Kit Dolls ~ Make New Friends

 

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Not all of us can be doll artists. Most of us lack the materials, the time and frankly, the talent. But in forty minutes and with no talent required, I managed to transform Little Doe from a pile of parts to a lovely Native American maiden. This illustrated guide shows the steps required to assemble a vinyl doll from a kit.

Little Doe Before

Little Doe After

What you'll need:

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A doll kit (no surprise there)

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A wig and glue, such as tacky glue (if your kit requires one)

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An armature (optional)

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Fingernail or cuticle clipper (for snipping the zip ties)

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FiberFil, Poly-fil or some other brand of polyester stuffing

Obtaining a doll kit is not as easy as it should be if you're hoping to make an American Girl type doll. Here are the major brands of kit dolls:

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Apple Valley - there were marvelous kits, sculpted by Pat Secrist. You can still buy baby doll kits from this company but the American Girl-size kits have become hard to find.

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Playhouse - had a variety of vinyl doll kits, most with the look of a porcelain doll. Little Doe, above, is a Playhouse kit sculpted by Rose Pinkul. They also have some cute faces by Thelma Resch.

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Syndee - these have, uh, "interesting" faces and very shiny vinyl. They are easy to find on eBay and sell for $10 - $12. They have rooted hair, so you won't need to buy a wig.

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Springfield - these were inexpensive American Girl knock-offs that you can buy at hobby stores. These kits only need to be stuffed and stitched closed.

You can see pictures of these in the gallery below. Searching by name on eBay is the best way to find the kits that are no longer being made. Making baby dolls from kits is very popular right now, so you should have no trouble at all finding a kit if you want to make a baby.

See the Rewigging ~ An Illustrated Guide for information on where to purchase the wig and glue. Armatures can be found at ArtDolls (wire armature) or MiniWorld (plastic armature) among many other places. (Do a web search for "doll armature" and you will find several.) FiberFil can be found at any fabric or craft store.

Step 1: Insert your armature into the fabric doll body

If you want to use an armature, just slip it into the doll body like you're putting a bodysuit on a very slim body. In this case I used a wire armature.

Step 2: Slip the zip ties through the casing in arms, legs and head

Zip ties are a nifty invention. You can find them at hardware stores or Radio Shack (as cable ties) but if you need more than are provided in the kit, Prilly Charmin has good ones with nice, small connectors. Thread the zip tie through the casings so that the side with ridges is on the inside of the circle. Don't put the end through the connector yet.

Step 3: Attach the limbs

If you are using an armature, you often need to punch or enlarge the hole into the limb to fit the armature in. If the hole is too large, you can fill the limb partially with glue from a hot glue gun and set the armature into it. Let the glue dry before proceeding after you attach the limbs if you do this. With this kit I had to punch a whole in the neck to insert the armature (I used a small awl from my husband's tool box, but scissors would have worked too since the hole doesn't need to be neat) and I had to squeeze the wire at the ends of the arms and legs to allow them to fit through the existing holes.

Make sure you have your hands and feet on the correct sides. Feet are easy but remember, thumbs up on the hands.

Now just tighten the zip tie so that it fits into the groove at the top of the limb. Don't tighten the tie too tight -- you'll want to be able to rotate the hands and feet a little when you pose her.

Clip off the end of the tie so it's flush with the connector. If there's enough material, try to pull the casing up and over the zip tie connector so it is covered and won't scratch.

Step 4: Stuff the body

Now that you have all of the limbs attached, you're ready to stuff the body. Here's what she looks like at this point:

Stuff the legs first using a tool to push the FiberFil down so it's firm. My favorite "high tech" tool is a wooden spoon. Pack the FiberFil around the armature so that it is surrounded. You don't want to be able to feel the armature as you're playing with the doll. It takes a surprising amount of fill to stuff a doll!

It's your choice how firm you want your doll's body to be. Small wads of FiberFil are easier to work down into the arms and legs but larger handfulls are easier in the torso and cut down on the lumpiness. This doll was a bit of a challenge to stuff smoothly because the body is rather thin muslin. The kit came with a pattern for the doll body so you could make it in a higher quality material if you want. You want the doll to be able to bend easily at the tops of her legs and arms, so don't overstuff there. Make sure you get the fill into important places like buttocks, chest and shoulders so that the body looks natural.

Stuffing is the most time-consuming part of making the doll. As you can see, my poor, headless doll is not totally smooth but I don't expect her to be running around naked, so I declared her stuffing done.

Step 5: Attach the head

Attach the head the same way you attached the limbs. Make sure it's not too tight so she can move her head from side to side. In this case, I needed to stitch a small opening down the back seam after the head was on. This doll has a small neck so the opening was made larger down the seam to allow it to open wider for stuffing. While I had the needle threaded I took a few stitches to hold the casing material over the zip tie connectors.

Step 6: Put on the wig

The wig is easy to put on a brand new doll! Just flip the wig inside-out, apply some glue to the inside of the wig cap in concentric circles, smear a bit to the edges, then flip it onto the head. (See the Rewigging article for more details.)

Step 7: Find something appropriate for her to wear

My friend Devina Branch had sent me a great Native American outfit in a swap. So, when I finished Little Doe, I had just the right ensemble for her to wear, including all the accessories.

And that's all there is to it! Putting together kit dolls is a good way to become comfortable with customizing dolls. Putting a wig on a doll who never had one is easier than changing the wig on a doll. Since most kit dolls come with non-articulated bodies, I have used the heads from kit dolls and matched them with articulated bodies from other dolls, such as this Apple Valley head with a Girls On the Go (an AG knock-off from Toys 'R Us) body. Once you see how a doll goes together from scratch, it's easier to be brave about changing something in another doll you own, even if it's swapping out her whole body or taking her apart to add an armature or restringing her.

Do you have any kit dolls? Share some pictures and I'll add them to this gallery.

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Apple Valley English

This Apple Valley doll has a Girls On the Go body instead of her white non-articulated one.

Copyright 2004 Maria Greene All Rights Reserved

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This page was last updated 08/25/06