Monday, March 26, 2012

American Beauty: Sad Cissy Reborn

This restoration of a 1950s Madame Alexander Cissy doll is just for me and my daughter. I have always wanted a Cissy. My daughter also is saying, "We don't have to sell her do we?" Besides that, I had to do so much to save this doll I don't think I would ever get the money I put in just for materials, much less time! This restoration really challenged me, and it taught me a lot about restoring hard plastic dolls. It was great experience for me, so I am trying not to feel TOO guilty about not selling her right away.

So, a few weeks ago I saw a Cissy doll, needing repair, listed for $99. I thought and thought about it, and it seemed like most Cissys sell for a lot more, even in disrepair, so I placed a bid and won. Well, I later found I almost certainly paid too much. The same week someone listed like 20 Cissy dolls at once for $20 each and a couple sold for less than what I paid even though they were in much better condition. But then again, just a couple days ago someone sold a Cissy who seems to have been lobotomized for about the same price, so maybe I did okay.

Cissy in very poor condition
At any rate, this is "my" Cissy now, and even though I would have preferred to get her for $20 or so, I did enjoy the restoration because I could do whatever I wanted without feeling guilty about not keeping her original. I really like best dolls who need a lot of work. Where is the fun in buying a doll and just flipping it? I do that sometimes because there is a limit to how much I can make and repair for my store. I have three kids, and my youngest is in therapy almost all day twice a week!

I don't enjoy just buying and reselling. I have a friend whose whole eBay store is based on buying clothes on sale and reselling them. I think she does well with it, but how boring! I am in it for the creative challenge, not just to make money. Jerry sarcastically says, "Yeah, who wants to make MONEY?!" Besides that, I am really proud of myself, because I saved a doll who was too messed up for anything but the landfill. This doll wasn't even fit to be sold for parts when I got her, because no part of her was undamaged! On the plus side, that meant I could be creative and repair her without lowering her value, since she was unusable without restoration.

This Cissy came with the usual problems for a 50 year old doll. She had one large split and one small split in her hips. Her wig was missing, and her head loose. These are fairly typical issues for dolls of 50+ years and many collectors prefer those hip splits not even be repaired.

The hips with splits before repair.
This  doll had many more problems, however. At first I thought her face and body paint had been scratched down to the bare plastic. In some cases this was true, but when I gave her a general cleaning I found someone had actually painted her with what looked like metallic paint pens and nail polish!

Cissy doll prior to repainting
You can see in the photo, her mouth is painted over the sculpted lip line. Cissy doll mouths are painted so the color does not go to the edge of the lip sculpt. The paint used turned out to be some type of nail polish. That silver paint on her eyelid looks like paint pen. I am pretty sure these "repairs" were done by someone other than the original owner, since I don't think metallic nail polish was available in the 1950s! The doll also had a chewed thumb and finger and someone had painted her nails with almost black nail polish.

Chewed thumb and non-factory nail paint
Then, to add insult to injury, someone tried to give her hair by, it looks like, putting super glue on her head and rubbing some kind of synthetic fiber on it! Using super glue on doll wigs of this period is a HUGE no-no, and I will explain why. Walker dolls and some other 1950s hard plastic dolls have heads attached with a clip on top. To remove the head and repair the eyes or fix the walker mechanism you have to remove the wig. This is easily done by soaking it with hot water if water-soluble glue is used, but with super glue it's nearly impossible. I had to buy a special bottle of Carol's Miracle Doll Cleaner and use about half of it soaking the head and scraping the glue and hair off with my fingernails. It was tedious and gross! All my usual go-to products, like Mr Clean Eraser and Goof Off didn't do a thing!

The Cissy doll and many other hard plastic dolls like Sweet Sue have a head attached with a metal clip.
I guess if Jerry ever leaves me I'll have to give up doll repair, because he is always fixing problems with the mechanics of the dolls that I am unable to solve. In this case, I found the head to be wobbly. I also think this may have been a walker Cissy, but the walking mechanism isn't working. I took the head off to see what I could do. I didn't see anything wrong with the mechanics, so then I thought maybe I was wrong about the doll being a walker. I read too many doll blogs and they all say you should replace the rubber bands in the dolls with elastic cord, as the bands are prone to rotting. Well, let me tell you, the rubber band in this doll had NO thoughts of rotting! I had to saw through it with my scissors; it was too tough to cut. I finally got it off and put in elastic and then I could NOT get the head back on the clip! I messed with it for hours and then Jerry came home and got it done in about 5 minutes!

Once the doll's head was secure I removed the nail polish and paint pen using Goof Off. I had to take it down to the bare plastic in some cases. I couldn't remove the blackish nail paint at all, so I decided I would have to just paint over that. Then I repaired the splits in the legs. To repair a split in a hard plastic doll, I use a plastic epoxy called "Kwik Plastik". I found this with the help of Anastasia at Home Depot. I told her I needed basically a wood filler for plastic that could be molded, sanded, drilled, and painted. She brought this product out and I think it's wonderful. You knead it until it turns blue. Then you fill in the crack, or mold a new finger, or whatever.

The split filled in with Kwik Plastik epoxy.

It turns white when dry and then you sand and paint it. I sand using the various nail files that come in acrylic nail kits, going from the roughest to the smoothest. When the repair is as smooth as I can get it I paint it and the repair is nearly invisible! I have heard you can use this to repair composition dolls as well but I haven't tried it. If that works it  would be MUCH easier than the nail acrylic method!

The repaired split after painting is nearly invisible!

To fix the chewed fingers I used my go-to product, flexible acrylic modeling paste. I just filled in the chews, let the paste dry, sanded, and painted it.

The chewed fingers filled in with acrylic modeling paste
Now Cissy was ready for her paint job. Following a wonderful doll blog tip, this one I THINK from This Old Doll, I took Cissy right over to Home Depot and had Anastasia scan her on the paint scanner and mix up her exact flesh tone in semi-gloss oil based paint. I think Anastasia thinks I'm nuts but she's too polite to say so! I used a good clear photo of a mint Cissy face that I printed off the Internet as a guide for how she should look.
Materials for re-painting: oil based paint, brushes, sponges, and photo guide.

I painted her body with the flesh tone and added artist's oil paints for the lips, cheek blush, etc. Because I don't have an air brush I use makeup sponges and many different types of paint brushes to get the effect. Despite a lot of sanding, I couldn't get the paint perfectly smooth due to all the gouges and stuff in the base paint, but I got it pretty close.

Cissy's face after repainting.

I blushed Cissy's knees and feet a bit more than usual because I liked it that way. I also gave her toenail paint, which I don't think she originally had, because my daughter likes painted nail dolls and because she had old nail polish paint I couldn't remove all the way on her toes. I blushed her hands and painted her fingernails with acrylic artist's paints. I did not use oil paint on the arms because the Cissy arms are vinyl. I had to paint her fingernails, though I don't think most Cissys had that, to hide the black nail paint.

All that was left in my restoration was to replace her eyelashes and wig. For the eyes I used commercial vintage eyelashes. These were the "flutter" type, not the brush lashes she originally had. You can replace the brush lashes using cut up camel hair paint brushes and placing the strands individually, but that looked ridiculously hard. I decided to use doll lashes, which is quite easy. First, pull out any old lashes, scrape the groove where the lashes go with a straight pin, and then dip the pin in Aleene's tacky glue and run it along the eyelash groove and the edge of the lashes. Place the lashes in the groove and push into place with a clean straight pin. Trim any excess length and wipe off any extra glue with a wet paper towel. Allow to dry. In this case I trimmed the flutter lashes so they were all the same length, making them look more like the originals. Cissy has one eye that has turned a greener blue than the other, so I could have replaced those as well, but since they are working I left them. They aren't too cloudy like you sometimes see.

I ordered a Toni wig from Dollspart for the wig. These are made of modacrylic fiber similar to the original Saran wigs. They are seamed with a center part and you style them the same way, by rolling on perm rods and endpapers and pouring very hot, almost boiling water, over them. If you are doing a Cissy for re-sale you may want to try to find an old hard plastic doll with a good wig you can use. Cissy wigs sell for $50-$100, but the Sweet Sue, Toni, and other 16-18 inch wigs should fit Cissy and be a proper style. You can order the Toni wig from Dollspart in a long or shorter "flip" style in the 18 inch doll size and it fits well. If you are ordering a different brand wig, you need to order size 8-9 to fit Cissy. This is the same size worn by the vintage Sasha and My Friend dolls.

For a resale Cissy I recommend the flip wig. For this doll my daughter requested long black hair just like her own that "you can do stuff with", so I ordered the long side-swept bangs style. If I want to sell the doll later I can cut bangs and trim the back and set it in a Cissy style. I pinned the hair up in a loose style resembling some Cissy dolls, with some curls on top and in back of the head. My daughter will want to brush and restyle it, and that's okay, as I can always set it again later!

The method for gluing a vintage hard plastic doll is a little different than I describe in my other how to re-wig post. These old dolls, like Toni, Sweet Sue, and Cissy, had their hairline marked with glue. Then the wig was pressed into the glue to create the hairline. This Cissy had glue on her ears and no pierced earring posts or holes, so I assume this doll had an over-the-ears hairline. I carefully drew a hairline with Aleene's Tacky Glue (water-soluble so the wig can be easily removed) over the ears and across the forehead, following the original glue-line, which stained the plastic and then filled in the rest of the head, avoiding the clip. Then I placed the wig, tied a ribbon around the wig, and let it dry.

Now Cissy is complete! She still has paint scraping off in her hip sockets and neck socket, despite being sealed after painting. I will have to see if I can wax the joints or oil them or something to get them to stop scraping and repaint. Anyone who has fixed that particular problem please comment and say how you did it! 

Fully-restored Cissy

I dressed Cissy in the clothes she had when she came: a hand-sewn (not machine sewn!) chiffon and net gown and bloomers and factory panties which I think are original to the doll. I have her a new pair of shoes. Now my daughter and I will make her a wonderful wardrobe. My daughter has requested a ballet costume first. That's funny, because I had a friend growing up  whose mom had a bunch of Cissy dolls as a girl. They all sat on a shelf in her parlor (this being the South, where dolls are always displayed in the best room with the Bible!) and I was SO jealous! The one I loved best was a ballerina! I wonder if that lady knows she has like $3000 worth of Cissy dolls in her parlor! So, we are having a lot of fun, and I am really proud of myself for being able to accomplish my most extensive restoration yet!


  1. Perfect job, she's beautiful!

  2. She does look great! I would love to have a Cissy,but the price has held me back...I will look for a TLC one.
    Have you tried Apoxysculpt? It is a two part product, very sim. o the stuff you used, but paint or make-up can be added to it when kneading painting needed. I love it- water soluble until dry.
    Thanks for the tips!

  3. Thanks! It sounds like your doll was constructed a lot differently than mine. It's funny how they did that! Thanks for the tips: I will look for that product!


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