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Barbie dollsOh Barbie and your impossible figure! Loved and hated by millions at the same time!
No matter what you think about Barbie dolls, you can’t deny that they have a huge place in doll history and that probably every girl owned one at some point in her childhood, at least in the US.
Yes, we have several Barbie dolls in our house, in different skin and hair hues and styles… or what remains of them.
I’m not a particular fan of Barbie, but I must admit that they have their beauty and are fun to dress and once you learn how to make a basic dress for the doll, you can do wonders!
In September we went to the Packwood, WA flea market since we were spending the Labor Day weekend in Ashford. One of the things you can easily find there is old dolls, specially old Barbie dolls in different stages of “destruction”… poor girls. A guy was selling them at two for one dollar, and since Feven got very interested, we bought a couple of black Barbies.
But these poor creatures had lost all their clothes along with their dignity, so we decided that we were going to fix the problem and sew some dresses for them.
What better idea than to transform them into Ethiopian Barbies!
A lot depends on your ability to sew, but a simple traditional Ethiopian dress is easy to make and you don’t even need a sewing machine since it’s so small that you can do it by hand.
Ex Princess Tiana, soon Princess Webnesh
Of the two dolls that were in better shape, I chose the one that I think is princess Tiana, because her hair type will be easier to transform into an Ethiopian hairstyle. Then I’ve chosen a super simple style for her clothes, a long dress without sleeves made with just two pieces of fabric.

You’ll need:
A Black Barbie doll
White fabric (muslin, linen, etc.)
Elastic thread
Embroidery thread (black, red and green)
Small snap or similar for back closure
Dress Pattern or you can create one yourself
Needle, thread, sewing machine (optional), scissors

The dress is basically a tube of fabric with holes and minimum shaping for the arms and neck and a bit of elastic thread for the waist. If you have the original Ethiopian netela type fabric that will help a lot with the results, but if you don’t there are several alternatives: white muslin, plain white cotton, linen, or linen-like fabric that is what I’ve chosen. These fabrics fray a lot so I used some fray block for the edges. The hems are very narrow, about 1/4 inch and you can sew them by hand. For the two bands in the dress, I used some ribbon with stripes I already had at home.
The final touch is the embroidery, nothing complicated, just some blanket stich in black for neck and sleeve openings, red and green chain stitch around neck and a back stitch for cross style pattern in the front of dress in red and black thread.
I won’t post the whole tutorial, since it’s not that complicated.
Just cut the two parts of the tube, the front has the neck shape, the back has a slit for the opening.
On the front do the embroidery.
Add the ribbon on front and back.
Make the hems of neck and sleeves.
Join the two parts, right sides facing each other. Sew the side, shoulders and bottom hems.
Sew the elastic thread at the waist height leaving a gap in the front where the embroidery pattern is.
Turn the dress inside out.
Finish it with the embroidery on borders of neck and sleeves, add the snap on the back.

Front Back

Tigray hairstyleNow you’ll have to style the doll’s hair. I chose a hairstyle from the Tigray region: parallel cornrows on top of head, loose hair on back and a braid from the center of the forehead to both.
Of course that in a Barbie this will look a little bit different since you can’t capture the small details, but let’s say that her style will be “inspired” on that one. First I made the front parted braid, then the top cornrows up to the nape and left the rest of the hair loose. The smaller the cornrows, the best, but it’s really hard to braid synthetic hair in such a small head. I did my best…
There is another problem, the Barbie hair is too straight so I needed to curl it somehow.

Doing Curls

To prepare for the curls I used some bag ties (they are covered wires) to roll the hair around them. Once I had all my curls ready, I submerged then into…boiling water. Ouch! Yeah I know, but it’s the only way to curl that plastic Barbie hair!

Cornrows + CurlsCornrows + Curls

Front Back

Princess Webnesh

I named my Ethiopian doll, Webnesh.
Not bad for a 50 cents doll!
If you want a real black collectible doll with Ethiopian heritage, here is a beautiful Ethiopian doll named Makeda.
By the way, my favorite black Barbie is the Barbie Basics #04, simple and elegant!
If you are interested in Black Barbie dolls check the site Chocolate Doll.
There is also a book to make Barbie dresses with handkerchiefs: Hankie Couture.