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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Crafting Creatively: Get Your Knit Together

Knitting and crochet look good--when you do it right. Sonali says~
There's a nip in the air, there's a talk of apple cider, and the trees are detreeing themselves. Things smell of pumpkin, cinnamon, and my birthday coming up. Mabon and the Autumnal Equinox have hit, and it's time to look towards the darker days of the year and the fact that come November the sun's going to be fucking setting at 5 pm. Long story short: it's fall weather. And fall weather draws in wearing sweaters, and sweaters mean knitting or crocheting, and there is a lot that goes wrong in AG crafting when it comes to making a good sweater or anything in yarn, for that matter.

See, I tied it all back to the fact that this is a doll blog. Mad skills.

Knitting and crocheting are pretty useful skills to have, even when you don't have a doll. And pretty neat too. It's turning yarn into clothes, and yarn into clothes is a pretty kicking rad situation. I've been crocheting for years and knitting for a few less years. And by a few less I mean that I learned crochet at seven and knitting at twelve and a half, so. It feels nice to make things of yarn and needles and hooks. At the same time, I see some things in the doll community that are perfectly good waste of yarn and time, and no one is telling these people no. Well, now I am. Cause some things are just a big old free spun worsted weight ball of NO.

Here are, in my opinion, some of the bad things done with a set of needles, hooks, yarn, and spacers that make your doll yarnwork look utterly terrible and a big old ball of handspun amateurity.1 There's going to be examples of things done right, and examples that should crash and burn into a twisted, melted knot of WalDeMart2 Red Heart Super Saver nightmares and be posted on What Not to Crochet or What Not To Knit.

Kanani showing how it's done right.
Bee-tee-doubs, this post actually covers both crochet and knit work. But "Get Your Crochet Together" doesn't make a pun on a cuss word, and we're not making a crotch joke. We're semi-above that. I am also going to shit all over Red Heart Super Saver. Brace yourself. 

Don't Want You Cause Your Scale's Too Big

The first error in yarnwork is probably the most widespread one I see in everything from eBay Auctions to Etsy selling to pattern offering, and the easiest one to actually fix if you've a damn to: the scale is way, way too big for the doll. The crafter breaks out a F, G, or H hook or some size 8 needles and some worsted weight yarn and starts just pulling that stuff together, and then you get hot mess like this.

Something is scary about this, and it's not the ghost.
Eeergh. I can take this apart in several ways, but let's go one at a time, and start with the gauge.

The stitch scale, or gauge, is way, way too big for the doll. If this was scaled up to a human size, she would be wearing way too many stitches to the inches. And this pisses me off like no one's business when I see it. It's not just dolls--people do this in actual people clothes too. Oh, it's easy to break out a pair of size seventeen knitting needles and some bulky yarn and do a couple back and forth rows of garter stitch and call yourself making a scarf, but you can rise above that and you should. The time saved in working in too large a scale is lost in the look of an ugly, amateurish completed project. Basically, the bigger the gauge you're working in, the more bulk it's going to add to the final look and makes your doll (or you) look swollen and lumpy. You can go too big way too easy, but you can't go too small. Well, you can if you're knitting with sewing thread and needles the size of pins, but that's your time--and you might be going for the authentic knitted sweaters that were made for the movie Coraline.

Small stitches take longer, but they look better!
And it's so easy to do right. Above is a hooded sweater in progress, provided by my homie, velocicrafter on tumblr. It's being worked on very small needles, which means it's going to take longer than an afternoon watching TV. But small needles make smaller stitches, and smaller stitches make a good looking outfitscaled to the girl. Sonali's sweater set that heads this article took me several weeks--the socks alone took me days.3 The headband was the fastest thing, only because it was only an add on when I got her dressed and realized it needed a finishing headband. But it doesn't look out of scale to the doll and it all fits.Yes, there's about 100 cast on stitches on the bottom hem of the shirt, and that's a lot to go around on when working in double pointed needles.4 But it makes a lovely size.

Looking good, girl.
The small stitches make the look authentic. His Marisol doesn't look like the sweater isn't sized for her--when it's finished, it'll look like a good size on a girl of her age.

Hells bells, look at the scale AG actually shows. AG has done so many sweaters over the years it's ridiculous. Some good, some bad. (Sparkly Snowflake Outfit, Aisle Eergh.) But for the most part, they don't do oversized crap made in two hours in Red Heart Super Saver. Tons of the historicals have knit and crotchet items, because knitting has been done for years and years and centuries, and there's tons of sweaters and knit stuff done for modern characters. None of them are in huge scales that swamp the doll. They look neat, and in scale, and precise and professional. It will take longer to work a piece up in smaller needles, but it will look better.

The Completely Wrong Yarn for the Job 

So I got you to put down the G hook and the size 10 needles. Now to the yarn you should use--no, no, put that Red Heart yarn down. Put it down right now and listen to me. We are not making amigurumi. Maybe later, but not right now we are making doll clothes and we do not make those in bulk weight yarn.

Drop it!
Now, listen. Much like you want the right size tools, you want the right kind of yarn. And that does not meant huge bulky acrylic yarn in one pound bundles from Joann's we are not making blankets here. Now, don't get me wrong--if you're allergic to wool, no one is saying buy wool, or buy cashmere angora yarn that must be paid for in the blood of your firstborn child and is spun from a god's magic pubic hairs. (ETA: Link died.) But there are ranges between "Good lords above, is this made of unicorn floss?" and "acrylic super cheaps on sale that melts." I prefer wool or cotton yarn, because I am not allergic to either. It looks soft and smooth and doesn't have the glossy sheen of acrylic yarn.

You can work in any type of yarn you want, but get the right weight for the job. It is my semi professional opinion that, with the exception of a few styles or designs, there is no need to go over about baby weight yarn for clothing. Sock yarn is probably best--thin, fine, and in scale. It's twisted small, and when worked on the right size tools, looks perfectly in scale for an AG sweater or socks. Again--it will take more stitches than the larger yarn, but it will look so much better.

But it's not perfect for everything. Take into account what you're making and work with that size. Are you making a knit dress? A crochet scarf? A comfy sweater or a doll sized afghan? Then scale your yarn properly.

Reasons to use crochet yarn. (This will be in a review later!)
If you're making a hat like Julie's meet hat, you really should work in crochet thread. It's thinner and a little stiffer, and looks well done. I made the mistake of making a hat in bulky yarn once. Not anymore.

Honestly, if you use the right yarn and the right size needles/hooks, you've done about 50-75% of the work needed for a good looking item.

No One Is Actually Wearing That in Public

No. They're not.
Now that you are working in the right scale and the right yarn, let's talk about the right look. Yarn clothes nowadays generally limit themselves to a few things. Sweaters, scarves, and socks are probably the most popular knit and crocheted items. Here and there, you get hats, ponchos/pull overs, mittens and the like. You might see an interesting skirt, or a well done dress. But no one is wearing crochet pants and knit shoes. Sorry, ladies, that's not how the hook loops. And it shouldn't. Just because you can work it up in yarn doesn't mean it'll look good when you're done.

The 70s were a dark time in craft history. But authentic to Julie, if you're going for that.
Some clothing won't look good in crochet or knit, no matter how small the gauge and how neat the stitches. Most dress styles, several hats, and that semi-scary idea: underwear. Just don't do it. Your AG doll should not look like Attack of the Hookers From Planet Gramma.

Confession time: When I was younger, I had a lot of books that had patterns to make clothing for 13 inch craft dolls and 11 1/2" porcelain look dolls. They were elaborate ruffled twists of worsted weight yarn and F hooks, I picked them up at WalDeMart with huge bulk yarn, and I sat around and made dozens of these dresses in that mix of single crochet bodices and double crochet skirts. I made fluffy dresses, I made ballet sets. I even made some hideous Native woo shit because I wasn't yet taught properly that Natives are a modern people. (Go, toxic racist shit!) I was praised for my skills, and I made more and more of these things, and even figured out how to make my own patterns. They all, in retrospect, screamed that I was just starting out on this yarnwork thing. But the internet wasn't widespread and I had just learned to read patterns, so they were good for me to start in with. 

This book is in my possession somewhere.
I'll probably buy a doll or two and still make some of those, just because once in a while I like the feel of crochet doll kitsch. But I will not subject my poor AG girls to my bursts of Creating Crocheted Hideousness. No one is wearing huge ruffled yarn pinafores way out of scale for their size. It just looks bad. No ankle length skirts, no knit saris (someone thought of it, stop it), no ball gowns, and no crazy knit middy dresses.

We are going to need to have a talk, milady.
This is especially egregious when it comes to historical clothing. As I said above, historicals would have worn a lot of knit and crocheted things. Sweaters, shawls, slippers, and the like. (Not afghans. I am pretty sure afghans started peaking post World War II Boom and shot up in that most hideous of eras, the 70s. So many Granny Square clothing.) But they didn't do full outfits in yarn. Samantha was not skipping around in a sailor dress made of yarn, and your Samantha shouldn't either.

For example, this Colonial style outfit is done in a decent scale of yarn, with decent size. It's very very skilled work. It's also very hideous and completely jarring for a historical look. Colonial women would not have worn full knit dresses any more than they would have worn lamé leggings.

Think before you make. Would you wear a fully knit Federal period dress or a hand knit sweat suit complete with matching sneakers? No? Then don't put it on the doll. 5

The Colors, Duke, The Colors!

To carry forward from the wrong type of clothing, let's go on about the wrong colors. This is especially a crime when working in the larger bulks. Yarn that might work up nice (relatively) in a human scale come out really badly on a smaller scale, simply because the color doesn't variate enough. See, more reasons to put the acrylics down. Rather than nice swirling colors, you get blocks of colors that look like patchwork gone wrong.

You didn't need to see for the next five minutes, anyways.
Break out the color theory, and think. Contrast is fine, but too much and it just doesn't work. A lot of historical clothing is not going to be in neon blue and gold unless we're reviewing the 80s. If you're making a football team colors, then all bets are off, mind. But most of the time you can be a little less ostentatious. Muted colors generally always go over well. Soft greys, more neutrals. A lot of larger sweaters are fall wear, so why not the browns and golds and pumpkin oranges?  If you're making a dress, try something more neutral. Spring? Light greens and yellows.

Don't just grab the nearest yarn and start knitting crazy for the hell of it.

Actually, The Sweater's Wearing Her

Definitely think about the size of the piece you're working and that you're working it on a doll that's on a 1/3 human scale thereabouts. If you're doing cable work, make it small and neat. If you're crocheting, double crochet is probably way too large unless you're working with a very small hook--it makes bigger stitches, and bigger stitch is bigger bulk. This goes back to the yarn and the hook--too much bulk and the doll looks like the sweater is eating her. The 80s had large sweaters, but they were in stitch scale.

That Looks Like It Feels Itchy 

Don't use fun fur to trim a sweater. That's all I have to say on that. DON'T. In fact, just don't use fun fur on your AG clothes. It's ugly and tacky and sticky and itchy and annoying. There are ways to make things stand out and fun fur is not one of them. This goes double for eyelash yarn.

Honestly, What Were You Trying to Accomplish Here?

 No, what were you doing?
No full outfits in yarn. No, stop, you're done.

The GeneriSweater: GeneriDress's Yarn Made Cousin

Uh, all right.
Okay, I'll stop being flat bitchy for a few seconds, and bitch about GeneriSweater, cousin to the Generidress. Basically people will get or make bulk yarn, badly scaled sweaters and either add or find them with hearts, pumpkins, Giftmas trees, pithy statements to grandma, teddy bears, or something equally hideous on them. I don't know where they are coming from but they need to stop. It feels like the kind of ugly sweater you get for the holidays and grin and bear before you return it for something that doesn't look like...well, like that. There's tons of them on eBay and Etsy, and they just don't look cute. If you want your doll to look like a mini person instead of the victim of your latest pique of yarn fits, then don't just make the same thing over and over. Have a goal in mind beyond just using up that extra stash or playing Create a Crap with the eyelash yarn.


This is just a few things, but it's a lot. The main thing is that if you rush a job without the skill to rush it, the job will look rushed--and bulky, and ugly, and out of place. If you work in tacky scale and tacky tools, the end result is tacky. Hopefully these tips will stop your dolls from walking around in the doll equivalent of the Grandma Made It Yarnwork, and more in stuff that looks like there was time and an effort. If you're going to craft, try to take the time to craft right.

Now I need to figure out how to knit up Edith's Meet Sweater. 

Make the effort, and the results will be beautiful.

1 That's a joke son![/Foghorn]
2 The Store That Shall Not Be Shopped.  
3 In the "Fun Stories From Neth" Category, while I was working on these at my old job, a coworker saw one small sock and me working on the other and was like "Neth, are you, um..." That's right, they looked like baby socks. I was like "NO THEY ARE DOLL SOCKS STOP THAT RIGHT NOW D=<"
4 I can't work in loop needles for things like socks and doll sized items. DPNs are my best friend. I just move the hold points as I go around.
5 And if you would wear that kind of outfit then I really can't help you.


  1. yes to this so very much. I just want to spit blood when I see a nice, obviously well made sweater on a doll and then scroll down and bam, she's wearing pants with it made out of the same yarn. Just.. what??? With the Barbies I collect there's also another sort of abomination I often see- half knit dresses. Basically foofy skirts sewed to a nasty, thick, big stitches bodice (or maybe that's crochet?). Like this: http://img51.imageshack.us/img51/4972/fxmh.jpg argh. Just.. why????? Is it easier to knit that bodice than to sew it like a normal person I just I don't even know
    Though I have to say I kinda like the look of oversized stitches sometimes, and even a slightly oversized sweater. Like that cream coloured sweater you gave as an example, on the blonde doll.. makes me think she's wearing mommy's sweater or something, kinda cute.
    I have this thing every few months when I decide I absolutely must learn to knit and I'm doing it right now and I'm making it work this time. Then I get my needles and yarn out and try and fail. I tried getting someone irl to teach me, I tried just about every online tutorial there is and I think I'm under some sort of curse at this point because none of it ever sticks.

  2. This is a great post. I'm really impressed you learned how to crochet and knit at such young ages. I taught myself how to knit much later in life than that and did so from a book I bought for 25 cents at a library sale. I have been planning on knitting some sweaters for my dolls but was wondering what would be the best yarn weight to use so this is very informative. I think some people don't think about scale either because it just doesn't occur to them to take that into consideration or they don't value their dolls enough to put a bit more money into the project than what they might have laying around the house, whether suitable or not. Your post should educate a lot of people. You might want to translate this to a video for Youtube so it reaches even more!

  3. "No, what were you doing?" Attempting to create a sheep costume. :p

    1. When i found it via search it said "ballet." Yeah, I can't even with that.

  4. I've got say- that video on Coraline's sweaters is amazing! I am learing to crotet and can (kinda) knit, but am nowhere near good enough to make, well, anything! My first "real" project will be a simple head band.
    Thanks Neth!

  5. What you say is all too too true, and good job posting it! But...can I confess something here? I just have a "thing" for wearing fugly holiday sweaters around the house, and once I learn enough about knitting to make my own, my girls probably will too. Pity them, poor dears....but it's good to have guidelines to refer to if/when I get around to doing things the right way. Thanks!

  6. I really appreciate this because some knitted things for dolls seemed off to me and I couldn't articulate why. Now I know

  7. Boy, I really learned a lot from this post. Does anyone know where one can find knit or crochet patterns for dolls in the right scale? All the patterns I've found online were for worsted weight yarn with big needles and the were ugly.

    1. Online, you're probably going to get ugly, chunky things because they're free. I tend to either use books or draft patterns myself. One really good book with a few patterns is Sew Today's Fashions by Joan Hinds. She also co-wrote Sew the Essential Wardrobe, which has the base of the sweater I knit for Sonali that heads this piece. Really, I like a lot of her stuff even if it takes self-editing while sewing. While I've yet to use it, Nicky Epstein Knits for Dolls looks pretty good, though the crochet one is giving me pause. It is also possible to scale some human patterns down, but it takes some skill.

  8. There are two great new books out: "Seasonal Hand Knitted Designs for 18´´ dolls", one for spring/summer wear, the other for autumn/winter wear.
    Really liked your post, Neth! As someone said there are outfits that scream WRONG all over but it takes some time to figure out just why they look so hideous.

  9. Oh, and here´s a nice pattern on Ravelry (http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/american-girl-doll-school-sweater) with a great cowl/collar. Happy knitting'!

  10. This post, wow, I had to laugh at some of the fugly stuff you found. The sad part is it isn't just knit/crochet items that this happens with, I've seen some sewn doll clothing for sale that I just shake my head at with weird color combinations, prints out of scale, etc. Eeeeek!


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