• Karole from Kimberling


Lesson Learned: Making things Simple, Isn't Simple

I was certain after finishing my first "Simple Lines" dress and jacket pattern, that things would go a lot faster the next time -- especially if I chose something like a basic hat - a hat with only a few pattern pieces; one that would sew up quickly, and could be made with fabric remnants and scraps.

Two weeks and five prototypes later, a two piece hat pattern emerged -- a pattern with a soft teardrop shaped crown and a hat band of graduated width. Pictured below is the first hat I made with the pattern; the point of the teardrop crown is in back, the highest width of the band is also in back -- giving the hat a downward slope towards the face. The crown and band are made of thin white felt. The crown lining is a vibrant turquoise satin. Since the hat is made of felt, no interfacing was necessary.

I was very pleased with the result. Because the felt was not bulky, it was easy to work with.

But, felt doesn't come in many colors, and a basic hat should be able to coordinate with many fabrics and color schemes, so I made the next hat with a soft wool flannel.

My choice of fabric was easy. I was in the process of making a turn of the century outfit -- one I thought a teacher might wear in the early 1900s. (The outfit was inspired by a "Back to School Wardrobe Challenge" --outfit to be completed by August 24th -- issued to members of Facebook group " No Drama Doll Sewing and Creation.") I figured that in the early 1900s teachers couldn't afford extensive wardrobes, so a few sturdy, coordinated pieces of clothing would be appropriate. Having found a gorgeous soft flannel wool remnant at a yard sale a week before the challenge, I cut out a Victorian skirt from the wool, but didn't have much left for anything else. "A match made in heaven," I thought, and cut out a hat from scraps of the wool flannel.

To make the hat more of a "working girl's" hat, it needed to be less dainty than the first hat, so, I put the more rounded end of the teardrop in front, and the higher end of the hat band in front.

The wool did need more structure for the hat, so I added iron-on Pellon interfacing (made for shirt collars and cuffs) for the hat crown and band. I also chose the same wool for the crown lining.

Hit & Miss

I was feeling pretty confident after making these two hats, and thought the first hat might make a beautiful headpiece for a wedding dress if it were made of satin.

The turquoise satin was the only satin in my inventory, so the turquoise satin it would be. It was of medium weight, but not firm enough for the band to hold its shape over time, so I put interfacing in both the hat crown and band. .

Results? Two partially completed satin hats that ended up in the wastebasket!

My take-away from working with the satin is that it the satin is not stiff enough for the band to stand up without interfacing, but it becomes inflexible after the interfacing is added, causing the satin to crease and bunch when the crown is sewn to the band.

When faced with two failures in a row, there were only two choices -- try another fabric, or give up. (You're right -- there was really only one choice!)

Cotton velveteen was my fabric choice for the next hat, because I had cut out a black velveteen weskit for the 1920s teacher's outfit, and had some left over. On each of the first two hats, the fabric used for the crown and band were the same, so I decided to look through my fabric scraps for a fabric that would work well with the black velveteen, and found -- a bright orange-red and pink flowered velveteen remnant with a black background. Interfacing was added to the crown and band, and one of the ribbon flowers (instructions for bow are provided in the pattern) was sewn on the back band.

The hat pattern needed to be tested with at least one other fabric, cotton being the most common fabric available. I knew exactly the cotton print to test, because I am in the middle of designing a fancy dress pattern for intermediate sewers, and wanted a hat to go with it. The pattern is only partly done, but on my cutting table was the cotton fabric and some lace trim with which I was going to test it.

This version of the hat is made with the point of the teardrop facing forward and the lower part of the graduated band in front. The 100% cotton print is used for the crown and band, with an overlay of lavender lace sewn to the band before assembling the hat.

(This hat will now motivate me to get the rest of the outfit designed and sewn.)

Final Hat Pattern -- With Embellishments

The original pattern was a for a simple 2 piece hat with 4 possible variations: two positions for the teardrop crown (point in front or back), paired with the high section of the band in front, or the low section of the band in front.

When using rich fabric or colorful prints, it may not be necessary to embellish the hat further. But, if embellishments are added, they should be simple enough for the beginner seamstress to make. Here are the first two hats; one with a simple hand-sewn lace veil added, the other with a Yo-Yo and felt flower. Directions for making these, as well as a simple ribbon flower and two ribbon bows are included with the final pattern.

I can't really say that designing and testing this pattern -- which is a lot simpler than my jacket and dress pattern -- went any faster.

What I can say is that I am getting more comfortable and patient with testing, experimenting with alternatives, and adjusting the pattern along the way.

Now, If I could just get a magician to get my notes and sketches transferred to legible pdf files!!!!!

P.S. As you have probably guessed, I didn't finish my Back to School Wardrobe entry on time. I didn't get it done by the deadline, but today is still August 31st!


  • Karole from Kimberling

Updated: Jul 19, 2019


The first time I do anything, I know it will take at least ten times longer than it should for me to "learn the ropes." This effort was no exception.

My initial motivation for designing this 18 inch doll pattern was to modernize Kaya's wardrobe.

[Kaya is American Girl's Native American doll.]

Sewing patterns available for Kaya seemed limited to the traditional clothing worn by Native American women prior to the 1900s.

I wondered if I might be able to design a pattern for Kaya that would give her more modern wardrobe choices, while retaining the simple elegant lines of traditional Native American dress.

And because the simplest clothing lines provide the most versatile canvases for sewers to experiment with fabric textures, prints and colors, this new pattern could also be shared with Kaya's friends.

From Motivation to Concept

To my way of thinking, there are several aspects of traditional Native American dress that should be included in this pattern: a comfortable fit; an A-line silhouette; wide 3/4 length sleeves, and a tailored look without gathers and flounces.

So, with a pencil, and copy paper, I sketched several concepts that might meet these criteria. Since I have no artistic ability, my renderings looked more like a one minute Pictionary exercise.

These renderings led me to a basic concept. The pattern would have two components -- a semi fitted, sleeveless dress with a tailored skirt, and a short jacket with wide 3/4 length sleeves. When worn together, the dress and jacket would have lines similar to traditional Native American dress.

Because I wanted the pattern to be versatile, I decided the dress would have two skirt options -- an A-line skirt and a sheath/pencil skirt. As I tested different modifications of the pattern to improve the fit, I determined that two lengths of each skirt would add more versatility -- an over-the-knee length (more in keeping with traditional Native American dress) and a length coming just above the knee.

The decision for the dress to have a separate bodice and skirt, instead of the bodice and skirt being one piece, was also made for versatility; a separate bodice and skirt allows for greater experimentation coordinating fabric textures, colors and prints.

The curved, asymmetrical overlap of the jacket in front, preserves the loose, semi-fitted style of traditional Native American dress, as well as its soft curving lines.

From Concept to Pattern Prototype

Over the two years I have been sewing 18 inch doll clothes, I have modified many patterns, and created my own bodices, skirts, etc. to fit the look I was trying to achieve; such as, an Eliza Doolittle flower girl outfit, a Minnie Pearl outfit, a Scarlett O'Hara barbecue dress, and replicas of clothing my Mother made for me over sixty years ago. So, I had a collection of my own dress, blouse, sleeve, vest, and skirt patterns that fit the American Girl doll well. Starting with them, I patched together a pattern that I thought would work, and sewed my first outfit.

Here is the first outfit made with the test pattern.

When I found the fabric you see on the dress bodice, the large scale of the stylized feathers caused me to hesitate. But, the feather theme and the coral and turquoise colors fell so much in line with a Native American theme, I couldn't resist it. I already had the turquoise peach-skin fabric, and orange heart buttons in my stash, so the rest was a no-brainer. I chose to make the sheath skirt, with the over-the-knee length, and as you can see, the original pattern did not have a short stand up collar.

Happy with this result, I deemed only three pattern changes necessary; the dress needed some type of belt (you see a purchased belt here that has been cut down), the sleeves on the jacket should be a little shorter, and the shoulders of the dress needed to slope down a little more. I made those changes and added a cummerbund to the pattern. I also thought that a mandarin type collar might be a good bodice option, so also added it to the pattern.

Writing the Pattern Instructions

Before writing instructions, it was necessary to test the pattern changes and additions. To the left is the result of test two with cummerbund and stand up collar. The fabric on the jacket and skirt is a white stretch denim with a subtle geometric print.

The dress bodice, stand-up collar, jacket lining, and cummerbund are two coordinated geometric cotton prints in white, turquoise blue and goldish-brown.

Happy with these results, I was determined to write instructions and take relevant pictures while making a dress with an A-Line skirt and stand-up collar.

One of my objectives was to produce a pattern and instructions appropriate for a person at an advanced beginner sewing level; a person with basic experience sewing on a sewing machine, and some experience sewing from a pattern.

So, as I sewed my third dress (an A-line daisy print dress with stand-up collar), I took pictures with my digital camera, and hand wrote instructions. When done, I uploaded the pictures to my computer. and from my hand-written instructions created an MSWord document, inserting pictures as appropriate.

Testing the Instructions

What is clear to me in a set of instructions is usually clear to everyone else, because I have no hands-on talent for understanding spatial concepts, and if I get it, so will everyone else. This does not mean that I if I write a set of instructions that I understand, everyone else will understand them. So, I found a friend, new to sewing doll clothes, and asked her to make a dress and jacket for me.

Surprise! I did not expect my friend to sew from instructions downloaded to her smart phone! I know that, unlike me, many people do not have to print instructions to paper to use them. But the screen on a smart phone is too small to evaluate instructions and pictures at the same time, which is necessary to get the full value of the detailed instructions. My friend provided valuable feedback for improving the instructions, which included adding a notice to potential seamstresses, that using a smart phone to read detailed directions is not recommended. Here are pictures of two other outfits made during testing.

Another Surprise -- scanning pattern pieces into Adobe Acrobat to create a pdf file did not go smoothly. The reason I use Adobe is to fix the formatting of what I am scanning, so people downloading the file see the pattern the way I created it. However, when I scanned in 7 sheets of paper containing pattern pieces in landscape format; Adobe chose to scan some of the pages in portrait, and others in landscape. I still am not sure that when a person downloads the pattern file she will get all pieces of the pattern on the printed sheets.

Before I attempt to create another pattern, I will need to get more specialized software that will not require me to scan pattern pages into Adobe.

Or, perhaps it is my old printer/scanner that needs replacing, and a newer one would interact better with Adobe.

Or, perhaps a more patient person would have found a way to force Adobe to do what she wanted . . .

If my next post is to be my next pattern .... It will probably be a while!

PS: Several of you have asked when this pattern will be for sale. It is for sale in my Etsy shoppe KimberlingCouture. Here's the link.

152 views1 comment
  • Karole from Kimberling

Updated: Jan 16, 2019


In mid-December 2018, I decided to make KeepersDollyDuds' Double Cape and Bonnet pattern. That was the plan.

So, how did my plan change into making a turn of the century Working Girl's wardrobe?

It has been my experience that the sole reason for a plan is to provide a marker to help one know what she is deviating from. I find that, armed with this philosophy, I don't have to own up to making mistakes; I can instead think of them as unexpected challenges.

Over the years, I have also found that working around unexpected challenges can result in wonderful outcomes.

In this instance, my double cape and bonnet project ended with a double cape and tam/beret, AND a turn of the century skirt, blouse, and bonnet. My journey took a month -- because I must admit that when I make a mistake, I have to put the project down for a while to re-energize my enthusiasm and convince myself that this "mistake" is just an unexpected challenge; as well as get comfortable with the fact my project is not going to look like the picture on the pattern cover. Then, of course, it takes time to visualize possible alternatives.


If you have used a KeepersDolly Duds pattern before, you know that it is very exact -- you must cut the pieces out exactly, making sure there are no wrinkles in the fabric, and your seams must be exactly 1/4". Since I have previously blogged about how I came to learn these things, I will just brag that I did not make these mistakes this time.

One thing I did forget was that looking at the picture on the pattern cover can be deceiving. The picture on the pattern looks like the cape almost touches the floor. It does not. Nor, was it meant to. Traditionally capes and even cloaks are not floor length and do not even reach the ankle. In addition, the back of the cape dips lower than the front. Another factor when making the cape is the body measurements and height of the doll who will be wearing it.

Unexpected Challenge Number 1

It was only after cutting out the cape and lining that I realized the cape was not going to be floor length on the American Girl doll; as a matter of fact, it was going to fall between the ankle and mid-calf. Even though I knew the length would be a "proper length" I was uncomfortable with the fact that it wouldn't completely cover floor length dresses and skirts underneath.

Possible Solutions

  1. Make a dress of coordinating fabric to go under the cape that will be a little shorter than the cape. Surely with all the fabric I had, I could do this.

  2. Make a full length skirt of the same fabric as the cape that would look like an extension of the cape when worn under it. There was enough of the wool-blend fabric used for the cape to make a full length skirt.

Unexpected Challenge Number 2

For the cape and bonnet, I chose a soft wool blend fabric with flannel-type nap, a tightly woven polyester fabric for the lining, and a medium weight textured polyester fabric for the bias trim, underside of the bonnet brim, and the bonnet ties. The fabrics I chose were appropriate for the cape. However, the medium weight textured polyester fabric was a poor choice for the bonnet ties.

The bonnet ties in this pattern are very narrow at the the end attached to the bonnet, and the fabric I chose, even when cut on the bias, had very give. No matter what tool I used to turn the ties right-side out -- I could not do it, and, even had I been able to, the ties would have been too stiff. Given that the ties needed to match the trim on the completed cape, the bonnet was not going to work.


Try to find another fabric that would coordinate with the wool-blend and bias trim already on the cape. The wool blend fabric was a deep blue -- but not a navy -- it had a green tone to it, and I had nothing that would coordinate well.

I did have enough wool blend fabric to make a tam/beret, and enough of the bias trim left to accent the band. Simplicity 1179 is my "Go To" tam/beret pattern; it is simple to make and works with many fabrics. I only needed to add my bias trim to the hat band for an accent to get it to match the Cape. From the picture you can see the result. (I luckily had a narrow piece of single fold cotton/poly bias tape that matched the other trim, which I used for the half bow on the hat band.

Note: Even when using a lightweight fabric with more give, I found the ends of the bonnet ties to be too narrow and widened them about a 1/4 inch on each side.

There are two minor points, and one major point I want to make about the KeepersDollyDuds cape and bonnet instructions.

The first minor point is that the cutting layout indicates cutting three 20 inch bias strips for trimming the cape collar and smaller cape. However, a 29 inch bias strip is needed to trim the short cape -- and you will have to piece together the bias trim if you only have 20 inch pieces. My trim had a pattern and texture to it, and would not have looked good if it were pieced. Fortunately, I had barely enough of the fabric left to cut a 29 inch piece (It would have been safer to cut a 30 inch piece, but I didn't have enough fabric left to do that.)

The second point regards the interfacing for the bonnet brim. The fabric suggestions indicate interfacing -- later on the bonnet instructions tell you to iron the interfacing to the outside brim -- so you need fusible interfacing.

The major point regarding the bonnet. I suggest fusing a lightweight interfacing to the brim lining/underside as well as to the outside brim to get a smooth clean look to the underside of the brim. The underside of the brim sags a little without it.

Third Challenge -- What to do with the unfinished bonnet.

I had almost finished the bonnet when I encountered the problem with the ties, and was pleased with it. Since I was going to make a skirt of the same wool blend fabric as the bonnet, I removed the underside of the brim, kept the finished crown portion of the bonnet and the brim, and decided to finish the underside of the brim and bonnet ties with the same fabric I would be using to sew a blouse to coordinate with the skirt.

The New Skirt

A skirt pattern that I really like is the underskirt pattern that comes with Hint of History's Victorian Walking Ensemble pattern. (I have modified the waistband of the underskirt to be raised in the front, and curve gently down at the sides and back, and have modified the way I sew the back opening.)

The Bonnet

You can see in the picture, how the bonnet turned out using the same fabric for the bonnet brim lining and ties that I used for the blouse. To better tie the blouse to the bonnet, a rich embroidered white polyester trim was added to the hat brim to match the trim on the bib of the blouse.

As already mentioned, I slightly lengthened and widened the upper portion of the bonnet ties.

The Blouse

Farmcookies' Bodice Basics pattern is often my "GoTo" pattern whenever I make a blouse, or dress. (I have lengthened the bodice pattern to make blouses, and made the neckline higher for the American Girl doll to hide the neck string and neck "seam" between the doll's vinyl neck and the fabric body.)

The pattern is very versatile and provides numerous options for bodice bibs (overlays) and collars, and has short and long sleeve options. The bodice is lined, which I prefer to use whenever possible instead of neck facings.

The Petticoat

I wanted a petticoat to help hold the shape of the skirt, and needed one that would not add bulk at the waist. It couldn't be too full because the Victorian skirt has very little fullness at the front and bells out at the back. I didn't have a pattern for this -- just cut a rectangle out of a soft cotton print for the upper slip that could be folded at the top to make a casing for elastic, and would fit over the doll's hips, and a wider deeper rectangle to gather at the hip for fullness. A white polyester rick-rack trim added to the bottom of the hem stiffens the hemline and is easy to apply.

The white satin bow with small satin rose at its center adds a touch of sweetness -- under the tailored look of the skirt.

Working -Class Wardrobe

I did not set out to make a wardrobe of interchangeable clothing. But in hindsight (the 20/20 kind), I realized that these clothes looked something like what a teacher, office worker, or columnist might have worn at the turn of the 20th century --serviceable office-wear and outerwear. What such a wardrobe lacks is a Sunday/party dress. So, using the blouse fabric with different trims, and Farmcookies' Bodice Basics pattern, I have cut out a dress that will match the bonnet and fit under the length of the cape.

Hopefully, I'll finish it this week.