Fitting Doll Clothes, Part One

The purpose of this article is to show how I fit simple styles to the variety of doll bodies I sew for.  Most of us, I think, are "visual" people, and have no need or desire to learn complicated math in order to dress dolls, so I'm suggesting some easy hands-on steps to make sure the doll is well dressed.

11.5 and 12" fashion dolls, even those made by the same manufacturer, are not always exactly the same size, and this can make a huge difference to the doll costumer.  Some of the Perestroika models agreed to pose nude for a comparison; each has a unique set of measurements; some of the differences are obvious, and some are more subtle.  All of these models were made by MattelTM ; and there are, of course, other manufacturers whose dolls have their own shape and size.  (See Part Two and Three.)  

The Real Clothes patterns are drafted to fit the current Twist & Turn and the "bellybutton" Barbie bodies (see the 2nd and 3rd dolls from the left);  the difference between these bodies is primarily at the waist, and this often can be accommodated by placement of the waist closure.   Nonetheless, it is important to try garments on the doll you are sewing for before the garment is finished.  

For the guys, our patterns are drafted to fit the standard "swimsuit" Ken (3rd from the left).

We fit our patterns to the straight arm dolls ; the bent arms are slightly shorter, and you will have to adjust the sleeve length for these dolls. 

I have not given doll measurements in this article.  I often do measure things while I'm working on doll clothes, but I find that refining or altering the fit of a pattern works much better with the "test-muslin" method.  I do keep the final test muslin, marked with the type of doll and the garment fabric I used for the final garment, and with notes to indicate how the pattern was adjusted.  This record of changes is often useful when I adapt another pattern for the same type of doll.  




The 6th Dimension website, at , has some good photos comparing 11.5 and 12" doll body shapes - and lots of other goodies, too!  Click HERE to go to Christine's photos of some different body types, and some info about contemporary Mattel Barbie bodies.


For your test garment, use plain cotton cloth; old sheets will do.  It should be a medium weight, neither thin nor bulky, firmly woven, and a plain white or pastel.  You will also need a permanent fine-tip marking pen, pins (the silk pins are finer than dressmaking pins, allow more accuracy), a ruler (the 6" square quilter's ruler is great!) and a tape measure (cut a 12" piece from a 1/4" wide tape).

These sequences use the Real Clothes patterns, so I printed one to use and one to to mark and keep as a master reference. Keep copies of adjusted patterns and the test garments in page protectors, with any notes about the fitting and garments subsequently made from the pattern, in a binder.  Saves one from starting over each time . . .

We'll fit a skirt first.

1.1  Cut out a copy of the the pattern ; use only the main pattern piece or pieces (no need for facings, etc. yet); cut on the seamlines at the waist, and remove the hem allowance.  Trace the pattern on the cloth, keeping the grainline true and marking centre front and back.  Remove the pattern, and cut the garment pieces out, allowing 1/2" seam allowance.


1.2  Baste the major seams and the darts, if any, either by hand or with a long machine stitch.  Put the garment on the doll with the seam allowances to the outside, and pin the garment closed.  Make sure you baste and pin exactly on the seamlines.  One moving target at a time is enough!  

Check to make sure the centre front and centre back lines (or seams) remain straight and centered throughout the fitting.


1.3  This skirt is shown on four different dolls, with the pins showing where changes need to be made.  If the changes involve making the garment larger, clip and remove the basting thread, and pin to fit.  Be sure to leave fitting ease; if the waist is skin-tight, you'll never close it over a top!

On the TNT body, the hips are a little big.

On a Flex-waist doll, the fit is fine.

On the vintage body (as on the current Shani mold bodies), the hips and lower side seams need to come in nearly 1/4" each side.

On the poser body, the waist needs to come in a tiny bit, and the hips 1/8" each side. (Times 4, that's 1/2"!)


1.4  To adapt the pattern for the poser doll, remove the test skirt, and mark the placement of the fitting pins.  Remove the pins, measure to make sure each side has equal adjustments, and mark the new seam line.  You may want to baste on the new seamlines and try on again.

Transfer the new seamlines to the pattern, measure and add the seam allowances to draw new cutting lines.  Label the pattern.  Keep a copy as a master, so next time you have a reference.  If this skirt had a waistband or a waist facing, the same changes must be made there. 


1.5  If the whole skirt was simply too big or too small for the doll, without any other fitting adjustments needed, there is another way to change the size of the pattern.  Split the pattern vertically, parallel to the straight of grain.  Overlap the pattern pieced to remove desired amount, or spread the pieces to add.  Secure with glue or tape, using a piece of paper underneath if you've added width.


1.6  If an A-line skirt is lengthened by extending the side seams, it will be much wider at the new hem.  To alter the length without changing the width at the hem, split the pattern horizontally above the hem;  spread to the new length, keeping the centre front grainline aligned; tape in place on a piece of paper; draw new side seams from the widest point at the hips to the hem piece.

Reverse the process (split and lap the pattern) to maintain the hem width when you shorten a skirt.


1.7  To add a dart, pleats or gathers to a plain skirt, use a variation of the pattern change.

Split the skirt pattern vertically, almost to the hem, where you want to add the extra width.  To add 1/2" extra ease at the front waist, spread the slash by 1/4" on each side. Redraw the waistline, and true the hem. Mark the additional width at the waistline, and use these marks on the fabric to place the pleats, dart or gathers.  Thanks to Jen, for this design idea! 


Now let's make some test pants for Ken.

2.1  Cut out the pants pattern as you did for the skirt: use only the main pattern piece or pieces, cut on the seamlines at the sides,  remove the leg and waist hem allowance.  Trace the pattern on the cloth, keeping the grainline true and marking the inseam (or side seam) side grain.  Remove the pattern, and cut the garment pieces out, allowing 1/2" seam allowance.


 2.2 Baste the garment together, and try on the doll. 

That's better!  This guy has skinny legs and a smaller waist, so it's easy to fix by adjusting the side


Fits swimsuit Ken fine,

so now let's try the pants on the poser.  Oops!


2.3  Now let's try that handsome Clark Gable - 4th from the left in the photos above.  

Oh dear! he needs suspenders . . .and at least another 1/4" leg length.

But when we pin in the side seams, they shift to the back!

so instead, try pinning tiny pleats in the fronts -instead - it works!

An option is to decrease the side seam on the fronts only by 1/4" (see detail below).

Clark has quite different proportions from the Kens; taller, slimmer - but the width difference is mostly across the front.  It is important to keep the side seams where they belong and hanging straight.


2.4 This pattern would make good low-rise jeans for Clark.  

For dress pants, the crotch seam could be lowered by 1/8"; try lowering the crotch seamline.  


If that doesn't work well, split the pattern horizontally just above the crotch, spread by 1/8" to add the extra length.  With the test garment technique, you have options!


Wizzy has used the RC patterns to make clothes for Cissy and Skipper dolls; here's her revised pattern for Skipper's pants, developed from a muslin test garment.



A note of caution, here; even 1/16" more or less can make a huge difference in the fitting.  Here's an illustration:  the pants on the left were carefully cut by pinning the pattern to the fabric, and cutting around it with scissors.  The pattern for the pants on the right was cut out, used as a template to trace on the fabric with a fine-tip pen, and the fabric was cut just inside the line.  There was only 1/16" difference on each edge in the cut garments - but with 4 seams, that was 1/4" too big!