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Delicate Light-weight Cotton Vintage

Here’s another vintage “inspired” dress from the 1930s. I love these delicate flowers on the fabric. This light-weight cotton reminds me of the dress that Faye Dunaway wore as Bonnie Parker at the beginning of Bonnie and Clyde. In the introduction, Bonnie looks out the upstairs window (while she’s nude) and sees Clyde trying to steal the family automobile. She runs down the stairs while she buttons the front of her dress and ties it in the back.

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This is Bonnie’s dress from the movie:

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Bonnie’s dress,  created by Theodora von Ruckle, doesn’t look the same exactly, but certain significant similarities cannot be denied. Although Bonnie’s dress buttons down the front, and it has long sleeves, its fabric is light and airy. Both dresses fit nicely with a seam under the breastbone and both have princess seams in the skirt. Both tie in the back. If you should happen to catch this version of Bonnie and Clyde, you might notice how her dress moves with her. Although it was Bonnie’s long darker skirts that became a part of Faye Dunaway’s fashion image when the movie was released, Faye/Bonnie wears a fresh cotton dress again on the way to her unexpected demise.

I love the cut of this dress, but it has not my favorite vintage-inspired dress so far. Here’s a photo of the original pattern below. You can buy it in PDF form from Dollhouse Designs at Etsy. This pattern has three options for the neck. There’s a collar available that is sewn to each side of the square neckline; it doesn’t go all the way around the neck. I found the weight of the collar resting on an unlined bodice top to be too heavy. Using lace around the neck is another option, but none of my lace was appropriate. I ended up with a plain neckline with square corners.

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I prefer a small, almost cap sleeve when I’m going for puffy sleeves. Just my taste. Look at the photo above and then compare the photo of my dress at the top. My sleeves are slightly smaller. I often use the same gathered sleeves from one of my Heritage patterns, FYI. Just my preference.

The included neck facing is too small for the neckline. I re-read the directions. I had stay-stitched both the neckline and the facing before working with the pieces, but the neckline was too large. I recut the front facing by matching it to the top front bodice.

There are five skirt pieces. I was very careful at matching the labeled sides, but I still had a piece on each side that was 3/8 inch too long that I adjusted when I hemmed the dress.

The back tie is made from a measurement, not from a pattern piece. Mine measured perhaps 1/8 to 1/4 inch wider than it should have. Due to my error, my side ties could not be used without getting them caught in the upper or lower seem when I assembled the dress. After sewing the ties, trimming them, turning them back right-side out and then ironing them, I realized that I had to start over and create new ties. (The new ties worked perfectly.)

I tend to pick products apart somewhat when I review them. My main reason for doing this is that I want people who sew, especially beginners, to know that certain mistakes are not their fault. Even when they are your fault, it’s important to keep going. Almost anything can be fixed.

I find that most of the doll clothes designers who are selling patterns on the internet to be helpful and fair. I originally planned to make my own patterns but I thought I’d try other existing pdf patterns to see what other designers were doing. Now I find trying a new pattern much more fun that creating a pattern of my own. I’m a little stuck in a world of cute doll clothes and no income. I have some cute ideas for my own patterns. I need to get with it.

I experienced some frustration with this pattern, but now that I’m finished, I’m looking at the dress and liking it a lot. Dollhouse Designs sells a very thorough pattern with explanations that will help the beginner. Also, her patterns pieces are not drawn by hand; she uses a computer program to make her designs professional. I made a similar dress that is a bit easier.

Grace is American Girl’s current Girl of the Year. She is my third AG doll with freckles. This is Grace’s first time to model a new dress for Marshmallowjane. This style would probably suit Kit better (because Kit came from the Depression), but this light print made a blonde Kit washed out. And Grace looks beautiful wearing anything. By the way, after taking this set of photos, I removed Grace’s “permanent” braid, and I trimmed her bangs to get them even.

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Grace’s earrings and bracelet are from my favorite AG jeweler 2SistersSewCrafty. Her beret in the top photo is by moi.

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Asian Dolls Are a Rare Find

Madame Alexander joined Walmart to make an exclusive small set of dolls. I don’t know when they were released. These small sets of limited dolls come and go very quickly. I clearly need no more dolls, but Asian dolls are next to impossible to find. And when I saw this doll, my heart melted. If I decide not to keep her, I can easily find her a home.

Normally, I wouldn’t buy a doll with styled hair like this because, chances are, the rubber bands will cause the hair to permanently bed. Here’s what she looked like in the box—or on the side of the box.

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This doll is one of the “My Life” dolls. She is “My Life as a Hair Stylist.” After seeing this doll at Walmart, I went home and looked for her online. I couldn’t find another one like her, so I went back the next day and bought her.

She comes with some problems. The box says she is “totally posable.” I don’t know what that means but she will not stay standing, unless I lean her against the wall. This is true of most 18-inch Madame Alexander dolls, compared to the American Girl doll who will stand up by herself. A.G. is easier to photograph for this reason.

I did not notice until recently, that Madame Alexander’s head is joined just below the chin; whereas, American Girl’s head is permanently connected to her neck, and it is her neck that connects to her upper body. I love to take pictures of my dolls after I’ve styled them, and I find it challenging to get this girl to look straight forward at the camera. Her head wants to look up.

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The biggest issue of all is her hair, which is “permanently” crinkled and tangled, with a big part in the back of her head. Also, her bangs are styled in a “fresh” way that calls for them to be crooked with a noticeable space on her forehead on just one side.

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As you can see, the back is a frightening mess. I do not recommend buying this doll for your little girl, even if you could find one, unless you don’t mind taking a risk with her hair.

After doing some research, I’ve found some great advice and directions on how to straighten a doll’s hair. This involves the use of a hot iron, and the box clearly states not to use a hot iron. If you are reading this, please send me some positive energy.

There’s also the matter of the hair cut, which was originally styled to fit into two pigtails; the cut is an uneven nightmare. I will probably trim it myself. I recently cut and restyled another doll’s hair. I will post the results of my doll’s new look (unless venture turns into a dismal failure).

A note on my reference to “Asian” dolls. My reference is politically incorrect, of course. I’m using this convenient umbrella to cover Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other Asian beauties. I’d say this doll looks more “Eurasian.” But what do we expect from a doll company? Madame Alexander does a pretty good job at representing other races. I have two African American M.A. dolls and they’re’ so beautiful. One of them has big lips and an extreme afro, while the other one looks more bi-racial. American Girl makes beautiful dolls but they all have the trademark thin lips with two little teeth. They make an “Chinese” doll named Ivy. What do you think?

If you want an Asian-looking doll for you or your little girl, please watch for the new batches of Madame Alexander that pop up out of nowhere, especially EARLY in the holiday season. American Girl’s “Ivy” is one of their Historical Characters that is always available, at least for now.

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Learning about Couture (Part Two)

Most of my sewing knowledge and skills came from my teen years. I learned the basics from my mother, from home economics class at school, and from the Singer sewing class that my mother paid for ($10). I might occasionally add a new technique as needed, like how to use the button-hole attachment or how to manage a particular fabric. Most of my confidence came from past sewing experience. I figured that as long as my machine had a good straight stitch, I was good to go.  Since I was mostly self-taught by years of trial and error that was based on common sense, I only learned about draping, for instance, by watching the designers on Project Runway.

Since I’d never taken a design class, I had no idea what I’d missed. Although my sewing knowledge may be vast, it’s old. There are new tools, new books, new methods. For instance, I recently bought my first Serger. Most sewists will admit that learning to serge takes some courage; learning to thread the Serger takes some courage.

As I’ve looked at various doll clothes makers on the internet, I’ve seen a wide range of dress, some of it plain with little imagination . When I first looked for a doll clothes pattern in PDF form maybe four or five years ago, there was very little. Some cute doll clothes designers have emerged since then. Many of them have grouped together at Liberty Jane. There is one doll clothes designer Melody Valerie who makes what she calls “couture” dresses. She is able to charge $125 or so per dress, and she makes a limited edition. I think that her doll clothes are worth every penny and more that she charges.

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Melody Valerie got me to thinking about “couture” dresses. I am meticulous in my own work, and I have become more curious about attention to detail. I’d always thought that “couture” meant fancy, expensive, one of a kind, perhaps French, etc. I’m reading the previously mentioned book called Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire B. Shaeffer. I’m surprised by the descriptions of “haute couture” that  are listed in this book. Here are some important distinctions of “haute couture,” compared to ready-to-wear clothes. Naturally, these don’t exactly apply to doll clothes. But the topic is fascinating, nevertheless, and many techniques used for women’s clothing can also be used for doll clothes.

Here are some key points about haute couture designs:

  • they are not available in stores;
  • they’re not meant to look good on a hanger;
  • they’re usually designed for an individual client;
  • designs only have to fit one client;
  • embroideries are designed and proportioned for individuals;
  • designs are fitted on the client and/or the client’s dress form;
  • seam allowances are generally wider;
  • seams, darts, tucks, pleats are hand-basted before stitching;
  • waistbands are often lined by silk ribbon and finished by hand;
  • shoulder pads are homemade, sometimes unusual shapes.

I see how couture designs are made to flatter the client. Much of the original stitching of a garment is temporary before several fittings. I think that the “couture mind-set” can apply to doll clothes very well. Doll clothes look 50 percent better when they fit correctly. Unfortunately, there is a difference in measurements among the 18-inch doll brands, like  American Girl, Madame Alexander, and others. There may also be a difference between two dolls of the same brand due to their cloth bodies.

To sum things up for now: Due to my passion for making doll clothes and for sharing my original ideas, I have renewed my enthusiasm for sewing and designing. I’m interested in trying new techniques, instead of getting by with what I already know. Instead of rushing to finish a project, I don’t mind stopping to learn a better way to make my doll clothes beautiful.  I love this book Couture Sewing Techniques,  but I’ve barely scratched the surface in learning its techniques and how they may be applied to doll clothes.

Since I started this blog, the purpose has been to share my successes and failures as I attain the skills to produce beautiful doll clothes and doll clothes patterns. To use plain language, some of the patterns I’ve tried don’t fit my dolls. Several of the set in sleeves do not fit the armholes. Some bodices have been way too tight. Other dresses are too loose and too long. I wanted to be clear about this issue because I don’t want a newbie sewist to get discouraged when they purchase a pattern that doesn’t work.

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Learning about Couture (Part One)

I am impressed by this exquisite and elegant book called Sewing Couture by Claire B. Shaeffer. I look forward to reading all of it.

I include the beautiful book cover at the top of this blog entry to catch your eye. But I’ve decided to share a bit about my sewing experience before I talk about the book.

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My sewing history is simple. I began with doll clothes as a child—for my 8-inch Madame Alexander. When I was in high school my father offered to keep me in fabric if I sewed my own clothes. What a great deal for me who was on a budget of no money.

I was an early fashionista in high school. I probably saved my lunch money for six months to buy a pair of black leather boots that I found in San Francisco. These boots had tiny buttons and loops all the way up the front. I wish I had a photo of these boots and my high school clothes. Occasionally, I came home from school to find my mother, going through my closet, dress by dress, hanger by hanger, showing each detail to my aunt Bev. She’d say things like, “Look at this top-stitching on the collar that she did by hand,” or “Notice how she matched the plaid design on the side seams.”

My Aunt Bev helped this budding fashionista emerge by cutting my hair. If she were styling hair now, she’d no doubt be in a high-end salon. But her price for me couldn’t be beat. She either cut my hair for free, or my mom slipped her some money. All I know is that my aunt put up with a diva who checked every detail with two mirrors to examine the back. I’d seen an unusual “bob” cut in Vogue (in 1963). I love my aunt who was willing to keep snipping each time I ask her to go shorter and shorter in the back.

I had a unique look that other kids gawked at me.  I was either ahead of my time, or I was a geek, or both. My two besties Linda and Janice, and I made our own winter coats—fully underlined and lined. Lapel collars and bound button holes. Linda’s was green wool, mine was camel, and Janice’s was black and white herringbone.

Janice never credited me for handing her the signature look of black and white. This combo was striking with her black hair and freckles. But this is why I feel blessed to have introduced this idea to my friend. I once saw a beautiful black and white magazine spread, probably in Vogue, maybe in Glamour or Seventeen. I instantly fell in love with the sophistication and elegance of black and white. Black and white fabric. Black and white ribbon. Black and white wallpaper. Unfortunately, this color combo did nothing for me in my brown hair with reddish highlights. When we were shopping for fabric I suggested to Janice that she select the black and white polka dotted fabric .She made the most adorable sleeveless dress with cut-in armholes and a dropped waist in fairly large polka dots. Honestly, my friend should have been featured in a Vogue editorial. There was never a better match than those two colors and my dear friend.

Many years later, when I hadn’t seen Janice in probably 14 years, a friend called me on the phone and said, “Quick. Turn on ABC. Janice is on TV.” There was Janice on a local show talking about the miracle of giving birth with only one kidney. (Those of you who’ve seen Steel Magnolias may remember how the Julia Roberts’ character got pregnant, despite her mother’s huge reservations.) Catching up with a dear friend doesn’t usually occur on television. But what was more remarkable is that Janice chose to wear a black and white dress after all this time.

How I wish I had photos to acknowledge significant occurrences and plain feelings from long ago. The younger generations are so fortunate to own so many cameras that are easy to use. Besides my school pictures, I probably have less than 10 pictures of myself before high school. My parents were not happy people. I don’t think they noticed many Kodak moments in their lives. They were too busy surviving the present than to think about capturing their beautiful children for posterity. Or the other version of the story about no pictures is: My parents didn’t have their shit together and they should have had the decency to take pictures of their children.
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Reviewing My Sewing Machines

I just added a new toy to my sewing machine arsenal, a Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist.

I’m trying NOT to spend money, but here was my quandary: My normally dependable and lovely machine is a Kenmore 19606. Although I’ve always wanted a Bernina or a Viking, I’ve been too practical to go for the top-of-the-line anything. I’ve used Kenmore machines since I bought my first one at age 18.

The 19606 is my best Kenmore to date, but after awhile it developed a small but significant problem. The bobbin winder quit working. Before I realized that I could buy a portable bobbin winder or previously threaded bobbins, I took my machine to Sears to have it repaired. Sears sends all sewing machines to a special place, and getting it back requires patience and time.

By the way, I knew exactly what was wrong with the machine and what part I needed, but taking the machine apart was far too risky. I included a diagram with the machine, showing Sears exactly what was wrong, but Sears gives no discount for my research. When I got the machine back,  the bobbin threader winder worked but the machine’s perfect stitch had been altered when it was cleaned.

Unfortunately, I put my machine away for awhile. When I used it months later, I realized that although the bobbin winder worked, it would only fill the bobbin 1/3 of the way before sticking.

At this point I bought a bobbin winder. I also bought several filled bobbins with either black or white thread. Don’t do this. After years of sewing I recently realized that having the same weight thread on the top and the bottom is essential for a perfect sewing stitch.

When I decided to become a serious doll clothes designer, I bought a Serger. I like to finish the seams properly in anything that I make, and using a regular zig-zag stitch adds bulk to the seams. First, I bought a Brother Serger 1034D that is a lovely machine but difficult to thread. The instruction booklet and the accompanying DVDs were limited. I eventually threaded it by finding some instructions on YouTube. But even with instructions, threading the machine was a pain in the behind. Since I’d always gotten by with conservative machines, I finally splurged and purchased a Baby Locke Imagine. This Serger threads itself, and it’s easy to use.

I take that back:
A Serger can be intimidating (as I describe in my previous posts Don’t Be Afraid of Your Serger and More on Using a Serger). There is no Baby Locke store close by. However, I am due some free classes from the distant store. I figure that when I sojourn to this distant store, I’ll take my Kenmore sewing machine and have a Baby Locke repairman work on it. I need someone who has the genius touch of a grand piano repairman.

Last year I bought my granddaughter a toy sewing machine. She wants to learn how to sew, and her interest couldn’t make me happier. (My long term goal is to make doll clothes patterns and matching little girl dresses. And I am having fun.) The toy machine called Sew Fun by Alex was a piece of garbage so I bought a basic $100 Kenmore machine with a decent stitch. The speed of the machine can be adjusted for a little girl who needs to go slowly. My six-year-old granddaughter sits in a booster chair and puts the foot pedal on a box. The only place I find this little machine right now is at eBay.

I had been doing my own sewing on my trusty Kenmore 19606 and using my portable bobbin winder. Unfortunately, I somehow bent the sensitive structure that holds the needle. I’m afraid that if the Sears man adjusts my machine again, he’ll make it worse instead of better.

Have I mentioned how important it is to have a dependable sewing machine?
If you’re reading this blog, you probably understand. I don’t want to stop what I’m doing to take my sewing machine to an unknown entity, so I’ve been using the little Kenmore machine that I bought my granddaughter. She isn’t ready to sew without supervision so the machine is stored at my house.

Unfortunately, even his machine is causing me grief. Kenmore uses a removable housing unit for its bobbin on some of its machines. I detest this style of bobbin holder because the thread gets jammed, and everything gets stuck, creating a hole in the fabric.

This morning while I was working on a beautiful piece of fleece, I was having difficulty stitching a narrow hem without the foot slipping and making my straight line crooked. I checked the needle and stitch requirements for fleece, and everything I was using seemed ideal except for the behavior of the little machine. Although this machine does have a nice stitch, it has some problems: In addition to the bobbin chamber jamming, the floor of the machine–that surrounds the free arm–slips off in the middle of sewing. When I sew with just the free arm, the bobbin compartment flops opened. I’ve come to the conclusion that my granddaughter needs something better–eventually. I don’t want the machine to contribute to the frustration of a typical “newbie.”

What’s the first thing a non-sewing person says about sewing? “I don’t  have the patience.” When my granddaughter comes to visit, she practices machine stitching by following some lines that are drawn on paper. We’ve been planning on making some doll clothes, but last week I told her that we will begin with a simple skirt for her. (An imperfect seam will have less impact on a larger garment). She says, “When I’m eight or nine, in a couple of years, I can make my own skirt then…” and I say, “No. You can do this in a month or so.” She has the cutest little frame; she would look cute in a gunny sack. A skirt with an elastic waist will do.

After the little Kenmore ate a hole in my fleece, I said, That’s it! I looked for a local phone repair service again, not to fix this machine but my wonderful Kenmore model 19606 that walks and talks and crawls on its belly like a reptile. Alas, nothing new. The local Vacuum and Sewing Machine Repair place doesn’t inspire my confidence. I’m not going back to Sears. My next stop is Baby Locke on the other side of the Altamont Pass, but it’s pouring rain, and I’m one big sissy.

Light Bulb Moment: I look at Amazon and find this beautiful Singer 9960 Quantum Style. I don’t need another expensive machine. In fact, I don’t need another machine at all! I need one that works, period. There’s no such thing unless I wait a couple of weeks, and I can’t wait. The good news is that out of  134 customer reviews at Amazon, 108 give this new machine five stars. I read detailed reviews by experienced seamstresses and many of them have several machines. The price on this was $330, and with my Visa reward points the machine is $300, plus tax and $4 for overnight delivery.

Stay turned for the review of my new machine.

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