The Vintage Barbie Project


Lately, I've been posting on my facebook and Instagram feeds about my vintage Barbie project. I'm sewing the entire 1959 Barbie collection for Olivia for Christmas this year! I don't know who will have more fun, myself or her. I've had a lot of questions about it so I thought I'd share some great resources, patterns and my completed outfits so far.

how to sew retro Barbie clothes
Fabric remnants and a small bit of an old tee shirt made the Barbie resort set. She just needs her hat and a little white trim

I've never sewn doll clothes before and although I've sewn clothes for myself since I was about 12, this has been a real challenge! Barbie clothes are sewn mostly flat until the last minute when you sew up the side seams, otherwise hems would be impossible! There's some really great tips on how to sew Barbie clothes from Sharon Sews. Be sure to read through the comments section for smart ideas and time saving tips.

The Doll
She's 6 years old and I hate to give a little kid a wonderful vintage treasure that could end up wrecked so I found the 90's reproduction Barbie on ebay for $10! They generally go for between $10 and $20 or a little more, depending on the condition of the box. Her box had a few dings and creases so it wasn't great for a collector but perfect for a little girl. I carefully took Barbie out of her box so I could use her for a model as I sewed the outfits. She'll go back in and get wrapped up before the holidays.  Something to note about the repro Barbie is that if you do decide to take yours out of the box, the rubber bands in her hair will likely be crumbling, so you'll need to replace those but that's easy enough! This doll comes with the swimsuit, black shoes and sunglasses.

how to sew vintage Barbie clothes
Ugly vintage curtain fabric was perfect for this outfit. The vintage fur trim came from an old, shabby collar.

The Collection
I spent several weeks reading all about vintage Barbie clothes, studying up-close photos on ebay and taking notes of what kids of fabric I would need. You can find everything you need to know about the first Barbie outfits and accessories by year issued on Doll and Fashion Doll Guide. There's some really interesting history information and beautiful photos of original Barbies and clothes. 

how to sew vintage Barbie1950s  lingerie from Va Voom Vintage
vintage embroidered fabric scraps made perfect lingerie for Barbie

 The Fabric
Since I'm sewing my collection for my little girl, I'm not worried about getting everything perfectly accurate so I've found most of my fabric at JoAnn Fabrics, Walmart or in my stash of scraps and vintage fabrics. Most fabric stores will cut a minimum of 2 inches at the cutting table so if you only need a tiny bit and don't want to pay a lot of an expensive fabric, you can still use really beautiful materials for little money. I found some great remnants too and since JoAnn marks remnants at 50% off the regular price per yard, I paid less than $2 per dress for most of these.

vintage barbie make your own retro lingerie
I had a vintage pink slip with some damage so I cut the trim off the bottom and made a baby doll for Barbie with some matching lace-trimmed panties

One of my facebook readers commented that her mother used to trade fabric scraps with other ladies in the neighborhood, which is a fantastic idea if you have some local friends or family who sew. Check thrift stores for discounted garments that can be cut up and re-purposed.  Some fabrics could not be found like the fabric for the apple print sheath dress so I made my own. I bought a remnant of black cotton and used pencil erasers as circular stamps for the apples. I already had the acrylic paint so I stamped away and dotted each circle with a black spot once it dried.

DIY vintage Barbie apple print sheath make your own fabric
Almost finished! The fabric for this dress was hand painted using pencil erasers as round stamps.

The Patterns
Some of the patterns that I'm using are from Aileen's Petite Fashions. Some of your grandmas or aunts may have some of these patterns from way back when but they are still in business and you can buy the patterns from their website. They have many of the patterns needed for the 1959 collection as well as recent years. For the vintage outfits that you can't find on their website, there are also loads of free Barbie patterns on Pinterest, Picasa and Flickr that you can change up as needed.

DIY 1959 vintage Barbie picnic outfit with jeans and gingham top
These jeans were not fun to sew. I recommend keeping a bottle of wine in the fridge.

I haven't made many accessories yet but I did find very inexpensive Barbie shoes from Doll Clothes Superstore. I checked Ebay and Amazon but most of the shoes that I found were too modern or too expensive. This site has Barbie shoes for about 75 cents per pair, which is all I want to pay for something that will most likely end up under Olivia's bed!

vintage Barbie compact Roman Holiday
Vintage Barbie Compact from the Roman Holiday set via Land Collectables

The 1959 Barbie collection had some incredible accessories including woven baskets, straw hats, a fishing pole and the most coveted- the brass Barbie compact, which has sold for up to $1,500!  One of my clever readers suggested using a tiny locket to make the compact, which I thought was genius! I'll be making my own tiny cardboard diary, knitting basket and things like that.

how to make a vintage Barbie fur trimmed hat for the 1959 Evening Splendour set
Check the recycling bin for Barbie accessories. Here, a rim from an empty bottle gets some fur and pearl trim and is snipped open on one end for a hat

Follow my vintage Barbie project on Instagram and Facebook and I'll post some more here as I get them finished!


  1. Wow! Congratulations! everything is beautiful, your daughter is going to be very happy! I have done several clothes to my daughter´s barbies and it is very difficult!!

  2. This is the cutest thing, I've seen in a long time! I wish you were my mother! <3

  3. Those turned out great! I actually have the original stripe shirt, and the red plaid one from my Mom's old Barbie collection so it was neat seeing pictures of them!

  4. This is truly amazing! Your daughter is going to love this.

  5. I have admired what your are doing on IG. This is fabulous, she is one really lucky girl, and I suppose you are having fun too. When I was a little a girl I didn't play with my Barbie (which was a cheap copy, since my mom couldn't afford the real one), I just sew lots of clothes. Clothes were quite expensive too, and I also traded lovely fabric scraps too. I also collected miniature things for her and made her a drawer (of matchboxes) and sewed her a sleeping bag, for when going with me. That's an idea for you too. Back then you couldn't buy a lot of fancy accessories like cars and houses and smaller things, back then you collected things that suited her size. I still have mine and am inspired to sew her some new clothes. Thanks for sharing, it is SO charming. Wishing you a lovely weekend. :)

  6. I'm hypnotised by this project! Amazing!!!!!

  7. My mom made beautiful Barbie clothes for me when I was little. She kept everything and my daughter's now play with them. When I think of the time and care she spent sewing pleats on those tiny skirts, finishing sleeves with little lace cuffs and knitting little sweaters for them I feel super blessed. I think Olivia will have similar sentiments when she looks back at these posts showing your process, and when she holds these one of a kind pieces years down the line.

  8. Wow! Barbie is so lucky to have you as her seamstress! There's a site called, I think, Stika-til Barbie or something similar if you decide to knit her any tops or dresses - maybe a little fuzzy cardigan to go with a poodle skirt?

  9. Brittany,
    You're making me want to start making doll's outfits again. :)
    Here's the truth of how I learned to sew: no one had time to make new clothes for my Barbie (I use the name, but my doll only looked like the original, the real thing was way above our family budget). Back then, when I had to stay indoors and entertain my female friends, dolls had tea, or doll s had a party.. or we did something with dolls.. and your doll had to be stylish. So, I started sewing little bits and pieces - slowly it turned into sewing dresses (....first for my doll, later for myself)...


  10. Your little girl is going to be SO HAPPY when she opens this Barbie and her darling trunk of clothes.
    I remember sewing clothes for my Barbies, then subsequent Asian Ball Joint Dolls, and ahhh such fiddly little seams. SO major props to you for continuing to work on these cute clothes, and for the resources. I think I'll look for an anniversary Barbie now!

    Carla, Tiny Angry Crafts

  11. How fun... Know your daughter will treasure these Christmas gifts.. Look forward to seeing what you make next.. Happy sewing.

  12. Absolutely awesome work! I don't collect Barbies these days, but goodness was I huge fan as a kid and I think that like so many others, I will always have a massively soft spot in my heart for her.

    ♥ Jessica

  13. Oh wow this is beautiful and you're having so much fun! I wish I had an excuse to follow along!

  14. This is adorable and so clever!

  15. This is adorable and so clever!

  16. YASSSSS!! A few years ago I had this idea to make all of my favorite vintage Barbie outfits-- in my size. Alas, The fabric is still in my fabric bin lol

  17. So cute! I'm sure it makes your inner 6 year old come out as well! :) Fabric scraps too small for quilting are great for this. Great work!


  18. You are amazingly talented! Your little girl is LUCKY, and she'll have so much fun with these outfits. I remember my Mom making many of my Barbie doll clothes (early - mid 1960's) until I was old enough to start making them myself. Used to LOVE sewing for my Barbies. . .it was a great way to experiment with fashion and style, and a fun/inexpensive creative outlet. I think I was still making Barbie clothes when I was a teenager - LOL!

  19. I think I might be jealous of your daughter! I loved vintage Barbie when I was little, and I would have gone bonkers for a gift like this.

  20. The hat from the bottle rim is so clever!

  21. The hat from the bottle rim is so clever!

  22. I soooo love your project - you might want to look at my post about the Barbie exhibition in Paris. The brocade ensemble was in there too. And I linked your wonderful picture.

  23. There is a chance you're eligible to receive a $1,000 Amazon Gift Card.


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