How I Made Thirty Doll Dresses

Two years ago, I made a promise to myself.

I will not make doll clothes. I WILL NOT make ANY doll clothes AT ALL. EVER. 

At the time, I think I was trying to save myself hypertension issues, because who in their right mind wants to make super tiny doll clothes?

Me, apparently.

The past two weeks I spent visiting my parents in the house where I grew up. Incidentally, I store my sewing machine in that house so it doesn’t distract me while I’m living my life in Colorado.

Two weeks before I left on vacation I bought a gazillion used Bratz dolls who came naked (of course), and I couldn’t find a cost-effective method of clothing them. Except making clothes myself.

I began collecting fabric that would work for dolls, meaning it had to have small print or no print at all, be in child-friendly colors, and be mix-and-match-able.

I tried to buy a pretty large variety of fabric, mostly so I don’t get bored while sewing. Buying such a huge variety of patterns and colors in amounts like “four inches, please” and “a quarter yard,” gets you some weird looks. But it may be that the ladies who work at my JoAnn’s Fabrics are just really judge-y.

Fabric scraps after I finished thirty dresses. And a chocolate bar....What? Don't judge.
Fabric scraps after I finished thirty dresses. And a chocolate bar….What? Don’t judge.

Pattern-making.

I hate buying patterns, but I recognize that sometimes they are a necessary evil. Picturing how clothing comes apart is a skill I don’t actually have, so I invested in some initial patterns. They were okay. The design was cute but literally everyone makes this dress, because it’s super easy and versatile. I wanted something different, but still easy.

Either way, I bought the pattern, made it, sized it up to fit a Moxie Girlz (why the ‘z’ MGA?!!)  doll, and that was all set.

I settled on a strapless dress with a full gathered skirt (because hemming circle skirts is the worst). To make the pattern I took a Bratz top I had gotten with the naked dolls, used a seam ripper to take it apart, and traced it onto paper with a seam allowance added.

That’s it.

Assemble!

I started my stopwatch.

Okay, my smartphone timer.

It took me twenty-five minutes to make a dress, starting from cutting the fabric. The twenty-five minutes doesn’t include sewing velcro onto the back, though. But some things can be sped up by assembly-lining, and I was tired of getting up and down and up and down and walking from the iron to the sewing machine and back.

So I started cutting out bodices and didn’t stop. I cut out enough bodice pieces to make about sixteen dresses.

I sewed the pieces together. Each side of the bodice (these are lined) requires three individual pieces stitched together. So the completed bodice takes six individual pieces.

The pieces sewn together (partly).
The pieces sewn together (partly).

After the front and lining pieces are stitched together for twelve dresses, I turned them all right-side-out and ironed them flat.

The bodice stitched together and turned right-side-out.
The bodice stitched together and turned right-side-out.
Pressed flat.
Pressed flat.

That’s the hard part!

Then I cut out twelve skirt pieces, which are just rectangles varying from about 11 by 3 inches to 8 by 2.5 inches. A shorter rectangle makes for a less-full skirt (8 inches as opposed to 11). You also have to be conscious of the fabric you’re using: stiffer fabric will make a fuller skirt, and thinner fabric will be less full.

Skirt strips.
Skirt strips.

Apparel fabric is my favorite to work with, for doll purposes. It’s thin but sturdy. A close second favorite of mine is lower-quality quilter’s fabric that has a relatively loose weave. It gathers neatly.

After I have all the skirt pieces I drag them over to the iron, press the sides in and press the hem up.

Hemmed skirts.
Hemmed skirts.

Then I sew around the sides and hem. Sometimes I’ll add some ribbon to the bottom, just to dress it up a bit more. Ribbon on the bottom will stiffen the hem and make the skirt seem fuller, however, so it’s best to not use ribbon with thick or stiff fabric.

Unless you want a tutu.

After everything is hemmed, I sew two basting seams across the top of each skirt so it can be gathered.

Then for the fun part: sewing the bodice to the skirt.

I start by pinning the edges of the bodice to the edges of the skirt. Then I gather the skirt to match the length of the bodice, and pin the hell out of it.

Pinned the bodice to the skirt.
Pinned the bodice to the skirt.

Stitch them together, and ta-da! A dress.

Now I add the velcro. I have a sticky velcro, but the destructive power of five-year-old girls is not to be underestimated, so I tried to stitch it down in a couple places for good measure.

NO NO NO! Do not use adhesive velcro, unless you want a gummy needle, gummy thread, and gummy sewing machine. I made the adhesive really, really sticky by ironing it in place after sticking it down, and I think it’ll hold against normal five-year-old wear and tear. We’ll see.

A few dresses didn't match the others, so they got left out of the picture. But I did make them, I promise.
A few dresses didn’t match the others, so they got left out of the picture. But I did make them, I promise.

There was one batch. I did the whole thing again with a different size of dress. The ones above fit Bratz, and then the ones below (my second batch of dresses) fit Moxie dolls.

IMG_3345IMG_3346…And there was the other batch.

And then I checked in to my flight 24 hours prior to boarding, as is recommended, packed up all my sewing stuff…

After  two weeks of sewing. But it probably looked about the same two hours after I began sewing...
After two weeks of sewing. But it probably looked about the same two hours after I began sewing…

… Swept the floor…

Fabric scraps after I finished thirty dresses. And a chocolate bar....What? Don't judge.
Fabric scraps after I finished thirty dresses. And a chocolate bar….What? Don’t judge.

… And went home.

Favorite my Etsy page for notifications when I have new dolls wearing these dresses!

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Tutorial: How to Curl Doll Hair

Doll hair just looks better when it’s curled into adorable little ringlets that are going to be destroyed by an enthusiastic five-year-old girl shortly after receipt.

There are a few different kinds of curls you can go for, and this tutorial focuses on curling hair into ringlets as opposed to natural wavy curls.

What you need:

  • A doll with medium-long hair
  • Pipecleaners
  • Tinfoil (sort of optional)(actually, not optional)
  • A comb or brush
  • Boiling water

To start, your doll hair needs to be straightened and brushed. If you’re starting with a doll with messy hair, follow THIS tutorial to brush and straighten the hair. Then come back here!

We’ll use Violet as our model today.

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To see how I repainted Violet, check out here Transformation Story HERE! Also, look for her in my Etsy shop later this month. She’ll have clothes on by then, because even faeries can’t walk around naked all the time.

1. Cut up the tinfoil and pipecleaner.

Here are my tinfoil pieces and pipe cleaners. Also a comb.
Here are my tinfoil pieces and pipe cleaners. Also a comb.

The tinfoil will be wrapped around the bottom of the small sections of hair, so the size of the rectangle depends on how small you want your ringlets to be. The smaller the ringlet, the smaller the foil. For a section of hair slightly smaller than the width of a pencil I make my rectangles about 1.5 x 1 inch (approx. 4 x 1.5 cm). You could probably go for a square, too: 1 x 1 inches or 1.5 x 1.5 cm.

You need one foil rectangle for each section of hair you curl, in between 10 and 15, depending on how much hair the doll has.

The pipecleaner straws should be cut into lengths in between 2-4 inches. Sort of up to you and what style of curl you’re going for.

2. Get the hair wet. 

You don’t get a picture of this.

It shouldn’t be drenched, but wet hair is a bit easier to work with than dry hair because wet hair will stick together and isn’t affected by static.

3. Section and wrap the hair. 

Now you can start sectioning out the hair, wrapping the end of each section with the foil strip or square.

Halfway there.
Halfway there.

What a pain! Why do I even have to do this!? 

You don’t have to do this. But the foil strips will help the ends of the hair stay in place, and it will also help the hair sections curl down to the very tip. Without the foil strips the hair will curl the same, but I often have to clip off the ends of the hair when the ends didn’t curl as well as the rest. If you don’t care about cutting the doll’s hair feel free to not use foil.

All done. See how I haven't slid the tinfoil down to the end of the hair? That's to keep the foil from slipping off when I'm wrapping the rest of the sections.
All done. See how I haven’t slid the tinfoil down to the end of the hair? That’s to keep the foil from slipping off when I’m wrapping the rest of the sections.

*NOTE: some people like to combine this step with the next by sectioning out a piece of hair, wrapping it in foil, and then wrapping it around the pipecleaner before sectioning out the next piece of hair. The advantage to this is that you can get slightly neater curls by brushing out the section, wrapping in foil, and then wrapping before the section of hair gets mussed. Feel free to mix and match the steps!*

4. Put the hair in ‘rollers.’ 

Slide the foil down to the end of the hair.
Slide the foil down to the end of the hair.

Did you guys hate having your hair in rollers as much as I did when I was a kid? My mom used to put these horrid pink plastic rollers in my hair for Easter. It was the dreaded Easter hair-do to go along with the dreaded Easter dress to go along with the dreaded Easter mass.

If you hated rollers like I did, you can now get some vindictive pleasure out of making an innocent little doll suffer, too. Now is the time. Seize the day.

Wrap the pipe cleaner around the foil.
Wrap the pipe cleaner around the foil.

Take a section of hair and make sure the foil is covering the end of the hair. Pinch the foil-wrapped end with the pipecleaner by folding the end of the pipecleaner over the foil. This will help keep the end of the hair section in place. Now roll the pipecleaner up the strand of hair.

When it’s all rolled, secure the roll by wrapping the pipecleaner around it.

The first roll.
The first roll.

There are different ways to roll. If you want looser ringlets you might want to roll so that each rotation isn’t directly above the previous rotation. You basically roll the section of hair so that it spreads out over the space of an inch or so. If you want tighter ringlets you do want to roll so that each rotation is directly above the previous rotation, so that the completed roll is only about 1-1.5cm wide (you all love how I’m mixing my measurement units from metric to imperial, I know).

Violet’s curls will be very tight because I rolled all the hair on top of each other.

So now your doll looks something like this:

All rolled up!
All rolled up!

5. Boil the head. 

This is another point at which you get to torture the doll.

Boil water by whichever method you prefer. If you are a small child or just an accident-prone person PLEASE GOD GET SOMEONE TO HELP YOU WITH THIS. Hot water is hot.

Put the hot water into a bowl deep enough to submerge the doll’s hair. Then stick the doll’s head into the water, making sure that all of the rolls are submerged.

6. Wait. 

This is an easy one. Just let the doll lounge around in the hot water for five minutes or so. I normally forget about it and just leave the doll until someone in my family tells me to get the creepy doll off the counter.

7. Cold set (optional)

After taking the head out of the hot water, put her head into some cold water to set the hair.

NOTE: you only have to do this if the water she was lying in was still hot/warm at the time you pulled her out. If you forgot about it like me, and by the time you remembered the water was cold, you don’t need to cold-set.

8. Let dry. Or don’t. Whatever.

After you take the doll out of the water, hold her upside-down over the sink to let any water in her head drain out. You can lightly dab at the hair with a towel to get some of the excess water out.

Now let the doll’s hair dry. You can let it dry halfway or all the way before removing the pipecleaners. I normally dry it halfway because it makes it easier to tame frizzies if it’s not completely dry.

9. Remove the hardware. 

Gently undue the pipecleaner rolls and slide the foil off. If the curl gets messed up during this process you can neaten it with your fingers. The curls will snap back into place when they are unrolled, unless they weren’t boiled enough.

I split each ringlet in half after taking the pipe cleaners out to get slightly more volume in the hair.
I split each ringlet in half after taking the pipe cleaners out to get more volume in the hair.
She knows she's the cutest faerie ever.
She knows she’s the cutest faerie ever.

Other stuff you can do to make the curls look nicer.

Every time I take the pipecleaners out I’m always a little disappointed. Mostly this has to do with me being impatient and rolling the hair as fast as possible. But the way that the curl’s get rolled up is the exact way they will lay when they are unrolled. That said, it’s hard to get them perfect!

I always break up the ringlets with my fingers after unrolling them, and this takes all my disappointment away! I split each ringlet in half, and it makes the curls look MUCH better.

Tips for keeping the ringlets nice. 

First, don’t give the doll to an enthusiastic five-year-old girl. But in the event that that isn’t an option, there are a couple other thing you can do to help the ringlets.

Second, don’t brush the ringlets, unless you don’t want them to be ringlets anymore. Like I mentioned above, if your ringlets are larger than you wanted them to be, you can split each one in half by separating the section of hair with your fingers.

I have had some success with taking the pipecleaners out of the hair while the hair was still damp and lightly spraying each ringlet with hair spray. I don’t like to do this when the hair is dry because the spray won’t go on clear (unless you use really nice hair spray but I refuse to use my nice hair spray on a doll I found in a thrift store).

I’ve also put a light coating of hair mousse on each ringlet while the hair was still damp. This works super well if you have the patience to re-roll each section of hair after applying mousse, but I’ve never had that kind of patience.

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