This post may contain affiliate links, which means that while I am not paid to promote certain items, I will earn a small commission should you purchase items through these links. For more info, see my disclosure policy.
I have sewn no small number of doll clothes in my 11 plus years of mothering girls and yesterday as I was working on yet more clothes with my girls for their 18" dolls, I was thinking there are some things I've learned along the way to make sewing doll clothes fun and easy. I can whip them up pretty quickly these days, so I thought I'd compile some of my methods here for you today.
1. Stock up on patterns when they go on sale! The Big 4 Pattern companies run sales on their patterns online often, which is when I buy them because I don't have a big chain fabric store. If you do have a Hobby Lobby or Joann's store near you, you're extra lucky because they go on sale for a couple bucks very often. Simplicity now has official American Girl branded patterns! I asked a mainland friend to pick two up for me at her store's sale yesterday. We don't have American Girl dolls, ours are different brands, but most patterns for 18" dolls all fit the same, or with a few minor adjustments. Of course you can find great pattern online too, both free and otherwise.
2. Choose fabrics wisely. Yesterday Natalie wanted this cute ruffled skirt, but she picked out costume satin for the ruffles! Ummmm, nope. I encouraged her to pick something that doesn't ravel so I could avoid narrow hemming all those ruffles. We went with two colors of cotton lace. They don't ravel and are easy to gather. It saved me work and it saved the skirt from looking super messy over time. If you do use fancy fabrics, read on and I have tips for those too.
3. Get creative with fabric choices! Doll clothes make a great use for the small scraps of garment fabrics you don't know what to do with, but even if you don't have a fabric stash at all, they're a great reason to raid your giveaway bag! Before Casey took a load of stuff to Goodwill yesterday, I dug out some workout shirts (great for doll leotards, swim suits or leggings) and some t-shirts to use for doll tees. You can use any of your cast off clothing to repurpose into doll clothes, it's so much fun to get creative and a great upcycle project. For doll camp last week, we used this free pattern and made all the pajama shirts out of my family's unwanted t-shirts!
4. Finish seams smarter, not harder. Doll clothes don't get washed like your regular clothes do, so you don't need to finish the insides quite so much. But, they are going to be used and played with and you don't want to end up with a ravely mess either. Here's what I do:
If you have a serger, use it (I have one similar to this one and LOVE it). If not, use some pinking shears on the bigger inside seams after you sew them. If you don't have pinking shears, you can still use cottons, but avoid satins and other fancy fabrics that ravel a lot. Fabrics that don't ravel at all include any knits (stretchy t-shirt fabrics), felt, fleece, and most lace.
If you DO decide to use a fancy but ravely fabric, try using a zig-zag stitch on all your inside seams after sewing them. This will prevent a lot of raveling.
Use Fray Check or clear nail polish on the ends of ribbons and trims.
5. Sew in the flat. This is a trick that makes sewing doll clothes a ton faster, in my experience. Sewing “in the flat” means you do certain steps before sewing sides seams. Like sew the sleeves on, make hems, add trim, etc... anything that helps you avoid sewing tiny tubes or circular hems. Yesterday I made a doll leotard and sewed all the hems first, before sewing the sides and crotch seam, so I wouldn't be trying to make those little hems after the fact! Big time saver.
6. Closures. I makes closures on my doll clothes two ways. The first is to cut a strip of sew-in (NOT sticky!) Vel-Cro to size and then cut it in half length-wise. I then stitch it onto either side of the back opening, using a zig-zag stitch right down the middle (backstitch really well!) This is much faster than sewing around all four sides of a full-width piece of Vel-Cro. My other method is to use these Babyville Snapsetter Pliers and their snaps made for cloth diapers. This was a great investment, I use it all the time, for doll clothes, costumes and other little projects like business card holders, for example.
7. Fit to the doll. Layla's doll (the blond doll in these photos) is a Journey Girl and is skinnier than most other brands of 18" dolls. I ignore the elastic guides on the patterns and just fit the elastic to the doll's waist. Or when something is too big for her, I just size it up when I'm done, usually taking in the center back, or just moving the closure over until it fits how we want it and trimming off the excess.
I hope these tips are helpful! Doll clothes are so much fun, they're some of my favorite things to make! I usually make an outfit for the girls for their Christmas stockings, or Easter baskets. Don't worry, Kelby doesn't get shafted, I've been known to make him some clothes for his Build-a-Bear. Bearwear patterns is the best source I've found for those, if you're interested. I even made him an army outfit out of Casey's old BDU's :)
Some of these pictures are several years old now. It's nice to see there's been some positive progression of my photography skills, haha.
If you have more tips, resources or questions on sewing doll clothes please share in the comments!
Cheers and happy sewing :)