Shirley Temple…sew cute!

Shirley Temple…sew cute!

Sanderson, Nancy

In the mid 1930s, a little girl with dimples stole the hearts of Americans who went to the movies to forget that life durin the Depression was really hard. Shirley Temple danced in the movies, and little girls who were lucky enough to have a doll “danced” their Shirley Temples at home. These dolls generally came in dresses or outfits that resembled clothing from Shirley’s movies and, today, most purists want original dresses on their little treasures. Original dresses, however, are becoming increasingly hard to find and the cost is often very high. If you cannot find an affordable dress for your Shirley Temple doll or your lookalike (and there are many of these), the next best thing to do is to make one.

Most of the dresses Shirley wore in the movies had a higher than normal waistline and they were very short. Probably the most recognizable Shirley Temple dress is the polka dot one she wore in Stand Up And Cheer. It came in red, blue, and green. The version here is made of old dotted organdy and trimmed with red bias tape and soutache braid. Another popular dress was the plaid one featured in Bright Eyes when she sang “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” We have seen at least seven different plaids on original dresses. So, choose a plaid you like that enhances the color of your doll. Just make certain the plaid is not too big for the size of the dress. Shirley was adopted by a rich man in Curly Top and wore some of the cutest dresses of all in this movie. Our version of one of these dresses is made with a black velvet bodice and a yellow taffeta pleated skirt. The original featured two appliqued ducks on the bodice with an embroidered background. If you love to do handwork, here is your chance to shine. If not, many appliques are available in fabric stores. Choose one of appropriate size and color to decorate your dress.

A dress from Captain January was made of pleated pique with a polka dot bodice and a matching panel in the skirt. We have used modern cotton fabrics and made the dress in green. The bow is fashioned from the fabric, a nice trick if you cannot find ribbon that is exactly the right color for the dress.

Our red and white gingham dress is not from any particular movie, but it was one of the extra dresses available for the Shirley Temple doll in the 1930s. The original had embroidered cherries on the front panel where we have used coordinating braid instead. The style is right, the color is right, and this dress will look adorable on your Shirley Temple doll. Just a word of caution here. Red was very popular for Shirley Temple clothes. However, if your doll’s color has faded a bit, you might want to try a softer color. Another alternative is to use old fabrics that have also faded. Ladies’ aprons usually have enough material for a small doll dress and they are not that hard to find.

There are many books on Shirley Temple as well as on her dolls and their clothes. You can also find photographs of the dolls in Jan Foulkes Blue Books of Dolls & Values. Find a photograph you like and let your creativity go to work. The basic pattern included here will help you get just the right look for your doll. Most importantly, have fun. The dresses are not difficult to make and you will have the satisfaction of saying, “I made it myself!”

Note: Please read all instructions carefully before starting your project. Before cutting, make a sample from scrap fabric and try it on your dolls making any necessary adjustments before cutting into the good”fabric. An allowance for %-inch seams has been made throughout. Half a yard of material will be enough for a dress and panties. You will need elastic for the waistband and, possibly, the sleeves. Snaps rather than buttons are recommended on small doll dresses. Sheer fabrics need to be lined.

Copyright Cowles Enthusiast Media Feb 1999

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