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The Perfect Princess Project

I'm often asked what my design process is when I come up with a new costume for Dolly or Doug.  I always feel that design is often a confusing process and that the best approach is a personal one!  Do what suits you as the designer - that's my mantra.

I'm going to chat about the process I follow when I make a new design for Dolly.  They are by no means set in stone and often change a billionty times before the final cut but here's an insight into the process at Dolly Towers for our Perfect Princess and Crown Dress.


sheryl at work Dolly Pattern



Things that suit my work style:

  1. A tidy work space with plenty of quiet
  2. noting down all ideas, no matter how bizarre or random (you never know!)
  3. Keeping everything really fluid and open to change at all times
  4. Following a step by step routine from conception to completion of a project - the outfits are never the same but the method I follow to prepare them never changes or deviates.  Why change a good thing, right?

... Edit: Number one on the list: TEA.

Ok, so I lied about tidy work area! *giggles*

(Hey, we're crafters - we can't be spending time cleaning as well!)

The first step: Imagination!

If you can think it then it's possible to create it.  It helps that I have an overactive mind and an unhealthy obsession with fabric, pinterest and lots of support from my family for my bonkers ideas.  I really should have a creative bunker by now but the paper pushers keep telling me "it's not in the budget". 

Drat. (makes mental note to search "build-your-own-bunker" on pinterest).

Starting with a drawing or sketch can really help to firm up ideas and I always keep mine to look back on and refer to during the whole process.  This helps me to remember my original objective long after the thrill of fabric shopping and choosing trims has given me 'stash blindness*'.

My Nan and Grandad always had a poster in their kitchen which read:

"When you're up to your neck in alligators it is difficult to remind yourself that your initial objective was to drain the swamp"

When I was little, I didn't understand it - now that I am old and wise (and asked what it meant!) it's something I've always kept in mind to help me focus on what I am supposed to be doing and serves as a little reminder to stay on track.

concept sketch of sew a princess rag doll dress

Anyway ... yes, sketches. 

Here's the original sketch of the Princess costume and crown for Dolly - I usually give it a loose colour palette to bring it to life. 

The colours often change depending on what I have available, what I can up-cycle or what is trendy right now - I will always check my local independent fabric retailer first, then online later if I am really stuck.

The fabric selection for this princess dress was inspired by the awesome gold sequin trim that we stock and the gold metallic leather we had left over from our Unicorn and Dragon costume pattern design process. 

I had originally wanted yellow satin for the main dress, but switched to gold when I saw it in the fabric shop - I just fell in love with the chic combo, what more can I say?!

Notice the feint pencil lines behind the left sleeve?  I tried different ideas for sleeves before settling on a puff-ball style, then ditched it completely because it made Dolly's head look out of scale.

The results of my princess fabric shopping trip looked a little like this when I popped all my treasures together:


The next stage is to design the pattern pieces, method and make the sample garment for the photography.  I must confess to having a slight advantage in the photo department, having run and managed a professional portrait studio for over a decade I can apply the skills learned in my career as a photographer to create beautiful photo's of Dolly and all my products for the website.

It's one of my favourite parts of the process and far LESS glamorous than you'd think.  In short, it involves my floor and my laundry horse, 3 clothes pegs and a phone. True.

home photo studio setup for products sheryl long photographer Here's my basic home studio set-up. Knowing how to use and manipulate natural daylight in the correct manner can achieve professional quality images on just a Samsung phone!

Forgive the mess, I think we've already established I am indeed the world's leading authority on 'creative horizontal storage solutions'.

DO NOT BE FOOLED into thinking the camera does all the work - it absolutely does NOT - there's 14 years worth of commercial photographic experience behind every shot I take, and, if I wasn't capable I would absolutely call in a professional in product photography that understands marketing - rare as they are.

Please email me for a personal recommendation of the most BRILLIANT UK based commercial photographer ever (no, it's not me!).

Here's how the photography turned out, I hitched up her skirt to show the fullness of the net underskirt and add that special bit of personality into my shots which makes me smile.


We all love her here!  The princess dress will fit Dolly perfectly.  If you've not made Dolly yet, I can recommend buying the Dolly and Princess Starter Pattern (as a digital pdf or as a traditional printed pattern through the post) as there's a bundle price of £8.99 (pdf version) which will save you four quid against buying them individually.  It contains the patterns for Dolly and for the princess dress and crown and the pdf version includes a FREE birth certificate pdf for you to print when you name her - If you choose the printed version you'll be able to download the pdf from the website when you're ready, or email in for one.

I made the trims available on the Dolly Pattern supplies page so you can be sure to get the right stuff, and combine postage.  It's the gold sequin braid and the gold metallic 's' braid I've used.  I know these things can be tricky to locate so I strive to do all the leg work for you where I can.

Right, my tea cup is officially empty and needs a refill - As I'm a 'cup's half full' kind of girl this situation needs resolving immediately!

Until next time Dolly fans!

Sheryl & Dolly xxoo

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