How to Tell When a Sewing Pattern Is NOT for Beginners (Part 1) #SewingForDolls #Handmade

Here we see the Chelly Wood doll from the website and the ChellyWood1 YouTube channel. She holds up a sewing pattern for 18 inch doll clothes. The pattern's cover image shows Simplicity 18" doll clothes pattern #4654 which includes patterns for making a lined hooded raincoat or coverup, a tank top and skort, a short-sleeved everyday dress, a sunny sleeveless top with capri pants, a T-shirt with cargo pants, and a crop top with skort or shorts. There's also an 18-inch doll pictured on the pattern wearing a denim jumper with overall straps. The doll wears a striped tee shirt under the overall-style jumper. (This is "jumper" in the US sense of the word -- not a "sweater" as we'd say in the US, but more of a dress with the style of overalls). The watermark on this photo reminds us to visit for free, printable sewing patterns for making doll clothes to fit dolls of many shapes and all different sizes. This image also has a header that says, "Today's topic of discussion: what makes a pattern difficult for beginners?" And in fact, if you navigate to the link to the article that accompanies this image, doll clothing designer, YouTuber, and writer Chelly Wood discusses all the features that make this particular pattern difficult for a beginner who is just learning to sew. This article is designed to help anyone who teaches sewing classes, is teaching another person how to sew, or people who are, themselves, just learning to sew, what to avoid when purchasing store-bought patterns.

I started sewing doll clothes when I was very young, back in the early 1970’s, but I didn’t really learn how to read patterns and pattern instructions until I was about 15 or 16.

Reading the instructions on the back of a pattern can seem daunting to a child who is learning to sew, and therefore I don’t advise it for kids under age 12.

If you’re an adult beginner who is learning to sew, skip the section with bullets below, as it’s all about helping children learn to sew.

There are lots of things you can do to train children — even very young children — in the sewing basics. Here are a few tips for teaching children to sew:

  • Give them projects they can easily make in 30 minutes or less
  • Have them sew with felt at first, and then move on to cotton later
  • Praise them for their accomplishments but never criticize
  • Load a dozen sewing needles for them, and have these at-the-ready
  • Give them embroidery needles to sew with, for easier handling
  • Tie their knots for them until they ask to learn how to do it themselves

But now I’d like to address the topic of what makes a pattern difficult for beginners. This applies not only to children learning to sew, but adults learning to sew as well.

This image is the back of Simplicity doll clothes sewing pattern #4654 with key words underlined. These key words coordinate with an article found on which describes what to watch out for when you're shopping for patterns, especially if you're new to sewing and consider yourself something of a beginner in the sewing world.

In the image above, I’ve underlined key words on the back of Simplicity 18″ Doll Clothing Pattern #4654 that could be interpreted as difficult sewing concepts for beginners. There’s a lot here, so I’m going to cover each topic in detail in the coming weeks. Today I’ll be talking about the concept of fabric that has a “nap.”

This Simplicity doll clothes pattern #4654 is designed to fit 18″ dolls like American Girl, Madame Alexander, Journey Girls, etc. It’s a lovely pattern with a lot of variety (which is why I bought it), but I definitely don’t recommend this pattern for beginners, and here’s why:

Most patterns suggest different amounts of fabric will be needed based on whether or not your fabric has a nap, but if the pattern recommends using only those fabrics that DO have a nap, right off the bat, expect beginners to run across problems.

When a fabric has “a nap,” it means that the dye-colored decoration on the fabric can only go one or two directions. By “dye-colored decoration” I mean, for example, a plaid pattern.

Not sure what I’m saying there? Have a look at the GI Joe camp shirt project that I posted here on a while back. Consider how the different types of gingham in that shirt seem to go up-and-down and side-to-side.

When working with gingham or plaids, you need to make sure all your lines are going the same direction. You don’t want the shirt front to have lines going up-and-down and side-to-side while the sleeves have lines at an angle.

Here’s an image to show you what I mean:


The image shows fabric cut with the nap and against the nap. These are a sleeve and cuff, which have been cut with a deliberate against-the-grain cut for a specific effect. But the article from which this image comes, describes features that make patterns harder to sew. One of those features is using fabric that has a nap. To read the article, please go to and search for "Old Patterns from Chelly's Collection" in the categories bar.

Someone with a lot of experience at sewing may choose to deliberately cut a sleeve cuff against the nap while keeping the sleeve with the grain of the plaid, which is what I was doing here. But this is not something I would recommend for beginners for several reasons.

When you cut fabric against the grain of the weave, it tends to “roll” a bit. This can make it hard to match one piece of the garment to another.

So this is why I gave my GI Joe camp shirt project four flowers on my difficulty scale. Just the fact that the garment uses a gingham fabric makes it a little more difficult due to the fabric’s nap.

Fabric with a nap may have an odd weave to it as well, like velvet. This is called a “pile nap.” Have you ever noticed that when you stroke velvet, it changes colors a bit? It’s the fabric’s nap that causes this.

Any pattern that recommends the use of velvet is going to be challenging for beginners, just based on the nature of velvet as a fabric with a hard-to-find nap.

Patterns usually have arrows that show what direction the lines of the nap should go, and if you’d like to learn more about how this is done, I recommend viewing this video by Professor Pincushion which goes into greater detail on how an intermediate or advanced sewist works with fabric that has a nap, when reading and cutting patterns.

If you’d like to learn more about my system of labeling patterns with difficulty levels, please click here.

Now before I go, I want to make sure I give credit where credit is due; Simplicity doll clothes pattern #4654 is a wonderful pattern for anyone who has a lot of sewing experience under their belt! As I said earlier, it has a fantastic variety of dresses and play clothes patterns. In fact, I often get requests via fan mail, for exactly the types of outfits that are offered in this pattern.

However it’s also a good example of a pattern that’s really not for absolute beginners, so we’ll take another look at some of the concepts I’ve got underlined on the back of this pattern later on.

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