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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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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