Tuesday tutorial — Pattern drafting

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I took up historical costuming as a hobby a few years ago. I had never sewn for people before, but I had sewn for dolls since I was in high school, so I found that I lacked some really basic skills, like buttonholes, but I had some really advanced ones, like designing and drafting patterns. Since handmade dolls are rarely of a standard size, pattern drafting is a necessary skill for any doll artist who isn’t satisfied by draping a little cheesecloth on her fairies and calling them dressed.

If you haven’t already developed this skill, here’s a tutorial to get you started. Lee Menconi-Steiger’s tutorial, From Image to Outfit, takes you through the steps of creating a pattern and designing a costume for a 1/12 scale doll. I have found that 1/6 scale (also called Play scale, because Barbie dolls are in this scale) is about the limit for making real clothes; any smaller than this and you really have to start faking things to make them look right. Menconi-Steiger’s tutorial covers some of these “faking” techniques, which will be very valuable to those of us who tend to work in smaller scales. But even if you generally work larger than 1/6, you will find the first page of this tutorial to contain a really easy technique for creating a basic sloper pattern from your handmade doll. And if you like historical patterns, the second page includes instructions for draping a bustle skirt, which has always been a mystery to me. :)

If you’d like to learn more about dollhouse scale, I recommend 1/12 Scale Character Figures for the Dolls House, by James Carrington. I have to admit that the first time I thumbed through this book (it was a gift), I didn’t think it had any information I didn’t have anywhere else. Then I started actually making some very small dolls, and I realized I was wrong. A lot of the book is devoted to facial proportion, which has been covered by many other artists; and how to make molds of your work, which didn’t interest me; but there are also some very good sculpting tips in here. I particularly like Carrington’s technique for hands. If your doll is too small to have an armature in its fingers, try this book; I like it even better than Katherine Dewey’s technique.