How to Design a Fashion Doll Part 2: Select the Fabric

Here is part two of the “How to Design a Fashion Doll” series. There are four basic steps to the doll design process: Inspiration, Fabric Selection, Initial Designs/Revisions and Finished Illustrations. In this post I talk about finding fabric for the Gypsy Chic doll designs. 

How to Design a Fashion Doll Step 2

Selecting the fabric

For the Gypsy Chic doll collection I started by finding inspirational images and putting them into a mood board, but I could just as well have been inspired by a piece of fabric and then found images to go with the fabric.  I generally believe the two steps are somewhat interchangeable.  One thing is certain though; you can’t design doll clothes, or any clothing for that matter, without a clear idea of the fabrics you’ll be using.  In the past I would sometimes get lazy and dream up fabrics with the idea that I could probably find them later.  I will tell you, if ever you feel that finding a pink satin is no big deal, just try to find that perfect pink after your drawing has been approved and you need to start making the actual doll. Oops.  As one of my blog readers remarked, designing is rather like cooking; No one would try to make a recipe without having all the ingredients on hand.

How much fabric will you need?

If the designs will be made into “3D’s”, or actual dolls, it’s a good idea to purchase at least ½ yard of each fabric. Even though fashion dolls are usually small, you don’t want to run out of fabric and run the risk of not being able to find more. Extra fabric allows the pattern maker to experiment with the materials as she sews the clothing. For clients I often buy one to two yards so there’s enough extra fabric to construct duplicate dolls for line reviews or other reasons. When money is an issue I ask for swatches of the fabrics.  Most fabric stores will give you a few 2” by 6” pieces for free.

Where can you find fabric?

The first place I stop for fabric is my local fabric store. If I can’t find what I want there I’ll look on the web, but sometimes the best place to look for doll fabrics is at the mall.  Current trends in prints and fabrication are often found sewn into trendy skirts and dresses at stores like Forever 21 and Wet Seal. When I worked for Mattel as a doll designer many of my Barbie doll’s outfits were made from clothing I’d purchased at a teen fashion shop. Copyright laws protect all fabric art! Unless you’re purchasing the print art from the original designer you must redesign the artwork for production.

A mix of different prints, textures and solid fabrics

You need a variety of fabrics to create a small doll collection.  I’ve found that the cutest doll outfits are far from minimal.  Prints mixed with solids and a novelty fabric or two seem like a lot to heap on a little figure, but the results are always really cute. Keep in mind that if you’re designing more than one doll you will need quite a few fabrics to mix and match.

Here are some of the fabrics I used for my Gypsy Chic designs:

Fabric for Gypsy Chic collection

On the far left is beautiful silk trimmed with matching lace. At $200 a yard it would never be used on an inexpensive manufactured doll but the basic idea could be re-interpreted in less expensive materials. The next two fabrics are pretty, sheer, printed cottons. A simple cotton chambray looks a bit like actual denim but is a better, lighter weight for dolls. The chambray is followed by another beautiful printed cotton, this time a paisley.  A fun pink snake-skin printed vinyl is on the far right.  After taking this photo I realized I needed some more solids to mix in with my prints, and chose some nice solid ultra-suede to round out the fabric selection.

I’ve included with my fabrics some brass chain, beads and a button for inspiration.  The beads are obviously too big for a doll. If I were making the dolls in 3D I would look for beads in the correct size.  Even so, beaded necklaces and earrings made for the prototype dolls would eventually be reinterpreted into a single plastic piece replicating the look of a multi-strand beaded necklace or belt.

Fun faux fur

Pink fur for Gypsy Chic collection

Faux fur looks luxurious and fun on dolls, though you need to be careful that the proportions don’t get overly heavy.  A short pile fur is best. Even though the fur I found is a little long, the fabulous color more than makes up for it.

Those are all the fabrics I found for the Gypsy Chic doll collection. Next up, rough sketches.

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