Tutorial: How to Replace American Girl Doll Eyes

First untie the drawstring.
UPDATE: I have succeeded in getting perfectly-fitting eyes made for American Girl and similar dolls and created a new tutorial for you. You can see how to eye swap and buy my custom eyes from my website.

I finally got around to ordering a broken American Girl doll so I can make some tutorials on how to restore them. I thought it wasn't worthwhile to learn this doll because, after all, you can send your doll to American Girl's own hospitals and you can order customized dolls. However, the number of inquiries I am getting tells me there's a lot of interest so I decided to learn. Today I replaced an American Girl doll's eyes. This post shows the sleep eye replacement in the 18 inch dolls; for fixed eye dolls like Wellie Wishers view that tutorial.

I have been hesitant to recommend a size for the American Girl dolls because I carry Margon sleep eyes, but in the face of absolutely enormous demand I decided to size them myself. Margon is the brand used in most of the vintage dolls I restore. American Girl dolls are like Chatty Cathy and some other dolls whose eyes are specially made just for them. The Margon and other sleep eye brands can be used but they aren't a perfect fit. They are more round than the original oval-shaped eyes. If possible you will want to find original American Girl eyes. These are quite expensive, however, so many people like to order replacements of other brands. In the eyes I carry, the Margon brand, the 13mm size fits the 18 inch American Girl. When you measure the eye it looks like it takes a 14 or 15mm eye but the case on those sizes is too large and round to fit. You can buy Margon 13mm eyes from the eBay link on my website and you can custom-order them painted as you want from the Etsy link. Recently I've had several customers decide the eyes are too small just by looking at them when they arrive. I tell them I will exchange them for the 14mm size, but past buyers told me the 14mm are too large and the casing breaks apart when they try to insert the eyes. So I only recommend the 13mm. I am trying to have better-fitting eyes made to my specifications but I've been having trouble finding a trustworthy manufacturer. Stay tuned because I will update this post when I get them made.

Once you have your replacement eyes go ahead and start by removing the head. To do this you untie the drawstring at the neck, loosen the neck opening, and remove the head. You will remove the eyes by popping them out of the socket and to do so you need to get the vinyl soft. You can heat the head with a blow dryer but it is faster to boil the head. If you need to remove the doll's wig boiling the head will help with that as well. It's important to note that boiling can remove the doll's original hairstyle and can possibly damage the face paint or bring out old stains in the vinyl. Therefore, you will want to consider whether you want to risk damage to a doll by boiling it just to change the eyes. If nothing else is wrong with your doll you will want to consider the hair dryer rather than boiling to heat the vinyl. I saw one tutorial in which the doll's head was covered with a plastic bag before heating. That's a good idea you might want to try if you want to keep the doll's hair nice!

Boil the head until the vinyl is soft.

It only takes a few minutes to soften the vinyl. You don't want to melt the doll, so check it after 3-5 minutes to see if it is soft. If not boil it a few minutes more and check again. When the vinyl is easily pliable when you squeeze the face it is ready. Don't get burned! Use a heat resistant glove or pot holder until the vinyl cools enough to touch. Squeeze the face around the eye until the eye pops out of the head.

Squeeze the face and pull on the eye.

The eye will pop out.
Dry your doll's eye sockets with a towel. When the sockets are dry but the face is still warm and pliable insert the new eyes. To insert the eyes you first squeeze the face around the eye socket as you did to remove the eyes. Squeeze the socket open wide and press the new eyes into place. It takes strong hands and patience, but the eyes will pop back into the socket. Try to press most on the frame around the eye rather than the iris or the eyelid to make sure the eyes will still function once you get them in.

Squeeze the eye socket open.

Press the eye in place.

The eye will probably be a little wonky when it goes in, so straighten it out by pressing gently against the frame with a bamboo skewer or similar tool.

Straighten out the eye with a skewer.
When the eyes are straight and you confirm they are opening and closing properly you can replace the head on the body. You just insert the head back into the neck hole and re-tie the drawstring. Sometimes the metal frame around the eye is still slightly visible when you insert the eyes (although I haven't noticed it anymore than the original eyes, which also show at the edges). You can paint the silver frame to match the skin either before or after insertion with artist's oil or acrylic paints. It's probably most durable to paint the frames after insertion. The particular doll needs wig replacement, re-painting, re-stringing: the whole nine yards, so I will make tutorials all along the way. Check back for those. When the doll is finished she will be for sale, so make sure to check my stores for her.

The finished eyes


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