Wonderful World Of Dolls

Hints For Authentic Doll Costuming

From Designer Joan Chiara Cigler

     This article should probably be called “Confessions of a Materials Stasher.”  When I say “Materials,” I don’t mean just fabric.  I’m speaking of just about anything that can be felt, held, or worked with, of any shape or form, and in any media.  As for my “fabric” acquisitions…I am a hoarder.  I make no apologies about it.  If any friends or relatives are pitching out fabric or trims, or clothes of fine fabrics, they know I will gladly take it in and give it a good home….small or big.  In my mind, (that which is Wonderful World Of Dolls,) SOMEDAY I will make use of it.  And many times in recent years, I have.  

     If there is a specific type of fabric or trim that I have in mind for a pattern design, and can’t find it in my stash, I will scavenge the Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other thrift stores for a garment that has what I need.  It may be a specific texture, color, print, plaid, knit, or even gown that will work best for my idea.  Many times I buy what is just pretty or unusual, and hope that eventually, I will find a use for it.

     DO NOT BUY NEW BUCKRAM, CRINOLINE, BATISTE, OR LAWN, before checking out the second hand stores.  Check out formal wear, baby clothes, and even linens for these items.  This in itself is an adventure, and a huge money saver.  The part of bedding that goes between the mattress and box spring (such as pieces attached to bed skirts or mattress pads) are usually a well worn fine lawn or batiste type fabric...good for period underclothes or baby clothes for old dolls.

     My biggest secret is that to the Wonderful World Of Dolls,  NOTHING IS SACRED when it comes to finding that perfect piece of fabric, trim, or accessory.  No…it has nothing to do with religion.  My husband, Ken, learned this very quickly when, upon learning he was diabetic, he dropped a lot of weight shortly after we married.  We had at least 2 closets full of clothing ready to donate to charity, most like new, and a few still had tags on them.  Well…I could make one or two doll dresses out of some of those big shirts.  I pulled out the shirts, pants, and velour pullovers that I liked, and spent quite a few of my winter evenings cutting off buttons to put in my large button box (tied together of course;) cutting off collars, cuffs, buttonhole borders, yokes, pant waistbands and pockets, and all seams.  For the most part, these were pitched out; unless they happened to have a good inter-facing that can be used in place of crinoline or buckram for petticoats or millinery work.  The fronts, back, and sleeves of shirts, and the pant pieces were washed, dried, and neatly folded or rolled. (Don't forget his ties too!  Great for tiny period clothes or trims.)  Each piece of fabric is put into my storage boxes, which are labeled for the types of fabric:  velvet/velour, satin/brocade, corduroy, knit, Spandex type stretch, sheer, thin opaque, plaid, flannel, wool, metallic, fur (real & fake), feathers, etc..  Cottons have their own boxes by color.  They include plain colors and prints in the same shades of a color, such as: black/gray; red/pink/rose/wine; yellow/orange/peach/salmon, etc.  Silks are hung on those plastic clip-on skirt/pant hangers you get from the store when you buy new pants or skirts.


     I just can’t part with pretty fabric.  My old high school Christmas formal made a wonderful ballet outfit for a vintage ballerina doll.  An emerald green wool skirt I made in the 1960s worked perfect for my 1895 bicycle suit for an antique doll.  Lace pieces from an old friend’s wedding gown sleeves are on another gown for an antique doll. 

     Figuring out how to make Wonderful World Of Dolls doll sized accessories will definitely clear the cobwebs from one’s brain.  You will soon look at everything small with a new vision.  Use a set of tiny drawers (the type used for your hubby’s nails and screws in his workshop) to store tiny doll accessories and parts.

     Old costume jewelry is great to take apart for the possible pieces to use for a pendant, earrings, bracelet, or pin for a doll. Small beads and pearls can be restrung to size.  Small gold or silver jump rings make good pierced earrings.  Large jump rings are good bracelets.  Tiny charms are great pendants and pins. (Tiny pin backs are available from craft shops that carry jewelry supplies.)  Fine chains can be cut to size and reworked with new small findings.  Tiny heart shaped charms in gold or silver become lockets when hung on a fine chain around an antique doll's neck.

     Hubby’s tool box is not exempt.  My husband builds models for a hobby.  I gave him my pattern and instructions for my Gondolier’s oar.  He had the perfect little piece of thin balsa wood and a thin dowel.  Then I convinced him to put it together for me.  It’s perfect.  I assembled the “lamp” for my Florence Nightingale pattern from a small cup hook, washer, flashlight bulb, and other items.  When my Dad was alive, he soldered wire hangers in the proper shape for my doll farthingale hoop.  Another time he made a royal crown for a medium sized doll from a wide rhinestone necklace that I had worn in the 50s and 60s.  A filigree dime store ring made a great bracelet for a small doll; and another similar type filigree band made a perfect crown for a small doll, once I glued a few jewels in place.

     Save those old fur collars from vintage coats.  Now your antique doll can have a REAL fur muff, hat, or cape.  Old genuine leather gloves, purses, or coats will make shoes, boots, coats, hats, or handbags for modern and antique dolls.  I suggest GENUINE leather, NOT vinyl, because it has more "give" and does not usually crack or peel when working with it.  Manilla card-stock file folders are best for "soles."

     Saving items for possible doll accessories has become such a habit that I now have two more small collections:  Miniature baskets, and miniature pottery.  I pick these things up at craft stores and souvenir shops (and at museums while traveling.)  I generally look for the sizes that are in scale with the Barbie sized dolls so that they will accessorize my Nation-Of-The-Month ethnic costume patterns.  Occasionally, I find them in sizes in scale with larger dolls.  



     The list goes on and on; and I know all of you have your own “reproduction” secrets that are just as creative or more so.