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March 4, 2010

I am often asked how I get the bodies of my dolls stuffed so that they feel so hard and have some weight. Here are some guide lines that I developed over the years that worked for me.

1.  The fabric choice needs to be 100 % cotton and of a medium weight. This weight choice comes with experience. If the fabric is too lightweight the seams will not hold up to the pressure of stuffing and the stuffing fibers may poke out. If the fabric is too thick it feels stiff and is difficult to manipulate.  If the hand of the fabric is too slick it slips away too often as you work.

2. Seams are sewn with an average length stitch – 2.5.  If the stitch length is too small there will be too much thread and weight per centimeter. This will hold when stuffing, but often causes the fibers to pull away. And the the short stitch length makes the seam stiff and can curve it.

3.  Fairfield is absolutely the only stuffing I ever use. Early on and sometimes on an off I would try others, but there is not even a 2nd choice. If I did not have it I would not be able to make another doll. It is the loft. No matter how hard you pack it remains.

4. Tools –

Scissors These are small to tiny and are dull and do not cut well anymore. Because I open them up and put a bit of stuffing in them , close them and wrap the rest of the stuffing around the tip. If the scissors are sharp they will just cut the stuffing puff in half and you will not be able to swirl the remainder around the tip.Do not make this bit too big or too tight or you will just get a hard little ball in the toe or finger or whatever small place you are working on. The scissors I use are sharp ( some people use hemostats ) I just learned to be careful to not poke through the fabric ( fabric choice important ). Then I slip the stuffing off the tip and come in with a new bit. Success here lies in the patience to use very tiny tiny bits of stuffing. Pushing and packing in hard as you go and building slowly. If they are too big you will get a bunch of individual hard balls of stuffing  that will produce a lumpy surface. For most dolls it is best to have the surface remain smooth. Long narrow sections like legs or arms I continue right on up.

Needle If the stuffing is not getting into a small point you can use the needle from the outside. Stick it in and use it to ‘ push’ some of the stuffing towards the point. If the needle has made a hole in the fabric then use the needle to gently work the fibers back into place.

Broken Sticks A pencil that has an eraser in good conditions ( not hard and slick) that is broken in half is one of my favorite stuffers.  I insert a puff of stuffing with my hands and use the pencil to push it where I want it. The broken jagged wood is just right to catch on all the stuffing fibers and push it along. Most pushers are smooth pointed sticks and just slide and push right through the stuffing leaving you with no control in packing it in and building it up to a good density. Therre is usually one of these smooth sticks that come in the stuffing bag and I just break it in half. The easer also is excellent for grabbing and catching the stuffing fibers and pushing them hard into place. The little wooden kitchen skewers I use in the same way as the pencil. It provides the jagged wood pushing in tiny places and the pointy end can be useful too, but easily can poke through the fabric.

In the larger parts of the doll body I will sort of line the shape with stuffing with my fingers and hand and pencil push into the center of the area. This is again an effort to keep the surface smooth with a ‘lining’ and keep the larger wads of stuffing nested in the center. When I have the torso all stuffed and hard I sew up the the side, but before I close it I stuff and stuff a lot more in. The pencil is perfect here pushing it into the shoulders or hips and due to the jagged wood blending the new in and again avoiding the lumps or balls. If you keep pushing it into one place you will eventually get a lump so keep pushing at it at different points and kind of ‘ spreading it ‘ too with the pencil as you push.

In all the areas that you stuff keep packing pushing and poking stuffing into your form until it really is impossible to get another puff of stuffing in it. The key remains putting in small ‘loose’ amounts of stuffing ( not tight balls) of the kind of stuffing with the superb loft (Fairfield) and melding each new addition to the last with some thing like the broken pencil. I see it a little like needle felting where you are trying to ‘blend’ the fibers together instead of creating individual clumps. When the stuffing is packed together  and intermingling as you stuff it is easier to shape your form more in the way that you want – a fuller cheek etc.

If you do have stuffing fibers sticking out through the fabric I just scissor them off.

How hard the doll is stuffed  is certainly  a matter of choice. You may prefer at certain times a softer floppier doll. But I would still strongly recommend Fairfield and the method used to stuff into the body would still be  the same  for me.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Genie Geer permalink
    March 5, 2010 3:27 pm

    I’m going to try using a broken pencil, thank you for sharing! For dark skinned dolls I usually find a good medium weight cotton but less success with cotton for light skin. I just tea/coffee dyed some plain muslin and I think if I double the fabric it may make a sturdier doll, altho’ there might be some slippage while sewing….what if I ironed the doubled fabric first, that might temporarily bond the pieces….

  2. laura permalink
    April 7, 2010 5:07 am

    I remember helping you stuff a bunch of arms and legs but they never came out has hard as yours, the blog looks great love ljb

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