You’ve found that perfect fabric for your doll’s dress, your mind’s eye is focused on the finished dress and no other material will do. Unfortunately the fabric of your desire is loosely woven and unravels like crazy if you even glance at it, to say nothing of what it does when you actually approach it with a pair of scissors in your hands. What do you do?
Obviously Izannah would not have resorted to using Fray Check or a serger. Your solution is to use the seam finishes that she could have used.
Method one is to overcast your seam allowances by hand using a single strand of thread. This actually goes a lot faster than you would think and is the 1800’s version of finishing seams by running them through your serger. Something that will save you some work is cutting whatever straight seams that you can along the selvedges of your fabric and letting the selvedge itself act as a seam finish. This was commonly done in the 1700 and 1800’s. Because old fabrics did not have printing along the selvedges like some modern fabrics do, I only use unprinted selvedges this way. Usually one edge of your fabric will have no printing.
A second method is to pink your seams. To do this you may use pinking sheers, a pinking machine, or hand pink the edges of your seams using a pair of straight scissors. The oldest forms of pinking are hand pinking, or the use of pinking irons. Pinking irons were placed along the edge of the fabric and struck with a mallet or hammer. They were primarily used to give a decorative edge to ruched fabric used for trimming 18th century gowns and petticoats. Hand pinked edges were used more commonly as a seam finish. After hand pinking and pinking irons, came pinking machines. Think of them as a hand cranked version of today’s rotary cutter fitted with a pinking blade.
A third option would be to make French seams along all straight seams and overcast curved seams, such as armholes, and gathered waistbands. This looks especially nice if you are working with a sheer fabric.
The least desirable choice of historic seam finish for doll clothes would be to bind your seams with twill tape or silk ribbon. Avoid this method if possible, as it adds far too much bulk to tiny garments.