Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Dollmaker’s Toolbox by Karen Wooten

This was originally posted as a page on our website, I thought it might be a good time for all of us to re-visit our 'toolbox' and check supplies, clean out old dust bunnies, or if you don't have a toolbox maybe it's time to create one:


For those who missed the first beginner lesson this is a short explanation of a many of the items that have found their way into my Dollmaker's Toolbox. It is not illustrated so I will try to describe some of the items.


Paper scissors—or non-fabric scissors. Use for cutting template plastic, freezer paper, manila card stock anything else that you might use besides fabric. There is a pair of cheap utility scissors that will even cut wire.

For cutting fabric, I love Ginghers. They make the best, sharpest and most reliable scissors.

8" dressmaker shears.
5" craft scissors
3" or 4" embroidery scissors.

You want one pair with very sharp points. They are fabulous for unsewing and clipping threads. Always test thin pointy scissors to make sure they will snip a thread at the very tip. Some brands look good but don't work well at the tip.

X-acto knife—with #11 blade. Just useful for stuff.


Sewing machine needles:

Smitz makes the best sewing machine needles. Universal size 70 or 80 are best for most things. They make a machine quilting needle now that it wonderful for seaming the pieces. Remember: needles get dull. If you have 12-15 hours of sewing on a needle it is time to change it. Many people don't change needles till they break. If your stitches are coming out funny that's one of the first things to check.

Sewing Needles:

Size 9 or 10 quilting betweens for closing: They are short and thin and can use quilting thread. You can make small stitches with them.

Size 7 Long Darners by John James. These are long and very slender and make great needles for needle sculpting smaller dolls.

Beading needles—John James makes 12 darners that are very thin and let you use for beads.

Tapestry needle with large eye for tassel making or working with yarn,

Dollmakers needles. These come in 3" (great for needle sculpting larger dolls), 5", 8" and 12". The long needles are necessary for jointing. Look for Clover brand in the 3" they are finer then some other brands.

Curved needles—useful for needle sculpting and sometimes closing.


Skip the long plastic tip quilting pins. Long pins are wonderful but the quilting pins make huge holes. Look for long fine glass head pins. They will run a little more than the ones with plastic ends but they don't melt under an iron. Clover makes some of the best. They have a daisy head that is very fine and the head makes them easy to find. The long pins really help with pinning body parts in place before sewing. Some shorter pins will also be useful.


Cotton covered polyester for machine stitching, you can use light gray or beige and it will go with almost everything. Some people like to use all cotton, it may not be quite as strong but where the stitches are small that won't matter. Buy a good brand. Cheap stuff is cheap.

Button hole thread. Comes in several colors. Good for jointing. Can be used to close.

Hand quilting thread. Good for closing. Comes in lots of colors.

Upholstery thread. Check at UFO or the like. Very strong, doesn't break good for joints.

Treadleart carries a real strong nylon thread that works well for joints.

Beading thread. Nymo comes in several colors and sizes and is excellent for beading.

Invisible thread. Not the fishing line but the stuff used for machine quilting. Works well for embellishment. Has tensile strength of cotton.


Bow Whip: Available in any quilt shop or craft shop that caters to dollmakers. Package has 3 different sized tubes from very small to about _" diameter and 3 different size sticks that fit inside. Package shows how to use it. There are cocktail straws and very fine brass tubes that can be added for turning fingers.

Fasturn: They make a series of different size tubes with wires with curly hooks on the end that slide inside and pull the tube inside to turn.

Hemostats; Choose the ones with the long skinny nose. You may need several sizes depending on the size of pieces you make. Hemostats have a locking mechanism that helps hold onto the fabric while you turn.


Whatever works for you. Vast choices. I use some of the following.

Chopsticks. They come in eating size as well as much longer cooking size which are great for big dolls.

Hemostats. Useful for stuffing as well. Here it is sometimes easier to cut off the locking mechanism. I keep pairs both with and without the locks.

Alligator hemostats. These have a scissor grip but are at an angle and there is jaws that open on the tip are only about _" long. Great for stuffing pipe cleaners into fingers.

Large medical tweezers. These come up to 15" long and are great cuz you can grab a bunch of stuffing and hang on while you maneuver it where you want it.

[Hemostats and tweezers can be found at swap meets, gun shows, some craft shows. Check the prices—some are more expensive then they should be.]

Stuffing sticks. Smoothed flat sticks about 12" long 1" wide, curved at one end pointy on other.

Stuffing tools consisting of a long metal rod with a notch cut in the exposed end and stuck into a dowel handle. Very fine ones can be made by taking a long doll needle and cutting the eye of the needle in half at the tip and sticking the point in a dowel. Allows for easy placement of small amounts of stuffing. Barbara Willis markets one.


Tacky Glue. Regular and super tack. The Super tack is thick and will hold things in place better while they are setting up. Dries clear.

Jewel-it. Great for sticking things on. Dries clear.

E6000. Bonding cement.

Glue stick. Useful for working with patterns and other stuff

Glue gun. Hot glue can be quick and will hold things in place fast but does not hold up over years and can let go on a warm day. Sometimes I use in combination with Tacky or another glue so it has a backup.


Freezer paper. Trace patterns on the stitching line and iron on to wrong side of fabric (waxy side down). Put fabric right sides together and stitch around the freezer paper. Pull off paper. Can be reused.

Manila Folders. Good for patterns

Scotch Tape.

Fray Check. Use on seam allowance where you think it might fray. It gets a little stiff so it isn't great on fingers. Also can stain. Test first.

PomPoms. Great for getting noses and boobs to keep their shape. Stuff head or chest loosely then add a dab of glue to the pompom and use tweezers or hemostat to maneuver into place.

Seam Ripper. A very fine one for unsewing

Needle ball bodkin. Ball on one end needle eye on other. Ball can be useful for smoothing inside of seam after the turn. Can also be used for threading ribbon or elastic in casings.

Teflon Pressing cloth. Good for when working with heat bonding (Stitch Witchery) stuff. Will protect ironing board and iron.

Small Tape Measure

Marking pens and chalk markers.

Fringe maker. Device helpful in making tassels.

Pipe cleaners for stuffing fingers. Makes them flexible and no additional stuffing is required.

Wire in several guages from 16 (heavy) to 22 (light) for armature.

Wire cutters and needle nose pliers for wire.

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