Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How to String Your Dollikin: A Tutorial

Uneeda Dollikin in need of restoration

Last week I bought a lot of dolls from the 1950s and even though I have been sick I am pretty proud of myself because I already have two nearly restored. One doll in the lot is a Uneeda Dollikin. Those of you who read this blog know how I love Dollikins. These multi-jointed dolls were the original ball jointed dolls, or BJDs, and they can pose like artists' mannequins. This one needed new eyes, new hair, and new stringing, as she was too loose to pose or stand. For months I have been looking for a Dollikin to restring because I get questions about it all the time. This stringing is more complicated than regular stringing, but once you understand the basic method of doll stringing it's pretty easy pick up. You will need the following materials: small and medium sized elastic stringing cord, stringing hooks for limbs, head, and waist (or replace those with one of my stringing kits, available in my shop), tweezers, pliers, hemostats (optional but also helpful, for sale in my shop). Some pliable wire like jewelry or florist wire is also helpful. My kits are sized for the original 19 inch Dollikin, but the process should be about the same for the 11 inch or 15 inch Dollikins.

Dollikin's construction

As you can see in the photo above, the Dollikin originally had her head attached to a spring connecting the head, torso, and groin. Her arms and legs were held with elastic bands. In this case the spring was rusted and seized up so it no longer held the tension and the doll was loose, so I replaced it with elastic.

The spring is original, the cord is a replacement.

Original bands

The original waist hook

These leg hooks are homemade replacements.

The head was stuffed.

Before restringing the doll I needed to remove her head to replace her eyes. I was surprised to find the head stuffed with weird little bits of cloth. I have never seen a Dollikin like this before, although once I got a Uneeda fashion doll and a Belle Margie with this type of stuffing in the head. I don't believe this is factory done; I am pretty sure this was a restoration trend at some point although I can't imagine why. The little cloth bits cause quite a bit of trouble getting into the eyes and they certainly make restringing messy. This doll has a bunch of other non-factory repairs and questionable eye paint, so she probably had a restoration in the past. To remove the head you will most likely need a helper or a clamp or something. You will need to pull the head off the body enough to get a pair of pliers into the neck opening. I had my son pull on the doll's torso while I pulled on her head to expose the head hook in the neck opening. You will then open the hook with pliers until you are able to slide the hook off the loop in the top of the spring that runs through the doll's torso. The spring can be removed through one of the arm holes.

Heat the head to remove or insert the head hook.

Use pliers to insert the hook.

If you are just re-stringing your Dollikin you shouldn't need to remove the head hook, which is contained in a plastic disk apparatus. If you do need to remove it for eye repair or something you have to heat up the head gently with a hair drier and work while the vinyl head is warm to prevent splits to the neck opening. If the head hook and disk are missing you can make one from wire as shown in this post. *The white stuff all over the head in some photos is 10% benzoyl peroxide acne cream, which I am using to bleach spots while I string the doll. I am a big fan of multi-tasking!

The elastic in the waist.

Run the elastic from the neck to the waist.

To begin stringing, cut a piece of elastic cord about twice as long as the torso section. Fold the elastic in half, poke it through the neck to bring the looped end to the waist opening. Hook the looped elastic with tweezers or a wire hook and pull it through the hole in the waist as shown.

Add the waist hook.

Secure the ends of the elastic at the neck opening with a hemostat or get a friend to hold those ends so they don't fall into the torso and pull the looped end out of the waist a little. Hook the waist hook to it as shown. If the original waist hook is missing a regular large doll hook will work fine. My stringing kits all include replacement hooks, although mine are S-shaped.

Hook the waist hook to the groin elastic.
The next step is to hook the waist hook to the groin elastic. Set the torso section aside and cut another piece of elastic about twice as long as the groin section. Draw it through each leg hook and out through the waist opening.

Bring the groin elastic through the waist hook.

Next bring one end of the groin elastic through the waist hook. Hold this in place with another hemostat or have your friend hold those ends as well. You will notice I use several hemostats, tweezers, and pliers to string dolls. I sell hemostats in my shop, but I assume you will have the other tools in your home.

Close-up of the waist hook joint between the two sections.

See the photo above for a close-up view of the waist hook joining the two sections of elastic. A regular S hook will work for this as well if your original waist hook is missing.

Pull the torso elastic tight and knot.
When you have the elastic all linked, go ahead and pull the neck elastic tight through the neck opening. Knot the elastic when it is as tight as you can pull it. Don't trim the ends until the entire doll is finished.

Pull the groin elastic tight.

Pull the groin elastic tight as you can get it and knot it as you did with the torso. Stand the doll up and pose her before you trim the ends to make sure the elastic is tight enough. When you can get her really tight and holding all poses, her head not falling back, go ahead and trim the elastic so it fits inside the doll and doesn't interfere with the movement of the joints. If you are unable to get the doll tight enough using leg hooks try the alternate method below:

The alternate method
I wasn't getting the doll as tight as I wanted using arm and leg hooks, so I re-did the stringing without them. For this method just thread the elastic under the leg bars as shown and then string following the same steps as before. Leg and arm hooks add a bit to the range of motion of the doll, but sometimes they add too much motion and make it impossible to get the elastic truly tight. I have re-strung Dollikin dolls both ways; it seems to just kind of depend on the doll or maybe the elastic which method to use. You have to be flexible enough to use a lot of trial and error in doll repair. No two dolls are exactly the same.

The arm hook method

The alternate method

Threading around the arm bar.

For the maximum range of motion, string the arms on their own loop of elastic. You can use arm hooks or the alternate method of threading around the arm bars. The elastic is tight enough when you can position your doll several ways. She should be able to sit and stand on her own.

The Dollikin's hands are held on by elastic bands drawn over a bar inside the forearm. These are not easy to restring, so I avoid it if possible. On this doll, one hand was loose so I tightened it, but the other was so tight I couldn't even pull the hand down to cut the band, so I left it as is. My guess is that hand was restrung when the previous restoration was done. My kit includes plenty of the smallest elastic to restring the hands and larger elastic for the body.

Push the elastic under the bar and fish it out with a skewer.

To get the elastic around the forearm bar you have to push it into the arm and then fish it out with a piece of wire or something to pull it under the bar and bring it out again. In this case I tried several things before I caught it with a bamboo skewer. Pull both ends out through the wrist opening.

Thread the elastic through the wrist loop.

Thread one end of the elastic through the wrist loop. Pull the elastic as tight as possible and knot, Check the tension of the hand and when it is tight enough trim the elastic to fit inside the arm.

The restrung hand

I am happy to offer stringing kits in my Etsy and eBay shops, including a special Dollikin kit, so I hope you will check. The kits contain printed instructions, arm, leg, head, and waist hooks, and elastic. You may also need pliers, tweezers, a hemostat, and possibly some florist or jewelry wire, which are not included.

The finished doll

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