Today’s project: how to sew a doll with adorable dolls panels.
I don’t know what it is, but I think it’s really sweet to sew your own dolls. Maybe it’s because some of my first sewing projects were making costumes for my own dolls. Plus I think these are the perfect thing to sew and give to a loved one near or far away. Think of it as a way to spread sweetness in this world.
Today it’s even easier to make your own dolls with one of my favorite sewing products out there: doll panels. Doll panels are printed panels of fabric that give you everything you need to sew a doll in one yard of fabric. Even the directions are printed right on the panels.
Pretty cool! This is a great project for beginners, or something for parents to work on with their kids. So let’s talk about where to find doll panels, and then I’ll walk you through how to sew a doll with these super fun panels.
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Supplies for sewing a doll with doll panels
Where to find doll panels
You can find doll panels in a lot of quilting stores. They are printed onto 100% cotton. Some of my favorite doll panels are designed by Stacy Iest Hsu for Moda. I love her illustrative style and she always add such cute accessories for her dolls. For this project, I’m using Stacy Iest Hsu’s Best Friends doll panel.
Once in a while I’ll come across a vintage doll panel too thrifting. My favorite find was a really fun gingerbread lady panel. You can see the finished gingerbread girl on this video at the 2’20” mark. The colors on the dress were a little dated, so I used the pattern pieces on the panel with more modern fabric.
I also really love these tea towel animal panels from the UK shop Mibo. These panels are probably the best suited of all of these options for beginning sewists and kids.
Other doll panels to search for:
- Little Red Riding Hood doll panel
- Once Upon a Time princess and unicorn panel
- Safari Life panel (elephant, lion and giraffe)
- Woof Woof Meow Meow pillow panel
- Goldilocks and the Three Bears doll panel by Moda
- Coral Queen of the Sea mermaid doll panel
- Robert Kaufman Girl Friends doll panel
- Little Cowboy panel
- Robert Kaufman Girl Friends accessories doll panel
- See Kate Sew Violet doll panel
How to sew a doll with a doll panel
Prep your fabric
When you get your doll panel fabric, before you start cutting out all the things, either serge or zigzag stitch along the cut edges. This will keep the fabric from fraying when you pop it into the wash.
Next, wash your fabric. This will keep it from shrinking later.
Secret trick for cutting out the pieces
This is my own trick and it makes these small pieces a little easier to handle.
Cut out one side of your doll along the cut lines provided on the panel. For the second side, rough cut around it.
When you cut out your doll pieces like this, it’ll keep the layers from shifting so much as you sew. Do this for any piece on your panel that doesn’t fold over on itself to sew. Cut out any other pieces and set them aside.
How to sew a doll panel: pinning
Next, lay your two doll pieces right sides together, pinning as you need. Keep the trimmed layer on top.
Marking the seam allowances
On a lot of doll panels, the fabric manufacturer will mark either the seam allowances or stitching line for you. This makes it so easy to see exactly where you need to sew.
That being said, sometimes it’s not easy to see those lines on the wrong side of the fabric. Take an air soluble fabric marker and mark the seam allowances in any spot you can’t see the lines on the top trimmed layer of fabric.
Stitch around the doll
With a short 2.0 mm straight stitch, stitch around your doll pieces. Usually doll panels include 1/4″ seam allowances, which are tiny! Go slowly and pivot and turn your work as you need to to stitch all around the piece. Leave a hole along a straight edge of your doll.
Trim and notch
Next, trim away the bottom layer of fabric so that it’s even with the top layer.
Take your scissors and make small clips along the curves at about 3/8″ intervals. Also, cut tiny v’s out of each corner. If there’s any right angles, trim off the corner. Make sure as you clip and notch out the corners that you don’t cut into any of your stitches.
Turn the pieces
Turn your doll right sides out through the little hole that you left when you were stitching. If you have one, these locking clamp pliers are wonderful little tools to help you turn out the tight corners inside your doll.
Use a chopstick to wiggle out the corners, gently easing out the fabric.
Press the pieces
From here, press your doll. Ease out any edges with your hands, then give everything a good press with steam.
Stuff your doll
We’re getting towards the end! Your next step in how to sew a doll from a doll panel is to stuff it. Here you have two choices.
- You can use a rotary cutter to cut up all the leftover bits of fabric from the panel to use as stuffing.
- Stuff your doll with polyester fiber filling
There’s not a wrong choice here. The fiberfill will make for a lighter weight, softer doll. On the flip side, fabric scraps make for a nicely weighted doll with a good feel, and you won’t be wasting any fabric. Do note that lighter colored scraps work best here as darker ones can show through on the right side. Also be sure to cut up the pieces into bits to keep the filling from being lumpy.
Stuff all the corners of your doll, starting with the limbs. Use a chopstick or the pliers to poke the filling into the hard to reach areas. Keep on filling until your doll looks and feels stuffed.
Close up the hole
To finish up, thread a hand needle and knot it. You can either slipstitch or whipstitch the hole closed. Here’s how.
Knot your needle, bring up needle to right side. Make a tiny stitch on the right side next to where you brought up the thread, then poke the needle down towards the back, bringing up the thread at an angle in the second side of your hole. Repeat making stitches like this for the length of the hole.
Whipstitches are a looping stitch that connect 2 layers of fabric. Knot your needle, bring up needle to right side. Next pierce the other side, letting the fabric loop between layers. Bring up the needle close to the first stitch and make another looping stitch.
Sew up any final accessories according to the directions on your panel. If you want to go the extra mile, give yourself a challenge to use the selvages. On a lot of doll panels there are sweet printed borders that can be used too! I used this one to make a simple multi-tiered skirt.
Overall, these doll panels are such a fun project. This is one of the most charming projects you can make for a friend far away or maybe even for charity.
Like this project? Check out these others:
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Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.