Friday, September 7, 2012

Back in the Black: Part 3

When you buy discount fashions, look over the selection, find the style you like, and then examine all of the stock in that style.  Pick the one with the most even stitching and the best shape.  Individual seamstresses in factories that make doll clothes have different skill levels.  The photo above is from a package of ten dresses for $10.  Sounds like a great deal but the quality varies more in discount clothes than it would in a brand like Mattel so here are some common signs of shoddy construction:

1.  Using white thread on all garments instead of changing thread to match each fabric color.

The white print in this orange dress makes the white thread a contrasting accent but most of the dresses included in the collection were stitched with white thread which means that the manufacturer did not want to take the time to source thread in all the different colors and did not want the seamstresses to take the time to change thread between garments.  In contrast, this red and gold Lovely Patsy dress uses two different colors of thread, which shows more care went into producing the garment.

2.  The longer the stitches, the faster the assembly.  Shorter stitches create stronger seams and look more polished.

As you can see, the stitch length on our sample dress shows it was a rush job.

3.  Velcro speeds up production immensely because putting tiny snaps on doll-sized clothes would probably require hand-stitching.  In and of itself Velcro is not a bad thing.  Most of us associate it with cheap garments because the manufacturers use Velcro that is too stiff and heavy for the fabric and because the seamstresses don’t have time to stitch it down properly.  The Velcro on our sample dress exhibits both problems.

Longer stitch length also makes the Velcro closure weaker.  It is likely to separate from the dress with regular use.

4.  Even in clothes for people, neat hems are almost a thing of the past.  More and more garments are finished by turning the bottom edge under and stitching straight across.  These days raw edges are also common.  Unfinished edges have been sold to consumers as a style when in reality they came from manufacturers’ desire to save time and money.  Leaving the edges un-finished reduces the amount of time it takes to produce the garments.  It also means less skilled workers who command lower wages can turn out the clothes.  Liv fashions by Spin Master almost all left the edges raw so it’s not surprising to find raw edges in discount lines.  The bottom edge of our sample dress was finished with pinking shears.

Pinking is normally a technique for keeping inside seams from raveling.  It actually works as a design element on this dress because the small points match the shape of the flower petals in the print.

It also succeeds from a construction standpoint because the fabric is so stiff and cheap, it is not prone to raveling.  On a softer fabric with a looser weave, this “hem” would have been a disaster.

5.  Squeezing the seam allowances enables the manufacturer to cut more clothes from the cloth but if the seam allowances are too narrow, the fabric may ravel and cause the seams to split in short order.  The seam allowances in our sample dress are adequate because the fabric doesn’t ravel much.

In contrast, this black and white checked dress is a great design

Unfortunately the checked fabric ravels badly.

As a result this dress won’t stand up to much play.

Our sample dress nevertheless had potential.  I realized that the dark and lovely lady I bought last weekend would be a good complexion match for the Kiyoni Brown from Mattel's Flavas line that I picked up in a bargain bin at a doll show last November so I swapped heads and added a short, silky texture wig.

I knew that the orange dress would be a perfect complement to the doll's complexion so I rescued it from the box where I keep the dolls and clothes that visiting children are allowed to play with and went to work re-constructing it.  Here is Keisha strolling up the beach in her new dress:

Her boyfriend seems a bit remote because he takes his lifeguarding duties very seriously. 

Nevertheless, as a 10” True Heroes action figure from Toys R Us, he is very thankful to have found a lady who looks up to him.

À Bientôt


  1. I really enjoyed the doll clothing construction pointers this blog illustrates. The poorly constructed clothing and accessories of most dollar store dolls has been the main reason I have shied away from purchasing these in the past. The entire product is made to be disposable... a quick thrill for a child who develops "want-itis" when entering the store with an adult willing to cure the child's desire with a purchase.

    But based on part 2, some of these dolls are worth giving a second look. I really could use those black leggings!

    Keisha looks lovely with her new body, newly reconstructed dress, and new silky fiber wig. Since he's a lifeguard and dedicated to his work, Keisha probably understands her boyfriend's focus.

    BTW - please check your email.


    1. Hi Debbie,

      Glad you found the pointers on clothing construction useful. I buy discount dolls for two reasons -- useful clothes and accessories like those black leggings and different faces. I imagine that eventually I will do crowd scenes in videos so I intend to put the cheap clothes on the "extras" in the background.

  2. Wow, that is very kind of you to have a box for visiting children!

    Thanks for the clothing construction tips. And the tip about the True Heroes action figure at TRU.

    1. Hi D7ana,

      The day I bought the True Heroes guy, TRS was having a "buy one, get one 50% off" sale on all the True Heroes stuff. Unfortunately I couldn't find anything else in that line I liked so I just paid my $10 and took the guy home.

  3. Hi,I like this post:)I totally agree with YOU that brand name really matters if you are looking for a quality garment!! I only buy clothes from Mattel as and when I can afford them :D

    1. Hi Pam,

      Glad you like the post. I think it also matters what you want to use the garments for. Not everyone in my doll world is middle class. Some of those characters would naturally wear cheap clothes. Also in a crowd scene, the extras in the back don't need to have top quality clothes. My wardrobe department takes everything I can get.

  4. Cute couple! Keisha looks great in her dress. Her boyfriend is quite handsome.