Posted in Dolls

by Ruby Lane

Homemade clothing for antique dolls is a real treat when found today. Many of these wardrobes owe their success to the sewing patterns of the day.

From the earliest days of human experience, the skills and techniques required to manufacture clothing were passed down person to person, evolving along the way to include changes in tools and materials, not to mention the ever-changing dictates of fashion.

Basic shapes and sewing techniques were repeated over and over to create utilitarian clothing to meet the needs of people throughout the world and were known to both those who sewed at home for their family’s needs and to those who established businesses to supply cloth and clothing to wealthier clients.

Among the earliest known written instructions and pattern diagrams for clothing is the Libro de Geometric Practica y Traca by Juaan de Alcega published in 1589. Over the next three centuries other publications became available which were intended for the use of professional tailors. 

The industrial revolution did much to change the way that cloth was manufactured and in the 1830s various inventors began developing machines that could replace hand-sewing. It was Elias Howe’s 1849 design that would be the breakthrough for creating efficient and simple to use home sewing machines. By 1860 sewing machines could be found in many American and European homes, forever impacting the way clothing for both humans, and subsequently dolls, would be made. These changes inspired the publication of numerous Ladies’ magazines which included among other information, sewing projects and instructions.

William and Ellen Demorest began selling paper patterns for home sewers. These relied heavily on the user’s basic knowledge of sewing and fitting as they did not include instructions! The Butterick Pattern Company was founded by Ebenezer Butterick in 1863. By 1866 they were publishing patterns for women’s clothing. Very shortly there were numerous other pattern companies offering patterns to cloth the entire family and their dolls.

The publication La Poupée Modèle first appeared in December of 1863. This magazine featured instructions for needlework and was aimed at girls age 6 to 12. Mademoiselle Perrone created patterns for doll clothing for the magazine. Under her married name Madame Lavallée-Perrone would continue to create patterns for La Poupée Modèle until 1882 when Mademoiselle Regnault took over the task.  Lavallée-Perrone owned a shop at 21 Rue de Choiseul in Paris called “La Poupée de Nuremberg” where she sold a poupée named “Lily.” Lily dolls bear the label of this shop and are a collector’s dream with their wonderfully made period costumes. For the reproduction enthusiast the patterns designed for Lily are an excellent source for costuming in the style of the period. Lily doll photos courtesy of Ruby Lane shops Fireweed Gallery and When Dreams Come True Doll-Shop.
In February of 1905 the girl’s magazine La Semaine de Suzette debuted a doll named Bleuette as a subscription premium. The magazine would for the next 55 years provide patterns and instructions for girls to use in costuming their dolls. Not only are Bleuette dolls with wardrobes a wonderful focus area in collecting but the patterns created for them are easily sized to accommodate any play doll of their time, making this archive of fashion an important tool for those in need of costuming early 20th century dolls appropriately. Bleuette doll photos courtesy of Agnes Sura.

Throughout the remainder of the 19th century a number of publications would use tie-ins with dolls as a means of not only selling magazines and patterns but also as a means of shaping the characters of young girls. The Victorian era also saw the popularity of the concept of “educational toys,” and teaching girls to sew through doll play was viewed as a constructive activity to train the future woman to run her household.

Entitled Das fleissige Puppenmütterchen (The Busy Doll Mother) a set of German patterns of the 1910s were created to fit 27cm (10.5″ – 11″) dolls. The colored illustrations that accompanied the patterns featured Kämmer & Reinhardt dolls. Late 20th century reprints of the set as shown here were offered by Marianne Ceislik.
The Mary Frances Sewing Book, or, Adventures Among the Thimble People by Jane Eayre Fryer was first published in 1914. This book consists of a whimsical tale of a young girl learning to sew by costuming a doll. It includes patterns and instructions along with the story. This book is currently available in reprint and is a great resource for doll costumers wishing to dress any doll from the period.

Into the 20th century making doll clothing at home was not only instructive to children but also allowed affordable added play value for children growing up through economic turmoil and wartime periods. The doll clothing patterns of the past one-hundred-sixty-plus years are now invaluable tools for both identifying original period doll costumes and for use by those interested in making reproduction doll clothing, continuing to provide patterns for success in doll costuming.

 Effanbee’s Patsy family of dolls was tremendously popular from their 1928 debut right through the 1930s. Homemade outfits for these dolls. In the 1930s the November issues of Good Housekeeping magazine offered patterns for Patsy Ann and Patsy Joan including twin brother and sister outfits. McCall and Butterick offered patterns in sizes to costume most of the various Patsy family of dolls. The small pattern shown lower center is a miniature pattern in envelope ( 4.75″ X 3.5″) which were used by McCall as special promotional giveaways in 1933. 
Fashions of the baby boomer child are forever immortalized in the many patterns sized to accommodate the Vogue Ginny dolls of the 1950s and ’60s. Many collections of Ginny dolls include lovingly homemade clothing.
Most of the popular commercially available dolls from 1950 on have had patterns available for making wardrobes at home. Ideal’s Toni dolls were no exception.
As the hobby of doll collecting expanded in the middle of the 20th century well researched books and magazines were created by those who researched human and doll fashions of the past adding new dimension to our collecting hobby.
Mattel’s Barbie is an international icon of the doll fashion world. Both authorized Barbie clothing patterns and generic patterns for 11.5″ teen dolls were readily available almost from the introduction of the doll right through recent years. Many budding seamstresses and would-be fashion designers spent happy hours sewing for Barbie.
 Pleasant Company introduced their line of historic character dolls in 1985. In 1990 the company added patterns for making clothing for the dolls. In the ensuing years most pattern companies offered patterns to fit these and other 18″ dolls. The patterns for making “modern” clothing for this genre of doll will stand as perfect records of children’s and dolly’s fashions of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
 In 1969 Patty Reed (nee Hoffinger) opened a fabric store in Portland Oregon which she called “Daisy Kingdom.” She began designing patterns and fabrics. In the 1980s and ’90s her designs for girl’s dresses and for doll clothing were offered in both cut & sew panels and in a series of patterns produced by the Simplicity company which was founded in 1927. The doll clothing patterns were sized to fit 18″ dolls which allowed them to be used on both Daisy Kingdom vinyl dolls and the other popular 18″ dolls of the time.

Author – Linda Edward


Dorothy S., Elizabeth A., Evelyn J. Coleman The Collector’s Book of Dolls’ Clothes. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1975

Jane Eayre Fryer The Mary Frances Sewing Book, or, Adventures Among the Thimble People. London: George G. Harrap and Company, 1914

Barbara Hilliker Bleuette: The Doll and Her Wardrobe. Cumberland: Reverie, 2004

Patricia Schoonmaker Patsy Doll Encyclopedia Vol. I. Cumberland: Hobby House Press, 1992

Agnes Sura Editor Bleuette’s World newsletters

Francois & Danielle Theimer The Encyclopedia of French Dolls. Annapolis: Gold Horse Publishing, 2003

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