{case study} an invitation to play like a child again


An older friend of mine
gave me a doll
and invited me to play again.

This dress and apron is the result.


Some of the first things I ever sewed were doll clothes.

But then I grew up
and left the dollies to my sisters.
Until I met Kathy, that is.

She was a doll collector,
and when she saw what I had designed and sewed for people
she invited me to try making doll clothes again.

She gave me and my sisters
dolls from her collection
and told us to have fun.

The first outfit I designed, I gave to Kathy.


There are many things about sewing doll clothes
that are the same as sewing people clothes,
but there are also things that are different.

For example, some areas get bulky easily.
(Like where seams come together
at the neckline or underarm.)

And since doll clothes are small
and the pieces you’re sewing together are even smaller,
things can get fiddly rather quickly.

My main goal for this project
was to remember what it was like to play
and have fun creating something beautiful.


My initial concept for the apron
didn’t work out quite the way I envisioned,
so I tried again.

Because I was working at a small scale,
starting over didn’t take up much time,
and I didn’t waste much fabric either.

The small scale also gave me freedom
to give the dress a full circle skirt
without needing to use a lot of fabric.

I used narrow bias tape
to finish the dress neckline, sleeves, and hem,
and made a matching sash to pull everything together.

One way that I “played”
as I designed this outfit
was to use a lot of color.

Usually I like to use
straightforward and subtle color combinations,
but I stepped out of that comfort zone for this project.

Not only did I use multiple colors,
I also used multiple patterns
and a variety of buttons!

It took some experimentation to get it right, but it was worth it.
I maintained a tranquil pallet while still infusing color.
Almost like a beautiful watercolor painting.


This outfit is still my favorite
of all the things I’ve made for our dolls.

Kathy’s red-headed doll wore it for a while,
but then Kathy passed away
and the outfit was given back to me.

Now my doll wears it,
and when I see her I think of the whole story
of my friendship with Kathy.

The colorful dress and apron represent
an invitation to play again,
to approach life like a little child.

To explore - stepping out of my comfort zone
in order to create something beautiful.


This outfit
and the story it carries
bring me so much joy.

I wouldn’t change a thing about it,
even the trial-and-error process
and the fact that Kathy was only able
to enjoy it for a little while.

Because she was able to enjoy it,
I was able to enjoy it with her,
and I am still able to enjoy it.

{case study} the best of both worlds: a modern ensemble inspired by historical fashion

Steampunk fashion has been described as “an appreciation for the ornamentation of the gilded age.”

I don’t have much use for a stereotypical Steampunk ensemble
(I don’t like to be stereotypical anyway),
but I do love a modern ensemble with a good dose of old-fashioned inspiration.

The first piece a lady would don
in the Victorian and Edwardian eras
is a chemise - a comfortable, next-to-the-skin layer
that provides a nice foundation for everything else.

The brown bamboo jersey dress fulfills this same purpose in my ensemble.
I cut the pattern using my basic princess-seamed bodice,
overlapping the seams to create a one-piece front and one-piece back
with negative ease where seams would usually provide shaping.
The skirt is a half-circle, and the neckline is finished with a simple folded strip of self fabric.
Once again, I used negative ease in the neckline area,
so it clings and doesn’t gape when I bend over.

On top of the chemise, a lady would wear a corset.
My hand-spun, hand-knit shell is anything but constricting,
but the fit and the lacing up the back are reminiscent of this old-fashioned garment.

On top of everything else is the red wool coat.

One of my favorite Victorian details is the shoulder seam that slants toward the back,
creating a smooth, easy-to-fit shoulder line.
I based the shoulder shape of my coat off of a pattern with a c. 1870 style
and drafted the skirt of the coat with pleats in the back,
mimicking the feminine silhouette of coats like this sketch from a Victorian-era ladies' magazine.

Embroidery can be a forgotten detail when it comes to our modern era.
I drew the designs featured on the back belt and sleeve cuffs,
then stitched them with a sewing machine.
I did not computerize the design,
but rather used a straight stitch and manipulated the fabric by hand.

I stitched all of the buttonholes by hand with silk thread
after stabilizing the slits with machine-stitches.
(The best of both worlds!)

I used hand-finishing elsewhere as well.
Anywhere understitching was necessary, I used pick-stiches.
After binding the lower edge, I folded up the hem and catch-stitched it in place.
I also handmade thread chains to attach the lining hem to the coat hem.

The test of any good design is marketability,
so I put my outfit to the test at the 2013 National Make It With Wool competition,
which includes marketability as part of the judging criteria.
I was the fourth-runner-up over all, and received special recognition for the shell,
which led to my being featured in THREADS magazine.

This is quite possibly my favorite creation to date.

There’s something about its history…
the design process itself…
the details from yesteryear…
the decorative elements often overlooked…

…something that makes this ensemble special to me.