One of my goals for 2017 in the sewing area is to improve upon my basic garment construction skills. When I was in middle school, I took Home Economics and sewed a pillow and a skirt. Well … my mom did more of the work than I did, primarily because she didn’t like the pattern or the way my instructor told me to do things. I would sneak my projects out of school and bring them home so she could help me.

I did a little sewing here and there after I had kids. I had the desire to be as good as Mom – who made almost all my clothes when I was growing up – but I didn’t have the drive. My sewing projects back then were simple elastic waisted shorts and the occasional dress for my daughter, but nothing fancy. I didn’t really start sewing anything in earnest until my former husband and I split up in 2000. That’s when I decided I needed a hobby and began quilting. I still did the occasional garment sewing, but again, nothing too complicated or fancy.

But lately, I’ve noticed that I like fewer and fewer of the clothes that are available in ready to wear. Either the colors are wrong, the styles are wrong, or the prices are wrong. Sorry, but I refuse to pay $100 for a pair of slacks. I grew up in the house of, “I can make it cheaper, and better!” and I’m not sure you ever get over that. Also, the clothing for plus size women is a bit … ugly, frankly. Either it lacks any sort of shape, or the fabrics are horrible, or the styles are something no woman my age should EVER squeeze her butt in to. So here I am, trying to learn how to make clothes for me that fit, look good and aren’t frumpy.

But the things I really like and want to do exceed my skill level. I consider myself a solid intermediate sewist, but there are still many things I don’t do well. When discussing this with some folks on a sewing forum I frequent, a couple of them suggested I try sewing doll clothes to learn different techniques. They said that if I can do the techniques on doll sized clothing, I can certainly do it on clothes for myself. So I went to Target and bought myself a knock off American Girl doll. I chose this doll because most doll patterns are made for American Girl (AG) dolls, and this one has measurements that are very close to AG dolls. I looked at AG dolls online but when I saw that they are more than $100, I figured I could get along just fine with the Target knock off. It’s just a model, so I don’t think I need to spend $100 on a doll.

This is my first attempt at making a dress for my doll, and I’m less than pleased with it. In fact, I am so displeased, I didn’t finish it. I really wanted to finish it but there is one primary reason why that didn’t happen: The fabric is beginning to ravel around the waist. I think this is because I had issues with the gathering.

She’s really cute, isn’t she

I used quilting cotton from Joann’s for this dress, and I had really high hopes for the dress, but … there are a few things I need to address.

  1. The raveling fabric. The pattern calls for 1/4″ seams, which means there really isn’t much room for overlocking the edges. I might add 1/4″ to the seam allowances to facilitate this.
  2. The ribbon that was called for on the pattern was 1/8″. By the time my construction process reached the point where I should attach the ribbon, my lines were more or less gone, so I eyeballed it. And, even if the lines weren’t gone, the ribbon was so thin, I had NO luck pinning it on. So, on the back of the skirt, the ribbon is a fair amount off where it’s supposed to meet. Next time, I am going to do this step first, and try using a washable glue stick to tack down the ribbon before sewing it. That will also allow me to double check the placement and move it around before attaching it to the skirt.
  3. The bodice of this dress is lined. That’s good; it’s a technique I’ve never tried before and it didn’t turn out horrible. But that made sewing all the layers together after the skirt was gathered rather a bulky affair. And it leaves raw edges at the waist of the dress. It looks untidy AND it ravels.
  4. I really need to practice my gathering skills. There were so many things that went wrong on this step of construction. First of all, I was using George to construct this dress, and I used a generic gathering foot (not a Brother part), but it didn’t seem to get the job done. Now it’s entirely possible that the fault was my own, but it just didn’t work out like I wanted it to work. I wound up buying a gathering foot for my Pfaff machine, and it worked fine (which is one more reason I think the problem might be the foot I used on the Brother). I had to pull out the gathering stitch three or four times before I finally bought the Pfaff foot and tried it. It worked perfectly the first time I used it, but the damage was done. When you’re working with cotton fabric, there really are only so many times you can take something apart before the fabric starts to show wear.

Due to the raveling fabric, the skirt didn’t completely attach to the bodice. I started to take it apart and do it for a third time, but realized that the fabric probably couldn’t handle the deconstruction for another iteration. The fact is, it’s very inexpensive fabric, so it just isn’t capable of the kind of stress it suffered.

The raw edges would make me hesitant to make a dress like this to give to a little girl to play with for fear it wouldn’t survive more than minimal play. When I did a Google search on finishing seams for doll clothing, the suggestions that seemed to come up most often were Fray Check and zig-zagging the edges. Most of the people I found discussing this issue agreed that serging the edges adds too much bulk to the construction. I don’t have any Fray Check but I might go buy some just to see if it works.

This isn’t my last attempt at this dress, though. I just need to regroup and give it another go. I knew this would be a process, and learning to sew on a smaller scale is also an adjustment, but it’s a lot cheaper than trying to learn new techniques on adult clothing!

1 thought on “Sewing Project: American Girl Doll Dress”

  1. Some of those cheaper Joann cottons unravel if you look at them wrong.. I add seam allowance like you said and serge or fray check, because I’ve found the multiple dress/undress games just do the clothes in if they’re not serged. Likewise, quality doll
    Clothes (corolle, etc) that I purchase are all serged and hemmed properly. Cheaper ones (Walmart, etc) are not and do not last very long. But your dress is cute!

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