Miniature sewing

First and foremost: This is unfinished page, I want to do a major rehaul, but I think it is good to share this information meanwhile so my decision is to let this page to be available for you to read. Just be aware that the information may be lacking/cut off.

In this article I hope to share my knowledge and experience in sewing for dolls. This page is reflected by my opinions and my experience.  Do not worry if you do not agree with me, it means that you have developed your own method that works better for you and we are after all different.

This page is under construction but I decided to publish this so you can read already now. :) The words that are green are for my own reference – I will photograph to illustrate.

The sewing machine

In miniature sewing it is important to have a good sewing machine! But do not worry, it does not mean that it has to be expensive. Actually the most expensive sewing machines are usually not the best choice because of the wide set presser feet and feed dogs. The best bet is actually to buy a refurbished old sewing machine because when it comes to sewing machines it was actually better before. You can get yesterday’s top of line sewing machine for the same price as the poor quality budget machine of today. My best sewing machine is from 1950’s and I just paid 1000 SEK for it – less than you would pay for a budget sewing machine!

Things to look for in a sewing machine when buying for miniature sewing:
  • Ability to sew pretty straight stitch. It is pretty much the only stitch you will need the most of the time.
  • Option for straight stitch throat plate. This will really make a big difference.
  • Continuing on above; ease to swap plates is important. On some machines you can just snap on/off the plate. On other machines you have to unscrew one or more screws. Obviously the snap-on is best for this. You will get tired of the screws quickly.
  • Ability to sew with narrow seam allowance and teeny tiny pieces without chewing on fabric or getting stuck.
  • Ability to control the speed all the way down to being able to sew  stitch by stitch.
  • This may be my own personal preference but it is very important that the foot control has a wide register space (big distance between neutral state and fully pressed down state), that you can just with the touch of your foot pressing just lightly to sew stitch by stitch all the way down to quick sewing without having to hassle with separate speed control. Many modern sewing machines are bad at this.
  • Sewing machines with wide presser foot together with wide set feed dogs. Common on modern machines. It will not feed the teeny pieces properly.
  • Sewing machines with large hole for the needle (to accommodate the wider decorative stitches – which you do not need). Then the teeny pieces will easily be chewed up or sucked down.
  • Sewing machine with uneven surface. When feeding and steering a big piece of fabric it is not hard to push it around. But if you need to sew on a tiny collar or why not, a tiny waistband that has been folded 4 times thusly bulky it is kind of hard to push it over beveled edges of maybe the throat plate or the edge between free arm and sewing board.

The most important tip for buying sewing is to bring your own fabrics and sew as if you are sewing a doll garment with 5-6 mm seam allowance. Sew small rounded collars. Sew set in sleeves. Here you can really see the difference. If the dealer won’t let you sew then steer clear from the store and go to another.

Try to avoid buying used machine from a private person (such as flea market or ad list) unless you write a contract where you have the right to get refunded fully if the machine turns out to be less of satisfactory. Never buy used sewing machine online unless the seller lives close to your home so you can take the sewing machine back there if you get problems.  Do not skip on this one, trust me…

Using the sewing machine and sewing for dolls in general

Now you have bought a sewing machine or maybe already have a good one you may want to know more how to use it. If you have done some sewing you may already know a few of the tips.  Or maybe you prefer to do it some other way. But I hope that you will enjoy a few of the tips. You are very welcome to share if you have better methods.

  • When starting to sew something you should keep the 2 thread ends while sewing the first 2-3 stitches. This will both help with the feeding of the tiny pieces and also minimize the risk of the unsightly coiled/piled thread on the wrong side produced by some sewing machines.
  • Never, ever roll the hand wheel in the wrong direction. It will break the upper thread! Different machines are different sensitive. You may not notice that the thread has been broken off until you have started again and sewn a couple of stitches.  Use the reverse button to go backward. Not the wheel.
  • If you have a mechanical sewing machine, as opposed of electronic/computerized one: When you are finished with the seam and is about to pull away the fabric from the fabric, you have to roll the hand wheel until the take-up lever is at its highest, then it will be easier and less destructive to pull out the fabric because by then the last stitch has been fully formed.
  • Already mentioned but if you have option to use straight stitch throat plate – do it! Not every sewing machine models have it as option to buy but many have. I searched for 2-3 years to find one for my beloved machine. Google, Ebay, sewing machine dealer… You will be amazed over the big difference when using it! Just remember to be careful when  changing stitches. It is not a such good idea to try to zig zag on that plate…
  • Use quality needle, size and type matching to the material you are using. Wrong needle type can cause different problems such as skipped stitches or holes. I buy Schmetz and I think it is best. Cheap needles use inferior or even recycled steel that are too soft and will wear out quicker. Look on Ebay for example for larger quantities of needles to lower prices.
  • Change needle often! Dull needle will be problematic if you are sewing on teeny pieces as it will more likely push the fabric down through the needle hole.
  • For quilt type woven cotton fabrics (thin fabric that is densely woven with high thread count) I usually use size 70 needles. Smaller size is easier to pierce the fabric without pulling down the fabric through the hole so it is easier to sew on teeny pieces. But the disadvantage of the thinner needles are that these gets dull or broken so much easier. I change needle after every project and also when needed, for example when the needle has hit something.
  • Bring out your iron and press, press, press! It is important! Don’t skip on this! It will make the whole difference between that newbie amateur look and that well made look. Press after every seam. There are different kinds of irons. I use my normal steam iron but there are small traveller’s irons and also the tiny iron that looks like a soldering pen.
  • The seam allowance. Measure it on the pattern and then stick to it when sewing! If you think the seam allowance width used is awkward you can measure out a new allowance from the sewing line on the paper pattern and then cut out the new width. This is very important because if you sew 2 mm wrong on all seams on a gored skirt you will end with a waistline that is way way way off, because of the small scale a small error will be very obvious.
  • Seam allowance again, as you now understand very small error will become largely noticeable it is also important to be precise when cutting out the pieces. Use the pattern’s seam allowances as guide, draw with disappearing ink pen and then cut along the line. Or do as me, I use the rotary cutter. Then I place the fabric over the cutting mat, pinning the pattern piece on the fabric, being careful that there’s no pins outside the pattern edge (otherwise the knife has to be replaced by then!) and then cut with rotary cutter. It will require some practice but then you will be able to cut on free hand without the ruler and then you will get exact cuts. Of course you still have to use scissors for the tight curves such as sleeve holes and neck holes.

The sewing order of a doll dress

Doll clothes require different process of sewing compared to the one of human clothes because of the small scale. This is the order of sewing for a doll dress that has the closure at back.

First of all you will sew darts if there are any. Sew together yoke parts if there are any.

Then you will sew the shoulder seams.

And now you will sew the sleeves to the bodice.

Now it is time for the collar and/or facing parts.

Hem the sleeves.

Sew the side seams, all the way from sleeve to sides.

Attach the skirt or ruffle if there are any. The ruffle could be already hemmed if needed.

Hem the skirt.

Sew and attach fasteners to the center back edge.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. So interesting, and very useful – thank you!
    I do have a straight stitch throat plate, but have not tried it yet (mine is a screw on/off) I shall give it a go! I think I was scared to try incase I forgot to take it off and did the zig zag again!
    In your opinion, what is the best vintage machine you have ever used for small doll clothes? And also, when choosing a kids machine, do you have any idea of good ones to look out for? I am thinking of getting one for my daughter for when she is old enough to learn to sew. I will always buy vintage – I like to use recycled things as much as possible instead of buying new. Also for cost reasons – they are often cheaper :)

  2. Thank you for your comment. :) Do try out that straight stitch plate!

    I haven’t sewn on many vintage machines so my references are limited.. But really many of the older ones are good. My favorite machine, is a pfaff hobbymatic 919 (made in Germany this is important about this era pfaff’s), is not extremely old, it was made in end of 80’s but it is awesome. :) Really pre 90’s pfaffs are awesome generally.

    And about kids and machines. I think it is important to not buy toy machine or kid machine because these are often very poor quality and will just scare away the kids because of all the troubles. It is better to use a real sewing machine. Choose one that is simple to operate, no electronic display.. But kids are fast learners, much faster than adults. :) I learnt to sew on mum’s 50’s pfaff. :) The most important is to be there supervising when the kid is taking the first stitches. For some machines there are option to buy needle guard. If she loves to sew then she could get a machine of her own, a simple one but good quality that she could have as her own. I got a machine of my own when I was 13 (and worn out grandma’s crappy Singer) and it is the machine I still use and is my favorite one, thanks to my parents buying a simple but quality one. :)

  3. Oh, in that case I will keep an eye out for a ‘real’ one for her. A simple, good condition vintage one. I did see many old Singer Petite kids ones but it did cross my mind about the durability of them(being made from plastic) so now I’m thinking you are right – they will cause too much hassle and disappointment if they don’t work well at all. Thanks for your advice. x

  4. Oh, one more thing I forgot to ask. Have you ever used a hand operated machine, as opposed to an electric foot pedal one? I imagine this would be tricky, as I like to have two hands free – because I’m not experienced in sewing so it’s handy for guiding and steadying the fabric as I sew. The only thing I don’t like with my foot pedal is it goes so fast, so is hard to control it doesn’t allow for a stitch at a time. I have a vintage Frister Rossman Cub 7. with many functions, but I only use straight and zig zag!

  5. I have yet to try a hand-crank. Maybe it will be good, I do not know. But I have read that one revolution will make more than 1 stitch, I think it was 4 stitches? So maybe some momentum, which may cause problem too? I have access to a treadle (foot) machine at my parent’s summer place and it is no good for dolly sewing due to the momentum.. But it must be easier to control because the treadle need you to have some rhythm or it will just go backward and break thread.. haha

    if you can’t control stitch by stitch by pressing lightly on the foot control maybe you should either ask the sewing machine dealer if it can be adjusted or maybe change for other machine. Or you could buy another machine for the dolly sewing. ;)

    Good luck.

  6. Great advice for a relative newbie, thank you.

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