I’ve done a number of different “sewing tip” blog posts on the ensemble you see in the image above, but what you may not have noticed is that my seams didn’t always match up when I made these garments.
“What?!” you say. “How can that be? You’re the expert!”
When you sew doll clothes, and especially when sewing very small doll clothes, you can expect to see seams that just don’t match up.
That’s right! Expect it.
But why does this happen? Let’s take a look…
The image above shows the fabric of my long floral skirt, shortly after I’ve hemmed it. Everything seems to match up nicely. I carefully measured each end of my hem, and they seem to be aligned with each other.
But then I sewed a casing:
You may not have noticed this, but in the first photo of the hems, there was actually about a 2 millimeter difference between the two hems.
It looked perfect, but after sewing the casing (which also had a 2 millimeter difference in spite of my efforts to make them match up), I ended up with about a 4 millimeter difference between the two sides that will be sewn together at the back of the skirt.
So now, if I start sewing the back of the skirt together at the casing (purple arrow above), there will be a gap at the hem area (turquoise blue arrow above) of four millimeters. That’s nearly a quarter of an inch!
And when we’re making Barbie clothes, a quarter of an inch is a significant difference!
So what can we do to prevent this problem?
There’s really only one solution to the millimeter gaps: sew by hand.
I know you don’t want to hear it, but that’s the truth. Sewing by hand gives you more precise control of your seams. You’ll find that you can adjust the casing a bit to account for the original 2 millimeter difference in the hems, while sewing the casing by hand.
The smaller the garment, the more noticeable the differences in seams will be. Take the shorter skirt, for example:
Look at where the back of the skirt comes together on the lower left corner of that photo. It’s really noticeable but it’s only a mere 3 or 4 millimeters’ difference, as you’ll see below:
Okay, so I need to sew my skirts by hand. Got it. But what about shirts?
The pink arrow points at a dart in this Simplicity 5731 shirt, but you’ll notice that where the white arrow points, the back will not have a dart.
Darts are especially tricky. I recommend that you mark them with a fabric pencil and again, sew them by hand, to avoid making mistakes that will create seam discrepancies.
When you bring the shirt front and the shirt back together, you need the underarm area to match exactly, and that won’t happen if your darts are off by one or to millimeters on each side of the dart. If you’re finding your seams are way off-kilter at the underarm, it could be due to darts that were sewn without following the pattern’s suggested seam lines.
A third reason why you might have seams that don’t match is this: you may have cut the fabric incorrectly.
The image above shows the sleeves from the Simplicity 5731 doll shirt patterns. The shirt sleeve from the back portion of the shirt will be sewn to the shirt sleeve from the front of the shirt. But will they fit when you place them together?
Not exactly. And here’s why:
The pink arrow shows that the black line of the pattern has actually been cut away from the pattern. If you follow this non-line pattern edge, your sleeve will come up short by 2 millimeters at the seam that goes from the cuff to the underarm.
The white arrow in the image above shows that one sleeve has actually been cut with a longer cuff than the other. So once again, your sleeve seams will be off by about 2 millimeters, which as we saw in the first set of pictures, can add up when you’re dressing a small doll like Barbie.
So how can we make sure our doll clothes have been cut properly?
My aunts were instrumental in teaching me how to sew, and one of the things they insisted on, was this rule of thumb: always cut your garment pieces with the fabric laying flat on a table.
Now look at the photo I’m holding in the image above. See how that woman’s arm is so awkwardly positioned as she cuts her fabric while keeping the fabric flat?
When you’re sewing doll clothes, that ancient rule needs to go bye-bye!
Any time you’re sewing for very small dolls, like Barbie or smaller, cut the fabric while HOLDING it to prevent errors along the edges of the patterns.
I even cut swatches of fabric (about the size of a fat quarter) before I start pinning my patterns onto the fabric. That way I’ll find it easier to lift up the fabric and cut out the pieces, just like I would cut paper dolls.
Now I’m going to go back to one of the earlier photos. Take a look a the image below. Try to read the directions on the pattern pieces:
Notice “Blouse Back View 2”? It’s inside-out and backwards! Believe it or not, as long as you can read and follow the directions, this isn’t usually a problem with doll clothes patterns… BUT it can be.
When you’re making my shoe patterns, for example, it’s important to make the left shoe fit the left foot and the right shoe fit the right foot. If you flip the patterns inside-out before cutting, you’ll end up cutting out two left feet!
See the L’s and the R’s on my pattern pieces for my Wellie Wisher-sized Victorian (or Edwardian) boots? Those L’s indicate “left foot” and the R’s indicate “right foot” so….
Yes, it can make your seams not match up if you turn a pattern inside-out, when pinning it to the fabric. If the garment piece is cut on the fold, though, this isn’t usually a problem.
So let’s review. To avoid problems in which your seams don’t match up:
- Sew small doll clothes by hand (the smaller the doll, the more important this is)
- Mark darts with a fabric pencil
- ALWAYS sew darts by hand!
- Carefully cut out your patterns to include the black line running along the outside of each pattern piece
- Follow the pattern edge exactly (just along the outside edge of the black line)
- Cut out patterns on small swatches of fabric
- Hold the pattern in hand instead of cutting on a flat surface (like cutting out paper dolls)
- Be wary of pinning patterns with the wrong side up
One last piece of advice…
These are doll clothes.
Dolls are playthings.
Your handmade doll clothes will be played with. In the mud. In the back yard. In the swimming pool. In the bathtub. In that messy bedroom, where kids love to play and be creative.
Does it really even matter if your seams don’t match? Perfection isn’t necessary when you’re making a toy!
If you don’t want to sew by hand, that’s okay. Having fun while sewing is FAR more important!
Therefore, I have two more tips for you before I go:
- 9. Quit worrying about whether or not your seams match!
- 10. Have FUN
Disclaimer/Credit/Affiliate Marketing Link:
Chelly Wood and the ChellyWood.com website are not affiliated with the pattern company or companies mentioned in this blog post, but Chelly finds inspiration in the doll clothes designed by these pattern companies. To purchase patterns from Simplicity, McCall’s, Butterick, Vogue, or other pattern companies shown and discussed in this blog post, please click on the links provided here. These links below the “Disclaimer” section do not help raise money for this free pattern website; they are only offered to give credit to the company that made these patterns.