Category Archives: Doll Projects

This category includes simple patterns for doll clothing to complex doll construction…most of which I have made myself.
Also included are some tips and tricks I have learned along the way!

Restoring a Schoenhut Wood Doll

While researching the history of early American dolls for my book, Through Their Eyes – The American Doll’s View of History* , I came upon the story of the early wooden dolls. While most of the American made wood dolls came from New Engand, like the Joel Ellis and Mason & Taylor and other jointed wood dolls, it was the large multi-jointed wooden dolls made by Albert Schoenhut in Philadelphia PA that really drew my attention.

In 1872 Schoenhut established the A. Schoenhut Company and made toys and pianos. In July 1909 Schoenbut applied for a patent for a jointed figure, which was the basis for his spring loaded joints of the now famous Schoenhut doll. While the bodies were wood, the heads were either machine carved wood or molded composition. Eyes were both inset and indaglio. The elder Schoenhut died in 1912, a year after his now famous doll appeared. His son, Harry E. Schoenhut continued the manufacture of the doll until around 1924 when Japanese manufactured dolls forced many American and European doll companies out of business.

I was determined to have a Schoenhut in my collection, but I soon learned that they are rather costly, ranging from $150 to $600 and even more depending on condition. There was no shortage of Schoenhuts for sale online, most were out of my price range until I found a seller that was offering one in pretty bad condition. The paint had almost all worn off the head and some of the features like the nose and lips were chipped away. This is not surprising as most the Schoenhut doll heads were composition. Fortunately the body was not bad although one lower limb had broken off.

In a way the broken leg gave me a glimpse into the leg joint of the doll…otherwise all the other joints including the feet, hands, elbows, shoulders were really tight (See photos below for the original condition of the doll.)

Normally I like to do minimal restoration on dolls, but this poor doll really needed a makeover. Shown below are the various steps I took to restore my Schoenhut…using various tricks I have learned over the years!

Original condition of the Schoenhut showing the badly worn head and broken leg.

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Paint badly chipped from composition head

First, with a damp cloth, I removed the surface dirt…no soap or solvent…just water.

Next I chipped away the rest of the paint from the head. Using medium grade sandpaper I smoothed some of the rough spots…on both the fully exposed head and some areas on the body.

Using a water based wood filler, I re-sculpted the lips and lower nose area. Using a dremel with a very small grinding head I cleaned out the eye area, reshaping the eye ball and socket.

schoenh 017

Next I made a slurry from the wood filler and “painted” the entire head…filling in all the small cracks and fissures. I sanded the head again and applied another coat of slurry. I let this dry overnight to make sure the wood filler was completely dry.

Next I applied a coat of gesso…used by artists to prepare their canvases. Gesso also fills in small cracks. Time for a coat of paint. I used a flesh tone acrylic, but here’s a tip. Most regular acrylics will change color as they dry. The acrylics used to paint glass and metal surfaces however dry true to color. And while they cost a little more, it is worth it as not only does the color dry true, but it also flows on evenly and brush lines are nearly invisible. One more check for any rough spots and then a second coat of paint.

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As the original paint was so “oranged” I decided to paint the entire body. Note I attached a velcro “splint” after inserting a rod to hold the two parts of the leg together.   While the leg will not bend at the joint, the doll will stand as it designed to do.

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Using a picture I downloaded from on-line, I copied the eye features, and lip shape. The teeth is a line of white too small to sculpt, but visible. I sealed the entire body and head with a satin acrylic, using a gloss for the eyes.

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Next the wig and clothes…I know my restoration is very self evident, but as I noted above, the doll was in really poor condition and I am more interested in having a doll that’s nice to look at than a really beat up ugly one.

Here is my finished Schoenhut

…along with a surprise I got for Mother’s Day…a second Schoenhut!

Now my 2 Schoenhuts stand side by side…a wish doubly fulfilled!

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*My book, Through Their Eyes – the American Doll’s View of History can be ordered directly from me by sending $19.95  to Lynn Nalven, Mountain Artisans, LLC, PO Box 64, Obernburg, NY 12767.  Shipping is free

My Sock Snowman

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There are many instructions on the Internet of how to make a “snowman” from a sock. I found the best kind of sock is a women’s ankle sock for the snowman and children’s colorful sock for cap & scarf.

You will also need beads for eyes and nose, string or heavy thread, rice ( two 1 lb. Bags will make three snowmen) glue and any other stickers or decoration you like.

Here is my version of the “sock snowman”

  1. Cut the top of an ankle sock off evenly across the top.
  2. Fill the sock 1” from the top. Gather the top and using a heavy thread tie off as shown in picture.
  3. Tie around the middle of the sock to make the top and bottom of the snowman.
  4. Use small black and orange beads for eyes and nose…glue on face. You can anchor the beads and trims with straight pins

Next make a cap & scarf:

  1. Cut the top off a child’s decorative ankle sock…cut even across. Tuck under the edge and fold up to make a cap.
  2. Cut the other sock along the sides, leaving the toe fold. This will make a matching scarf.
  3. Glue buttons onto the bottom part of snowman.
  4. Add pompoms or other decorationssnowman 013snowman 014snowman 016snowman 015snowman 017snowman 019snowman 020snowman 021snowman 022snowman 025

Making a Quick Doll Body for a Baby Doll Head

baby suit finished

Here is a quick, little project for a snowy afternoon, especially if you have a baby doll head with no body.

Our local doll club tackled the dilemma of the bodiless baby head and created a one piece baby or snow suit…stuffed with pellets and polyester to make the body. The body was then attached to the hapless baby head and topped with an attached or separate hood.   Below are instructions and illustrations along with a printable pattern.

Materials needed:

  • ¼ yard ( for pattern size shown here) of fleece, flannel* or thick sweatshirt material (use the soft inside)

* if the flannel is thin you may consider lining with muslin or other light interfacing

  • Cardboard for a template
  • ½ yard of elastic thread
  • Strip of Velcro (optional for hood)

Step 1: Print out the pattern by “select” and “print” from this site.

Once copied, resize the pattern either in a graphics program or use the grid method. Select the size of your fabric to accommodate your revised pattern dimensions.

The original size for this article is for a 6 inch body, neck to toes.

Step 2: Outline the paper pattern after resizing onto a piece of shirt cardboard. Cut out to make a     template. In this case, half of the template is used to ensure both halves are even. (Fig. 1)

Step 3:   Draw a pencil outline around the template on the wrong side of one half of the piece of flannel. If the flannel is thin and you are adding a lining, you can draw the pencil outline on one piece of the muslin or lining material. (Fig. 2)

Step 4: Fold the flannel in half so the right sides are facing. If using a lining, sandwich the folded flannel in between two sheets of lining material.  Otherwise just fold the flannel. (do not cut the pieces yet)

Step 5: Machine stitch along the pencil outline, through all the layers. Leave an opening at the neck and 1 ½ inches along the side. (Fig. 3) Now cut out the suit ¼” from the sewn seam. You should have a piece as in Fig. 4.

Step 6: Turn the suit right side out. ( Fig. 5) Stuff the legs and if desired make a small pouch of pellets to be inserted for the baby’s bottom. (Fig. 6)

Step 7: Stuff the baby’s arms and loosely & stuff the chest area.

Step 8: Run a stitch around the neck opening with the elastic thread. (Fig. 7) Insert the baby’s head in the neck and pull the elastic thread tight, holding the head in. (Fig. 8)

Step 9: Finish stuffing the body through the hole left on the side of the baby body. Sew up the hole.

Make a small hat or hood to attach at the base of the back neck of the suit. Decorate suit with buttons, sew on appliqués or other trims, such as fur.

Pattern for baby body suit

Pattern for baby body suit

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Old Fashioned Dolls

I came across a pattern for a simple doll that is reminiscent of the “old fashioned” rag dolls – dolls that were hand sewn  from scraps of fabric, usually left over from a hand made dress or curtain.   Here are two I recently finished…one is a gift for a friend and the other will be added to my rag doll collection.

The dolls measures 14″.  The head and torso are one piece with sewn on legs and arms.  All the outer clothes and facial features are hand sewn…there were often no sewing machines available so everything was hand stitched.  The fabrics are vintage for the dresses and pantaloons, but the hats are new.

They were fast and fun to make!

Remember the Marottes?

This past spring, my doll club, the Catskill Mountain Doll Club was trying to decide on a project that would include making doll heads…but no one was interested in crafting – or buying the expensive – bodies that go with small porcelain head. So we decided to make “marotte” dolls!

Marotte is a French word which means “frivolous amusement”.  Such was the name given to the toy made in France in the last half of the 19th century.  Essentially a marotte doll is a doll’s heads attached to a dowel or stick…adorned with various decorations and a music box.

When the stick is swung around, it activates the musical movement producing an attractive effect combined with the bells decorating the pointy ends of the gaudy dresses.  The heads and costumes often depicted a jester or harlequin.

Painting of a boy with a marotte doll.

Club  members cleaned and china painted a variety of milette heads and used these as the basic head for their marottes.  Below are four marottes I made:

The red and b&w marottes heads are cast from the “Cocoa” mold by Seeleys.

The gaudy outfits swing freely when the dowel is twisted…there is the sound of bells…a music button was added to two of the dolls to afford music as well.

They were fun to make and really offered the opportunity for creativity!






My Five Top Rules for Doll Making

Over the years I have learned many lessons…and have made many mistakes.  So to open this category  I would like to pass on my five top rules for doll making:

1)    Cut it a little larger, longer, bigger…it can always  be cut down

This rule probably could be applied to all kinds of crafts, but is especially effective when making clothes for dolls.  The only time I find it will not work is when patterning the bodices for dolls…the shoulder and neckline is proportional and just adding to the seam lines may throw the proportions off.  But for hemlines, sleeve lengths and widths, arms holes, side seams and waist measurements, this rule works well!

2)    Eyeball it!

You know that old expression carpenters have…measure twice…cut once.  I would insert eyeball it!  Trust your sense of proportion!  Once I was making a doll hat and measured the circumference of the doll’s head for the crown.  When I put the measurement to paper and fabric, I thought it looked too large.  Indeed, I was using a plastic tape measure from which, somehow, almost two inches got chewed off!  I know I said in my first rule to cut it larger, but this would have been really out of proportion!

The cut out fabric for this bonnet looked way too large!  I discovered that I was measuring the head with a tape measured from which almost two inches was cut off!  (Watch for later posting for directions on how to make this bonnet. )

 The first markings for the crown of this bonnet looked way too large!  I discovered that I was measuring the head with a tape measure from which almost two inches was cut off!  (Watch for later posting for directions on how to make this easy and quick bonnet.)

       3) Use the right tool

If directions call for a screwdriver, don’t use a nail file…if for a chisel, don’t use a screwdriver.  Sometimes tools can be expensive, especially those specialty tools for doll making.   But using the wrong tool can often end up in a botched job… and wasted materials!  Spend that little extra and save money in the long run.

4)Use the right glue

There are so many kinds of glues on the market these days…epoxies, resins, silicones and more. Wikipedia lists over 40 kinds!  When considering the kind glue for your project, check out the holding power, drying speed, color or clarity and ease of clean up.  While cleaning up casein based glues like Elmer’s glue© is easy , its holding power is inadequate for ceramics.  Epoxy glues work well for ceramics, but are messy. A whole article can and have been written about various kinds of glues.  Check out the DIY site!  And if you haven’t heard of it yet, Fabri-tac by Beacon© is a great substitute for a hot glue gun.

5)Mull it over!

If you run into a sticky problem that you just can’t  solve, put the project down and leave it for a while…maybe even overnight.  If you let your mind mull the problem or issue over, a solution may come to mind…or you will find a solution in an unexpected place.  Talk to other doll  makers…look on the Internet…sleep on it!

Well those are my first five rules for successful doll making. There are others which I may add later on, but these are the biggies!