Are you ready to try your hand at sewing your own doll clothes? It’s so much fun! Try these tips for sewing doll clothes to improve your finished garment and make the whole process go more smoothly.
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Sewing doll clothes is one of my favorite things. Tiny clothes are just so adorable! It’s a bonus that my daughter loves when I surprise her with something new for her favorite dolls!
Since I don’t have a ton of time, I love that they’re usually quick projects. I can get a whole new outfit done in just a few hours, or even less depending on the simplicity of the pattern.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with patterns for doll clothing. When I started making them, I followed the sewing instructions exactly as they were written. As I’ve gained experience, I’ve begun to modify them for myself to make pretty much whatever I want! Naturally, this experimentation has led to many, many mistakes and lessons learned along the way. Below I share my best tips for sewing doll clothes so you can skip the mistakes and move on to the fun part!
Where to begin
Choosing a doll clothes pattern. My little girl loves 18-inch dolls like American Girls and their little 14.5-inch friends the Wellie Wishers, so I most often make clothes for them. This is where I recommend you start as well! Look for patterns for larger dolls, the bigger the better. Patterns for small dolls can be hard to work with. I have made a few things for Barbie dolls as well and they are finicky! Please take time to build your doll clothes sewing prowess before you do that to yourself.
Capsule wardrobe. If you’re looking to build a doll wardrobe from scratch, I suggest a coordinating capsule wardrobe! Make a few tops and bottoms in colors that can be mixed and matched easily. You’ll get a lot more outfit options with just a few pieces.
Pay attention to scale
Print size. Your doll is small so you’ll need a small-scale print! A large-scale print can overwhelm your doll and look out of place.
Fabric weight. Heavyweight fabrics are bulky and hard to work with when you’re sewing such small garments. The right fabrics will be a lighter weight. They will drape nicer on the doll and make it easier for little fingers to manage during play.
Thin elastic. For waistbands or sleeves with elastic cuffs you’ll generally want elastic that’s 1/4 inch or thinner. Again, your doll is small, don’t overwhelm her with a waistband or cuff that’s too thick for her frame.
Width of hems. Hems should be fairly narrow. A hem that would normally work on a human sized garment might be way out of proportion on a doll. I typically aim for about a 1/4 inch. It’s small but not impossible to work with. A rolled hem can also work well.
Use a short stitch length. Keep your stitches short to fit the small size of the garment. I don’t use anything longer than a stitch length of 2.5.
Tips for assembly
Press your fabric before you start. Before you cut anything, trace anything, or do anything at all, get your iron out and press your fabric! Pressing is such a tedious step but do it anyway! I promise you’ll be glad you did. As a general rule when sewing, pressing will give you better results. In this instance, because the clothes will be so small, wrinkles during construction can greatly alter the fit. It could mean the difference between a garment that fits well and one that doesn’t fit at all.
Take your time. If you usually like to zoom through your sewing projects, use this as an opportunity to sew slowly! You’re going to make mistakes. I still make them. A lot. But sewing slowly greatly reduces them and keeps seam allowances more consistent especially as you go around curves. It’s still a good idea to keep your seam ripper handy though. My seam ripper is my constant companion when I sew.
Thread choice. I most commonly have white thread in my sewing machine because it’s neutral and goes with most things, but that may not be right for your garment. Take a look at your own clothes. The thread normally matches the fabric exactly. Sometimes you’ll want a contrasting thread and that’s great too! Just be thoughtful about your thread choice. It really is the small things that make a difference in how the garment turns out.
Start seams with a scrap. Stitch through a scrap piece of fabric before you begin your seam so your machine doesn’t “eat” your actual garment. Sometimes when I sew small pieces my needle will push the corner of my fabric into my machine. It’s super annoying. Starting with a scrap is the best way to prevent it from happening.
Check your needle. Are you using the right needle for the type of fabric you’re sewing? Is it sharp? If you can answer these two questions with a “yes” you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration. It seems like such a simple thing, but using the correct needles has a big impact on the success of your project.
Chain piece in an assembly line. If you’re making more than one of the same garment at a time (like several of the same pattern of shirt or dress using different fabrics or colors), definitely try making them in an assembly line. Do the same step for each garment one right after the other before moving on to the next step. As you sew, you can chain piece them together. You’ll save a ton of time doing it this way. When you’re finished, you’ll have several garments completed in a fraction of the time!
Clip the curves. This is another one of those tedious steps you might be tempted to skip, but it’s so important! Clipping the seam allowance of curved seams, like shoulder seams, will keep it lying nicely and prevent unsightly bunching and puckering. You can absolutely use scissors for this step, but I like to use these snippers to speed up this process. You can also use pinking shears to quickly cut notches in the seam allowances.
Press your seams between steps. Here we are back at pressing. It’s an important step! For best results, press your seams before you sew pattern pieces together. You’ll end up with a neater finished product. It’s really the difference between doll clothes that look homemade vs handmade. It’s a subtle distinction but pressing elevates the look! A mini iron works great for small seams.
Sew hems first. Usually when sewing clothing, you would assemble all of the pieces and hem last, but with doll clothes, it can be hard to hem a tiny sleeve once it’s already been attached. The same goes for doll pants. Try hemming them when the legs are already sewn in place, you’ll find it’s almost impossible. So, to make things easier on yourself hem pieces with small openings before you attach them! It’s so much easier to hem them while the pieces are still lying flat.
Options for finishing seams. You have so many options for finishing your seams. You can stick with using a simple zigzag stitch or a serger (which is what I usually do because I have a serger and it’s easy), but these are doll clothes and you’re not going to wash them often (at all?) and they aren’t going to get heavy wear. So, you have other options! Use pinking shears to cut a zigzag edge that will prevent a lot of fraying or use a product like Fray Check to “glue” the edge of the fabric in place so it can’t fray. Knit fabrics don’t need to be finished at all because they don’t fray!
Hook and loop tape. Hook and loop tape is one of my favorite things to use for closures on doll clothes. It makes it easy to dress dolls! I commonly find it in widths that are too wide for my purposes though, so I just cut it lengthwise. Once cut, it becomes the perfect width for the garment. It also means I can also use one length of tape for twice as many projects!
Don’t use your good fabric first. If this is one of your first attempts at making doll clothes or if you bought special fabric for a project, practice your pattern first with cheap fabric like old pillowcases or clothes that have reached the end of their serviceable lives. Work out all the kinks on something where your fabric choice doesn’t matter as much. You’ll get to make your mistakes before you cut into the good stuff!
Repurpose fabric and embellishments. Piggybacking on that last tip, repurposed fabric is not just good for practice! Instead of heading to the fabric store, use old clothes and linens to make all of your doll clothes! My kids grow out of their clothes fast which means I’m often able to cut up their old clothes to make new doll clothes. A lot of it works perfectly because the clothes also come with matching embellishments like lace and buttons. I wrote a whole post about it here! My kids love to see their old clothes made into something new.
Use scraps. You know all of that scrap fabric you hung onto because you were certain you could use it for another project? This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for! Doll clothes don’t take much fabric so it’s the perfect time to use up your scraps!
Inexpensive (or free) patterns. Anytime I need a new pattern I love to search Pinterest where I can find them for FREE. There are hundreds! Check out my Pinterest board where I’ve pinned a ton of them. Now, if you’re looking for a pack with several coordinating patterns in it, I like to find them on eBay or Etsy. I’ve found them very inexpensively there. They can be especially helpful for creating a doll capsule wardrobe because all of the pieces are in a similar style and are usually already meant for mixing and matching.
Helpful sewing supplies for making doll clothes
- Rotary cutter, cutting mat, and ruler
- Sewing snips
- Pinking shears
- Fray Check
- Mini iron
- Plastic snaps, sew on snaps, hook and loop tape
- Thin elastic
- Water-soluble fabric marker
- Seam ripper
I hope these tips for sewing doll clothes are helpful to you. Let me know if you have any tips that I’ve missed!