First posted April 29th.
1. Thread and notions: Thread is expensive, but you can generally get away with a few basic colours, or, if you're lucky, small or old part-spools of more interesting colours. Keep enough bobbins wound with the basic colours so that you won't use "have to wind bobbins" as an excuse for not sewing. A lady who taught me sewing and craft lessons years ago used nothing but clear thread in all her craft sewing--she could not be bothered ever changing colours. (She was also known for her phrase, "what we can't glue, we don't do.")
Quarter-inch elastic is a real basic, in ruffled sleeves and in the waists of pants and skirts. Half-inch will work too, at least in waistbands. You might not want to use dollar-store elastic in your own clothes or other places it will get hard wear, but for the fairly gentle use it will get in dolls' clothes, it should work fine.
I've tried Velcro on doll clothes, but the adhesive kind doesn't always stick that well, and the sewn kind can be hard to sew on, either by hand or machine. You also have to keep buying it new--I don't see much used Velcro. So most of the doll clothes I sew now have snaps on them--I keep finding vintage packets at rummage sales. Sewing snaps on isn't the quickest thing either, but it's something to do while listening to the radio at night.
2. Fabric: Old clothes can be a great source of fabric, if they're not too worn. (Holes are okay--you can cut around those--but fabric that's worn out or stained isn't going to look good.) Plain-coloured or small-print pillowcases (from the thrift store) can be good, and they have lots of fabric in them. Knit (stretchy) fabrics can be a lot harder to work with than woven types, so unless you have a very co-operative machine, a serger, or just like a challenge, stay away from anything with Lycra. (If you need a really stretchy piece of clothing, think about knitting or crocheting it instead.) If you're recycling items of children's clothing, you might be able to use some parts of them as-is, such as using sleeves for pant legs, or at least making use of a nice finished edge. Try fitting a pattern piece (such as a pants pattern) onto an existing clothes item; you might be able to save yourself a couple of seams.
If you're buying a grab bag or miscellaneous bunch of fabric, think about the overall value of what you're getting. If you get a large package of odds and ends for a dollar or two, and use only one piece or make only one item of clothing, that's still a much better deal than paying for ready-made doll clothing. Take a chance, and if you find you can't use most of what's in there, you can always send it on. (We bought a pack like that recently, and it turned out to be largely fake leather and suede pieces--most of them were too heavy for doll use. But there were a few good pieces in there too.)
If a skirt calls for a rectangle 22 inches wide, and your piece is only 18 inches wide, you might be able to patch in an extra piece from somewhere else on the fabric. If the fabric's dark enough and you hide it at the back, it probably won't be noticed. (The dark corduroy skirt above has an extra panel in the back, but you have to look closely to see it.) You can also patch in other-coloured side panels (or a bottom panel if you're short on length), and make it look like it was done on purpose. Real-people clothes use ideas like that all the time--different-coloured sleeves, colour-blocked dresses.
3. Fabric #2: What's in a name? I've posted before about how we went looking for fat quarters, and ended up with bandannas of several colours and prints. They were the same size as a fat quarter, and much cheaper. (Then there are the plaid pants in the photo below, made from dollar-store men's boxer shorts.)
5. Explore your doll's personality and style. I'm serious. If you don't know, ask the owner what her doll likes to do and what her favourite colours are. Does she look like she fits a particular decade or style? Dollygirl's Crissy, a vintage '70's doll, looks good in groovy clothes, which is a good thing since the patterns we have for her are all bell-bottoms and long vests. American Girl Kit is meant to be from the 1930's, and for some reason Kit does look particularly good in vintage-y styles. Dollygirl doesn't usually put Kit in fleece pants and jean vests; it's just not her particular vibe.
wrap dress; Crystal got a smock top and shorts.
6. Have fun sewing. Forcing bias tape around a bolero jacket is not worth bad language and blood. Crochet one instead. Or make the doll a poncho. Do what you like doing, and what will make your young clothes-users (live and stuffed) happy. And take a couple of photos for your blog.
Photos by Dollygirl. Antique basket and doll clothes were used (and some of them were sewn) by Mama Squirrel's great-aunt in the early 1900's. Want to see Dollygirl's old-trunk photo story?
Linked from Festival of Frugality #390 at Frugal Rules.