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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Book Blather: Review: Doll Couture by Marsha Greenburg

Doll dresses from vintage fabrics. In its own way.
A few weeks ago, while I was anticipating the arrival of the Cousins and prepping for their arrival,1 I was contacted by a representative of Running Press who was contacting AG bloggers regarding an upcoming book: Doll Couture by Marsha Greenburg. She asked me to do a review of this book as a prominent AG blogger, and I stepped up to the plate because I'm not one to pass up an opportunity to offer an open review on AG stuff, and that includes AG craft books. The book arrived a few days ago, and I was able to sit down and snap some pictures and get a good feel as I read through the book.

From the writer and crafter of Hankie Couture.
Doll Couture is a book focusing on how to craft 18" doll clothes from vintage fabrics such as handkerchiefs, doilies, hand towels and older fabrics. I actually own a copy of Marsha's first craft book for doll clothes, Hankie Couture, that I purchased after checking a copy out at the library; that one focuses on 11 1/2" fashion dolls such as Barbie. Her website and the book states "it's not just a dress, it's a lifestyle." I'm not the kind of person to subscribe to other's philosophies upfront, mostly because I write my own and it often involves evil grins, cursing, and snarky statements.2 My lifestyle does also include crafting doll things, and while my crafting has been semi-delayed by a need to sort a lot out in my life--mostly accessing the sewing machine--I plan to pick it back up wholly. I loved the idea of making doll clothes from old handkerchiefs and fabrics, mostly because I'm often considering doing that from my old clothes to scale down to AG. Nowadays many people have no use for a handkerchief or tea towels, and they are primarily a thing from the past when we didn't have Kleenex tissues or decoration around the house and kept to be the nice things. (Which is better than wicker balls in glass jars, let me tell you internet.) The book retails for $23 and can be purchased from various book places, including Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.

Consider this review a craft book review between the upcoming clothes and BeForever/Wonderbread reviews,3  secret craft displays, and ongoing complaints about the American Girl fandom of the past and present. Also, I'm going to be wholly upfront about this: I was sent this book for free to review on behalf of Running Press. That statement on the side isn't just for show: if I get things as gifts or for free to review, I'm going to say so. Because this is a book, and books are meant to be bought, I only snapped a few preview pictures. One does not want to discourage book buying by snapping all the details.

Gotta admit, that's some damn fine fabric. Mighty fine fabric.
The introductions discusses Ms. Greenburg's enjoyment of designing the vintage dresses that she created for the majority of the book, and how she used several vintage fabrics to make the dresses and items displayed: things such as tea towels, table clothes, baby sheets, doilies, napkins, and so on and so on. This means that with the exception of probably base fabrics and linings, you're not going to find any of the fabrics that have been used for the designs displayed in the book and you can't exactly reproduce what you see. This is not a book for people who just want to copy the designs they see in the craft book. You're going to have to do your own. Dresses on the AG scale can take three to five hankies or larger cuts of vintage fabrics. There are also shoes and hats made oftentimes from the same vintage fabrics for a complete design. Unlike regular fabric, you are not likely to find more of what you're working with. So do what my momma always said: measure twice, lay out thrice, cut once. Once you make a cut, it's there for good.

The majority of the book is taken up by a gallery of outfits Ms. Greenburg made to display the versatility of her designs with her patterns and the repurposed4 fabrics. Next to each outfit displayed is a number indicating which pattern was used to make as specific item such as a skirt, dress, or top. Not everything is numbered, though. (I'll get to the patterns in a bit.) There's at least 100 different sets of clothes; I didn't count, but every page shows at least one outfit along with the original cloth used before it was made into the new outfit. Nearly every page also has a quote about the personality of Hankie Couture girls and their "lifestyle". A little twee for my tastes, but it's not cloying. Ms. Greenburg shows a lot of creativity in her repurposing of older cloth items into doll clothes. Some are too frilly or fluffy for my taste in AG clothes--I'm not a ruffles and doily kind of girl--but I've snapped a few of my favorites.

The dolls displaying the outfits are not a standard playline 18" doll and are a doll designed by Ms. Greenburg named Truthful Tara. The dolls can be purchased directly off her website for $45, come fully dressed, and are stated to be a limited edition; it's likely once they'll sold out they may not be made again. They're the size and design of an AG body (vinyl head and limbs, cloth body, corded neck connection) with painted eyes and nails, and I can't tell from images alone but it appears to be rooted hair. The dolls come in three styles: blonde with blue eyes, brunette with blue eyes, and brunette with brown eyes. I would probably like the dolls more if at least one of them were a doll of color; as it is, they don't appeal to my tastes. Ms. Greenburg cut and styled the doll's hair herself, for each design, and added things such as hair bows and bands.

Swan style long dress with faux vest.
This is a long white dress with a faux vest design, long sleeves, blue lace from the original cloth, and a matching hat made of a fabric embroidered with swans and flowers. I especially adore swans and if this dress were available for purchase I'd highly consider it for my own collection.

A little froof, but nice.
This dress I snapped a shot of because I was impressed at the fact that it used nine different embroidered handkerchiefs to come together for the dress. Since the cloth used may be small--and can't be restocked--it requires a lot of laying out and though about how to use a design before it's cut. This is not a design style for the timid.

For all your pinafore needs.
Since most vintage cloth--especially handkerchiefs--are white, a majority of the outfits are white; some are cut to be pinafores over solid or pattered cloth. Ms. Greensburg masterfully integrates the edges of the cloth she has picked into the skirts, hems, and trims to frame the initial designs, and this is probably the best part of her outfits. Too many crafters and designers using older fabrics smother the initial design of an outfit under purchased lace, outside fabrics, or too many trims; this neat framing style lets the initial beauty of the vintage cloth shine through.

Circle cloth into a circle skirt.
Because of the cloth choices, patterns and the basic cuts of the outfits, they have a vintage or retro feel; very 1950s/1960s, which fits the aesthetic of Edith here.

Pleat front peach--very 60s.
This is probably my favorite dress in the whole book--it looks like it would go perfectly on Edith or Dorothy, and I will likely try to make something like it. The center pleated panel is probably my favorite part of the whole design.

The Generidress cut does not have to come out generic.
I stay hating on the Generidress, mostly because people making it don't do anything to it or with it. but cut it out and make it suck. However, it is a dress style that fits the vintage silhouette perfectly, and this is an example. It does not take much to kick the dress up to something very cute. The framing of the original cloth mixed with new fabric gives a nice style.

Getcha sew on.
After the gallery of dresses come the instructions of how to make the items shown, as well as tips on sewing. Ms. Greenburg gives very important sewing tips such as to press as you sew, try garments on for proper fit, and buying at least a yard for a dress if contrasting fabric is being used. She states that patterns can be intermixed and are drafted to mix and match. Again, not for the meek. She does state that a beginner can start with something like the basic sleeveless dress and work towards the pin-tuck bodice. I would highly recommend, if you are a beginner, to put outfits together in cheaper cuts like broadcloth or calico before hacking up cloth you can't replace.5 I do this when I start new stuff I've never done before and I've been sewing since the 80s.

The patterns and instructions include a design for a skirt in three lengths, a sleeveless dress with a contrast band border (probably the closest to the Generidress), a circular skirt that can be attached to other bodices, a blouse or top, a romper (basically, pants), a dress with pointed or round collars, the pin-tuck dress,  two styles of hats, a purse, and soft soled shoes. Also included are sleeves of different styles. The instructions are pretty clear and, while there are not step-by-step images, they do walk you through the basics of putting together the item, including how to lay designs out on crochet doilies and handkerchiefs.

Pattern packs.
The full sized patterns come tucked in the back of the book on thin tissue paper, and are numbered by the numbers given in the book for each set of instructions and on several designs in the gallery. I prefer this over Hankie Couture's printed page patterns, both because AG sized dolls are larger and the patterns would have added bulk and because this means that in several cases I can just get to cutting out patterns instead of scanning or copying them first.

Well, bugger.
Well, for the most part. The patterns are laid out so that several key pieces are printed inside larger panels, so you risk cutting up the larger parts to access the smaller ones. I don't know if this was a layout design on Ms.Greenburg's part or her publisher saving space on pattern paper, but I have to say it's rather frustrating. I had debated tackling the pintuck dress before completing my review, but I'm going to have to light box out pattern pieces or make copies of key components to be able to not destroy the larger parts to get to the smaller. Ah well, there's next month for that. Birthday's coming up.


Overall, I do like this book, even with parts that fluster me, and feel like I can get a lot of craft ideas from thumbing through the gallery. I've used old clothes in doll clothes before (though my tastes run towards neon leggings, geek couture, repurposing my busted jeans, and off shoulder sweats). The gallery doesn't have my 100% aesthetics, but different strokes for different strokes. The gallery ranges from the froofy to the simple; if your dolls dress more modern overall or don't do dresses, you might not find much in here. Thumb through the book before you decide what to do--or you know, look at this review. 

The weakest part of the book I would have to say would be the dolls modeling the outfits. I like either inset set eyes like the Magic Attic girls or My Twinn or sleep eyes like AG; painted eyes don't have the depth of those. Also, as a woman of color, I don't generally support doll designs that don't show people like me. If even one doll had been tan or brown I'd feel able to at least halfway endorse a non-mainstream doll line. As it is, most people who will be picking up this book already have AG sized dolls and will not likely be getting these dolls to add to their doll collections and will instead make sets for their own dolls. Ambitious, but not my cup of coffee.

Dolls aside, the included patterns I'm sure will work great with my crafting once I get past copying the parts I need to be able to use the patterns fully. At $23--possibly less on the Amazon--you're getting a book of images and several different dress patterns, which is a touch high but not a bad cost considering that most patterns don't show you color images of the ways to put the designs together. In comparison to the first book, I wish Doll Couture had the details of the crafting and design of the dresses that Hankie Couture had, as that was my favorite part of the prior book. But I've gotten a lot of design ideas, and might start peeking around antique stores for cloth to make vintage lovelies for Edith and Dorothy.

Now. where do I find that swan fabric or peach one? Those two were gorgeous.


1 AJ already talked about her side of it. I will in a few days. 
2 Have you ever seen the musical Into the Woods? Several of my personal philosophies come from there.
3 Her clothing, not her. She can stay the fuck out.
4 Use the word "upcycle" and I'll knock the taste out your mouth, hipster. 
5 Just, you know, don't expect me to buy your first attempts. We all start somewhere but we don't all get paid for it.


  1. Interesting book, thanks for the review!

    I use old clothes all the time... they're cheaper. Lol.

  2. Sounds like an interesting book. I had flipped through "Hankie Couture" in the bookstore and was less than impressed because the bulk of it seemed to be photos and pithy "lifestyle" quotes, but only one or two actual patterns. It seemed like it was trying more to be a coffee table book than a craft book. It looks like the new book avoids those mistakes.


    1. This book still has the bulk of it as lifestyle quotes and photos, but the patterns make up for it.

  3. Entertaining and thorough review as always, Neth.
    If you're up to it, would you make a post with all of your dolls? I'd love to hear your descriptions/explanations of them, how you got them, etc

  4. I'm glad you posted this review, I had seen this book on another website but with no real information on it. I don't think it's a book I personally would buy, but it's a neat concept. Just the little bit you have here has got me to thinking about doing something with a set of pillowcases my grandmother embroidered for me YEARS ago, I never used them because I didn't want to ruin them. This would be a way to make them in to something that at least would display her handiwork. Hmmm...

  5. Have you ever heard of Double Dutch Dolls? It's a line of 18" multicultural fashion dolls similar in size to American Girl Dolls. The dolls are African-American, Hispanic and Multiracial however. The website is www.doubledutchdolls.com.

    1. I have heard of these dolls and think they're lovely! I'm looking to get one as soon as I'm able and reviewing it here on my Casual Fridays.

  6. for some reason, the silhouettes shown in a lot of these dresses really appeals to me--it's a big part of the reason I got AG Emily Bennett (and later sold her & kept her meet outfit LOL). I especially like that pinafore, the dress w/daisies at the hem, and the peach dress. I could see myself getting this book just to check out the pretty pics, and maybe I'll make a dress or two from these patterns--using fabrix that are modern & currently abundant to start out! LOLZ


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