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….)
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.
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…
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.)
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.
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…
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.
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!