Doll Hair Tutorial (Ponytails)

Added August 2012:  For more in-depth instructions on doll hairstyles, a step-by-step tutorial (and templates) for embroidering eyes and faces, and patterns for 16 vintage-inspired dolls and toys (including the dolls below!!!), please refer to my book, a Fall 2012 release from Stash Books.

Available for pre-order through Stash Books (C & T Publishing), Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell's...

(Original post follows)

Over the past year, I've received several requests for help with doll hair. I've admitted to many of you that I just sort of "wing-it" and that my process isn't the most expedient, practical, or intelligible. I'm sure there are more effective ways to attain a similar look...but, hey, I like it. It works for me. Maybe this will help someone out there :). A few things...

First, please keep in mind that I am self-taught and am by no means an expert at any of this! Quite the opposite.

Second, there are already several great tutorials out there, like this tutorial and this one, both illustrating two common methods for working with yarn and cloth dolls. And Beth at By Hook by Hand has an AMAZING tutorial on crocheting a wig/cap which can then be used to create various hairstyles for Waldorf or cloth dolls here. Check those out!!! Please!

But for those who have asked...
The method I use involves lots of pins and lots of hand-sewing. I started using this technique on my first doll over 5 years ago (it was a Waldorf doll) and I have used it in various ways ever since then. It was a picture in this book, Kinder Dolls: A Waldorf Doll-Making Handbook, that started me down this path. If you click on this picture below, you might even be able to read the description.

I prefer this technique because the dolls that I have made thus far are meant to be played with by kids. Using this method, I feel like the hair is very secure since each strand is sewn to the head individually. Also, I like working with the yarn...building the hairstyle as I go...adding more yarn if I need it, adjusting the length of each loop, etc. That, and I don't know how to crochet a wig! But after viewing Beth's tutorial on flickr, I may just have to give it a try!

But whereas this book has you wrapping yarn around pins and then back around a needle/focal point (where you later sew/attach a ponytail or braid), I make longer loops that become the ponytail/braid or curls, etc. - whatever hairstyle I'm going for. I have to say, there are advantages to doing it the book's way - you can change out the ponytail/braid at a later point if you need to, etc. And I have used this technique once when attaching buns (I didn't want huge ones at the end :) ). But usually, I use the process described below.

I use upholstery weight/carpet thread that best matches whatever yarn(s) I'm using. The yarn I use is either bulky weight or super bulky weight. It's easier to fill in the head this way. My favorite yarn is wool or a wool/mohair blend. Lamb's Pride by the Brown Sheep Co. has a great bulky weight yarn that I like to work with. There are lots of great yarns, though. A few blends I've used I've found to get "fuzzy", but Lamb's Pride and 100% wool hold up well.

Step One - Find and Mark your Part(s), Hairline, Ponytails
First, I play around with the yarn and decide where I want the part (usually to the side...it helps me to not focus on issues of facial symmetry or the lack thereof). I place a pin at the front/beginning of the TOP part ( the pin is not shown in the picture below) and the back of the TOP part (BLUE pin), and then another at the center/top of the head where the BACK hair part will begin (WHITE pin). I then place three more pins about 3/8 to 1/4 inch apart in front of the BLUE pin (PURPLE, YELLOW, RED below). The placement of these pins depends on the size of the doll's head, the weight of the yarn, but it really doesn't matter that much because I end up going around the head a few times to fill in any gaps. So, no need to fret over this step.

I place a pin or a long thin doll-needle behind the doll's ears around where the ponytails will be fastened and secured later with a hairband (GREEN pin below). I also use a knitting needle placed behind the doll's back and secured by a few hairbands (acting like a belt). The placement of the knitting needle marks the length of the ponytails (though keep in mind that the yarn will spring up a bit when complete). This sounds confusing, I'm sure. Maybe these pictures will help.

Step Two - Start Wrapping the Yarn
Okay...so I leave a long tail of yarn on the side (that I'll cut even with the ponytail when done) and start wrapping the yarn behind/over the GREEN pin, in front of the WHITE pin, clockwise around the BLUE pin, back behind/over the GREEN pin, down around the knitting needle, back behind/over the GREEN pin, up around the PURPLE pin, etc.

This makes no sense, right? My husband is chuckling at me right now as I read this out loud and says I should just make a video. Maybe on my next doll. Here are a few pictures that might help.

After I've wrapped the FOUR pins on top of the head with yarn loops that are all also wrapped around the knitting needle, I wrap the yarn around the knitting needle a second time to temporarily hold it in place (see below) and start to work on hand-sewing the loops at the TOP of the head.

I work with FOUR pins at a time because it makes things manageable for me. Plus, it's easy for me to keep track of how many rounds of four I used up the side of one part so that I can make sure to use the same amount on the way back on the other side of the part. I don't want one ponytail bulkier than the other.

Step Three - Start Sewing
This picture below shows the first loop of yarn already secured. The second loop is being secured. I take the needle and thread up through the loop of yarn. Then I take a stitch through the doll's head...

(I tried to do this as a right-hander would...)

...and then BACK through the loop of thread and pull/tighten.

I then re-enter the needle into the doll's head at yarn loop #2 and exit at yarn loop #3. Sometimes I simply remove the pin holding the yarn loop and bring my needle up in that exact spot.

Again, up through the yarn loop.

The first four loops are secured*.

I place the four pins in place again, slide the first four yarn loops off the knitting needle (temporarily tying them back out of the way) and wrap the yarn around the pins/needle again...

When I switch to the other side, I simply go across the head a few loops back and make sure to secure this piece of yarn while stitching down one of the loops on that side. I never cut the yarn - not until I'm completely finished.

This picture below shows Round #1 of the top-right side completed and the four pins placed on the left side and wrapped ready to sew. Pay no attention to the color of these pins...I forgot to keep them consistent here :). The YELLOW pin is marking the hairline, that's all. The other four are the pins I'm wrapping. I try to place the pins on Side 2 in between the loops on Side 1. It's easier this way (to provide coverage, too).

As I work down this side of the head, I tie the loops I've sewn toward the front to keep them out of the way. Well, it looks like I failed to actually tie the purple thread in this picture, but you understand, right?

Is anyone still trying to follow this?

Okay, once I get to the top of the head (the WHITE pin) I move the part to the center and start down the back of the head in the same manner. Wrap four pins, (always going around the GREEN pin - up/over on the back part) and wrap around the knitting needle, sew/secure, etc.

Step Four - Filling in Spaces/Styling the Hair
I go around the head a SECOND time at the very least on the top of the head, to fill in any sparse areas and to give more of a style to the head (making sure the hair has enough length to sweep like I want, etc.). For me, it depends on the weight of the yarn and the recipient of the doll (if the doll is going to sit on a shelf, like the one for my Mom, I'm less concerned with how thoroughly "covered" the head is). And I'll often use more pins on Round Two...but always making sure to use the same amount on each side of the part. I often also start using a doll needle instead of the GREEN pin behind the ears (it's easier to use at this point, though you can use it from the beginning, too).

Once I have the head filled in like I want it, I cut the yarn, making sure its end is on the opposite side of the head from where I started.

Step Five - Secure, Secure, Secure (if Needed)
Even once I'm done with the yarn, I often go around the head here and there and secure a second time with the upholstery/carpet thread, especially if the doll is for a wee one - not necessarily every loop, but until I feel like things are really secure.

Step Six - Make Ponytails
I use regular hairbands for the ponytails, usually in a color matching the yarn, but not always. You may want to finger-comb the loops and play with them a bit to get the style you're looking for. Again, depending on how young the child is, I also secure these ponytails to the doll's head going through the hairbands (like the yarn) with the carpet thread and then through the doll's head using a doll needle and through the hairband on the other side and back and forth. I didn't take pictures of this part. Let me know if anyone needs to see one.

And that's it! Clear as mud, right? Let me know if I need to clarify anything.

AND PLEASE leave a comment if you find this tutorial helpful.
If its helpful to enough people, I'll put together a few more showing how I make curls, etc.


A Doll for my Oldest

This is a doll I just finished up over the weekend for my oldest daughter. We'll call her "Marie". My daughter is using her as the model for the clothes she's making from the Mary Frances Sewing Book.

I'm currently participating in the Oliver + S Ice Cream Social Sew-Along and I got a bit distracted :). Instead of making two dresses, it looks like I'll be making four. I'm now working on the size 7 version of this dress and my 5-year old wants a matching set for her and a doll, too.

The dress isn't to scale, of course. My dolls have large heads, chubby arms, etc. that needed to be taken into consideration when altering this pattern.

And this doll, Marie, still needs some shoes. I have a little pair of black corduroy ones all cut out. I'm just waiting for the patience and precision needed (for me) to fiddle with them. Right now, I'm busy sewing normal-sized things.

The feature I love best about this doll is her eyes. My daughter's eyes are dark grey/grey with some hazel right around the pupil. It's hard to see in these pictures, but I tried to replicate those eye colors on her doll.

Her hair is 100% wool. She is also stuffed with clean-carded eco-wool, as always. And guess what? I took pictures while adding her hair...so a tutorial will be up later this week. Finally!


Aprons and Hem-Stitching

The apron is done, for now. My daughter hand-stitched the one on the right out of a delicate white lawn. I quickly sewed up the one on the left out of a teeny scrap of Japanese fabric. I used the machine for most of mine, but hand-stitched the hem and the band to the skirt with her so she could follow along with what I was doing. She learned a new hemming technique and also how to gather by-hand.

I realized after cutting out the apron I made that I really need to test these patterns first. The apron is meant for a 16 inch doll...but not a doll as chubby as the ones I make :). So I had her cut her apron a bit wider and she made the ties a little longer, too. Considering the first few garments are sewn entirely by hand, I'd hate for her to spend a week making something that won't even fit her dolls. Even if I have to make quick, toss-away versions out of paper towels, I need to ensure that these patterns will fit and redraft where necessary.

Anyways, the final step on the apron involves embroidering three kittens in an outline stitch onto the skirt. You can see a tiny picture of the apron here.

I scanned and then enlarged the kittens for her to work on her embroidery on the side. She wakes up earlier than anyone in this house - embroidery work is a perfect quiet morning activity for her. At some point, she can add the trio of kittens...for now, we consider the apron project done!

Today she is finishing up this linen handkerchief below (she's worked on this project quite a bit since I snapped this picture). She is hem-stitching the hem, a new technique for both of us! We/she followed the instructions in the book and online, but I realized half-way through, that it would be easier for her to work from left-to-right, so the second half of this handkerchief is moving along a bit quicker now. She just needs to finish up a bit more on the last side, remove the basting, whip-stitch some lace edging, learn how to make a fell, and she'll be ready to move on to her first garment, a nightgown for her doll.

And her Wee Wonderfuls X-Stitchette is done. I imagine this sampler will be covered by the year's end - so many more stitches to learn/embroidery techniques. The "S" in the top corner is her practicing the outline stitch.

That's it for now!


A Doll for My Niece

This is a doll for one of my three nieces. Last week we had an unexpected, but WELCOME, visit by my older sister and her family. We have been busy (everything but sewing)! So I finally just got around to finishing this doll last night and snapped a few pictures to share this morning.

For Christmas 2008, I made dolls for my three daughters and my youngest niece. A few months later, I learned that one of my older nieces wanted me to make her a doll, too. Uh, OF COURSE!!! I was touched. And even though it's taken me a long time to get around to making her doll, she still seems eager to have it (she's now 9). She actually saw the doll last week while it was still in progress and seems happy with it :).

I used a premium-quality muslin for this doll and she is stuffed with wool, as usual. Her hair is Lamb's Pride Bulky weight yarn (85% wool and 15% mohair). Her eyes, though not photographed well, are actually 3 different shades of blue. They don't "glow" so much in real life as these pictures might depict :). We still need our camera fixed (it's letting in too much light).

My niece's one request was that her doll have orange converse-style tennis shoes. I special-ordered them just for her. I thought the shoes would go well with this Heather Ross VW van fabric. Plus, the fabric is cool just like my niece. The dress is the same Vogue one I've used in the past (Vogue 7486) and it has orange metal snaps on the back. Cute!

Now I'm working on another doll for my oldest daughter. It will be the doll that she makes doll clothes for this summer/upcoming year(s). She's already named it...

I'll do a Mary Frances/summer sewing update later this week. My daughter has been busy.

I've also been getting several requests about doll hair...so I'm trying to put together a tutorial. Stay tuned!