American Girl, keep giving us Dolls of Color for Girls of the Year.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Crafting Creatively: Avoiding the GeneriDress

Welcome to Crafting Creatively: the column where I--the woman who has been sewing since she was four, crocheting since she was seven, and knitting since she was twelve, along with other craft skills that keep scaling up--show others the good, the bad, and the ugly of doll crafting. There will be tips, techniques, and snippy commentary (because well, that's I roll) as well as displays of my own crafts.

But a lot of this will be What Not To Do. Because we all have to start somewhere, but not everything we start with needs to be displayed online or sold, and we can always improve on our crafting technique. Trust me on this. I'm still learning new things.

Today's column will be on that plague that runs not just through AG, but through way too many doll crafting communities--what I like to call the GeneriDress.

Meet the GeneriDress.

So what is the GeneriDress? From Neth's Dictionary of Doll Terms and Details:
GeneriDress [guh-NAIR-ree-dress] (n): A plain standard crafted dress style--frequently sleeveless and with no trims--that is done in a single variant print and commonly mass produced, often for the purpose of selling. Portmanteau of "generic" and "dress."
Now for more details.

The GeneriDress is a carbon copy dress style--done either by amateurs learning to sew or crafters looking for a quick buck--that is plain, boring, and well, generic. It is often done in quilting cottons, using a basic doll pattern of a bodice--with the neckline up to the neck--with no sleeves and a knee to calf length skirt. If the crafter is feeling creative, they'll do some inset sleeves (generally of the poofy variety that are elasticed on one side) put a ribbon around the waist, or add lace to the skirt hem.

Genericdress is almost always done of the same fabric for the whole dress. Gingham is pretty popular, but a lot of people use prints of whatever the new hotness might be--Mickey Mouse, Spongebob, ponies, baseball, etc--or some fanciful loud quilting style print. Around the holidays GeneriDress often gets prints that are themed--hearts for Valentines, pumpkins for Halloween, shamrocks for St. Patty's, eggs and pastels for spring, trees and bows and peppermints for Giftmas1. They're frequently seen on Etsy or eBay with a search for "American Girl Dress" and the prices vary from five dollars--or under--to people who are sure their dress is the next Little Black One and charge thirty to forty bucks. Even American Girl themselves have done an outfit that looks a lot like the GeneriDress: The Pet Show Outfit.

GeneriDress, Authentic AG Style.

The thing with the GeneriDress is that it, in and of itself, is not a terrible thing. It is a very good start for sewing. The bodice only needs three pieces---six with lining--and a skirt which can be done as a rectangle, hemmed on one side, and gathered to the bodice. It's a great way to learn to sew doll clothes and get the idea for how they go together and fit on a doll, and to draft starting patterns from. It can make everything from slips to formal dresses. Plus if you're going for a 1960s look, it's quite authentic to the casual girl's dresses of the time--and with adjustments, can carry from about the 1930s to today as a dress style. Girl's dress profiles--dirndl skirt and waist bodice or the basic basque--haven't changed much in years.

No, really. Edith's Meet Dress is based on the GeneriDress silhouette.
But the GeneriDress, as mass produced, looks just that--mass produced. It's got no trims, no variations, and no variety. It's common and boring and often relying on the print and the print alone for the creativity and sparkle, and that's not enough to carry an outfit. Especially if you're trying to sell it. Making a GeneriDress--and having tons of them in your shops online--will scream that you're either trying to make a quick cash turnover, or that you're still new at the game. I have never bought a GeneriDress from anywhere. Not only because I can make one in my sleep it feels, but because they're often not very well done. I attempt to make my gang's collection look authentic, and the GeneriDress is not authentic.

So, how do you avoid the call of the GeneriDress? There's some easy ways to do it.
  • First one is one of the easiest--make the bodice one color and the skirt another, like I did with Edith's meet outfit. It'll break up the monotony. Do a print skirt with a plain bodice, or a plain skirt with a print bodice.
  • Use different fabrics. The GeneriDress generally finds itself made of quilters cottons that come in an overall print. Try some satins, silks, velvets, or edge prints. Anything but always quilters cotton print and/or fat quarters. 
  • Don't use loud or popular prints to cover up the generic profile. The dress shouldn't be carried by the print alone. Especially don't do this for holiday. The best way I find to avoid that is to look at a print, and really think if a real child would wear that print in a dress--and in that size on them--outside of a costume. No one is wearing loud ass glitter candy canes on their holiday dress. I hope.
  • Vary your bodice or skirt. Try inset panels--a four or six panel skirt can do wonders--or an inset panel bodice, or even a double skirt. Try to change the skirt--a circle skirt or a pleated one. If you know things like smocking, do them! And embroidery can do wonders.
  • Lower that neckline! Learn to draft something as simple as a V-neck or a lower curve to really cut back on the generality.
  • Collars are easy to put in. Even a basic Peter Pan style helps.
  • Sleeves are your best friend. Just don't do the poofy one every time. Straight sleeves, long sleeves, three-quarters sleeves, split sleeves, cap sleeves, lace sleeves--go for it. 
  • Vary the bodice length. Raise it to empire. Drop waist to the hips. And make sure the skirt matches--if you raise, lengthen and if you drop shorten.
  • Trims. Buttons at the front, lace on the hem--nice lace--or a ruffle at the edge--can do wonders for the dress's profile. Even just a different colored hem add on, or lace at the arm holes.  
  • Coordinate, coordinate, coordinate. Don't slap any old trims on a dress to try and make things pop. Really think before you add that lace or ribbon. Too much and you're just digging the fail further.
If you're starting sewing and you're making with the GeneriDress, I'm not knocking you. Like I said, we all start somewhere. I started as a little kiddo with tunic style dresses that were rectangles with holes cut out at the neckline and sewn up the sides before tying the outfit at the waist. The dress is a good foundation. But it's just that--a foundation to springboard off from, like a soup base or a potato. It's not the only option, and it should not be the only outfit in your doll's wardrobe or in your shop of sets.

In conclusion:


1 I'm Pagan. I don't celebrate Christmas, and I choose to call it Giftmas because for me the day is about getting gifts from and for those who care for me. My winter religious holiday is Yule.


  1. I'm glad you said this style is okay to start with. I somehow reached crone age without learning to sew (Tomboy Childhood + Bad Experience in Jr. High Home Ec Class = Ignorance) but I really would like to search out classes and learn. If/when I do, I will probably end up making a ton of GeneriDresses, but I hope to learn and move on and be more creative. I certainly wouldn't dream of trying to sell anything until I'd brought something of myself to it.

  2. I know you posted this ages ago, but thank you for saying this. This is a rant I inflict on my family at least once a week, they act like I'm nuts and I was starting to think that I was the only person on earth that this style of dress bothered.

    1. Even if it's been ages--I like to hear from people! I mean, I get the use of the style of dress, but it doesn't take but a little bit to jazz it up!

  3. And it looks like the Edith doll must've been an a look alike to the upcoming Melody Ellison doll...so can't wait to see her...<3

  4. And it looks like the Edith doll must've been an a look alike to the upcoming Melody Ellison doll...so can't wait to see her...<3

  5. In my "learn-to-sew" phase, back when I didn't think I could gather on a sewing machine, I made a GeneriDress from a Simplicity pattern that featured a bodice and different skirts, sleeves, and collars. It was navy blue. I made the bodice out of navy solid, and the skirt, sleeves, and collar out of a blue print with squares on it (confession--all of it was quilting cotton from Jo-Ann Fabrics). However, before putting the dress together, I took some waste canvas and cross-stitched three columns of red flowers down the front of the bodice, and then added a matching red ribbon for a sash. It was totally GeneriDress, and I didn't even have the sense to edge-stitch the collar to avoid the poofiness that comes with turning fabric. However, I was still new to sewing, especially on a machine.


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