Do you see that double-headed arrow, which runs north-and-south on my Barbie coat pattern from the Simplicity 7601 doll clothes sewing patterns? When people first start sewing, a lot of times they have no idea what that arrow means.
Its officially called a grainline arrow, but my mom and grandma always called it the “nap arrow.” It lets you know how to align your doll clothes patterns with the fabric’s weave.
Sometimes a fabric’s “weave” is hard to see, so let me enlarge that blue polka dot fabric so you can see it better. Here you go:
When you get up really close to fabric, you’ll notice that there are threads running through the fabric. Some threads run up and down; other threads run side to side. We call this the fabric’s weave.
Now, when you’re sewing for people, aligning the grainline arrows with the directions of the weave is going to make a big difference. If you don’t, your garment will very likely fit the person uncomfortably.
If you sew for yourself, you may have created a garment in which the final product sort of wrinkles weirdly along the underarm area, or maybe the neckline sticks out a bit. This can happen if you don’t follow the grainline arrows.
But as I’ve said many times in my blog posts, “Sewing for dolls is NOT the same as sewing for people.”
First of all, doll clothes are playthings. Children play dolls outdoors, in the dirt, on family camping trips, and even in the swimming pool.
Furthermore, doll clothes aren’t uncomfortable for dolls to wear! Handmade Barbie doll clothes only have to look pretty to the child who owns them; they don’t have to look pretty to Barbie!
And then there’s this to consider…
I often cut my doll clothes out of scraps, and when you have a limited amount of space, you sometimes want to cram as many patterns onto that scrap of fabric as possible.
But if you tried to make the jacket using the layout shown in this image, you would have a problem. It would look strange, at the very least, when the garment was complete.
Why? Because that chevron-print wool fabric has a very obvious nap. When dealing with a fabric that has an obvious nap, yes, you really should follow the grainline guide.
Here’s a better example of a fabric that has a truly obvious nap:
Imagine that I’m making the Simplicity 7601 hat, purse, and jacket out of this striped fabric, but some cuts of fabric have the stripes going north-to-south, other cuts of fabric have the stripes going east-to-west, and still other cuts of fabric have the lines going diagonally. What would the outfit look like when it is all sewn together?
You’d have stripes going one way that meet up at the seams with stripes going the totally opposite directions. The outfit would look like a zigzag maze instead of a pinstriped jacket, hat, and matching purse.
If your seams bring together the stripes going in two different directions, it can look wonky, like the seam example shows up above.
OR… it can look ARTISTIC. But if you’re trying to be artistic with the nap, you need to think ahead about how your seams will look, so it doesn’t just look plain old weird.
I was deliberate about the variations I chose for this western shirt, that I designed to fit my Dwayne Johnson action figure, for example (note the cuffs):
But what if your patterns don’t have any grainline arrows? In that case, you may have to imagine the completed garment, and draw a grainline on the patterns for yourself. But use pencil and make changes as needed.
A lot of my free patterns, here on ChellyWood.com do not use grainline arrows because, as I said before, I use my patterns with scrap fabric a lot of the time. I almost always give my doll clothes to children (for free), and I rarely sell my handmade doll clothes.
So what does it matter if the grainline of the fabric is just a little bit off? Doll clothes are toys, so I make them to be played with.
And truthfully, I don’t use a lot of fabrics that have an obvious nap.
So if you’re just learning to sew doll clothes for the first time, and you don’t want to worry too much about following grainline arrows, experiment a little bit. It’s just doll clothes, after all!
Or only buy solid-colored fabrics or simple prints without an obvious nap, like florals and polka dots. Save the plaids and pinstripes for some time down the road when you’re feeling a little more confident about your sewing skills.
And for your convenience, here’s a list of some of my sewing tutorial videos that a beginner may find helpful:
- How to do a whipstitch
- How to sew snaps on fabric
- How to do a backstitch
- How to gather fabric
- How to do a baste stitch
- How to pull elastic through a casing
- How to use a needle threader
- How to do a basic straight stitch
- How to use bias tape
- How to choose fabric
- How to tie a knot using a needle and thread
- How to measure a doll
- How to press seams open, using a hot iron
- How to sew rickrack
- How to use selvage
- How to attach ribbon to doll clothes
- Tips on sewing with lace
For more of my free tutorials, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel, ChellyWood1.
As always, feel free to pin, like, or tweet about my free patterns and tutorials. Here’s an image you’re welcome to share on social media:
To read more about my free sewing patterns and tutorials, please visit the “Helpful Tips” page.
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