Stringing Samantha: American Girl Doll Stringing Tutorial

Samantha before restoration

Her fingers were all cut.
A few weeks back I got an American Girl Samantha doll to restore. As I mentioned in my eye replacement tutorial, I have resisted learning to restore these dolls because I didn't really see the point. They are so expensive to buy to restore it didn't seem like much profit is left, either. However, further exploration of the custom American Girl restorations showed me if people are getting the prices they are asking it would be worth my time. Besides that, I am getting more and more requests for doll repairs in my doll hospital and I know it's only a matter of time before someone wants their American Girl restored. Yesterday I had two different people request to drive to my house to bring their doll for repair. I was up late fixing one of the dolls for a party today. The other doll owner has a problem I can't fix unless she finds certain parts and it's lucky she didn't visit because today she came down with the flu. But anyway, about half my business over the past month has been repairing dolls for people and that's just fine with me because I don't have to pay eBay and Etsy fees.

After you remove the head take out the stuffing.
To begin your re-stringing first loosen the drawstring in the neck and remove the doll's head. Then remove the stuffing from the doll. Save the stuffing to refill the doll after you're finished with her stringing.

The body had a hole.

The hole is repaired.

When you have the stuffing removed examine the doll's cloth body to see if there are any holes that need repair. If the body is dirty you can run it through the washing machine at this point. Put in in a pillow case and close the case with a knot or rubber band to protect the limbs from getting marks. Wash in cold water and air dry. In this case there was a tiny hole which I repaired with a darning stitch. It is more visible than it was before but at least it won't enlarge.

Ferrules are helpful.

You can use cord scraps for this type of doll.
American Girl dolls, like Tomy Kimberly and the Hildegard Gunzel Goetz dolls, are considered "semi-strung" dolls. They have stuffed bodies but the arms and legs are attached with cord pulled through a series of cups to create a ball joint for enhanced movement. To re-string the doll or replace limbs you will need the cups that came in the doll, metal ferrules, and stringing cord. The ferrules aren't absolutely necessary but they do keep the doll from loosening up too soon. I couldn't find ferrules small enough for the American Girl so I am using larger ones and also larger stringing cord. The AG doll uses 1/8 inch sized cord but I am using a larger size, probably about 1/4 inch. I validated my hoarding today because I used up a lot of scraps of cord I save from other stringing jobs. You only need about a 4 inch piece of cord for each limb so it's terrific for using small scraps. If the little plastic cups are missing from your doll I suggest you go to the hardware store and look around for a replacement. I once saw someone use ping pong balls cut in half and metal washers as a replacement, but this doll has replacement cups from a previous repair that are just the right size, only a different color, so the previous owner must have found them somewhere.

Cut the cord under the ferrule.

Remove the cup from the arm.
To remove the arm or leg you need to cut the cord under the ferrule, above the plastic cup. Then pull the string out. Remove the cup from inside the arm or leg by pulling it out with pliers. If the cup is stuck inside the limb, heat the vinyl with a hair dryer until it becomes pliable.

Find new limbs if they need replacement.
If your doll has damaged limbs, not just loose limbs, you will need to find new ones. You can order a broken doll for the limbs or sometimes you can just find the limbs on sites like eBay. I got some new arms for Samantha.

Cut the larger cord in a point to get it through the cup.

Thread the pieces as shown.
To attach the limb cut a piece of cord or find a scrap 4-6 inches long. Tie  knot at one end, then thread on the ferrule, then thread on the cup. If the larger elastic is too wide to fit through the cup cut the end in a point so it is easier to insert it.

Crimp the ferrule.

The crimped ferrule

When the pieces are arranged as shown above crimp the ferrule. You can use a wire cutting tool to do this. These tools typically can cut, strip, and crimp wire. You can find these in the electrical section of a hardware store. Try to get the crimp tight enough the cord will not pull through. If it lets the cord slide through some it is okay; you have knotted the cord so it won't go all the way through the cup. The ferrule isn't even absolutely necessary. Its purpose is to make the repair last longer before it loosens up. If you can't find a ferrule just skip that step and use the knot and cup.

Insert the cord into the limb.
Once you've crimped the ferrule insert the cord and pieces back into the limb so the inside of the cup is facing out as shown. This "closes" the limb and keeps the repair neat and stable. If it is hard to insert the cup heat the limb again with the hair dryer.

Insert the cord into the body.
Now insert the free end of the cord into the body as shown. Go through the little hole in the hip or shoulder. Thread a cup and then a ferrule onto the free end of the cord inside the body. I face the open end of the cup inside the body toward the limb.

Thread on the cup and ferrule. Pull the cord tight.
Hold with a hemostat.

With the cup and ferrule threaded on inside the body pull the cord as tight as you possibly can. Hold the cord taut with a hemostat.

Crimp the ferrule.
Crimp the ferrule and tie the end of the cord in a knot BEFORE you release the hemostat. Move the limb around in the socket to make sure it feels tight and then release the hemostat. I sell hemostats in my Etsy shop but if you have locking pliers you can use those instead. You will need something to hold the cord tight, however, while you use your hands to crimp and tie the knot.

Cut the excess cord.
If the limb feels tight enough cut off the excess cord.


Stuff the body.
Stuff the body using the stuffing you saved. Start by poking the stuffing around the leg joints using small handfuls at a time. A wooden spoon handle works well to get the stuffing down into those small places. Shape the body as you stuff it, adding more to the rear end and chest so it looks realistic. If your head is ready you can insert it into the neck hole and tie the drawstring. My head is awaiting a repaint and wig, so I am not replacing it at this time. I plan to list some cord and ferrules in my shops and the restored doll will also be for sale when she is finished so please watch. You can link to all my shops from Stay tuned for the rest of Samantha's restoration.

The finished doll stringing.


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