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More About Cloth Doll Making For Beginners

Updated on July 23, 2012

Second In The Beginner Series

Here is the second lens in my series of lenses for beginning Cloth doll Makers. The series has four lenses in it with a great deal of information that new doll makers need to know.

I have put pictures of my own designer dolls throughout the lenses and you will even find the first cloth doll I ever made in the first lens in the series. just click here to see it

All About Using Freezer Paper

TIP: I am told that the outside layer from the Reflex copy paper works just like freezer paper and may be a cheap or no cost alternative while you are learning.

NOTE: You can choose not to use freezer paper and just go with the cardboard template, draw onto the fabric method if you like, but the lines often show through and this is a much slower and less efficient method. I would recommend at least giving the freezer paper method a go for a while.

I think right now might be good time to tell you how I used to do this when I first started doll making. This will make you laugh!

First of all I traced the pattern on to some tracing paper, I then cut out carefully around the edge of the tracing paper, then I traced it on to cardboard and cut out the cardboard pattern. I bought one of those purple or blue pens the ink was supposed to disappear when you wet the fabric.

One of the drawbacks of these pens, that I found, was when you needed to dry the fabric in a hurry and placed the fabric in the sun, then the drawing or writing would come back on the fabric and be color fast. I remember the days when I had little clothes lines, strung up across my office with fabric pegged on them waiting to dry so that I could cut around the sewing and actually start to put the doll together. (I would first sew on the purple or blue lines of course)

I hope my instructions here make it much easier for you than I made it for myself in those days. I must admit it really makes the laugh thinking back now, but at the time I didn't have a clue and no one told me the tips and secrets.


Make some time every day to be creative!

Stitch Length And Stuffing

"Blow outs" are the number ONE enemy of doll makers, we hate them! "Blowouts" are when you are stuffing your doll (and they have to be stuffed HARD as you will hear about soon) and suddenly the stitching gives way and you have a hole in your doll!!!!!!

Knowing how most doll makers react there are usually a lot of swear words muttered or yelled when this happens.

One of the best ways to prevent these from happening is to make sure that your stitch length is as small as possible around 1.5-2 at most!

Of course then you have the problem of impossible un picking so best to go real slowly with your machine and not make any mistakes. On all cotton fabrics you will do fine with a 1.5-2 stitch length.

When it comes to more evening fabrics, polyester, silks etc you will need to experiment on a piece of scrap fabric first to see how it handles the smaller stitch. Really, you should do a test with any fabric, saves the tears later!

If you are sewing Nylon Lycra or any fabric that your machine is not happy with at a small stitch length its best to make the length a little longer so it sews nicely rather than give up doll making forever.

Creative Cloth Doll Faces

Creative Cloth Doll Faces: Using Paints, Pastels, Fibers, Beading, Collage, and Sculpting Techniques
Creative Cloth Doll Faces: Using Paints, Pastels, Fibers, Beading, Collage, and Sculpting Techniques

This is one of the very best books that I've seen for all levels of dollmakers, from beginners through professionals. Patti's new book is a real gem, and simplifies the process of creating unique faces for your cloth dolls and figures.When you're creating a doll, the face often makes the doll come alive. And, when I've taken or taught classes in dollmaking, faces seem to be the biggest hurdles for students.I won't say that Patti's approach is entirely "by the numbers," but she has simplified the face designing process so that anyone can create a lovely, whimsical, sweet, or saucy doll face. Even better, Patti has included dolls made by a variety of artists and dollmakers, so that you can see many approaches to dolls and their faces. No two dolls will look alike, even if you follow the directions step-by-step... and that's how it should be.In the first chapter, after listing some basic supplies, Patti gets right to the design process, starting with a simple grid that's basic to any doll's face. Then, she shows how to draw the eye in eight simple steps, as well as an almost-foolproof approach to sketching a nose on a flat-faced doll. After demonstrating ways to create the mouth and add detailing to the face, Patti shows how to follow these same steps with colored pencils on fabric.Next, Patti shows you how to create a face with watercolors on fabric, and she offers inspiring examples for beginning, intermediate, and advanced dollmakers. Whether this is your first or your 50th doll, you'll appreciate her tips for making doll bodies, adding clothes, creating fabric flowers, and finishing the doll.In Chapter 3, Patti shows how to sculpt a head with fabric and very simple sewing techniques. And, after showing several ways to design a face for this kind of doll, she provides tips for creating hands, stockings & shoes, and ways to dress your doll. Again, she shows examples of soft-sculpted dolls for beginners, intermediates, and advanced dollmakers. You'll be dazzled by the originality in these dolls!By Chapter 4, you'll be ready to explore more detailed painted faces, including acrylics and oil pastels, and Chapter 5 features innovative collage techniques for dollmakers.Finally, Patti has included a dozen pages of full-sized pattern pieces so that you can make some of the dolls which are featured in this fabulous, colorful book. And, she has included embroidery instructions, too.At the back of the book, you'll appreciate the Resources list of places to shop for dollmaking supplies, worldwide.If you're new to dollmaking or looking for fresh inspiration, this book is a must-read. I'm delighted with it, and eager to try some of Patti's techniques on my own cloth dolls and figures.Patti has finally made faces easier for all dollmakers, and this book is a fine starting point for fresh doll designs no matter what your skill level.This is one of the first dollmaking books that I can heartily recommend since Susanna Oroyan's excellent series. Get a copy for yourself, and one to give to someone who is learning to make cloth dolls and figures. This is a book to treasure!--reviewed by Aisling D'Art, founder and moderator, Wild Art Dolls


Stuffing A Doll


Cloth dolls need to be stuffed very well, especially at the ankles, neck, and any thin areas. Your doll needs to feel HARD! If there are any soft parts she needs more stuffing. These character dolls are stuffed till they feel like a ripe peach. Not till the seams are bursting!

I say to my students stuff them till you think you are finished, then put in another handful, basically you stuff them until you cannot fit any more in but not till the seams are giving way!

Your stuffing MUST be good quality.

To test this, take a piece of stuffing big enough to fit inside your hand when squeezed.

Squeeze it in your palm and then open your hand.

If the stuffing springs back out to its former size really well, then that is great stuffing. That is what you need to find!

It should also look smooth all the way through. No unexploded lumps and threads. The technique for stuffing a doll well seems to be one of the best kept secrets of doll making. It was something that drove me absolutely crazy when I first started to make dolls. I couldn't understand why I kept getting cellulite or those lumpy bits everywhere.

I was in touch by email with a very well known doll maker so asked her to help me. Her answer was to use small pieces of stuffing and that would do the trick..NOT!!! Didn't work for me.

I was making a pattern which would not normally be thought of as a beginners doll but remember, I had already had a heap of experience sewing and designing. I ended up putting the cardboard cores from toilet rolls inside the legs of this doll then carefully adding wispy strands of stuffing over the top so that the toilet rolls couldn't be seen! What a job that was! Bet you have not heard that story from anyone before!

Now I know that because the doll was a Belly Dancer, it would have been find for her to have had some cellulite, after all these are character dolls and her skirt would have hidden most of it anyway!

Now, I think I am an expert stuffer, and I enjoy it too, find it a very soothing experience. I am a firm believer that learning to stuff well takes time and practice, but its very worth while in the long run.

Three Secrets To Perfect Stuffing Every Time!

Here are the 3 secrets to perfect stuffing every time.

1: You need really good white polyester stuffing! Do Not use used stuffing. In Australia, Spotlight has great stuffing ( most of the time)..every so often I get a bag that has some of this cotton wool style fluffy soft stuffing that I really don't like, but mostly it is a slightly wiry consistency that I really like.

In USA I suggest Hobby Lobby. There are tests to find out how good the stuffing is. I have shown you one of them above, but you really cannot go into a shop, open all their plastic bags and test the stuffing before you buy it. I think the best way is to try a few different ones then stick to the one you like best.

In Australia we are also able to get a good quality wool stuffing. I have tried this but prefer ordinary polyester. Wool is heavier though and some doll makers prefer it.

2: DO NOT take your stuffing out of the bag in small amounts and push that into your doll! Every time you have a break in the stuffing it creates an air bubble when you push all the stuffing together and that creates cellulite!!! Yes! This is what causes it! Keep the bag of stuffing beside you and feed the stuffing into the doll in a long stream! This is one of the best kept secrets!

Of course there are times when you need to use smaller bits but mostly and as much as possible keep it in one long stream.

3: Use hemostats to stuff with. I hate those stuffing forks that are around. If you want blown seams then go ahead ..use a stuffing fork, not my choice. My hemostats are really my most precious tool. If I could only pick one tool, then I think that would be it!

These are usually available at doll shows or at any quilting shop that keeps supplies for doll makers and also a lot of the online doll supply shops will have them for sale.

Creative Cloth Doll Beading

Creative Cloth Doll Beading: Designing And Embellishing With Beads
Creative Cloth Doll Beading: Designing And Embellishing With Beads

Love it ! Love it!!I have all of her previous books which are a treat for the eyes--and so is this one!!! It's Beautiful!! It didn't miss a beat! The collection of dolls in this book are unique and gorgeous. Wonderfully written--great techniques--and oh so colorful! Inspirational for any dollmaker or doll lover. It's a keeper. I'm so glad it finally came after having it on pre order for a while. It was worth the wait. Now, I'm off to make a doll!


Turning Corners Smoothly

And Cutting and Turning The Fabric In the Right Way.

As you sew your doll, you will find you need to sew smooth curves. The very best way to handle this is using the "needle down" technique. What this means is, you sew into the curve slowly then stop with the needle down into the fabric. Lift the foot and gently move the fabric around till you can continue sewing again. Some curves you may have to do this 4 times when you are a beginner

TIP: When you are sewing around fingers, you will need to get really good at that technique.

Cutting out

Take it easy when cutting out around the sewn templates. You need to cut slowly making sure you leave an even amount of seam all around. I would suggest having the seam too big rather than too small otherwise you may experience the dreaded "Blowouts"

TIP::If you do get a blowout, re turn the body piece and resew. If that is not vi-able sew another. Yes! It doesn't take long and you are not using too much fabric. You will be MUCH happier if you redo it in the long run.


Beginners often spend a lot of time agonizing about turning and turning tools. There are many to choose from.

For turning tiny fingers sewn from cotton fabrics, I would recommend the brass hollow

Tiny Turning Tubes

The set includes FOUR telescoping turning tubes and one brass rod all custom milled to a satin smooth finish, enabling the doll maker to turn even the tiniest fingers perfectly. Complete directions on how to use them and additional hand making tips are included

For all other turning I use my hemostats. I have a small, medium and large set and these work for everything.

I believe these are the only turning tools you will ever need. You don't need to spend megabucks on tools just buy a small and med pair hemostats and one set tiny tools and you will be set.

Add to this if you ever need to, as you become more experienced.

For turning hands I very carefully reach inside the finger right to the end, grasp the end of the unturned finger with my hemosats, then pull gently until it starts to come towards me, then I continue the same way with all the fingers. Next I just grasp a few fingers at once and pull again.

TIP: Another way to turn fingers is to use a bamboo skewer and a drinking straw. Just insert the straw inside the finger, then using the blunt end of the skewer push gently into the straw from the outside. The fabric will disappear a little way into the straw, now do the same to all the fingers then turn the hand and it's done.

Body Fabric And Supplies

There are many many different types of fabric you can use for the body of your doll. Every quilting shop has flesh colored cottons in many many different shades of body color. If you actually go into one of these shops and place these fabrics next to your skin,you will be amazed at how dark in tone your skin actually is!

My PET HATE is people who use white fabric or undyed Calico ( muslin) for faces and body skin. It makes the doll look terrible and I just hate the look. Remember we come in lots of different colors from almost black to chocolate brown to a lighter brown with a yellowy tinge to beige and anything in between as well.!

Experiment and play, try all sorts, you will find some that you love and others that you absolutely hate! I love to use good old Calico ( Muslin). I tea and coffee dye it in the microwave to get the color I want or paint the tea and coffee solution onto my stuffed doll and dry with a heat gun. ( available from stamping shops)

Creative Cloth Doll Making

Creative Cloth Doll Making: New Approaches for Using Fibers, Beads, Dyes, and Other Exciting Techniques
Creative Cloth Doll Making: New Approaches for Using Fibers, Beads, Dyes, and Other Exciting Techniques

et out your scissors, girls, Patti Culea is taking you on an adventure in dollmaking creativity!This is surely one of the most artful and inspirational dollmaking books to come along. There are three body patterns -- beginning, intermediate and advanced -- they build upon one another and are totally mix and matchable. The instructions for constructing each level of doll are superb -- clear and well-illustrated with the very best step-by-step directions for needle sculpting I have seen. Culea then details how to embellish your doll with fabric, with painting, with beading, with collage, with stamping, with Tyvek, [wow!] to make it your very own.The best part of the book for me is seeing how all of the doll artists [and there are many in this book] get a full page to share not just their creative process -- but a close-up look at their interpretations of the doll patterns used in the book. What a cool idea, Patti!This is a wonderful book! If you are looking for creative inspiration, or just want to see what's happening in the world of "doll as art," this book is it!


To Dye Your Muslin.

To Tea and coffee dye your fabric

I just use calico and tea and coffee dye it in the microwave. What I do is cut or rip off around 1 meter ( 1 yard) at a time . I fill a plastic bowl ( LGE) with hot water and add about 12 teabags and 4 or5 tablespoons full of strong coffee. I stir to dissolve, then squeeze out the teabags and discard them. I wet my fabric well first in warm water then squeeze out the excess.

Next I plunge it into the bowl and cook on high for around 10 mins. I then rinse carefully using tongs ( very HOT) and rinse lightly, squeeze the excess water out, and throw it in the dryer.

It will come out of the dryer very screwed up so when it is nearly dry I steam iron it. Then it is ready to use. I always keep a few metres on hand for when I need it and I also keep some undyed Calico just in case.

I also use a fabulous Flesh colored Italian Nylon Lycra at times.

Quite often, when I am sculpting a face I will use nylon Lycra. I have a supply of the best quality Italian flesh coloured nylon Lycra which I love to use for faces.

Now, I nearly always use it for the hands of the doll because it makes the sewing and turning of those tiny fingers, so easy that I don't know if I'll ever use Cotton again.

All Sorts Of Fabrics Are Used in Doll Making

Quite often, when I am sculpting a face I will use nylon Lycra. I have a supply of the best quality Italian flesh colored nylon Lycra which I love to use for faces. These days, I nearly always use it for the hands of the doll because it makes the sewing and turning of those tiny fingers, so easy that I don't know if I'll ever use Cotton again.

My doll Emmy is made entirely from the nylon Lycra. I must admit the fabric does have its limitations to make the complete doll with, but for Emmy this fabric was perfect.

A lot of doll makers are using Doll Velour. My friend Jill Maas uses this for her dolls. Doe suede is another fabric that is used a lot.

Probably the best advice I can give about body fabric is that if you have money to spare, and can afford to try lots of different ones do so, but if you are watching your budget then stick to the Calico to start with.

Now Its Your Turn To Squidoo!!!

Now it's your turn....

Make your own Squidoo lens

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