For the rescuers out there: you know when you get a doll from Ebay or Craigslist or wherever, and when she comes in the mail and you look at her you can’t help but think “what the hell happened to you?!”
Meet Devon, the red-head on the left.
Read on for tips on taming doll hair, fixing doll heads, and removing ink stains from doll faces.
Devon arrived a Hot Mess with a capital H (and M). I have honestly no idea how a child could take a doll and mess it up so much. Did it get run over with a car? Did you try to draw and quarter it? Did you think her face would look better with blue marker over all of it?
“Yes” to all of the above!
To categorize the damage:
Her hair was not in optimal condition. As in, it had been converted into a mass of frizz and then a frustrated mom, in an attempt to tame it, put the frizz into five braids that really didn’t help the situation much.
Her stomach joint (yes, stomach joint) was a little loose. Still haven’t figured out how to fix that without drawing and quartering her all over again.
Her head was so wobbly it was pretty much just not attached to the neck anymore.
Best yet, there was blue marker all over her face.
Fixing the hair was a three-day process. Now, hair is normally something I spend about half an hour on per doll. That’s it. I have no patience for hair.
For Devon, though, I was willing to put in more time only because I love Bratzillaz. Unfortunately I didn’t get pictures of the process, but it went something like this: brush brush brush brush boil boil brush boil brush pour pour brush brush scream in frustration boil brush. Brush.
For an in-depth tutorial on fixing, smoothing, and straightening doll hair, see my post here.
And after all that, here she is:
I followed the method explained in a video here by Novastar Dolls. Bratz and Bratzillaz are both made by the same company, as are Moxies, so their neck joints are all built the same way, and can thus be fixed the same way.
The only change I made to the steps in the video was to heat up the head by immersing it in hot water before I popped it off and on. The heat makes the vinyl more flexible, which makes it easier to remove the head. Heated vinyl is less likely to tear or crack, as well.
Before I could repaint Devon, I had to get the stains out of her face.
If you have a doll with ink stains or marker stains on her face, you know that acetone won’t get them out. You have to bleach the stains out, but regular bleach doesn’t work.
Acne spot treatment with 10% benzoyl peroxide.
UV rays (sun)
I bought a cheap acne treatment from Walgreens (it was about $5.50), and then removed Devon’s factory paint with acetone, being very very careful not to get acetone on her acrylic eyes (it will melt them). Then I used a Q-Tip to liberally apply the cream to the marker stains on her face.
It looks like shaving cream.
Then I put her out on the porch, hoping that the sun would do it’s work and I could get to work on the faceup in the evening.
Of course, that didn’t work out, because I live in Colorado, USA, where the weather is notorious for NEVER DOING NORMAL, PREDICTABLE THINGS. The sun immediately disappeared and it started thunderstorming out of the blue, so I gave up hope and decided to start a custom project for a customer.
Five days later….So the sun came back. Finally.
Technically, the sun came back two days later, but I have some carpenters re-building my deck and I figured I’d spare them the trauma of building around a body-less doll with white cream all over her face. See, that was nice and considerate of me.
So you just got another doll to rescue, and like many dolls in need of rescuing, her hair is styled in the ever-fashionable ‘single dreadlock’ style.
WHAT YOU NEED
A sturdy, wide-tooth comb (or a fork)
A fine-tooth comb
Scissors (unless you have the patience of a Saint)
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
1. Put a movie on. Seriously, that is an important step.
2. Stare in misery at the doll. Start by staring in misery at the dreaded mass of doll hair. Just take it all in.
3. Brush the hair out. Begin brushing the hair out with the wide-tooth comb or the fork. I take small sections of hair and brush from bottom to top. Brushing from bottom to top helps keep little snarls from developing (or worsening) as you brush. This is the step that takes me the longest.
4. Shampoo and condition. Once the doll’s hair is pretty much brushed out—at least, you can kind of get a comb through it, sorta—shampoo and condition it. Depending on how badly tangled the hair is, I’ll comb the hair after I’ve put shampoo in it, but before rinsing. The soap helps keep the snarls from reforming. After conditioning, but before rinsing, I brush the hair out once again. And then AGAIN, I brush after rinsing for the final time.
Some people condition the hair with coconut oil. But let’s be real, I can’t even afford to cook with that stuff let alone use it on plastic doll hair. So I use Pantene conditioner that I got from the clearance rack of my local grocery store.
5. Trim the hair (optional). Sometimes the bottom inch or two of a doll’s hair is really, REALLY frizzy, even after all this. I have a pretty good feel for when frizzy hair can be fixed with boiling water and when it can’t be, so if I think the hair is just too dense and frizzy at this point the best thing to do is just cut an inch or so off.
When I trim a doll’s hair I layer it, so that the bottom layer of hair is the longest and the top layer of hair is the shortest. All in all, the bottom and top layers probably differ in length by a centimeter. It’s not much but it helps the hair lay flatter.
If I’m going to curl the doll’s hair I will make the difference between the bottom and top layer about three centimeters. This will help show the curls off.
This doll won’t get curls, but she will need a trim. I just don’t want to deal with the frizz at the bottom of her hair.
6. Boil and brush (only needed for dolls with very curly hair). Boil water in a pan. There should be enough water that you can submerge the doll’s head and hair in the water, and a little extra left over won’t hurt anyone. When the water is boiling, submerge the doll’s head and hair in the water for ten seconds or so. You can do longer, just keep an eye on the hair to make sure it’s not melting (’cause that would be tragic). Then, take your fine tooth comb and brush through the hair while it’s still hot. If it doesn’t seem to be helping, you can take smaller sections of hair and boil and brush those individually.
Okay do you HAVE to do this? It seems like a stupid amount of work. Honestly, I skip this step with a lot of my dolls. If the doll doesn’t have curly hair to begin with, then I’d just go straight to step 7, below.
Nope, I didn’t boil and brush Rapunzel’s hair.
7. Pour hot water over her head. After I’ve heated the hair once (or two times or seven times or not at all) in boiling water, I boil a kettle of water and pour that water over the doll’s head while she’s sitting in an upright position. The force of the water will help flatten and straighten the hair more than simply boiling and brushing.
I normally section out the hair in layers, starting with the hair closest to her neck and adding more hair as I’m happy with how the lower layers look. This helps the hair straighten evenly.
8. Cold-set the hair. When the hair is as straight as I want it to be (or as straight as I have the patience for, whichever comes first) I cold-set the style by brushing her hair under cold water (use the fine-tooth comb).
Honestly, I’m not 100% this step is needed. But the cold water feels kinda nice and makes the hair easier to brush so why not.
A word of warning! I don’t have proof for this, but I’m always a little concerned when brushing boiled doll hair that the brushing stretches the hair, making it snap back a little frizzy, or just stretching it out in general. I know many doll rescuers have complained that after straightening doll hair it will slowly lose some of its sleekness over the following few weeks, and my theory is that boiling and then roughly brushing the hair may damage it in some way. Not like that has changed my boiling and brushing behavior, though.
Can you use heat tools on doll hair? The safe answer is ‘no.’ Curling and straightening irons are generally too hot; they will melt the plastic hair and trust me, you do NOT want that to happen.
However, if you are very, very, very careful about using heat tools, you can do it. I’ve had success straightening doll hair by wetting it, wrapping it in a thin rag, and pulling it through a straightener on the lowest heat setting. That said, I’ve also had success melting the doll hair this way, too. Try at your own risk. Or, at the doll’s risk, I guess.
Okay hold the phone. Her body is gone. Why is it gone?
Rapunzel had a slightly wobbly head, so while her vinyl doll head was soft and pliant from the hot water treatment, I went ahead and popped it off so I could fix the wobble.
Taking Bratz/Moxie dolls heads off is super easy. Heat them up with hot water, push down on the head, and pop them off. Don’t twist or angle the head: just pop it straight off.
And yes, that is dental floss. Waxed, to be specific. Because no one has string just lying around anymore.
9. Dry. After cold-setting the hair, squeeze the water out but don’t brush it out. Let the hair dry completely.
10. Style. At this point, you have a nice blank canvas to work with. Styling straight hair is much, much easier than styling frizzy hair. You can, of course, leave the hair straight at this point, or you can curl it into ringlets if you want to spend some more time playing with hair.
Curl? Check out my tutorial on how to curl a doll’s hair HERE!
11. Finish your movie.
Questions or suggestions, leave it in a comment below! I love to help and learn from other rescuers.
Sometimes I am in the mood for instant gratification. And by ‘instant gratification,’ I mean two-to-three-hour gratification.
What I mean is: I wanted to feel like I did something productive with my day, so I decided to start and finish a doll in one sitting.
Mostly it’s an excuse to watch a movie. My repainting movie tonight was Mission Impossible II, which is a terrible movie, as it turned out.
So in an effort to feel productive, I grabbed one of the three blond Moxie rescue dolls I have lying around and the TV remote, and pressed play.
So there’s the ‘Before.’ Honestly, compared to Bratz, Moxie dolls are already pretty made-under. But I have enough of an ego to believe I can make her look cuter.
FIRST STEPS – PREP
–> The first of the first steps is to seal the doll’s face with a sealant that has some tooth with it. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT! In order to get good color build up on the doll’s face, the face has to be sealed first. Otherwise the pigment won’t stick to the vinyl and the colors will be very faint.
For a more-detailed explanation about how to prep a doll for repainting and the materials involved, please see this post: Repainting First Steps
Note on sealing layers: I do my made-under dolls in two layers. So I seal the plain vinyl (with no makeup at all); do the first layer, which includes the eyes, eyebrows, and mouth; seal that layer; add the second layer, which includes some little details and the cheeks; then seal for a final time. You can seal more or less often depending on your preferences.
Photo 2 was taken while fixing this doll’s wobbly head. Thankfully, Bratz and Moxie dolls are pretty easy to fix (unlike the Monster High heads). I won’t take credit for this method: Novastar Dolls has a helpful video on how to do this; I learned from that. The only change I made to her video was to heat the doll’s head up with hot water before popping it off and on again. The hot water heats the vinyl head and softens it, making it easier to pull the head off.
Next (after the head was reunited with it’s body), I wrapped the hair and hard plastic body in saran wrap and sprayed the bare face with a layer of Mr. Super Clear.
The eyes. Getting the eyes done takes the most time, so I do that first. I also just kinda want to get it out of the way.
First I use a dark brown watercolor pencil to get the rough outline of the eyes down. Because I was planning on making the upper lid a little thicker than normal for this doll, I didn’t worry about making the eyes perfectly symmetrical at this point. You can see in photo 3 that they’re pretty different.
Then I go back and draw over the outline, making the lines thicker in certain places to get the two eyes as symmetrical as I have the patience for. (Photo 4).
Eyelids. After the outline of the eye is in good shape, I add the eyelids. Usually I draw two lines for the eyelids, but you can do as many or as little as you like.
Eyebrows. As I’ve mentioned in other tutorials, eyebrows do the most expressive work of any characteristic on the doll’s face. Basically, whatever expression you want the doll to have, the eyebrows are going to be your best friends.
I use a pale pink watercolor pencil to pencil in the eyebrows, shown in Photo 5. I use pink because it usually doesn’t show up under the pastel. This little gal got asymmetrical brows. It gives her a bit of sass.
After penciling the brows in, I lightly erase them until they are very, very faint (Photo 6). This ensures that the pencil marks don’t show up under the pastels.
Then I apply pastel dust with a 10/0 flat brush to the pencil outlines (Photo 7). Getting very light colored (read: blonde) eyebrows is almost impossible with pastel dust, so I combined some light brown and yellow dust and used that. The outer edges of the brows got darker pastel dust than the inner edges.
The next steps are combined in Photo 8. First, I used pastel dust to do a bit of shading on her eyelids (brown, pink, and orange pastel dust). Second, I filled in the whites of her eyes with a watercolor pencils. Third, I added some color to her lips (otherwise she looked like a zombie and it was creepy).
Lips. I use a small brush to scrub pink/dark pink/red pastel over the lips (Photo 8). It can be difficult to build up color, so I use quite a bit of pastel dust. Residual dust flies everywhere (all over her nose, chin, and cheeks), but that dust will brush away easily.
The larger brush in Photo 9 is an eye-shadow brush (the Q-Tip can give you a size reference), which I use to brush loose pastel dust off the doll’s face. I also use it to apply blush to the cheeks. The smaller brush is a weird eyeliner brush that I use to apply pastel dust to smaller areas, like the lips.
*Seal this layer!*
I seal at this point to protect the color on the lips, the shading on the eyelids, the eyebrows, and help the color of the irises (next step) really pop.
Irises. So when you get tired of your doll looking like a soulless zombie, go ahead and add the pupils. This gal (I really need a name for her) is getting side-glancing eyes, because those are my favorite with a raised eyebrow. It’s by far my favorite look for a doll.
I set the irises with a light blue pencil, then outlined them with a dark blue pencil (Photo 10). Side-glancing irises will never be perfectly symmetrical because the shape of the inner and outer eye is different, so I don’t worry as much about making them symmetrical.
Pupils. Then I begin shading in the pupils. I use a ‘soft pupil’ look, where the pupil sort of fades into the iris. It’s very unnatural and if a real person had this they’d probably be blind. Then again, if us real people looked anything at all like dolls we’d be missing half our organs.
I use a dark blue pencil to begin shading the pupil, but you can use any color that will go with blue. I shade using small circular motions, making sure that the darkest area is in the same place on each eye–that’s the direction of her gaze. (Photo 11).
Then I shade over the dark blue with a black pencil (Photo 12). When the pupils are dark enough and fade nice and gradually into the irises, they’re done!
If you want a more traditional ‘hard pupil,’ it’s actually much easier. Just outline it in over the iris, then fill the outline with black (Photo 13). Make sure they’re symmetrical. Otherwise the poor doll will be forever cross-eyed.
Facial details. Next I added a few little details to her eyes (Photo 14).
First, I applied another layer of white pencil to her sclera (new word! = whites of the eyes). Second, I changed her upper lashes from brown to black by going over them with a black pencil. Third, I drew in faint eyebrow hairs with a dark brown pencil. I drew the left eyebrow hairs in first by turning her upside-down. Fourth, I added tear ducts.
Blush. Now for the easy part (finally!). Blushing the cheeks is pretty simple. I use my eye-shadow brush (shown in a photo somewhere up there ^), dip it in bright pink or red pastel dust, and just lightly dab it onto her cheeks (Photo 15). See? Simple. I wouldn’t lie to you.
She’s pretty much done at this point.
*Seal this layer!*
This is the final time I will seal the doll. The sealant protects the blush, the pupils and irises, and all the other little details we added.
Eye reflections. Take a tiny bit of white paint, water it down a bit (or use a fluid retardant like I do), and use a teeny-tiny brush or toothpick to apply a white dot–or two, or three–to the eyes (Photo 16).
Be sure to apply the dots in the same place in each eye. Don’t measure it by where the dots are in relation to the pupil (especially if the eyes are side-glancing), measure the dots by where they are in relation to the upper or lower lid. This helps me align the reflections in both eyes correctly.
Varnish. The LAST STEP! YOU MADE IT! See that wasn’t too bad, right? Took you, like, ten minutes from start to finish, right?
This is a pretty simple step, shown in Photo 17 below (barely shown. It’s hard to photograph). Use a brush to apply a shiny varnish to the eyes (avoid the eyelashes). I also glossed this girl’s lips, although I don’t often do that with my made-under dolls. If necessary, apply a couple coats.
Note on varnish. I mentioned this in my post about materials, but some varnishes apparently dry tacky. Those varnishes probably don’t like the vinyl the doll head is made with–few sealants like this material, which is why you have to be a little careful with what you brush or spray onto your doll’s face. Anyway, I use a Delta Ceramcoat gloss interior varnish. It’s for use over acrylic or oil paint, but it fully dries on the dolls, so I’ll take it. It’s an ancient bottle, so I’m not even sure if Delta makes this type of varnish anymore.
Here she is, all done! What should I name her?
Unfortunately this little girl won’t be available in my Etsy shop for some time…She needs a new outfit and my sewing machine access hovers in between non-existent and not-worth-it.
If you repaint a doll using this tutorial, please show me your results by posting a picture of the doll (either finished or in progress) to my Facebook page! As always, if you have any questions about my methods or process, don’t hesitate to ask a question in the comments below.
I dislike this part of the process. It’s kind-of tedious, the perfectionist in me isn’t ever happy with it, and sometimes things happen and the doll is ruined before you even touched a drop of paint to her.
That said, preparing well makes the rest of the process much easier, so it’s not something to be brushed off. Read on for tips and advice about materials and doll prep.
Acetone. I use pure acetone from the nail section of a drugstore to remove the doll’s factory paint. Some people prefer to use other, less toxic and less horrible chemicals to do this, some people have found a non-acetone nail-polish remover…I like pure acetone. It works.
Sealant. I use Mr. Super Clear Matte, a fairly standard spray sealant in the repaint world. MSC is great because it has a nice tooth (or grain) to it that allows the pigment to stick to it and it’s not shiny. MSC is less great in that it is super toxic, and because I don’t have a respirator anymore, I’m probably going to develop lung cancer in a few years. Trade-offs, ya know?
MSC tends to be a little pricey. It comes in relatively small bottles, and costs about $10-20 dollars, if you get it from the right place. I always get mine on Ebay. It’s stupidly expensive if you buy it on Amazon. Junky Spot (there’s a link somewhere below) also has it, but I’ve always found the best prices on Ebay.
Watercolor pencils. I mostly use Faber-Castell and Derwent pencils. These have a high pigment concentration and they show up better on the dolls’ faces. One trick is to keep them very sharp during the whole repaint process, so a good sharpener is key. Using a good-quality brand of pencils is really important–don’t cheap out on these; cheap pencils won’t work.
Chalk pastels. I have Faber-Castell pastels, but I’m not sure that the brand matters as much for chalk pastels as it does for the watercolor pencils. The key with this is to really make sure you’re getting chalk pastels, not oil pastels or pencil pastels or anything else. My pastels come in a short rectangle cube shape. I scratch the side of the pastel with a razor blade to make chalk pastel dust.
Brushes. These are used mostly to apply chalk pastel dust, white paint, and varnish. I would recommend having a varnish brush that isn’t super high-quality, because I always ruin my varnish brushes for some reason.
I use three different brushes to apply pastel dust. First is a fluffy eyeshadow brush I got at a drugstore for no dollars (okay, maybe three dollars). This is great for applying blush to the cheeks and forehead–large areas. Large, as in tiny, because these are dolls, but you know. Second is a small weird eyeliner brush that I got with a fancy cream eyeliner by Clinique (this is the short one with a transparent handle in the photos). It’s the worst eyeliner brush I’ve ever seen, but it works great for applying pastel dust to smaller areas like lips and upper eyelids. Third is a very small flat 10/0 paint brush (it’s the one with the black handle in the photos). I use this brush for eyebrows, shading on the lips, upper eyelids, and lower lids.
I have a nice 20/0 spotter brush (red handle in the photos) that I use for applying the white dots to the eyes, but sometimes I just use my ruined 20/0 spotter that is now my varnish brush, especially if I want the dots to be a little larger.
For tattoos, facial designs, and other things that really can’t be done well with just watercolor pencils, I use a stupidly tiny series of brushes (not shown in photo). The Psycho and Insane Detail brush from JunkySpot are good. I also used to have, and liked, the 10/0-30/0 size brushes from Reaper Miniatures.
Varnish. I use cheap, ancient varnish that works just fine because varnish is varnish to me. Two qualifiers: (1) it has to be shiny (so look for a glossy varnish), and (2) it has to dry non-tacky. Apparently some varnish is tacky. I don’t know why a company would make varnish that doesn’t really dry, but in any case, avoid that varnish for these purposes.
White paint. Acrylic paint, please. I use cheap craft paint that I get for .69 cents at JoAnn fabrics, but it’s a little grainy so I would recommend going a little higher-quality. I just can’t find a good art store in my area yet. This is used for the tiny reflective dots in the eyes. Also seen in that photo at the top is Liquitex Slow-Dry Fluid Retarder. It is basically expensive water that you put into your acrylic paint to thin it out and prevent it from drying so fast. I use this stuff, but I’m honest-to-god sure it’s just water that I paid eight dollars for. So you can definitely use water.
PREPARING THE DOLL
This is where things start getting a little serial-killer-esque.
Removing the factory paint.
First, remove the paint with acetone or a suitable substitute. I use plain Q-tips to do most of the work, but using the special pointy Q-tips is handy for the hard-to-get places like the corners of the lips.
The Q-tips will smear the factory paint around on the face, which is fine. I get as much of the paint off with the Q-tips as I can, then, when the face is mostly clear, I finish up with a round cotton pad with a splash of acetone on it. The cotton pad has more coverage, so it’ll take off any remaining paint smudges without just spreading them around. This is a super important step. There is really nothing worse than getting to the end of the repaint process (and you always discover your mistakes at the end, never the beginning) and realizing half the face is still kind of blue because it has smeared factory paint underneath all your hard work.
Rinse the doll’s face off with water to get rid of any acetone residue and the cotton pad fuzz. Just in case.
Some dangers about removing the paint. I have ruined some dolls at this stage. I have discovered while removing paint that the acetone can work itself into the vinyl of the doll and make small dark spots. They look like freckles. I think it may just be a naturally-occuring tiny hole in the vinyl that then gets paint smeared in it and it’s too small to the get the paint out….But I really don’t know what it is. Sometimes I can save the doll, and at least once I’ve had to repaint it and give it away because I didn’t like those imperfections. This has only happened to me in about five of the dolls I’ve ever done though, so it’s a fairly rare issue.
Other dangers about removing the paint. Acetone will melt the hard plastic on the doll’s body if it comes into contact with it. It will also melt holes in your plastic craft table, just FYI. It won’t ruin the hair if it touches the hair for a bit, though.
Protecting the doll.
Now that the doll is face-less and super creepy, we get to make it creepier by wrapping it in saran wrap. This is when people in your family start wondering if they should be worried.
Wrapping the doll is pretty self-explanatory. I use saran wrap because it stretches and can be pulled really snug against the doll’s hair. The goal is to keep the doll’s hair and hard body from being covered in spray sealant. The hair especially, because the sealant turns it a crusty white and it’s super hard to get out.
Rubber bands or hair ties do a good job of keep the saran wrap close to the hairline. If the saran wrap goes over the hairline and covers part of the doll’s forehead, at the end you’ll notice a line between the MSC-sprayed vinyl and the vinyl that was under the saran wrap, which is something to avoid.
Seal the doll.
Now that she’s all wrapped up, spray a thin layer or two of MSC over her face. Do this outside (toxic, remember?), preferably with a respirator (not a mask; a real, actual, zombie-apocalypse-type respirator. They’re on Amazon for $30). If you live in a very humid place, try and do this at the least-humid time of day. You also want to spray when it’s a little warmer outside; the spray won’t work right if it’s very cold.
Hold the nozzle 10-12 inches away from the doll, and make sure to turn the doll at times so the sides of her cheeks get sealed as well. Let the spray dry for ten minutes or so in between coats. Try to avoid a really thick coat: if the layer is too thick the MSC starts to dry a little shiny.
As always…if you have a question, leave a comment below, or get in touch with me on my Facebook page.