Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Act 3B: Fairytale Doll Dress Workshop

Hello again, friends! This is the continuation of the Doll Workshop we began here. Today, we'll be making a dress for the Fairytale Doll. The template for this dress is on Page 2 of the doll template from the doll tutorial post. I experimented with other dress styles to clothe this doll but none made the cut - they were either too fiddly for most seamstresses, or required too much instruction, or showed too much variation when made with different fabric. I wanted something that was quick, easily-succeeded at, that worked no matter what fabric was used, and that had no special fastening. This way, most people could make it without having to make special trips to fabric stores or google obscure sewing techniques they'd never heard of. 

The template is sized to fit a doll made with non-stretchy fabric. If you'd used something stretchy to make your doll, this dress might be tight around the chest. That's okay - just add a quarter inch to the width of the template (i.e. you'd be adding 1/2" to the circumference of the dress when you cut it on the fold) and see if it fits a little better. 

As said, you can use any fabric for this dress. However, if you are using a very thick fabric (e.g. felt or fleece), be prepared to add a little to the width to make sure it fits around the doll's chest. Start with 1/4" to the template, just like in the paragraph above. You will also need single-fold bias tape, which you can buy from fabric stores, or make your own.

The recommended sequence of construction is:
  1. Bind neckline
  2. Sew back seam
  3. Bind armscyes into integrated straps
  4. Finish hem
I say this is recommended because it yields a more elegant product than the alternative sequence which I will also show you later. However, that elegant sequence does involve some patient manipulation. Beginning seamstresses (and also people who are not generally perfectionistic) might prefer the less-elegant-but-easier alternative sequence I'll demonstrate later. 

This is all you need for the basic dress - one dress piece and bias tape. In the instructions, I'm going to omit "press open seams" or "press bias tape" or "remember to backstitch" and other stuff like that; I'm assuming you know all that already.

Since we're working with bias tape, let's digress. There are several methods to attach bias binding to things and I thought I'd discuss four that immediately come to mind. Disclaimer: I made up all four titles, because I don't know their real names, okay?

Method 1 (The Invisible HandStitch Method)
Attach bias tape the right side (RS) of the fabric first, then fold over to the WS and hand-stitch with either miniscule slip-hemming or even-more-miniscule whipstitch, catching only the stitches of the original stitching line and not the fabric at all. 

This is the method my homec teacher and all the sewing women in my family advocate. Until I left home and started sewing on my own, it was the only way I'd ever attached bias tape.  It's old-school and very, very elegant. It is also for people who don't have small children and dinner deadlines (to cook, not eat). I very rarely use this method now (don't read this bit, Mum!).
LiEr's 7th grade homec project - handstitched bias binding. Took ages.
Kept it as proof that sometimes, sewing = torture.

Method 2 (The Stitch-In-The-Ditch Method)
Which I never knew existed until I came to this country. Start out the same way as Method 1 by sewing on the RS first, then folding over to the WS with a wider hem allowance than the front so that it overlaps the original stitching line from behind. From the RS, stitch exactly on the seamline (where the binding meets the fabric i.e. in the "ditch"), catching the bias tape on the WS in the process. Done precisely, it can yield very nice stitches on both sides, although there is no symmetry and one can clearly discern the RS from the WS.

Method 3 (The Whatever! Method)
I suspect (but can't be sure) that most people use this method because it's quite instinctive. It is sort of the opposite of the Stitch-In-The-Ditch Method. First attach the bias tape to the WS of the fabric, then fold over to the RS so that the edge of the fold covers the original stitching line. On the RS, edgestitch (i.e. topstitch very close to the edge, usually about 1/8") so that the stitching line falls as closely (or not, because nobody is supposed to look, and anyway, who cares because it's on the back) to the original stitching line on the WS as possible. On the back, the stitches may or may not catch the bias tape, and they may land on the fabric itself, which sorta makes choosing the bobbin thread color a bit of a pain, but, hey, whatever!

Method 4 (The Symmetry Method)
I use this method a lot. It has great potential to turn out amazing results but only if you are anal (and successfully manifest as such). Otherwise, it just looks like someone-who's-not-a-robot sewed it. Start out the same way as the Whatever! Method, by attaching the bias tape to the WS of the fabric and folding over to the RS. Line up the folded edge of the bias tape exactly on (no overlapping!) the stitching line and edgestitch on the RS. Done precisely, the stitches will end up exactly the same distance away from the edge on the RS as the WS. 

Then (but only if you are truly anal, otherwise just skip this step) unpick out the original stitching line so that the only stitches you see on the RS are the edgestitching. Before we see this method in action in today's doll dress, here is another example - a bib I sewed for Emily years ago. Because both sides of bibs are often visible and/or usable, the bias binding had to look identically neat on both sides. Don't look at me like that, people - I know it's just a bib for getting messy and throwing away eventually, for crying out loud. But it's the principle, okay?
Bib front - jersey knit
Bib back - terry cloth
Now that you've seen some good examples, let's have a look at everyday bias binding while we construct the dress, complete with uneven stitches and everything!

Construction Sequence 
(Recommended because more elegant):

Step 1
Sew bias tape to the WS of the neckline.

Fold over to RS and edgestitch to secure.

Step 2
Match up back seam edges, with RS touching. Sew and finish back seam. Also finish the bottom edge of the dress, in preparation for hemming later.

Step 3
Bias-bind the entire armscyes/back neckline edge as shown, leaving 3" of bias tape protruding from each side of the front neckline for straps. This is a small circumference and it takes some manipulation under the presser foot.

Here are the front

and back.

Alternative Construction Sequence 
(Easier but less elegant):
Here follows an alternative sequence of construction that requires less crazy maneuvering under the presser foot. Bind the front neckline as in Step 1, then bind the armscyes and back neckline in two halves as shown,

before sewing up the back seam. This is inelegant because you'll have sticky-out SAs at the center back neckline when you sew up the back seam. BUT it is easier to maneuver. Also, when you attach the ends of the straps to that back seam (as in Step 4), they''ll flatten and hide that sticky-out SA sufficiently.

Step 4
Try the dress on your doll and mark where the straps meet at the top of the center back.

Then remove the dress from the doll, tuck those straps to the WS and stitch them in place. This being a doll's dress, I didn't bother to finish those strap ends - they won't fray anyway, because they're bias-cut.

Step 5
Finish the bottom hem of the dress. Here are five options:

1 Rolled hem 

2 Folded hem-zig zag

3  Bias tape (again)

4 Faced hem (tutorial here)

5  Folded hem with ricrac (or other trim). 

Now, I know these are merely doll clothes, but many of the finishing methods are those used for regular people's clothes, like the four bias-tape methods I discussed earlier. I don't know how other people attach ric-rac around a closed tube (like a skirt) but I thought I'd share how I do it. Note that in many cases, especially with bigger skirts (i.e. not worn by tiny dolls), I might attach the ric rac before sewing the skirt into a closed tube, thereby catching the ends of the trim within the main seam(s) of the skirt, after which I'd hem the skirt the usual way with hand-slip-stitches. However, with this tiny skirt, I wanted a narrow hem with no hand-stitching, and a single line of machine stitches that simultaneously attached (i) the ric-rac to the RS and (ii) the folded hem to the WS.

Start by sewing the main seam of the dress/skirt but leave a small opening where the ric-rac will go.

Begin attaching the ric-rac to the RS by having its head end extend beyond the seam line on the RS - it gets tucked into that hole later.

Fold the hem up to the WS and sew the ric-rac onto the RS at the same time, securing both the ric-rac and the hem with a single line of stitches. Here, the presser foot is removed for better visibility.

When you've sewn around the entire circumference and return to that hole in the seam, trim off the ric-rac so that the tail end extends beyond the seamline the same way that the head end did. Notice the presser foot has stopped a little way before reaching the seamline. Use a seam ripper to tuck both ends of the ric-rac into that hole. Continue sewing over the rest of the ric-rac, closing that hole and securing both ends within the seam in the process.

Finished hem with ric-rac. Notice the wavy pattern of the ric-rac does not align perfectly at the seam. Let it go. If you really wanted to, you could ease the ric-rac so that it does join continuously in a perfect sine curve. If you can be bothered to (and I occasionally have with real children's clothes, because I'm mentally deranged), go right ahead.

This is the completed dress - front

and back.

And some variations in print, piecing and hem finishing,

Like this yellow ticking dress, which has a front panel

and those oh-so-fashionable chevrons-from-slanted stripes at the back.

You can see photos of the dress sewn by Grandma G, my wonderful pattern-tester, here. Now that the girls' Halloween costumes are done, I can work on the pattern to get it ready in time for you to make all the add-ons for holiday gifts. I'll also post some preview pictures of what you can expect in the pattern soon- I hope you'll love it as much as I and my kids do!


  1. grazie, bellissimo tutorial. Elena

  2. Leaving a tiny hole to tuck the ends of the ric-rac into... genius. Also, the un-matching ends of ric-rac have always bothered me, but I've never thought of easing them to match. I will definitely be doing that next time I use it. I also appreciate the binding-application demonstrations.

    1. Though I might mention that there is one more binding method that is even more 'Whatever!' than the 'Whatever!' method... simply folding the binding around the edge and stitching both the front and back simultaneously. Very inelegant, though if you happen to have a binding foot attachment it can turn out relatively well.

    2. Yes, Charity! I'd forgotten about that one. Double-fold bias tape is good for that. Thank you for adding that to the discussion.

  3. Thank you LiEr.... you are awesome!!...

  4. I actually find hand sewing bias tape truly calming and gratifying. And it has nothing to do with me being anal. ~ rolls eyes

  5. I love this! I think my niece might need a doll for Christmas. But then her little brother might want one, too — I’ll have to see if I can figure out how to modify this for a boy. Fun!

  6. Thank you for all these neat sewing tips. Hoping to make one of your dolls for my future grandkids.

  7. Lier your tutorials are awesome! Looks like I'll be making these this morning. Just wondering if you would consider pretty please posting the mermaid tail pattern for this doll? My daughter is obsessed with it and really wants the dress and the mermaid outfit please Mummy...

    1. Janette: Yes! The pattern is on its way - aiming to get it ready before Thanksgiving so you can make all the fantasy outfits (tail, ball gown, fairy wings) in time for Christmas.

  8. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your site and all of your tutorials. I think you make the most beautiful things and it has given me so much confidence in my own sewing. Thank you! Gorgeous stuff!

  9. I'm working on dolly #2 now. First one didn't turn out that well but my daughter ADORES it. Hoping that Thanksgiving release date works out - I want to try my hand at all of it!


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