achievement unlocked: doll-sized Captain Barnacles costume

Allow me to inject a little terror into your blog reader this morning. It’s almost Halloween, after all!


I wrote the other day about my blog make-over, & the new blog I’ve started to document my doll clothes-making. I’m keeping the doll stuff separate from this space, mostly, because I know most of my readers come here to read about adult garment-making. I know I’ve unfollowed my fair share of blogs when they changed focus. & it’s not like I have any plans to stop sewing clothes for myself!

(Also, I am lying. Most of my “readers” come here for an old post from 2012 about having a positive home pregnancy test & a negative blood test at the OB’s office. That negative blood test was actually Ramona, so the joke’s on…my blood, I guess? I seriously get dozens of hits a day from women who are desperately hoping they are pregnant even though their doctors say they’re not. I feel kind of bad about it, because my experience was kind of one in a million.)

So, I made this doll for Ramona. & she is into it. She tucks into bed every night. But she wasted no time in saying that she wanted a Captain Barnacles doll. He’s a character from the kids’ book/TV series “The Octonauts”. Maybe this is weird, but I have zero interest in making what is essentially a stuffed animal. Bring on all the dolls that resemble humans, but a bear? Are you kidding me? (Captain Barnacles is a polar bear.) I suggested I make a Captain Barnacles costume that she could put on her doll, & she deemed it a fair compromise.


So this is what I came up with! There are seven pieces here: a belt, boots, pants, undies, a shirt, a hat, & a mask. That mask is the kind of scary piece (for adults, anyway). Dolls wearing masks are just unnerving. Like, what demonic possession are they trying to hide? But Ramona likes it, & that’s what counts.


I made the belt & boots from a thrifted handbag. It was basically a clutch, so I didn’t have much material to work with. It was a little scary, because if I fucked up, I was out of luck. I took the bag apart & used a narrow strip that was used as an external pocket closure as the belt. I had to add a little more length to make it fit around the doll’s waist, but it wasn’t too challenging.


The boots would work a lot better on a doll with more foot-like feet. This doll’s feet are just kind of round stubs. I’m definitely going to tweak the foot on the next doll I make. But in any case, each boot consists of three pieces: a boot shaft that extends to the sole in the back, the instep, & the sole. When I took the purse apart, I discovered it had a layer of fairly stiff untreated leather in the bottom, as a kind of interfacing. I used that for the soles. I took a deep breath & hand-painted the Octonauts logo with the tiniest paintbrush I have.


The pants were an exercise in wrapping my mind around drafting for a doll. (I’m drafting all my doll clothes myself. There are plenty of doll patterns on the market, but part of why I’m doing the doll clothes project is to work on all of my sewing skills, including drafting.) It’s a doll, so I kept drafting too small. Once you add seam allowances to a pattern piece for a doll, it looks enormous. Finally, I took a deep breath & reminded myself of my sewing mantra: “trust the process”. I trusted the measurements, I trusted the seam allowances, & I came up with a perfectly fitting pair of pants. Seriously, the lion’s share of sewing mistakes I make come from me deviating from the reality of the numbers & processes & thinking, “That can’t be right,” or, “Eh, close enough,” or, “Maybe there’s a shortcut.” Just ask the perfectly sewn pair of undies I made for myself, using a pattern I drafted for 50% stretch fabric, & then sewed in a fabric with 30% stretch. It really does make a big difference between success & unwearability.


I made undies because undies are easy to make (unless you choose the wrong fabric!) & I needed a breather before I tackled the godforsaken shirt.


This is a woven shirt with set-in long sleeves, a front faux-placket, an embroidered collar, hemmed with a band, & fastened in the back with Velcro. You can see, it’s quite fitted. Most doll shirts out there are a lot more basic than this: basically a pillowcase raglan with an elasticized neck. So this was ambitious. & I fucked up the draft a lot before I got it right. At one point, I completely forgot what a sleeve pattern is supposed to look like & was like, “So it’s just a cylinder? Man, that’s easy.” Thankfully, I returned to my brain before I cut into any fabric.


I am not thrilled with the finishing on this shirt. But…it’s a start, right? The biggest, dumbest mistake I made was sewing the collar with a topstitching needle instead of a microtex needle. UGH! I thought I was using a microtex needle & was like, “Ahhh! Why is the needle chewing up my fabric? Why don’t I have more control on these curves? Why is my thread birdnesting?” Well, because I was basically sewing really fine woven fabric with a club.


I do think the collar looks nice though. It turns under really well.


The hat is made from five slightly curved triangles sewn together to create the crown, & the brim drafted to be taller in the front than in the back. The stripes are some elderly hem tape from my stash. Narrow ribbon would have been better, but I didn’t have any navy or royal blue in my stash & I didn’t want to go out & buy any. The Octonauts logo is again painted by hand.


& then the mask. It’s really well-made, from nice heavy felt interfaced with fusible fleece. It gives the mask a fuzzy texture, kind of like very short fur. All the little details are sewn (not glued!) in place. The eyes are buttons, because dolls don’t really need eyeholes. (I can’t decide if eyeholes would have made this mask more or less terrifying.) I threaded 1/8″ elastic through tiny metal eyelets to hold it to the doll’s head. I was so pleased with my craftsmanship that it took me a while to see how scary it was. I posted it on Facebook so people could ooh & ahh over my work. The likes did not come rolling in, & when I saw the photos decontextualized in my newsfeed, I understood why. It really is a little unsettling.

You can follow my dollmaking adventures over at Watch this space for upcoming posts on garments, including bras & undies!


Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

2 thoughts on “achievement unlocked: doll-sized Captain Barnacles costume

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: