Home-made Barbie Clothes

by Wendy Copley on November 1, 2011

Barbie Clothes

At some point in junior high or high school, I became really interested in learning how to sew with my mom’s sewing machine. My mom took the time to walk me through the basics of how to use it, but she didn’t have much time to spare beyond that, so she set me loose to learn on my own. When I asked her for a place to start, she told me, “I learned to sew by making Barbie clothes. Why don’t you experiment by making some doll clothes?” So, armed with a bag of fancy scrap fabrics and a couple of glamorous 80’s Barbies, I set to work.

Most of the clothes I made at first were glorified tubes. Who am I kidding? Just about all of the clothes I made were tubes! But after awhile I got bored, so I started to jazz my tubes up with some interesting details. Let’s take a look at some of the fancier outfits:

appliqued skirt

This was my first foray into applique (though at the time I didn’t know that’s what it was called). I cut a rectangle of yellow taffeta along with a bunch of random geographic shapes. Then I meticulously turned the edges of shapes under using my fingers (No iron! Yikes!) and machine sewed them onto the rectangle. I finished the skirt off by sewing it into a tube and then made a little boat neck top to go along with it.

pleated top

This next outfit seems to be the project I used to teach myself about ruffles and pleats. the skirt is a simple tube (see? I told you!) with a wide ruffle added to the bottom. I’m pretty sure I had a skirt like this at the time.  The top is a boxy v-neck with a quarter inch pleat all along the bottom. I finger-pleated this baby, too! No iron! Look at me with my crazy self.

sequined skirt

This sequined mini skirt is a very special tube. Why is it so special? Because I hand-sewed every freaking one of those sequins on that skirt, that’s why! It took me forever. I worked on it for a few minutes every night after I finished my homework and I did a fabulous job, if I do say so myself. Granted, it hasn’t been handled very much in the mean time, but 25+ years later not a single sequin has fallen off. That, my friends, is quality craftsmanship! It is also the reason why I’ve never sewn a sequin on any garment since then.


And finally, I want to show you how I loosened garments that were too tight to fit over Barbie’s excessively wide hips. (Kidding!) Instead of measuring Barbie and the fabric as I was cutting dresses out, I always just eyeballed everything. So sometimes after I finished a dress it didn’t quite fit and I couldn’t get it on the doll. Usually I didn’t leave enough seam allowance to let anything out, so instead of discarding the dress,  I just attacked it with a seam ripper. This gold lame number  — so very pretty and reminiscent of Solo in the Spotlight from the front — needed it’s seam ripped in an unfortunate place.

Poor Barbie! How embarrassing!

How did you learn to sew? Did you make clothes for your dolls? Did you ever inadvertently make them look like sex workers like I did?

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  • You’re one talented mom is all I got to say!

  • Karen

    I learned by sewing Barbie clothes too. I was actually a little old for Barbie when they first came out but was totally entranced by the fashion possibilities. Alas, none of my creations (mostly tubes as well) survived. I actually ran the sewing machine needle through my finger once and was so grossed out I couldn’t get it out by myself!

  • Pappy

    In college I needed a pair of bell bottoms. They were still fairly hard to come by at that time. The usual answer was to rip out the seams of the legs of a regular pair of jeans then sew in a triangle to increase the cuff diameter. My friend’s mom had a women’s clothing store and he got me some great orange velvet fabric. I asked my mom to sew in the triangles but she flatly refused. She didn’t care much for that look

  • Pappy

    (See previous message before reading this one) So I got out my mom’s sewing machine and manual and taught myself how to sew. About the third pair of bell bottoms they started to look ok.

  • I started by handsewing doll clothes for my dollhouse dolls – lots of shift dresses with belts. My mom enrolled me in 4-H when I was 9 and I had to learn to sew a skirt on a sewing machine for one of the projects. I was so not interested in wearing a skirt however, so my mom didn’t want to buy any expensive fabric. She had me make the skirt out of dark blue cotton covered with big, white geese. I wore it once, when I entered it in a 4-H competition, and then it was straight to Goodwill.  Now I sew all sorts of toys, both by hand and on the sewing machine, and I love it!

  • Oh my! I can totally picture your goose skirt! Ha ha!

  • Shannon Phillips

    These are so awesome! Man!

  • Sanjaz

    These are very advanced, I have to say. I did learn by sewing for my dolls (didn’t have any Barbies, my parents always thought I didn’t need them). But to my mom’s dismay, I used handkerchiefs… I really don’t know why. It’s not like we didn’t have scrap fabric, with my grandma being a dress maker.

  • Clansi

    Aren’t all clothes really glorified tubes anyway?

    These are amazing!

  • Michelle

    I learned by doing embroidery first 😛  After I figured out how to do that, I suddenly realized that I now knew how to sew clothes and stuffed animals and things.

  • CKay

    My mom sewed here and there BUT my dad did the fancy stuff like the velvet skirt and jacket with frog closures, and my grade 9 “grad” dress.  So there was always a sewing machine or a serger for me to tinker with and run scraps through. When I got to junior high I learned how to make something useable in Home Ec. A drawstring bag, M.C. Hammer pants, and a sweatshirt were the most notable.

  • Ooh, fancy!! I love the pink outfit – I’d totally dress my kid in that. 🙂

  • X

    That sequined skirt is frackin’ adorable! And VERY impressive craftsmanship- not a single sequins missing? KUDDOS!

  • Anonymous

    That is awesome. I don’t remember sewing my own Barbie clothes, but I know that my Mom made Barbie clothes for me. I know I helped sew when I was a kid, but the first thing I made on my own was a baby blanket for my best friend’s daughter. My Mom said I rushed through it and she had to take apart some of the blocks and restitch them because they were too big! LOL (Also, hand sewn sequins? I’d probably frame that thing and hang it up in my house!)

  • annazel

    I laughed so hard I cried, when I saw the sequins, the ripped barbie dress at hips and story. I learned to make barbie clothes with my moms old underpants(not lying) when your a kid all you get is plain cotton so I thought my moms nylon underwear was glamorous and silky and would use the elastic waist for top of barbies dress and just cut out a square and sew up the back by hand. So, after that we hemmed hankies and napkins and learned to sew on the big machine that would eat your fingers. That old pink Atlas sewing machine was used to teach all five of us girls to sew.

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