Sunday, July 4, 2010

Knitting for Fashion Dolls - A Beginner's Primer

When I was a little girl, I used to cut off the ankle part of my old socks and slip them onto my Barbie doll. I think that was a universal thing that ladies of my generation did, and oh, what a happy time it was - especially if the sock contained some lace at the top. Sometimes, I'd cut out little armholes too and have more than a "tube" dress. What fun it was "making" simple doll clothes that way.

Fast forward: when my daughter played with her dolls, I took up crocheting outfits for her Barbies. The patterns you can find are exquisite~! Turning my attention to re-learning how to knit, and recalling those happy doll memories of my childhood, I knew that "sock type" tube garments could provide an entire doll wardrobe. I took measurements, made notes and started simple. After a few basic garments, I taught myself different shaping techniques, cabling, raglan sleeve shaping, etc., thereby increasing and expanding my knitting knowledge overall, even tho the results were in "doll size" scale. All of these new skills carried over into my "regular size" knitting--a win-win situation.

This post provides a jumping-off point into doll knitting and is meant to assist beginners (expert knitters may find some value here as well). This post covers basic tube garments, and incorporates suggestions to "transform" the basics. (Part 2, coming soon, will cover advanced techniques.) In addition to providing a simple mix & match fashion doll wardrobe, it introduces one to knitting in small scale. So, if you still appreciate your childhood dolls... are a doll collector... have a daughter or granddaughter who loves her dollies--and you haven't yet tried crafting yarn garments for those dollies--I promise you it is very gratifying since the items work up quickly. Also, there is no need to be intimidated about it - you've already got the knitting skills--we are merely shrinking the tools; and while "going smaller" may feel awkward at first, it certainly becomes more comfortable with practice.
Yarn weights used are baby, fingering, sock, thread and occasionally, mohair, sport, or when bulkiness is desired a light worsted. Needles range from U.S. size 0000 to 3. Notions can include beads; beads as buttons; small snaps, hook & eye (waist/back); in-scale buttons; ribbons (belting, shoulder straps, lacing); fine elastic (waistbands); small buttons as brooches, sequins, gems, lace, appliqu├ęs, embroidery and novelty yarn such as eyelash for a funky collar or hemline.

The 11 ½ inch fashion doll (like Mattel's BarbieTM)* has these measurements: Bust 6" Waist 3.75" Hip 5" Shoulder to Shoulder 2.5" *However, these techniques/patterns can translate to any doll once you have its measurements.


Knitting for Fashion Dolls, the Basics Primer
Skills required: casting on/off, knit, purl
Suggested supplies for the patterns below: U.S. needles size 2, straight or 2 dpns for flat knitting (can use size 3 also) and at least 2 skeins (different colors) sock yarn (universal weight no. 2)

PROJECTS (the BASICS): "Starter" doll garments, tube-like items, stretch for good fit, are easily constructed, work up quickly and provide a foundation to build on. They can be embellished and adorned, modified with increases, decreases and specialty stitches to create varied looks (see Transform the Basics below). Doll garments are either worked flat on straight needles and seamed up the back, or seamlessly in rounds on 4 dpns**. They should be slipped onto the doll feet up, cast on stitches first, as this is more elastic than the cast off, allowing them to slip over the widest parts, yet fit appropriately elsewhere. The cast off, even if preceded by ribbing, is generally done in knitting or purling for a tighter fit at waist, thighs or around legs.
**A set of dpns is a useful addition to your knitting supplies in any event. Also note, knitting in the round may change the gauge causing the item to be a smidge tighter.

BASIC ITEMS TO BE WORKED UP WITH SOCK YARN AND NO. 2 NEEDLES. Basic patterns are written to be worked flat, back and forth - to work in the round on dpns, deduct 2 stitches from the cast on.

TOP: Cast on 32 stitches. Rows 1 - 2 k/1 p/1 ribbing. Rows 3 - 18 stockinette. Rows 19 - 20, k1, p1. Cast off in knitting; leave a 5 inch tail. Use tail to sew back seam with backstitching or whip stitching.

DRESS: Snug at bust/hips, relaxed at waist--follow directions for Top and work in stockinette for 6 ½ inches (or more depending on length you desire). Rib (or not) the last 2 rows. Cast off in knitting; leave a 7 inch tail; use tail to sew back seam.

SKIRT: Cast on 24 stitches. "Elasticize" waist with 4 rows of k1/p1 ribbing. Work in stockinette thereafter for at least 3 ½ inches (longer if you prefer). Cast off in knit; leave 5 inch tail to use for seaming up back. Note: skirt will be form fitting.

OH SO SHORTY-SHORTS: Cast on 30 stitches; k1/p1 ribbing for 4 rows. Work in stockinette for 1 3/4 inches. Cast off in knitting; use 6 inch tail to sew rear seam; carry tail through to take up a few stitches at the crotch. Thread fine elastic or a ribbon through waist for a cinch-tie.

PANTS: 38 stitches; k/1 p/1 ribbing for 4 rows. Stockinette to crotch (1.75 inches), then, work to center (19th stitch), drop yarn, join separate yarn bobbin and work to end. Continue to work yarn from skein and bobbin simultaneously on same needles with 19 stitches each - these are the legs of the pants and by working each at the same time on the same needles with separate yarn bobbins, there is no question that they are exactly equal. This is a great tip! Cast off at desired length leaving long tail for seaming. FINISHING: With stockinette side facing you, fold piece over both left-hand and right-hand sides so inside leg seams are in the middle and pants are inside out. Starting at the bottom of one leg, sew inside seam to the crotch and down the other leg in a continuous "U". Next, sew rear seam. Thread elastic or ribbon as a draw-string through waist. NOTE: While this is the easiest pattern, the fit isn't divine. More complex patterns are available for purchase or free on the internet that will produce a fabulous looking/fitting pair of pants.

SIMPLE WINTER HAT I: Barbie's hair volume varies from doll to doll. Generally, cast on 25 stitches unless it is very full, then cast on 30 instead. k1/p1 ribbing for 5 rows, then stockinette for at least 1 1/2 inches. Do not cast off. Cut a 6 inch tail, thread tail through darning needle and thread darning needle through stitches on the knitting needle, transferring them to the tail. Cinch tightly, close top of hat, secure with a sewn stitch. Continue seaming with remainder of tail. Add puff or braid to the top. Hats are as versatile as your imagination. Thumb-less "Mittens" can be made the same way using less stitches, of course. Pair hats with long narrow "rectangle" scarves!

SIMPLE WINTER HAT II: Cast on 14 stitches, leaving a 6 inch tail. Work flat back and forth in ribbing, stockinette or garter stitch until a 3 1/2 inch rectangle is created. Cast off leaving a 6 inch tail on the opposite side of the cast on tail. Use each tail threaded through a darning needle, and sew up the seam on each side. Add a pompon or tassle to the points on each side of the top of the hat

SHRUG: This easy-to-create piece is an effective and impressive looking "sleeved" garment. Make a rectangle at least 5 inches long X 2 1/2 inches wide in stockinette or garter stitch. Fold together lengthwise, whipstitch each side from end towards center about 1.5 inches, leaving the center unstitched, to create "arms".

"MINK" STOLE: With a fuzzy acrylic/mohair blend (worsted weight is good here) make a rectangle. It should be at least 2 inches wide and long enough for the ends to meet each other when wrapped around the doll's shoulders. Finish on a row where the cast off tail is not on the same side as the cast on tail, ensuring you have a tail on both right and left sides of the rectangle. Using the tails on each side, run a darning needle through the tails, weave in and out through each of the ends, and cinch tightly, weave in the tail (cut excess). Fasten with snap or hook & eye (you may also simply sew it shut and slip it over her head). Can be adorned with a specialty button that looks like jewelry.

SHAWL/EVENING WRAP: Knit a rectangle at least 6 inches long (or longer) by 1 to 1 ½ inches wide in garter, garter/stockinette combo, or a lace stitch. Perfect when paired with a tube dress.

PURSES: work a rectangle or square in garter stitch, fold, sew up sides and fold top flap over; fasten with a button; add ribbon or a stitch marker, etc. as a handle. Use straw or nylon cord to make a larger beach bag. Make 2 squares, sew together, add straps as a backpack. Embellish with notions.



At waistline, you can do any of the following: 1) Switch needles to two sizes smaller at the waist for 5 rows, return to size begun with, work to hemline. 2) Decrease 4 stitches evenly spaced, work 4 rows even, increase 4 stitches evenly spaced, work even to hemline. 3) Switch to two size smaller needles, work in k1/p1 ribbing 4 rows, return to original needles and work in stockinette to hemline. 4) Make a series of yarnovers for one row at the waist to thread a ribbon, sash or belt through. 5) For a full-skirted dress, work basic tube to waist, increase every stitch around for 1 row, then continue in stockinette to hemline.

B. NOT-SO-BASIC: 1) Introduce two or more colors for all-over striping. 2) Variegated or self-striping sock yarn produces overall spectacular color. 3) For texture, work entirely in k1, p1 ribbing. 4) Similarly, work entirely in garter stitch. 5) For a fancier dress, work basic tube to the waist, then work in a lace pattern to the hemline, or work a series of yarnovers. 6) Use an allover pattern from top to bottom (like mini mock cable ribbing). 7) Plan a center cable down the front as a striking focal point. 8) Work garter stitch from side to side in a wide rectangle shape, rotate it and seam it up the back for vertical lines. 9) Use garter stitches at the bottom, top, or both for fun texture. 10) Fashion shoulder straps from ribbon. 11) Crochet straps at the shoulders. 12) Sash it at the waist with ribbon or a crochet belt. 13) Sew lace to the hem or bustline. 14) Use novelty yarn at hem or bustline. 15) Do not sew up the waist of skirts or pants and instead close with a snap. 16) Make a "wrap" skirt with a rectangle. 17) Sew 2 squares together for a shirt, skirt or dress. 18) Do decorate your doll garments and have fun!

NOTE: TO COMPLIMENT THE ABOVE AND BUILD SKILLS, PART 2 will include some, if not all, of the following techniques: raglan sleeve shaping (sweater), defined waist shaping (skirts and pants), picking up stitches (adding sleeves), yarn over buttonholes (sweater), and working with a set of DPNs (cocktail dress).



  1. Hi Donna, What a great idea to learn to knit for dolls as a first knitting project. I did the same thing, used tops of socks and the cuffs of old shirts. Wish my stuff wasn't all packed up or I'd take some pix and show you the knitted outfits my mom and grandma made for my Barbie. I started sewing by making clothes for Barbie. I liked doing that more than actually playing with her. I've even kept some of those clothes I made so I could remember how far I've come since then, gives me a laugh.

    In response to your comment to me, I bet when you're done painting you'll be so happy with the result and be so glad you did it. You had said in an earlier comment about painting the ceiling and I always thought that was the most strenuous and disliked paint getting spattered on my hair. Last time I was at the Home Depot they had an 18" roller. Goes to show ya how long it's been since I've been painting. 18"??? I'd never be able to hold it up for any length of time full of paint, geez. I think my arm'ed fall off. Re: your coffee mug holder, don'tcha hate it when stuff doesn't turn out right? I've read most of your blog, it's full of great info! Thanks!

  2. Ty; I think you are the only reader :) - although I started it as a student resource, I think many of them are more hands on than wanting to be online. I sewed too for Barbie. I don't have any of my childhood dolls (except for a beat up Crissy). What a loss. Thanks for stopping by and commenting...I appreciate the interaction. P.S. No paint in my hair LOL

  3. SUPER. Just found this while surfing the net and I love it. Thank you for providing the information.