Tutorial: How to Replace Stationary Doll Eyes

The American Girl eye-swapping trend has made its way from the regular 18 inch dolls to the Wellie Wishers. I know this because I've been receiving several requests for replacement eyes. Wellie Wishers have fixed, or stationary, half round eyes which don't tend to have the issues of sleep eyes. They can't stop opening or closing and they are unlikely to get cloudy from moisture, so I am pretty sure the requests are for customization projects.

I can understand the appeal of customizing dolls; I've always been interested in designing and manufacturing my own dolls. Customizing pre-made dolls allows for a great deal of personalization without the need for sculpting or casting or finding manufacturers (if you've been following my blog you know what a thorn in my side that process has been recently!). So, anyway, if you want to try your hand at eye-swapping or have a doll in need of repair, here is how to replace fixed eyes in a doll with acrylic eye pockets. This is NOT the same process as replacing fixed eyes in composition or porcelain dolls.

Original versus replacement eyes

First you will need to find replacement eyes for your doll. To do this you measure the eye opening from corner to corner horizontally. The eye size is the measurement in millimeters. You will need "half-round oval"  or "half-round round"  or "flat back round or oval" eyes in the size of your measurement in millimeters. Whether you need oval or round eyes depends on the shape of the original eyes. As always, if you get a half size or odd size go DOWN to the next size eye. If the eye is too large you won't be able to fit it in the pocket and you could damage the doll or the eyes.

The doll I'm using here, Willa from the Wellie Wishers line, takes a 16mm eye. Naturally, however, American Girl made custom eyes for these dolls that aren't exactly the same as widely-available replacement eyes. They want to force you to use their doll hospitals, so they make unique eyes. The original Wellie Wishers have eyes that are oval, but slightly more round than regular replacement eyes, and with a larger iris than the replacement eyes. In light of my recent issues with my sleep eyes manufacturer I ordered fixed eyes from three different sources and in a variety of colors. The ones I'm using here are from my US wholesaler and in a week or so I will have them in three colors. The other eyes should be available by mid-April. You can link to all my shops from my website.

Willa before eye-swap

Willa comes with beautiful gold-hazel eyes. It's hard to imagine why you'd want to replace them but of course you might have to if the originals get damaged.

Recently I saw a great tip for eye replacement: place the doll's head in a plastic bag before heating it. That way you can boil the head without messing up the hair (although the silicone bands holding the pigtails did melt and fall off). You can also heat the head gently with a hair dryer.

Heat water just to the point of boiling and then remove it from the heat. Place your bagged doll in the water and leave it for two to five minutes, or until the face is easily malleable when you squeeze it. At this point you can actually re-shape the face, so don't squeeze the face too hard.

To remove the original eyes squeeze the face around the eye socket until you expose enough of the edge of the eye that you can grab it. Grasp the eye by the edge and pull it out of the socket. Repeat with the second eye.

Press the new eyes into the socket while the face is warm.

Squeeze gently to position.

While the head is still warm and malleable insert the new eyes. Press the eyes into the sockets one at a time. If you are sure you will never want to replace the eyes again you can set them permanently by dabbing a bit of hard plastic epoxy or eye-setting putty on the back of the eyes before you insert them. It will be much harder to replace the eyes if you use epoxy, so just be aware of that. If you use the permanent method make sure you get the eyes positioned as you want and wipe any excess epoxy off the face before it dries.

When you have them in squeeze around the eye sockets to position the eyes as you want and then gently re-shape the face to its original form. If the plastic has cooled too much to place the new eyes you can bag the head and heat again and then insert the new eyes.With stationary eyes such as these you can also push the eye up or down or side to side in the socket for a more customized look.

The replaced eyes
 I actually like Willa with her replacement eyes. The smaller irises give her a bright-eyed, mischievous look, totally different than the originals. You can see that with a re-paint, a new or re-styled wig, and replacement eyes, you could create your own totally customized doll. I will most likely make Willa into an OOAK doll at some point, but I don't have a clear picture of what I want to do yet. I hope you'll head to ateliermandaline.com to order your own fixed eyes!


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