Beginning Hand Sewing for Dolls Part 2

Today, I’ll show you how to size a pattern, prepare your fabric, and cut out the pieces of a garment. Also, it’s time to begin to decide what fabric and trim you’ll use for the dress.

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I have chosen an all-bisque doll who stands 5″ tall to dress. Her early crocheted dress is sweet, but rather blah. First, I am going to make her new undies and a half slip. Both will have waistbands and drawstrings.


As any couturier knows, we begin with measurements. On a post-it note, I identify the doll, “5” Barefoot AB”.  AB stands for all bisque. Then I measure her waist and the length from her waist to the hemline. I want her slip to reach to just below her knees, but will be adding lace at the bottom, so this measurement is approximate for now.

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Click on the pattern and print it full size on an 8 ½” x 11″ piece of paper. What, your doll is not shaped like mine and is not 5″ tall. Why is there only one pattern?  Well, it’s complicated.  Most doll patterns are sold by the height of the doll. Think about it: are all 5″ tall humans the same body type? Dolls bodies also vary greatly.

We’re going to have do some simple math. My doll is a slender bodied 5″ doll. The pattern, as is, will also fit a 4″ to 4 ½” doll with a plumper body. So, if your doll has a slender body and stands 7″ tall, divide 7 by 5 and you get 1.40. You would copy the pattern at 140% to get the right size pattern. If your doll is 3″ tall, divide 3 by 5 and you get .60.  Copy the pattern at 60%.


I trace my patterns onto non-woven pattern fabric, but paper towels work too. You want a flexible pattern piece to test fit on your doll. The undies pattern should fit just beyond the front and back center of her body with a bit of wiggle room at her hips.

The slip and waistbands are just rectangles we’ll calculate in a bit. But first, we need to get our fabric ready. Your cotton fabric can be torn to find the straight grain. Snip through the selvedge (woven) edge at least 1/2″ from the cut edge and, using two hands, rip the fabric apart until it reaches the other selvedge. Snip through the selvedge. You only need to do this on one edge.

I wanted my fabric to be a softer white, so I coffee-dyed it. Here’s how:

  • Wet the fabric thoroughly and keep an undyed dry piece nearby for comparison.
  • In a glass measuring cup, boil a cup of water in the microwave.  
  • After it stops bubbling, add about 1 heaping tablespoon of instant coffee and stir until it is completely dissolved.
  • Pour the coffee into a bowl that is large enough to hold your fabric.
  • Add about 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and stir.  The vinegar helps to set the color and make it more permanent. It stinks. You can use salt instead if the smell bothers you too much.
  • Mix in enough cold water to cover your fabric.
  • Dip your wet fabric into the mixture and stir it gently for 10-20 seconds.
  • Remove the fabric and rinse it in cold running water until the smell goes away.
  • Check the color against the undyed piece. It will dry a bit lighter. If it needs more color, dip it again, then recheck until you get the color you desire.
  • Wrap the wet fabric in a light colored towel.
  • Iron the fabric on the cotton setting on your iron (without steam) until it is dry. If you iron in any wrinkles, use steam to get them out.


Here’s my wet, dyed fabric next to the undyed fabric.


And here it is when it is dry. If you looked at it by itself, you would say it was white, but next to the undyed fabric, you can see the difference.


I cut my fabric with a rotary cutter and ruler. You can use scissors if you are not comfortable with a rotary cutter. If using scissors, it is okay to mark your fabric lightly with a pencil to show where to cut. First I cut off the selvedge. This is the woven part on the short end of the fabric.

For the slip, I multiplied my doll’s waist measurement x 3. This will make a relatively full slip. For a smaller doll, or a tighter dress silhouette, you can multiply x 2 to 2.5. For the length, add 3/4″ to the measurement. We may adjust that later depending on what trim we use.


My doll’s slip will be cut 2 3/4″ x 9″. I cut off a 9″ of the fabric parallel to the selvedge edge. Since my fabric was 1/8 yard long, this made a 9″ square and is all I need to make the slip and undies.


I then trimmed off the torn edge to make it straight.


Next, I cut off a strip 2 3/4″ wide, parallel to the trimmed edge. This is the slip.


For the waistbands, one for the undies and one for the slip, cut off a 1″ strip.

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Fold the strip in half and cut into two even pieces. This gives us two 4 1/2″ waistband pieces. We’ll adjust the length when we start sewing.


Fold the remaining fabric in half. Place the pattern for the undies so that the bottom edge lines up with the cut edge of your fabric. I use Scotch tape to hold my pattern pieces on cotton fabric.  It is clear, so you can see where to cut. Pins can distort the fabric.


You just cut through the taped section last, then remove the tape from the extra fabric. I usually just leave the tape on the pattern piece. For future reference, don’t use tape on silk.

Next Friday, we’ll start sewing. We’ll sew the slip first, because it is easier.

Start thinking about what fabric you’ll use to make the dress. Silks, lightweight wools, or cottons are good choices. I don’t recommend using China Silk. It is just too slippery. If this is your first doll dress, a light to mid-weight, tightly-woven cotton or a textured silk will be best.

Before you start sewing, you need to decide if you want to use lace on the underwear and/or dress. If you want to use lace, choose it before you start sewing so we can adjust for length.

I like to use matching lace on the undies and dress. You don’t have to; mixing laces can be a creative way to adorn your doll’s costume. If you do, make sure you have at least 1 to 2 yards of lace.


I will be using lace to trim my doll’s undies and slip.  Choose a flat, cotton lace. Most antique doll’s underwear has rather wide lace. For my 5″ doll, I’ll be using a lace that’s between 3/8″ and 1/2″ wide. Choose any size lace that appeals to you.

To recap, before we start sewing, we need to:

  • Prepare our fabric.
  • Cut out the undies (2 pieces), slip and 2 waistbands.
  • Choose our lace.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment and I’ll answer.


Beginning Hand Sewing for Dolls Part 2 — 1 Comment

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