Monday, May 23, 2011

How to Make a Pressed Felt doll face

Fig 1. The sculpted face

Fig 2. The mask applied to the face

Fig. 3, The felt seated for baking

Fig. 4, the "wrong" side or inside of the felt mask

Fig. 5 The finished felt mask

Given the interest in pressed felt doll-making, today instead of a new creation I am going to elaborate on the process of making the face. I will add photos as I can take some. First of all, I recommend a book called How To Make A Pressed Felt Doll by Alice and Lee Welpley 1984. This book is out of print, but you can still find copies on eBay or Amazon. I purchased several books, dolls, and articles to teach myself and I hope you are able to learn with less outlay of cash! This process will make a face the right size for a doll around 18 inches.

I am giving you the process of making the face with a mold you sculpt yourself; if you want to use a pre-made mold please check the book I mention above. After a lot of trial and error, I found Super Sculpey polymer clay was the best material for mold-making. Start by covering a 3 to 5 inch diameter Styrofoam ball with foil. You will use this as an armature. Using books and dolls you like as a reference, cover half the ball with a layer of Sculpey and build up as you want to form facial features. Put extra emphasis on eyebrow ridges, nose, chin, and lips for more relief when the felt is molded. Make the front of a neck about 2 inches long.You want to build your face up to at least a half-inch thickness. When finished, carefully remove the Sculpey face from the ball and gently press the sides of the face in a bit to make it less round. Bake according to the instructions on the package to cure the clay. (Fig. 1)

When the face is finished, baked, and cooled you can use it to make the mold. Cover the face with a layer of talcum or baby powder so you are able to release the mask. Cover the entire face TO WITHIN 1 INCH of the outside edge of the face (this is important so the mask will release) with a very thin layer of Super Sculpey, using your fingers to smooth the mask into the facial features. (Fig. 2) If you get an air bubble, pop it with your fingernail and smooth it over. Build up the Super Sculpey until it is at least a half inch thick. Build an extra lip around the edge of the mask to give you a place to grip when you pull the mask off. Set the head with the mask on a cookie sheet with the mask on top and bake in a very slow oven for 1.5 hours. Follow the instructions on your clay. Mine says not to exceed 200 degrees. When finished baking let the mask cool completely with the oven door cracked so the mask does not break from thermal shock. When it is COMPLETELY cool, remove from the oven and gently work the mask free from the face. This can be a bit difficult and this is where my first mask cracked, so be very careful and make sure the mask and face are not at all warm.

Now you may soap the molds to prevent sticking. Mix 2 ounces of melted bar soap or liquid soap with 4 cups water. If using bar soap, stir in a saucepan over medium heat until the soap is melted. When the soap is cool, apply it liberally to the face and the inside of the mask with a makeup sponge. Dry with a hair dryer. Repeat twice, drying in between coats. The mold will need to be soaped after a few uses. If you begin to notice sticking, then re-soap the mold. Before each use, spray the positive (front) of the face and the negative (inside) of the mask with Pam or cooking spray and wipe off any excess puddles or drips. This is very important to prevent sticking.

To prepare the felt, cut a sheet of wool felt about 8 x 10 inches. The felt should be at least 30 % wool. Choose skin colors, like cream, peach, or beige. It can be helpful to put a dart around 3 inches long in the center of the short sides of the felt . Cut the felt close to the stitching line of the dart. (Fig. 4) Spray the wrong side of the felt (the side with the dart stitching) with heavy spray starch. Spray the right side with water. Sandwich the felt in between the face and mask, lining the darts up with the neck center just under the chin and the top of the face. Pull the felt up and out, smoothing out any wrinkles. Tap the face into the mask gently to make sure it's straight and fully secured.(Fig. 3) Place in the oven and bake for about 2 hours at no more than 200 degrees. I usually have my oven around 180. When done, cool in the oven with the door cracked until cool. Open the mold, leaving the felt in the negative side of the mold and let it cool.

To prepare the felt for painting, spray the wrong side (inside) of the felt with shellac or Krylon Crystal Clear, leaving the felt inside the mold. Let dry and spray 3 more coats, drying in between. (Fig. 5) Once dry, brush the inside of the felt with acrylic gesso, available in the painting section of art supply stores, or caulking compound. Concentrate the gesso in the nose and other depressions. Apply four coats of gesso. This will allow the face to keep its shape but retain some flexibility, preventing dents in the finished doll. (Fig. 6) If you have any gesso seeping through to the front of the face it means you did not apply enough water seal to the inside of the face. Next time make sure to spray on more.

When the gesso has dried overnight spray the felt with starch or brush with cooked starch and smooth the nap of the felt down. When that has dried, grind soft pastels into a rough surface to powder them. Apply light pink or peach to the nose, cheeks, and chin with a stiff paint brush, painting in the direction of the nap. Apply light blue or beige "eyeshadow" on the eyelids, and apply more pink underneath the eye, in the lower lid area. Lightly draw in the eyes with a pencil.

You may use either oil or acrylic artist's paints for the features. The original Lenci dolls used oil paint, which has a shinier finish. However, if you want the doll to be used as a toy it's probably safer and more durable if you use acrylic paint. If you want a shiny finish you can add a medium to create that or coat with a clear coat after painting. Paint the whites of the eyes first. Then paint the iris in the color you want. Add the pupil and upper lashes last. The original Lencis generally had eyelashes on top only. For the eyebrows, use a light brown. It is easier to apply the eyebrows and lashes as individual dashes rather than one straight line. You may add a light reflection in white to the eye when it is done to give it a more rounded appearance. Look at photos of dolls you like to see how they are painted. Ebay has tons of great photos of Lenci dolls.

Paint the lips next. Make the upper lip slightly darker than the lower. Add white wet on wet to the lower lip and blend out to create a rounded look. Mix a little blue in with the pink lip color to make the center lip line and corners of the mouth. In the same pink add two dots to the underside of the nose as nostrils. Once your face is painted and dry, cut around the outside of the pressed area, including the neck, leaving at least a quarter inch seam allowance around the edge of the pressed area.

Now you will need to find or make a body pattern. You can use an 18 to 20 inch doll body pattern or even a jointed teddy bear pattern. You can also make a pattern by tracing the parts of a doll you like and add a seam allowance to the tracing. To attach the head, cut the head pattern out, This should be a three-piece head: the face and two sides. Sew the sides to the pressed felt face, leaving the back open. Place a plastic doll disk joint in the bottom of the neck, poking a hole through the neck base for the joint stem. Then stuff the head with polyfill and sew up the back in a zig zag stitch. Finish the doll body as instructed in your pattern. Then you can apply a pre-made doll wig or make your own hair from wefted wig hair or mohair. For an antique look, use mohair.

I hope this has been a helpful tutorial! For more information check my Everything Old is New Again blog post and my How to Paint a Pressed Felt Face post. You can  purchase my handmade and refurbished dolls at Atelier Mandaline on eBay. I am planning to offer pre-made doll faces and pre-cut body patterns. Keep watching for those!
Fig. 6, Gesso is applied to inside of the face


  1. Thank you SOOO much for this tutorial! I really can't thank you enough. I'm a teddy bear artist and have been wanting to learn how to make pressed doll faces so that I could incorporate them with my bears. I have been all over the web and was nearly despairing of finding anything when I stumbled onto your blog. I've tried to find copies of a couple of books about the topic, but either they are not available at all or they cost $60-$65.

    Thanks again,

  2. Thanks for this, it's been very useful. x


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