Assembling and Dressing a Doll Kit
By Gina Gagnon
So you want to dress that doll kit you’ve been hiding in your workroom now for a long time. I can help! You will need the following supplies to put your doll together:
#1 - you need your doll kit – it should look similar to this...
#2 - you will need 3 or 4 pipe cleaners, available at any grocery/drug store, etc. and some batting or cotton balls (large sized ones).
#3 - you will need Aileen’s Tacky Glue
#4 - you will also need a straight edge ruler and a pair or old scissors or wire nippers. I use fingernail clippers! And a pair of small scissors.
#5 - you need either toothpicks or a needle tool to glue with.
#6 - you will need PATIENCE!!!!!! Like Rome, dolls are not built in a day!
I start by doing the legs first. Put them in front of you – left leg to the left, right leg to the right. There is nothing more disconcerting than to put your armature together and find out that you’ve not paid attention and you have the legs mixed up. Now take two (2) of your pipe cleaners in your hand and grasp them in the center with your thumb and forefinger and just make one twist around each other. Then start wrapping the two wires around each other firmly from the middle out on each side so that the two ends are somewhat even on each side. You should have one long wrapped wire when finished. If the ends are not even – trim the ends so they are even. Now take your tacky glue – put some on a long pointed needle tool – or a toothpick, and pack the inside of the legs with the glue. Insert one end of your long wire in the hole. Yes, the glue will mound up around the top of the leg and around the wire. That is OK. I call it “stability!” But do neatly wipe off any glue that spills down the leg. Now do the other side. You should have a long doubled wire with a leg/foot on each end. Now find the center of the pipe cleaner and just bend it in half making sure that the feet are even and the whole thing can stand on its own. Let it dry thoroughly. Yes, you can let it dry while it is standing up – or you can lie it down on your worktable.
Now for the arms: If your doll is going to be holding something in its arms, i.e., a baby, etc., for ladies – tools or some such for men, add ½” to your arm wire measurements on each side! Now check the hole in the arms and body. If the holes look like they are large enough to support a double wire wrapped assembly, prepare a double wrapped wire. If they won’t, just use one wire.
Take up the right hand/arm and fill the hole with glue and insert one end of the pipe cleaner into it. Now using your own body as a guide, see where your elbow ends – it should be at or very close to your waist. (Remember if you want your doll to be holding something, add 1/2". Using that as a measurement, lightly crimp the wire gently at that spot. Now insert the other end of your wire into the right armhole of the head/body/torso and go through it and out the left armhole. Remembering the elbow measurement rule, lightly crimp your wire at that spot, and without using the glue – just stick the long end of the wire into the arm to measure how much wire you need in that arm/hand. Cut the wire off after you take that measurement. Now fill the arm/hand with glue and insert the wire into the arm. Now you should have a torso with two arms attached to wires and a separate piece with feet attached. Let this all dry very thoroughly.
For those people who have a kit with full porcelain arms – you need to put as much glue into the opening of the full arms as possible. You can put it in with your toothpick or needle tool. Then insert your pipe cleaner as far as it will go into that porcelain arm. Holding the porcelain arm in your hand, insert the long end of the pipe cleaner(s) through the armhole of the body until it comes out the other side – then snug that arm right up against the body – and bend the exposed end of the pipe cleaner down to hold it in place. Now without using any glue, take the other arm up and push the pipe cleaner inside as far as it will go. This will be the amount you have to leave on the pipe cleaner to insert the other arm with glue. So bend that wire, and then remove the arm from the pipe cleaner. Clip the wire off where you bent it and use it for a “ruler” and measure down from where you bent the pipe cleaner originally at the armhole. Nip off the remainder. (Don’t throw the cut off’s away as you can use those smaller ends on smaller dolls or for gluing, picking up tiny parts, etc.) Put glue into the arm as above, and then insert the wire snugging both arms up to the shoulders and let dry thoroughly. VERY THOROUGHLY!!!
Inserting the legs into the body: Look inside the torso and see how much “room” you have in there – this will be similar to stuffing a turkey and we’re going to stuff the body.
Take your ruler and lay it flat upon the table. If you have a man doll, he should be anywhere from 5 ¾” tall to a bit over 6” tall – this is your call here. Not all people are the same size. A lady could be anywhere from 4 ½” to 5 ¾” tall or even taller! Real people are not all the same size! Without gluing anything at this point, take the leg wire and put it inside the body/torso and put the torso and legs on the ruler and measure how tall you want your doll to be. Remember if you want your doll to be sitting down, you must add ½” or more…..I put my dolls in a chair to gauge how long to make the leg wires. If you have room and the legs are just way too long, use pliers and bend your wires over so that they fit the area and your doll is the exact size you want.
Now for the fun part! We’re going to stuff the turkey! Separate the legs to either side of the opening in the torso without disturbing the length. This gives more stability to the doll and helps it to stand without a doll stand. Take your cotton balls and pull them apart. Take your toothpick or needle tool and cover the inside of the torso with the glue. Yep, just glop it inside there... then put those wires inside and press firmly in place. Fill in the gaps with bits of batting or cotton balls and if there is still more room, put more glue in there and just push as much cotton in there as you can. And pack firmly. Measure again….and if you’ve shortened the legs just pull the pipe cleaners down a bit and pack cotton behind. You will have enough glue in there so that those legs will never come out! Now let this dry very thoroughly! Overnight if possible. You want it solid as a rock at this point. The next step is to wrap this armature you have made, and it won’t come loose in the wrapping procedure if it is bone dry.
WRAPPING YOUR DOLL AND GIVING IT AN "OUTLINE!"
Next we are going to wrap for all time! No, we are not making a mummy! But it’s going to seem like we are! When finished your doll should look more realistic and the wires will be protected and neatly covered.
Make sure your armature is really dry as we are going to cover and pad those naked wires. You are going to need:
#1. Aileen’s Tacky Glue
#2. Cotton Balls or batting
#3. Toothpicks or a needle tool or your fingers
#4. A damp towel to wipe your fingers and
#5. PATIENCE! Rome was not built in a day, and mummies took months to wrap!
If you kit has full porcelain arms and/or legs – forget the next step! You won’t need to wrap the full porcelain arms, but if you have ¾ length legs, you will need to wrap the exposed wires plus make a butt.
Take a cotton ball and try to find the end of it! Yep! It’s really there…..I find I can find it easier if I stroke my finger around it one way, and then the other way. You’ll find the “seam” because it will rise up a little bit. When you find it – unroll it gently and you’ll have a nice long strip of cotton approximately 5” long. Cut it in half and you will have two nice strips to work with. If you are using batting, just cut a couple of pieces about 2” long by about 1” wide. I prefer the cotton balls myself. I use quilt batting however for the legs. Pick up your doll and with your gluing method, cover the exposed wire of one of the arms with glue all around, just sort of slather it on, not too thick and not too thin – then place one of your pieces of cotton/batting on the wire and wrap it around and around flatly, don’t let it bunch up, until the wire is covered. When you are at the end of the wrapping, you will need a drop or two of glue to glue down that end.
Wrapping the leg wires is done the same way as the arms. At this point you should have wires covered with what looks like FAT cotton balls…..HA! We’re going to fix that!!!! I take small scissors and begin to “sculpt” some shape to the arms and legs. When I am satisfied with “the look,” I put some glue on my index finger and just smooth out the cotton all around until there is just a thin film of glue on the cotton – which then becomes the “skin.” This is what it will look like when dried…a thin skin. Yes, it is messy…this is why you have the damp cloth, to clean your fingers! Don’t use too much glue or you will find you have a very hard skin, and it won’t feel natural after the doll is dressed. If you are using full porcelain legs from foot to upper thigh, I still wrap those exposed wires to give not only shape, but also added strength to those wires. If you have a ½ torso and there are tummy wires showing, squeeze them as small and tight as possible to give a tiny waist and then wrap that too.
Now we need to give your doll a "butt". Take a cotton ball and just cut it in half. Put some glue on the flat edges of the cotton ball and plunk them into place like huge rounded buttocks! Then take your small scissors and “sculpt” smaller buttocks. Put some “skin” on that area and let dry. Instant butt shape! This will make your doll far more realistic looking when it is dressed.
If you want to give a more rounded tummy or a "pregnant" look to your doll, just add some thinner and smaller pieces of cotton to build up that area. You could put a whole ball on there and make the doll look pregnant if you want to! Again, I would take two cotton balls and make one out of it, rounder in the middle tapering out the edges and you can make it as pregnant looking as you like….smaller for first trimester months, very large for later months. Then put your glue on the doll’s tummy area from under the breast to the lower tummy and place the cotton on it and smooth out the edges and then sculpt it with scissors until it looks pregnant to you. Then with your finger make a skin over it. This will give definition to the armature and make it appear a little more realistic. Let this dry very well.
Now your doll should be completely wrapped and you should set it aside to dry thoroughly.
PANTALETS, PANTALOONS AND DRAWERS FROM THE ROMANTIC VICTORIAN DAYS OF OLDE!
Ah, the romantic days of long dresses with petticoats swishing underneath, and underneath those are the silky, wonderful Pantalets and drawers!
#1 Aileen’s Tacky Glue
#2 Gluing Tool - Needle Tool or Toothpicks
#3 Pieces of Fabrics - batistes, cottons, silks, satins, laces and trims
For very full Pantalets - cut a piece of fabric about 8" wide by 2 1/2 or 3" inches long. Adjust the width of your fabric accordingly if you do not want such fullness. If you are trimming with 1/4" or 1/2" lace, you'll need a piece approximately 8" long. Take the 8" wide piece of fabric and cut it in half - you should now have two pieces of fabric about 4" wide by 2 1/2 or 3" long. Cut the lace in half too. Put your fabric right side up in front of you and find the right side of the lace. Place a fine line of glue along the top of the right side of the lace and place it onto the fabric's right side up piece - matching tops – The lace is lying on the top edge of the fabric wrong side up – both fabric and lace edges are together. Finger press the lace upwards, while pressing the seams down and back. Place a fine line of glue under that seam and seal with your warm iron. You should have a piece of lace-trimmed fabric at this point - the wrong side having a neat hem and the right side lace-trimmed with the lace hanging down.
Lay both pieces of lace-trimmed fabric in front of you - wrong side up. Mark each with a marking pencil or a very soft pencil 1" down from the top. Draw a line straight across. On the left side of the left piece of fabric (talk about double talk!), glue hem a seam. Repeat on the right side with the right piece of fabric. Now you are going to make a tube, but follow these directions most carefully. Only make your tube UP from the lace-trimmed area to the pencil line. Leave the area above the tube UNGLUED. Yes, we're coming unglued at this point! Isn't it fun?? To make the tube – using the right side of the fabric, run a fine line of glue down the hem you just glued and match up the hem with the raw edge and finger press in place making a tube of fabric from each piece.
Now slip each tube up on the doll's legs with the glued part almost at the crotch. Now you're going to make a tube with the remaining portions of the fabrics right on the doll! You can almost see it falling into place at this point can't you? Glue one section right to the doll's body but just below the waist – at the hip line.... front to back! Why would you do just below the waist? When you put the skirt on the doll over the petticoats and pantaloons, you want a tiny waistline…not having the petticoat and pantalets to contend with, you will have just the waist of the skirt there at the waistline. Just dab some glue with your tool from belly button area to crack of butt and slide that fabric right onto it. Gently push the fabric into the glue. Now put some glue carefully on top of that section, front to back, and gently push the free side into the glue. Finger press into place and let dry. You can touch the tip of your iron to this area carefully to seal this seam if you like. I'm impatient so I use my iron a lot! But do as I say here, not as I do!!!
After drying, you should have what appears to be Pantalets on your doll. We will now gather them around the knee area. If you have half legs just where the wires enter the leg, if you have full porcelain legs – tightly around the knees. Now using your needle and thread take tiny stitches around the top of the hem where the lace is and gather around top of knee on doll - pull tightly and tie off. Again, place just a dab of glue (tiny) on that little knot to keep it in place, and then glue a silk ribbon bow and/or other trims over it. There you have it, simple but pretty lace-trimmed Pantalets or pantaloons! If you don't gather the bottom of them, you will have "drawers."
There you have done it! Without a pattern even!
NOW FOR THE PETTICOATS!
What are petticoats if not just tubes of fabric and trimmings, gathered around the waist (Actually hips in your dolls)? They are lovely additions to wardrobes, lingerie items from simple cottons to elegant silks - petticoats have been with us for centuries! Men used to wear petticoats too, but we'll get into that later! Right now let's create some petticoats of distinction!
Fabric, laces, and trims
Glue - Velverette or Aileen's Tacky Glue
Needle Tool or Toothpick
Ruler or tape measure
Now, for those making a full-skirted Victorian-type dress and wish a nice full petticoat or petticoats underneath...here are simple petticoats without having to use a pattern!
I hope that you will be able to understand these instructions. I like nice full skirts – therefore I like very full petticoats... So, get yourself a piece of fabric that is at least 18" wide....yep 18"!!!!! And about 4" long or the length you wish plus 1/4" for gathering. If you want you can use your ruler and hold it just under the waistline of your doll and measure how long you WANT your petticoats to be, leaving extra for a hem – or just use the selvage of your fabric. Make either a plain hem on the bottom, or the lace type of hem that we made for the pantalets. If you wish a ruffle above the lace, now is the time to add it. I use seam binding for these ruffles or very fine 1” laces. I cut the ruffle material 54" long....... Use a yardstick here to measure! It's three (3) times longer than the fabric for the petticoat. Now take that seam binding and glue a "hem" on one end of the binding - about 1/8th inch wide - this is the stabilizer or the end of the ruffle. Then take the other end and ravel it slightly. Count down 10 threads from the top of the binding and start to pull the 11th thread out pushing the fabric back towards itself. Being very careful, start to make a ruffle from this by continuing to gently pull that thread pushing the material towards the hemmed end. It helps if you can clamp the hemmed end down to your worktable so you can keep the rest of the tape taut while you pull the thread and ruffle the tape. It is going to try to swivel around itself, but be patient as when it is done, it will be beautiful! You can add other ruffles, or you can just use that one. When finished and it's the length of the petticoat, make a tiny glued seam to hold the ruffle in place and finish the end off like the other end. Yes, it's going to wrap around itself..... What I do is to hold it in place by attaching it temporarily in place with common pins to my workbench.
Now - Trim the bottom with either lace or glue the ruffle into place on your fabric. Make your tube!!!!! Gather the top of the fabric about 1/4" down and pull your gathers in until you can slide it over the doll's hips and, again, run a fine line of glue around those hips and just pull that gathering thread taught, tie off, adjust gathers! Vundabar! A very, very full petticoat for under those gorgeous gowns! You can make your petticoats either more narrow by using 10 or 12" or less of fabric, and you can forgo the bottom hem altogether by using the selvage of the material. But do add some pretty lacy ruffles or use seam binding, etc. Victorian petticoats were pretty fancy with trims.
Now to keep those folds manageable, and to give them body for the gowns that they will be supporting, what I do at this point is to get out my BIG can of RAVE hairspray (the highest number you can find for stiffness) or some other CHEAP hairspray and give it a good spritz all around! I hold the doll's face and hands in my hand, covering it with my hand so I don't get spray on the doll itself (you can put the top half of your doll in a plastic baggie too), and sort of spray the material very well all around – but not dripping wet - with spray. Grasp the skirt in your hand and slightly crush it so that the folds, etc., begin to appear and they will hang neatly and normally when dry. Hold for just a couple of minutes, and let go. Then adjust the gathers and folds into a pleasing look for you! I pull my forefinger and thumb down to make some sharper creases from hips down to feet, and leave some softer folds as well. A big plus when dry, the petticoat will support the weight of the gown on top of it.
Using the Victorian type-petticoat as an example, you can also shorten the fabric, use about 10 to 12" of width, and make more contemporary full petticoats for the skirts of the 50's that had all of those tulle, etc., petticoats - I don't know about you, but I wore about six petticoats under my “poodle skirts.” In high school, the petticoat craze was so bad; we were asked to limit our petticoats to just two. If you are using tulle, remember to gather it to a narrow band - then glue the band around the doll's hips. Tulle will not lie flat on the dolls hips and it's difficult to glue by itself.
TIP: Another use for seam binding, especially, that silky rayon type, is to make fabulous fringe!!!!! How to make neat fringe? Get some rayon seam binding in the color of choice. Cut a length that will work for you! Actually I like to get the 1" width and cut it in half down the full length of it. You'll have two strips 1/2" wide. Then you can just ravel the fringe to your heart's content! It's neater than the satin ribbon, silkier, and it is so luxurious!
CAUTION: The ravels will make a mess! I try to do this over a grocery bag so the ravels just fall into the bag - it is very "fly-a-way" and will find your clothing just covered with it! You can use satin ribbon too, however, it’s much more coarse.
If you have any questions, please leave a message for me (Wolfie) on the forum.
*Editor’s Note: If you’d like to see some of Gina’s fabulous finished dolls you can visit her gallery on the Greenleaf forum, or her personal website, Lone Wolf Miniatures.
Return to Newsletter...