Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sewing for American Girl Dolls

I am often asked why I haven't written a "how to" sew blog for American Girl doll clothing.   There are a couple of reasons:  The first is that the internet is full of "how to sew" instructions, including videos.   So if you want to know how to gather, pleat, insert a sleeve, hem a garment, etc., the info is all there.   Secondly, I'm sure that most people sewing for dolls have basic sewing skills, and that is all that is necessary to create the garments.

But there are some tips and tidbits of information that I can share.   First of all is the matter of patterns and fit  I have an article at Squidoo( Patterns for American Girl Dolls ) that lists all types of sources for patterns, including books and free patterns.   So it is easy to find patterns for the dolls.   But fitting your doll is a different matter.   It has been my experience that the patterns from Pleasant Company for the 4 historical dolls (Addy, Kirsten, Josefina and Felicity) are the best fitting patterns available.  These patterns are free on many sites, including my store ( Free Patterns at CSBSEWS ).   But, you say, I want to sew an "modern" outfit for my doll.  That's okay, here's my first tip:   Find a pattern you like from the many resources available and then compare the parts to the classic patterns or to a pattern you have used that fit the doll.  I have found that this is particularly helpful when fitting the bodice.   Most commercial patterns have no shape to the bodice, so if you use the classic pattern to tailor the pattern your fit will be much better.   The same goes for skirt lengths, sleeves, etc.   Don't be afraid to mix and match pattern pieces.   It is not difficult, and you can create some wonderful clothing using this technique and a little imagination.  

And that brings us to fitting an 18 inch soft-bodied doll.   The key words here are "soft bodied" doll.  As the dolls are played with they get smaller.   If your doll is just on display, then the size probably won't change over time.  But when a doll is played with the "stuffing" compacts and the doll gets a little smaller over time.  So, my advice for fitting is just, fit, fit.   Check out everything as you sew.   Baste if want to, but if you want a proper fit for you doll, don't skip the fittings.

Another area to consider when sewing for the dolls is fabric.   It is best to stay away from synthetics (of course if you are sewing costumes or other fancy clothing, you will have to use the synthetic fabric).   But for everyday clothing you will have the most success with natural fabrics, i.e., cotton, denim, etc.   When sewing knits be sure to allow for the stretch, and I have found it helpful to sew knits with a ball point needle.

Also, consider the fabric print  when creating doll clothes.  This may seem obvious, but I have seen otherwise adorable clothing made with overlarge prints that ruined the entire look.   Finding the proper size print on fabric takes a little extra work, (but not much) and the results are so much more pleasing.

My last tip concerns lining your clothes.   It is better to line your bodice, instead of using facing.  The clothes are small  and facings don't work as well.  Just cut extra fronts and backs, assemble two bodices.   You can add a collar to the "outside" of the fabric of the first bodice and then sew the two bodices together at the neck, right sides facing each other.   Turn right side out and sew the lining to the bodice at the sides and sleeve openings and proceed as normal.   You can also use this technique for sleeves or even skirts, depending on how much time you want to spend on the piece and how finished you want the outfit to be on the inside.

Again, if you need to check out a special sewing technique, query the web.   You will find demo videos that will be very helpful.

Finally, making doll clothes with your child is a wonderful way to introduce them to sewing and I've love seeing girls with their dolls bragging "I made this outfit myself".

Happy Sewing...


Friday, September 10, 2010

The Changing Face of American Girl Dolls

When I was a little girl, the doll of my dreams was made by Madame Alexander.   They were beautiful and very sought after and her dolls from the 40's and 50's have become collector's items.  Madame Alexander doll possesses a timeless charm that only grows stronger as time passes.  I was lucky enough to own 2 of these dolls from the 1950's.  

However, following her 90th birthday in 1985, Madame began to take on an advisory role in the company, officially retiring in 1988.  Madame Beatrice Alexander Berhman passed away at the age of 95.   Then, the Kaizen Breakthrough Partnership LP, a private capital fund managed by Gefinor, an international banking group, acquired The Alexander Doll Company in 1995.   They say that Madame Alexander's original vision is upheld today in the Alexander Doll Company's full line of collectible dolls, baby dolls and play dolls that incorporate her standards of quality with contemporary characters and modern materials.  But I wonder if these dolls will ever match the quality, style, design and desirability of MA dolls made before 1990.   And they certainly are not the most desired doll by girls today.

There is an obvious parallel here to the evolution of the American Girl Doll.   A quick review of the history of American Girl Dolls illustrates the similarities:  In 1986, Pleasant T. Rowland, a former educator and publisher of educational materials, founded Pleasant Company which is headquartered in Middleton, Wisconsin. Pleasant Company produced and marketed three 18-inch dolls dolls each of which was from a different period in American History. Each of them had an elaborate background story which were told in several professionally-written books. The three girls, Samantha, Kirsten and Molly had a number of historically accurate outfits and accessory sets which tied into and were depicted in the various stories. The American Girl Collection was originally exclusively available only through mail-order catalogs. Over the next several years, five more historical dolls and their stories were added for a total of eight girls spanning periods in U.S. history from 1764 to 1944. All of the accessory items were imaginative, well designed and of the highest quality.  The first American Girl dolls were actually manufactured in Germany by the Goetz doll manufactures.
In the Fall of 1997, an online store was launched.  In 1998, Pleasant Company was acquired by Mattel, Inc., the world's leading toy company. Pleasant Rowland took a seat on the Mattel Board as an acting VP for two years.  Then Ms. Rowland retired from Pleasant Company in 2000.  American Girl became the main trademark name for the company.  The Pleasant Company logo pretty much vanished, and heavy retirements begin from the historical doll line. .  (For a detailed year-by-year history of the American Girl Dolls visit American Girl Playthings). 

Many, many changes have been made to American Girl over the last 10 years.  Although two new historical dolls (Julie and Rebecca) were added to the line, the loss of the dolls representing earlier historical times indicated a more disturbing trend for the American Girl Doll franchise.

I first noticed the change in the direction of the company as the catalogs evolved.  Earlier catelogs feature the historical dolls, with new outfits and accessories for new events in their lives.   But the later catalogs have more pages devoted to the dolls of Today and Just Like me.  

The next big change was the retirement of the Victorian era dolls, Samantha and Nellie.  (These were my peronsal favorites).   And then Kirsten, a doll representing the prairie life, was retired.  Now comes the news that the colonial doll Felicity (and her friend Elizabeth) are being retired after this holiday season.     

Today there is more and more emphasis on dolls representing current style, the stores and the services sold in the stores.  I'm sure these trends will contine because based on the American Girl Doll owners that are my friends and fans on Facebook, the new dolls, their clothes and style and the stores are a big success.   (Hopefully they will keep the soft-bodied dolls, and we won't see dolls developing the need for training bras, a la Barbie).

Why does this matter to me?   It gets back to the love of dolls and their place in a girl's development.   Every little girl loves to dress her doll and play with her.  Almost any doll can serve this need.  Barbie was so successful because finally girls that had played with paper dolls could have a three dimensional doll with all the clothes a girl wanted for her doll.   Bratz became successful because these dolls offered clothes reflecting the most current styles and fads.   But when girls reached a certain age, these dolls were by and large forgotten and probably tossed away.

I have always considered the American Girl Dolls to be very unique and special.  The original idea for the dolls, to offer a doll that more than a toy that is played with then forgotten and discarded over time, was groundbreaking.

Today, the historical American Girl Dolls are unmatched by any other dolls currently offered at this time.  While no one begrudges Mattel the expansion of the American Girl Doll line to include the stores, clothes and accessories for the dolls of today, slowly eliminating the historical dolls from this collection turns the American Girl Doll into a much more ordinary doll.   And that doll is not that different from Goetz, Springfield, Life of Faith, or even Madame Alexander's 18 inch soft-bodied doll.

Hope that doesn't happen.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

American Girl Josefina Montoya Celebrates Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead)

Día de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated in Mexico and by Mexican Americans living in the United States and Canada. As a New Mexican girl growing up in 1824, Josefina would honor her mother's memory by celebrating El Día de los Muertos.

Due to occurring shortly after Halloween, the Day of the Dead is sometimes thought to be a similar holiday, although the two actually have little in common. The Day of the Dead is a time of celebration, where partying is common.

The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The celebration occurs on November 2 in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day (November 1) and All Souls' Day (November 2).  In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honors children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2. This is indicated by generally referring to November 1 mainly as Día de los Inocentes ("Day of the Innocents") but also as Día de los Angelitos ("Day of the Little Angels") and November 2 as Día de los Muertos or Día de los Difuntos ("Day of the Dead").

Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts.

I have created a costume for Josefina Montoya for this celebration

CSBSEWS American Girl Doll Clothes - Josefina's Costume

Visit the Store (CSBSEWS Doll Clothes) for more pictures and information about Josefina's costume.   Thanks for stopping by.  (Update:  This item sold, but check for newer items).