Judy Banducci made this doll outfit. Her clothes-making partner Taylor calls their hobby “an obsession.” - AP

Dolled up in clothes

When Sandy Taylor was a girl, her whole family made doll clothes: her sister, her mother, even her father, who worked shifts at a factory. The Taylor sisters had Barbies, and those Barbies had dozens of outfits.

Now Taylor's a grandmother. After a long career as a nurse educator, she's back to making doll clothes — this time for 18-inch dolls, the size of the American Girl line.

"It's just so fun; there's no end to what you can do," said Taylor, of Boise, Idaho, as she and her friend Judy Banducci spread several dozen handmade outfits on a bed in her spare bedroom one recent evening.

"We really did kind of go nuts," said Banducci, holding up dozens of tiny Capri pants. "I had forgotten how much we'd made." They're not alone. A recent surge of interest in knitting and sewing has coincided with the rise of the American Girl line, a Mattel brand that markets its dolls as wholesome characters who relish learning, adventure, music and sports. Many of the dolls come with a personal history, complete with a book and history-themed accessories.

According to the company's Web site, 14 million American Girl dolls have been sold since 1986; "American Girl" magazine is delivered to 620,000 girls every other month.

But American Girl clothes don't come cheap. A set of doll-size pajamas, a coat or another outfit will set you back about $24. So more and more enterprising craftspeople make their own.

"I have grandmothers in here all the time," said Eva Tillott, who owns Eva's Yarn Shop in Fairhaven, Mass., and provides her own patterns for 18-inch dolls.

"It's a stressful time in the world," said Tillott. "My business is doing well because people are spending more time at home. They're knitting because it's relaxing and it takes away the stress."

Craft sites like have helped the hobby spread by offering patterns, advice and photos of completed projects. Other Web sites with patterns include

Jennifer Jackson, who runs a site called, said blog traffic soared on her site after she added an American Girl poncho pattern. Most hits on the site "are looking for free patterns, and mostly American Girl patterns," said Jackson, of Westport, Conn.

Crafters who make 18-inch-doll clothes by hand generally don't sell them, saying they cost too much in materials and time to be marketable. There are businesses, however, that sell doll clothes made overseas.

One is Necessary Extras, which offers dozens of items, including confirmation outfits. Co-owner Barbara Robinson said her Pittsburgh-based company doesn't compete with American Girl.

"We try to buy what they don't have," Robinson said.

It's fine with American Girl if people make homemade doll clothes — to a point, said the company's spokeswoman Stephanie Spanos.

"We really appreciate the enthusiasm that our customers have for their dolls," said Spanos, but noted that, "if they are treating it like a business, American Girl is a trademarked name, and they need to be careful about not causing any type of customer confusion."

Banducci and Taylor never sell their creations.

"It's an obsession," said Taylor, who has one young grandson and hopes for a granddaughter. She and Banducci — who has a 3-year-old granddaughter — took a yarn-store roadtrip last spring in Oregon, and sometimes hole up in Banducci's rural cabin for multi-day knitting fests.

The two women have crafted tiny sweaters, dresses with details like smocking or rickrack, felted hats, playsuits, pants, kilts, even Halloween costumes to fit their American Girl dolls. Taylor has dozens of pairs of tiny shoes.

Both women see the doll clothes not only as a tie to their past, but as a gift they can leave behind.

"When I was growing up, we didn't have much; things got worn out and used up," said Banducci. "I don't have many things from my mother and grandmother. That's why I enjoy this. I'm hoping I'll have things to pass down."

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