Wow, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I last posted! The last few weeks have been incredibly stressful, but the upside of all the stress is that in my down time, I’ve been doing a lot of sewing to help myself relax.
While I have been making myself some clothes, my favourite project this month is the doll I’ve been sewing, which, funnily enough, was only meant to be a mock up so I could get used to the pattern before making a number of these for holiday gifts.
There’s something so calming and soothing about curling up and sewing dolls and doll clothes while the snow falls outside. These have been my moments of calm during what truly feels like a stormy period of my life. I love taking the time to re-watch episodes The Great British Sewing Bee, or The Crown and throw myself into making these small but lovely garments.
The pattern I’m using is a 1960’s pattern for Little Women cloth dolls by Joan Russell. I love Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – the book and the film versions. My sisters and I grew up watching both the 1949 and the 1994 film versions over and over again and the 1949 version starring June Allyson, Margaret O’Brien, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh and Peter Lawford is still one of my all time favourite movies and never fails to make me cry.
Since my sisters have been such a huge part of getting me through the last few months, this year I wanted to make them something special and symbolic for the holidays, and these dolls seemed perfect. Each one needs a lot of time, love and attention put into them, and besides, what could be more symbolic of the close bond between sisters than the March girls?
I bought my PDF copy of the pattern from eVINTAGEpatterns on Etsy, which is a shop I highly recommend! Carol has been so incredibly helpful since I bought the pattern, any questions I had about materials needed that I’d never heard of she was able to answer straight away, and even help point me in the direction of some of the items! She’s such a kind, lovely woman to do business with and even the PDFs of the pattern are gorgeous! I’m just sad that at the time I couldn’t print out every page in colour, because they’re so beautiful!
A lot of time and attention to detail went into reproducing this pattern, it’s full of information, all the pattern pieces I’ve used so far match up perfectly and there are no problems there (don’t you hate when you buy a PDF pattern and the sizing between pattern pieces is all off, notches don’t match up, etc? I know I do!). A lot of the patterns for the clothing is actually instruction based (cut out this length by this width of fabric, etc), but it’s quite easy to understand and there are actual pattern pieces for several clothing items (and boots!), as well as pattern pieces to make each of the March sisters, of course!
Now, onto the mock up I’ve been working on! I decided to start out making a test doll of Beth, which was for two reasons, actually: to make sure I knew my way around the pattern before making one of the proper gift dolls, and because I need to stock up on some doll making essentials before I can really dig into this pattern (fabric for the doll bodies, some felt, embroidery thread and wool roving for the hair). I have to admit, one of the great things about making a mock up of a doll is that since it usually has some flaws, I get to keep it. 😉 Though when I bought this pattern I did plan from the start that at some point I would make myself one of each of the March sisters – they’re such gorgeous dolls, how could I resist making myself a complete collection?
Some quick pattern notes:
The dolls for Beth and Amy are both 17 1/2″, the Meg doll is 18 1/2″ and the Jo doll is 20″.
With this pattern you will need to add 1/2″ seam allowances when cutting out the fabric for all pattern pieces.
Tips I learned from Carol: The pattern mentioned two things I had not heard of – Kapok and synthetic switch. Carol told me that “Kapok was the stuffing of choice back in the day. Just use polyfill – or what ever other stuffing you like.” Perfect! And she also let me know that you can actually still purchase Kapok, on sites like Amazon! I definitely want to give it a try one day!
As for the synthetic switch for the hair, Carol recommends using wool roving, which I’ve been looking at on Etsy. Since I tend to be very sensitive to wool, I’m probably going to go for a 19 micron wool roving, so that it won’t irritate my skin as much when I’m working with it. Carol recommends that wool roving in Nutmeg, chocolate, lemon, toffee, black, and apricot would be good colours for the hair.
Now, here is my little bald Beth:
Please excuse the bad photos, I took these before my morning coffee!
You can definitely tell that she’s a mock up! Lots of work to do. I used the instructions for the dress, but also went in my own direction a bit as well when it came to fabric choice, lace, etc, because I can never resist experimenting and playing around when it comes to making doll clothes! I also made that little shawl out of a scrap from a vintage handkerchief that I had used to make her undergarments. Waste not want not, when it comes to really pretty vintage scraps, that’s what I always say!
The lace on Beth’s dress is a vintage stretch lace binding. I wish I had more of it because I love actually that colour and would have kept on embellishing the dress with it if I had! Hmm…maybe it’s a good thing I ran out! The fabric for the dress is from a roughly 1/2 or maybe 1 meter piece of what I’m guessing is a silk Shantung or Dupioni (I’m leaning toward it being Dupioni, due to the relative stiffness of the fabric and the slub, but I’ve only ever read about these fabrics before so I could be wrong!). I’ve had this cut of fabric in my stash for nearly two years now and though I really loved it and the way the colour seemed to almost change depending on movement and light, I thought I didn’t have enough to make something with – thank goodness for doll clothes! The perfect excuse to use up those smaller cuts of gorgeous, fine fabrics!
I also made her a green plaid winter coat, where I also played with the pattern and instructions a bit and added a touch or two of my own, just for fun:
Sorry for all the little bits of cat hair and stuff that I’m sure is clinging to the coat!
I mostly changed the number of buttons as well as their placement, I messed up the collar and made it too short, I think, so I tried to make up for that boo-boo by making the pockets functional (though she can’t fit her whole hand in them, she does have functional pockets!) and I added the little button placket (?) on the back of the coat as well, because I wanted to add some visual interest to the back and I love when coats have these.
The buttons I chose are quite large, but I had a bunch of these vintage pearl buttons and I wanted to use them for two reasons, really: one is, of course, that they’re pretty and I like them, and the other is that the buttons themselves are all just for show! The coat, the dress and the little shawl are all actually done up with small snaps, which are disguised by these slightly too large buttons.
The green plaid fabric used for her coat is leftover scraps from a 1970’s bias cut skirt I’m in the process of making myself. I’m so glad I have enough scraps left to make more of these little coats, because I love making them and I love this fabric, it’s so nice to work with! Now I’m really sad that when I bought this fabric there wasn’t enough of it left in the shop to make myself a coat with it!
I also made some undergarments, as I mentioned. They’re not the prettiest, but this is all still just a mock up!
The petticoat has two layers, which I tried to show in the second photo. I made it two layers because I felt like with the one layer I just wasn’t getting the right amount of volume for the skirt of her dress when it was worn underneath. I wanted it to be more exaggerated and voluminous, so I made a second petticoat and sewed it into the waist seam of the first petticoat. Then there is her underwear, which looks pretty sad because I didn’t fit it well enough in the waist and I also made the waistband too big because I realized that the underwear as is were too short (they’re supposed to go either the knee or just below the knee) and I was hoping the big waistband would add length to the underwear. Sorry Beth! I promise to make you nicer ones soon! The double layered petticoat and the underwear were both made using vintage linens.
I spent an enormous amount of time finishing every seam I could so that there would be minimal fraying, and to try and make the insides of these garments look nice, but forgot to take photos! Ugh. It was tricky, since some of these seams are so small, and my hands were aching every night, but it was worth it – I just wish I had taken photos! Oh well. I’m sure I’ll be doing more posts on these dolls as I go along and can add some then!
Well, this was an incredibly long post! Thank you if you managed to stay through to the end! I hope you liked seeing what I’ve been working on, I know I haven’t done a sewing related post in quite awhile now and though I actually have a bit of a back log of garments to photograph and post about, I might save them for when I finally get the time to move this blog.
What have you been sewing lately? Do you ever make dolls? They’re definitely still one of my favourite items to make, especially in winter when I want a nice, relaxing, cozy sew!
Update: Beth finally hair hair! See part two of this series here.