seams whenever possible.

I don't think that Simplicity, the best-known pattern company, accounts for the differences between people and dolls. It is difficult for me to turn a hem under just once--per Simplicity's instructions--because the raw edge looks unfinished underneath, especially with fabric that ravels.

Dressing up 18" Dolly has practical instructions for sewing doll clothes. One suggestion, for instance, is to finish the edges of some seams before joining the two sides together. This is a small book with some super cute patterns, and I will give more concrete examples after making one of the patterns myself.

A couple criticisms of the book: The photos taken of the doll clothes could be much better. Also, I prefer American Girl or Madame Alexander as doll clothes models. Springfield dolls are cheaply made, and they look like cheap dolls. Would I buy my child a Springfield doll? Yes. But the doll doesn't photograph as well.

January 8, 2013

Reviewing My Sewing Machines

I just added a new toy to my sewing machine arsenal, a Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist.

I'm trying NOT to spend money, but here was my quandary: My normally dependable and lovely machine is a Kenmore 19606. Although I've always wanted a Bernina or a Viking, I've been too practical to go for the top-of-the-line anything. I've used Kenmore machines since I bought my first one at age 18.

The 19606 is my best Kenmore to date, but after awhile it developed a small but significant problem. The bobbin winder quit working. Before I realized that I could buy a portable bobbin winder or previously threaded bobbins, I took my machine to Sears to have it repaired. Sears sends all sewing machines to a special place, and getting it back requires patience and time.

By the way, I knew exactly what was wrong with the machine and what part I needed, but taking the machine apart was far too risky. I included a diagram with the machine, showing Sears exactly what was wrong, but Sears gives no discount for my research. When I got the machine back,  the bobbin threader winder worked but the machine's perfect stitch had been altered when it was cleaned.

Unfortunately, I put my machine away for awhile. When I used it months later, I realized that although the bobbin winder worked, it would only fill the bobbin 1/3 of the way before sticking.

At this point I bought a bobbin winder. I also bought several filled bobbins with either black or white thread. Don't do this. After years of sewing I recently realized that having the same weight thread on the top and the bottom is essential for a perfect sewing stitch.

When I decided to become a serious doll clothes designer, I bought a Serger. I like to finish the seams properly in anything that I make, and using a regular zig-zag stitch adds bulk to the seams. First, I bought a Brother Serger 1034D that is a lovely machine but difficult to thread. The instruction booklet and the accompanying DVDs were limited. I eventually threaded it by finding some instructions on YouTube. But even with instructions, threading the machine was a pain in the behind. Since I'd always gotten by with conservative machines, I finally splurged and purchased a Baby Locke Imagine. This Serger threads itself, and it's easy to use.

I take that back:

January 2, 2013

Girls Just Want a Fun Hat

Note to self: Do not make this dress pattern again. In fact, toss it into the garbage. My model below looks as cute as a button. I saved her "look" by giving her a hat.

This hat is a strip of velvet knit, folded in half (right sides together) so that the fabric becomes a thinner strip with the ends cut diagonally. I stitched the fabric together on the long edge, leaving an opening in the center, large enough to turn the strip right-side out. I folded this thick velvet strip into four pleats and tacked the pleats together. I gathered a piece of netting down the middle and tacked it onto the velvet. I added a flower, and voila! I attached the hat to the doll's head with a hat pin.

When I make a new outfit, I try it on all my dolls to see which one looks the best. Any black in the fabric looks best with black hair--or blonde hair. Not brown. I have plenty of beautiful shades of browns and tans for my brown-haired dolls.

Here's a full shot of the dress, Simplicity 4654. This dress was supposed to be a holiday dress. I'd planned to add a beautiful black sash and bow, but the bodice is far too loose at the seam line under the chest.

I previously made this same pattern in an October 14, 2011, blog entry. I remember thinking that perhaps I'd stretched the fabric. But I was careful this time. The bodice might be loose to ease the fit of the set-in sleeves.

Setting in a woman's or child's sleeve is easy. You put a row of basting stitch on the stitch line and ease the sleeve fullness into the bodice without making an ugly tuck in the sleeve. With doll sleeves, it's easy to make an unwanted tuck in the under-arm area of the bodice. I notice that most of the sleeves of the eight-inch Madame Alexander costumes are very full and gathered. These full sleeves are probably easier to sew.

Any suggestion for perfecting the setting in of doll clothes sleeves would be appreciated.

December 20, 2012

Dress for the Holidays

Here's another dress with holiday colors. I started with Simplicity 7083 but made several changes.

I used my own straight skirt but added just enough gathers so the doll could pull the dress over her hips to get into it. In other words, I wanted a fitted skirt without adding darts, so I put gathers in the back of the dress.

I think I got this dress a bit too short. I've been experimenting with fit and hem length. These dolls have weird proportions to start with. The length from the waist to the middle of the knee is about 5-1/2 inches, but from the crotch to the knee is less than 3 inches. When a doll skirt is too long it doesn't look stylish unless it's a gown. But a cut above the knee may reveal the doll's undies.

As in the previous blog entry, I love combining two different prints.

December 19, 2012

Winter Fashion Line

Here's my first holiday dress of 2012. I'll eventually have Christmas dresses for all my dolls--and maybe some of yours.

I've embellished Simplicity #4364. I like the way the bodice fits, but I shortened the skirt quite a bit, and I added these polka dotted inlays. I actually made a beautiful white shrug to go over the dress, but the shade of the shrug made me realize that this white background here is not truly white. The shrug doesn't match, but look out. The shrug will be featured shortly.

Here's a full view that shows these adorable party socks and shoes.

I've finally got my mojo working, and I have so many ideas for doll clothes. I hope to have some patterns available in the next few months.

September 14, 2012

My Red-Haired Harmony Club Doll

I didn't exactly NEED another doll, but I wanted one with red hair to round out my rainbow of 18-inch dolls. These Harmony Club dolls differ somewhat from American Girl. They have wigs instead of rooted hair, but they are sturdy enough for little girls to play with. Isn't she beautiful?

This photo of the fully clothed Kaitlin belongs to Harmony Club Dolls; she is $88.00. I purchased her in plain underwear for $75.00.

July 31, 2012

More on Using a Serger

If this blog peaks your curiosity, please don't give up on me. My blog entries will become more regular beginning NOW.

I believe that my last blog entry was deceitful. I have still been afraid of my serger. Like it or not, there is a learning curve that I think I've just about overcome.

I now see that my serger is distinctly different from my regular sewing machine.The sewing area of the serger--including the presser foot, the feed dog, and the markings used to line up the fabric--is distinctly different from that of my Kenmore computerized sewing machine:
  1. Fabric can not be placed directly underneath the presser foot. It must be placed in front of the presser foot, barely underneath the front of it, where the feed dog grabs the fabric and pulls it along.
  2. There are no margin markings to the side of the presser foot; margin markings are toward the front.
  3. Moving the threads away from the presser foot may require the use of tweezers. 
Getting the fabric ready to sew feels awkward at best. Experience with a regular sewing machine almost makes serging more confusing. Nevertheless, here is my latest stitch. This is a three-thead narrow overlock stitch done with two lower loopers and one needle thread.

I think that having support with the serger makes using it much more enjoyable. Since I cannot buy a serger in my town or take a class in my town, I joined a couple of online support groups for those with sergers. I have been studying (the serger book) and practicing some of the suggestions in the book. At some point a light went on, and I think I understand the inside workings of the serger.

In spite of my small successes, I decided to invest in a serger that is manufactured by a company who specializes in sewing machines. I am now the proud owner of a Babylock Imagine BLA1AT. 

Although I have vast sewing experience, I have shied away from working with knits. Because I want to be able to make my American Girl tights, pajamas, t-shirts and other stretch garments, I am determined to finally master a machine that will assist me.

More about Babylock in my next blog.

May 30, 2012

Don't Be Afraid of Your Serger

Perhaps my relationship with my serger will offer some insight to someone else: I bought mine a few months ago, and until last week, it served as a stylish metal sculpture, decorating my sewing room table. Because I wanted to move forward with my doll clothes design business, I didn't want to take the time to learn my serger; so there it sat.

I have spent so much time trying to make the inside of my garments pretty with my regular sewing machine. I simply don't want my name attached to something sloppy.

After bumping "learn serger" from my TO DO list several times, I made a commitment to be mature about this wonderful machine that I'd yearned for. When I read the threading directions, I fell asleep. Fortunately, my Brother 1034D came with two instructional videos. I was serious about learning, so I turned off the TV and my iPod. I closed my window shades and put my telephones in another room. No distractions.

But what happened? While watching the video on learning to thread, I kept nodding off.
B-O-R-I-N-G. Geez, this was painful.

Fortunately, I'm a resourceful person, especially when it comes to getting sidetracked and goofing off. I thought I'd do better with sewing lessons. If I could find a real person, a warm body, demonstrating how to thread the machine and watching me thread the machine, I'd have better luck. Unfortunately, I found no sewing classes in town or even nearby. We have a Michael's. No Joann's. I found a local woman who teaches children how to sew. I sent her an email, asking her if she taught serging. Or did she have any recommendations for me?

No response. The good news is that once I get the serger figured out, there is probably a demand for a local sewing (and serging) instructor, if my doll clothes pattern business doesn't fly.

Finally, some light at the end of the tunnel: I went to YouTube, looking for better instructions, and I found a woman who posts as "ArtistKae," with updated instructions for the Brother 1034D. While listening to her describe her relationship with her serger, I realized that my "sergerphobia" was common indeed. She had also been frustrated with the Brother instruction booklet. After watching her video, I realized that I was only confused about one small part of the procedure, and she cleared up the fuzziness for me.

If you are having trouble threading your serger, I suggest searching the internet, especially YouTube, to find up-to-date instructions on your exact serger model. Then consider these thoughts:

1. The serger uses two needles and two loopers. The thread from the loopers is not part of the actual seam. These two spools stitch the outside of the seam. Understanding how the machine actually works helps to make sense out of threading it.

2. Most of the actual threading is easy. Only one of the loopers is confusing, and it's only one of the steps of that particular looper that creates confusion. In other words, out of 30 or so threading steps, only one step is confusing.

3. The looper compartment is difficult to see for someone with old lady vision. Once I realized that my vision was contributing to the "fuzziness" of my brain, I looked at the compartment through a magnified class to get a clear view of what ArtistKae was describing. Once I got a clear view, I didn't need the magnifying glass.

4. Threading a serger is awkward. I have two left hands while threading my machine (apologies to my two sisters who are "lefties"). Pulling the thread through the needles and loopers feels especially strange during the last step. All threads must flow in the same direction, underneath the feed dog to the left. Long tweezers are helpful here.

5. Last of all, you can put pedal to the metal and off you go, even if there's no fabric between the presser foot and the feed dog. The serger doesn't tangle like a regular sewing machine with a bobbin.

Here's my first attampt at stitching. Kinda pretty, isn't it?

But I still need to make adjustments. This stitch is a bit wide. I ordered a book that will help me adjust the tension nobs, and the width and lengths of the stitches. I'm determined to MASTER this machine. My goal is to be able to actually sew several doll garments in one afternoon so that I can spend my time designing clothes. (To be continued....)

May 27, 2012

Finishing Doll Clothes Seams

My long-term goal is to design doll clothes and sell digital patterns. I decided to reacquaint myself with sewing doll clothes first. This blog is about this process. I learned to sew by making doll clothes, but I'd left the world of doll clothes behind until my granddaughter came into my life.

My recent forage into sewing doll clothes has been time well spent. Here are some examples of what I've learned so far:

1. Avoid choosing patterns with set-in sleeves whenever possible. A doll's arm hole is so small that this process is tricky at best, especially if you don't want your sleeves to pucker. Gathered full sleeves are something else all together; they are still a challenge.

2. Avoid working with velvet and other fabrics that can't be ironed, if the pattern is complicated. Ironing seams is usually one of the keys to good sewing.

3. Make sure that a pattern fits the doll--no matter what measurements are on the envelope--by testing the garment at various stages. Make sure to keep the seams at 1/4 inch.

I learned to set in a sleeve of my own clothing when I was 14 years old. No puckers. I also made myself a beautiful velvet dress my senior year of high school. Numbers 1 and 2 above are recommended for those who want quick success without having potential problems.

Here is the biggest challenge--for me. I like the inside of my garments to look neat and finished. To understand this preference, look at the inside of some doll clothes. The quality of doll clothes vary, depending on the manufacturer. American Girl doll clothes are expensive, but the quality is first rate. Some Target and Walmart doll clothes that can look cheap are acceptable for children, but not for someone like me who notices everything and not for someone who wants to sell their finished product.

The above photo shows the inside of two garments. The checked dress by Madame Alexander is finished with a professional machine. The small hem is turned under one time. The polka dot skirt is sewn by moi. In order to get a clean look I turned the hem under twice before I stitched it, which made it bulkier than I prefer.

Giving doll clothes a finished look is a challenge--for me. If I leave the inside seam raw, it will look ugly, and it will ravel. If I zig-zag the seam with my regular machine, the seam puckers. (I have tried various types of zig-zag stitches on my computerized machine.) If I turn the seam under and stitch it, the garment becomes too bulky. And I end up using more than 1/4 inch for my seams. By the way, general clothing patterns have 5/8-inch seams. Doll clothes patterns have 1/4 inch-seams.

My solution: I recently purchased a Serger at a very reasonable price. The Serger will give my seams a beautiful finish, and I'll be able to make tights, pajamas, underwear and garments that stretch. Although the Serger will help to streamline all my future sewing, it can be a complicated, intimidating machine. (More about mastering the serger in my next blog entry.)

May 15, 2012

Fabric, Color and Model Choice

This skirt and top (Simplicity no. 2296) look like a three-tiered dress. The coordinating pieces were easy to make. I hadn't planned to use trim like the sample on the envelope because I'm generally not a fan of Rick-Rack. Unfortunately, the pieces didn't look right without a trim, so I set this project aside until I found this somewhat unique black trim; it's a bit lacy close up.

My Asian Madame Alexander doll looks stunning in black and any prints that contain black. I generally choose my models with color in mind. For instance, the colors in this print would do nothing for a brunette or red head. Blonde would be okay. But black is awesome.

May 14, 2012

Love Me Some Polka Dots

This simple skirt is from Simplicity no. 4347. The bulkiness of all the gathers made the waist band of the skirt far too tight. Fortunately, I'd basted the skirt to the band with a loose running thread before permanently joining the two pieces. I was shocked that the fit was tight on both American Girl and Madame Alexander. No problem. I just made a longer waist band.

I added both the white top-stitching and buttons to the pockets before affixing them to the skirt. Then I added the pockets using a slip stitch with black thread.

My dolls need more plain blouses as separates. This top--a different and separate pattern Simplicty no. 2296--was supposed to include short sleeves. When I had difficulty keeping the puckers out of the sleeves, I realized that this particular pattern called for "knits only." I removed the sleeves and finished the arm holes with bias tape.

This is my "Brandi" doll, as she has an uncanny resemblance to my daughter-in-law. She is rocking some black and white saddle shoes with flirty ankle socks. Her rhinestone shades complement her fifties ponytail.

May 13, 2012

Vintage Fashion in Doll Clothes

I lean toward three periods of time when it comes to costumes or doll clothes:  the forties, fifties and late sixties (early seventies). Since I began sewing in the late fifties, and I made all my clothes in high school, I am well-acquainted with clothing styles from my school years. This blog will eventually show my love for "hippie" clothes. As Susan St. James once remarked in Kate and Allie, "My husband wanted to live like a gypsy; I just wanted to dress like one." Her comment sums up my love for that period of time.

But my favorite fashion is clothing from the forties. I particularly love dresses that are cut on the bias. I am curious to see if this book I just ordered, called Blueprint for Fashion: Home Sewing Patterns of the 1940s, will address the bias cut, and how it came about:

Please note: I only provide links to books that are special to me. The Amazon Associates program provides HTML code for the links that I need. You will not find me selling coffee makers and fertilizer on this blog.