Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How to Restore a Cloth Doll

Fig. 1, Edith restored, with a kneaded rubber eraser recommended

Fig. 2, Darning used to repair moth holes for a play doll

Fig. 3, fabric used to repair the nose of a collector doll
I have had a lot of success restoring old or antique dolls and reselling them online. I also have been able to provide my daughter with dolls which are no longer available. As in learning to make pressed felt dolls, I had to spend a lot of time and money teaching myself, as there just aren't many resources out there to show how this can be done.

In this particular post, I am showing a Rothschild Edith the Lonely Doll from 1985. I restored this doll as a play doll for my daughter. This doll came to me reeking so strongly of cigarettes, mildew, and mothballs that I had an allergy attack while unpacking the box! She also had extensive moth damage, had moth larvae casings in her hair and clothes, and was extremely grimy.

The first thing I did was carefully remove her clothes. You should evaluate the clothing to see how fragile it is. If it seems strong, then you can machine wash it with regular detergent and color safe bleach, use stain remover spray, in a delicate cycle and cold water. Then let it air dry. If it seems fragile, wash the clothing  by hand in water and Woolite, dish soap, or a very small amount of bleach. If using bleach, test first on the inside of the hem or other non-visible spot with a Q-tip dipped in the bleach water. Rinse and air-dry.

While the clothing dries, take a paper towel or soft, colorfast rag dipped in water mixed with dish soap or Woolite and gently rub the doll's body and limbs to remove surface dirt. DO NOT rub the face with water. If cleaning a silk doll, such as the one shown in the third photo, test the water on the bottom of the foot or other invisible spot to make sure the silk does not get water-marked.

To clean the face and continue to clean the body, use artist's erasers. I prefer the kneaded rubber type (shown in Edith's hand, Fig. 1) or the amber gum erasers. Do not use a colored eraser. Rub any spots VERY gently with the erasers. You may have to erase several times. Just be very careful not to tear any fragile cloth. When the face is clean, continue on to the body.

To wash the doll's hair, use liquid fabric softener as shampoo for mohair wigs or regular shampoo for human hair. Be VERY careful not to wet the face or head. You may need to brush out the hair before washing. For mohair, use a bamboo skewer or toothpick as you would a hair pick, gently detangling the hair. Mohair will get matted over time and this will get the mats out. For human and synthetic wigs use a wire wig brush.You will see some hair loss, so brush sparingly. While the hair is still damp you can set it on foam rollers, home perm rollers, or for very tiny dolls, pipe cleaners cut into rag rollers. (That is how I curled Evangeline's hair in the post Restoring Evangeline).

To remove tough odors not destroyed by cleaning, place the doll in a plastic bag filled with very strongly scented dryer sheets. Seal the bag and leave until the smell is gone. Only use Febreeze as a last resort, as it breaks down the fabric.

When the doll is clean and dry you can address holes or moth damage. In Fig. 2, I show how I darned Edith's large holes with matching embroidery floss. This method is recommended for a play doll, not a display or collector doll. I darned the holes so no stuffing would escape during play. I just left the small holes or partial holes. Because the doll is felt, the holes won't fray further. If restoring a cloth doll you may want to treat any small holes with Fray Check so they won't get bigger. Fig. 3 shows the type of repair for a collector doll, such as this 1920s Gre-Poir sik doll. You want to leave the doll as original as possible. This doll was restored by Virginia Gigure, who simply found a matching piece of fabric and inserted it into the hole in the nose. Because she didn't alter the doll, the fabric can be removed later if a die-hard collector wants the doll all original.

I hope this is a helpful article! As you can see, my restoration of Edith turned out beautifully, and she has provided my daughter with many hours of play. As always, check my eBay and Blujay stores to purchase many of the dolls features in this blog. Good luck in your own restorations!

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