Before you can make museum quality clothing for old dolls, you have to first have a good understanding of fabric and trims. If you make a dress for a 1950s or 1940s doll out of fabric that was not even manufactured before 1960, you will not have a “museum quality” or “heirloom quality” dress regardless of how well it is sewn. And you can ruin a dress of beautiful cotton or silk by attaching polyester lace and ribbons.
Therefore, before you can start making patterns and clothes, you will need a good understanding of fabrics.
Before 1940, there were limited fabrics used for doll ( and even people) clothing. Cotton, wool, silk, linen. All these fabrics came in weights and styles from heavy and coarse to light and delicate. I at one time owned a 1980s wedding dress made of cream wool that was so fine and delicate you would never think it was wool, and likewise I have seen garments of silk that were quite heavy and not what one would think of as silk
In the late 1800s the first synthetic was made, rayon, but it was unstable and did not come into common use until it was perfected, in the early 1900s. At that time rayon was used in many forms, mostly for thing like ladies lingerie but also for fancy dresses that would have previously been made of silk, a much more expensive fabric. Because the rayon was not nearly the quality of silk, people soon would pass over garments advertised as made of rayon- so manufacturers would advertise a garment of “imitation silk” instead of rayon. You will find old catalogs describing both doll clothes and people clothes as “ imitation silk”—which means they were rayon. The rayon of the time (like real rayon fabric today) was ruined if it was washed—so it was dry clean only. It was often quite fragile and would tear easily. It also frayed easily so was not popular for home sewing. Many doll clothes between 1910 and 1950 were made of rayon, which is one reason so many “factory original” doll dresses were lost and discarded—they were fragile, frayed easily and a few times off and on in the hands of a little girl often left them limp and often torn, so they were discarded. If they were washed they were thus ruined and discarded.
In successive posts I will talk about each different fabric, it’s qualities and what is most desirable for dolls made any time before 1960. For dolls made after that, it is okay to use synthetics–or anything you wish. most of them are dressed in synthetic fabrics or blends.
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