Doll Clothing · Izannah Walker Project Ideas

Happy 200th Birthday Izannah Walker – Part 4 – Directions For Making a Classic Izannah Walker Dress

Here is a birthday present from me to all of you! Directions for making a classic mid- 19th century dress for your Izannah Walker doll. I based the directions on several antique children’s dresses in my collection. I hope you enjoy making this dress for your dolls ❤ Or even better, make a larger version for a special child in your life ❤ ❤ ❤

These instructions are for your own personal use, they are copy righted by Paula Walton A Sweet Remembrance 2012 and are not to be reproduced or sold in any form.

dress instructions 1

First a  bit of historical background.  Izannah Walker lived and worked in a time when paper patterns, as we know them, were just coming into being.  In 1863 Ebenezer Butterick a tailor from Massachusetts  began making graduated and marked patterns out of paper.  Folded by his wife and family and packed in boxes of 10 each, he sold these patterns to tailors and seamstresses throughout New England. These patterns proved to be very popular, possibly due to the fact that Butterick hired a staff of door-to-door traveling salesmen.  Prior to this time, garments were cut without a pattern as such.  There were books of diagrams available for professional seamstresses that illustrated how to cut the latest fashions.  Periodicals, such as Godey’s Lady’s Book also provided color plates of the latest fashions, along with diagrams and brief instructions.

Simple basic garments, such as this dress and other children’s clothing, along with shirts, under wear, etc. were routinely sewn at home without the use of any pattern, as it was common knowledge how to make these basic necessities.

The following instructions are written following this tradition and are meant to be custom fitted to your doll.  You can also use these same instructions to make full size children’s dresses by simply enlarging the widths and lengths.

*** Sewing should be done by machine, unless specifically noted.

dress instructions 2

Step 1. Cutting out the skirt.  Measure from the waist of your doll down to the point where you want the bottom of the hem (This can be to the tops of her feet, or higher.  If dressing your doll as an adult or young woman the skirts should be longer than if you are dressing the doll as a young child.).

Add 1/4 -1/2 inch (your choice – just remember how much you have allowed) seam allowance for the top edge, if you plan to make a gathered skirt.  If you will be cartridge pleating, also known as gauging, your skirt you need to allow at least an inch to fold down at the top edge (or up to 1 – 1/2 inches).

Next determine how deep a hem you wish to make.  If you are using antique fabric you may be very limited by the amount of fabric you have on hand to make your dress.  Ideally I like to have at least a 2 inch hem for doll’s dresses, 3 inches is even better.  When making a child’s dress you should have a hem depth that measures from 3-4 inches.  Add 1/4 inch allowance to turn under on the top edge of the hem.

If you want to have growth tucks in your skirt, as shown in the sample dress above, add 1 inch per tuck for 1/2 inch tucks, or 1 – 1/2 inches per tuck for 3/4 inch tucks.  For a child’s dress add 2 inches per tuck for 1 inch tucks.

Total all of your measurements.  Your figures should look something like this:

skirt length – 7 inches

top seam allowance (gathered skirt) – 1/2 inch

hem – 2 – 1/2 inches

hem edge turn under allowance – 1/4 inch

two 1/2 inch growth tucks @ 1 inch each – 2 inches

total = 12 – 1/4 inches

To figure out the width of your skirt consider the width of your fabric and availability of yardage.  Antique fabrics are narrow in width usually 24 – 36 inches.  I generally cut my doll skirts the width of the fabric.  If I am piecing together fabric to make up the width, then I try to come up with at least 20 inches.  If I am gathering the skirt I don’t make it any wider than 36 inches.    When cartridge pleating it’s a good idea to have a width of at least 26 inches and no wider than 38. Children’s skirts obviously will require at least two fabric widths and should measure from 38-50 inches. Now it’s finally time to carefully measure and cut out the rectangle that you will be using to make your skirt. Yeah! We’ve made it through Step 1 !!!

Step 2. Cutting out the bodice, sleeves, neck, sleeve and waist bands.

dress instructions 3

Measure the distance between the point on your doll where you want the top of the waistband to be and the point where you would like the neckline.  I find that the measurement is usually about 3 inches.  Add two 1/4 inch seam allowances, one for the top edge and another for the bottom edge (if you feel more comfortable sewing with a 1/2 inch seam allowance you may increase the bottom allowance to 1/2 inch – the top seam allowance has to be 1/4 inch).  To determine how wide, from side to side,your bodice needs to be, measure around the widest point of your doll’s shoulders and multiply that measurement by 2.  This will be the minimum width, you may add on a bit more if you like particularly full bodices.

To cut out the sleeves, measure from the neckline, down the arm to the length you would like the sleeves.   The width of each sleeve is calculated by measuring from the neckline, down under the arm and back up to the neckline, then adding on enough to bring the fabric up over the shoulder and add in extra fullness for the gathers.  The strip of fabric that I cut for the sleeves of the sample dress, above, was greater from top to bottom than the strip for the bodice.

Neck and sleeve bands are 1 inch by the total shoulder measurement of the doll (at the widest point), plus the circumference of the doll’s upper arm x 2, plus at least 2 inches for seam allowances and finishing.

The waistband is 1-1/4 inch for 1/4 waist seam allowances or 1 – 3/4 inches for 1/2 inch waist seam allowances by twice the doll’s waist measurement, plus an extra 1 – 1/2 inch for seam allowances and finishing.

Double check your measurements and addition, then cut out your fabric.

Step 3. Constructing the skirt. 

Sew the center back seam of the skirt, leaving 3-4 inches open at the top edge.  Turn the raw edges of the center back skirt opening under a scant 1/4 twice and sew down.  Sew a double row of gathering threads around the top edge.  Press the back seam to one side: turn up the raw bottom edge 1/4 inch and press.  Decide on the placement of your growth tuck or tucks (if you are incorporating them in your dress).  Measure for the first tuck, fold the skirt at that point and pin in place.  Stitch around the skirt either 1/2 inch or 3/4 of an inch away from the folded edge (remember that you had to choose between 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch tucks when you cut out your skirt). Press the tuck down. Make the second tuck in the same manner. Turn up the hem and stitch in place, being careful not to catch the tucks in the hem.

Step 4. Making the bodice. 

Take the strip of fabric that you cut for the bodice, fold it in half at the center front, then fold it in half a second time to determine where the arm holes will be. Cut “U” shaped armholes on the second fold, through all thicknesses, starting at the neckline edge and going about half way down to the waist edge.

You can check exactly how far you need to go by measuring the fabric strip up against the shoulder of your doll. The arm hole should be deep enough to allow the sewn on arm to move freely.

Turn under the center back edges of the bodice a scant 1/4 inch to the wrong side of the fabric. Press in place. Turn under again 1/2 inch towards the back side. Stitch in place to hem.

Next take the strip of fabric that you cut for the sleeves. If you haven’t already done so, cut it in half, so that you have two equal parts – one for each sleeve. Sew the short ends of the sleeve together to form a tube. Repeat for the second sleeve.

Sew two rows of gathering threads around the bottom edge of each sleeve.

dress instructions 8

dress instructions 9

Sew one sleeve to the bodice, matching the sleeve seam to the center of the bottom rounded part of the “U”. Repeat with the the second sleeve. The top of the sleeve goes up past the neckline edge of the bodice. Not all of the sleeve is sewn to the armhole!!!

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Sew two rows of gathering threads along the neckline edge, including the tops of the sleeves.

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Sew two rows of gathering threads along the waist edge of the bodice.

Step 5. The waistband.

dress instructions 12

Cut the strip for the waistband in half, so that you have two pieces of equal length.  Mark the center of the bodice waist edge and the center of one of your waistbands.

Draw up the gathering threads on the waist edge of the bodice to the exact measurement of your dolls waist and tie off. Adjust the gathers so that you have more fullness in the center front, less under the arms and more in the back. Leave an area of less full gathers 1/2 inch or so to either side of the center back opening.

Pin the center front of the bodice to the center front of the waistband. The waistband should extend 3/8th of an inch beyond the bodice on either side. Stitch the waistband to the bodice.

Mark the center front of the skirt waist edge. Draw up the gathering threads on the skirt to the exact waist measurement of the doll’s waist and tie off. Adjust gathers evenly. Pin the center front of the waistband to the center front of the skirt. Sew waistband/bodice to skirt (remembering that the center back edges of the waistband will extend beyond the skirt 3/8ths of an inch).

Turn the ends of the waistband to the inside, so that they are even with the hemmed center back edges of the bodice and skirt. Take your waistband lining and press the short ends under 3/8ths of an inch to the wrong side of the fabric and press under 1/4 inch along each long edge. Pin in place on the inside of the waistband of the dress, making sure the lining coves all of the raw edges and seams. Hand-stitch in place, leaving the center back edges open. Make a row of stitching 1/4 inch away from the seam lines along each long edge of the waistband (this is like topstitching). Run lengths of 1/8th inch wide cotton tape through the casings formed by this stitching. The tape should be long enough to tie into bows.

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I lined this waistband in a lighter color fabric, which allows you to see the stitching better.

Step 6.  Neck and sleeve bands.

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Try the dress on your doll over her chemise.

Mark the center front of the bodice neck edge.  Draw up the gathering threads at the neckline, so that the back of the dress meets and overlaps a scant 1/8th of an inch.  Tie off the threads. Adjust gathers.

Draw up the gathering threads on each sleeve until they fit snugly, but not too tight around the doll’s arms.  Tie off the gathering threads.  Adjust the gathers.

dress instructions 13

dress instructions 14

Measure and cut a length of neckband the length of the gathered neckline plus 3/4 of an inch (3/8ths of an inch for finishing each side).  Press under a scant 1/4 inch one long edge of the neckband.  Mark the center of the neckband.  Pin the center of the unturned edge of the neckband to the center front of the bodice neckline.  Sew neckband to bodice, the neckband will extend 3/8th of an inch beyond the bodice on each side of the center back of the bodice.  Turn the 3/8th inch finishing allowance in and finger press in place.  Turn the pressed under edge of the neck band to the back side of the dress.  Hand stitch in place, leaving the ends of the neckband open.  Run a piece of 1/8th inch cotton tape through the casing formed by the neck band.  The cotton tape should be long enough to tie into a bow.

Measure and cut two armbands the length of the  bottom gathered edge of the sleeves plus 1/2 inch for seam allowances (1/4 inch seams).  Turn under one long edge of each sleeve band a scant 1/4 inch towards the back side of the fabric.  Stitch the narrow edges of the sleeve bands together.  Hand-stitch each sleeve band, along the unpressed edge, to the the gathered lower edge of the sleeves.  Turn the pressed under edge up to the back side of the sleeve so that it covers the gathered edge and hand-stitch in place to form 1/4 inch finished sleeve bands.


-I like to wash and hang dry my finished dresses, so that the gathers fall into place and dry.

-If you wish to fasten the back of your dress with buttons, rather than ties, make sure that you add on enough of an allowance for the neck band and waistband to overlap at least 1/2  an inch.

-You can make several other sleeve styles for this dress to vary it’s appearance.

dress instructions 17

-To see a selection of appropriate fabrics check out these two blog posts.

My Current Stock of Antique Fabrics

Selecting Appropriate Fabric for Your Doll’s Dress

Don’t let the length of these instructions put you off!  This is actually a simple dress 🙂  When I make this style of dress I don’t even jot down measurements or calculations.  I just measure and cut as I go.  After you make a few you will find them easy to do!

5 thoughts on “Happy 200th Birthday Izannah Walker – Part 4 – Directions For Making a Classic Izannah Walker Dress

  1. Thank you Paula for these great instructions on how to make a classic Izannah Walker dress – they are invaluable! This must have been very time consuming! My Izannah dolls thank you ;)) Charlotte

  2. You are very welcome Charlotte!!! Today is all about celebrating the life and dolls of an amazing woman and beloved doll maker! I think we should all try our hands at being “makers”. It is such a satisfying and rewarding feeling to look at a finished project and say to yourself “I made that!” I’m hoping that people will try sewing for their dolls and enjoy that same quite satisfaction that I feel and that I’m sure Izannah Walker must have felt too ❤

  3. Paula, thank you for this pattern and video- I will definitely give it a try. I have some fabric that I’ve been saving up, so I’ll get busy!
    Love, Susie

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