Monday, September 15, 2014

Tutorial: How To Restore Synthetic Doll Hair and Wigs

A bunch of dolls with bad hair.

Today's blog-posting marathon concludes with a tutorial on restoring doll hair. I've been so busy working all weekend my blog writing fell behind! If you've been reading the blog recently you've heard all about the big new box of dolls I acquired last week. Every single one of them had hair issues, so I thought it would be an ideal time to write a hair care tutorial. This tutorial applies to dolls with synthetic wigs or rooted hair, not to dolls with human or mohair wigs. I have a different tutorial on styling and repairing mohair wigs.

Use fabric softener as shampoo and conditioner.

Synthetic hair, like Saran or Dynel, is made of textile fibers. It is often dry and responds well to fabric softener. I start by brushing the hair out with a wire doll wig brush. Then I wash the hair with fabric softener, using it just like shampoo.

Dilute with water for leave-in conditioner.

If the hair is especially dry (and it usually is) I apply a leave-in treatment before I set it. To make this conditioner, dilute fabric softener about 50/50 with water, so that it is thick enough that is won't drip everywhere when you apply it to the hair but not so thick it leaves white residue on the hair. Rub the conditioner in, concentrating on the ends. I once saw a neat tip for this leave-in treatment: a mother on Pinterest recommended diluting the fabric softener enough that you can put it in a spray bottle. Tell your kids it's "doll hairspray" and advise them to spray it on and brush it in when they're styling their doll's hair. That way the hair never gets so tangled and mussed from play!

Fold the end paper over the ends and roll.
I use human perm rods and end papers, available from beauty supply stores, to set doll hair. Comb out a small section of hair. It might help to dampen it with your leave-in treatment. Wrap an end paper around the ends so they don't escape. Roll the hair in the direction you want the curl to go and fasten the rod. Repeat this until all the hair is rolled.

All the hair is rolled.
Synthetic hair is set with heat, but you can't use a curling iron or hot hair dryer on it because that can melt the fibers. Instead, heat water until it is nearly, but not quite, boiling. Pour the water over the rolled hair, making sure to avoid the face, and especially the eyes. For straight hair, skip the rolling step. Instead, pour the water over the hair a section at a time and brush the wet hair vigorously straight. Then move on to each next section until all the hair is straightened.

Hot water locks in the style.

When you've heat set the hair, let it dry on the perm rods until it is completely dry. I wait at least 8 hours to unroll the hair. Waiting 24 hours is even better.

Waiting for the hair to dry.

When the hair is completely dry, carefully unroll the hair from the rods. Do not just pull the rods off; that will pull the curl out and make the hair frizzy. If you want straighter hair you can brush it out carefully. For curly hair I just unroll it and leave the curls or arrange them by pulling them to the spot I want them. The curl will unroll over time by themselves. If you need to hide thin spots you can brush and arrange the hair to do so.

The curls after removing the rods.

At this point, if you have a wig that has loosened around the edges you can re-glue it. Use water-soluble glue so you can remove the wig later if you need to; that's why you wait until after setting to glue the wig. The hot water would melt the glue and loosen it.

Use water-soluble glue to re-glue the entire wig or the edges.
Tie a ribbon or place a rubber band around the wig to keep it in place as the glue dries. Just cut the band to remove it so you don't pull the hair out of place.

The glue dries

If you have trouble getting the hair to stay where you want, you can use tiny hair pins, available at the drug store, to pin the hair in place. Sometimes I even sew the hair to the wig cap to keep it in the style I want. This was a technique commonly used by Madame Alexander. If you have thin spots you can't cover, use a hat or hair ribbon to help hide them.

Finally, I recommend spraying a coating of hairspray to keep the style in place. I use old-fashioned Mink aerosol hair spray. This is kind of hard to find but it's worth it if you can get it because it gives the hair a shimmery finish and really helps add shine to dry hair. Once the hair spray is dry I put a hair net on the doll to keep the hair in place.

As always, the dolls shown in this post are or will soon be listed in my stores, so please check. You can link to all my stores from
The restored hair

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