Teddy Bear Tuesday: Making Sofia's Dress

Happy Monday everyone! For today's Beary Merry Monday post, I thought I'd talk about the Sofia the First dress I made for the girls' ShellieMay bear(s). (There is only one dress, but they share it.)

If you aren't familiar with Princess Sofia, she is a Disney Junior character who debuted last year. She was an instant hit with my girls, and I've heard she's pretty popular all around!

Asked why Sofia was so special (displacing the previous favorite, Cinderella), my daughter responded, "Because she's a little girl just like me!" I thought the response was interesting. Generally, the princesses are "grown ups", and I was surprised in retrospect that it took so long for Disney to introduce a child princess. (Of course, months later, we see the child-princesses at the beginning to Frozen. Is it possible that that "kid's perspective" is a main contributor to the huge response by little girls to the movie?---- Surely, my daughters have spent hours on either side of their bedroom door singing "Do you want to build a snowman?" to each other!)  But, I digress... 

I joked as I was making his dress that by the time I was done BABW would have one out in the stores! And, of course, now they do!

I joked as I was making his dress that by the time I was done BABW would have one out in the stores! And, of course, now they do!

Build-a-Bear workshop now sells a Sofia dress (here), but when the show came out last summer there was nothing on the market and my eldest daughter was begging for a dress for her ShellieMay bear (who has all the other princess dresses). So, I decided to take a stab at making a bear-sized costume of my own. After all, it's essentially just a purple dress, right?

You might remember my failed attempt to make a Merida bear dress a few months prior. In that project, I started without a pattern and the dress ended up being much too narrow to fit the ShellieMay bear. With some creative hemming I was able to salvage (and sell!) it as an American Girl doll dress, but the experience sort of turned me off of sewing for a few months. (Side note, I still have enough material to try again at making a Merida bear dress, I might give that a go sometime in the future, if I ever find the time!) 

What I learned from the 'failed' Merida project was that the proportions of the bear outfits and American Girl outfits are related, so for the Sofia dress I started with the Snow White dress from this Simplicity American Girl doll pattern, which I customized on the fly. When cutting the bodice and skirt pieces, I simply made them about 2 inches wider at the sides to accommodate the grittier bears, but not any longer. I also cut two skirts instead of one (one in purple and the other in white).  (Note: If I were to do this project over again, I would cut three skirts: two in purple and one in white, and make the scalloped overskirt doubled so as not to have a visible hem.)

I should pause here to note that I am by no means a seamstress. I learned to sew from my mother and grandmother who were by no means seamstresses, either. They taught me how to run basic stitches on my sewing machine and enough hand-stitches to hem, mend, and close pillows. I can follow a pattern (sort of) but my execution is rudimentary at best. I mostly rely on trial and error and hacking things together and sometimes glue. I find sewing to be a relaxing alternative to the graphic design that I do for a living (which is very precise) and so I try not to be overly critical of the finished product. These are meant for my kids to use and enjoy. I like to share the stories of my crafts projects because I hope it might inspire others to make things--- and because I tend to believe that the act of making things is good for the human spirit no matter how the things themselves turn out. It's about enjoying the process.

So, back to the story of the Sofia bear dress. At the time of this project, I hadn't thought that I might someday write a blog and so I didn't do a great job of documenting the project. I do have some photos, though, which I will include below.

The dress without scallops. I really shouldn't have started trimming the bodice before I figured out how to finish the skirt as it made it all the more stressful (since by the time I got to the skirt I had so many hours in that failure was not an option!)

The dress without scallops. I really shouldn't have started trimming the bodice before I figured out how to finish the skirt as it made it all the more stressful (since by the time I got to the skirt I had so many hours in that failure was not an option!)

Sewing the dress itself was fairly easy and I had the basic dress together the first evening. This was my first time making poofy sleeves, so that took a bit of trial-and-error. The scallops were difficult to figure out, too. I had to print out several size options of Sofia's signature white celtic pattern, and pinned them to the skirt. Once I'd settled on what size pattern looked best in relation to the bear's proportions, I cut the fabric to be about 1.5 inches around that circle. I then pinned and hemmed the scallops freehand. As I mentioned, if I could go back I would have cut two pieces and sewn them together, then reversed them so that the hem would be hidden (and the overskirt being a bit thicker wouldn't have hurt, either!) 

The rest of the work was in the trimming. I purchased a yard of plastic pearl trimming to edge the scallops as well as the neckline. I considered adding them to the sleeves but ultimately decided not to, basically because they're a pain to sew on! I added a sparkly purple ribbon to the white underskirt, and purple trim to the bodice in the loopy pattern from the character's outfit. I also bought necklace quality pearl beads that I strung together on fishing line to make Sofia's belt: this is a detail that most of the toys/costumes get wrong, if you pay close attention to the scene where the animals are helping her dress it's shown that the pearls are an overlay placed on top of the overskirt, and not a trim attached to the skirt itself, though most of the toys treat this element of the costume more like the peplums on Cinderella's dress. (Like that? I googled what are those side bustle things on Cinderella's dress called? and found this awesome blog!)  We even found a jewelry chain and charm at Micheals that looked a little bit like Sofia's amulet!

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I only had a few hours to work on the project in the evenings. As I wrapped up each night I would proudly show Viola how far the costume had come before bed. Let me just say: she is going to be one tough Art Director when she grows up. Rather stoically, she would take the dress and compare it to the DVD cover or her Sofia plush doll or her sister's Sofia costume, and then point out what parts didn't match. I particularly remember a conversation about the neckline. I had sewn on the amulet and considered it finished, but Viola pointed out that Sofia's dress has pearls around the neckline and that she wears the amulet over the dress. Ergo, the bear costume's neckline would need both. I tried to argue that one layer of embellishment was enough for a bear's costume but Viola's insisted that it wasn't accurate and so I added the pearls. 

What I left for last but really should have done first was the white celtic/flower pattern inside each scallop. I experimented with a couple different techniques, none of which panned out. I tried a few different brands of white fabric paint and stencils but couldn't get a clean edge. I also tried using stencils with puff paint, but again couldn't get a straight/clean edge. I considered cutting out the pieces from the white silk of the underskirt and sewing them on, but with 6 designs (each with 8 small pieces) I didn't think I'd be able to pull that off. Briefly, I hoped I call the dress complete without the white designs, but considering how detail oriented Viola was about the neckline you can probably guess that that didn't fly with her. 

Ultimately, I reached out to a woman I found on Etsy who had a Sofia inspired American Girl Doll dress for sale. She told me she used iron-on transfer for the pattern pieces. I was tempted to go over the transfer with a small zig-zag stitch, but the directions say not to and I have to say it's held up pretty well. The outfit gets played with a lot and there's hardly any fraying so far! 

As part of our 2013 Trip to Disney World we took ShellieMay and Duffy in their costumes on select days for photo-ops to add to our scrapbook. One of the things Viola was most excited to do was show off her ShellieMay's dress to Sofia at Hollywood Studios. We talked to the handler and were able to get a picture of Sofia holding ShellieMay for the scrapbook! 

Viola, by the way, knows all the words to the Enchancia National Anthem and will sing it for you, given the opportunity. 


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