Author Archives: jenwrenne

Summer sew along week 2


Week 2 of our sew-along is this glamorous movie-star nightgown!

Get the pattern here:

For a child’s play doll, aside from an everyday outfit suitable for activities the child likes to do (tea parties? tree climbing? soccer?) I’d argue the other most important clothing item is pajamas.  A child can act out  a bedtime routine by putting the doll to bed or taking it to bed with them.  I love this nightgown because it embodies the glamour of women’s evening dresses of the time.  A smooth, beautiful drape was often achieved with A-line bias-cut dresses and skirts, and this could be balanced with more fullness at the top, specifically with large, puffy sleeves.  This pattern doesn’t just have to be a nightgown!  You can shorten the skirt to turn it into a dress or hem the whole front and leave open; tie in front to use as a robe (dressing gown).

The pattern will be available here for a day, and after that I’ll post a link to it on etsy in both 16″ and AG sizes.

Summer sew along week 1


It’s the Shirley Temple sew along!

You might remember from the poll a couple of months ago that I had a ton of ideas for the sew-along this year and asked for your input but was going to leave it a surprise.  Time for the big reveal!  You had lots of good suggestions, but one person suggested Shirley Temple dolls.  I sort of left that at the back of my mind, because the dolls are vintage, were made in lots of sizes, and can be hard to find.  One point of the SSA is for lots of people to participate, so it didn’t seem possible. 

 Some of the things that really stuck out from the comments were that you wanted boy stuff, but also lots of other sizes, and Sasha came up often.   I had some majorly ambitious plans for that, but as you might guess, it can take weeks-months to plan, draft, sew, take pictures, and pattern-ify everything for a major multi-week sewing series like the SSA.  As I was starting this process, my stepfather had a heart attack, and instead of drafting and sewing, I spent spring break worrying and then driving home to be with my family.  After that, my mom decided to move to Colorado, so then instead of sewing, my amazing husband and I have been spending all our weekends and after-work hours for the last month looking for a place for her to live, then fixing up said place.  The next step that we’re currently in is to get everything downsized, then packed up and moved across the country. 

There are times you need a break from all of life’s stresses and and just want to sew something that’s not too difficult but still gives you a nice sense of accomplishment of a completed project when you’re done.  I thought I could handle resizing, but not drafting from scratch, and looking at my new Natterer Starlette doll something clicked into place…“starlet”…movie star…SHIRLEY! 

My model is a Natterer Starlette, and I sized everything for her, but it will also fit Sasha and  other slim 16” dolls, with some shortening of skirt hems if desired.  Most things (although maybe not this week’s) should resize easily by copying at 77% for 13”-14” dolls like Hearts for Hearts.  Just like last year, I’ll leave each pattern up for free download for a day and after that it will be available on etsy in both slim and AG sizes.

A major change this year:

In the past, the SSA has been “finish-it-post-a-pic-a-week” and then if you complete everything you get an additional pattern emailed.  Things are different this year for a couple of reasons.  The first is, my husband  reminded me that as participation grows from year to year (yay!) the least fun part of the SSA for me has become emailing and re-explaining over and over how to upload pix, dealing with mis-typed email addresses, people missing deadlines, asking for extensions, etc.  The other issue that’s pretty major is that we always used Flickr in the past.  They have changed their policy recently and now you’re only allowed a limited number of photos on a free account, so people may not want to upload there anymore.  You definitely CAN (here’s the link:  ) or you can post on Instagram, which my niece claims she’ll help me figure out, and tag it with #jenwrenne.    

How popular were the Shirley dolls? 

In the 1936 Sears catalog, she was called “The World’s Most Popular Doll” based on a claim that almost 1/3 of the dolls sold in the US the previous year were Shirley Temples.  I’d be very curious to find out what her sales were in the rest of the world – probably not nearly that high but “World’s Most Popular” makes for good advertising, even if that claim is a little outrageous. 😉

The first Sears ad for her seems to have been in 1935, where she was advertised as the “Only Original Shirley Temple” and the same doll was sold in 4 sizes – 13”, 16”, 18” and 20”.  That’s unusual today, but was common from the early days of bisque dolls with composition bodies through about the 1950s, for example, Toni dolls were made in P90-P93 sizes, with the bigger ones being more expensive.  Shirley’s price was quite high at $2.89 for the 13” size and $5.79 for the 20”.  As a comparison, some other composition dolls of about 12-14” in that same catalog started in price from about $0.25 and a 24” composition doll with a human hair wig on the same page as Shirley was just $1.98.  Estimates around the internet vary, but the average yearly wage at that time might have been around $1600, which I divided up by 260 work days/year to give an average daily wage of $6.15.  You could further divide that by 8 hours into about $0.77 an hour.  So, using that math the largest Shirley cost maybe 7.5 hours of work for the average person. 

What made Shirley so popular?

Mass advertising didn’t really come into its own until TVs invaded every American living room and convinced children to beg their parents for specific toys.  But I’ll speculate on a few things that may have made Shirley dolls so popular.  First was the novelty of movies.  In a world where we can instantly stream hundreds of thousands of movies on our phones/devices anytime, it’s hard to imagine what movies were like in the 1930s.  You may have had a radio at home to listen to in your jammies, but movies were something special – an exciting event you had to go to the theater to experience.  In addition to being cute, Shirley was a talented little girl who also sang and danced!  It’s interesting to note that a lot of the movies cast her as a child suffering a somewhat sad plight, for example, an orphan, but everything always finished well in the end.  This probably helped evoke  emotion in the audience, as they first felt sympathy for the poor little orphan, then happiness when things went well for her.  I personally like movies with happy endings, and for a nation suffering through the Great Depression, this kind of movie would undoubtedly have raised peoples’ spirits. 

Another contributor to the doll’s popularity was probably catalogs.  Sears and other companies’ catalogs were the closest thing to internet shopping sites of the day, and they did their best to get those catalogs into as many homes as possible.  That catalog might have had a prominent place in a farm home, as my great aunt recalled from her 1920’s childhood.  When her doll’s head got broken by being stepped on by a cow, her mother “took down the catalog” and said they would “send for a new one.”  This shows “the catalog” was a connection to all the material goods a family could need/want, even if they were far from a store that could supply those goods.  When I think that the same catalogs with pictures of Shirley dolls were in millions of homes across the country, I don’t doubt that little girls or maybe even their parents, came home from the movie theater after seeing the latest Shirley Temple “picture” on the silver screen and wanted to hold on to some of that magic themselves.  What better way than reenacting your favorite movie scenes with a doll?

Shirley’s popularity in the form of both dolls and movies remained strong for decades, and during that time several pattern companies produced patterns for Shirley dolls in many different sizes; if they didn’t specifically mention Shirley, they might have some kind of text saying they fit “Movie Dolls.” 

 Doll trousseaux, or complete sets of clothing, are not new; people have been creating them probably for as long as they’ve had time and resources to create them for dolls.  Patterns for complete doll wardrobes were available from at least the Edwardian era on, and I love seeing what was considered an important part of a doll’s trousseau in different time periods!  This particular one included:

  • Combinations (one-piece undies and slip)
  • Nightgown
  • Dirndl (jumper) and blouse
  • “Beach Pajamas”
  • Cape

In this pattern set, there are some challenging elements to some of these garments that make them not quite “quick and easy.”  I really enjoy vintage patterns, and although in come cases I’ve simplified the construction of these to bring them more in line with modern sewing techniques, it’s fun to see how details differed from era to era and experience that connection with the past by doing things in an authentic way.  I’ll try to note the changes from the originals wherever it’s necessary.  In the case of this week’s combinations, the original had a one-piece back with a slashed and hand-rolled hemmed opening, which I changed to a 2-piece for ease of construction.

Get this week’s pattern here

An embroidered wool coat for Spring


We had this 3’ pile of snow outside our front door that had been there since mid-January.  In March, it started melting little by little and last Tuesday it was about 70 degrees and it finally went away completely!  If you’re thinking that’s a great reason to make a cute little spring dress and photograph it outside, you don’t know the mountains of CO!  The very next day we got 8” of fresh snow dumped on us.  So I pulled out this coat pattern I made for my Paola Reinas back in 2015 (yes, there are SOOO many things on my hard drive that haven’t made it to the blog yet!) and resized it for my new doll, Milena (see below). By the time I was ready to take the pix, most of the snow was melting away, so it did end up looking Spring-y.

If you’re wondering, the new-to-the-blog doll is a Natterer/Petitcollin Starlette named Milena.  I didn’t have time for comparison pix, but she’s very similar to Sasha with longer legs.  The coat is a great fit on other 16” dolls too, like the lovely AGAT Elinor above. 

This coat is inspired by sheepskin coats worn in parts of Poland, Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe.  I say inspired, but not traditional, because this one has a princess cut rather than the separate skirt and back gathers you can see on close-up pix.  Its flowers welcome spring, but the felt and fleece keep your doll warm when “Spring” means “still pretty icy, raw ‘n’ glacial.”  😊 The embroidery design is generically European, but the color scheme is taken from the Polish Haft Kaszubski (Kashubian embroidery). If you’re a fast seamstress, you could use pastel colors to make a really cute Easter coat to tuck into that special basket this weekend!

Shortened, it makes a great 1970s or boho-style coat for AG Julie or Sasha!  You can easily paint the design or use fabric markers if you don’t have time to embroider. 

Get the pattern here

Want the machine embroidery files? They’re here and include a 16″ size that works for 16-18″ dolls and a resized smaller version pictured on Paola Reina for 12-14″ dolls.

The following images are for your inspiration from : (scroll down to the bottom to see)

See some more inspiration here:

I know you’re excited for the summer sew-along…me too! We’ll be starting in a few weeks and you won’t even need to buy a new doll for it unless you want to 😉

Happy Spring!


You might remember April from a few years back?  She sometimes had links in her journal to related projects and one was a verbnitsa (Вербница) doll to celebrate spring.  I loved the one I had made, and it stood on the window sill above the kitchen sink ever since it was made.  Strangely enough, last night it was suddenly gone!  On the eve of the spring equinox!  My best guess is that it tumbled down into the compost bucket that sits on the counter next to the sink and accidentally got emptied outside.  Well, I was not about to tramp through snow to dig around in the compost pile to verify that when it’s fairly easy to make a new one, but I did have to go hunting around for the directions again.  In case you’d like a new little dolly to help you celebrate spring, here they are:

What else is new in the Wren’s Nest? 

I’m trying to switch back to the once/twice-a-month thing posting schedule I was doing in the early days of the blog but do have an update on a previous post about uniforms from here:

Thoughts on the uniform “thing” written two months in:

It’s got a lot of pluses and a few minuses.  Some of the pluses first – it’s really easy to get dressed in the morning.  I rotate between tan/green pants and jeans, so it’s a given that the same style/color will get worn twice in a week, but I have multiples of each pair, so there’s always a clean one waiting.  The pants pretty much all match with the tops, and then I reduced my shoe rotation to one black and one brown, which makes that part easy too.  No one seems to have noticed (or at least said anything about) the severe reduction in my wardrobe at work, and seriously, I didn’t expect anyone to.  Because if anyone really has enough free time on their hands to be keeping track of my clothes, I’ve got some paperwork they can help with! 🙂 

Having a uniform also made me realize that sometimes in the past, “I have nothing to wear” was code for “I’m really nervous about whatever I’m getting dressed for”.  I went panicked to DH a while back saying “I don’t know what to wear today” and he grabbed some pants and responded, “You have a uniform, so what goes with these?”  As it turned out, there were three clean shirt choices and they all matched, so I grabbed one and that was that.  I realized what I had actually been agonizing about was a meeting I anticipated would be stressful and part of that involved thinking about how I’d be seen/judged during it.  Not worrying about what I was wearing let me focus more on what I needed to share and everything actually ended up fine.

On the downside, I haven’t gotten any compliments on my clothes this year either, but that’s just vanity talking, and it’s a small price to pay for giving up the morning clothing saga I used to suffer through.  One other thing I didn’t take into consideration was how COLD it is my work space in the winter.  As the weather started getting colder, I came in one morning and the thermostat said 63.  Yeah, Fahrenheit!  A few hours with the space heater got it up to a balmy 67 and I was able to take off my coat.  So a small number of sweaters got added to the rotation to layer as needed.

Thoughts on the uniform “thing” – seven months in:

Now that the weather is supposed to be getting warmer, all kinds of beautiful clothes are back in stores and people are starting to wear floaty, frilly, flowery things.  I wish I could say I didn’t care in the least and was happy to keep wearing the same uniform of solid blue/gray/green top and tan/green/denim pants I’ve been rotating through for all of fall and winter, but I have to admit it would feel nice to put on a new dress in a flowery print to help feel like spring is here.  The flip side of that is:

a) It’s WAY too cold in my work space for a gauzy dress 

b) I’d go back to a crammed closet full of stuff worn only a few times 

c) I’d be back on the hamster wheel of a wardrobe crisis, or at least a lot of decisions every morning

Thoughts on it today:

As I read this over I realized how long it’s been since I had a difficult-wardrobe morning and had even forgotten what it often used to be like. That’s a huge improvement in my life! There are also no days where I feel like I look terrible, because although every outfit is pretty much the same, it’s a look that was originally chosen because I liked it. So, final verdict is that the “uniform” will stay in place, at least for now, because the pluses far outweigh the minuses. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!


This week we complete the outfit with the blouse, which was based on the OG Fashion Fiesta Blouse.  

Get the pattern here!

It’s SOOO cute online, but of course it’s never in my Target to buy.  Aside from that, I’m not the biggest fan of fluorescent colors any more (haven’t been since about 5th grade) and I thought the look could be improved greatly by more intentional placement of the motifs.  The look of the original is exactly what it is – machine embroidered fabric, cut and sewn for a trendy, boho-type look.  If you want that look, the pre-made outfit is a great deal, it even comes with shoes and a bag!  I was going for something a little more traditional and hand-made looking, for timeless style that won’t go out with the boho trend.

I’ve included a graph for simplified motifs using hand cross stitch and you have a couple of options included in the pattern.  The easiest is to just complete the whole thing on coordinating 12ct cross stitch fabric and use that as your front bodice fabric.  Cross stitch is a great form of embroidery for kids to get familiar with handling a needle and thread, and it’s hard to have it come out looking terrible as long as they can count.  You might even consider doing the first half the stitches, so all the counting is correct and then helping the child do the second round to cross over them.

 If you’re really in a hurry, I also digitized a .pes design – the link is in the pattern.

Are you thinking the unusual yoke pattern is a great embroidery canvas?  Or a perfect use for a small piece of embroidered fabric?  Or eyelet?  Or an overlay of fancy lace/trim?  I agree!  The construction of this is similar to this dress: so if you need more text explanations, it will be helpful.