Choosing the right fabric is the first step when sewing for your dolls. Starting out on the right foot is the most important thing you can do!
Today, your choices are astounding. Have you ever walked into a fabric store with something specific in mind only to be waylaid when your eyes feasted on the sheer number of bolts in every varied hue, texture, and fiber before you? (Okay.....so maybe it's only me that gets hypnotized every time I enter! I admit it! I'm a card carrying member of Fabriholics Anonymous! And believe it or not, my husband is a full fledged member, too!)
If you are going to make an effort to create something, don't you want it to be the best it can be? Then your first most important choice is going to be your fabric. It goes without saying that you get what you pay for. If you start out with substandard material, your creation will reflect that. Choose wisely.
Most of those fabrics on the bargain table are there for a reason. Seasoned seamstresses did not buy it because it was not the best quality (although there are exceptions to this and quality material may end up on the bargain table because it was originally so high priced that no one bought much of it either.....so not ALL bargain fabric is poor quality).
Choosing Appropriate Fabric for your Creations
The first consideration when choosing your fabrics for doll clothing will be who's going to play with them. If the doll clothing is going to be for a child's use, then you're going to want something that is serviceable and easily washed. For the most part, cottons or polycottons work well for doll clothes intended for child play. They're sturdy and easily cared for.
One thing to watch for is thread count (which is actually a consideration for all clothing). 'Thread count' is quite literally how many threads are in an inch of woven fabric (total vertical and horizontal). Poorer quality fabrics have a lower thread count and fray very easily which will frustrate you when you sew on it as it begins to fall apart as you work with it. Not a good choice for doll clothes that a child will play with.
How do you identify lower thread counts when looking at fabric types? Look at the cut edge (the edge where it has previously been cut before) and you can usually see that it is either holding its threads together nicely or it is fraying badly on the cut line. The cut edge is not going to be absolutely perfect. It is to be expected that there will be some fraying. It has after all, been cut. But what you are looking for is excessive fraying because that is exactly what is going to happen to the pieces that you cut for the doll clothes. You start with poor quality, you will end up with poor quality.
**Please note: There are some low thread count fabrics that are customarily that way (i.e. gauze, homespun, flannel, linen, etc.) and have unique handling and drape and are chosen for their overall effect. So not all low thread fabrics are poor quality. It depends on the type of fabric that it is.**
For fancier dress clothes for child's play, there are some taffetas, satins, and silkies that can stand up to a bit of wear and tear, but keep in mind these fabric types are a little more difficult to handle during the sewing process. Velvet rarely does well as a fabric for play doll clothes and usually turns out to be a poor choice. Rough handling will cause it to come apart and then your little one may be very upset because it was their favorite dolly outfit!
When making clothes for the adult collector the sky is the limit. Pretty much anything goes and fabric types and choices are only dictated by your own likes and dislikes. But one thing is a fact. If you want the best possible fit and look for your doll, the weight of the fabric chosen must be light enough to drape or lay (the exception being where a stiff or heavy fabric adds a design element to your creation). An example of a poor choice would be making a pair of pants for Barbie out of regular corduroy that you would use for pants for yourself.
Easiest Rule of Thumb
The smaller the doll, the lighter a fabric should be.
Another thing to also keep in mind:
Always think about scale (size of the print).
For the nicest look, try to keep the print to a realistic size for the overall proportion of your doll.
Fabrics that work well for doll clothing
Acetates: A lightweight synthetic that works well for formal wear and/or linings. Readily available.
Batiste: A very common fabric that can come in various weights. Usually cotton or a cotton blend (polyester). The lightest weights can have a lovely opaque sheerness. A plain weave.
More about this and other vintage textiles here.
Broadcloth: Very common and available in various weights. Usually a cotton or a cotton blend (polyester), but can also be made with wool (has a shiny nap) or silk (dull in appearance). A little
heavier than batiste, but a nice choice for doll clothes.
Brocade: Has a jacquard weave that gives the appearance of an embroidered surface. Usually very shiny and silky. Be careful with this one. It makes lovely doll clothes, but you must
choose a weight that is appropriate. Brocade can be heavy and because of the weave, it also has the tendency to fray rapidly if you handle it too much.
Buckram: A very stiff open weave fabric with a glue finish. Steams well into shapes for hat brims and/ or hats. A lovely base for belts.
Calico: A lightweight fabric known for its overall small print designs. Usually cotton or cotton blend (polyester). Look for a good quality (thread count). Great for doll clothes for child play.
Cambric: A very finely woven cotton with a somewhat shiny surface. Similar in weight to batiste and lawn.
Challis: A light and flexible plain weave that can be made of cotton, rayon, wool or blends.
Chamois: There are two types. One is the brushed leather made from chamois goats (a bit too heavy for doll clothing). Chamois cloth, however, is most often made of polyester and has a soft
nap. Depending on the weight, it makes up into lovely doll coats and outerwear.
Chiffon: A lovely, sheer cloth that was formerly made of silk, but is more often made of synthetic fibers now (although silk chiffon can still be readily found and is more expensive than the synthetic
variety). It is lightweight, sheer, drapes beautifully, and lends an exotic appearance to doll clothing.
China Silk: A lightweight and inexpensive silk. Drapes beautifully. Makes lovely scarves, and works incredibly well for linings because it does not add any bulk to the seams. Sometimes
Corduroy: A fabric with velvety ribs. Usually cotton or cotton blends (polyester). Can also be made of wool or silk (in this form however, it can get really expensive and is not as easily found).
Baby cord (or sometimes called finewale or pinwale) is a nice weight for doll clothes.
Crepe de Chine: A lightweight fabric that has nice drape, this was once made of silk. Now it is more commonly made of polyester. Has a lovely shiny appearance and makes lovely formal
wear for your dolls, or dressy dresses for your younger little girl dolls.
Denim: A fabric commonly used to make jeans. Frequently made of cotton, but can be found as a blend (polyester). It comes in many weights, so choose a weight that is light enough for
the doll you are sewing for. Wash carefully before use because denim has a tendency to bleed and can stain your doll. Also has a tendency to fray with a lot of handling during
Dimity: Lightweight fabric usually made of cotton, but its modern incarnation is made of a cotton/polyester blend. Can have a sheer quality to it. Dimity has a fine weave interspersed with
corded rows to give a delicate ribbed look to the fabric. Vintage and antique dimity has a finer quality to it than its modern version..
Doeskin: Made from wool or synthetic fibers with a soft nap. Comes in different weights. Good substitute for kid leather.
Dotted Swiss: A sheer cloth that has dots on it (either flocked, printed, or woven into it). Vintage dotted swiss is 100% cotton, but the more modern versions can be a cotton/polyester blend.
Eyelet: Sometimes called Broderie Anglaise, this is an embroidered cotton (or blend) that is usually lightweight and very 'country feminine'. It is sold in various widths and some has
embroidery only on the selvage edge(s), while some has all-over embroidery.
Faux Leather: Also called 'pleather', it is an imitation leather. Comes in different weights, and finishes from snakeskin to crocodile. Many different varieties! Makes great doll purses,
leggings, pants, jackets, etc. Look for the lightest and most pliable variety.
Felt: A multipurpose non-woven fabric that can be purchased in squares or yardage. Can be made of wool, synthetic fiber, hair and fur. Synthetic being the most affordable, but most often
the poorer quality. Makes lovely appliqués for doll clothing, or also works up quick for vests, hats, coats, etc.
Flannel: A loose plain weave with a brushed surface that makes it soft. Flannel is fine for doll clothes, but can be too heavy for really small dolls. Try to find one that has a higher than normal thread
count to counteract fraying. Or you could choose Flannelette, a close cousin of flannel that is usually a finer weave and an even softer finish (usually only on one side) and works well for
the smaller dolls.
Gauze: A low thread count cloth with a typically open weave. Gives an airy appearance to a doll's garment and drapes wonderfully. Can be lightweight and sheer, to a medium-heavy weight that
is more opaque than sheer. The lighter weights make lovely doll clothes, but this frays rapidly during handling/sewing. Take extra care to handle gently while constructing. Worth the trouble!
Georgette: Very much like chiffon, but heavier. Drapes beautifully, but can snag easily. Has a matte appearance. Can be tricky to sew, so take your time when working with it.
Gingham: Usually features a checked pattern, from micro checks to larger checks. Once made of cotton, it can now be more easily found as a blend. There are really two kinds: gingham
print in which the pattern is printed onto the fabric, or a true weave where the checks are formed by colored threads interwoven with white threads.
Jacquard: A very lovely material that usually has an elaborate decorative pattern woven throughout. Very shiny and silky, it can be difficult to work with. Comes in various weights, so look for a light one.
Lace Fabric: I'm using this as a generic term here, since there are actually several different kinds. Some types
are: Valenciennes (very spendy), Alencon, All-over, Guipure, Chantilly (also very spendy), Raschel (which can be substituted for Chantilly because it is similar in appearance and handling, but
more affordable), etc.
Lame': Light to medium weight, most often woven but can be a knit as well. Usually has a shiny metallic appearance and can be plain or patterned. Lovely for glitzy looking gowns and
formal wear for your dolls. Some types are stiff and do not drape well, but most drape very nicely. Handles pretty well, but can be tricky to sew.
Lawn: A very beautiful lightweight and often sheer material that drapes beautifully and is especially wonderful for making clothes for smaller dolls. Most often cotton or a blend. Has the weight of fine
swiss handkerchiefs and can be solid color or found with dear little prints. Can be spendy. The most beautiful ones that I have worked with have consistently come from England. Harder
to find sometimes.
Leather: This of course is not a fabric per se, since it is neither weave nor knit. But it is here because it does have a use for doll clothes and accessories. It can have one shiny side or both sides can
be found with a matte appearance and soft nap. The lighter weights are best for sewing (best results achieved and headaches deterred if you do yourself a favor and buy a Teflon foot). My
recommendation is kid leather which is a very soft, drapeable and lightweight. Deer and lamb are also nice. If you have difficulty finding these, doeskin (a faux leather) gives very nearly the same
results. The heavier leathers such as cowhide and pigskin work up nicely for those armor wearing doll men, but the sewing is usually done with an awl if a size 18 leather needle gives you
Linen: Originally made from flax but can now be found made of synthetics. Various weights available. You of course want to chose the lightest weight possible. Has good body to it
so makes lovely doll coats, jackets and skirts.
Moiré: A silk-like material that is sometimes referred to as 'water silk' (because it has an appearance of wavy water spots). Makes lovely evening wear for your elegant dolls.
Muslin: An inexpensive and simple weave cloth mostly made of cotton, but can also be a blend. Several different weights and widths available. This is an excellent cloth to do test fits with your patterns
before you cut into your good stuff. Find the lightest weight that you can.
Organdy: A crisp fabric that can be sheer to semi-sheer. Originally made of cotton, but now comes in blends. Lovely for little girl dresses that are reminiscent of the 50's and 60's. Can be tricky to work
with because it does not drape at all. Stiff.
Organza: Can be sheer and crisp like organdy, but handles easier.....not as stiff. Silk organza is beautiful and flows like a garden fairy's dress! (The silk version can be spendy). Also found
made of synthetics.
Pique' : A lovely weave with tiny raised patterns on it (usually geometric) that can be made of cotton or a blend. Makes a lovely base to embroider on, such as the yoke of a doll dress or jumper.
Polished Cotton: A lovely cotton that has a sheen to it (sometimes called cotton satin). The shine is due to a manufacturing process. Somewhat heavier than perhaps a batiste, but still works up into
some lovely doll clothing. Does not drape very well.
Rayon: One of my favorites because it is not only lightweight, but it drapes like a dream. Comes in patterns, prints, solids, and many different finishes (i.e. crinkle finish) and can also be used as
a lightweight lining fabric. So many uses for it. Fine for tiny dolls and great big ones!
Satin: There are various different kinds of satin. It can be made of silk, cotton, or synthetics and comes in many different weights. Some drape well while others do not. The lightest weight satin that
I am very fond of is charmeuse which drapes very nicely and is relatively inexpensive.
Seersucker: A textile with a puckered look often made of cotton or blends and comes in different weights. It usually makes its appearance in the stores around springtime. Makes lovely summery doll clothes.
Silk: Silk can sometimes be a misnomer that is used simply to describe the appearance of a fabric. True silk comes from the cocoons of silkworms and is an expensive fabric. Some forms of silk that
work well for doll clothing are: Shantung, Douppioni, Habutai, Pongee, and Crepe de Chine. They all drape nicely, but some are heavier than others so that needs to be taken into consideration
when choosing a silk for your doll outfit. Silk is also sometimes blended with other fibers for special effects or cost effectiveness.
Suede cloth: Created to give the appearance and feel of suede, but is a woven cloth. Various weights and lovely colors helps to make it a nice alternative to true suede. Makes
lovely doll coats, hats, and accessories. Very spendy but worth the price.
Taffeta: A somewhat stiff cloth with a very shiny appearance (some people mistake this for satin). Often made of polyester, acetate or silk. Silk taffeta is a lighter weight and can drape better than the
synthetic varieties. It does fray quite a bit, so keep that in mind when working with it.
Tulle: More of a net than a fabric, it has many uses in doll clothing. From underslips to glorious full skirts on ball gowns, it is inexpensive and adds body to a doll costume. The easiest tulle to find is
usually made of nylon, but if you can find silk tulle, you will find heaven. Spendy but worth every penny! Very luxurious! Tulle can be tricky to sew on.
Ultrasuede: This non-woven material resembles suede and is a synthetic. Needs no hemming and is very spendy. Comes in various weights and colors and makes lovely outerwear and accessories for your
dolls. Sewn best with a Teflon foot.
Velour: This can be either woven or a knit. Has a fuzzy appearance like velvet and the knit version stretches beautifully. Its not always easy to find this in a lighter weight. Difficult to sew because
it tends to have a mind of its own and shifts because of the pile (easily remedied by hand basting first). Requires special pressing.
Velvet: Another material that actually has many forms. Can be made of cotton or synthetic and have either a matte or shiny appearance. Soft to the touch. Embossed velvet can have designs pressed into
it, giving it a very decorative finish or even a quilted look. Panne velvet has whorls throughout (velvet has been pressed in different directions) and can be a woven or a knit. Can be had in many different
weights, you will want to choose the lightest possible. Not a good choice for making clothes that a child will play with. Difficult to sew on and I suggest hand basting first (save yourself a major
headache!) Worth the trouble if you are trying to achieve a specific look for your doll costuming. Requires special pressing.
Velveteen: Sometimes referred to as "poor man's velvet". Does not have the luster that true velvet has and is somewhat stiffer than true velvet as well. Less expensive. Makes decent outerwear for your
dolls. Requires special pressing.
Voile: Lightweight with a loose weave. Can be sheer and crisp or soft and drapeable depending on what it is made of. Usually cotton or a blend. Makes lovely spring and summer doll dresses!
Wool: Made from fleece of sheep and can be found in many different weights. It can either be 100% wool or you can find it blended with other fibers (i.e. silk wool) for different effects. Many weights
are available and it comes in solid colors and patterns. Makes lovely outerwear for dolls and if you find some of the really light weights, it also makes lovely dresses and pants for them. It also
works up into lovely doll blankets as well. It does have a tendency to fray while working with it.
Knits that work well for doll clothing
Double Knit: Both sides of this are identical. It has good memory (recovers very well after stretching) and is usually made from synthetics. Comes in prints and solids. Tends to be a little on the heavy
side, but does well for doll clothing for bigger dolls.
Fleece: Fluffy knit with a soft nap on one or both sides. A synthetic. Some stretches well, some does not. Make sure it will meet your stretch and recover needs when choosing for doll clothing.
Makes lovely doll blankets, too. (Sometimes this can even be found as a woven fabric, but it will have very little give to it).
Jersey: A lovely knit for doll clothes because it can be found in nice light weights and in so many colors and prints. Has mainly crosswise stretch (lengthwise does not give as well). Great for doll panties,
Spandex: Wonderful and very stretchy (usually lengthwise and crosswise) it makes for lovely doll swimsuits and summer wear. Has excellent memory (recovers very well after stretching). This can be
found in some very nice light weights in solids and prints.
Sweater Knit: This refers to knit that looks like what a sweater would be made of. Various different weights. The lightest weights make adorable doll sweaters, coats and hats. Usually a
synthetic. Most often, it has only one-way stretch.
Tricot: A knit that sometimes has a sheen to it and makes lovely doll slips, nighties and undergarments. One-way stretch. A synthetic that comes in many lovely colors and prints.
This list of woven and knit fabric types is by no means exhaustive.
There are so many fabrics available that it would be difficult to list them all. Those on the list are ones that I am personally familiar with. If you have any questions about fabrics, please feel free to email me. I'm always glad to help out where I can.
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