Dollmaking tips, how to make doll hair.
Once you make your doll the question arises: what to do for hair? The methods and variety of hair styles are endless but I will try to give you an overview of the most popular and widely used styles of doll hair, I hope this can point you in the right direction when you are creating a handmade natural doll.
First, let me warn you that I will mainly be talking about using natural fibers for creating doll hair.
You are free to use any other materials that inspire you or guide you when creating your doll, however I always strive to create my dolls with natural materials because I have an affinity for them, as well as I believe them to be a more sustainable way to create.
When considering what kind of hair to give your doll, you have several things to consider:
1. Is the doll you are creating a toy for a child?
What is their age and what kind of doll play does he or she engages in? I consider small children under 7 years of age, and I would only recommend yarn hair for their doll, wether string-attached or a crochet mohair wig.
2. Age appropriateness.
If your doll is not for a small child, let's consider an age appropriateness of 7+, then I feel you have a bit more leeway in regards to style and most importantly length.
3. Art dolls.
If the doll you are creating is an art doll, then of course your creativity and use of materials can soar, but I always feel there needs to be a practical aspect to the creation of your doll.
While there are art dolls created as an "object" to be admired and appreciated, the dolls we are talking about here are dolls that can be and will be manipulated by their owners. Their hair played with, styled, and possibly washed. So you have to consider the tear and wear, that the style you choose to give your doll will get.
Once you have roughly decided the end-recipient for your doll, then you can consider the hair style that most suits their personality.
I will now give you a list of the different methods I have seen used by other doll makers, or have personally used myself, when creating natural handmade dolls.
1. Brushed Mohair Wig.
For my review of DollyMo yarns, and the different ways you can use it, please head over here: DollyMo Yarns for Dollmaking.
For the fluffy cap, you create a "hat" that will fit your doll quite snuggly. You can either crochet it, or knit it.
I personally crochet the caps, but my dear friend Jenny Marshall at Little Jenny Wren dolls, knits them with the same results. Then you brush it with a wire comb/pet brush in order to tease the mohair fibers from the nylon binding, which creates the hairy halo.
Another more time-consuming method is to crochet each stitch, and pull as much of the mohair fiber to the other side of your cap as you go along. You don't have to brush it with a wire comb (if that freaks you out), and in my humble opinion, this method creates the fluffier wigs ever. It does take forever but the result is so worth it. That's why I included the instructions on how to make this hair style as the hair option in my Little Fig doll pattern. You can find that pattern in my store.
This is such a beautiful and understated way of adding hair to your doll. It is both playful and practical, as with time the doll's hair will mat but you can tease it again and revive the cap quite easily.
Please remember that the fact that the doll ages in appearance as time goes by is one of the most wonderful aspects of creating this style of dolls. The doll is not static, frozen in time as with a plastic doll, it takes life experience and ages along with your child or you.
For suitable mohair yarn, please abstain from using mohair meant for knitting. The staple is just not long enough to cover the doll's head properly, so stick to mohair yarn specifically created for doll making.
I strongly recommend Dolly Mo as these yarns were designed and created by doll makers themselves. Not only do the yarns have the longest staple I've seen, but the hair colours they provide are beautiful and very grounding.
2. Yarn cap with added strands.
Another very playful method, as well as easy, is to crochet or knit a cap for your doll, and then add strands of yarn to this cap.
You can use the same yarn as the cap, to minimize shock value but you can also get very creative and not only vary the colour of the yarns used, but the type and fiber.
This is the style that most attracted me when I started creating dolls and I used to love using all kinds of handspun yarn to add more texture to the doll's hair.
You can attach the strands by knotting them to the cap (which you have previously sewn down to the head of your doll) or if you are using thin yarns, you can attach them with a blunt thick needle and create loops or knots as you go.
For a simple tutorial to understand the "basics" of the method, please visit Meg at Mama Liberated and her tutorial on the Little Amigo doll. Meg didn't even crochet the cap, she braided the yarn to create a sturdy base, sew these braids down on the doll head and then attached the long strands of "hair" to the braided cap.
You can also grasp the general idea by checking out Beth's old Flickr tutorial. Once you understand the procedure, try experimenting with a variety of yarns to create texture and more life in the hair of your doll.
3. Yarn strands sewn down.
Another very simple method used when you want to utilize yarn for hair is:
- cut the yarn double the length you want for your doll.
- measure the doll from the where you want the hair line to start to the back of the head, and that will be the length of the line you will sew with your sewing machine.
- arrange a bundle of cut yarn over a paper piece cut to the length you previously measured. Make sure you have equal lengths of yarn to both sides of the paper strip, because you will basically be sewing the middle part of your doll's hair.
- sew the strands of yarn to the paper strip with your sewing machine.
- sew these bundles to the doll head. Place the bundle of yarn right in the middle of the doll's head (middle part) and sew to the head over the stitches you made with your sewing machine. In order to secure the strands to the sides, you can sew them down around the head in a circular fashion, creating the hair line.
- Repeat this bundle of yarn process until you have the desired thickness you want.
This method gives you the same accessibility as the previous one, meaning you can get very creative in regards to the colours you use on your doll's hair, and is also very playful.
This is the type of hair that you will find on most commercially produced dolls, yarn hair sewn down.
For a tutorial that explains the basics of how to do this please visit Meike at Starry Sheep. I recommend however, to sew the strands down with thread to the doll's head and not with yarn.
4. Tibetan lambskin, or TLS.
This style was quite popular a few years ago, and is still a very suitable type of hair for your doll.
What you are basically using is a hide with the "fur" or fibre of the animal still attached. There are different varieties of this hide/fur available but mostly you will find that it is either Kidassia goat (which has very straight hair) or Tibetan Lambskin (which looks a bit curly at the ends).
The process is simple enough:
- cut pattern pieces to make a hat (think of the pieces of a simple bonnet, one for the main centre that goes from the forehead to the nape of the neck, and two crescent moon shapes for the sides-the less seams the better!).
- I recommend to sew one "trial hat" with muslin or woven fabric that doesn't have a lot of "give" so you can make sure that it will fit your doll's head before you cut and sew the hide.
- To cut hide, don't use scissors, use a blade or an exacto knife.This will minimize the damage to the furry side of your hide.
- Sew the pieces with your sewing machine, using a leather needle. Since you can't really pin the pattern pieces together, use small binder clips to hold the pieces in place as you sew them.
- Open the seam allowances once finished, so they lay down better once you place the cap on your doll.
- To sew down the cap to your doll's head, first prepare the cap by shaving off a little bit of the underside along the circumference of the cap. This will diminish the amount of leather you will be hand-sewing to the doll's head and therefore a bit easier on your hands.
- Use a leather thimble or whatever other way you feel comfortable with when you are sewing the cap to the doll's head, to protect your fingers.
- Fold under a little bit of the cap, pin to the doll's head and sew with small ladder stitch or whip stitch. You can also use some pliers to pull the needle in and out if you find this difficult.
I am not entirely sure you can wash a doll with this type of hair, as I don't know how the hide will react with the water and the slow-drying process of the wool stuffing in your doll.
I would love to hear about this if someone has completely submerged a doll in water and washed it, that has Tibetan Lambskin for hair.
I have used this method/hair style in the past and my only complain was that the doll I used it for was for my daughter and a chunk of it got stuck on her bed and the doll ended up with quite a bald spot. In the end I had to replace the hair and I chose a more suitable material for a child to play with the second time around.
For a tutorial on how to use this method of hair, please visit Antique Lilac.
For suppliers of Tibetan Lambskin please visit:
5. Fabric cap: felted, cloth, mohair or wool felt.
Even though I don't see this style used as often, it is by far one of my favourites.
Most "rag dolls" have some sort of fabric hair, wether is repurposed doilies, wool felt or even felted sweaters (like I use for my Cloth Figs).
I think this method has so much potential and uniqueness and brings a different sort of vibe to the doll. I can't recommend it high enough.
You can either sew a cap like previously mentioned, or you can get really creative and "drape" the hair and create a permanent or semi-permanent hair style. You can sew ponytails, or buns or whatever you see fit. It is an extremely playful style and one suitable both for children and collectors.
You can also use Mohair or Alpaca fabric, which has the added bonus of already looking a bit "furry" so that your doll will have a bit more wisps of fiber. This fabric is quite expensive as is mostly used to create teddy bears, but doll heads are not very large so a little goes a long way.
I recommend the following supplier as I have used them in the past and they have wonderful customer service: Intercal Mohair Supplies.
6. Roving: sewn down or needle-felted.
One style of hair that is not as widely used, at least not for children to play with, is using wool roving and sewing it down or needle-felting it to the doll's head.
I think it tends to pill very fast, but if the doll is geared towards a collector then it shouldn't be a problem. Most needle-felted table dolls have chunks of roving styled into hair, and they fare rather well, so it really depends on the style of doll you are making.
I have seen it used when it has been needle-felted into the doll's head marking a middle line, and then the lose ends turned into pigtails or buns and is quite adorable.
Again, when it comes to your doll's hair you have to experiment and see what works for you and his/her personality, always taking in consideration who the doll is geared to.
Roving can be found on Etsy as well, as it is mostly used for needle-felting or hand spinning.
You might be able to find some beautifully hand-dyed roving at your local yarn store as well. If all else fails, head to Dollmaker's Journey where they have a very wide selection of hair materials for your doll.
7. Commercial weft: sewn down or crocheted into a cap.
Now, a much easier way to create a very realistic hair style is to use commercially produced mohair weft.
Mohair weft is treated with God knows what, so it won't felt, and is available not just on mohair (goat) fibre but also on yak and camel.
The wefts are long strips of locks or fibre, sewn (usually three times) together, which you can either sew down onto a cap or directly to the doll's head, or turned into a wig with a crochet hook and matching yarn.
I like the last method the best, but I find it so bulky on the doll's head with the yarn and the weft together, so lately I have been sewing the weft down by hand.
I am able to manipulate the direction of the hair more accurately than crocheting in semi-concentric circles and therefore the hair falls down in a more natural way.
What I do, is make a cap in crochet with wool yarn. Then I sew this cap to the doll's head and I hand-sew the weft to this cap. That way I am not sewing directly to the head, which is very hard on your hands.
I don't like making felt caps, I like the feel of the crochet ones and I also use the stitches as guide sometimes of where to attach the weft.
What to look for?
When you are ready to try this method, the weight of the weft is not really important. You want to buy it by the total length.
It is usually listed by how long the actual weft is, its colour, the length of the fibre, what type (curly, straight, etc), and wether is coarse, medium or fine mohair, and its total weight.
Since you will be sewing it down, you need to know its total length. I normally use about 120/140 inches long for a doll with a 13 inch head circumference (I am talking about what the hair line will be).
I like to sew it closer together at the top than at the back, so I find that no matter what, I always end up using about this much weft for a doll with a head this size.
For a method on how to sew the weft with a sewing machine to a wool felt cap, please visit my friend Agnes' tutorial.
For supplies on commercially available weft visit:
8. Wefted locks: sewn down or crocheted into a cap.
Now, if you have understood the method to use weft, wether turning it into a cap with a crochet hook and yarn, or sewing it down, whichever you decide, then most likely you will end up coming to the conclusion that you want to create a weft by yourself using raw fibre.
This is truly a world of wonder because you can select any kind of locks, turn them into a weft by sewing them into long strips, and then attaching via your preferred way.
Such an extremely natural hair style requires very considerate care and shouldn't be handled extensively. Because the fiber you are using is untreated, it will felt if handled extensively.
It really depends on the type of locks you use. I have used Teeswater, Wensleydale, Mohair and Suri Alpaca. The alpaca is my least favourite, and the Wensleydale locks my most favourite, but the dolls are always requesting Suri Alpaca, of course!.
If you want to check out the way I turn Suri Alpaca locks into a weft, please see this tutorial:
For resources on animal fibre locks, I would highly recommend to do a search on Etsy by the type you are looking for, i.e. "Wensleydale locks" and you will be rewarded with tons of store fronts where fiber folk share their wares with you.
For a doll with a 13" head circumference, in locks about 8" to 10" long, I would buy about 6 to 8 ounces of fibre.
For other reputable suppliers please visit:
9. Wool locks: attached to a cap or needle-felted.
Now, if you don't want to create a weft, but still want to use the locks, you can attach them to the doll in two main ways.
One is to loop and/or knot the locks into a crochet cap, the other is to needle-felt them into the doll's head.
I have not ever just attached the locks this way, needle-felting them to the actual head, but have seen it used by other dollmakers before so I know it is a suitable method.
You can also needle-felt a base of similar colour roving to the doll's head, and then needle-felt the locks to this wooly base. I think that would help to attach them more securely, than just having the locks attached to the wool with the skin cotton in between.
I think you would need locks that are a decent length (like at least 4 to 6 inches long) so that you have plenty of material to work with when attaching them securely to your doll.
If you do go this route, please share with me your insight as to durability and the way you handled the material please. I would be most grateful.
If you would like to see how to use this method, Nat from Kukalka has a detailed tutorial on cleaning the locks and crocheting them into the wig as you go using mohair yarn.
Aside Etsy, you can find mohair locks in this store:
10. Embroidered hair
As a last style I want to suggest to you the embroidered variety. It is not as common in my opinion, maybe because it takes considerate amounts of time and effort to create this hair style, but it is such an endearing one that more people ought to use it.
My dear friend Agnes at Lalinda does a marvellous job on her large and small dolls with this kind of hair, and I have seen it used extensively by Eastern European doll makers, so perhaps it is the technique of choice taught there.
For a brilliant way of "embroidering" the hair on your doll, you can check out this tutorial by Carley Biblin on her Little Red Riding Hood doll (pattern included in Storybook Toys by Jill Hamor). The doll is made with woven cloth, which is a different material than the one we normally use for our "waldorf" style of dolls but like I said, Agnes at Lalinda does embroidered hair like this and it works wonders.
Look at this ultra sweet hair style by the russian artist Nkale, and shared by Mimin Dolls. I think you can achieve this using the mohair bouclé or the wild DollyMo and it would look exceptionally cute. I actually want to try a doll with embroidered hair now.
These are all styles you can make yourself, and I feel they add a lot of clue into how your creativity works.
You can of course go the "purchased route" and buy a pre-made wig and sew it down. This would save hours and hours of work, you could end up with an extremely nice result, but since I have never used this product I don't feel I have any experience enough to talk about it, or recommend it.
You can find mohair wigs all over the place but like I mentioned, I have never purchased them so I can't direct you to a trusted source. The one modelled by my sweet Tamsyn came with her, so I don't know much about it. I feel like mohair wigs are rather common so they should be available rather easily.
So there you have it, I think I have touched upon the most common methods to create hair style on dolls, and have mostly recommended using natural fibers for such purpose.
If you have a particular question please post it in the comments, or if you have a suggested hair style as well (so that I can expand this list).
I think this will give you enough food for thought, and maybe you like me are now itching to try a new hair style.
I know that I must try embroidered hair or I won't have a moment of peace until I do so. Such is the life of the creative, you must always be trying new things, experimenting and gaining insight.
I wish you the best of luck creating hair for your lovely doll, or maybe even giving one of your dolls a makeover. There is a wonderful world of opportunity and choices for us out there, so let's be brave and try our hands at something new and fresh.
Let me know in the comments how you fare. And make sure you read them as over time people have added their particular way of using one of these techniques, for all of us to learn a tip or two together.
Thank you for reading this very long post, I hope it inspires your doll making.