Some of my followers on ChellyWood.com are new to sewing, so I thought I’d ask an expert seamstress for a little sewing advice.
Julie Helmer, one of my Facebook friends from a doll clothes group I belong to online, has her own Etsy doll clothes line. Her store is called, “Sew Dolled Up.” Here are the questions I asked her in our interview, and the careful responses she gave me:
Q: How long have you been sewing for dolls? And was there anyone in your family who taught you how to sew or inspired you to become a seamstress? Tell us a little about your history as a seamstress.
A: I have been sewing for dolls since I was a little girl. I have always loved dolls and I probably learned to sew making doll clothes. My mother taught me how to use a sewing machine, and she is a wonderful seamstress, although she prefers making “people sized” clothes. My grandmother was a fabulous doll seamstress, and I still remember getting doll wardrobes from her for Christmas.
About 15 years ago, I started making Barbie and American Girl doll clothes for friends’ kids. It sort of took off into a craft show business. I stopped for a while when my 6th child was born, but now that he is older, I have more time for a sewing business. Last year, I opened my Etsy shop and it has been amazing to have such a great response.
Q: I see that you also have some knitted doll sweaters in your Etsy store. Do you also knit? And if so, how did you learn to knit? How long have you been knitting?
A: I do not knit. My mother and my 17 year old daughter both enjoy knitting and they make knitted sweaters that I offer in my Etsy store. Mom has been knitting for 50 years or more and my daughter has been knitting for a couple of years.
Q: People who are new to sewing often have some basic questions about fabric, fasteners, and sewing. Can you tell us a little about the fabrics you choose, the fasteners you prefer (velcro vs. snaps vs. buttons), and the sewing machine you use? Do you ever sew by hand?
A: Wow. This is a great question. Sewing, especially for dolls, is such a great creative outlet. I think people are often intimidated by sewing for small projects, and it shouldn’t be overwhelming.
The fabric selection is important. For a beginning seamstress, I would suggest using your basic woven fabrics with little stretch. Those tend to be the easiest to work with while you are learning.
Another suggestion that I would make is to WATCH THE SCALE of the fabric. If you are sewing for a doll, you have to be aware of how the print of your fabric will look on that size. I think that many people will fall in love with a fabric and use it without regard to the fact that the scale totally dwarfs the doll. Not to say that you can’t use a large scale print, but just that it needs to be carefully considered.
For the fasteners that I use, I normally use a super soft Velcro that doesn’t catch in the dolls’ hair. I also use snaps for some outfits, especially those custom designs that are geared more for adult collectors. I also use buttons and zippers, but because of the extra work that is involved, it does add to the cost of the finished product.
For my sewing machine, I use a regular New Home brand, or a Brother. I do have a Singer serger that I use occasionally, but I prefer a regular sewing machine. I do not sew anything by hand except for finishing the outfits. Because I sell the clothes, hand-sewing would be just too time consuming to be profitable.