Clothes Maketh the Doll


As we know from revered doll collectors and historians such as Mildred Seely, the best and most valuable antique dolls to collect are those that are all original.  That is, they retain the head, limbs, body, and clothing which they had as new dolls.  We also know that these all-original dolls are now scarce, and expensive when they are available. As Mildred said in her book, Beloved China Dolls, there are more collectors now than there were in the mid-twentieth century, and the same number of antique dolls.  I would add that there are likely fewer dolls, as some of them break and deteriorate, though we can always hope that more are being recovered from years spent sleeping in attics and closets.  Furthermore, the price of desirable dolls goes up so that only wealthy collectors can afford and hoard them, while the economy in the USA has decreased the ability of most of us to be able to buy luxury items such as dolls for our beloved collections.  If you follow auctions in Antique Doll Collector magazine and similar venues, then you know that the price realized for many of the antique dolls on auction, or for sale, today is enough to cover the wages of a woman such as myself for a number of years!


Fear not, kindred low-income doll collectors!  There are still many opportunities to find inexpensive not-so-perfect antique dolls that can become lovely additions to our collections with just a little bit of creativity, and perhaps a small stash of sewing remnants.  Such was the case for Florence, a little unassuming doll-house sized china head doll who I acquired a few years ago, for about the equivalent of one hour of my wages.  Florence has an unusual hair style with her black hair covered with a net in back.  I have never before seen a small doll with this style.


Because of her small size, it is difficult to photograph Florence with my inexpensive camera. Sorry for the poor focus.

Florence is 7 1/2″ tall and has her shoulder head glued to her body since she has no sew holes.  Her face painting is well done for such a small doll, yet I cannot tell which factory made her, or which 19th century decade she originated from.  I do not know if her body is original to her, or if it was placed with her head later.  Her limbs are bisque in the style made in the early 20th century for inexpensive play dolls.  Her coarse woven fabric body and legs are made all in one piece in a rather blockish shape.  She seems to be stuffed with cotton batting.  I sewed across her legs at the hip so that she could sit in a chair.  Her body has mildew stains as well, and is not very pretty.


Choosing fabric and trim for Florence’s new clothing,

Even though Florence has a well-painted face and an unusual hairstyle, she came clothed in a poor child-made dress of cheap wide-width lace, and she is modest about her less-than-perfect body.  A new outfit is just what she needs to improve her self-esteem!


Blocking out the small clothes.

As usual, I did not use a pattern for the simple lines of this outfit.  I measured and estimated size, adding seam allowances.  In the photo above, the white undergarments are cut from an antique petticoat remnant.  The large rectangle at the top is Florence’s petticoat, the small piece under it is the waistband, and the two rectangles to the left are the drawers.  The final shaped piece on the right is the chemise.  You can see that the antique indigo remnant is narrow, and this size dictated the overall width of the dress.


Florence already appears more shapely in her new small clothes made of antique fabric and vintage lace.


The drawers, made from two tubes of fabric, are “split” and only connect with the drawstring waist. The vintage lace on all three undergarments matches.

Creating the dress took many fittings.  I wanted it to be high at the neck, long of sleeve, and to have a mid-19th century look.  The shoulders are slightly dropped and the sleeves are slightly flaired at the shoulders.  I added darts at the waist of the bodice for a more fitted look.DSC01921


Florence’s pinafore is made of the same fabric as her under things, but I gave it a trim of new lace that is crisp and white to accent the white striped pattern in her indigo dress.  My plan for the shape of her apron was to rely on a photo of an antique doll in a similar costume. The apron part is perfect, and the bodice part is a bit unique, as I didn’t want to make it just like the one in the photo.  That’s the way mommy and auntie made doll clothes were sewn in the past, so it’s still authentic, even if I just made it up!  The tiny mob cap renders Florence fully dressed and ready to go out and tend to her sheep.



Creating this outfit for Florence took oh so many tiny hand stitches!  I worked on it during spare moments and quiet times intermittently throughout the winter and spring. It consists of six pieces and transforms Florence from a rather modest and unremarkable doll into a winsome beauty!  I think the cotton country work clothes fit her countenance perfectly!  Admittedly, she is not all-original, and perhaps not that most desirable doll sought after by wealthy and discerning collectors.  Yet she is now rather irresistible in her unassuming way.  And all for under $30 (including the antique fabric) and some diligent sewing!

Happy creating!  ~ Jennie