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One of my favorite parts of making doll clothes is picking the fabric!
Often, a beautiful or quirky print I find while browsing can inspire a new doll outfit. Or, a new pattern can bring to mind the perfect fabric from my stash.
And then, voila! My daughters get new outfits for their dolls.
Picking the best doll clothes fabric for each outfit has become easier over time. Luckily dolls don’t complain much about their clothes, because I’ve made rough fabric choices in the past!
I’ll let you in on some tips and tricks for picking doll clothes fabric that I’ve learned from experience.
We’ll cover fabric types and print considerations and how fabric weight plays a part in your project’s success.
Then, you’ll feel equipped to sew beautiful doll clothes yourself!
Doll Clothes Fabric Patterns and Prints
The print will be the first thing you notice about a new doll outfit.
While solids work great for doll clothes, they get boring fast. Throwing in printed fabric is a great way to give more personality to a doll’s wardrobe.
The rule of thumb for doll clothes is small clothes need small prints.
Take, for instance, the knit fabric above on the left. It would make a great adult blouse.
However, once you cut it to the size of a doll, the big floral design gets lost.
In contrast, the fabric on the right is a small geometric pattern and will be much better suited to a small doll body.
As a general rule, aim to have portions of your print be no larger than 1″-2.”
Choose small motifs when doing a form-fitting garment that doesn’t require much fabric. You have flexibility if you use larger print fabric on a gathered or shirred garment.
Also, don’t pick fabrics with large areas of solid (white or not) space between motifs. When cut to fit a small doll, the fabric will look mostly solid with a random motif here or there!
To determine if a print will work well for a doll outfit, fold the piece of fabric into a small square (or use a fussy-cut window).
If you can still see the unique aspects of the pattern and it doesn’t look ridiculous, give it a try for your outfit!
Here’s me folding those two fabrics from earlier above.
The floral, left pattern would just be awkward on a dress, given how only one big flower will be visible. I think I will sew a skirt with the right one any day now.
Different Types of Fabrics
Now that we know which fabric prints will be best, it’s time to pick a fabric type.
Fabrics are characterized in two ways. First, by their fiber type, which is the material it is composed of, and secondly, by how these fibers are joined together.
Fiber types include natural, synthetic, and blended fibers. Natural fibers are from animal or plant sources and include cotton, wool, and countless others. Synthetic fibers are man-made, such as polyester and spandex. Lastly, blended fibers are a combination of the two types.
Fabric fibers are then either woven, knitted, or pressed (non-woven) to form the fabric.
- Woven fabrics, like quilting cotton, are constructed by weaving two sets of fibers together. Woven fabrics are generally strong with minimal stretch. They won’t fit over a doll’s body without hook and loop fastener, elastic, or another type of fastening, though.
- Knit fabrics are made by knitting one fiber over and over. Knits don’t unravel and are stretchier and more flexible than woven fabrics. In many cases, these will work for doll leggings, skirts, and many shirts even without needing additional fastenings.
- Nonwoven fabrics, meanwhile, are constructed from long fibers bonded together by felting or pressing. Examples include lace or felt.
The good news is that you can use all these fabric types for doll clothes, but the choice depends on the clothing you plan to sew.
What types of fabrics work best for doll clothes?
First, here is a non-exhaustive list of common doll clothes fabrics for beginners to get you started dreaming about options before we go into more specifics.
- Quilting cotton
- Cotton shirting
- Cotton-blend knits: cotton spandex, cotton Lycra, jersey, cotton interlock knit, etc
- Lightweight versions of corduroy, denim, twill, or wool
Which is most common?
I’d say quilting cotton is the best doll clothes fabric for beginners to start sewing with.
It’s inexpensive, readily available, easy to sew, and comes in SO many print options perfect for doll clothing. It’s going to be suited to clothes with no stretch, so you do need to know how to sew in hook and loop fastener or add snaps or buttons as a fastening.
And while stretchy knits are traditionally more difficult to sew, they make great doll clothes! Leggings are really easy to stitch up using knit fabric and a simple band of elastic at the waist.
Just a few notes, though, about knits.
First, make sure to choose a knit that not only has good stretch, but most importantly, has good recovery.
You can check the recovery by taking a piece of fabric and stretching it. If it remains stretched out and wavy, this is not great (We’ve all bought poor-quality shirts like this that practically hang off us at the end of the day, right?) If the fabric quickly returns to its original shape and size, it has good recovery and is perfect for doll clothes.
It is also important to consider the direction of stretch when purchasing knit fabrics and placing pattern pieces. Cutting the incorrect direction on a knit fabric is much less forgiving than on cotton!
Weight of Fabrics
Picking the right weight of fabric is also important. The weight of a fabric is essentially how thick, or heavy, it is. Chiffon is a thin, lightweight fabric while canvas is a much more heavyweight fabric.
Heavyweight fabrics have more bulk or thickness when sewn at seams. This makes a much larger difference in doll clothes than it does with adult clothes! Fit may be affected, and gathered areas especially will not hang as they should.
Therefore, aim for lightweight fabrics or mediumweight, at most, fabrics that will drape nicely over your doll.
Hand of Fabrics
The hand of fabric is simply how it feels on your hand when you touch it. Since a child will play with the doll, ensure the fabric feels soft to the touch. A scratchy wool outfit will just not work if the child plans to sleep with a doll in that outfit. Neither will an outfit made out of stiff fabric.
While it’s not always possible to touch fabrics before purchasing them, having a general idea of the hand of popular fabrics is a good idea.
Where To Find Doll Clothes Fabric
My favorite place to get doll clothes fabric from is my own household!
Doll clothes require such a small amount of fabric that it is so easy to refashion an old blouse or dress. I also repurpose some of my daughter’s outgrown clothes into doll clothes.
Children’s clothes have less fabric to work with, but the prints are often smaller and cuter, so they work well with doll clothes designs. (Check out where to get cheap fabric to repurpose for some new, creative ideas!)
In-store, I like to shop at local sewing shops and go to Hobby Lobby or JOANN. I’m lucky to have these options in town!
Online, here are a few of the places I have purchased fabric from before with good results:
- Fabricwholesaledirect.com (many options and inexpensive; learn more in my review of Fabric Wholesale Direct.)
- Fat Quarter Shop (my go-to for quilt fabric when they’re running a sale.)
- Peek-a-boo Patterns (super-cute knits)
- JOANN.com (read reviews before purchasing knits–stretch recovery isn’t always great)
- Etsy (read seller reviews before purchasing, but SO many options)
These websites usually tell you the fabric composition and other pertinent information, have an easy-to-use search function, and offer good-quality fabric in various prints. (Here’s my list of best affordable online fabric stores, too, if you’re a budget-minded sewist like me!)
You should now feel equipped to go forth and pick fabric for doll clothes and start making your own designs.
I’ve even written a list of where to download free Barbie doll clothes patterns and where to download free sewing patterns for baby doll clothes!