So now I had a very nice doll, but no clothes that fit her (the outfit she came in was ugly). What to do? Again, eBay was the answer. In all my searching, I’d seen scores of dolls with beautiful clothes selling for practically nothing. Despite what people might have believed upon purchase (and despite what the boxes emphatically proclaim about their heirloom value), porcelain dolls just aren’t worth that much on the secondary market unless they’re limited editions or “special” in some way. So there were many dolls to choose from, with gorgeous clothes, but two problems:
First, shipping costs were often more than the dolls themselves. What I ended up doing was emailing the seller and asking if they’d be willing to ship just the clothes for a reduced shipping cost, so long as I paid the full auction price. Most were happy to oblige– after all, they’d still be getting their money and might even be able to sell the naked doll later for more. Some weren’t, but the price was so low it was worth it. I just discarded the dolls into the Goodwill pile (after they were soundly rejected by my daughter, who still insisted they were “mean dolls”).
Second, just as smaller dolls often had less detailed faces, they also had less detailed clothes. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to size down doll clothes, so as long as the original dolls aren’t more than 16″ high this wouldn’t be an issue. While not all of the clothes had to be altered in size, I did remove all of the velcro on the pieces and replaced them with snaps to avoid messing up the doll’s hair when dressing and undressing.
I wish I’d taken before and after pictures, but I wasn’t thinking of it at the time. Here are the outfits I ended up with:
1. Blue satin dress with lace and pearl trim. This was the first one I altered, and probably not the best choice for my first foray into tiny doll sewing. The satin frayed like mad, and I had to re-gather and sew the sleeves twice and the skirt at least three times. Also, I really should’ve moved the shoulder straps further in, since my doll is not a linebacker.
2. Brown gloria dress with double-puffed sleeves. As soon as I saw this one I dubbed it the “Anne of Green Gables” dress, based on this description from the book:
Oh, how pretty it was–a lovely soft brown gloria with all the gloss of silk; a skirt with dainty frills and shirrings; a waist elaborately pintucked in the most fashionable way, with a little ruffle of filmy lace at the neck. But the sleeves–they were the crowning glory! Long elbow cuffs, and above them two beautiful puffs divided by rows of shirring and bows of brown-silk ribbon.
3. Pink flannel nightgown. This came in a set with the dressing gown, below, and all it really needed was hemming and re-elasticization of the cuffs, plus a dip in Woolite to get rid of some discoloration at the front. It wasn’t a show-stopper but it was serviceable as a nightgown.
4. Ivory velvet dressing gown. One of my favorite pieces, it also required a lot of work. I took in the sides and hemmed it up to the proper length (which required re-attaching the lining), then had to cut down the sleeves both in length and width, re-gather them at the shoulder, then remove all of the pearls on the smocked yoke so I could take the sequins off of them and re-sew the pearls, and re-tack the smocking. It also took Woolite to remove some serious discoloration.
Just look at the pearl and smocking detail!
5. Burgundy velvet coatdress. Another one with wonderful embellishment that I wanted to preserve. I removed the embroidered capelet section, cut it down to a manageable scale and re-attached it, and hemmed the bottom of the dress. I also removed the attached white fur collar entirely and sewed ribbon over the raw edge so it would be a separate capelet, and took in the brim of the matching velvet hat so it would fit the doll’s head. There was also a fur muff that needed no alteration.
6. Lilac walking suit. This one was difficult to alter, but worth it. The under-dress needed to be shortened and the hem trim re-sewn. For the coat, I removed the black lace appliques on the front, re-cut the curved hem and lining, then re-sewed the appliques. I also re-sewed the black decorative buttons on the front (attaching snaps for closure) so they’d be correctly spaced for a shorter doll, and reduced the length and width of the sleeves, re-sewing the tiny decorative cuff buttons as well. The hat didn’t need any alteration.
7. Lavender tea gown. While this one was a hair long, it would’ve been a real pain to shorten so I left it as-is. I just replaced the original lavender satin ribbon accents with navy velvet ribbon, and sewed on some tiny velvet ribbon bows.
8. Coral “Love” dress. Needed no alteration at all, except for adding snaps. The cutest detail is the fact that the word “Love” is part of the design of the lace trim. It came with a gigantic bonnet, but it was too ugly to be salvageable.
9. School uniform. My least favorite, since it’s made of stiff, cheap-feeling navy velveteen, but it was inexpensive, needed no alteration, and I suppose every VIctorian-era girl needs a school dress.
10. Rosebud dress. Also needed no alteration except snaps. I think I dubbed this “the prettiest doll dress ever,” just because it’s so delicate and perfect. The dress has two layers of fabric– the top is filmy white, patterned with faint diamonds, and the underlayer is rose pink satin. There are tiny pink rosebuds, lace, and it came with a rose-and-lace headband and matching rosette shoes.
I also collected any of the dolls’ shoes that actually fit, a tulle underskirt, and a few sets of pantalettes and stockings. I got two tiny velvet purses in burgundy and pink for a reasonable price, and found a pair of glasses with brass-colored frames left over from my hat-decorating days (the glasses don’t quite fit, but are a nice prop). I have ideas for other things, like tiny decorative hair combs, a hand mirror, or handkerchiefs, but those will have to wait.
Next up: The Trunk!
1. To machine-sew anything with sleeves, you’ll need to attach the unsewn sleeves to the bodice before sewing any side seams at all. Then sew one seam up the side of the bodice and under the arm, down to the wrist. Sewing machine feet are just too big to sew around an armhole that tiny for set-in sleeves.
2. To replace velcro with snaps, I recommend getting some narrow single-fold bias tape in an appropriate color (I used black or white depending on the dress) and machine-stitching it to the edge of both sides of the dress. Then sew the snaps either to the tape only, or to the layers of tape and dress. This will reinforce the snap area so you don’t strain your fabric, and will allow you to minimize visible stitching on the outside of the dress.
3. If you’re going to order doll shoes from a doll supply site, make sure to accurately measure your doll’s feet. Even better, measure a pair of shoes that already fits her, paying attention to width as well as length. I had to toss a few pairs because I didn’t measure accurately. Also, if you have any doubt about the foot width, go with laced shoes rather than shoes with snaps or buttons– lacing is much more flexible.
4. Woolite is great for gently removing stains from delicate fabrics. It worked when my baking soda and lemon juice trick had no effect.