Buttons, buckles, pins, and ties… zippers, snaps, hooks, and eyes! The question of what to use to fasten a closure is a perplexing one if you are working with small scale designs, and the only flat answer I can give you is… it depends. If you are sewing doll clothes for play, fasteners should be easy to apply, simple to use, and safe for young children. If you are sewing collectible pieces, fasteners should be visually appealing and not liable to cause damage to the clothing or the doll. If you are making historical reproductions, authenticity becomes yet another factor to consider.
Hook and loop tape is probably the most uncomplicated, most versatile – and most divisive – fasteners available. When I first began sewing doll clothes, I used hook and loop tape for all my closures. It seemed like the logical choice since I saw it used on most of the doll clothes I saw in the stores. Since it first appeared as “Velcro” in 1948, this ingenious fastener has found its way into just about every area of our lives. For doll clothing, it seemed like the perfect solution, as it eliminated the need for small fasteners such as buttons and snaps which were more complicated to apply, difficult for little fingers to manipulate, and a potential choking hazard for young children. However, its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness in that it sticks almost too well… to hair, to trim, to lint, and to just about everything else with which it comes into contact, causing damage to the dolls and their clothing. Eventually, the fastener itself becomes gunked up and unusable. For this reason, hook and loop tape is widely frowned upon by collectors and parents alike. However, there are many styles of hook and loop tape, so it would be unfair to categorize them all equally. If you are considering using this type of fastener, look for a special low profile style. This hook and loop tape is about ¼ the thickness and doesn’t have the bristles of its high profile counterpart that tend to cause all the trouble.
Zippers were first invented in 1893 but didn’t become popular until around 1913 because they were fraught with design flaws that made them unreliable… can you say wardrobe malfunction? Depending on the outfit, zippers can be a great closure choice for doll clothing, but they do have some drawbacks. Although they aren’t terribly difficult to install, they are a little tricky to install well. Despite being much more reliable now than in the past, they still have a tendency to fail, and not everyone is keen on replacing zippers. Because of the scale, standard zippers are generally too large for doll clothing, and although smaller scale zippers are available, they are harder to find and more likely to fail. Cost is another consideration. At about $1.50 a piece, other closures start to look a little more enticing.
Snaps, have been around since about 1840 and are probably one of the most universally appealing fasteners for collectors and children. They are easy to fasten, inconspicuous, and relatively safe for small children. The biggest drawback is that they are a bit of a pain to apply. They handle not unlike watermelon seeds, and for the less-than-patient seamstress, they may elicit moments of distress. Most snaps have a small hole in the tip that allow you to hold it in place with a pin. This is still a little fumbly and I have drawn blood on more than one occasion using this method, but it does make things a bit easier. Another trick is to glue the snaps in place with a dab of fabric glue before sewing them. There are “no sew” snaps available that are applied with a hammer or special pliers, but these snaps are more conspicuous and the styles are rather limited.
Buttons are probably the most decorative fastener, and for this reason they are probably one of the most appealing choices for collectors. Having been used since the 13th century, they have been proven by time and are suitable for most historical reproductions. Although they take a little bit of prep work, once you master the art of buttonholes (see my article from November “Making One Step Buttonholes in Five Easy Steps”), they are quite easy to apply. Because buttonholes can only be made so small, smaller buttons can be fastened with button loops instead. One of the biggest drawbacks with buttons is that they have a tendency to fall off, making them a choking hazard for very young children.
Hooks and eyes began being used as fasteners about the same time as buttons. They first appeared in England under the name of “crochet and loop”. These fasteners work great for fastening clothing, their only drawbacks being that they are difficult to apply and that they don’t stay fastened very well on loose clothing. Because they have been around for so long, they are ideal for historical reproduction clothing. An alternative to using individual hook and eye fasteners is hook and eye tape. It is still a little complicated to apply in that you need to stitch around each individual hook and eye to secure it in place, but it is still easier than having to align and fumble with individual pieces. Personally, I don’t like to apply hook and eye tape this way as I don’t think it is visually appealing so I prefer to embed the tape in a seam allowance. Like buttonholes, this takes a little prep work, but once you understand how it is done, it is actually quite easy to do. To learn more about this method, check out the article “Embedding Hook and Eye Closures” taken from Thimbles and Acorns “18th Century Hoodie” Pattern.
There are many ways to fasten a closure, but these five are the most common because they work well. Sewing is a creative process, and as such, there are no right or wrong fasteners. Still, when it comes right down to it, there is no denying that some fasteners work better than others for some applications. What is important is that you consider your design, your capabilities, and your purpose, then choose the closure that works best for you.