The ideals of beauty…as reflected in dolls


You might remember a few weeks ago, I posted a link to an article about bias in film toward an “idealized” beauty of the 1950s.  Kodak skewed their color film to bias a blue-eyed blonde with red lips and an overall cool tone to her coloring.  But it wasn’t just the coloring that epitomized the era; I’ve written before about how doll bodies conform to the fashion sensibilities of their times, like Patsy with her roly-poly body that looked great in sweet little 1930s bishop-style dresses. Likewise, 1960s Barbie’s outrageously strange proportions have morphed into Lammily in our times.

This week I’m comparing a hugely popular 1950s doll, Toni, with a similar-sized modern one, Wellie Wisher Emiko.


You can see first of all here, their body shapes are very different, even though their bust/waist measurements are almost the same.  Emiko’s torso is flattened out, whereas Toni’s is cylindrical.  The same dress can be made to fit both, but ends up looking very different!  See both in the same dress here and here or in the pattern below.

It’s also interesting to note that Toni looks quite “made up” with a fussier hairstyle, heavy lipstick and blush, and even some eye shadow, whereas Emiko’s coloring is more natural, yet both dolls are beautiful reflections of their own time.

I’ve been on a vintage sewing spree lately for 18″ dolls (more to come on that soon), and decided to also sew for Toni, using vintage Butterick 7973, supposedly sized for her.  (image below from Pinterest)


Well, I bought the original 14″ version, but it didn’t really fit too well, and since I was altering it anyway, I thought it would be fun to see if I could make the same pattern look nice on both body shapes.  It took more adjusting than I had anticipated, but so far it’s going well!  Toni’s body lends itself to darts, which were a major feature of 1950s bodices at the waistlines, even for little children who didn’t really need them.  Those same darts made the dress quite ill-fitting on the Wellie body.

The pattern was re-released a few years ago, as Butterick #5865 without any indication of who it would fit, and I posted some pix on flickr of one dress I made on a variety of dolls, noting that it seemed to fit the Journey Girls the best.  It’s also a reminder that my photography skills have improved a lot since 2013, because the pictures are not that great! 🙂


Anyway, I’m hoping to do a little sew-along of 1950s styles to fit 14″ dolls and hope you’ll join in!  They are quite easy to sew, and a great place to show off your small bits of vintage fabric and trims!

Get the pattern here

Share your pix on the Wrenfeathers flickr page here:

Speaking of the flickr page, I LOVE seeing what you’ve made with my patterns, and even though I’m on yet another historical bent, it’s nice to showcase sewing for our modern dolls that reflects modern interests and different cultures.  Check out what Lisa did with clever use of prints that mimics embroidery on the kamiz:

And Carol shows us that Little Darling’s Karate Gi will fit the Wellies too:




BHM Week 4


This week we’re focusing on the 1920s.  In Black History, this was the era of the Harlem Renaissance, which featured an enormous blossoming of creativity in art, music and literature.  Some important figures from this era include Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, etc.

The book I chose for this week is called Mystery of the Dark Tower: a Bessie Mystery by Evelyn Coleman (AG History Mysteries).  Being a children’s mystery story, the plot is not as engaging for an adult as some of the other books that have been featured, but it does a nice job of depicting an important era that’s often overlooked in Black History in favor of either the Civil War or the Civil Rights eras.  The historical section at the back is well done and would be a good jumping-off point to learn more about particular people/events.

In keeping with the “mystery” theme, it appears there was a curse on this week’s dress!  I have to admit being a bit heartbroken about how it turned out.  I chose a BEAUTIFUL 1920s dress from Pictorial Review, shown below with my recoloring of the model’s skin from the original pale pink:


Is that dress not stunning?  So I was super excited to make it, and saving it for the last week of BHM.  I spent an incredibly long time digitizing the embroidery and found some fabric in the perfect shade of green.  Then, on Monday when I was off, I started the project, only to find I didn’t have a dark enough green for the stems.  Not wanting to waste my day driving to the fabric store, I used another type of thread, which I should have known would break and shred in the machine.  Took machine apart, cleaned it out, started again using black for the stems.  This time, the evil embroidery machine offset the peach colored flowers somehow, so they didn’t line up with everything else and the rest of the fabric was ruined.

Back to the drawing board with the embroidery, I changed the bad flowers to some lazy daisies that I knew would work, but now had to choose a whole new color scheme, which I eventually did, although no ribbons or rickrack of the right colors were to be found in my stash to match, so they were omitted.  You’ll have to take my word that up close, the dress looks really delicate and pretty with the pale pastel embroidery, because my camera died.  Yes, the camera that was all set up to do a nice job photographing my darker skinned dolls without a flash!  So I had to use a different one that didn’t let me manually adjust the exposure the same way, and gave it the task of properly exposing both a pastel-on-pastel embroidered dress and Melody’s face.  It failed.  Either Melody’s face looked good and the embroidery disappeared, or  the embroidery looked OK but Melody’s face was too dark to see her features properly.  So it was overexposed and then I messed with the colors in a photo editor, which made them look kind of unnatural:


Get the pattern here

If you can break the curse and make and photograph a nice version share your pix here

While you’re there, check out Maribell’s idea to put cording instead of piping on the dress from week one – much easier but outlines the curves so nicely!

There are some interesting articles about historical bias toward lighter skin in both film and digital cameras here: and here:

BHM Week 3



We’re already in our third week of February.  Are you/your kids enjoying their Black History Month reading?  This week we have a book from Newbery award winner Christopher Paul Curtis called “The Watsons Go to Birmingham.”  I’ve enjoyed all his books that I’ve read, but chose this one in particular because it’s a great read for kids.  The Watson children live in the unsegregated north (Michigan) in the 1960s and experience segregation and civil rights issues while visiting family in Alabama.  Kids, identifying with the main characters, will experience it through their eyes and probably feel similarly when confronted with segregation, since it’s completely foreign to their experience as well.

Get the coat pattern here

Why a coat as the pattern?  The book starts with how cold it is during the Michigan winter since the heat is broken, so it will help keep a doll warm as she reads/acts out the story.
All the patterns so far have been at the intermediate sewing level and this is no exception, but if that makes you sad, rejoice!  Next week’s pattern will be very easy, but also have some special touches for those that like things a little more challenging 🙂

BHM Week 2



If you’re just joining us, we’re celebrating Black History Month with children’s literature and doll outfits to accompany the book.

This week’s book is actually a series – Addy’s books!  When AG was Pleasant Company, the original intent of the books was for kids to learn about history and be able to act those stories out, supported by props available from PC.  If I were to list my favorite story series from the historical dolls, Josefina, Kit, Addy and Kirsten tie at the top of my list, and Addy is one of my favorite dolls.

There have been so many dresses for Addy over the years, both pictured in her books and sold by AG/PC it was hard to decide what to showcase.  I though the Emancipation Proclamation dress would be a good plan, since it ties in a historical event, but when I asked DH’s opinion he said, “Meh.  It’s kind of boring and it’s been done.  Why not do something unique?”  So I hybridized a dress silhouette from Godey’s with a slightly modified soutache pattern from Arthur’s Home Magazine and came up with something new that I just LOVE.  Maybe after reading the series, kids will want to make up their own stories and this dress can inspire them!  Many of the accessories from the French Fashion Doll series would be great for Addy’s time too!

Intermediate to advanced sewers will enjoy the challenge of piping, soutache and a lined skirt with a placket.  Beginners can make the basic bodice easily and substitute a simple rectangle for the skirt.

Get the pattern here

Yay! A new series!


It’s been a while since we’ve had a “theme” month, and February is the perfect time.

For a few years it’s been on my to-do list to devote February to Black History Month.  The main issue has been deciding what to base the outfits on.  Historical events? Different types of African textiles?  Famous people from history?  Outfits for specific dolls?  Well, this year I finally came up with an idea that got me excited!

Historical fiction can make history come alive for children far more than the best retelling of a historical event in a history book. So, for each of the weeks of Black History Month, I’m going to feature a specific children’s book with an outfit based on it.


This week we’re reading:

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

I listened to the audio version of this and the actress did a marvelous job with the voices that really brought the book to life!  Not all children’s books are equally engaging for adults, but if you’re an adult and only choosing one children’s book to read during this BHM series, it would be this one.  Stella is a well-developed character you will grow to love, and the author’s portrayal of her life has a very authentic feel.

Get the “Stella” pattern and more info here


You might also be happy to know Nisha’s 1980s safari dress pattern  is finally available on Etsy!

Geeking out about textiles


If you read this blog, I’m going to assume you like to sew, and if that’s the case it’s reasonable to assume you like textiles too.  Maybe you even occasionally create them yourself by knitting/crocheting/weaving, but for the most part, we get the vast majority of our textiles from a store, after the fibers have been processed, spun and woven by machines.  Those machines have developed to such a high level that a computer can control each individual thread to weave something as complex as a photo!

For much of human history, people needed to spin and weave cloth by hand.  As a spinner/weaver I had a revelation a few years ago looking at an Egyptian mummy in a museum.  Those yards and yards and yards of wrapping that looked so precise and perfect, had been not just hand woven, but hand spun on a drop spindle!  So when a new mummy exhibit came to the DMNS, I wanted to see it, if only for the textiles.  It was GREAT and I’d like to share it with you!

Egyptian mummy bandages were made of linen, and from what I’ve seen in museums, usually “singles” yarn.  They appear to be woven to the exact width needed; making me wonder if maybe weaving mummy bandages was a specific occupation, since so many yards of them were required for each mummy.  You can often see different layers, and I also wonder if lower-quality bandages were underneath, camouflaged by very high quality ones on top?

A real awakening for me was seeing the Peruvian mummies.  I adore textiles from Central and South America, and seeing them in their “pure” (pre-Spanish-influence) forms was exciting.  Most of the Peruvian mummy wrappings were singles yarn, spun a bit thicker than Egyptian mummy wrappings, but a few were plied, for example the lower part of the final layer of this mummy’s wrapping: 32183426762_e224bf142c

It’s about the thickness of sport-weight yarn. We modern yarn users can simply choose from what suits our purpose at the yarn store, but a 2-ply yarn requires almost 3 times as much work to produce the same length of yarn, since you need to spin each ply separately and then ply them together.  Keep in mind all this was being done on drop spindles like those below: 32213589011_3c045cf2a6

And now comes my favorite part of the entire exhibit:


Unfortunately, there’s nothing for scale, so you can’t see how finely woven this was, but the background compares to modern quilting cottons, with the bird motifs woven in brocade in something similar to a few strands of embroidery floss.  Another thing to keep in mind is that this was woven on nothing more complex than a backstrap loom!  All the bird motifs were placed in by hand.

When the conquistadores came, they completely ignored the amazing treasures being produced by highly skilled weavers, demanding gold instead.  Thankfully, the Peruvians preserved part of this textile heritage in their mummies.

This is a textile fragment from around the same era as the birds above from this book that I’m reproducing:


As I weave it, I’ve been thinking a lot about the weaver who made it.  Who taught her to weave?  Why did she pick that weave structure, which is far more time/labor-intensive than some others she could have chosen?  Where did she get the pattern?  Was she making it up or copying an existing textile?  Did she spin the yarn herself?  Who was she weaving for?   Did she have to rip out as many rows as I have because of mistakes?  And finally, did she ever think that over a thousand years in the future her textile would end up photographed in a book to be replicated by another weaver she’d never met?  Although it’s almost certain she was illiterate and had no way leave her words behind, her weaving now “speaks” to others across centuries and leaves a legacy few people can hope to achieve.

If you know how to do twill pickup or want to reproduce this in some other way that uses graphing (needlepoint, etc.) here’s the chart I made based on the drawing in the book:


OK, and finally, a little bit about dolls! 😉


Since Santa brought me a new loom, I’ve been doing way more weaving than sewing, but I did receive the AGAT Nisha that I’d had on pre-order and she is just a GORGEOUS doll!  Her book wasn’t available (at least I couldn’t find it) to learn her story, so I had to make some guesses based on her name.  The name “Nisha” got its first hit as being from Sanskrit meaning “Night” when I googled it, and further research turned up:

  • Name Nisha In Arabic : نشا
  • Name Nisha In Bangla : নিশা
  • Name Nisha In Urdu : نشہ
  • Name Nisha In Hindi : निशा

From this I made a guess that she’s probably of Indian descent, which meant I could dive into the amazing world of Indian embroidery and textiles.  I made her a salwar kameez from this pattern, which came out a few years ago, with a slightly modified neck and hemline:

Here is a short tutorial on making very narrow hems when you don’t have a hem-rolling foot.

Even though I do have one, it’s not easy to turn a 90 degree corner, so I used this method to hem her dupatta (scarf).

Want the pes files?  They are free with purchase of the pattern, just put in notes to seller that you want them.  If you already have the pattern, just hunt down your order number and email me that you want them!

il_570xn-1169351813_nxc1The design on this kameez is also new and can be adapted to fit onto the H4H size by shortening the sides of the neckline.


You can see in the closeup the circles are sized to fit tiny sequins or silver beads you sew on by hand for a shisha-type look.

Another thing we know about her from the AGAT website is that she likes 1980s clothes, and I started a few outfits that are a) based on patterns/clothes authentic to the period but b) still attractive enough that I’d like them today.  This is the first one, which should be available next week (February 2):



Ponchos again!


No, not that I’ve ever posted ponchos, but I’m seeing them a lot again lately in stores and on people, and they could be a great doll project!

In some cultures, especially those with long wool-weaving traditions, ponchos are a traditional, necessary outer garment to deal with cold night temperatures and may even serve as blankets.  This week, we’re focusing on two types of ponchos common to South and Central America, the awayo (also spelled aguayo) and quechquemitl.  Both of these are traditionally handwoven on a backstrap loom, with the fiber and pattern changing based on location.  The awayo is a garment from the Andes, traditionally worn in Peru, Bolivia and northern Chile, but also produced on a more commercial scale and sold in other countries in the region as well.


(background image with llamas from

The Nancy vote was overwhelmingly in favor of more for her!  One outfit I was excited to recreate for Nancy was called “Andes” and included an awayo-like garment made from commercial fabric with a bias-bound neckline and grommets to cinch in the waist – not very authentic!  The awayo you see her wearing below was handwoven by me, with the pattern done in a weaving structure called “pebble weave”.  It is traditional to that area, and the patterned part is hand-manipulated (as opposed to loom-controlled) by switching the necessary colors in every row to produce a design that appears in opposite colors on the underside.


You can see some traditional weavers setting up a warp and some of their gorgeous colorways here.  If you have at least basic weaving knowledge, you can learn how to do this type of weave with only a 2-shaft loom here.   I think the pattern I used in Nancy’s awayo might actually be from her second ebook, also available in the patternfish link.


In  Guatemala and parts of Mexico, the traditional poncho-type garment is called the quechquemitl and has a quite different structure that ends up looking a little more stylish, since its cut drapes the fabric in a different way.  For dolls, the difference is negligible, but it does drape a little better at human scale since it’s not being worn on the straight grain, like the awayo.

Get the tutorial for making both ponchos here