Thursday, August 10, 2017

Tutorial: How To Restore A Mohair Doll Wig

The restored wig
On several different occasions people have told me they are afraid to restore composition dolls for many reasons, chief among them that you can't clean or style their mohair wigs. My response the first time I heard this was, "Wha...?" One of the benefits of starting out with just enough doll-restoring experience to be dangerous is I went blithely on my way, fixing dolls hither, thither, and yon, completely ignorant of the accepted dogma. The truth is, you CAN clean composition dolls and you CAN clean and restyle mohair wigs. The process is different than working on dolls of other materials, but it isn't hard once you know how to do it.

Pick out the wig with a bamboo skewer.
Composition dolls cannot be immersed in water. Composition is a mixture of wood pulp and glue which is molded and then coated with a shell similar to really thick oil paint. If you were to immerse the doll in water any openings or cracks in the shell would allow water to soak into the composition and it would swell up just like sawdust does when saturated. Then the doll would break all apart. Sometimes the cloth bodies of the dolls are also stuffed with sawdust, which would swell and tear the body apart too. So what can you do if your doll and her wig are dirty? To clean the composition you take a lightly dampened rag or paper towel (use doll cleaner or plain water) and just rub the doll off. For stubborn stains you can use a well-wrung Mr. Clean Eraser. You just don't want to saturate the doll or get any water on un-sealed composition material. For dirty mohair wigs you begin by picking through the wig with a bamboo or wooden skewer. You will have some shedding, but you will remove any debris, knots, or mats in the mohair. Work carefully and gently.

Mohair is a type of wool, so if you have to actually wash the wig you can use cold water, not hot water because it will felt the mohair. If you have to wash the wig you will first have to remove it from the composition doll. You can't soak the wig off, but if the wig was applied properly a rubber-cement type of adhesive was used. You can poke your skewer under the wig cap to crumble the adhesive and gently pull the wig off. The wash it, set it with curlers, and let it dry before you reattach it. Always use mucilage or rubber cement to apply a wig to a composition doll, not regular glue, so it can be removed if needed.

The wig after picking.
In most cases, just picking out the wig is sufficient to clean and "brush" it. You can't use a regular brush on mohair because it will just tear the mohair out of the stitching and you will have a bald wig cap. Once your wig is picked out and clean you can set it.

Pincurl the wig.

Either using the tiniest perm rods or bobby pins roll the hair into pincurls. I prefer the bobby pin method because it was the fashionable method during the period these dolls were produced and it is how the wigs would have been originally set.

Spray the pincurls.
When your pincurls are all rolled, spray a heavy coat of aerosal hairspray on them to set the curls. I use Mink hairspray, an old-fashioned brand, because it is the brand recommended by Carol Lindberg, the author from whose book I taught myself. It's a bit hard to find but it is worth it because it gives the mohair a shimmery finish that really restores the original sheen. It works really well on Saran and Dynel and other synthetic fibers as well. Let the hairspray dry completely and then carefully unroll the pins. Don't just yank them out or you will spoil the curls. You can use doll-sized hairpins to keep the curls in place as you want them.

The wig after styling.

Back view
Baby McGuffey cleaned up beautifully! You can find her and many other dolls for sale in my shops. Link to all my stores from

The finished doll

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