New Life for Old Friends

Lois P. is no stranger to creative challenges. Following high school, where she took several years of art classes, she pursued a degree in visual arts from a local community college. then took several courses in drafting and design. The skills developed have served her well in a wide range of arts and crafts. She paints murals, refurbishes furniture, creates miniature displays and sews period costumes. However, doll repair and design hold a special place in her heart. 

“My mom collected dolls,” Lois shared. “She would buy them for me, too. She found a website that had one of a kind 1/6 scale dolls dressed in beautiful period costumes. That’s when I fell in love with the idea. I have always loved the idea of taking something cast aside and neglected and giving it new value and favor.” 

For many, dolls are our first best friends. They listen to our troubles, share our successes and hold our hands through many childhood adventures. But as time marches on, we often leave our childhood playmates behind. For Lois, bringing a new life to these old friends is a challenge worth accepting. Like all her refurbished projects, this is a story of the transforming power of love and care. 


The doll’s head was her best feature, so the changes made were more cosmetic in nature than adjusting her construction.  Lois removed the synthetic wig, which was very matted and damaged from age. “I tried to save it,” she said, “but it just kept falling apart in my hands.” Lois found a replacement on eBay. It will not only be better quality, but a better match to both the doll’s complexion and outfit. The doll’s eyes were changed with replacements found from eBay. 


There was some patchwork done to the doll in the past. While likely done with the best intentions, the work had not aged well and began causing additional problems. Sewn around the waist was a hardened and crusty bit of leather. “Probably from leather gloves,” Lois suspected. “I removed it and cleaned the original leather as best I could with a leather conditioner/cleaner from Hobby Lobby.” Cleaning off some of the buildup of the crust on the back wore the material down to the suede, and the dark stains remained. 

“There are other cleaners that probably would have worked better,” Lois added. “Also, cream of tartar is supposed to get kid leather clean. I was more interested in preserving and conditioning the leather and keeping it from hardening and crusting in the future.”

To match the original leather, she surged the hem with red thread, in order to match them as closely as possible. “If you’re wondering how I copied the pattern of the leather,” Lois explains, “I just used the old tape-over-tissue-paper method and hoped for the best.” You can see more about this method by viewing this informative tutorial by Lomi’s Playground.


The issues with the project did not end there. “You can see the gimpy knee,” Lois pointed out casually. She patched that with the glove leather and some wood glue. She also stuffed more sawdust into the knee area to give it shape. Lois had to poke holes for restringing the joints. There was also some work in re-lacing the rusty wire that held in the lower legs. “The broken knee was the part that gave me the most trouble,” she admits. 

To stitch the back of the legs shut, Lois used the ladder stitch. A ladder stitch, or mattress stitch, is a stitch which, in ideal circumstances, can be used to invisibly close seams from the outside of the garment or item. “I could have done better,” she admits, “but it was my first time working with leather.” 


Lois then went on to explain the issues related to the doll’s arms. “Also if you notice, the doll’s left arm is not hanging correctly.” One arm ruptured open immediately when unpacking the doll, exposing the cotton stuffing. 

When remaking the arms, she made sure to use cotton backing. “Since there was a bit of sawdust in the bisque forearms, I assumed the original arms had been stuffed with sawdust,” she explains. “So I filled the new arms with a loose sawdust; I did not want them to be too heavy.” The rest of the doll has fabric between the leather and sawdust.

On the top of the arms, Lois folded in and used the ladder stitch, then blanket stitched on top. To attach the arms, she used twine strung through the chest with a loop tuner. Pulling through the washer set in place with flue and leather, she tied it off with a button join. Twisting the twine around the button, she glued it in place. Lois will decide at a later date if she will choose to cover those in leather as well.

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your strength. For there is no work or planning or learning or wisdom in the place of the dead where you are going.”


Final Details

The dress cleaned up beautifully with a treatment of Oxiclean product and handwashing. The wig was replaced with one found on Ebay, which completed the doll. Check out these before and after pictures!

This article is an original by Christy Hagan of the blog Christy Makes Friends. Please do not steal images or content as your own. If you’d like to share this article, you may provide a link to this post, but please do not reprint it on your website.

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