The Anatomy of a Doll Suit

One...singular sensation...

One…singular sensation…

I love suits. A well-tailored suit is like a magnificent jigsaw puzzle. The pieces of the pattern create a beautifully complicated and horrifically precise portrait of technique, imagination and style. Those who can craft them in 1:6 scale deserve parades in their honor, because it is quite the task just to make a jacket, period – in miniature, wondrous – but in Barbie size? Nobility.

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I’m not so accomplished in 1:6 scale, so best to stay with my 1:4 scale muse, 16inch Poppy Parker by Integrity Toys. I don’t care if anyone is getting tired of her…she’s mine, and she’s paid for. However, it has been a while since I made a tailored suit. I learned the technique using commercial patterns available at the time – few of them are without their construction and/or marking issues. So as it would come to pass, my former employer and his sample-making staff guided me well into drafting my own fitted jacket/skirt patterns. This was in the days when Molly was Design Director, and the design room was a much less hostile environment then (well, on Fridays anyway)…but I digress

A suit I made  for Tyler from a commercial pattern - photography by  Ernesto Padró-Campos

A suit I made for Tyler from a commercial pattern – photography by Ernesto Padró-Campos

It is true that suits can speak more to autumn, but being in a spring kind of mood with memories of flowers and gardens, I decided to peruse the selections pulled for my first collection (which is kinda on indefinite hold – and yes, I have a damn good reason which I will not divulge at this time).

From 1998, a Chanel suit for Cissy...

From 1998, a Chanel suit for Cissy…

During the 80’s, I had seen most of my human-scale sewing – and I had made a few suits, though none of them possessing the detailed infrastructure that highly prized suits should entail. There is a completely different world under the lining of a suit – interfacings, underlinings, padding, tacking stitches…maybe even Jimmy Hoffa – who knows?

Tailored ensembles I made in the early 2000s...

Tailored ensembles I made in the early 2000s…

In miniature sewing, most of this is eliminated if not for any other purpose, because of bulk and/or added cost; unless you are Superdoll, of course – they live for that kinda shit – couture detail that blinds the eye and numbs the brain…in miniature, no less. Anyone who has seen Couture Savage understands this all too well. And you know, that’s just fine – particularly if you are like Superdoll, and you do it well. I am clearly not Superdoll, but I thought I’d give it a go, anyhoo…

The anatomy of a doll dress...

The anatomy of a doll dress…

If you recall my discussion of doll dress anatomy, there exists a vast amount of work prior to the fabric even being cut – and subsequently, during the finishing stages. This type of labor has been made possible largely by China, but as we have seen in recent years, many doll makers are subtracting more and more from their designs/accessories because the labor costs in China are rising at an alarming rate.

Just a cookie...

Just a cookie…

But even if you consider a mile-long factory line performing cookie-cutter tasks in the assembly process, many still tend to overlook the skills associated with each cookie cut. You think ‘Keebler’ more than ‘Ladurée’. And that, my Puddings, is where many of you fail miserably. If you think I just made a direct insult to your virginal ears – then you’d be correct. Let’s take a look at what goes into a miniature suit, shall we?

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First toile…

Instead of starting with a drape, I started with a pattern. I should have started with the drape, but shoulders, armscyes and sleeves do not get along with me, so I appreciably wanted to save some time. I didn’t…if anything, I doubled the amount of drafting time it would have taken had I just started from scratch. C’est la guerre…experience lesson learned – score (and on the French lesson – thanks, Marie!!!)

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If the pattern had been for the same doll, that would have been a different story…but the original was for Tyler Wentworth, and although she and Poppy are roughly 16 inches tall, the similarity ends there

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Second toile…

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Each possessing radically different torso proportions, not to mention markedly different articulated jointing – well if you sew, you already understand my folly. Let’s add to it a French bouclé remnant from Chanel…and the effort increases exponentially.

Boucle

Bouclé

For those unfamiliar with Bouclé weaves, it’s a loose web of warp and weft yarns that presents its own challenges in any type of sewing – this variety was a little non-traditional as there were few visible loops in the yarns. And when translated into miniature, you’ve added a shit-royale of complications that either demonstrate accomplished skill, or point out your underestimation of a fabric and its nuances. Pity…

T#2 and T#3

T#2 and T#3

Beginning with the base toile, I could already see there were substantial fit issues…but through some pinching of seams here and there, the pattern came to a fit, and by the second toile, it was easy to make small additions to the seam allowances that would result in a perfect fit. Arguably, I have to admit I quite like the tight fit of the second muslin draft, but there was no way it was going to work with my sausage fingers molesting the silent cacophony of fibers, twists and yarns in the Bouclé.

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Yes, the fit was there…and even with funny little shoulder pads inserted, I came to a final draft that worked. So I added facing to the lapels to judge them for the finished size and look with the neckline…and we were ready to proceed. You may notice I haven’t talked much about the skirt…those things are like a cool breeze down easy street…and I wasn’t worrying too much about its finale. Pity…

Let's rock...

Let’s rock…

Using a French silk taffeta to trim the edges of the lapels and collar is a basic concept, but it requires patience, skill and basting to pull it off evenly. Just at this point, I already have about 8 hours of drafting/sewing time into the first three muslin mock-ups.

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In order to control the Bouclé, I opted for a featherweight fusible interfacing. I dislike…no…hate fusible interfacings…because of the altered texture they bring to many fabrics, or the marking they leave on finer materials. But unless I used a gallon of fray check, it was the right thing to do…but even my mother told me after-the-fact that I should have stay-stitched all edges of the pattern pieces to provide more stability. Live and learn, right?

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The lining was a dream…a silk charmeuse print that worked so perfectly in its colors and contrasts – I also used the fusible interfacing for added structure, and praised Dior silently that it might not leave marks on the satin side.

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Construction was coming along well, and it was time to install the silk taffeta contrast ruffles along the back hem, and the sleeve cuffs. To seal the ruffled edge on the jacket interior, a bias-cut piece of lining was hand-sewn to conceal the piecing inside. And by the end of the skirt completion and hand-finishing, we’ve now added another 12 hours to the suit. Oh I am certain some folks can work faster than me, and more power to them – later when we do the cost breakdown, just remember that I’m applying minimum wage to my hourly costs – so excuse me if I don’t give a fuck.

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Button studies…

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Adding faux pocket trims and buttons…all by hand…another 2 hours. At this point, I had a wonderful suit – not without its issues – but I’ll deal with those later. Now…it was time for the skirt and accessories…

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A hand-fringed silk chiffon remnant I used in Rosa cocktail ensemble was perfect as a scarf for the mood and colors.

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A loud, but stylish handbag arrived in my mind while playing with fabric combinations…and I was seeing this portrait of a maven come together…

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Jools…loads of them…

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Jewelry study…

Well, that and her boobs

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Oh yes, I’ve heard it all when it comes to the objectification of a woman’s cleavage – and quite frankly, I’m sick of it. I’m obviously not a woman, but there’s no issue with men exposing their big, muscular chests – so why should it be an issue when it is clearly the world’s most fabulous accessory? If I had a rack like that, I’d be parading it around like there’s no tomorrow – whether it’s ladylike or not. And when you translate it into a doll (because we are talking about dolls here – I don’t treat humans like that) – or more specifically, hard plastic – well, the effect is truly mind-numbing. It’s no wonder Carl Rishi appears shirtless half the time…he’s no fool.

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Happy now?

Happy now?

But in the spirit of making a complete ensemble, I chose to create a blouse – in a lovely silk charmeuse with a jacquard woven bows in its sumptuousness – the kinda shit that just screams for a pretty blouse. I used a commercial pattern to adapt my own blouse pattern – I just wasn’t going to be bothered with drafting something of which I really didn’t want to include anyway – but peer pressure prevailed, and I took to the silk like an addict takes to smack. Sue me. The ‘peer pressure’ comes from folks who follow me on Facebook – if you’re not afraid of Big Brother, or your own shadow, why not join me there?

Superdoll i_BEAN6

Superdoll i_BEAN6

The jewelry and other completing accessories for this ensemble are still in the works (I’ve ordered a fabulous pair of Superdoll i_BEANs, that were just meant for this) – and I haven’t decided if I will sell this suit or not…and here’s why: Remember that Bouclé? Yeah, well…unfortunately, I did not when turning the lining and poked right through the material, severing the weave along the seam edge…crap.

Yeah...it does that alot...

Yeah…it does that alot…

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And although the admirable attempt to repair the Bouclé by removing yarns from a source cutting, an re-weaving them into the surface yielded satisfactory results – it is still, nevertheless visible, and a valuable lesson in not paying attention when you are working with fussy fabrics.

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So…

Let’s do the math, shall we?

Materials– this includes everything used in development and final suit, but does not include any time or consideration to the development of my original pattern from years ago.

Fabric: $38.00 (¼ meter of remnant fabric, ¼  yard of silk taffeta, ¼  yard of silk charmeuse lining, ½ yard of fusible featherweight interfacing, and ½ yard of muslin – materials for the blouse, purse and scarf were scraps, and are NOT included in the suit breakdown)

Notions: beads/spacers (for the buttons), thread, hooks/eyes, and zipper): $ 6.75

Total: $44.75

Time– Patterns adjustments and muslin mock-ups: 8 hours

Cutting and fabric preparation: 2 hours

Final suit sewing, including hand-finishing and boucle repair: 16 hours

Overhead/Profit– You’ll also note there’s no added cost in this breakdown to cover cost of electricity, wear and tear on my sewing equipment, and a reasonable profit which is a reward for risks and/or skill level not observed in labor costs.

Total: 26 @ $8.05/hr for Florida non-tip wage earners = $209.30

Add cost of materials: +$44.75 = $254.05*

*Costs associated with the blouse, scarf, handbag, jewelry, sunglasses, and shoes are not included in this total – so keep that in mind next time you moan about how expensive doll clothes are.

I know most people who would pay anywhere near $250 for a doll suit devoid of any accessories would expect it to be perfect. But you know what? Nothing is perfect…and remember, I didn’t charge extra for that little drop of blood I always leave somewhere in the seams…

I will be photographing this one properly when all the stuff arrives, and when I’ve made final jewelry/shoe choices – so look for it only on Tommydoll – you know where we are…

And without further adieu…may I present to you, MontaigneTo see the Photo Shoot with Poppy and Sybarites Solitaire – Click HERE.

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Montaigne by Tom Courtney to fit Integrity Toys’ 16inch Poppy Parker and other similar fashion dolls – editing in progress.

 

12 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Doll Suit

  1. I can’t tell you how much joy it gives me to see you designing and sewing for dolls again . . . And sharing your experiences along the way.  A real treat.  Hugs, Meg

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

  2. I enjoyed watching this divine suit develop so much. I learned a lot! Thank you for sharing. This suit inspired me to try something I have been wanting to do for a long time (I will post tomorrow).

  3. Dear Tommy,
    Just read your post on the construction of the suit, and I am in awe. But you may want to do a little edit before the rest of the world is awake and reading. “C’est la gare,” I believe, may be the French for “That’s the train station.” I surmise that what you meant was “C’est la guerre,” meaning “That’s war.” You may want to check that with someone who’s actually conversant in French, as I can only do English, Latin and a little German, plus extensive swearing in eight languages, ancient and modern.
    By the way, I’m especially impressed that you manage to do all this fine sewing with such honking big needles. I generally have to stick to the smallest thing I can find that will take a really fine thread—but that’s the joy of working in 1/12 scale.
    Hope I’m on the list when you bring out that first collection!
    All the best,
    Marie Nido

    • Thanks, Marie! I use a beading needle for much of the work…so not so honking big…LOL! And thanks, on the French expression…I always thought it meant, ‘that train has left’…but you are right!

  4. I have come back to this post many, many times (yes, it’s me driving up your page click numbers!). Many years ago, I read that the true mark of a master couturier is seen through the DAYWEAR. In another life I worked as a fashion journalist, attending Paris HC shows. I discovered there is much validity to this statement. Anyone can do pomp and circumstance ballgowns, but a suit (that does not look off-the-rack) is what makes the master! Your end result with all of its intricate details is gorgeous, but in some ways, I almost prefer the toile because of its purity of line which allows me to see your vision. I do like the tightness of fit because that, along with the choice of the doll (which inspired me to buy her 12″ cousin, “Victoire Roux Sous Les Tropiques”, is like a fashion illustration unto itself. I am intrigued by the shoulder pads. I tried to put them in a jacket I did for a Ken doll without success as they did strange things to his shoulder line. I love how you resolved the crack in the fabric. It would never have occurred to me to weave the fibers back in. It’s all especially impressive taking into account that you are self taught. A lot of your detailing is pretty consistent with what goes into finishing a Couture garment. How did you know to do all of that? Have you seen up close and personal, such a garment?

    • Yes…and I read a lot. I’m always looking at clothes in detail…have many books from exhibits focusing on couture detail…that and I spend much time studying a particular design before taking to muslin. I love those toiles, too…I keep them! Thank you!!!

My blog is satire, but your thoughts are welcome!

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