Monday, August 27, 2012

Adventures in Stringing: A Tutorial

Lately a lot of my readers have asked me questions about re-stringing their vintage dolls. I have a big box of project dolls in various stages of completion, so I decided to photograph myself re-stringing them so you can see exactly how it's done. Before you start you will need to obtain stringing elastic in the proper size. Kits are coming soon to my store.
Dolls in need of re-stringing and repair.
You might remember from my Betsy post a few months ago that I was trying to restore both my mother's childhood dolls for her birthday, a Betsy McCall and a Posie. I only managed to finish Betsy because the Posie was in worse shape than I'd thought. She needed restringing of her arms, but she also had splits in her sides. Before you begin restringing you will need to repair any splits or cracks and repaint the doll as described in my Cissy post. Posie, who my mother renamed Janie, was first my mother's play doll and then mine. Her arms have been loose for many years, and she was the beneficiary of one of my early attempts at doll repair:
I tried to restring this doll with a rubber band when I was about 10.
As you can see, regular rubber bands don't work. They don't get tight enough and they rot quickly. This one was hard to remove from the arm hooks because it had sort of fused into them over the years. I am starting with Janie's repair because it is very simple since only her arms needed stringing. First I fixed her splits and repainted her sides with oil paint. Then I had to wait for the paint to dry, which took a long time because it has been raining a lot here. Start stringing by running elastic through the hook on one of the doll's arms. Some dolls will not have a hook , but only a bar. In that case you will need a hook. If you buy a kit as I recommend the hooks will be in there. It is VERY important that you use the same size hooks for both arms or both legs; if you don't the limbs will be lopsided.
Here I have run the elastic through the first hook and am about to pull it through the other arm hole. The instructions are
next to the doll.
Here is a more close-up picture of the first step:
Step 1
The tool I am using to hold the elastic is a surgical hemostat. You can get these in various sizes from medical supply stores, fabric stores, or on eBay. They are very useful for many things if you sew a lot or work on dolls because they clamp shut and allow your hands to be free. Step 2: Once you have pulled the elastic through the other armhole, pull it as tight as you can and hook the second arm to it. Test the first arm to see if it has the proper tension. If so, tie a double knot in the elastic or clamp with a hog ring and hog ring pliers.

Step 2

Ease the second arm in and test to make sure it's not too loose. If it is good then cut the excess ends off the elastic. Replace both arms and flex to make sure they are working. Here's a tip: Don't tie the knot right on top of the hook. Try to get it as close to the middle of the doll's body as you can so it doesn't interfere with the movement of the arms.

Janie's arms are fixed!

Next, I have a very complicated doll to string. This doll is a Uneeda 2S Dollikin. These are really cool articulated dolls which can hold hundreds of poses. They are from the 50s but very much resemble the ball-jointed dolls of today. They remind me of wooden artist's mannequins. They are not easy to restring or re-assemble when they are broken.
A Dollikin in need of stringing
I could see the spring needed to run from neck to torso because it was too wide to go in between the legs. Initially, I thought the hook next to the spring was for the torso too, and I was correct, but I wasn't sure how it was supposed to be attached. Later stringing of jointed waist dolls revealed they need a knot or hook at the waist so their heads don't fall back. 
Various arm and leg hooks.
Before I could re-string I had to repair some little cracks and repaint this doll too. Then I had to wait for the paint to dry. She had a hip ball split, but luckily it fits inside the socket, so the repair is not visible.
The repaired and repainted hand
If this doll needed its arms restrung you would do those as I demonstrated on Janie. You would do the arms second, after stringing the head and body. So, first attach the spring to the head hook. If you are missing the spring you would use elastic, but you may want to go up a size to thicker elastic to prevent the head from being too loose.
The spring hooks onto the head and then to the elastic. If the spring is missing just hook elastic to the head.
Now, run the elastic through the body and out the bottom of the torso. Pull very tightly to make sure the head is secure.
The pink pliers are jewelry pliers with magnetic tips. These are very useful if you drop a hook inside the doll and have to retrieve it.
My head still falls back a little, though it holds a pose, because when I did this doll I wasn't aware of the need to knot or hook the elastic at the waist. I tried just using the smaller elastic, though, and that was worse. With any vintage doll I find the manufacturers did things all different ways, even in the same dolls, so you often have to experiment and make up a solution to a problem. After you string the torso secure the elastic and get ready to add the pelvis.
The head and torso are strung.
Add the pelvis and attach one leg to the elastic and then the other. DO NOT tie the knot in between the legs in the crotch or on a hook. Tie it on the side. Tie the knot after you have tested the legs just as I did the arms in Janie's demo. Cut the ends after you make sure the elastic is tight enough and then replace the second leg in the socket.
Getting ready to tie the knot.
Now Dollikin is herself again! She can pose all different ways and even stand alone. These are such neat dolls!
Dollikin can hold lots of poses.
These dolls make great gymnasts or ballerinas because of how they can pose.
Now Janie and Dollikin just need hairdos and clothes and they'll be ready to go!

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