How to Clone a Doll (and darn near anything else) Without a Ruler

Sometimes, you want to make a clone. It doesn’t need to walk and talk; no zombies, no crazy sci-fi psuedo-scientific babble, and no sheep. You just want something the same size and shape as, say, a doll who is too inconveniently vinyl-y to pin into. There is a hard way to do this. It works for any person-shaped form, it gives great results, and I totally recommend it if you’re planning a lot of high-end custom clothing. It’s called Le Moulage – follow the link, buy the eBook, and bust out your calculator. It works so well you can use it to make custom dress forms. There’s also an easy way with no maths and no rulers. (Do not adjust your browser; I really said that…) Interested?

You’ve all heard of the Duct Tape Double theory of home dress form manufacture. They’re fine, I suppose, for human sized forms. I don’t see them working out so well for a 16″ doll. Actually, I don’t really like them for humans, either. Ignoring my various allergies and aversions for the moment, I think the tape provides too much support/ability to distort the figure. It’s too stiff.  If you can use it to make an emergency corset for stage, then it’s maybe not the most suitable substance for following the subtle curves of the human body…. But I’ll admit to being pretty biased on this one.

The basic theory, though, is pretty good. To clone a form, you want to cover it with something so closely that it sits like a second skin. There’s a variety of substances you can use for this. Dolls are relatively tiny, so I need something thin. I want something that will follow curves, can be compressed as needed, but will not ever stretch to fit.

Tin foil is great for this. It’s cheap, cuts readily with a scissors, can be smoothed well, and can fold tight against itself. It’s also completely recyclable, which makes my karma smile a little. I especially like the cheap stuff, which tears if you put stress on it – it keeps me honest. (Oh, right, and the cheap stuff costs less….)

tin foil and doll

You’ll need some tin foil and a doll. After all those years of ‘Pigs in Space’, I’m pretty sure Miss P can rock this look. ;)

the torso, wrapped in tin foil

Start by wrapping the torso in a sheet of tin foil. Keeping the foil as smooth as possible, crush it down until it lies nicely over the doll’s curves.

File this under “Easy in theory, annoying in practice”. Take your time, and don’t rush. I’ve torn the foil into little tabs and folded them back onto the body to make the leg and arm openings. I’ve done some of the major shaping by folding out along the princess line – the line that runs from the mid-shoulder, over the point of the bust, and down to the front center line of the thigh.  I’ve just sighted this – we’ll make it better later.

the foot, wrapped in tin foil

Do the same on the arms and legs. On the feet, you may need to use a separate square of tin foil to cover the bottoms.

At this point, Miss P is looking pretty ‘Pigs in Space’ meets ‘The Mummy’. I feel a little bad about that. We don’t so much have a pattern – just an oddly shiny doll. Here we go…

the torso foil, cut off the doll

Carefully cut through the foil at each side seam of the doll, being careful not to a) scratch the doll or b) mutilate the foil.

At this point, you can see clearly that Miss P’s jaunty stance gives her the equivalent of scoliosis. I just about cried for sheer joy! Period corsets for asymmetrical figures! Hooray! (She also has the most adorable little figure, bar none. Mom and I have decided that she must have a merry widow and thigh highs. It’s a moral imperative.)

torso, cut along princess lines

I’m cutting the torso down along the princess lines, front and back. I’ve sighted them in terms of the mid-thigh, bust point/shoulder blade, and mid-shoulder, and relied on the fact that my scissors are straight.

Each of these pieces still has a three-dimensional shape to it. The sad truth is that a flat thing (like fabric) can only ever model a curved thing (like the human form) so well. You can cut these down into thinner and thinner strips to get something that really reflects the body (like you see in some of the Herjolfsnes dresses) If you use larger pieces, you have something easier to sew, but you don’t quite get all the curves. Three pieces each, front and back, is a bare minimum for modeling a figure.

torso pieces traced onto paper

Gently flatten the pieces and trace around their edges.

Let’s elaborate a bit on “gently flatten”… You want to smooth out the the areas that stick up the most without crumpling them. That might mean that the edges of the pieces stretch out a little. That’s ok – it will be easier to remove fabric than to add it when we do a fitting.

If you have an asymmetrical figure, you’ll need to mark out the side right and side lefts of the front-and back. For a symmetrical figure, you’re going to pick a side – trust your instincts, and your brain will guide you to whichever looks most like a pattern piece. When you trace the front, only trace off the side that corresponds to the side piece you chose. (For example, when I did my Tyler clone, I used the left side-front piece. I traced around the left half of the center front piece. For the back, I liked the right side-back better, so I used it and the right side of the back piece.)

For the arms and legs, cut then off the doll at their center front and back lines. Gently smooth these pieces, and trace. For asymmetrical figures, trace all of them. Symmetrical figures can, once again, choose the arm and leg that look best – invariably, one set of foils will have cut off cleaner than the other. For the sole of the foot, carefully cut around the crease made by smoothing it up the sides of the foot. Trace the remainder, being careful to note left and right.

Cut out your paper pieces. Trace them onto muslin, being careful to leave yourself a decent seam allowance. For the torso, you can sew everything but one side seam and one shoulder seam. (You’ll need those open to get the muslin onto the doll for fitting.) For the legs and arms, sew the back seam. Sew on the lines you’ve marked, rather than relying on seam allowances. It’s easiest to sew all of the seams to one side, and fit with the muslin inside-out. I’ve done something awkward, which is to sew the side-front and side-back seams inside, for these photos so it’s easier to see what’s going on. I’ve also switched dolls on you…

the torso, an arm and a leg set for fitting

Slide the pieces onto the doll, and sew the remaining seams, as marked, by hand.

solde stitched to muslin

Once the leg is sewn shut, you can stitch on the sole to check for fit.

darts taken out of the muslin

If the form is generally too large, resize it at the side seams and the center front/back seams. Anywhere you find the muslin not fitting well, fold the excess out smoothly and sew it. You can see an example at the bust.

When you’re resizing at the side seams, make sure you do so symmetrically. Also make sure that you’re not pulling the side-front seams off the bust point. If these seams start to shift to the sides, you need to take the bodice in from the center front a bit. You can see I’ve done that here. Ditto for the back. When you’re folding out excess into little darts, you want the point of the dart to land as close to the edge of a piece as possible. (That’s so the pieces will lie flat, rather than going 3D on us like the foil ones did.) There’s a adjustment like that at the outer left boob – compare the fit there to the fit at the right side, and you can see how much fabric is folded out and how much nicer it makes the bust all around. If part of the muslin is too long for the body, fold the excess length out smoothly along the body. You can see such and adjustment at the doll’s abdomen, right above the little Vanna-hands action she’s doing.

Once the muslin is fitted, mark the true neckline. Also mark where the sleeves and legs join the body. Mark along the stitches of any adjustments at the center/side seams.

Now, take the muslin apart. Try not to undo any stitches on the lateral adjustments or any folded-out darts. If you’ve marked center/side adjustments, cut along those lines. These are your new pieces. Trace them, recut, resew, and check the fit. If it’s good, and fits the doll’s torso tightly without bulges or gaps, then hooray! You’re done. If not, repeat the fitting process.

You can take these pieces, sew them together, stuff then, and make a cloth doll. I threw on a head, because headless dolls are creepy.

the original doll and a stuffed clone doll

From the front, they’re almost identical bodies. (The muslin head is a little wonky – I didn’t clone that, because I didn’t want to pull my doll’s hair out!)

the doll and the clone, from the side

From the side, you can see the problem with cloning a sculpted vinyl torso in muslin – because there’s no structure in the cloth doll, her chest doesn’t mimic all the curves sculpted into the original doll.

Nothing in life is perfect, but you’ve gotten yourself two totally cool things here: first off, you’ve got a pretty decent clone of your original doll. She’ll be able to wear the same clothes. Second, and far more important, you now have the Cloth Doll Maker’s Advantage.

See, cloth doll makers have this totally huge advantage when it comes to making clothing for their dolls. They already have the pattern for the doll. Want to make boots for your cloth doll? Use your leg pattern with a scoosh of ease. Want to make a dress? Use the torso pattern. Corset? Pants? Skirt? Sleeves? You’ve already got your base pattern. Vinyl dolls might look all cool, but we don’t get that “Here’s your master pattern” thing with them. Unless you’ve got some tin foil and a little extra time on your hands….  ;)

I’m finalizing the draft for my Tyler clone – she’ll be available in the downloads area soon. I’ve also been playing with a super-easy to sew legless model with similar torso dimensions. She fits corset pattern I did up for Tyler last time, which is neat. (Filled with sand, she also doubles as a high-fashion door-stop. She’s done a great job at it all day!)  I love the idea of Elizabethan fashion dolls, which were the fashion mags of their day, and I love my Tyler and my Piggy, but I’m afraid they look a little modern for the job. Muslin is a good start. I’m going to have to learn how to needle-sculpt and paint their little faces!

17 thoughts on “How to Clone a Doll (and darn near anything else) Without a Ruler

    • missa says:

      Glad it helps, Sally! It’s actually a trick I learned for making patterns for shoe covers. You can do it with plastic wrap, too, which is less fragile, but I didn’t want to have to cut plastic wrap of my dolly. I was worried about scratching her with the scissors. ;)

      6 years ago | Reply

  1. Ava Trimble says:

    Hi Missa! I love your site – I’ve been happily poking through your articles for years, and you always make me want to dive into historical periods other than my usual ones! I mostly do 19th century, and mid-20th century vintage-inspired/repro styles. Though I did do some 10th century “Viking” clothing and I referenced a few of your construction articles for that!

    I’m currently on a desperate quest to find modern-ish basic block drafting instructions that won’t turn completely wonky when faced with my measurements – there’s a 10″ difference between my bust and waist, and I’m short-waisted to boot. Your conic basic block is unfortunately not the right time period for me (at the moment!), but perhaps Le Moulage could do the trick? I have training in patternmaking and draping, so I’m not a beginner, but it does sound rather tricky. Do you think it would be worth it to order? Thanks!

    6 years ago | Reply

    • missa says:

      Hi, Ava,
      I love the moulage. I use it for remote clients. It’s only steered me wrong once – with my own sister, of all things – I’m convinced my maths failed me! Pay close attention to how they expect the bust measurement to be taken, and you’ll be fine.

      I have grand dreamy-dreams about releasing the next two historic versions of the conic block (post-napoleanic/empire to late mid-victorian and mid/late-victorian into modern) someday Real Soon Now(tm). It’s in my head, but not only does it not help anyone else – it sounds darned conceited, too. Joy… That’s what I’m going for when I post, right? ;)

      6 years ago | Reply

  2. Ava Trimble says:

    Thanks for the tip! I will definitely recruit assistance for measuring, from someone who actually sews. It helps to have accurate measurements, and even though I’m freakishly flexible, it’s still difficult to, say, keep from moving my shoulders while wriggling my arms all over the place.

    I did some googling after I posted here, and after realizing that Gertie (of the vintage-oriented Blog for Better Sewing) had raved extensively about Kenneth King, well, that did it. I placed an order and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my treasure. I’m so glad you wrote about it, and I ran across it. Thanks!

    Whenever you do get around to it, I look forward to seeing more exciting block drafting information! I’m very keen of drafting, since I’m several major alterations away from standard patterns, and very impatient when I can’t find a particular style element I’m looking for. I’d love to try drafting a 19th century bodice but I have yet to -quite- finish the corsets I was working on for my thesis (sigh), and obviously that’s the first step. I feel like draping might work better – but I can’t really drape myself, and I don’t know anyone who’s much of a draper. Alas!

    Thanks again for the help!

    6 years ago | Reply

  3. Jenny says:

    interesting. will def. have to use this at some point.

    5 years ago | Reply

  4. Craft says:

    Can I just say that you are absolutely amazing? Wow….just…wow…
    I struggle with pattern drafting (of all sorts, I make dolls and things like people clothes and quilts) and you make it look so effortless. I have some serious envy going on right now. Again..Wow!

    4 years ago | Reply

  5. Rose says:

    Wow! this site is amazing! I can’t wait to make cloth dolls for my dolls; it will make sewing clothing for them so much easier!

    2 years ago | Reply

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