Cloth dolls are extremely popular with children - especially if they come complete with bed linen. We have found that children LOVE large quantities of sheets and blankets.
This creates a great opportunity to use up small pieces of material and wool, recycle old clothes and furnishings, experiment with patterns and textures etc. etc.
Children are not at all fussy about straight sewing, and perfect products ☺
Patterns are included for sheets, pillows, mattresses and dolls.
Cloth dolls can be made out of a wide variety of fabrics.
For the head, calico or skin coloured cotton is good.
For the main body, knit fabrics, such as those used for tee shirts and sweat shirts are good. Polar fleece is easy to work with and hard wearing. If the fabric is fairly light, it is possible to use double layers to make the doll stronger. This does make the process a little more complicated though. (see VARIATIONS, after the sewing pattern)
Ordinary woven cotton is fine too - but you may need to increase the width of the hat, as the fabric won’t stretch.
Organic stretch cotton would be good for very young children who are likely to put the dolls in their mouths.
There are a variety of stuffing materials available, the most common being wool and polyester. Cotton stuffing seems hard to find in NZ.
It is also possible to use rags. Rag dolls are one of the most ancient children’s toys that exist. If you do this, I would recommend using a soft, lightweight fabric - it needs to be cut into very small / thin pieces. This gives a great feel to the doll, as it is heavier than regular stuffing. It does take a long time to dry though, so may not be such a good idea if it’s likely to be washed often.
For the mattress, you will need batting, or something similar - see ‘Mattress - Requirements’.
Sewing Machine and/or Needle + Thread
It is quicker to sew the doll using a sewing machine, but it is also quite possible to put it together just with a needle and thread. (see VARIATIONS, after the sewing pattern)
Scissors, Embroidery Thread (or just use cotton), Pins
To make a Cloth Doll
Print the paper pattern PDF file. It is attached at the end of the sewing patterns. Make sure the print scale is set to 100% (you may find it has automatically reduced to 90% as the pattern takes up the whole page). The ‘main body’ pattern piece should measure approx. 16.75cm wide x 14.5cm high.
Cut out the pattern pieces.
Use calico / skin coloured cotton for the head front and back.
Use fleece, knit fabric etc. for the main body and hat.
If this fabric stretches, make sure the stretch runs from head to toe for the body, and from side to side for the hat.
Pin the pattern pieces onto the fabric, or draw around them to mark the cutting lines. I find it easiest to cut out one layer of fabric for the main body, pin this to the second layer (right sides together) and then cut the second piece a little bigger. Sew it like this as well ....
Starting from the neck edge, sew the main body together with a 6mm seam allowance (have the edge of the sewing machine foot in line with the edge of the top layer of fabric). I have been sewing up slightly higher under the arms (see photo below).
When the fabric wrinkles, or you need to turn a corner, lift the machine foot up for a moment and reposition the fabric slightly (leave the needle in the fabric). Start and finish according to the pattern markings - ie. leave room for the head to be attached. Trim around the edge of the larger piece. If you have sewn higher under the arms, trim into the corner a little - not too close to the sewing line though.
This sample has been sewn with a contrasting thread, to show the approximate sewing line, and the curves around the sharp corners.
Turn inside out - the body will look very wrinkled, but that’s okay.
Pull into shape as much as possible, and flatten with an iron (unless you are using polar fleece, which can't be ironed) - it will make a huge difference (the photos above are from 2 different projects, but they give the general idea). If you don’t have an iron, the stuffing will help to even the wrinkles out.
Fill with stuffing. Use your fingers, a knitting needle, the end of a wooden spoon etc to push the stuffing down into the legs and arms. Fill generously, but not so much that the seams are bursting.
With right sides together, pin and sew the back of the head together along the centre seam.
With right sides together, pin and sew the head front to the head back. Turn inside out. Iron flat.
Fill head generously with stuffing - small amounts at a time as the hole is small. Hand sew across the hole to hold the stuffing in place (sew with thread doubled). This seam won’t be seen.
On the main body, fold the opening material under approx. 1cm. Pin in place. Insert head, and push it well down into the gap. Pin in place, front and back.
Using double thread, and a very small stitch, sew the head in place securely. Start with a secure knot pulled under the fabric of the main body (yellow material). Make a small stitch down into the head, and out again. Push the needle into the fold of the yellow fabric, and run it along in the fold for a few mm, pull the needle right out of the fabric. Now make another stitch into the head directly above where your needle has just come out. Continue in this way right around the head. If necessary, sew around a second time, securing any places that look a bit loose. This ensures the seam will be very strong.
Use the guide to mark the placement of the eyes and mouth. Remove the paper, but replace the pins in the holes.
Thread a needle with 3 strands of embroidery thread - normal thread is 6 strands, divide this in half. (If you don’t have embroidery thread, normal cotton would be ok, but you would need more stitches to make it show up).
Aim to keep the thread on the back of the head in the area shown in the photo - this will mean the ends are hidden under the hem of the hat.
Tie a secure knot in the end, sew right through the head, from back to front. Bring the needle out just below the pin, then sew 2 small stitches, just push the needle into the head a small way between stitches. Push the needle into head a little more, and bring it out in the right position for the second eye. Repeat as before. Push the needle through to the back, and sew several stitches to secure the thread.
Repeat the process for the mouth - one stitch is enough for this.
With right sides together, pin and sew the hat front to the hat back around the outside (do not sew across the bottom) - 6mm seam allowance. Turn inside out.
Pull down onto the doll’s head, and turn under a hem - the hem should be reasonably wide - especially at the back.
Pin into place. Sew with small stitches, in the same way as was used to attach the head - sew around twice if necessary.
All done - I hope it’s been a successful experience! Feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions etc.
Variations and Suggestions
Using Double Layers of Fabric
If the fabric you are using feels like it is going to be too thin to hold a good shape, you can double the layers.
To do this, cut out two main body shapes. Pin each of these onto the backing fabric - keep the stretch running vertically on all pieces, as before. Sew together about 2mm from the edge. Cut the excess fabric off. Repeat this process for the hat.
Place pieces right sides together, pin and sew, using a 6mm seam. The doll can now be completed as usual.
Sewing By Hand
If you don’t have a sewing machine, it is definitely possible to sew the dolls by hand.
Use a tacking stitch to hold the layers in place. Sew along the stitching line using back stitch. (both these stitches can be found on utube, or in any sewing book).
The same types of seams can also be used for the doll’s pillows, and mattresses.
To hem the sheets, use a slip stitch.
Cut a rectangular piece of fabric - around 13cm x 18cm.
Fold in half with the right sides together. Pin, and sew around the edge (1 cm seam allowance) - leaving a 4 - 5cm gap for stuffing.
Trim the two corners furtherest from the fold, as shown - not too close to the stitching.
Turn inside out, fold seam allowance under (along the section you have left open for stuffing). Iron flat. Fill with stuffing. Hand or machine sew gap closed.
To stuff the mattress, you are going to need batting (a piece of stuffing material, usually made from wool, cotton or polyester). Alternatively, you could use a thick piece of material, or layer a few thinner pieces. You are just wanting to give the mattress some extra weight.
Cut a rectangular piece of fabric - around 26cm x 34cm. Fold in half, right sides together. Pin, and sew around the edge (1 cm seam allowance), leaving a gap for stuffing - around 8 - 10 cm, depending on the thickness of batting used.
Trim corners, turn inside out, and iron - as for pillow.
Cut a piece of batting approx. 15cm x 22 cm (it can be slightly bigger if your filling material is thin). Roll the batting into a tube, and push it through the gap. Using your fingers, a knitting needle etc, push the batting flat.
Sew the gap closed. Smooth the mattress flat. Iron carefully - cover with a cloth before ironing if the batting is not heat proof.
If you have used a thin batting, you can sew the layers together using a sewing machine. Use a slightly longer stitch than normal. Sew one of the stitching lines reasonably close to the edge - you are aiming to secure the edge of the stuffing material so that it doesn’t move around. If the stuffing is thick, it may be difficult to machine sew neatly through the layers.
You can hold the layers together by hand sewing, using a running stitch.
You can also hold them together by sewing a group of small stitches (on top of each other) at regular intervals.
Tie a secure knot in the end of the thread (use a single thread), push the needle into the fabric and out the other side, pull the thread gently, until the knot pulls through the outer piece of fabric, and into the batting - then it will be invisible. Sew several stitches, one on top of the other.
When you finish sewing, make a few very tiny stitches to secure the thread, then cut it off close to the fabric.
We have been using two different sized sheets. They are single layered, with a hem around the outside.
Originally we cut the squares at 28cm x 28cm. These are a bit large for the canvas dolls bed, but the children love making use of them. They don’t mind that the sheets hang over the edge.
Lately I have also been trying 22cm x 22cm. These fit the canvas dolls beds well. They are also very popular with the children.
To make the sheets, fold under approx. 1cm on two sides of the square (opposite sides), and iron flat. Then fold over the same amount again, and iron flat once again. Pin if you like, but you may not find it necessary. Prepare a number of sheets at a time.
Sew along one edge of each sheet, approx. 2mm from the inner edge of the fold. Oversew each end of the seam for strength (sew forwards, backwards, and forwards again). When you get to the end of a seam, start sewing the next sheet, leaving only a small gap. This makes the job quicker, and saves having so many ends of cotton to trim.
Once you reach the end of all the first seams, sew the second seam on each sheet - remember to oversew the ends.
Fold over, and iron the remaining 2 hems on the sheets, as before. Sew down, one after the other. Trim the seams.
Sheets and blankets can be made from all sorts of different materials. Knitted and crocheted blankets are great. Small patchwork quilts are also lovely, and great for using up odds and ends of fabric.