Clothing hack for 18″ dolls

Have a young daughter? Does she have an American Girl doll? Have you looked through their catalog at the clothing prices and choked?

Yeah, me too. I don’t spend that much on clothing for me, let alone a doll that’s only 18″ tall and uses a fraction of the fabric. That means Lexi is limited to new clothing for Caroline (her doll) on birthdays and Christmas, unless I make them. So scoring an almost completely ready-made outfit like this for $13.50 and a bit of sewing on my part was awesome.

AG clothes hack 1

I have a number of patterns for 18″ doll clothes and plenty of fabric, but not always the time to sew an outfit from scratch…even ones that don’t involve making up an outfit using multiple patterns, like the Elsa costume I made to exactly match Lexi’s.

AG Elsa costume copyright

This past weekend I was visiting with my brother and sister-in-law (to see my niece’s star turn as young Cosette in Les Miserables) along with my mom and aunt, and ended up in a Build-a-Bear store where Mom was buying bears for my niece and nephew. While they made their selections, I wandered around looking at the clothing. Build-a-Bear has recently added Elsa and Anna bears to their collection, and there was a cute Frozen shirt, as well as a Disney Princess one. “Man, Lexi would love shirts like that for Caroline,” I thought.

And then it hit me – could I make them work?

Build-a-Bears and American Girl dolls have totally different proportions: the former are shorter and rather squat; the latter taller and thinner with much less extra fabric needed in the butt region and smaller heads. But I figured I’ve got a sewing machine, a basic understanding of clothing construction, and if my idea didn’t work, I was out $6 each for 2 pairs of pants and less than $8 each for 2 t-shirts. (Or rather, my mom was, since she insisted on picking up the tab.) I knew the pants would become capris; I wasn’t sure if the t-shirts would be long enough or if they’d need extra fabric added to the bottom (I figured on a decorative ruffle) for length, but that would be an easy fix.

Once home, I dressed Caroline in one of the outfits.

AG clothes hack 2

To my surprise, the fit wasn’t nearly as poor as I expected. In fact, left as is (or with the waist taken in a bit), this outfit made for a respectable set of loose PJs. But I wanted a more fitted look for a daily outfit, and the other outfit was definitely going to need work – the pants were jeans and they looked awful. The denim made the extra fabric, especially in the butt region, so much more obvious.

Now, I’m sure a real seamstress would have taken the clothing apart, trimmed them down, and then sewed the pieces back together. But that would have defeated my purpose – I was going for quick and easy. So I put both shirts on Caroline inside out, and pinned them.

AG clothes hack 3

AG clothes hack 4

The Frozen shirt, pictured on top, was very straightforward. I just sewed right down the line where the cap sleeve ended. The Disney Princess shirt was trickier, because of how the sleeve was done and because the neckline looked much wider and really needed to be tightened up. So that one was sewn at an angle to tighten up a bit at the waist, but now that I see I’ve got more room in the armhole than I thought, I may take a bit more off the sides. And I think I’ve got enough armhole room on the Frozen shirt to tighten up that neckline a bit as well.

For the pants, the first thing I had to do was sew up the tail hole. A zigzag stitch with a matching thread was all that was needed here.

AG clothes hack 5

Then I went through the same inside-out wearing and pinning. You can see here how baggy the pants are in the butt, even with the pink/purple pants, so you have to make sure you gather that fabric well.

AG clothes hack 6

The jeans were tricky because of the denim, all the extra butt fabric, the front pockets, and because unlike the pink/purple pants, all of the waist elastic was in the back. I didn’t quite get everything even, so one pocket is a bit bigger than the other. It wasn’t until I did the other pants that I realized that there’s an easy way to make sure the pants stay centered when pulling on the waist.

AG clothes hack 7

Yep – pinned it right to the doll. Obviously, that trick doesn’t work when altering clothes for a person…

Once done, the fit was pretty darned good. I was worried that the waist would come up too high, but it didn’t.

AG clothes hack 8

You can see how much material was taken out to get that fit – the pants on the bottom hadn’t been altered yet.

AG clothes hack 9

And a side-by-side comparison, original on the left and altered on the right:

AG clothes hack 10

And so, for less than the cost of a single American Girl doll outfit, Lexi’s doll gets two great summer outfits that Lexi loves. I’m told Caroline loves them too.

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Patterns, revisited

I’m getting back at it by revisiting some old designs. First up on my to-do list is No Capes!

No Capes! was originally published in Petite Purls, which is no longer online. As the rights have returned to me, I’ve decided this is a good time to fix a few things with the original design that I didn’t like, and to expand the sizes a bit. The original yarn has been discontinued, so I’ve decided to work it up in two new options: Berroco Weekend and Universal Yarn Cotton Supreme. And for fun, I’m going to add a few more charted words that can replace the original “Super.”

Bowling Shirt Polo is next.

Like No Capes!, I’d like to rework the design a bit, and I’ll probably expand the size range here too. But again, like with No Capes!, the biggest issue is the original yarn being discontinued. This will also get worked up in two new yarns: O-Wool Balance and Berroco Remix, which I think is a really fun yarn with great colors.

I also need to re-release (or not) two patterns that were originally published by Three Irish Girls, where the rights have reverted back to me. Diamond in the Sky was the very first design I ever wrote.

Diamond in the Sky (1) watermark

Lexie's Lacy Cardigan Skirted Version (12) watermark

I’d need to reknit the samples anyway as the picture rights aren’t mine (these pictures were the quick and dirty ones I took for my project page, and not good enough for publishing a pattern with), and Lexie has long outgrown both (even if I had them both; the skirted version went to my niece). I’m not in love with the lace pattern I used anymore, so I swatched up some options until I found one liked.

Diamond in the Sky swatch (1) watermark

And, in a familiar refrain, I’m switching up the yarn. Diamond in the Sky was meant for mixing up semi-solids and variegated yarns, and I looked for pairings that were both subtle and vibrant, and that showed that the yarns didn’t have to be originally dyed as part of a set in order to work. I chose Malabrigo Rios and Dream in Color Classy.

Yarn for Diamond in the Sky watermark

No, not all of those yarns will become a Diamond in the Sky; I spent a lot of time playing with combinations (and disregarding Lexie’s demands that I pair just the semi-solid purple and pink) and will be using the other yarns in later designs.

As for the other former Three Irish Girls design, I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do with Twisted Diagonals Jacket.

Twisted Diagonals Cardigan (4) watermark

I loved the look of the stitch pattern but it was problematic due to the compressed row gauge. The smaller sizes were fine, but when I actually started knitting up a larger size I really didn’t like it. Nor was I a fan of the yarn I chose. I’m going to have to do a lot of playing with the stitch pattern before I decide whether that design will be re-released.

Two other designs are eventually going to get quick make-overs: Little Miss Mopsey needs new yarns (the original is discontinued) and I’m planning to add a “winter” version; and Mossy Bells just needs a new yarn. I’ve had requests to size Mossy Bells up to adult sizes, which is something I’d like to do at some point – but there’s more than enough on my plate for now!

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Letting go

Once upon a time, Lexie had a best friend. His name was Bunny.

Bunny before

If Bunny looks a bit well-loved in that picture, it’s because he was. No number of trips through the washing machine would make him look clean again, there were various spots of rough stitching due to surgery by Mom, and his stuffing was squished flat in places. Didn’t matter to Lexie; Bunny was always beautiful. I got Bunny for Lexie for her first Easter basket when she was only a few months old, and he was a constant companion for years.

Lexie, who firmly believed at the time that Mommy can do anything, asked me to make Bunny a sweater. It eventually became a sweater-dress-raincoat-hoodie, but it made Lexie happy, which was all that mattered.

Bunny after

One day, we realized Bunny was missing.

Lexie had mostly moved on; she was no longer sleeping with Bunny every night, and through first pre-school and then kindergarten had gained new best friends. I think she’d probably left Bunny behind at pre-school on her last day, but by the time we realized he was really gone and not just hiding somewhere in her room, there was no Bunny at their lost and found.

All we had left was Bunny’s sweater.

Bunny's Sweater Dress Raincoat Hoodie (2)

The sweater got moved around from basket to basket in Lexie’s room, and I never considered suggesting we get rid of it. My kids tend to get especially attached to things I make them, and this was the last tangible reminder of a good friend. It really only came out at the times Lexie left it within reach of our yarn-obsessed cats, who love to drag things I’ve knit around the house. This morning, I happened on Bunny’s sweater in the kitchen, and picked it up to hand Lexie, telling her to go put it in one of her baskets.

She reached out for it and then paused, looking at the sweater thoughtfully. “Mommy…it doesn’t really fit any of my dolls now.”

“Ok,” I said. “What would you like to do with it?”

“I’d like to donate it,” she said. “Not everyone has a Mommy who can make them things like you can.”

Bunny's Sweater Dress Raincoat Hoodie (4)

I had to fight not to cry a bit as I carefully placed the sweater in our donation bin. Time to let go.

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The curse of the wee

Baby sweaters are awesome. Really, they are. In about a tenth of the time it would take to knit me a sweater (ok, that’s a generous estimate), I can have a finished project. Plus, baby sweaters get a lot more “ooooohs” and “aaaaaahs” than a sweater for me has ever gotten.

So when friends announced they were expecting their first, naturally I started paging through my pattern library on Ravelry. This was going to require some careful selection, because dad-to-be is a knitter himself, which means the parents will be harder to impress. Fortunately, not long ago a friend shared pictures of the wee Envelope, by Ysolda Teague, that she had knit up, and it was adorable. I liked the unusual construction and the look of the finished item, so I decided to go for it. I had a single skein of Three Irish Girls Kells Sport in Rhys in my stash, which according to the pattern was more than enough. Rhys is a beautiful shade of blue, and although the parents aren’t finding out the gender yet, I think any baby can wear blue, boy or girl (I try to get Lexie into it whenever I can since it really brings out her beautiful blue eyes). Besides, this baby’s parents are both Navy, and if a Navy baby can’t wear blue, who can?

3IG Kells Sport Rhys

So I wound the yarn, picked up the needles, cast on…and realized I’d been cursed.

The pattern, at least, wasn’t cursed. Well-written, as I expected, and really only one spot where I read the directions a few times and said, “Huh?” A quick trip to Ysolda’s Ravelry group got me enough of an answer that I was able to move on, and that was it for pattern issues. The yarn was mildly cursed, as some of my later purchases of Three Irish Girls yarn (pre-change in ownership) have been – multiple breaks in one ply throughout the skein (no, it’s not bugs, unless I’ve been blessed with moths talented enough to tie the plies back together in small knots). I did end with an ungodly number of ends to weave in as a result…but that was at the end.

The curse during the knitting was all on me.

I decided to make a change to the pattern from the very beginning. I don’t like knitting garter in the round, and I don’t like knitting very small circumferences in the round with magic loop, at least not the first few rows. I decided to solve two problems in one fell swoop and knit the cuff (you start at the end of one cuff and knit across to the other) flat, with two extra stitches for seaming. So I happily knit the cuff then seamed it and happily continued with stockinette in the round for the rest of the sleeve. Once I reached the shoulder I counted my stitches, and…oops. Remember those two extra stitches? I was supposed to decrease them when I started knitting in the round. Of course, my count was still off by a lot more than two stitches. So the whole sleeve was frogged. At least it was a baby sleeve.

wee envelope sleeve

On try two for the sleeve, things went crazy wrong after the cuff and it was frogged again. Try three, I discovered I was again off by several stitches halfway through. I mean, we’re talking well less than 50 stitches here; why can’t I count them? It wasn’t until I ripped back to just after the cuff (where I had correctly decreased those two extra stitches) that I realized the problem wasn’t my stitch count: it was my reading skills. I was looking at the numbers for the wrong size. I took a quick break to highlight all the numbers for the size I was knitting (which was the entire reason I’d gotten that PDF editing app on my phone in the first place) and started again.

This time I made it to the garter stitch yoke. This was where I had my one, easily cleared up, bit of confusion, but for the most part the pattern was quite clear once I figured out what I was making (I’d never done an edging like this pattern uses before). It should have been smooth sailing…and would have been if I hadn’t kept dropping a stitch. The same stitch, just three stitches in from the end. I’d be knitting merrily along, and suddenly realize there was a cheeky little loop waving at me from several rows down below the needle. I’d pick up my crochet hook, ladder it back up, keep working, and several rows later, there the cheeky bastard was again.

Eventually, I made it to the end of the yoke, and the second sleeve proved anticlimactic. I even remembered to add in the extra two stitches for the seam of the cuff, since I wanted both cuffs to match.

wee envelope (1)

On to the body! And that’s when an earlier mistake bit me in the rear. I’d knit a stitch that was supposed to be purled on the bottom of the back yoke at one point, and didn’t realize it until several rows later. Because it was an edge stitch, dropping back to fix it would have been a nightmare, and I’d already ripped back so many times I decided to leave it. After all, that’s where I’d be picking up stitches on the body, so that one wrong stitch would be hidden…

wee envelope (2)

…except that the stitches are picked up in such a way that those stitches all show. Oops. Fortunately, it’s on the back. And not smack dab in the middle. The rest of the body was easily knit, other than it being a race between the end of the sweater and the end of the skein. Remember when I said I had more than enough yarn to knit this? I finished up with a tiny little walnut-sized ball. Whew. Anyway, I absolutely love how Rhys knit up – it looks like water ripples.

wee envelope (3)

All it needed to finish it off were buttons, and I was originally planning until we knew the gender to pick them. That way if I needed to girly it up some, I could. But I can’t resist a chance to play with all my buttons, and I started by pulling out my favorites from Tessa Ann Designs…and I found these – an awesome rainbow set with plenty of options in the size I needed (and plenty left over, since it’s such a large set). I chose the two buttons with the rainbow striping across and the two buttons with the full rainbow arching over green grass.

wee envelope buttons

I wanted to show off the sweater at the Prince William Purlers guild meeting that night, so I packed the buttons and thread in my bag to sew on during our social knitting time before the meeting starts. I was pretty sure I’d chosen the right buttons, but as I left my house and started driving, I saw a sign that those buttons were meant to be.


Yup. Perfect.

wee envelope (4) a

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Torpedoes and yarn chicken

I recently knit myself a top.

loopy lace tee

I’ve knit myself sweaters before, but this was my first top. I’m extremely proud of it, especially because I added short rows to accommodate my huge tracts of land for the first time, and they came out pretty well. I also made some other modifications, including adding the lace to just the very bottom of the sleeves and the body. And I love the yarn: madelinetosh tosh vintage in Logwood. It is such a luscious yarn, and the colorway is beautiful.

Once I’d finished (um…almost 2 years after starting), I found I had a skein and a half left over. It wasn’t enough to do much of anything for me, but I felt it really should be a garment of some kind. And then, during a random conversation, one of my friends pointed out that I could probably whip up another Open Weave Short Sweater in a matter of minutes, and it seemed like serendipity. Lexie could use another sweater, she loves the pattern, I love how quickly it works up, and she adored the color.

The only potential problem was how much yarn I had left. Previous iterations of the sweater took me nearly 2 skeins of a lighter weight yarn; I was crocheting this with worsted weight, but in a larger size. But I’m a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” yarn crafter, so I dove in.

And got torpedoed.

Lexie's Leftovers Sweater

The downside to playing yarn chicken is that sometimes, you have to flinch first. I went ahead and seamed the fronts to the back and added the edging on the body in the hopes that I’d have enough yarn left for sleeves, but that little yarn walnut was no where near enough. I turned to Ravelry for salvation.

What I was hoping to find was someone with about a quarter to a half a skein of the Logwood – still more than I needed, but plenty to finish the sleeves and their edging, without being so much that I was tempted to try to find another project for those leftovers…and then run out of yarn…and then have to find more leftovers…and continue the vicious cycle of stashing. Unfortunately, there was only one destash listed, and it was for a full skein. I posted in the ISO/Destash group, and that’s when I got the break I was looking for – 2 people sent me messages suggesting I post in the madtosh lovers group.

I took their advice, and ended up with not one but 2 offers of partial skeins. Neither Raveler would take money for their yarn or shipping, but instead asked for patterns off their wish lists. Ravelers can really be some of the most generous people.

The yarn arrived, and both partial skeins were the Logwood colorway (one of the Ravelers wasn’t sure if hers was)…but they were both definitely more red than my original yarn. That wasn’t a surprise – it’s a known hazard of working with hand-dyed yarn, and it was a risk I ran whether I got a full skein from a yarn store or partial skeins from a destash. I just had to figure out how to make it work.

I opted to remove the edging on the body, and used that yarn to make the sleeves. Then I chose the closest match and used that to do all the edging.

Luscious Leftovers for Lexie (1)

The difference in color is visible, but not very obvious, and it actually ended up blending pretty well. I’ve decided to consider it a design feature. Of course, it’s not really my opinion that matters.

Luscious Leftovers for Lexie (2)

Even though she was in the first day of a nasty cold, Lexie was still able to smile over her new sweater, which she took from me the minute I showed it to her, and didn’t take off until bed.

Which leaves just one last question: what do I do with the leftovers…?

more luscious leftovers

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