Doll Repair

Dolls can become life-long treasures. This Fix-It Guide on doll repair tells how a doll works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a doll problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives simple step-by-step instructions for how to replace a cloth-body doll’s torso and how to restring a plastic or vinyl doll. Whether it’s a toy or a collectible, your home doll hospital can rejuvenate many friends using doll repair, teddy bear repair, or hand puppet repair. This guide also refers you to another Fix-It Guide for sewing repairs.

How Does a Doll Work?

A doll is a small-scale figure of a human being used especially as a child’s plaything. Dolls are also keepsakes, collectibles, and sometimes valuable antiques. Repair of valuable antique dolls and porcelain dolls should be left to a professional or a “doll hospital.”

Common play dolls come in three types. Soft dolls (or rag dolls) are made of durable fabric, usually with hair made of yarn. Cloth-body dolls have torsos made of cloth, heads and limbs that are plastic or vinyl, and hair that is either rooted or a glued wig. Some plastic or vinyl dolls are held together by flanged limbs or elastic.

What Can Go Wrong with a Doll?

Unlike children, dolls suffer in silence. They may get torn or lose an arm or leg without complaint. After years of use or storage, their stuffing may go flat, or they may need a gentle cleaning to revive them.

Fix-It Tip

Wash dolls with a mild detergent and a damp rag, then dry with a clean rag. If the doll’s hair is rooted (fed through the scalp), you can shampoo it. Don’t shampoo dolls with wigs because water may damage the glue.

How Can I Identify a Doll Problem?

In most cases, the problem is evident, as is the solution.

  • If a cloth-body doll’s body is severely damaged, replace it (see below).
  • If the head, arm, or leg comes off a doll with push-in limbs, use a hairdryer to make the plastic pliable, then reinsert the part into the body.
  • If the elastic inside the doll that holds limbs or the head on breaks, replace it (see below).
  • If a soft doll loses its shape, open a central seam and add fresh polyester stuffing available from a craft store, then stitch the doll seam closed.
  • If a doll wig comes loose, glue it back on with a white glue or super glue.
  • If a doll’s rooted hair is damaged beyond repair, cut it off close to the scalp and glue a wig over it–or find a doll hat that fits.

Fix-It Tip

Larger craft stores will have extensive doll-making and repair supplies including fabrics, stuffing, glues, and even parts. Take the doll in for a match and some advice.

What Do I Need for Doll Repair?

You can find most replacement doll parts in a local craft store or on the Internet. In addition, you may need these :

  • Needles
  • Thread
  • Wire-cutting pliers
  • White glue
  • Scissors
  • Elastic material
  • Wire coat hanger

What Are the Steps to Doll Repair?

Doll Repair

You can access the inside of a cloth doll by cutting a slit in its back, then closing it up when done.

Replace a cloth-body doll’s torso:

  1. Undo the stitching holding the head and limbs to the torso. Then un-stitch the body and use the fabric as a pattern (adding about 3/4 inch all the way around for the seam) for the new body. Add about 1 inch of fabric to the limb and neck openings.
  2. Sew the torso inside out, leaving the rear seam open. To attach plastic or vinyl pieces, turn up about 1 inch of fabric and sew through the holes located at the base of each piece.
  3. Turn the torso right side out and stuff the doll with polyester filling.
  4. Stitch up the rear seam with small, tight overhand stitches.

Restring a plastic or vinyl doll:

  1. Make two elastic stringing loops: one for the legs and head, and a shorter one for the arms. Loop sizes depend on the material’s elasticity and the doll size. The elastic should hold the head and limbs securely while allowing smooth movement. Make tight knots in the end of the elastic to bind it.
  2. If the head is attached with an internal hook that’s broken or missing, make a new one from a wire coat hanger. Cut off a section with wire-cutting pliers and bend it into shape. Attach the hook to the head bar. Then secure the larger elastic stringing loop to the hook and push the loop down through the neck cavity and into the doll’s torso. Position the doll head on top of the body.
  3. To attach a leg, make a stringing hook to reach into the torso and grasp the loop hanging from the head. Pull the loop down through the leg hole and secure it to the hook inside the leg. Pull out the stringing hook and repeat the process for the other leg.
  4. To attach an arm, hook one end of your stringing loop to the arm and feed the loop through the arm hole. Use the stringing hook to pull the loop through the opposite arm hole. Attach the loop to the hook on the arm then remove the stringing hook.

Fix-It Tip

If you really enjoy repairing dolls, try one of the books or videos available on the subject. You can find them through your local book or craft store, or online. And some larger craft stores offer periodic classes in doll making and repair.