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Materials Monday: Scale in dolls and doll clothing

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This week, the topic is SCALE! 

This is often a problem in the doll world, because people don't understand it properly.  People say they have a doll of such-and-such a height as if that's the only number that mattered.


Scale in dolls and doll clothes

So here's a representation of a adult human figure, who we'll say is an American woman of average height, which is 5'4" or 64 inches.

  • At 1/3 scale, that person would be 1/3 the size, which is 21.3 inches, or 54.1cm
  • At 1/4 scale, that person is 16 inches, or 40.64cm.
  • At 1/6 scale, that person is 10.7 inches, or 27.2cm.
  • At 1/12 scale, that person is 5.3, or 13.5cm

Hm, 54 cm, 40 m, 27cm... these sound like the heights of some dolls I know! 

Volks Super Dollfie 10, the original asian BJD, the reason 1/3 dolls are called "SD size" regardless if whether they are a Volks doll or not, is 54cm!  That's 1/3 scale!


Here's the problem:  The '10' in Super Dollfie 10 referred to the age.  10.

A child who is half the size of an adult is not a 1/2 scale person.  It's a 1:1 scale child. When calculating the scale of a doll, you have to calculate how mature it's supposed to be, not just the height.

The average height of an American 10 year old is 4'6", which is 54 inches.  At 1/3 scale, that person would be 18" or 45 cm. (Yes, I realize I'm using American measures on Japanese dolls, but I wasn't able to find Japanese average kid sizes so I picked American size to be consistent)

This is a problem because a child-shaped doll became the 'default' size for a 1/3 scale adult. Mini Super Dollfie (MSD) became the 'default' size for 1/4, and that also was a child shaped doll.  Yo-SD, an even smaller kid doll that I equate to a 4 year old or so in body and 12 inches in total height, became 1/6 scale.  

You know who else is 1/6 scale?  Barbie.  Just try swapping their clothes.

Complicating things further, lots of companies that followed Volks' lead with body shape reacted to demand by customers for curvier bodies by adding bigger busts.  D cups on a 10 year old does not make a body into a matured adult shape.  It just makes them 10 year olds with D cups. 

It wasn't until years later that truly adult proportioned dolls came out in 1/3, 1/4, 1/6, and at that point they became considered aberrations.  As a result, most of the BJD community is wrong or inconsistent when they talk about scale. 

So, if you're new to a particular doll and someone starts going on about how it's such-and-such a scale... don't necessarily believe them.  Look at the body shape and check the dolls' measurements instead.


Now let's move on to scale in fabric:

The problem with fabric is, it doesn't scale.  Fabric that is 1:1 on me, becomes 300% thicker on a 1/3 doll 400% thicker on a 1/4 doll, and 600% thicker on a 1/6 doll. 

To put yourself in your doll's place, imagine all of your clothes were made of thick wooly felt.  The seams are so chunky they add an extra inch to your bust, waist, and hip measurements. You'd have to go up a whole clothing size in your exterior measurements just to have the same interior room!

Your maxi dresses don't drape naturally anymore; they look like potato sacks.  Your circle skirts spread out like tutus.  Your T-shirts look like cable knit sweaters.

It's not ideal.

The easiest solution is to find fabric that is that much thinner whenever possible, to substitute for the human-weight fabrics.  Otherwise, you have to make doll clothes fit the same way you would make thick fabrics work on humans (think coats and suits): Tailor the hell out of it.

This works well at 1/3 scale.  It works so-so at 1/4 scale, but at 1/4 and smaller, you start having the 'chunky hem' problem described above.  Every dart adds even more seam bulk to the inside of your doll clothes.  In many cases, instead of making an item fit better, an added seam or dart will just make it lumpier. 

Here's an example of what you need to change to get a tailored fit between sizes:
For a moderately tailored blouse in 1/3 scale made out of standard quilting-weight cotton, I have 6 darts: 2 at the bust, 2 at the waist, and 2 at the back.  In 1/4 scale, I make the exact same blouse with 4 darts (2 at the bust, 2 at the waist).  In 1/6 scale, 2 darts (at the bust), at 1/12 scale, no darts.  Because of this, even patterns for dolls which are in perfect scale with each other have a limit to how much you can enlarge/shrink them.

Monster High dolls are a great example, spanning from 10.5" to 28" and being almost perfectly in scale with each other.

  • The 'standard' Monster High dolls are 10.5" (Petite Slimline at 100%). 
  • DC Super Hero Girls are 12" and 125% larger.  All patterns still fit great. 
  • The 17" line of Monster High dolls is 150% larger, and the patterns work, but you have to start adjusting things to account for the seam bulk that took up proportionately much more space in the 10.5" size or everything comes out kind of baggy. 
  • The 28" line of Monster High dolls is 250% larger, and only some of the patterns work (ones that are designed to be loose or made with stretchy fabric).  On top of the seam bulk issue, boobs and waists and hips are much bigger curves at 250%.  When a bust is only 2 cm larger than a waist, you don't really need darts for fabric to lie smoothly.  When a bust is 5 cm larger than the waist, you do.

I hope you now have a better understanding of Scale, and how to use it to both properly size your dolls and help you sew more-in scale clothes :)