18″ dolls clothes (AKA American Girl doll sewing)

It only occurred to me the other day, that I should think about putting all this into a blog post. I don’t normally sew doll’s clothes and I probably won’t be doing it again anytime soon, but I’ve recently sewn a big pile of them.

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American Girl dolls are all the rage in our house right now. We currently have two (Target versions), and a third is on it’s way for a Miss nearly-Five’s birthday next month. However, they’re all a bit lacking in the wardrobe department. At the moment, my fabric scraps are being twisted and tied around the poor dolls in a type of rustic fashion design. So it occurred to me that Santa would be on a winning wicket if he delivered a big supply of 18″doll’s clothes at Christmas.

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All these clothes were made using my itty bitty fabric scraps. The scrapbusting was very satisfying, but I had to overcome a very obvious problem with my plan. My girls would very easily recognise the scraps and think that I had made them instead of Santa. I came up with a strategy. A few weeks ago, I received a call from one of Santa’s assistants, asking me to donate some of my fabric scraps. Of course, I didn’t know why. It was a very exciting mystery. My girls took an enormous amount of pleasure in going through my scrap basket and hand-picking scraps to send to Santa, speculating the whole time what he was planning to do with them. We then wrapped up the parcel together, addressed it to Santa, and I ‘posted’ it the next day.

Dolls clothes are very quick and easy to make, but I did have to get over my need to ‘finish’ the seams and raw edges appropriately. That was the toughest bit. The first few outfits I made had all serged seams, and all raw edges were finished and turned under. However, a quick peek at some shop-bought dolls clothes told me that I was being ridiculous. I was spending way to much time on them.

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The patterns I used worked really well and fit the dolls perfectly. I still have more to make yet, including some swimsuits. I plan to sew a couple of items between each of the bigger projects I finish over the next few months. I’ll continue to work through the sewing patterns pictured below.

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A black silk cami

I was given a few lengths of some lovely crepe backed silk satin recently after my MIL had a big clean out. The fabric is probably quite old, but it is in perfect condition and of a beautiful quality. The smaller remnant was a gorgeous glossy black and I knew that it would make the perfect camisole.

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Crepe back satin is much heavier in weight than charmeuse, with the lovely brilliance of satin on one side, and a dull, pebbly appearance on the underside. Normally, I’d prefer silk charmeuse for a slip or cami, but going into Fall, I knew this beefier silk would work well for layering over shirts, as well as wearing alone.

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The pattern I used was the Camilla Camisole pattern. I made up a straight size 10 but lengthened it by about 1 inch. It is perfect. This is the third Camilla Cami I’ve sewn. I love this pattern. It stands out from the crowd because it is cut on the bias, which gives it an elegant fit that can easily be translated into both formal and day wear.

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I made my first Camilla Cami in a Japanese poly and literally wore it to death a few Summers ago. I’ve recently started wearing my second version a lot more. I like the way it layers over a nice tee. And now, this classic black version is going to end up as another staple of my Fall wardrobe. I keep meaning to lengthen the pattern into a slip dress, but I find these little tops much more versatile, and great for using up small lengths of pretty silk.

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Pleated silk skirt

So this was a bit of a random make and totally unplanned, but the fabric just grabbed me and demanded to be made into something wearable… and immediately. It arrived in the mail and bypassed my stash completely.

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I actually went shopping for wool coating, but as always, I ended up with fabric in my cart that I never set out to purchase, namely, this glorious silk CDC. The colours just scream Fall, even if the fabric isn’t really the most Fall-appropriate.

What I wanted to sew with it was a floor length, ruffly, slinky skirt. But we all know how much wear that would get in real life. I thought sensible thoughts and turned it into a  gently pleated midi instead. I can wear this skirt with sandals and tanks, or with long boots, tights, and sweaters. It will get heaps of wear.

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I didn’t use a pattern because I’m good with measuring my waist and a skirt like this is simply just two big rectangles. I winged the pleats, but made sure to match them up. When I had the volume I liked, I jiggled the side seams to match up with my waistband.

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The waistband is the only point of interest in this skirt. Because the design was pretty foolproof, I thought I’d try something a little new. I’d read somewhere (no idea where) that you could use elastic to face a pair of pants (for comfort). I didn’t have the right width elastic on hand, but I did have a yard of a performance ribbing fabric, which feels and stretches like woven elastic. The only thing I had to do was measure the length and overlock the edges. Normal elastic used as facing would look a lot neater than my version (as would matching thread!), but as this was an experiment (and on the inside of my skirt), I wasn’t too worried about appearance.

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Contstruction of the waistband with elastic is almost identical to if you were using facing. I still interfaced the waistband fabric. I just avoided creating seams with the elastic. To do this, I overlapped the waistband fabric with the elastic so only the waistband fabric was folded back against itself.

Using elastic as a facing just creates a bit more comfort with the waistband. It stays tight, but has more give when sitting and breathing. I’m definitely going to use this method in future waistbands, and refine it so it looks pretty too.

 

 

DIY obi-style, jersey belt

I’m not quite sure what to call this “thing” that I sewed. I’ll call it an obi-style belt for want of a better term. The idea came from a friend, who sent me this photo.

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I believe it featured in a Tibi shoot. It wasn’t for sale though and only being used for styling purposes. How frustrating for people who don’t sew!

I could, however, look at the picture and appreciate that it would take me all of 30 seconds to draft (yes, draft… it’s Tibi after all), and then sew with one hand tied behind my back and one eye shut. It really was that simple.

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I used a beautifully soft, lightweight rayon jersey that I sewed into a tube with about 1.5 inches of negative ease. I then turned that tube out to the right side, keeping the lengthways seam to the middle, and stitched the short raw ends together. From the outside, your can just see a single seam down the centre-back.

The belt needs to stretch a little to pull the shirt in, but you don’t want it compressing your internal organs like a Kardashian. You want it to feel comfortable if you plan on wearing it all day! The width of my band is about 15 inches, so that makes it wide enough to be scrunched down as you see in the pictures. The diagram below shows exactly what I did. My seam allowance was 1/2 inch.

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I really love the way it looks paired with a crisp, white shirt. It is the perfect accessory for Fall. In fact, it is so perfect, that I decided to make another right away. A smooth, lightweight, merino jersey would have been perfect but I didn’t have any on hand. I did, however, have a small remnant of a wool/acrylic knit. It’s thicker than I’d like (since nobody really wants extra fabric around the waist), but it works out fine if I scrunch it a little less (and it will be super warm too!).

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I paired it with the same white shirt, and a favourite pair of pants. I made these thick cord culottes a few years ago. I wore them nearly every day during the Winter before last, which was probably why I couldn’t stand the sight of them last year. They were originally shaped more like a skirt. To jazz them up a bit and fall in love with them again, I bought the leg seams in (unfortunately this required a little more effort than planned… ie. moving the side zipper… but it was worth it). Now they have a more boxy, trouser-like shape. I also refreshed the dark colour with a bit of over-dyeing in the washing machine. I love them all over again.

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Let’s talk about swimsuits

Not all bathers are meant for swimming. And by swimming, I mean actual laps, freestyle at a pace, butterfly, and flip turns. I have no tolerance for togs that bag out, grab air bubbles, or shift over my bust as I swim. I’ve always stuck to Speedos for my training, racing, and now lap-swimming togs, fiercely loyal in fact. But there could be an extra challenger soon. Me.

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I loved my Splash swimsuits, but they weren’t designed for lap swimming. Even so, they worked really well when worn with a rashie over the top half (halter necks just won’t do for real swimming!). This Summer, I’ve been wearing my tiger one-piece mostly. I’ve been playing with the kids, hanging at the pool, and swimming lots of casual laps in it. The fabric has held up beautifully. The design worked well enough, but doing so much swimming also gave me lots of time to analyse the features that needed to be changed.

It was a smidgen too short through the body. The cross back was positioned too high which meant I could feel it across my shoulder blades as I rotated my arms. Also, whilst I loved the novelty of low cut, full bottom bathers last season, I just wasn’t feeling this trend any more. A higher cut leg was calling, not just for the look, but also for functionality and range of movement. Either that, or a to-the-knee bike short style, but I wasn’t going there.

In fact, all this pondering about swimsuits got me thinking about the evolution of competitive swimsuits and the use of technical fabrics (and non-textiles). I ushered swimming out of my life around 1996. Around that time, we raced in ultra small, skin-tight suits, and occasionally what we called ‘paper suits’. The ‘paper’ lycra was developed in 1988 for the Seoul Olympics and the Australian swim team swam in them at Barcelona. This swimsuit fabric was different to normal lycra. It was extremely thin and felt very crisp and dry to the hand. Even the dark colours were semi-transparent in the light. The fabric was strong, extremely lightweight and we wore them skin-tight and a few sizes too small. They only really lasted for one competition. I was fortunate enough to swim under the guidance of a national coach, who bought back souvenirs that he swapped at international meets. That’s how I got my hands on a paper suit, and the ribbed swimwear I’ll talk about later. By the time I swam at an international meet, in about 1995, the swimsuits were back to being regular lycra and ultra small (for a brief window anyway).

More technical, ribbed fabrics started coming in just as I was signing off, but these were still a woven textile. I had an Aquablade catsuit that was really just a high-necked swimsuit. The fabric was designed in a striped print, created by the addition of water-repellent resin.  It was supposed to increase the speed of water flow over the suit. The picture below is the best I could find (from the Powerhouse Museum of Sydney, Swimsuit collection). I might still have my suit hiding somewhere in a box in Australia.

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The history that follows this is even more fascinating. In 2000, Speedo introduced the Fastskin suit that was said to mimic sharkskin, with ridges and bumps to channel water around the body. They covered most of the body, wrist to neck to ankle. These suits were approved for the 2000 Olympics and 83% of the medals were won wearing them.

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In 2008, Speed then launched the LZR racer swimsuit, which they developed in conjunction with NASA, the Australian Institute of Sport, and an Italian company, Mectex. The patented technology for these suits apparently increases blood flow to the muscles, compresses certain parts of the body, and holds the body in a more hydrodynamic position in the water. Suits were also designed specifically to match the stroke being swum and the different pattern of movement/muscle use in that stroke. The “fabric” consisted of woven elastane-nylon and 50% polyurethane. The seams are ultrasonically welded together, rather than stitched! Other companies followed suit with similar technology, making their suits out of up to 100% polyurethane.

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LZR racer by Speedo 2008

Prior to the Beijing Olympics, FINA endorsed these suits. At Beijing, 23 of 25 world records were smashed, and 94% of races were won wearing them. It was suggested that these suits resulted in times being swum 2-4% faster, which is hugely significant in a fixed environment like a swimming pool. By 2009, 130 world records had been broken by swimmers wearing these non-textile suits. FINA backflipped and the suits are now banned. Yet, those records still stand.

Current policy states that swimsuit fabric must be a textile, which is defined as any open-mesh material like cotton, nylon, lycra, etc. So, no more polyurethane with welded seams! There are also regulations on how much of the body a swimsuit can cover. A good example is what you may have seen all the swimmers wearing recently in Rio (ignore the two-piece!).

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Meanwhile, back in the normal world, I’m just focusing on a very basic design, in a definitive textile of course. No chance of me being banned from any local pools any time soon! Even after all the modifications, my suit is still not perfect, but it is pretty close to meeting all my needs! The length is great. The cross back feels as though it is in a much better position but I’ll have to do some swimming to test that out properly. I love the bottom half of the bathers. The bottom coverage is perfect and I feel like I got the leg cut just right. I like the way the sides come forward a little more than a generic suit, and the back comes up a little higher. Next time, I’ll widen the bust area a smidgen. I might also have a go at lowering the back to a more traditional swimsuit height.

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