WELCOME TO THE WORKSHOP!
Doll Maker's Toolbox
Every doll maker needs a collection of tools and materials. You don't have to buy a lot of stuff, though. Start with what you have at home. Find a small old suitcase, lunch box, or cardboard box with a lid. Fill it with tools and small supplies, including:
Hand-sewing needles and pins
Sewing thread: black, white, and flesh tones. Start with these basic colors, and add more colors to match projects.
Embroidery thread in a variety of colors
Fine-tip permanent markers: black, brown, orange, and pink
Design book: any type of notebook or sketchbook
Colored pencils for creating designs and patterns
Buttons, beads, and other trimmings: your toolbox is a great place to store all those loose items so you know where to find them when you need them.
Devote a second box to doll materials. Materials will vary from project to project, but you'll need to start gathering a variety so you have plenty of options when you're ready to begin making dolls. For doll clothing, choose lightweight fabrics with small-scale prints to match the doll's size. Avoid fabrics that unravel easily, or the clothing will look messy and could fall apart. Below are some ideas for starting your collection of materials.
Felt pieces in several colors
A selection of fasteners, such as small buttons, sew-on snaps, tiny buckles, and pieces of Velcro fastener tape
Socks in a variety of colors and sizes. These will be handy for making sock dolls as well as clothing for other dolls. Sport socks, wool socks, and nylon stockings will all be useful.
Discarded clothing, curtains, towels, and other fabric scraps. Any fabrics that can be saved and repurposed belong in your doll maker's treasure trove.
Other odds and ends: empty thread spools, flexible wire, wooden spoons, colorful paper, ribbons, discarded jewelry, and almost anything else. Whatever you gather can be used eventually.
Doll crafting is easier when you have a variety of materials to work with, but don't worry if you don't have the "right" materials. Artists use whatever is available in a creative way. Being creative means finding ways to use what you have on hand. Remember, you must experiment. Don't worry that you are wasting or ruining materials. That's all part of gaining experience and experimenting.
All About Eyes
Dolls' eyes are important because they are what bring dolls to life. There are many different materials and types of eyes; the doll's personality and style will help determine which to use. Whatever style of eyes you choose, be sure the mouth, nose, and brows are done with the same technique.
Eyes can be made in several ways. You can paint them with acrylic paints using a tiny pointed brush. You can draw them with fine-tip permanent markers. You can cut pieces from felt and sew or glue them to the doll. You can embroider eyes very easily — and they will never come off. Or you can purchase glueon eyes or plastic "safety eyes" that snap together. Buttons also work, whether they are flat or have a shank.
Safety first: If a child younger than three years old will be handling the doll, do not use small parts that can fall off and get into the child's mouth. Children can choke on buttons, snaps, beads, or buckles. Do not give them tiny dolls that can fit into their mouths. If you are making a doll for someone between the ages of three and six years old, it's still a good idea to use "safety eyes" rather than buttons or glue-on plastic eyes.
Make a Face "Idea Bank"
Set aside some pages in your design notebook to sketch ideas for different kinds of faces. Gather ideas from cartoons, advertisements, or your own imagination. Draw eyes, noses, mouths, and facial expressions. The direction the eyes are looking — or even closed lids — can make a big difference in a doll's attitude. So can eyebrows — arched, hairy, tiny, and so on. Sketch out lots of expressive ideas so when you are ready to make a doll's face you can pick features that fit the doll's personality.
Dolls' hair is as fun to work with as people's hair. It can be cut and styled any way you want and can be made in any color. People's hair comes in all sorts of colors and textures, so of course a doll's can, too. A doll's hair is part of its personality, so go all out — wild colors, textures, and lengths — or try something more traditional. Be natural or be fantastic — it's up to you, the artist. The material you choose for hair should fit the doll. Perhaps it needs a soft bit of fluff stuck right on top of the head, or maybe it would look better with thick yarn braids. Doll hair can be made from yarn, craft fur, human hair pieces from beauty supply stores, and more. Some dolls just need a bit of paint for hair — or even just a hat on a bald head.
Yarn is a favorite material for doll hair, but try out other things, too. Cut up old sweaters into strips and sew them onto the doll's head. Old cashmere sweaters are great for this. Wash and dry them at high temperatures, which will shrink the cashmere and create a felt. Felt from the fabric store can be cut to the doll's head shape and stitched to make a cap-like wig, or cut it into longer strips and sew it to the head. If you want kinky, curly hair, unravel an old sweater and reuse the yarn.
Craft Fur Wig
Craft fur is made of synthetic fiber and can be brushed with a hairbrush. It makes soft, thick wigs but doesn't work well for long hairstyles as the hair fibers just aren't very long. You can purchase it in a variety of colors at most fabric or craft supply stores.
Pen or fine-tip marker
Scissors with pointed tips
Needle and thread to match craft fur
Extra stuffing (optional)
* Measure across the doll's head along the front scalp line, going from ear to ear. That number is A. Measure from one ear (or where an ear would be) to the center back of the head. That number is B. Working on the "wrong" (nonhairy) side of the craft fur, with the hairs running up and down like the drawing, measure a rectangle to match your A and B measurements. It should be A across, as that part will lie across the head from ear to ear. B will be the shorter side. Use a pen or marker to draw the rectangle shape on the back of the craft fur. Cut it out with scissors, working from the back, so you don't cut through all the hairs. Use the tips of the scissors to snip through the backing that holds the hairs, being careful not to cut the furry hair as you go.
Fold the rectangle in half, with the furry side inside. Stitch the edges together in a seam that curves a bit along the corner. Trim away the extra bulk in the corner so it won't create a bump under the wig.
Turn the wig fur-side out. Pin in place on the doll's head and stitch the wig to the head, sewing along the wig edge and into the doll's head fabric. You may need to tuck stuffing under the wig to fill out the shape before stitching it in place.
When finished, brush the wig with a hairbrush and trim the ends around the face if they need it.
This is the easiest way to make yarn hair. It works best for small dolls or short-haired dolls. You'll use only one color of yarn for this method.
Needle and thread to match yarn
Craft glue (optional)
* Cut a piece of yarn about 6 inches long. Set aside. Hold one hand stiff and wrap loops of yarn around it several times.
Slip the loops off carefully and slide one end of the 6-inch piece of yarn through the loops. Tie the loops together and knot securely. Set the bundle of loops aside and make several more bundles. Slip scissors through the loops and cut through the ends of the loops.
Stitch or glue the yarn bundles to the doll's head. Put a dot of glue on the center of the loop and position it on the head. Make more bundles if needed. Trim uneven yarn ends and fluff the yarn hair with your fingers to style it.
Yarn Hair Loom
You can easily make long hair from yarn using a simple loom to hold the yarn as you work. The loom can be made small or large to best suit the doll. This method works great when you want to use several colors or textures of yarn at once. Use thick-and-thin yarn, mohair yarn, or sock yarn — better yet, use all three together.
Cardboard or plastic foam tray (a cereal box or bakery tray will work just fine)
Yarn (You will need at least one 4-ounce skein of worsted yarn to make hair for a doll with a head that measures 10 inches around. You'll need more yarn for larger dolls and less yarn for smaller ones.)
Thread to match yarn
Craft glue (optional)
* Decide how long you want the doll's hair to be. Measure that length from the center top of the doll's head. Multiply that number by 2. Cut a square of cardboard or plastic foam that measures that number. For example, if you want the doll's hair to be 4 inches long from the top of the doll's head, multiply 4 inches by 2. Think of it as: 4 × 2 = 8. Then measure and cut a piece of cardboard that is 8 inches across. It can be a square or rectangle.
Cut a piece out of the center of the cardboard. It will create an open area where you can do the stitching to hold the yarn pieces together.
Wrap the yarn around and around the cardboard loom. If you want to use more than one color or type of yarn in the hair, wrap them at the same time, holding them all together as you wrap. Don't pull the yarn too tight as you wrap or the loom will bend and the hair will end up shorter than you wanted. Continue wrapping about 30 rounds. If you end up with too large a wig, you can trim some off later. If you end up needing more wig to cover the doll's head, just make another wig piece.
Now you will stitch the yarn wraps together to hold them in place. Thread a sewing needle with thread to match the yarn. Double the thread and knot the ends. Stitch across the center of the loom, stitching through several yarns at once. Work back over the first row of stitches to be sure all yarn pieces are caught in the stitching. Keep the stitches even and straight across the loom.
Use scissors to cut the yarn strands along both sides of the loom.
Try the wig on the doll, placing the line of stitches along the center of the head for a center part. If you want a short mop-top hairstyle, place the stitching line across the center top of the head, from ear to ear, letting hair hang to the front and back.
Use a needle and thread to stitch the hair to the head on a cloth doll or use craft glue to fasten the wig to a plastic doll. Sew along the center line of stitching on the wig, then make stitches across the back of the head near the neckline, securing a few strands of yarn to cover the back of the head. Stitch strands of yarn securely over the ears, too. Drape the rest of the strands over to cover the stitching.
For stuffing soft cloth dolls, you can use polyester fiberfill, sold in fabric and craft stores, or clean wool fleece. Polyester fiber stuffing washes easily and is widely available. You can find fiberfill made from corn, soy, and other products that work great, too. Other types of stuffing include scraps of old T-shirts or yarn. If you have discarded pillows, open them up and reuse the clean stuffing. Store stuffing in large plastic bags or old pillowcases closed with rubber bands. If you are using wool fleece stuffing, be sure it has been thoroughly washed and dried, and keep it stored in a closed plastic bag to discourage moths.
The amount of stuffing and how firmly it's used in the body parts can have a real effect on the doll. Less stuffing makes a soft, floppy doll, perfect for a sleepy baby doll, perhaps. More stuffing makes the body parts firm and solid, with stiff arms and legs. That's better for a doll you want to stand up.
Getting the stuffing into the doll body parts is tricky and is key to making a successful doll. Use a dowel or wood chopstick to push small wads of stuffing into hands and feet areas. If you want to push stuffing into narrow body parts, use a pair of longnose pliers or tweezers. Push pinches of stuffing into the doll parts with the tweezers if your fingers are too large. You can use a toothpick to push stuffing into tiny areas. Leave the tops of legs empty of stuffing, so they can move a bit and the doll can be positioned in a seated pose.
You can adjust the stuffing in the head to show the doll's age. Babies have round heads and faces with thick lower cheeks. Older ages have longer, thinner heads and faces, with noses that stick out more.
You might want to make dolls filled with materials other than fiberfill stuffing. To make a heavy doll, sew a small cloth bag, fill it with dry rice or popcorn kernels, and sew it closed. Tuck the bag into the doll's center or base. Pack stuffing around it before sewing the body together. Other stuffing materials include plastic pellets, kitty litter, clean sawdust, small pebbles (sold in the floral department of craft stores), foam, and plastic foam packing peanuts. It just depends on the kind of doll you want: one to cuddle and play with or one to dress and display.
About 150 years ago, the sewing machine was invented. Before that, people stitched everything by hand with a needle and thread. Wedding dresses, work pants, tents, even hot air balloons, ship's sails, and water hoses — all stitched by hand. Women and girls did most of the home sewing, while men — called tailors — set up shops in towns and cities. Wealthy women had dressmakers come to their homes to sew for them. Girls were taught to stitch at a very young age and often earned money sewing for others. Nearly everyone who sewed was also a designer, because there weren't paper patterns. Women studied magazines and fashion dolls dressed in small versions of popular fashions, then sewed copies, adding their own touches.
Sewing by machine is common today, and factories turn out most of the world's clothing. But sewing by hand is still important. Practicing small, careful stitches helps train your eyes, hands, and brain to work together. Hand sewing projects can be taken anywhere, tucked in a backpack or bag. Stitches can be made quietly at night, waking no one in the house. Sewing machines, loud and heavy, have their place, but stitching by hand has many advantages.
Hand sewing requires needles and thread. The best needles to start with are called embroidery needles. They have larger openings, called eyes, to more easily push the thread end through, and they are short so they are easier to handle on small projects. To thread a needle, wet the end of the thread (yep, in your mouth!), then squeeze it flat between your thumb and finger. That will shape it to go through the eye of the needle. Once threaded, pull the thread end to create a knot. Roll a loop twice around your fingertip, rolling the loops together and sliding them off your finger, while pulling it tight into a knot. To sew with regular sewing thread, use a doubled length of thread with both ends knotted together. To sew with embroidery thread, knot only one end and let the other end hang loose as you sew. Adjust the thread length as you work, until you run out of thread.
Some stitchers make knots with the thread when they finish. Another option is to make two or three tiny stitches, one on top of the other, at the end of stitching, then clip the thread next to the last stitch. That will secure the threads without an awkward knot that might unravel later.
Sewing thread comes in many colors and types. Choose polyester or cotton thread for most projects, using the same type of thread for hand cotton thread for most projects, using the same type of thread for hand sewing or machine sewing. Embroidery thread (also called floss) can be used only for hand sewing and also comes in many colors. It is not sold on spools, like sewing thread, but in small bundles. To use embroidery thread, you need to do some preparation. The thread must be wound on bobbins so it won't tangle. You can buy cardboard or plastic bobbins, but it's very easy to make some for yourself.