Venturing into pattern design

Searching for material

Finding fabric that matches the style of the American Girl doll dresses has been a hit-or-miss experience. Something usually turns up from my visits to websites that focus on historically accurate designs, local quilt shops, and big box stores (namely Jo-Ann Fabrics), but usually, the results are not quite the same. ‘Close’ has become ‘close enough.’

Working with this mindset, it didn’t take long to find a print that looked fairly similar to the Woman's Seaside Ensemble (Overdress and Petticoat), c. 1870. Of course, it was not an exact match. I decided to purchase it anyway, but when adding it to my online cart, I was notified that there were only 7 yards of this fabric remaining in the store —about half of what I need for this dress! All things considered (the day bodice, bustled apron overskirt, and underskirt), I’ll be using between 12 and 15 yards of fabric. The bottom ruffle is cut on the bias (diagonally to allow for stretch and variation in the pattern) which will take more yardage than if it was cut parallel to the selvage.

A new design

With the initial fabric no longer available, a new opportunity emerged: design the fabric myself, based on the original material, and print it on fabric using Spoonflower. Working in Adobe Illustrator, I imported a .jpg of a detail shot (from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s website). I used this as the background (set at 50% transparency) to trace my design on top with the pen tool. Illustrator’s pen tool creates vectors, which means that I can scale the design to any size after finishing.

What’s next?

First, my sample pieces will arrive in a week or so for proofing. Spoonflower offers three fabric sizes at checkout (yardage, a fat quarter, and an 8 x 8” sample swatch). All designs can be printed on any of their twenty fabric types. After I have determined that the design looks good, I’ll order the yardage I need. In the mean time, I’ll be working on a muslim version of the day bodice.