October Tip of the Month: Knitting for Dolls


Introduction

I enjoy knitting for my dolls but I would not call myself an expert knitter. Mum was a good knitter, she loved making knitted soft toys especially those by Jean Greenhowe which were often featured in women’s magazines. Mum taught me to knit. She was very patient with me. I was a slow learner and often got frustrated and hurled my work across the room because I’d dropped stitches or accidentally pulled them off the needle, or made some other kind of mess of it. Eventually I mastered it and during my teens and twenties I did quite a lot of knitting (I didn’t have a computer then.) These days I don’t have the patience to make knitted garments for myself. I like something that will be finished in a few days at most so dolls clothes are ideal. I generally prefer patterns that only use the basic stitches, garter stitch, stocking stitch, rib and moss stitch. I can do all of these while watching TV, listening to music or an audio book or talking to someone else provided that I keep track of the increases and decreases. I can do a lacy stitch but I have to follow the pattern more closely and if I get too distracted by other things I will mess it up. Mum claimed that her favourite lacy stitch, I don’t know the name of it, was the easiest one in the world to do but I could never master it.

Yarns

So what things should we think about when we knit for dolls? I think the most important is that the weight of the yarn should be appropriate for the doll. Many patterns for fashion dolls use thick yarns and while they are quick to knit up and don’t take much wool they make the dolls look very bulky in them. I especially don’t like to knit bulky wool pants for Barbie and Ken. I don’t think they look that great and I don’t find them realistic. In fact I get itchy just thinking about them. That said, if your goal is to knit up some duds for a child or grandchild’s dolls these patterns are quick and easy to knit up and very young kids probably don’t care if they are not very fashionable. They are also easier for beginner knitters to manage. Below is a knitted outfit that one of my vintage Sindy’s arrived wearing. it is quite nice, not too bulky at all.

Sindy in a hand knitted outfit.

I prefer to knit fashion doll clothing in 3 or 4 ply knitting/crochet cotton. It comes in a wide range of bright colours and it has a nice texture. You can even get metallic threads although these are a bit stiff and harder to knit with. I have sometimes knitted fashion doll clothes with baby yarn. These are usually pastel colours although there is a better range of brighter ones these days. You have to use the thinnest needles for these yarns. Usually 2mm or less and they take a bit of getting used to. When I went back to knitting on larger needles after a long run of Barbie knitting it felt like I was trying to knit with pencils.

Kelly friend in hand knitted dress.
Knitted bikinis in different weights of cotton.
Knitted dress

Of course for larger dolls the thicker yarns are fine and I like to use 4, 5 or 8 ply wool either pure wool or synthetic. Some of my larger dolls have arrived wearing hand knitted outfits. they look like they have received a lot of love so I nearly always let them keep the outfit unless it really doesn’t fit properly or is worn out. This little girl arrived wearing a full outfit of dress, coat, bootees, gloves and bag so of course I let her keep it.

Unmarked 16″ vinyl doll in a home made outfit.

Tension

Therefore, before commencing specific project, it is necessary to check your tension, even if the yarn you are going to use is well known to you. To do this, knit a swatch about 13cm square in pattern, yarn and needles as stated. Stretch swatch in each directions and allow to rest. Mark 10cm square in middle of test piece and count stitches and rows between markers:

https://www.womansweekly.com/knitting/tension-for-knitting-patterns-12207/

The other important thing to remember in doll knitting, well any knitting really is tension. If your stitches tend to be on the loose side you will find that the fabric will not be firm and that the item you are making will come out larger than you expected. If your stitches are too tight the opposite will happen. You will have a garment that will be too small. This is why knitting guides will always tell you to use the exact yarn specified in the pattern and to knit a tension square before you begin. Of course you can’t always use the exact yarn, especially if you use old patterns like I do. When you buy a ball of yarn the ball band will generally have a suggested tension and needle size on it. If I am substituting one yarn for another I will compare this with the pattern I want to use to see if it is suitable. Then I will knit a tension square and adjust the size of the needles to get the tension required in the pattern. As I tend to knit a bit loosely I might use a size smaller than given in the pattern. If my knitting was very tight I would use a larger size to get the correct tension.

There are ways to correct your tension by holding the wool a certain way. If you are very visual you may be able to follow instructions by looking at a video or diagram. I just can’t do it. Whenever I look at diagrams I get confused by all the hand movements. I can only knit the way I knit.

Tris, Marissa and Nicole. Same dress different yarns

Patterns

It is very easy to find knitting patterns for dolls of any size. There are still doll knitting books being published today and it is also possible to buy them from eBay and Etsy sellers. You can also find old patterns at markets and Op Shops. Don’t forget to look at old women’s magazines. They often featured dolls knitting, crochet and sewing patterns and most of these are not complicated. Most of my patterns were accumulated over the years and I have far more than I’ll ever use.

My favourite place for free fashion doll patterns is Stickatill Barbie which I have written about before. They have patterns for Barbie, Ken, Skipper, Chelsea and Bratz dolls.

I also found a few others:

Some people prefer to knit without a pattern. They will just measure their doll and work out what size they need. A skirt can be knitted in either one or two pieces in stocking stitch or rib knit. It’s one of the easiest things to make. A top can be made with minimal shaping, just casting on extra stitches according to the desired sleeve length.

Green and white striped top and hat

Conclusion

Knitting for dolls is a fun and inexpensive hobby. You can use leftover balls of yarn for small projects or you could unravel old clothing and reuse the wool. You can hunt for old patterns or download them for free. You can do it while you watch TV or listen to music. I find it very relaxing as do many other knitters.

I am aware that a lot of knitting terms are different in the USA, UK and Europe and I haven’t attempted to cover that subject here. I might do so in a future post if people would like that.

10 comments

  1. Thanks for the links to all the free patterns. I love knitting for dolls especially the little ones. It’s so quick and easy, and if you do it wrong it’s quick to unpick. I generally like knitting the little tweed suits for Barbie sized dolls ( or Sindy). For really fine wool, if you know someone who knits socks, that size is perfect and it’s very durable and washable. Also the colours are great. But I’ve got a hefty wool stash to knit through ( and am often temped by pound shop offers of brightly coloured acrylics) so I am never short of wool. Just of enough things to knit! 😉 I also love the older Sindy knitting patterns which have great dioramas of Sindys playing tennis, or Action Man scaling a mountain face. Such imaginative photos. I can’t find them much any more except at excruciating eBay prices. Finding these and small wool bundles in charity shops is half the fun. Happy knitting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those old patterns were well illustrated. I have the one with Action Man in various jumpers. I’ve made a couple of them. Sock yarn is good to use if you can get it but I’m like you. Big stash of wool and sometimes can’t resist those $2 balls at our equivalent of the pound shop. Shiploads and The Reject Shop are two good ones.

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  2. A very enjoyable post, and thank you for the pattern links. Sindy’s dress is exquisite! All the hand-knitted outfits are beautiful. I use to knit regularly many, many years ago (only small items) and am having a hard time carving out time for knitting now. I probably need to spend more time knitting and less time on the computer! I miss my mom being around to pick up my dropped stitches.

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    • I miss my mum for that too although after I moved away from home I really just had to do it myself. My knitting definitely decreased after I learned to use a computer but I do want to get all these naked dolls into some nice knitted outfits so I’m starting to spend more time on it again.

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  3. Great insights and resources. I think your ideas on tension will definitely help. I miss my Granny who taught me to knit & crochet and do homemade ornaments. She was left handed so would face me while teaching and hand things to me that way.I also like plastic canvas projects. I love home-made’s for dolls not just clothing but some furniture and pillows and purses. Thanks for the links. Another great blog!

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    • I’ve yet to try plastic canvas. I’d love to because I see some amazing old patterns for doll furniture. Getting the materials is a bit hard here. I’d probably have to buy online.

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  4. Thank you for this post! Answered a lot questions I had. Absolutely love the Sindy dress! I learned to knit at age 11 from an elderly friend of the family( my mom only sewed) and just did basic stuff like garter stitch scarves. I taught myself from a small booklet to crochet. I mainly crochet doll clothes, a lot faster for me. It’s a shame that so many doll patterns for knit/crochet are not made much any more. Here in the U.S. for years women’s magazines had doll patterns, especially in their November/December issues so they could be made for gifts. I have saved so many Barbie patterns from those magazines, I can’t count them. Plus booklets purchased at stores. A few are from the 1960’s. I love needlework history, so the old patterns are extra enjoyment for me. I enjoy all your posts that have your handmade doll clothing in them.

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    • I would love to be able to crochet doll’s clothes as there are some wonderful patterns for them and somehow the fit seems better with crochet. I’ve tried to learn several times but haven’t succeeded yet.

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