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Small Problems with Scale

When I started working down to dolly sizes, I knew I was going to have some issues with the scale. I’ve been neurotic about fabric choices – I mean, what do you substitute for velvet that will look like velvet, and fall like velvet? Twelve inches of skirt is just does not have enough weight to bend velvet to the laws of gravity.  What about embellishments? What about the $#*&^!! EYELETS?!  Oy….

I am technically working at 1/4 scale, meaning my 16″ doll is the equivalent of a 5’4″ woman. (Heavy emphasis on “technically” here – I’ve always thought Tyler would be taller than that!) One inch in Dollandia is 4″ in reality. That’s got some disturbing implications that I didn’t really think through when I came up with the genius idea of doing historical work at this size….

Look me straight in the eyelets, here, and let’s do some quick math: a proper eyelet, for a human, works up to something like 1/4″ edge-to-edge if you’re working it large. At quarter scale, that’s 1/16″ of an inch.

very tiny handworked eyelets
These eyelets are a hair less than 1/8" across, and they're still too gosh-darned big!

Here’s the problem: an eyelet has to be worked over the threads of the base material. The top two shown in this picture are worked over three threads of the base fabric – that’s enough to pull the fabric away from the center of the eyelet (thus making a hole), and make the stitches lie flat. The bottom eyelet is worked over only two threads. The stitches are so small that the buttonhole edge flips up, and even though the size is getting closer to correct, the look is all off. Also, the central hole is small enough that I had a hard time getting a needle large enough to thread with cotton crochet cord through it to lace the dress. (You can’t work an eyelet over just one thread, btw. It’s the tension of stitches against the threads of the fabric that pulls the eyelet open. A one-thread-wide eyelet would be a little like leashing your dog and tying him to himself. Pointless, yet silly.)

I’m running into a similar issue with embroidery. I found a really great embroidery pattern in Patterns of Fashion 4. It’s composed of stem stitch (which is so basic that even I can get it right), buttonhole/blanket stitches (which I do all the time!), and something relatively like a square chain stitch. This is the single most approachable piece of Elizabethan embroidery I’ve ever seen, and it’s pretty! The stitch combination is really effective. I thought I’d try it on the square necked chemise. I ran into the same problem I ran into with the eyelets – when you’re down to working stitches over only one or two threads, they don’t look right.

Which leaves me with some major dilemmas… I know that I’m going to have to sacrifice strict historical accuracy at this scale. Where to I make those sacrifices? I know I’ll be changing fabrics to get the right silhouettes, because I hate it when doll clothes look like doll clothes. (Yeah, I know – it sounds silly to me too.) Do I accept that elements like eyelets work up roughly twice the size they should properly be? Do I work embroidery designs as they were, even though that’s way too big? Do I make up a simplified version with the same overall design in different stitches and less detail?

simplified elizabethan floral vine
A simplified version of the standard Elizabethan floral/vine motif - is it enough?

Would I actually be better off drawing the design on? I’d be able to add more detail, but it wouldn’t have the texture.

I’m somewhat flummoxed right now…


  1. Janell
    Janell February 6, 2011

    I think the answer is “it depends.” You should make the choice of simplifying vs enlarging on a case by case basis. I don’t think you’d be happy with drawing; though it might be worth doing research into fine-tipped puffy paint.

  2. missa
    missa February 7, 2011

    Hi, Janell,
    Thanks for the thoughts! Fine-tipped puffy paints are a trick I use when I need something that looks like embroidery on a stage, actually – if you run a fine toothed comb through the paint while it’s still wet, you can get something that looks convincingly like stitching. I mean, on a stage, where no one’s examining it up close or touching it…. ;)

  3. Apex
    Apex February 9, 2011

    I would go with less detail . Good Luck.

  4. Trish
    Trish February 13, 2011

    I’d also simplify it.
    My niece has recently gotten into Barbies, and I’ve been looking into some of this same sort of thing. I couldn’t get the scrap-booking grommets to work right, even they were too big…
    I just found this other website that has historical and movie costumes for Barbies, and Tyler dolls
    She also has an amazing Tudor and some wonderful underpinnings for both dolls.

  5. missa
    missa February 15, 2011

    Hey, Trish, thanks for the link! That site is *amazing*! I love that she’s using velvet to mimic fur at doll-scale. Brilliant! :)

  6. Catriona Ferguson
    Catriona Ferguson August 17, 2016

    I know it’s been a long time but I have an answer for eyelets.
    I make the garment edges with as much fusible hemming tape needed to make sure the fabrics are adhered to each other. I then make the holes with a sharp metal point trying to get between the threads rather than breaking them. When there is a good size hole I use some fray check and then a bit of aleenes tacky glue to make sure each hole is sealed.
    It is working really well and Iooks fantastic

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