A while back, someone suggested that one of the rag dolls (I think it was Poppy) needed freckles. I made a note of it, and when I started working on the new Dress Up Bunch doll pattern for Emily – I added freckles!
It’s really easy – you just need to do some testing to make sure your marker looks good on the skin color fabric – and that it doesn’t bleed!
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Usually my patterns include instructions for embroidering the face before you sew your softie together. That makes it easy to transfer the pattern and position it correctly, and easy to hoop it for stitching.
But sometimes it just works better to stitch some features on after it’s all sewn up. This mouse doll is one of those times. And it’s really not hard at all! But you do need a couple of special tools. Nothing expensive or hard to find – just a doll needle and a water-erasable marker.
I show you the tools – and how to use them – in this video. Watch Miss Squeak get her smile!
Psst! I designed the skirt especially to fit all the dolls in The Dress Up Bunch collection – but it’ll also fit a ton of other dolls. It fits the American Girl dolls really well, and I guarantee it’ll also fit a bunch of random teddy bears and softies piled on any kid’s bed.
You can make it super basic – with no trim. That’s what Bean is wearing here on the right. Just choose a fabulous fabric and you’re done.
Poppy’s skirt – the one you see on the cover – is made from mid-weight cotton twill and has a band of trim added above the hem. That’s a great way to add flat trims, like lace or rickrack or pretty ribbon. The pattern includes instructions for adding these. Of course.
The pattern also includes instructions for adding trim to the hem at the bottom of the skirt. That’s where you’d add any dangly trims, like fringe, tassels, pompoms, or these pretty beads.
I love the shiny blue beads with these tiny flamingos. Very beachy and fun.
Of course, like all my doll clothing patterns, there are instructions for leaving a tail opening for the critters in the collection. They like to have their waggin’ room!
Ready to make a fun skirt? They’re so easy – I bet you can’t make just one! 🙂
less than 1/4 yard fabric
12 inches 3/8″ elastic
24 inches fancy trim (optional)
Cut a rectangle 7 inches tall x 24 inches wide.
Prep the top and bottom edges for hemming.
Turn the top edge down 1/2″ and press.
Turn it down another 1/2″ and press.
Turn the bottom edge up 1/4″ and press.
Turn it up another 1/4″ and press.
Don’t stitch the hems down yet - it’s just easiest to do all the pressing while it’s one flat piece.
If you want to add trim to the middle of the skirt (like Poppy’s on the cover) now is the time to add it.
Sew it in place all along the 24 inches of the skirt. For wider trim like this, stitch it down at the top and the bottom. For something like rickrack I might use a zigzag stitch down the middle. It depends on the trim and the size. Use your best judgment.
Unfold the creases you made in Step 2.
Sew up the center back seam of the skirt
using 1/4″ seam allowance.
If you’re not leaving an opening for a tail,
just sew the whole edge.
If you’re leaving a tail opening for critters, sew as shown in the photo.
Make sure to backstitch at the top and bottom of the tail opening so it’s nice and strong and holds up to lots of dressing and undressing. :-)
Press the center back seam open.
If you are leaving a tail opening, stitch a box around the opening to stabilize it.
Here’s that boxed-in tail opening from the outside.
You’ll probably use a matching thread color I just wanted to make sure you could see the stitching. 🙂
Refold the creases.
Stitch the hem down all the way around the skirt. If you’re adding trim to the bottom of the skirt, now is the time to add it.
I sewed this beaded fringe in place as I stitched down the hem. The beads are attached to a ribbon. I just laid the ribbon down over the folded hem and stitched through all the layers at once.
Here it is from the inside.
I stitched along the top and the bottom of
the ribbon. I needed to use a zipper foot to
stitch along the bottom of the ribbon, so I
could get that close to the beads.
I could have sewed it so the ribbon was on the outside of the skirt. Use your best judgment based on the trim you’re using.
Sew the casing at the top of the skirt.
Leave a couple of inches open at the top - at the back seam - so you can put in the elastic.
Cut a 12″ piece of 3/8″ elastic and thread it through the casing. (This bodkin is SO MUCH EASIER than the safety-pin method I used to use!)
Overlap the ends of the elastic 1 inch and sew them together. Slip the stitched elastic up into the casing and finish sewing the casing closed.
Today’s post is part of the Let’s Talk Process Blog Hop! Eight different designers are each choosing a recent project and talking about the process of designing that project. Our approaches are all likely to be really different – and all inspiring! I love peeking behind the scenes at the process that goes into a finished design – and I always come away with some ideas I apply to my own work.
I’ll be writing about the new Dress Up Bunch rag dolls. Years ago – back when Shiny Happy World was about selling finished dolls and softies instead of patterns – I had the idea to design a dressable rag doll. I already had a rag doll that sold well, but I wanted one that was designed to be easier to dress, with a large wardrobe of possible clothing patterns. It wouldn’t hurt if she was easier (and faster) to make, too. 🙂
That idea sat on the back burner for a long time while I transitioned to selling patterns and teaching, but a few months ago I finally got serious and designed what would become The Dress Up Bunch.
The Dress Up Bunch – so far
I had a LOT of time to think about what I wanted from this pattern collection.
Very easy to make.
Arms and legs that would go in any direction for easy dressing.
Cute, playable and fun.
Any time you design something, even something simple (especially something simple) there are countless small decisions to make along the way.
In many cases there are several good options – but one is the best choice for that particular project. I like to start with a list like this that I can use as a reminder to keep myself on track.
The Old Rag Doll Pattern
Usually I start with a blank page – but this time I had a successful rag doll pattern that I could use as a jumping off point.
This is Abigail Darcy. I think she’s adorable and the pattern had been a strong seller for me. I love her gangly coltishness, her subtle asymmetry, her cartoony face, her striped tights, her changeable skirt.
But she’s not Very Easy to Make.
She’s more of an advanced beginner pattern and I wanted something that would also work for people who are still getting acquainted with their sewing machines.
The way her arms are attached also greatly limits their movement – making her harder to dress and play with.
Very Easy to Make
The number one problem I see with handmade softies is that people don’t put enough stuffing in them. On some designs it doesn’t really matter, but with dolls it can matter quite a lot because less stuffing makes the necks go floppy very quickly. I gave the Dress Up Bunch dolls wider heads, wider bodies – and especially wider necks – so they would be forgiving of being too lightly stuffed.
If you don’t add enough stuffing, this doll still looks good and functions well.
The wider body also solved another problem.
There is a point in the original rag doll pattern where she looks like this.
Her body is so skinny that it won’t hold all the arms and legs and they have to hang out the stuffing hole while sewing up the outside.
It looks worse than it is, but it’s definitely not fun and I want every step of my new pattern to be easy and fun.
The same stage in the Dress Up Bunch rag doll pattern looks like this.
See how neatly (and easily) all the parts fit inside the body?
In addition to making the head, neck and body wider, I also made the arms and legs shorter so they’d fit more easily inside the doll. The arms, in particular, are quite short. In real life a human’s head is much narrower than the shoulders, the neck is much narrower than the head, and hands hang down past the hips.
I decided against anatomical accuracy in favor of a body type that was easier to make.
One more detail you can see in this photo is the center back seam. Most rag doll patterns don’t have that, but I added it for two reasons. One – a stuffing opening in a nice straight seam like this makes the final handsewing a snap. I find it significantly easier than sewing up a seam in the side of the body – especially if that body is well-stuffed. Two – it provides a great seam where makers can easily and securely attach a waggy tail to the animal bodies.
Usually more seams means more complicated, but this is a case where adding a seam actually made the construction easier – in two ways!
Finally – I made the Dress Up Bunch doll pattern symmetrical. I love the casual charm of a little bit of asymmetry, but skin colored fabrics and felt have no easily identifiable front or back. It was very easy for pattern pieces to get flipped over during construction so they didn’t all match up at the end.
For this pattern – where Very Easy to Make was my #1 guideline – I was happy to sacrifice quirky asymmetry for ease of construction.
Super Flexible Arms and Legs
On the old rag doll pattern you can see that her arms are attached at an angle. That’s pretty typical of rag dolls – but it definitely limits the flexibility of those arms. It’s hard to raise them over the doll’s head and the seams have a tendency to tear under the arms. It also makes them hard to dress.
Now look at Pip over there on the left. I left the tops of his arms completely unstuffed and attached them at a right angle to the side of the body. Bingo! Arms that can go in any direction – making for fun play and easy dressing. They don’t look as neat and tidy as the typical angled arm attachment of a rag doll, but they function much better.
Neat and tidy was not on my list. Easy dressing and playing was.
I originally tried sewing elbow and knee joints into the arms and legs (like on the legs of the old rag doll) but my daughter said they looked ugly – like sausages. I tried them unjointed, but very lightly stuffed and with some plastic pellets added to give them good flop. She pronounced that version “very huggable and soft, good for playing, and not ugly.” Success. 🙂
This was a big one for me. I’ve watched kids play with my dolls for years and I’ve seen how they interact with them. They want to carry them around by the arm (another reason the arms need to be flexible). They want to cuddle them. They want to sit them up and have them stay sitting. They want their arms and legs to bend. And if they have tails – they want to wag them. 🙂
A lot of dressable animal dolls have no tails – or they have applique tails that are covered by the clothing. I wanted actual waggable tails.
It added an extra few steps to the construction of the critter dolls – and their pants – but it adds a ton to the playability. It’s always a balancing act.
In this case I was happy to add a tiny bit of difficulty to the construction in order to have a doll that would be a lot more fun to play with.
The Process is Never Done
The first human doll in The Dress Up Bunch was Violet. Here she is.
I love her purple curls, but when I got ready to make the second doll in the collection I realized that the face still needed some work.
The new, wider body shape was chunky and cute, but she still had the smaller/finer features of the original rag dolls. They didn’t go together.
I played around so much with the face for the second doll!
I drew and erased and drew and erased and drew and erased until the face was a yucky grey mess. Then I flipped it over and did the same thing with the back of the head.
I had a nose and mouth I liked – but the eyes were killing me. No matter what I did they were too small. I tried pinning on some felt eyes, but I wasn’t happy with any of them. I had used plastic safety eyes for Spot – and I loved them – but I had it stuck in my head that they would look bug-eyed and goofy on a human doll.
Finally – in desperation – I grabbed a seam ripper, poked a hole where the prototype’s eye should go, and stuck in a safety eye to test it out.
The whole face suddenly came to life.
It didn’t look bug-eyed or goofy! The larger size looked friendly and young. And the shiny half-domes had a sparkle to them that I hadn’t gotten with felt eyes. I loved them!
So this is the new face of The Dress Up Bunch.
Try everything – even things you’re pretty sure will fail.
I redesigned Violet so she would have the younger, cuter face that the newer dolls have.
One More Bit of Advice
I do all my prototyping with white muslin.
It’s cheap and easy to find.
It’s the least forgiving fabric I could possibly sew with – pieces that could be stretched to fit with fleece will not match up with muslin. I’ll know there’s a problem that needs fixing.
You can draw and write on it – like I do when I’m designing faces.
Every mistake will show. My daughter might not have noticed sausage-looking arms on a patterned fabric, but she sure hated them on the white prototype.
If your project looks good in white muslin it will look good in any fabric. 🙂
I hope you enjoyed this look at the design decisions that went into a single project. Ready to see the approaches of some other designers? Take a look at the other posts in today’s hop and gather up enough tips and inspiration to keep you designing for weeks.
Am I dating myself that when someone suggested a collar with bling I immediately thought of Zsa Zsa Gabor? 🙂
Anyway – I made Zsa Zsa using the Pip pattern, a shortish pile white fur, and a couple of scraps of pink satin for the ear linings.
I made Zsa Zsa to show you a few things.
How to Make a Fancy Collar with Bling
I bought that ribbon with the jewels already sewn on it. Fancy and easy. 🙂
But it was kind of flimsy.
To make a sturdy collar that could withstand lots of play, I made the regular collar from the Pip pattern, then sewed the blingy ribbon onto it.
I had to make the collar a little wider so it would accommodate the full width of the ribbon. You can do that too – just cut your fabric strip 4 times the width of the ribbon you want to use.
I also had to use a zipper foot to sew down the edges of the ribbon. The zipper foot let me keep the presser foot out of the way of the bumpy bling. If you don’t have one you can just sew the ribbon on by hand. The easiest and strongest way would be to whipstitch it around all the edges. Use this tutorial to see how.
You Can Use Fake Fur to Sew a Zsa Zsa from the Pip Pattern
You don’t have to make any adjustments to the pattern.
I recommend using the optional muzzle applique piece included in the pattern. Otherwise the cute embroidered smile will get lost in the fur.
The pattern includes instructions for how to prepare the muzzle piece and how to applique it onto fur.
Please get the good stuff!
It’s going to take you a couple of hours to make this toy and someone is going to love it. Make it out of materials that feel good and will last!
I sewed Zsa Zsa up with junky fur that I had on hand for some reason. It’s white – which is exactly what I wanted for this project – but that’s the only good thing I can say about it. I bought this at Joann’s and it’s awful. It feels like plastic. I can tell it’s going to get terribly matted if this toy actually gets played with. The backing fabric is so thin that you can see my light pink pattern-tracing lines right through it. Awful stuff! I gave the leftovers to Jo to use for making rugs in her doll house. That’s the only thing it’s good for. 🙁
The instructions for the shorts say to turn up the bottom hem 1/2 inch and then another 1/2 inch. We’re going to steal the already-made hem so we need to shorten the pattern by 1 inch. Just turn up the bottom edge one inch and crease it to hold.
Make sure the edges of the cut-off denim leg are all lined up – the outside seam running right up the side and the front and back edges of the bottom lined up with each other.
Place the pattern on the bottom of the cut-off denim leg. The folded hem of the bottom of the pattern should be lined up with the bottom edge of the pants, and the edge of the pattern that says to place it on the fold should be butted right up against the flat-felled seam at the side of the cut-off leg. Cut around the pattern. It should look like the photo up there. Repeat with the other leg for the other side of the shorts.
Follow the rest of the pattern instructions without any more changes. You’ve got a cool pair of denim shorts with nice hem and seam details!
Back when I first started sewing, I did everything possible to avoid buttons.
One of the notions I turned to was snaps. My first experience was bad – I tried using those sew-on snaps, thinking they’d be the easiest option. But I hated sewing them on and I found it really hard to held them in place while I sewed.
My life changed when I discovered regular snaps. A neat professional finish with just a hammer? I had NO IDEA you could do this from home! Why was nobody shouting this from the rooftops? Snaps are really easy to use and look terrific. Here’s how. . .
Give them a try!
That tiny little shirt you see up top is one of the shirts for the Dress Up Bunch dolls. All the dolls have the same basic body pattern – which means they can all share clothes. Fun!
Here it is – the simplest skirt you can possibly make and the best project I know for beginning sewists who want to make clothing.
Size this one up to fit adults – or down to fit dolls and stuffed animals. It’s all good.
What you’ll need
fabric (amount will depend on your measurements)
double-fold bias tape (optional)
sewing machine, thread, basic sewing tools
less than an hour. I mean it. I’ve never actually timed myself, but I think I can make one of these in 15 minutes.
Very, very, very easy.
Here’s how to make it.
Measure around your waist and the desired length of the skirt.
waist _______________ length ______________
For a skirt with “average” fullness, cut your rectangle twice your waist measurement, plus 1 inch for seam allowance. This does not need to be an exact measurement.
My daughter’s waist is 24 inches. My target for the total length of my fabric rectangle was 49 inches, but the fabric was 44 inches wide. Did I piece in an additional 5 inches? No way. I just used the existing width of the fabric.
Anything from 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 times the waist measurement will look good and have some fullness, but you can go even smaller for a more fitted look, and even larger with a very thin fabric. Play around with it!
What width elastic will you be using?
You’ll need to add enough to your total cut length to make an elastic casing. Add the width of the elastic + 5/8 inch. That’s enough to turn it under 3/8 inch, press, then turn it under the width of the elastic + 1/4 inch.
Will you be adding a hem?
I usually add 1 inch hem allowance – enough to turn it under 1/2 inch, press, then another 1/2 inch, press, and stitch. Some people like wider hems. In this sample I didn’t hem at all – just bound the lower edge with bias tape. It’s up to you!
Cut your fabric rectangle.
Fold your rectangle in half, right sides together, and stitch the short edge with 1/2 inch seam allowance.
If you’re going to use bias tape to finish the seam, prepare it now. I found a packet of very old single fold bias tape that I wanted to use. Since it was single fold, I needed to fold it in half one more time and press it.
If you want to make your own and don’t know how – watch this video. For this project you can cut your strips on the straight grain.
Attach the bias tape by folding it around the raw edge of the skirt fabric and stitching it in place.
Once you know the fit is good, securely sew the ends of your elastic together. I sew a box around the edges of the overlapped bits, then sew an X across the box.
I’m showing you an example from another project because if I sewed this one in a thread dark enough to see, it would also show through the very thin white fabric of the skirt, and that would’t be pretty.
You can see all of this in the same video I mentioned in Step 6.
Let the elastic pop back into the casing, fold the casing back in place, and stitch that opening closed. Throw on the skirt and go play on a tire swing.
It really is that easy!
You can size this to fit anyone – though the shape isn’t terribly flattering on most adult women. Those of us with hips, anyway. 🙂
This is a great project for kids to make for themselves and also for their dolls and stuffed animals – easy to sew, easy on and off, and really inexpensive.
Want to see what some kids have made with this basic pattern?
This skirt got some fancy beading.
And I love the tutu on this Ugly Doll – made with tulle and no hem needed.
And, of course, the gap-toothed kid holding it! 🙂
These were all from a Summer Camp I taught a couple of years ago.
This one’s on the longish side, but I show you pretty much everything you need to know about using elastic in a casing.
We start with what kind of elastic to use (did you know there were different kinds?), some tips on pre-stretching and measuring, how to measure for and sew the casing, how to thread the elastic through the casing and sew it up. I even show you a little trick I use to help kids put on handmade clothes (with no tags) the right way!
Update – after making this video I discovered a new tool for threading elastic through a casing. It’s called an elastic bodkin and it’s pretty much the best thing ever. This is the one I use. They’re super cheap and they make that step of the process a million times easier. I wish I had known about this tool twenty years ago!
That’s the Cat’s Meow pattern, but there are several others with a similar neck finish. Those gathers means there’s elastic in a casing around the neck – which means no fasteners for little hands to wrestle with!
The Dress Up Bunch is a collection of cute and cuddly rag dolls. Get patterns for the dolls, plus all their fun outfits and accessories!