Cloth doll making can be a little challenging. That's because doll patterns, or even cloth ornament patterns, have a narrow 1/4″ seam allowance. It's tricky sewing around curves and angles without ruining the project. Take for example sewing feet. When I tried cutting doll legs and feet out before sewing, I messed a lot of doll parts. My machine's foot would grip the fabric and it would slip out. Or I could keep my stitches straight and end up with two different looking feet. But then I found a better way and boy does it make doll making a lot easier and more enjoyable! This tried and true tutorial has been updated with new resources and tips.
Cloth Doll Making Supplies
Instead of pinning down pattern pieces and cutting around them, you trace around the pieces with a washable fabric pen or pencil. This gives you guidelines for your stitches, creating straight consistent lines and curves.
Let's get started with our list of supplies.
- Doll Pattern, printed out.
- Muslin, washed and pressed, regular or tea stained (I usually buy the better quality from Brother sewing machine and it's on sale often!)
- Mark B Gone pencil or pen (I usually use a pencil because they last longer for me.)
- Scissors (My favorite brand is Fiskars. Tip: keep a pair of scissors for fabric cutting only. That way they stay sharper for your sewing projects)
- Straight Pins (I like those with a color top. Helps me find them quickly when I drop on on the floor. Believe me your feet and your family will thank you for it. 😉 )
- Ruler if needed
- Thread, like Coats & Clark Dual Duty. (Good quality thread is less likely break or create irregular stitches than cheap no-name threads)
- Sewing Machine (you want your machine to be able to create evenly stitched, smooth stitches. I love my Brother sewing machine!)
#1 Read the Pattern
Gather your pattern and supplies. Read through your pattern before starting. Check the pattern to see if it includes the trace and sew method. If your pattern says ‘cut the arms, legs, body' then this tutorial will not work for that pattern — when in doubt or if the instructions don't say, just email and ask the designer. In some cases a cut and sew pattern will work okay, but your finished doll will be larger than expected.
#2 Tracing the Pattern
Lay out your fabric across a flat surface. I keep my muslin folded in half as it comes on the bolt. Slide your pattern page underneath and use a Mark B gone pen to trace the pieces out carefully. Position and move the pattern as needed so each traced piece has space between another. Also, I like to position all the pieces with the open ends going in the same direction.
Your lines should be straight and steady. A ruler can help on long straight parts like the legs and arms. Follow pattern instructions – you will need a body/head, 2 arms, and 2 legs. And, each piece needs two layers; that's why you keep the fabric folded and traced on the top layer.
#3 Pinning Layers
After all the pieces are traced, remove the pattern from between the layers. Pin the the layers together as shown below. This is how I lay out my doll parts to be sewn.
Also, keeping all the openings facing the same way at the bottom, you will be able ‘jump' sewing machine needle over to the leg, then to the next arm, etc. I don't have to cut any threads along the way either. This saves time and thread.
When cloth doll making, always test your machine's tension and stitch to make sure it's ready to sew. Begin by sewing along the traced line of the outermost part of the doll parts. As you can see I started with the doll body. Begin at the bottom and guide your needle along the traced line. Slow down around the curves. I usually have my machine set to always stop with the needle down so if I have lift the presser foot to turn the fabric, my needle stays in place. For tight curves I slow my machine done a lot, one stitch at a time. It helps me to stay on the traced line as I guide the needle around the tight curve.
And remember: don't sew completely around. You need to leave the designated areas unsewn. These opening allow you to turn the part right side out and stuff the doll.
Using sharp fabric scissors. cut around each sewn doll part, leaving about 1/4″ allowance between the stitches and fabric edges. You may want to cut a “v” out from the seam where ever you have a sharp curve. This helps your fabric from bunching up in the curve. Be sure not to cut into the stitches, though.
This is a cloth doll making technique is similar to the first one but in this one you use pattern templates. First thing is to print your pattern pieces onto card stock. Then cut those pieces out to make templates.
To keep your pattern organized, keep the parts in a ziploc bag with the instructions or pin all the pieces to the pattern and keep in a file or plastic see-thru notebook pocket.
I use a pencil for this type of tracing (you can use a tracing pencil or pen, too); also, I show a ruler because the pattern I am using requires ‘extension' of the legs and body. It's the best way for me to extend the lines out.
You continue the same steps as above, the difference is you'll be tracing around the patterns instead of putting the pattern between the fabric layers. This is easier for darker fabrics that make seeing the pattern through the fabric difficult.
Note about Clothing: most of us who design with the ‘trace and sew' method add in the extra seam allowance when we create the clothing for our doll samples. So we will ask you to ‘cut' the pieces out for clothing.
Lastly, this method does very well when sewing ornaments, bowl fillers, and other small sized home decor accents. It makes it much easier to sew around the shapes and you're able to save on fabric because you can place them more closely together versus cutting and then sewing. It's my preferred method of sewing dolls and home decor accents when it's possible.