When we left off, I was searching on eBay for 12″ porcelain dolls to use instead of the non-cute doll I’d bought. They had to be 12″ so they’d fit into the existing clothes, and that narrowed the field a bit– most dolls of that size were (perhaps unsurprisingly) not very detailed facially, and kind of haphazardly painted. It made sense, since smaller dolls generally sell for cheaper, so why bother making them pretty? I had a hard time finding one to my specifications– I still wanted dark hair and blue eyes– and there are a lot of scary, scary dolls being sold out there.
Then, in the course of my searching, I saw a listing for a doll wig. At that point it occurred to me that I could easily buy a doll wig of the appropriate color for whatever doll I bought, so it wouldn’t matter much if the doll had the right color hair. From there it was an easy jump to conclude that since doll eyes were also available, it wouldn’t be much trouble to replace those as well… so really what I was looking for was a nice face mold and paint job. (I was NOT about to tackle repainting porcelain) The search went on, and finally I found a doll that I thought would work. I don’t have a “before” picture, but she had brown eyes and a pretty seedy-looking auburn wig with braids. Definitely needed some upgrading, but she did have real eyelashes, which was a plus.
Of course, hedging my bets, I also kept an eye out for other dolls, and even bought a separate doll head because it had a reasonably nice face. I figured that if worse came to worst, I could pop the head off of the first doll and put on the new head (again, instructions online made this look easy) and I’d be all set.
Have I mentioned that there is nothing creepier in this world than an eyeless, hairless, disembodied doll head? Brrrr…
In any case, the complete doll arrived and the first thing I did was to rip her hair off. It was really easy, actually– I took a spoon and dug under the hairline in the back, and the glue was brittle enough that it just popped off (I hear that if it’s stubborn you can use nail polish remover to dissolve the glue). So did the top of her head, which was a plastic section that was only slightly attached. From there, I could look inside her head and see the glue holding her eyes in, which looked to me like a thick coating of dried craft glue.
I heated a kettle of water and carefully spooned several tablespoons of it into her head as she lay face-down on a towel. The water started to drain out of her eyeholes, which was kind of disturbing, but it did soften the glue considerably. Using a pair of tweezers I was able to remove the eyes with minimal wiggling, and I pulled out of most of the glue at the same time. Luckily, the doll’s eyelashes remained firmly glued to her eye sockets in spite of the pulling (just writing about that makes me wince a little) so all I had to do was re-set the new eyes.
Doll eyes are measured in millimeters from side to side of the eye opening, but mine kind of fell in between the standard measurements, so I purchased a few pairs from Denver Doll Emporium. I got these in “cobalt,” since acrylic eyes are both cheaper and (in my view) more realistic looking, as long as they have a nice high dome to them. Without the dome they just look like printed plastic.
Online tutorials say that to set doll eyes, you need something called “eye wax” to hold them in place while the glue dries– not wanting to pay shipping costs for a special box of wax, I bought a package of orthodontic wax from CVS and used that. It was slightly minty-smelling, but I figured it was basically the same. To insert the eyes, I warmed a piece of wax in my hand, formed it into a snake about 3mm in diameter, and pressed it into a circle around the eyeball. It needs to be thick enough that it’ll fill in the empty space between the curved inside of the doll eye socket and the eye itself, so don’t skimp.
Then I maneuvered the eye inside the head until it was oriented properly, and pushed it against the eye socket, squishing the wax into place. There’s an example photo below, using the disembodied doll head. Don’t worry if some wax shows through the eye socket– you can always scrape it away with a fingernail or toothpick later. I inserted the other eye, then put the doll face-down while I used a small syringe to pump white Elmer’s glue around it from the inside of the head. I let the glue dry with the doll in that position, and the wax kept the glue from oozing out of her eye sockets.
When the eyes were set– and it took two tries to get them to look “right”– I was ready to attach the wig, though I delayed doing that until after fitting all of her wardrobe to keep it from getting in the way. My doll’s head was 7.5″ around (measured from the top of the forehead to the back of the neck), so I bought a size 7/8 doll wig. Then I popped the plastic scalp back in place, turned the wig inside out, and applied glue in a spiral all around the inside of the wig cap. I set the top of the wig first, then flipped the sides down and smoothed the glue all around the hairline.
So now I had my doll. She was much prettier than the original, with an unusually pointed chin for a doll and a somewhat pensive expression. Even if her lips were a bit too pouty for my taste.
There was only one problem. Despite being 12″ tall, she didn’t actually fit into the first doll’s clothes or shoes. Probably would’ve helped if I’d measured the original doll more carefully (she was really closer to 11″ tall). What to do?
Next up: Clothes and Accessories
1. I like half-dome doll eyes better than the full-sphere kind (too hard to manage) or the oval-shaped flatter kind (not realistic enough). While some websites recommend using a special tool to position the doll’s eyes, that’s not really necessary unless you’re going in through the neck. The opening in the top of the doll’s head is plenty big enough for you to fit a finger in to position the eye. This is also why the full-sphere ones don’t work– they don’t have a flat surface on the back to stick to your finger.
2. I used Elmer’s white glue to set my eyes because I wanted them to be easy to remove if I made a mistake. Since you’re not going to be getting your doll wet, water-soluble glue will work just fine here.
3. Especially with smaller dolls, the tip of the glue bottle may not fit far enough into the head opening to actually apply the glue to the eye, so a syringe (no needle, but the kind you use for medication) is very useful. You really want to load the glue in there so that even when it flows all around, there’s plenty of glue touching the eye.
4. Doll wigs come in many sizes, but if you’re between sizes it’s better to go up one than down one. My wig was a tiny bit tight, but still worked.
5. If I’d had to replace the doll’s head you can see how it would work– there’s a groove around the base of the neck that you would cinch the fabric opening of the doll body into. The most common method I’ve seen is to use a narrow plastic zip tie, though twine would work as well. The doll I bought used a zip tie, though American Girl dolls use string so the heads are easily replaceable.