Tips and Tools for Creating Soft-Sculptured Dolls
By Miriam Gourley

Jesters on the stairs
"Jesters," Simply Christmas by Miriam Gourley, published by Contemporary Books. 

I have been sewing dolls since my childhood in Colorado. Cloth dolls, in particular, have always fascinated me. For the past 18 years, I have been designing dolls and many other fabric creations for patterns, magazines and my own books. There are no rules for making a cloth doll, but I would like to share some of my favorite tools and tips with you to make your sewing experience more enjoyable. So grab your sewing basket, and let's get started. And, if you're like me, you'll make a new friend along the way!

Getting Started
What do you want to make? A cloth doll makes a fun first-time project. There are many doll patterns available, but you can easily create your own simple design. Don't limit yourself to dolls that resemble people - you can make animals, a moon and stars, or
other imaginary creatures!When selecting fabric for a doll, purchase a finely-woven cotton muslin. You can tea-dye the muslin before you begin, if you like an antique look. Or, if you prefer a flesh-color muslin, leave it natural and paint over it to create the color you want. When choosing fabric for your doll's clothing, you may want to coordinate the colors with a particular room or let the fabric be the inspiration for the kind of doll you choose to make. It's also fun to cut up old pieces of clothing for doll clothes.

Stuffing Tips

Using the Perfect Pointmaker to ensure sharp points. Creating very pointy noses..
Figure A, Use the Perfect Pointmaker to make sure any points are sharp, not squared off. Figure B
Using the Mini Stuffer for stuffing pointed areas. Using the Stuff-ItT II to fill out the overall shape..
Figure C, Use the Mini Stuffer for stuffing pointed areas and other unusual shapes. Figure D, Insert larger pieces of fiberfill, using the Stuff-It™ II to fill out the overall shape.


Making Sculpted Fingers

  1. Using a pattern, trace hand and arm shape on twolayers of fabric, using the Fine Point Disappearing Ink Pen (#4030) (A).
  2. Machine stitch on marked lines. Trim seam allowances to 1/8". Clip curves and turn right side out.
  3. Use the Disappearing Ink Pen to draw finger lines on the right side of hand fabric shape.
  4. Machine stitch on lines. Backstitch at beginning and end of each line; trim threads (B).
  5. For each finger, cut a piece of pipe cleaner twice the length, plus 1/2". Fold pipe cleaner in half. Insert folded end into tip of each finger (C).
  6. Stuff remainder of hand and arm. Stitch opening closed; attach arm to body. Bend fingers to desired shape.
Using a pattern to trace hand and arm shapes. Machine stitch and trin threads.
Figure A, Trace Hand and arm shape on two layers of fabric, using the Fine Point Disappearing Ink Pen. Figure B, Backstitch at beginning and end of each line; trim threads.
Stuffing pipe cleaner into each finger.  
Figure C, For each finger, cut a piece of pipe cleaner twice the length, plus ½". Fold pipe cleaner in half. Insert folded end into tip of each finger.  


Sculpting A Nose

  1. Draw nose on face using the Fine Point Disappearing Ink Pen (#4030).
  2. Use Monofilament Thread (#4047), which is a transparent
    Nylon thread, for creating "invisible" stitches that will shape the nose. The 3" Sculpting Needle (#4053) works well and is easy to manipulate.
  3. To begin, insert needle and thread into top of head, bringing out needle on right side of upper nose (A).
  4. Make a small stitch in place and re-insert needle into right side of nose, bringing out needle on left side (B).
  5. Take a small stitch in place below exit point on left. Re-insert needle into nose, bringing out needle on right below first stitch. Pull thread slightly after each stitch to raise the center of the nose slightly and create dimension.
  6. Go back and forth, working down nose.
  7. At base of nose, insert needle and take a stitch, bringing out needle from middle of opposite side (C) . Repeat on otherside at base of nose.

Painting Tips

Supplies Needed
  • Acrylic Paints
  • Spray Sealer
  • Flat, Small Liner Brush & Stiff Stencil Brushes
  • Permanent Black Fabric Pen (#4029)
  • Embroidery Floss, Black
  • Fine-Grain Sanding Sponge
  • Paper Towels

Doll's Body

  1. Use flat brush to paint doll's head, neck, arms and legs with flesh colored paint. Let dry; then use the sanding sponge to smooth the surface.
  2. Apply a second coat of paint and let dry.

Simple Face

  1. For cheeks, dip stencil brush in paint. Rub excess onto a paper towel until paint has a powder-like quality.
  2. Apply paint to doll's cheeks in a circular motion (A).
  3. Using the Permanent Black Fabric Pen, draw a smile (B).
  4. Make French Knots for the eyes using the embroidery floss.

Painted Face

  1. Use a #2 lead pencil to draw facial details.
  2. Use a liner brush to add eye details - black for pupil; blue; green or brown for iris; light cream for whites of eyes and a small dot in the pupil for a highlight. The lid is painted warm beige. Use the Permanent black Fabric Pen to draw eyelashes and upper eyelid line (A)
  3. Use medium brown and liner brush to paint eyebrows. Make hair-like short strokes, diagonally or a simple one-stroke curve.
  4. Dry brush the cheeks (see Simple Face). This method may also be used if eye shadow is desired.
  5. For the lips, use a rosy color, thinned with a little water. When the paint is dry, use warm beige or light brown (with water added) to make a very thin line through the middle of the lips (B).
  6. When paint is dry, spray the painted areas of face and hands with a matte sealer.

Simple Doll Wig

Supplies Needed
  • Hair Fiber - embroidery floss, skeins of yarn or wool
  • Doll Body
  • Muslin Scraps
  • Unique Stitch (#4071)
  • Flesh-Color Thread
  1. Cut a square of muslin to fit the upper area of the doll's head (A).
  2. Cut the fibers long enough to drape over the doll's head and to the
    length of the finished hair style.
  3. Lay the fibers across the muslin, bunching them so none of the muslin shows through.
  4. Using the flesh-color thread, stitch the fibers to the muslin center (B).
  5. Cut the muslin into a football shape, with the pointed ends at the beginning and end of the stitching (C).
  6. Using Unique Stitch glue, apply muslin to the doll's head, with the part centered or off to one side.
  7. Trim or style the hair as desired.

Button Joints
Here is an easy way to make moveable arms and legs using the Dritz for Dolls Cover Button Kit (#4026), which contains
five 7/16" buttons along with a mold and pusher to make covering easy.

  1. Cover buttons with fabric to match doll's body, following package instructions (A).
  2. Using Nylon Thread (#4048 white or #4049 brown) and a 5" Joining Needle (#4052), thread the needle and knot end of thread.
  3. Insert needle into upper arm, through shoulder area of body, out the other side and into the other arm.
  4. As the needle exits the second arm, insert needle into shank of covered button, then back through arm, body and other arm (B).
  5. Insert needle into second button shank, back through arm, body and arm, pulling the thread slightly.
  6. Repeat Steps 2-4, one or two more times, until arms feel secure. These steps may be repeated to attach legs to the body.

 For More Information
Miriam Gourley publishes her own patterns and books. For an order form, please send a SASE to: Fabric Folke, 1033 North 560 East, Orem, UT 84097.