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 that...fit, 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".