Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Doll Clothes

A while ago I decided I wanted to learn to make clothes. I've been embroidering for as long as I can remember, but the truth is I can't afford to frame as much stuff as I make. Sewing is my relaxation of choice -- it's very Zen -- but I already have a box full of finished, unframed projects. So with women's clothes being ... well, awful and made to fit Eva Longoria and nobody else, I thought it would be helpful if I could crank out my own clothes now and then. But making full-sized people clothes is expensive and time-consuming and errors cost a LOT of money. So I decided to learn the way little girls learned for years and years before the introduction of factory-made clothes: making doll clothes. (And doll clothes are easily and quickly made by hand; I don't find the sewing machine nearly as Zen as sewing by hand. It's noisy.) If an 8-year-old can do it, I have every confidence that I can do it!

I got this book called the Mary Frances Sewing Book from Lacis, a reprint of a 1913 storybook that teaches little girls to sew. (Lacis also carries a doll that fits the book's patterns.) It's alarmingly Edwardian, but the instructions are good, and last July or so I started working through the book. Now, I've finished all the projects in the book but the Wedding Dress.

The whole thing is both amusing and alarming because I'm not actually a doll person. I didn't really play with dolls as a little girl (I was all about Legos) and I've never felt any impulse to collect them, but I've been hard at work for 7 months on turning out an elaborate Edwardian wardrobe for a DOLL.

Anyway, having achieved relatively mad doll-couturier skills, I'll be teaching a class for little girls who want to learn to make clothes for their American Girl dolls through the Park District in March & April. It's called "Sew Fun" and it's on page 17 of the Winter/Spring 2007 Playbook.

The first project will be an apron, like this one. It serves as a "sampler" to learn the basic clothing stitches and construction.

After that, the girls will make nightgowns. These are charmingly old-fashioned; to avoid making plackets (where the buttons or zippers go), which are terribly complicated, it uses "baby lace" on the neck and arms, which is threaded through with a ribbon, and the neck is made very wide and the ribbon tightens it to the proper size. (You can still find these on traditional christening gowns, although I think they're probably frowned on in actual baby clothes as a choking hazard.)

The nightgown pattern serves as a base for a huge variety of other outfits the girls can make in class (if they're speedy) or at home after the class is over. For example:

In the picture above, on the left, the top three dresses (nightgown, morningdress, nightgown variation) are all based on the nightgown pattern, and on the far right, the top three pieces (bathrobe, kimono, and cardigan/bed jacket) are all based on that pattern. If you have an eye for clothing cut, you'll notice that the dress with red trim, the bathingsuit (blue flannel on the left), the pinafore, and the rompers are also basically the same pattern (although requiring pattern adjustments, which the first six don't).

My ridiculously well-dressed doll also has a party dress, fur-lined cap, automobiling coat, raincape, fur muff & tippet, three hats, and a variety of doll underwear.

I feel like this is a sort-of creepy hobby I shouldn't tell people about or they'll be like, "Um ... you're too weird to be my friend." But probably it'll be a cool hobby again once I start making real-people clothes.

Anyway, to do something useful with my newfound talent, I've created the confection at right, a princess dress for an American Girl doll (that one's Samantha -- I borrowed it for the fitting). You'll notice the matching satin slippers between her feet, which do fit; I was too lazy to put them on for the picture. I'm donating this to the Junior League's Dueling Pianos fundraiser for the silent auction. This is a rollicking good time; the last time I attended (two years ago; last year I had a conflict) there was actual dancing on the tables. You should all go because Mr. McGee has this dance he does ... I really just can't describe it. All my relatives are still talking about it from our wedding.

My guiding aesthetic in this dress was "what would I want if I was a little girl getting a party dress?" And the answer was: poofy skirt and lots of sparkles. So there you have it: poofy skirt, and LOTS of sparkles.

To sum up: Sign your daughters up for my class so they can make doll clothes instead of paying $30 a pop to the American Girl company for them. Go to Dueling Pianos because it's a hoot.

PS - forgive the terrible photography. I can only take pictures using my LEFT eye, which is the one that can't actually see anything, because I tip over if I close my left eye and look through the camera with my right. Seriously. So I never know if the strap is in the picture or not because I can't see anything but a fuzzy blob of approximately the right shape and color.


Anonymous said...

You are not creepy and your blog is quite entertaining. Sewing is very "cutting edge" (no pun intended) and you are just doing the miniature version right now. It is wonderful you are passing this skill on to the next generation that won't have a chance to learn from mom or home ec. You go, Eyebrows!

Eyebrows McGee said...

Thank you. :)