I occasionally hear from people who are using my patterns with other cottons for doll bodies that they got different results in doll shapes than expected. A long time ago I hunted for a good plain cotton that was reliably available (fabrics come and go so quickly on the market), a good color and would hold up well to the stress put upon it by the kind of stuffing necessary for vintage style dolls. I ended up with and have designed my patterns around the particular stretch of the chosen body fabric (by P&B Textiles). Not to say that this body fabric is the only one, but it is the one that I used all these years. Fabric used for bodies has different demands than fabric that may be used for say clothing or quilts. Why it is different for bodies is that doll bodies have and need stretch to fill out properly. Things could be very different if you use other fabrics. This is due to quality of threads in the weave and the number of threads per inch as well. There is not a good answer here for how do you know for sure before you make the doll. If you find a brand that does work for you and gets the same results, stay with it. This is how I began selling fabric, to make sure this fabric was always available to my customers. I recommend if you get into dollmaking, that you buy a 2-5 yard piece so that you will have some on hand for all your dolls. Wait for one of my sales or I keep a low price per yard everyday to help out.

NOTE: Another common error for misshapen bodies (say extra wide heads) is that you may have gotten the grain wrong, especially if you are working from a cut piece of fabric in which you can no longer see the selvage. All doll body parts (from my patterns) without exception, have the grain (the direction of least stretch which is always parallel to the selvage) going up and down.

WRINKLY NECK PROBLEMS (8/2010)

Wrinkly doll necks can result from a few issues, namely, improper stuffing technique of having lumps in the stuffed parts which by their nature have separation (not continuous) between them that cause a bend to start, or not enough support even if one manages to get it evenly stuffed. There are a couple of simple remedies short of putting a stick of some sort or other safer armature in there, which is a possible solution for many but not always desirable. One is to have a sewn "spine" or a dart that serves to slightly stiffen the neck area and the other I refer to below. The main problem that creates wrinkles is that the head is bigger and the shoulder area is also bigger and in the middle is the narrow neck taking all the stress and this makes wrinkles. 

There is really no saving a wrinkly neck once it gets started. You have to stuff carefully and evenly and not stretch the fabric at all at the neck for it is the stretching, even if slight, that starts the wrinkling effect. If you have my stuffing tubes (see Supplies section of my website), they would help to not stretch the neck. Otherwise, one thing to try is a bit of interfacing in the neck area (not fused) sewn into the seams and darts (if you have them), but not up into the head area (which you do want to stretch, usually). I also now pre-paint-overdye all my doll body fabric before using it even if the doll will have a painted surface. It helps coat the fibers and give them a bit of strength to help keep a nice surface.

The other significant contributing factor to wrinkly necks is cheaper fabric. The fabric I use now is the same brand I have used for nearly all of my kit making years, but like all the manufacturers, this one too has surely lessened its quality a bit since the owner of the company sold the business two years ago. I tested some others but found all about same. It is disheartening. They are all using poorer quality cotton with fewer threads per inch. And, importantly (manufacturers are finding clever ways to cheat on thread count - just because it says 300, 500 or even larger threads per inch, it can be apples and oranges).  The main difference isn't in the thread count, although this is important, it is that the thread itself is weaker, thinner and stretches in a bad way. Let me give you an example. Pretend a length of say mohair or wool roving is a piece of thread. If you pull it, it falls apart. If you twist it (like spinning it for yarn), it is stronger. But if you use a thinner piece of roving with poor wool picture how easily that would pull apart even if twisted. Now multiply this times all the threads in a piece of cloth and you get what is going on in there. Like getting minor abrasions in your skin if it gets stretched unduly. It is weaker and can stretch and form wrinkles. The only saving grace of old dolls who have gained wrinkly necks is their charm. If you think the obvious solution is to obtain a finer quality cotton, consider carefully since it is a hard area to weigh out the plusses and minuses. If you bought say a pima long staple cotton, you would have high quality, but the very thing that gives the high quality will not have the necessary stretch you might want to make nice shaped round heads, because for most dolls you do want some stretch, just not weaknesses that cause wrinkles. We are all at the mercy of industry, although we also must learn the skills that no amount of good cloth, overdye, spines or other reinforcements can replace.

Did you know you can dye buttons? If you have white or light colored plastic buttons, they can be easily dyed with regular Rit dyes either on your stove top or in the microwave (in a little microwavable dish). Rit colors can be mixed to suit as well - for instance mix blue and green for teal. It just takes a little experimentation. I buy all my buttons white in huge bulk orders. I like my tiny doll buttons that are "black" to actually be very dark brown. For this I use Rit Dark Brown with a touch of Scarlet. About a teaspoon of powdered dye in a very small saucepan is good. Leave the dye bath simmering after an initial boil. The smell will make you think they are melting, but they aren't. I put them in a tea strainer (maybe use the toe of an old nylon stocking) so I can lift them all out at once to check progress of color without having to dump the dye out. For old looking off-white to tan use Rit Tan. I have even successfully dyed real pearl buttons with Tan to make them look old, but it takes a long time to get a change in color. Just rinse when you are done.

Never end with threads off the edges. If a seam will end so that when you clip the threads, the clipped ends of the threads will be showing, no matter how closely you try to clip them, such as at prehemmed sleeve ends or an edge that has lace on it, just end with a back tack with the end an inch or so away from the edge, in other words, never end at the end, but back up. This seems so obvious, but I have been amazed at the number of even good sewers who don't do this. It becomes extra important in doll work as the much smaller scale makes even thread ends look a bit messy.

People ask how I get the nice finish on my wood doll furniture and other painted things, including in my home. What I do is after sawing out the wood pieces of the piece, I only sand the saw marks or very rough places. Then the piece is assembled and glued. Put on a first coat of paint. All my kits and all through my house I use Williamsburg (Martin Senour) brand latex satin finish paints - yes, even on cloth dolls. You can use liquid acrylics available all over for crafts - they do make good colors, but the finish will be very matte and therefore scratchable. These will require a satin varnish over that. Of course I can justify house paints because I use a lot of them so the smallest size to purchase - a quart - is not too much for me. That may be a problem if you are just using the paint for one small thing. One note is that you can mix acrylics with the latex to get other colors, although if you mix more than half acrylic to latex, it will start to take on the matte finish of the acrylic. Anyhow, paint on the first coat. Do not be skimpy with the paint NOR leave any drips or heavy places. Let this dry. Paint drying, especially on a small piece, can be speeded up with a hair dryer. (Or, if you are lucky to have a food dehydrator with a large enough space in it or a convection oven with a dehydrator setting, use this. You can make one with an old or new cheap hair dryer with a box into which you cut a hole to fit the hair dryer nozzle. A little ingenuity will tell you lots of variations on this idea such as adding shelves or dowels to hangthings from.) After the first coat is dry, paint a second. When it is dry, lightly sand all the paint with no more than #220 sandpaper. (#220 is a fine grade - the larger the number, the finer it gets, so you could say use #400 too). The important thing on the sanding is to only sand enough to get a smooth feeling surface and not to get down to bare wood. If you get down to bare wood, you are right back where you started. See, the thing is that you can sand and sand bare wood till the cows come home and it will be very smooth. But the minute you put on paint, it raises the grain which means tiny wood fibers jump up and make it feel rough. So by waiting to sand until you've got a good painted base (2 coats), you have painted all those little fibers and stiffened them. Then the sandpaper sands them off, leaving a smooth and sealed surface. Then do a third and usually final coat. I follow this whether it is my house woodwork or doll furniture or accessories.

Top of Page

A great technique to use in a situation where there is no place to hide the knot on the end of your thread. Examples might be embroidering faces or stitching fingers on doll's hands. Take a long length of thread - twice as long as you want to sew with. Double it. Thread the two cut ends (not the looped end) both through the eye of the needle and pull though part way. Then in the place you want to begin, take one very tiny stitch (maybe only a thread or two of the fabric). As you pull the thread through and the end is getting close to pulling through, run your needle through the loop at the end where you double the thread. When you pull it up it is now secured to itself. Reading this may not be very clear. You may have to actually try it and reread it as you do to see how it works. A very humble person named Dell in Australia taught this to me and so I call it Dell's Knot.

I have talked about this a lot in all my classes and even on my website and in my catalogs. But it is so important that I will repeat it here. And don't tune out thinking it doesn't apply to you. It's about really being able to see. Even if you have good vision or wear glasses and think that with them you can see just fine, adding magnification will help all your doll work or other fine needlework or painting, ESPECIALLY if you are over 40. Go to the drugstore and bring with you something that you are working on so you can hold it at the place that it is comfortable for you to work - this is different for everyone and matters as to the magnification. Start with 1.5 magnification and if you already have glasses just put the drugstore ones on top. If you already are wearing drugstore glasses for reading, you can add the 1.5 to whatever magnification yours already are and try that number, which might be 3.0 or more. Go to a higher number if it helps. Wherever you hold your work should be crystal clear and you'll be able to see every thread. I am a good painter (ought to be after a lifetime of it), but I can paint so much easier now with the added magnification (even better than when I was 20 and had perfect vision), because I can see what every hair of my paint brush is doing. I have found as I have been teaching that the thing that is hardest for people isn't a lack of talent, but that they just cannot see - and they usually don't even know it. What I did, because I have prescription reading glasses, is I took an old set of half reading frames to my opthamologist and had 1.75 added to my prescription just in the lower half so they became bifocals, although really trifocals as my distance, which I look at above the glasses (remember they are half glasses) counts as the other. I can't walk around with them on, but I keep them in my sewing box and only wear them when I am sitting down at my work table (or painting woodwork in my house). It works so well that in some places where I have taught classes, people have rushed out at the lunch break to buy some.

If you are trying to tie a bow in something that keeps slipping before you can get it snug, put some spit on the knot (before you make the loops for the bow) and it will stay until you can execute the bow.

 

Top of Page

Many people think they can not only charge ahead to cut their doll patterns (so what's to cutting a pattern?) and but also use scissors that I would take to the dump.I know this from watching people in classes. It's one thing to zip out people-size patterns, but when you are working small, you must be much more precise. For instance, just cutting on one side of the line or the other can make the difference to a small doll of the equivalent of a dress size to you. Imagine your dismay if a giant were making you clothing and was merrily cutting away on your pattern with scissors more than half your height not really being that careful - and this may be the only dress you'll ever have. So with that perspective, use the smallest scissors possible. I keep a pair of 4" embroidery size scissors (Ginghers of course) just for cutting patterns (paper, as your mother taught you dulls scissors for cloth, although Ginghers hold such a good edge that even the ones I have been cutting paper (and even plastic) with for years are still able to do a great job on fabric. The best thing about the 4" Ginghers is their very sharp tips. So, here's the best way to cut patterns: do not take big chomps, you cannot see the pattern line as you cut very well because the scissor blades are in the way as you need to open them wide to take the big chomps. Instead, only open the tips a little, say a quarter of an inch at a time, taking little snips as you proceed. This way you can see the line ahead of the scissors. Another great tip is to get laminating sheets from Staples Office Supply or other places and stick a sheet on both sides of the paper pattern before cutting. When you then cut, you'll have much sturdier patterns that are now permanent. If you are adding any notes onto your patterns, do this before sticking on the laminating sheets. Now here's the latest and greatest: Look for 4" Ginghers with the oversized handles. I have small fingers and even they get "stuck" in the scissor handles so that I sometimes have to "shake" them off, especially if my fingers have gotten way in there from extensive cutting or it's hot. The new bigger ones should have been thought of long ago and they should be on all small scissors, why not? Note: these can be found on my SUPPLIES section of this website.

Top of Page

I have been a believer in the principles of Fen Shui for over 25 years - about as long as I have been making dolls. It is why I live where I live. Anyhow, one of its principles is that of cleaning out. I have been trying to do this on a serious level all year. I worked especially hard while my husband was away for a stretch because he is a pack-rat. But even for me, and I am not a pack-rat - I LIKE to throw things away and simplify- it is hard to really do it. But you need to do this and there is some spiritual truth that only if you do can you realize your full potential. It is liberating. Maybe if you don't like mumbo-jumbo, it at least serves as a message to your mind that all is in order and free of excess. But the sad end of the story is, it is really the never-ending story. I thought was making great progress and was so proud, but as I have been putting the final touches on the far corners of my material domain here, more (mess, confusion, STUFF) is happening as we speak. BUT, the good news is, which I learned from the same grandmother who taught me my business sense, the more you hack at it and make sense of it, the more time you have. Here's what I mean. Years ago (15) when I bought this house, I made a "junk" closet in one very trafficked room. On its shelves I made boxes for all the miscellaneous that a household commonly uses. These range from "light bulbs", "gift paper", "electrical things -like adaptors and fix-it things", to all small hand tools and useful hardware and one labelled "miscellaneous anything". This system has needed only minor supervision (as long as the family had been threatened with their lives if they disturbed it) and revision over the years. It takes care of itself. With that area under control, I have tackled others. Slowly, like building blocks order emerges. I used to think my grandmother was as calm and organized as she was because she popped out that way, but I think now she too evolved there so that by the time I noticed it when I was 20, she was well-established and all her junk drawers had their contents at right angles. This is, by the way, true and may be going too far, but it is also true that she was never in a hurry, was always ready and had time for the pleasanter things in life. She is (was) the only person I have ever known to have mastered her material world in this way. If you are the type who can walk over messes still humming and have fun even when the lawn isn't mown or the house's paint is peeling without a trace of guilt, then skip this whole idea. And after all that, what, you ask, is my message? That you have to work at it and that it is important enough to be doing until you are there, for if you do work at it, you WILL get there.

Top of Page

 

TYPES OF STUFFING
I have noticed in my teaching that people really don't know much about stuffing - either how to do it well, or what the properties are of the various stuffings out there. So here are some basic tips on the types of stuffing to use and where to use them.

*Poly-fil and other similar brands by many names. This type of polyester stuffing feels silky or slippery. It is mainly good for soft cloth dolls that will be made of stretchy fabric or will be needle-scupted. It is almost impossible to "pack" this stuffing. I have watched students in class cram and cram for many more minutes than it would take with the proper stuffing only to ultimately fail if a "hard" stuff is desired. I personally NEVER use these brands, mostly because my dolls do not have a lot of needle-sculpting. This is unfortunate for most people trying to follow my advice, because these are the most popular ones on the market and the cheapest. Of course, if you are doing other knit fabric dolls or ones with lots of needle-sculpting, these would be useful. Their main purpose is to stay light and full - good for gliding a needle through to pull up into a shape.

If you are looking for a more traditional look in a stuffed doll or animal or whatever, one that requires a harder pack like old-fashioned cotton or an even more primitive stuffing of torn rags or sawdust, bran or the like, and you are using a poly stuffing, then you want to use one like Super-fluff (a white poly that isn't as slippery and is very consistent in quality - by Buffalo Quilt and Batt). I used to use this in all my things and it works very well and is economical until I discovered the Putnam Co. stuffing. It is also a poly stuffing from a company that specializes in colored stuffings, but the best one they make is the tan one. I really like this one for three reasons. One, it packs well, although once it "balls up" is harder to adjust lumps than Super-fluff; in fact, two, it packs like cotton and looks and feels more like a natural fiber than a poly, and three, anywhere you may have to sew through a stuffed area, such as embroidering faces or needle-sculpting a nose, the tan's fibers don't pull through with the needle as much as other white polys which have the awful habit of not just a fiber or two pulling through, but trails of them connected like kleenex from a box. If you are then painting on this surface, these fibers are a real nuisance. The tan stuffing at least if it comes out is a less noticeable color - it also isn't shiny so less likely to show. Putnam makes black and dark brown as well. They are good for their color on items where dark is good (sometimes white poly will show through the weave of a black fabric on a black doll), but somehow the quality is a whole other thing than the tan. These are more springy and definitely poly in look and feel. In fact, the black is quite like soft, fluffy steel wool, so I only use the dark brown now where I want a dark stuffing. A tip there is to use the dark brown stuffing only in the areas where it matters. For instance, on my black Mammy doll in my Historical Folk Doll Series, I use the dk brown stuffing up against the face and in the hands. For the rest of the face and body, I use the tan. That way the dark stuff is up where it might show through, especially when embroidering the face or making the nose.

THE VERY BEST STUFFING
Probably the very best stuffing of all is wool. You can buy it in batting form or roving or just carded. I used to raise sheep and have the shorn wool sent off to be carded for me for very reasonable. The internet is a great resource for this. Wool packs well or stays light and stays put. It is natural and will keep its resiliency forever. I was once told by an old Swiss woman that in her day, a good bride was one with her wool-filled mattress ready. This was something that would last a lifetime. When the mattress became dirty or misshapen, the wool was removed, washed, dried and layered back in with a new cover and could have many lives this way, even passed down - the ritz of futons. Of course, wool, unless you have sheep, is more costly than other stuffings, so you may want to only use it on projects of much importance. Or consider that the price of a little wool is nothing next to the hours you will put into your piece.

KEEP DOLL BODY WET
Use a cheap spritzer (mister) of water to keep the part you are stuffing moist (wet but not dripping). Keeping the fabric wet helps the fibers to stretch and it also makes the inside of the fabric sticky (you know how a wet bathing suit sticks) so the stuffing stays in place better.


EMPTY PLACES AND LUMPS
You get the doll stuffed and now you notice places where just under the surface it is not ideal (smooth). Maybe you can even see a shadow through the cloth where there is a hollow. But, now you do not want to go back. Use the needle-lifting technique. The best needle is a #18 chenille needle. This is sharp enough not to break the threads of the weave of the fabric and strong enough and short enough not to break itself, which is dangerous to your eyes. Do not use a stilletto or a long doll needle to do this. The extra leverage of the handle makes the needle part likely to break. I am now selling needle-lifters complete with ribbon loops ($1.00 for a card of 3 Add to Cart), so they don't get lost and are identifiable in the rubble of your work area (no excuses, I know how the mess is - I can be queen of it). Use these to gently enter the surface fabric (so the needle tip goes between threads) and use it like a pry-bar to lift stuffing from below up to the surface. Do this in stages going deeper as you go, do not try to bring it all up in one lift. Also, these can be used on an oblique angle under the surfacee to slide stuffing along to where you want it or to align a seam allowance that may be going every which way and causing bumps.

STUFFING FLAT THINGS
If you want to make a flat type cloth doll or something that requires a flatness to it, do this. Since it is harder to stuff "flat" than "fat", but when you want a flat look, you also do not want blank spaces that often result in your attempts to make the stuffing thin, instead, if the piece is made of 100 percent cotton and can take a hot iron, stuff fully, but not too hard. Then with a hot iron, iron the piece to the desired flatness. A caution here is that some cheap brands melt at lower temperatures, so some may all but disappear if the iron is hot. If this happens, you can always add more. Once you know the limits of the type of stuffing you use, this can be a great trick. And once again, Putnam's tan stuffing (available in my Supplies section) shines here and can take a lot of very hot ironing, even with a Rowenta iron. Places where this is most handy is doll hands that will require quilting the fingers or accessories like small doll cushions or doll bed mattresses that want to look and lay flat, not all puffed up. One of my patterns of an angel holding a quilted 3 inch star has the star stuffed and ironed this way so all the points get nicely filled, but the whole star then gets the flat look after when it is ironed. Her large wings are the same - these would be impossible to get "flat" without this method and still have them nicely filled without lumps.

LOOSE NECKS AND OTHER BODY STRUCTURE DIFFICULTIES
Two piece dolls are most prone to floppy necks and other dolls it seems impossible to really get in enough stuffing. Here are two ways to do what old-time dollmakers often did to rectify this after the fact. I discovered this doing some repairs on very valuable antique cloth dolls for dealers. I would often see a slit that had been made in the doll's back in the shoulderblade area and handsewn back up. But I observed other places where it was obvious the doll had had the real stuffing entrance. It was easy to figure out that as stuffing settled, necks would become floppy. By making a slit in the surface on the dolls back, more stuffing could be carefully inserted and the formerly loose or floppy neck rectified. So, I sometimes plan to do this. I get the doll done, then go back and add more. It is easier to do this at this stage for the simple reason that the stuffing cannot go anywhere else but where you are aiming it. When you try to stuff as you go, there is always the void below where you are filling that the stuffing wants to migrate to, making your job very difficult. Here is the second way - if your doll has a convenient center back seam, you can leave about an inch and a half (minimum) in your stitching that is sewn with basting length stitches and has back tacks on either end so the regular length stitches of the seam will not come undone. Stuff the doll the best you can and close up the opening in the usual way - this is most likely where the legs will go. Now go back to the basting stitches and snip and remove the basting to reveal your add stufffing hole. Fill more from here and then close up with either a ladder stitch or some neat slip or overcast stitch. I find this method really good on dolls who require a dense belly (Santas) or a dense or shaped bottom.

This is about how to deal with fleeces pretty much off the sheep's back. Processed wool can be expensive and many people have access to raw fleeces. These fleeces are what make nice Santa beards if the curl is just right and if not, wool makes some of the best stuffing. Usually, for stuffing, already carded wool, which has been cleaned and otherwise processed, comes in batts or roving. So how to treat dirty fleeces to use in dollmaking? You can put a part of a fleece (equivalent to a small load of wash, in your washer with warm or cool water and Murphy's Oil Soap. Let it soak until the water is quite muddy, this is pretty literal. DO NOT AGITATE. After soaking, set the washer to spin. This will spin out the excess water. Refill with clear water or another soap soak and repeat with the spin only, no agitation. It is temperature extremes and agitation that felt wool. Plus, if you want to use the curl in tact for Santa beards or doll hair, you do not want to disturb the curl. If you are concerned about loose wool in your washer, put all or smaller batches in those mesh bags for washing lingerie. It won't be pristine clean, but good enough and any residual barnyard smell disappears after being in the air for awhile. After the rinse soak and spin, you can put it in a convection oven or dehydrator or even a regular oven as long as the setting is kept under 200 degrees. Air drying works, but takes awhile. Grass bits and chaff will not be taken care of in any wash, it must be picked out, or if real small , just falls out. I pick it out with tweesers as I use it. If you are using wool for the curl, the best is Border Leicester if you can get it . There are other kinds of lustrous curl which if long, like the breed Lincoln, make good doll curls especially if wefted. Sheep's wool also dyes readily and regular old rit will do, although there are many possibilities. Ecru, Tan and Dark Brown produce dirty blondes, chestnuts and browns, plus there is Dark Brown with Tangerine for auburn.

Top of Page

In my very small town (of about 800) we had one of our women's potlucks last Saturday night. It was in one of our two old white New England churches which has been the scene of so many events in my twenty years here that as we walked in I was very much at home and felt as if it were my own building and I knew it well. It has been the scene of not only my second wedding, but my grown daughter's cooperative nursery school and many many a potuck dinner, a few funerals and even plays. That isn't unusual except I am not a church member. There were about 50 women, most old friends and some new. After the usual eating all the great food, because as women we of course brought our best, and some talk, we got in a circle according to our ages. It was not only a real hoot seeing how old everyone was and where you were in the line-up, but as I looked around the room, I realized that there were two formerly children to me, now young women, who had both received my early dolls as their only dolls when they were very small. It was a wonderful evening of so much humor and stories told that I, like just about everyone there was reminded why we came to live here in the first place. It was the first such potluck for my new neighbor and new friend, Kathy Schoemer. The "theme" of discussion was to be something to do with life in a small town. So here's the story I told. It is all true.

In about 1984, I went to NYC to pick up some reproduction rag rugs for my home from a gallery/antiques showroom. While there I was awestruck by the rarity and wonder of a huge collection of pristine Early American antiques. Sitting on a rope bed was a very early cloth doll. I loved that doll. When I went home I could not stop thinking about her. But she was 1800 dollars. Of course she may as well have been a million. But after two weeks, my then first husband said why didn't I see if they would take time payments. I thought that would be a joke as this was really Madison Avenue. But I swallowed my pride and called. They would do it! It took a year to pay. I knew that I wanted to do a kit of this doll because she was so wonderful, but a divorce got in the way and it took me awhile to do it. Finally I did. The kit had been out there (Historical Folk Doll #1) for a couple of years, when I got a package in the mail. It was some notecards with a simple block print of that doll on the covers. I thought oh, no, now what - someone else copying. But then I read her letter. She had gone to a quilt show in Vermont where a vendor had the doll and the kits on sale with other things of mine that they sell. She spotted it from across the room and made a beeline. They would not sell her the doll, so she bought a kit from which she got my address. She knew of course that it was the same one she had seen and wanted years before when she saw an ad for it in the Maine Antiques Digest. At the time it was a mere 1200 dollars, but for her too, just too much to consider. But, she couldn't forget it, so she made the notecards of her. Now fast forward almost a year to two Augusts ago. I meet her in person in my booth at a big show here in NH and she is delightful. When she is about to leave, she mentions she is going to the antique shows going on about an hour and a half away that I have always wanted to go to but this show that I have done for 27 years always falls on the same week. I envy her going. Two hours later she is back towing along another woman. This woman it turns out was the person who placed the ad in the Maine Antiques Digest. It is too good to be true. She promises me she will send me a picture of her selling the doll to one Blanche Greenstein, quite well-known in the primitives and folk art world. And, indeed, I do have the picture. Of course it was Blanche's store in NYC (I believe co-owned with Thos K Woodard of the rag rug fame whose rugs are often pictured in Country Living, etc.). That is a neat story and one I have told a lot. But now there is another chapter. Kathy Schoemer is the one who sold the doll to Blanche. Fast forward again to this past August. Again at my show. Kathy comes back, with her husband. They buy some things and boost my morale with lots of oohs and awws and they leave. Now it is the day after the nine day show and I am putting things away making order out of a lot of chaos when the phone rings and it is Kathy. She has some news that she wants to tell me before I hear it from elsewhere or I may think she is stalking me. She has bought a house in Acworth, my tiny town. When I learn where, I say to her that she and I now live on the same dirt road like bookends on either end. All because of a doll who has made it her business to go on and on with her wonderfulness. This doll was made in New England in about 1840-50 and I still have her.

 

A LITTLE ARTISTIC STATEMENT (6/2008)
How do I create my dolls? Usually a small detail from an historic doll piques my interest - plants a seed. Then there is the next part and I don't know where this part of me comes from, maybe my New England roots, who knows, but I am unable to create anything that feels fleeting - just a style for today, bing bang, get it done and move on. . . next new thing. That is not who I am. Sometimes this is painful to me, this need to make things perfect for all time. Partly because it slows me down, partly because it causes much more work for me, especially the me that is also trying to make a living, but also (here is the tricky part) because they still are not perfect for all time. Some have come close - a for instance, the Basic Doll is one who still fills her mission for me. But in general, I inevitably feel as if I would like to remake all my old work. The drive to do it exactly right is not just to do good work (such as a good working pattern, a well painted face), but that every aspect fits together toward the whole (shapes, colors, lips, eyes, nose, hair and type of hair, not just any lace, not just any small print fabric, but all of it together are one statement). This often means stopping up the whole works till I figure out a new antiquing method or invent a new color for my paint overdye that better suits a certain look. My floor lately is a sea of stuffed doll bodies. It is not okay with me to simply trace out a pattern and then move on to the clothes, etc., because I know from 30+ years that that initial pattern may actually be a fluke - it needs refining until you know from doing it several times, that it always works and that it will for most everyone else. Believe me, not many pattern makers do this which is why people often are frustrated with patterns that do not work or do not come out anywhere near the doll pictured. But I started this story to tell you that once in awhile a doll just cannot leave here. No matter the clamor for her - the all-cloth Fashion Doll is a good example. A perfectly good pattern for the body, a nicely painted and appealing face, and a nice wardrobe that is a joy to make. But hold it. What happened was that I loved her general body/head shape (a hard thing in a cloth 3-dimensional doll to get right) and I really loved her oil painted face. So much so that I quickly saw it suited the doll I named Emma and so Emma stole that from her. She never was a Fashion Doll - she was just a doll for an oil-painting class and dubbed Fashion Doll by students due to her outfit. So for a couple of years she was unable to "come out", because she was not right. Finally, through a series of dolllmaking "accidents", the right doll has happened and it has that "feel" to it. The "je ne sais quoi" aspect that allows my inner Good Housekeeping Seal of approval to ink up the stamp and bam - approved and sealed. And it is not because I am a slow worker - on the contrary, I am a fast sewer, a very fast painter. It just doesn't happen that I wake up, pour a cup of tea, tie on my apron, and hum softly while I draw, sew, stuff, fit and presto, there is the doll. Oh how I wish I could do dolls like that! I know many who do, not that they don't have bad moments or that they are not tormented by taxes, bad days, discontinued products, etc., but they have the ability to like what whimsy pops out for today. Tomorrow it will be something else. I simply am not made to do that. When I get to the Pearly Gates, I will ask why.

 

Top of Page



PAINTING TIPS FOR DOLLS USING WATER BASED PAINTS

CHEEKS - People always feel like cheeks are hard to get right. And I agree. Here is the best tip I know. This is for cheeks painted on top of a painted surface. Use a good #4 round brush that has all its bristles in their original alignment, not splayed out. Brush should be limber but not too soft as you will be "pouncing" with the brush's bristle tips. Be ready to paint off excess paint on your hand - just because this has to be done quickly and there your hand is - handy. Dot on some of your cheek color in the center of the cheek area. Tip your brush into some blending gel - just enough to get the tips of the bristles damp with gel. This is hard because the gel wants to stay in a glob - that's its nature. Now pounce this around, allowing the gel to be a medium to feather out the paint from full color at center to a ghost of the color at the edges. As you are doing this, if there is too much of either paint or gel or mix of both, quickly swipe some off on your hand - the one holding the doll being painted. A rag will work too, but in the time it takes to wipe off on a rag, the paint may pass its prime movement time. How do you know it's past its movement time? It starts to lift itself off from previously painted areas - these have started to dry. Keep in mind the paint is really thin so it dries quickly. Also, the rag may take off too much paint and in any case, you can see better on your hand what is coming off. This may seem stupid or sloppy, but it works and you can wash your hand. You may need to practice this.
FINISHING OVER CHEEKS - The bad part about using blending gel, is that it makes the paint it is mixed with more likely to become soluble with a finish that goes over the top making the cheeks disappear. This can be disheartening and make you have to do them over. The best thing to do is paint a matte varnish over the painting to be antiqued or recoated in any way or use a spray matte fixative. This sealing will not only preserve the cheeks, but make the antiquing easier and less likely to cause streaking and antiquing build-up.
PAINTING SHADING (AROUND EYES, NOSE, ETC.) - Once you have painted your basic eyes and nose, instead of trying to achieve shading using a brush. Take up some medium brown paint on the end of a round toothpick and dot in the area you want to work. Immediately rub the tip of the toothpick to spread the solid paint into sketchy look. You can even touch the tip of the toothpick into some gel or water to lift off any paint that is too heavy - before it is dry. A toothpick makes a good "eraser" for small fresh painting mistakes.
GENERAL TIP - Keep a tiny squeeze bottle handy (get one from drug store or department store in the cheap travel acoutrements section), or you can use an eyedropper. This allows you to put just a drop or two into your paint, especially if you are using my small paint pots in my kits. Small amounts of paints dry out quickly and it is usually helpful in every sitting to add a drop or two of water to make paint flow off brush. Remember to keep your brush clean as you paint so the paint can flow off it. Only take paint on the brush near the tips - do not let paint glob up near or past the metal ferule. That is what causes the bristles to start splaying out and eventually self-destruct.|

I have used a lot of oils in my doll work. When I first began 27 years ago, drying the paint was the biggest problem. Then I learned about this. The best thing to get is a medium called Cobalt Drier (Grumbacher makes this). You add just a drop of this to your palette (I use tin foil) where you mix your colors. Having some college training in painting and color, I only use the colors red (cadmium red medium), yellow (cadmium yellow med), cobalt or ultramarine blue, titanium white and burnt umber. From just these you can mix any color needed for dolls coloring. If anyone wants more on approximate "recipes" for certain colors like lips and cheeks, let me know. Anyhow, when you have the color you like, add in a drop of the drier to the paint (a drop of drier for about 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of paint) plus a touch of linseed oil. The paint will be dry to the touch in about 2 hours and officially dry and hard in 24, though it gets harder after longer.

Now, if like me, you really do want to use water based paints, but wish them to behave more like oils (which they never will completely), mix the color you are working with with blending gel medium. I swear by it now.

ALL THE COLORS YOU NEED - Oil Colors -red (cadmium red deep - used to be it was medium, but the paint companies have changed probably as the reds are so expensive, so now you need deep), yellow (cadmium yellow med), cobalt or ultramarine blue, titanium white and burnt umber. Buy good ones like Winsor Newton or Grumbacher. They will go a long way. Also don't forget the cobalt drier and the linseed oil.

For cheeks: mix mostly white with a bit of red and sometimes a touch of yellow. Experiment on a plalette of folded tin foil to see it. The whole lump should be less than an almond, or you are using too much paint. (Unless you are painting a huge surface like skin). In fact start with a pea size of white then just a dab of red - mix that then see if you need more red. Try a touch of yellow. If you want it more old rose type pink, then a touch of brown. Never use black. There is no real black anywhere in real life. To do nice cheeks, pounce the color on in a dry brush way so it is light, but in the right color type. Then mix some a bit darker and brighter (redder) and pounce this in the middle and maybe a last one even darker and brighter even more in the center like concentric circles so the outer area is the lightest and the middle the darkest. The layers make good color depth. 

For lips: Basically the same as cheeks, but more of the red and the brown until you have a mauve like color. Lip color always looks way too dark on the palette, but OK on the doll, so don't be put off by dark until you see it for real on the doll.

Eyes: For years, actually since my very first dolls, I have avoided actual blue eyes. I think most blue eyes are really gray. So that's what I do. It looks blue on the doll. To white add blue and some brown till it's gray-like. Eyeshadow: same as above only more white.

For pupils, use the brown straight with the cobalt drier - it will appear black. Eye edging, lashes use white with a fair amount of brown.

All this is variable with the user and very adjustable on the tin foil. Colors can be wiped off with a rag and turp or turp substitute. Use very good brushes and if the finest you have isn't fine enough, snip off a few hairs.

RECENT NOTES ON PAINTING WITH OILS AND ACRYLICS
Working with acrylic paint is very hard on doll faces. We like acrylic because it dries fast and is easy to clean up and industry would like us to think it is less toxic. But there are two areas that put a strain on what acrylics can do. One is to slowly spread paint in a fine calculated line like eyebrows and the other is the blending or shading kind of painting (somewhat translucent) that cheeks are. Of course, that is because the paint is drying every second. In order to paint a nice fine line, the painter needs the paint to flow off the bristles and acrylics just do not do this well, even with added mediums designed to do this. And when one does use a medium to help the paint be more translucent, it has the bad habit of being like a solvent for itself and taking off what you just painted. How frustrating. The solution I have found is to use the kind of paints that have always done these jobs well - oils. But oils take so long to dry. Enter the world of alkyd paints, which are oils that dry faster due to the resins used to make them. If you think you may be painting several or many dolls, it would be well worth your while to invest in a minimum of 3 colors, some turpentine (or better yet, Turpenoid, an nearly odorless turpentine substitute) and if you want speedier drying than overnight, you can add a drier like cobalt drier which gets dry-to-the-touch time down to about 3-4 hours. You can still paint the skin color with acrylics and then paint on top with the alkyds. (Unless you are painting a black doll where I think you get much better color depth with complete alkyds). This gives you the best of both worlds. For a good cheek color mix small amounts (on a tin foil palette) of titanium white, cadmium red deep, and a bit of burnt sienna until you like it. If you are using a drier, add a tiny drop to the mix. Clean and wipe very dry your brush (best is a filbert or one of the Fantastix paint sticks) and apply using the dry brush technique. You will see right away why oils become favorites. You may also like to use the alkyds to paint anywhere there are fine lines like eyeliner and eyebrows. Use burnt umber with titanium white for the color mix and add a tiny drop of turp and maybe a bit of drier if desired for even faster drying. If you use a good liner brush, you will see how the paint just flows off the brush so you do not have to keep going back for more as with acrylics. If you use the alkyds for cheeks and fine lines and maybe shading (on some dolls), you will have just a small investment in paints, but a much easier time of painting. I recommend Winsor & Newton Griffin Alkyds. These can be purchased online at www.dickblick.com at very reasonable prices.
Do not use Fantastix to mix the paint - they will last longer. Only use them for applying paint or lifting it off (like an eraser) using a clean one. These come in packages of 6 intended to be disposable, but they can be cleaned just fine for at least two uses.

NEW TIP: I recommend Turpenoid in a lot of my work where any oil painting is done. This product is odorless (well, a small odor is there to be honest, but not bothersome). I got in the habit of using it due to teaching where some students are sensitive to real turpentine. The tip is, make sure to get regular Turpenoid (blue can) and not Turpenoid Natural (green can or label). Only use the Natural for cleaning brushes or clothes and not as a medium for use on your painting. It contains additives to soften paints (for cleaning) so you will end up softening the underlying layers and they will not dry well. Perhaps not even last long once dried.

Lately, I have loved painting doll faces (all skin areas) using a flat paint rather than a satin finish paint. It is less forgiving for wiping off mistakes in acrylics (like say eyebrows painted on top) but OK with oils, which I am leaning more and more on for painting face details. (So much more control). Anyhow, the matte finish does the best of any paint when it comes to the antiquing and then it looks to my mind, soft and very naturally aged. If you like a bit more of a harder surface to paint on (for the purpose of wiping off later mistakes in the detail painting, then you can mix half and half flat and satin, or some other proportion. Here is a tip within a tip - when you go back over an area, say you are touching up, and then you can see a brushstroke ridge, use a hardwood smooth wooden tool to burnish the ridge down. You can also get a very nice soft finish when using a matte varnish that looks too dull by burnishing it with a soft cloth. The more you burnish, the more the sheen. This is now my method of choice on hard dolls, like papier mache, but also works with cloth, just not so dramatically

This tip is more of a housekeeping tip that will make your detail painting much smoother when you are using acrylics. The problem with detail painting in acrylics is that the paint is drying so fast, it does not want to flow. Not wanting to flow makes painting lines and even areas hard. I have always said to keep your brush cleaned off of old paint, in fact, keep cleaning your brush about every other stroke. Gobby paint will not paint well ever and only gets harder if gobs are forming. But it is a bit tediuous to keep cleaning your brush and then making sure you have just the right amount of moisture on the bristles to paint more without it getting thin or runny. So, here is the tip: Set up a shallow dish (ramekin style) for your clean water. In the bottom of about 1 inch of water in the dish, put a small 6 inch square of white t-shirt rag crumpled up with some above water line in a little mountain. When painting fine detail, clean your brush in here by wiping it underwater and giving a final draw across the humped up part of rag. This cleans the best because the texture of the rag is like fine sandpaper to clean off the brush tip and then does two things - one is lines up your bristles as you swipe across the rag and also gives you just the right amount of "wetbrush" to continue. The wetbrush part is good to have good paint flow, but it is always a bit tricky to know that you have the right amount of water in the bristles and not too much. This is an important tip and I now do this all the time.


The next best new tip is a medium that is just The Best. Use this medium mixed into your acrylics to get better flow and also it is just the cat's pajamas in my Antiquing for more paintability. (You know how tricky it can be when your antiquing is getting sticky). The Medium is Jo Sonja's Retarder and Antiquing Medium - not the gel, but a liquid. I am liking this much more than the gel I have always sold and used before. Unfortunately, it is not really kitable for fear of it being too liquid and leaking out. But, a little goes a long way, so if you will get yourself a bottle, it will last a very long time if using it on doll painting. I now have it on my Supplies page of my website.


Just want to add that in my world, one never buys the white bristle brushes for anything. I see lots of them showing up in classes sometimes with the comment that they were cheap. Forget cheap, and like white flour and white sugar, forget the white bristles. You will paint better in soft bristle brushes. Usually these are amber colored. And for getting a nice smooth coat say on the skin level, the flatter your brush is and softer, the nicer the coat, especially if you remember that you should only dip your brush in no more than about 1/8" - spread that then get more.

One place to start and maintain, is to save pictures. You see a face or anything you like, study it and decide what it is that you like. Mark it - say, "great nose" or "notice that cheeks are low", etc. Look to see where things start and end. Break things down into simpler shapes. The very first class I taught was how to make a clay doll from scratch - it was done in 6 lessons. Knowing how hard it was to start from absolute ground zero, I pre-made a mold of a head with suggestions where nose, ears and eyesockets were with a neck and shoulderpiece. I made the hands like mittens with barely a thumb alongside the hand and feet that were like socks. These molds were already in proportion - head to hands and feet, etc., so no one had to think about proportion. After the first night they all went home and I burst into tears - I remember sobbing that "these people think they are going to make a doll, but look, they have cats paws for feet and just horrible heads. I wondered if I should remake them all, but in the end just got the pieces dry and then I fired them. Every one of those dolls (they each made two in case) came out so wonderfully, I still have those first students all these 25 years later tell me how much they love their dolls. The moral of this story (one of them) is you can often learn faster if you can begin somewhere that is not totally original, then later, go deeper and eventually you can do it. In my earliest days I saw this as cheating, but I learned from a master drawer and painter friend and mentor that there are many roads to get there and that a road is built by someone who went before you. So, one suggestion that has quite a lot of pre-work but has helped people who want to arrive in a place where the scope of dolls they do may be confined to say children dolls 12" tall, or Santas, or fairies or something, because of the work in the "starter". Find a cheap plastic doll that is about the proportions of what you want. You can make yourself a two part press mold of the parts you want. You can even fill in some of the areas so only a suggestion is left of where the features are. Then use this press mold to make your base - your starter. Perhaps even make a mold of the end result of this. Then, keep making starters and working on them from this. One of the best aspects of having a starter piece is symmetry. It is really hard to get good symmetry so it is nice if where the eyes and ears go is already well placed. You could even buy a mold of a vintage doll in the size you want and use this as your "starter". Do not think I am saying to just use the doll practically as is and also that none of these should be dolls you will sell until you have arrived at your own place with the work. The purpose of this is not to copy, or barely change a few details, it is to learn how to get the proportions and learn about working in 3 dimensions. This is sort of how I got started, except my "starter" doll was my own first doll. I had been making dolls for some time (several hectic months), when I realized the molds were wearing out. So, I took one of the successful heads, and filled in some more clay on it, and resculpted. I did this for about 5 years until I had to, under great pressure while taking an industrial mold making "class" - I was the only student - make a perfect head, hands and feet in a day to make my first master molds from. It happened so easily I realized my eyes and hands had learned what to do. It happened again when I just made my little Hitty. She just popped out because I have sculpted so many hundreds of little noses and eyes etc. You learn to use certain tools to get certain effects and what will make a good eye or cheek or whatever. And always keep looking to see what it is about dolls in museums and books that appeals, then try to make that happen.

Hint: I am right handed, so always it is easier for me to get the right side features better (the nose is not in the way). But then I have a horrible time (bad astigmatism works against me) getting symmetry. I keep stiff crystal clear acrylic sheets handy and laying one over the top of the doll, propped up so it is just touching the nose but level, I trace on the good features with a Sharpie fine point, also noting in pen the top of head, nose and a center line, chin and cheeks. Then flip this over, lining up the mid-line, top of head, chin, etc. you can see where to mark out the left side features and use the guide to keep checking as you go. You need to have your line of sight be at ninety degrees so work on a slanted table or stand up and lean over to see. I adapted this version from someone who showed me how to use a small pane of glass with a grid ruled out in permanent fine marker.This is not fool proof due to the 3-D issues (one eye may be more forward than the other but still look level), but another trick to use besides the commonly recommended holding up to a mirror or upside down to get a new perspective. Warning: 35 years ago when I first looked at one of my early doll heads in a mirror, it was enough to make me almost quit, so this can be discouraging. A lot also depends on if you are compulsively tidy and like things symmetrical (that's me!) or you are happy with a more fluid one of a kind type of look.

Top of Page

A good tip from one who has been through the wringer on this, if you need a good protective surface over your paint (this is necessary on hard faced dolls because they are more likely to get scratched or chipped), spray or paint on several coats of varnish in gloss or satin. Then, last get a good spray MATTE varnish (Grumbacher is the only one I know which is matte even though many say they are) and spray it over all. The idea is that the glossier the finish, the harder the paint (this is why you paint your walls flat or eggshell, but paint the woodwork in an enamel), and matte has almost no protection at all. So by building up layers of the harder varnish first, which will look awful and shiny as glass, you get the protection. Then, the matte varnish as the last coat gives back the look of just paint. If that is too dull - you may like some shine, use a satin finish. One note is that all varnishes are far from alike even when labeled as such. In other words, mattes are not always matte, and satins can be glossy as glass. It took me hundreds of dollars of wasted products to find good ones. If it is cheap, it may be shinier than you want. But, the good news is that if you can find a matte you like (and this may be anywhere from real matte to what would really qualify for satin) use it as a last coat to give the final look that you like.

Top of Page
 
I started where everyone did at first - tea dye. Tea dyeing or coffee dyeing are very useful techniques, but back when that was all I knew how to do, it seemed sadly lacking. Also for me as someone doing this for a living and on lots of dolls, it takes so many tea bags that the cost was prohibitive. I turned to dye and Rit was the most readily available and also something I could buy bulk and put safely into my kits. The results are fairly controllable (with some reservations). I overdye nearly everything. Change the ugly fabrics into ones that have a vintage feel. You can start by cutting up some fabrics from your stash. Keep some large index cards to mount them on to see the results and always first keep one as it was off the bolt so you can see what happened. I have done so much of this, I can go shopping and just know that this or that fabric which I would otherwise NEVER buy, will look actually great once overdyed. Different amounts of dye to water get different results of course, but here is the basic proportion that works. Use 1 tablespoon of powdered Rit Tan to 2 gallons of boiling water and 1/4 cup of salt. Once water is boiling, stir in dye and salt stirring for a full minute so it is all dissolved. Prewet your pieces and swish them in the water with tongs for just a minute or so. You need to learn how much darker something looks wet than dry - usually more than twice as dark. Have a basin of clear water to put it into when you think it is ready. Try different strengths on different swatches of the same fabric, recording your results for future use. Do be aware that what is happening in the pot is that dye pigment is being sucked out of the water and eventually, the dyebath gets weaker and weaker. If you are then confident of your results, try doing this to the real thing. For doll clothes, it is best to overdye them all made so that threads and seams take on appropriate color and depth like they would acquire the patina of age in real life. If you are overdyeing doll bodies, do this after they are all made and stuffed. Just dip them in the pot (not prewet) and swish around like loose fabric. Take the wet dyed basin of things and bodies to your washer and dump in. Put it on spin to get all the water out. Then you can put them in the dryer for just a few minutes and they will be dry and ready to continue on with. Using Rit Tan in this way is a lot like tea and at this stage is only the first step toward real age and charm. And it says only that it has been tea-dyed, in other words, fake old.
Now is the point where I started to ask what really went into making fabric look old. And, of course, it is quite simple. Wear, fading and staining. So enter the use of sandpaper, starch and the need to be able to apply "stains" or grime (say on dolls having been handled a lot would have a build up of the oils from people's hands) in a way that is realistic. You can figure out what the sandpaper does - it removes layers of lint, the very thing that the tumbling action of your dryer does and deposits it in the lint trap. It is the process by which our old favorite clothes get softer and thinner with age. You will sand the cloth to remove some of the newness and its vivid color - this is my version of "stone washing"or distressing. If this is a doll body, just sand the stuffed surface to your liking - if there is a raised nose, you must avoid this or you will sand it off. In general, I use two grades of sandpaper. 220 and 400. The 400 is finer and safer for not going too far too fast. But this is why I use the 220 - when I want to go faster. At first, just use the 400. For clothing, stretch fabric on your knee or ironing board holding it taut so no wrinkles are where you are sanding. Wrinkles mean raised places which will get too much wear from the sandpaper. On finished clothes, you must be careful of areas with any top stitching (stitching in the seams is protected and OK) as the sandpaper will break all the stitches. Use tiny torn off squares (1"square) of the sandpaper and only work on small areas at a time. Be brave and make a few places quite near to threadbare. In the end, go lightly across the gathers to make them look worn too. Besides the other steps this will really make the difference in a real vintage look. The purpose of the starch is to "glue" down the loose hairs of the fibers as they would be in real life. In real life worn fabrics' loose hairs are worn off. When you artificially sand, some are worn off, but some are raised up and fuzzy. The other thing about starch is it gives that sheen that old worn fabric has - all of this necessary for the charm of age. Now the final ingredient is the staining. Tea-dyeing or overdyeing with Rit Tan doesn't allow you to do this in a totally controlled way. Not that old stains appeared in a controlled way, but you may not want a big stain right say on a doll's face. For this, I do two things. I developed a wax medium that has dye in it that you apply with a scrubbing motion, grinding it into the fabric just where you want it and how densely, feathering out the edges to look natural. Then, using a hot iron on the treated area, the wax melts out and leaves nice color behind looking very real and you have put it where you want it. This can be done on both stuffed doll bodies and on flat fabric or sewn clothes. The other way to get good controlled staining is to use paint. Spritz cloth so it is wet. Then, use a water base caramel paint color in the proportion of about one tablespoon of the paint to about one half cup of water (make sure to scrape all the paint out of the tablespoon) and mix well - keep well mixed as you work. Use a wide paintbrush to slop on the paint/water mix and let it bleed up into the garment which it will if you misted it so it is wet - or add more mist if not. If this seems too uneven, mist a bit and scrub it (like washing by hand when you rub the fabric against itself) or rub with a rag. Add more paint in areas you wish to be darker like the curved seam of the apron, the waistband, the hems of the slip and pantaloons, etc. Let this dry and repeat if necessary.You will want a hair dryer handy to help dry things to speed you along. You can even iron it dry for some good effects too, but do this on the wrong side. I always add more later in areas like gathers or wear or to make intentional stains. You can sand more too, just avoid any topstitching on the clothing.When as you like it, iron with spray starch as mentioned before. To create nice little pin holes - a very common, but authentic and charming, part of vintage fabrics, it is better to start the hole with a tiny clip - in an X - where you want it and then sand the clip until its edges look naturally old.I usually hit this area, especially if stuffing shows, with a little of the paint mix to give it deeper color and to look like it has been there. When I did the dolls for the Disney movie that had to be very worn and over 100 years old, I spent a lot of time actually wearing away the folded edges of seams like hem edges and the tips of fingers and thumbs. Now, some final details that are all important. Stuffing. If you are going for a threadbare look or even actual holes in a doll, the last thing you want is for modern white poly stuffing to show through. And poly does not take dye well. So use a natural stuffing and add paint there, or use the Tan Stuffing made by the Putnam Co (available on my website in the supplies section). Also remember that old dolls were stuffed with natural things that compacted quite solidly and poly does not, although that is why I like the Tan Putnam is that it does. Old dolls are not "squishy" like new/old dolls stuffed with regular poly. Then the final thing. Always iron and iron all the clothes and the doll body. Use starch. This is as important a step as any of the above for the final look - like the accessories are to a well-put-together outfit. People in old times ironed their clothes religiously. Repeated ironing of things makes them behave differently than if they are not. So you don't want to forget this step.If your doll has ties like shoelaces or bonnet strings, use crochet strings in heavy or lightweight and paint them with gucky colors then sand them too and fray the ends - this looks terrific.
In many of my kits where the fiber used for the doll's hair is from roving, you need to use a "hair pick" to sort, smooth and thin the roving, because you cannot use a comb or brush without the roving falling apart. Roving is a fiber that has been processed by a fiber processing machine that places fibers (wool, mohair, silk, etc.) in a parallel fashion in a continuous rope of whatever thickness - like the cotton "ropes" that hair dressers use when say giving a permanent. Although the "rope" is continous, the fibers that make it up are not, so that if you comb through it, they get pulled apart. For a proper look and for many hairstyles on dolls, you need to thin it gradually, like human hair, which is thicker at the scalp than at the ends and when not thinning, you still need a way to sort and smooth the fibers without pulling it all apart. Using a hair pick (drug stores have them - they are plastic usually, with 4 - 5 tines, the best ones for dolls being ones with 5 thin metal tines about 1/4" apart) is the best solution, but the good metal tined ones are hard to find. So, you can make one for yourself from 5 needles that are all the same length and a bit of sculpey-type clay. There are two ways to go here. If you can get 5 darning needles all the same, these have dull tips so you can bury the eyes of the needles in the sculpey handle. If not, use 5 of the same any type needle of a fairly large gauge and about 1-1/2" - 2" long.When using these, you will leave the eyes out at the tips and put the pointy ends into the sculpey. The 5 needles should be embedded into the sculpey handle (any shape you want) far enough to be solidly in the handle and still have about 3/4" to 1" showing. Bake the handle as normal for sculpey to harden. All 5 needles should be even across the tips and even in their row and about a little less than 1/4" apart. In order to meet this need, I am now making my own with wooden handles ($3.50). See the Supplies section on this website. If you have one of these combs, and some felting needles, you will be all set for fiber doll hair making.

If you would like to crochet some doll-scale lace, I will share my patterns for doing it. Click here for a page of directions. These are some of the very laces I use on many of my finished dolls designed by me to look like old-time laces. The very narrowest one is invaluable to me for just the vintage right look on smaller dolls.If you would like to make lace a simpler way (the crocheted lace is quite tedious and very time-consuming), I have developed a simple way to achieve the same look using just a sewing needle and thread. The advantage of this last lace is that it is applied directly to the edge of the fabric as so many old laces were. To make this lace (good for Hittys especially), visit my Supplies page and scroll down the page to Lace Making Kit and there you will find a tiny little kit ($3.50) with all the instructions and things to get started.

Sewing with silk need not be scary or messy (all those shredded threads) due to its tendency for fraying rapidly on the edges. ?The easiest way to sew with silk is to rough cut the silk pieces for small things and then iron them onto freezer paper. Draw on all the patterns using a Micron pen onto the silk. Let ink set, then paint my fray preventer on the drawn ink line with a No.4 round brush making sure it is soaking through but not overly spreading. Let dry. Then you can cut on the drawn lines and viola - no fraying. Silks are sturdy. Most can take any amount of ironing and washing and they dye or overdye really well, even using simple Rit. Using my paint overdye on silk is also good as it helps the cut edges to stay crisp. Always use the finest NEW needle you can and I highly recommend the use of cotton Aurifil thread to sew with.

Most laces come very white. Too white for vintage looking dolls. Use my new Yellowing Paint Overdye to get the just-right aged look for laces. Always paint overdye first in one long piece before cutting it up. When cutting lace, it is best to paint on fray preventer where you will cut so it does not start coming apart. Determine where the cut will be, then paint on a line of fray preventer, let dry, then cut. This helps to keep the cut edges looking clean and the lace from unraveling.

Top of Page