If you are starting doll making, it can be daunting to try and work out a pattern from the get go. Or perhaps you have been using a bought pattern but want to create your own and have no idea where to begin.
Many questions arise: what size is best? how large to make the head? how do I make it look like a baby, or a toddler, or an older child?
Let me try to be of use, and help you out a bit.
First, before you start thinking this is some sort of magic, it is not, it is simple math. We are going to start discussing the wonders of human body proportions, and with that as guide, we can stretch them out for our artistic purposes, or remain true to form and create a doll very close to human image. The choice, as always, is in your hands.
Step 1. Decide the height of your doll
This is no small matter, but you have to consider the following:
- making small dolls saves on materials, a lot.
- children like small dolls. and so do collectors.
- large dolls feel more life like, they can be held in your lap while you read or you can cuddle with them.
- the likeness of sewing for them (or knitting) will be greatly increased if you are not dealing with super tiny things. Especially if you want to experiment creating beautiful outfits, playful accessories, etc.
- most common children doll sizes are: 14” and 18”.
After you have given this a bit of thought, you hypothetically decided on a 12” doll. We will now proceed to decide what “age” your doll will be.
Step 2. Decide the body proportions of your doll
This is where I think most people go astray. I know from direct experience that it takes a while to figure this out, especially because when I started there weren’t many places to look at dolls, like now.
Why is this step so important? Because it will help you decide how large the head of your doll will be and because it will help you craft her story, who he or she is.
So, in Step 1 we decided we were going to create a 12” doll. Right? Well now, we have firmly decided our doll is about 5 years old. That means she will have body proportions of a 5-head-tall ratio.
Don’t worry, I will give you the head ratios for each “age” so you are more comfortable designing the exact doll you are after.
Baby doll (infant): 3 heads tall (because the legs are always curved up!) Total body is about 4 heads tall, but legs look much shorter.
Toddler doll (2 to 4 years old): 4 heads tall
Young Child (5 to 7 years old): 5 heads tall
Older Child (8 to 10 years old): 6 heads tall
Teenager (12+): 7 heads tall
Step 3. Find out the size of the doll’s head
This is where the bit of math comes. Your simple doll making formula is here:
DOLL HEIGHT / HEAD TALL RATIO = # x 3.1416 = HEAD CIRCUMFERENCE
So in Step 1 we decided we wanted to create a doll of 12” height, then in Step 2 we decided she was about 5 years old. So therefore, her head circumference goes like this:
12 / 5 = 2.4 x 3.1416 = 7.53
Our doll will have a head of 7.53 inches in circumference. Ta da! I know, you are probably breaking out the champagne and dancing a jolly gig all over the house. I know, I know the feeling!.
Now, let me reiterate, this is no small feat my dear partner in crime. This is huge. Because from here on out you can go so many ways, but you at least have the hardest part of the road mapped out already.
From here on out you could go on the artistic side of things and give your doll ultra skinny limbs, almost waif like; or you could fatten her up, enough to make an Italian grandmother cry tears of joy. All those rolls!.
But, if you still want to stay on the side of normality, and not stray too far into the great mind-blowing pot hole of artistic expression, then stay with me. Only a few more steps.
Step 4. The Body Proportions, or the meat of the business
Now, having figured out height, head-to-body ratio and head circumference, and you feel like a rock star. Hark! the Herald Angels sing, right?
To decide how long to make the torso, how long the legs, where do the hands rest, etc. This is not minutiae, but very important steps that will give your doll human likeness and organic beauty.
To illustrate the deal better, I decided to go with images versus a thorough explanation. These are not my concepts, this is basic human proportion. But also remember, there is no exact cannon for human body proportion. There are variations so take that into account.
(**Please make sure you read the captions. It was very hard to find photos of my dolls when they are not leaning, but for purposes of illustrating a wee bit the proportions I chose these ones. My petite fig pattern has a 6 to 7 head body proportion in real life).
Again, you could decide or create a doll with a torso as long as their head and ginormeously long legs. Your call. Bear in mind that you don’t have to create a realistic (in body proportions) doll, it is your prerogative of expression.
I do, however, create realistic dolls to an extent. I don’t give them a lot of realism in their sculpting (not yet anyways), but I give their bodies enough realism that the dolls feel very alive, like their own little people.
I give them little thumbs, a longer torso (I create mostly dolls in the Older child category), a long neck, etc. I dont give them a philtrum (thank you Jenny for pointing out my mistake, hehe!), nostrils or nipples. But you could do that!
Doll making is a medium of self expression. Even if you are creating a play mate for your child, and your main intention is just to satisfy their doll play needs, you are still the maker. You are the creative force behind the adventure, and it is only through you that this doll can come to be. You make the call.
I want you to make that call with knowledge. With mindfulness of your why and for who. Not just for whom you are making the doll, but who is she?
Think of these things before you get rolling wool, before you start buying fabrics, or tempting yourself with needle-felting lips.
Think. Because once you come up with your answers, then you can go on a merrier journey. Not that you won’t encounter problems, or bends in the road. Those are always there to teach you, to pay attention, to learn better ways.
But once you know how tall your doll doll is, what her age is, what her little body will look like, you will know how to sculpt her face. Or at the very least, you will have a better idea.
From here on out you can decide on her clothes, her appearance, her charisma. She is a toddler, so she shouldn’t look all adult with hair down to her knees. Or she is an older child, so her face needs to reflect that.
You want her to be playful, so you design simple clothes but with pretty pockets and gorgeous prints. Or she is more introspective, and she needs an outfit that draws her within.
I mean, I could talk about all this for hours, but I will spare you. The top and bottom of it is, you have to start making decisions, playing with the proportions, making a doll.
Now, do I have any tips? Sure I do.
My Tips to You
Tip 1. When making the head.
Once you figure out the doll’s head circumference, roll a core head of about half an inch less if you are going to be fully needlefelting the whole thing.
If you are rolling a core head, then covering in more wool and putting it inside stockinette, then you need to go with a smaller core head, because the last bit of wool adds about an inch and a bit. Again, your wool might have more layers than mine, or less, you need to roll, cover, tie, measure. Not good enough? try again.
Tip 2. If you want to create a neck.
If you want to add a neck to your doll, then take the measurement off from the torso length. By this I mean do not mess about with the head ratio.
Depending on your doll’s height, you might want to take 1/2” from the torso for a neck, or a full 1”, or even an 1.5” if your doll is very tall. I am perfectly satisfied for my larger dolls with necks of about an 1” in height.
Tip 3. Length does not equal girth.
The doll’s length of her torso does not imply her chubby level. You can have x amount of torso length but still make a very fat doll.
My dolls are slender in the chest, but every now and then comes a slightly plumper one, and I give her a very round belly or a rounder tush (with the help of clever darts and much needle-felting).
Tip 4. Length of your doll's feet.
The feet of your doll are regularly the length from the elbow to the wrist. Obviously, if you want to create fully-formed feet so your doll can wear better shoes, you are going to have exciting adventures ahead of you.
Tip 5. Relax.
Dont sweat it too much. Figure out the proportions your doll should have, make her, and if things come out a little different, if your heart feels more attuned to tinier feet, shorter torso, slightly larger head, let your heart speak through your hands.
As long as you are within the ball park, believe you me, there is no doll police coming to knock on your door and tell you what a sham you are as a doll maker.
The heart of the matter is to take "in consideration" all the above, but then armed with knowledge, design a pattern that has some quirks and little things that are "not quite right" but that make the doll very unique.
Let me stress the last point. Because I really feel for most of you, perfectionism gets right smack in the way of your creations.
Either you are trying desperately to achieve “this vision” of what your work should be, what your doll should “look” like, that you forget the heart of the matter and in the end, the doll looks flat.
The doll might have super specific proportions within an 1/8” of an inch, perfectly sculpted lips, immaculately embroidered eyes, but she is not alive.
It needs a spark, a special characteristic, and I wholeheartedly believe (after nine years of extensive experience in this matter) that it definitely doesn’t come from creating a near-perfect wool child.
That spark comes from your intention. From your dreams, from your willingness to create something from deep within. From being a little more playful yourself, a little less inclined to produce “perfection” and leaning more towards “raw creation”.
So yes, we want to create dolls within the realm of human-child likeness, but we also want to create dolls that not just speak to their recipient, but that speak for you. You will have your own mark when creating this doll, even if it’s very simple in design.
Sort out the math, think hard. Get making and anything that comes out in the process will give you a lot of food for thought and most importantly, it will show you who you are. I truly believe doll making is a form of acquiring self-knowledge.
One more TIP: A budding dollmaker, looking for this same thing (#dollbodyproportions) found the following resource, and I must say it is very complete and thorough. So if you are super invested and want to tweak your pattern much further than what I shared here with you, please take a look: Anatomy for sculptors. Thank you Debbie!.
If you have questions or tips to fellow dollmakers, please write them in the comments so we can all benefit from the answers. I really hope this simple guide has made things a little bit easier for you and that you venture forth into creating a pattern that makes your heart sing. I wish you the best of luck on your journey to design this doll who is obviously trying very hard to be made through you. Keep me posted!.