Your Guide to Doll Skin Fabric for Dollmaking.
So you are ready to start but can't figure out which fabric to use, which colour is best, etc?. Let me tell you the differences between the most common fabrics used in Waldorf-style dollmaking, as well as the many colours they come from, where to buy, and the rest.
(Hayley and Lily above were made with Laib Yala heavy-weight jersey in Light Peach |4355)
Let's get started!.
Some of you may be paralyzed by the many options in skin tone. Some of you have a few dolls under your belt but would like to try different colours and you are uncertain of what they actually look like on a doll. Let me show you and give you a little explanation of how each fabric behaves and the many colours they come in.
The two most widely-known and preferably-used brands are called De Witte Engel (manufactured in The Netherlands) and Laib Yala (manufactured in Switzerland).
Being both European-made fabrics guarantees that both attain a very high quality certification, they are both certified to the EN71 which means you can use these fabrics to create dolls for children to play with, because their dyes are safe and do not bleed.
Now, there are certain differences in weight and appearance in both fabrics. I won't go into a super technical analysis, I will just try to be as useful as possible with simplicity in mind and give you a bird's eye view of which fabric does what.
Let's start by mentioning they are both natural, 100% cotton, and they are extremely durable and have low-pill action.
What does "low pill action" even mean? This means that the doll will look really good and not get fuzzy skin for quite a few years before he or she shows lots of wear. Think of how your favourite sweater starts to look a few years down the line.
So therefore, we want to use a fabric like this one. That has been manufactured with durability in mind, that won't come with chunks of unspun cotton hidden in the folds and that it comes in a variety of colours so you can choose one that best resembles the child you are trying to make the doll after.
INTERLOCK by De Witte Engel
DWE is referred as interlock. This is a knit fabric, but if you see it from the right side or the wrong side, it looks exactly the same.
To the untrained eye this might make no big difference, but it does simplify things hugely when you are just starting making dolls.
Because of the particular way the fabric is made, it makes it very easy to use, easy to place your patterns on the grain, and when you cut it it doesn't curl up at the edges. It is slightly "thinner" than Laib Yala heavy weight jersey and it comes in a wonderful array of skin-like colours.
The following dolls have been made with DWE fabric. Notice how even though the fabric is the same colour in two occasions, the dolls look different in shade.
This is due to two facts: the fabric lightens up when light wool is used underneath, and since the wool varies from time to time, we get slightly different shades.
Also dye lots vary, and when you order the same fabric colours over many years you can tell this colour variation over time (I keep a rather large bag of off-cuts and can tell you this with certainty).
JERSEY by Laib Yala
Laib Yala, or LY from now on, is a jersey AND also an Interlock. Jersey means that on the right side it looks like knit stitches, and on the wrong side, it has purl stitches (if you are familiar with knitting you will completely understand these terms).
Now, this fabric comes in two different kinds, the jersey (which I use) and the interlock. The interlock is normally used for either small dolls (both body and face) or for the face of larger dolls. You would then use the jersey understandably for the body.
That being said, I use only the heavy weight jersey, both on the face and the body of my dolls. I use it on small dolls, medium dolls and large dolls. There is something odd to me if you can feel the difference of the fabric within the same doll, like it's patched.
But many, many dollmakers do this and their dolls are testament to the beauty of this method.
I can't honestly say I prefer LY to work with entirely, but I do prefer it when making my largest doll sizes. It gives large dolls such a hefty feel, very wholesome, and it holds such vast amounts of wool much better, in my humble opinion.
Some dollmakers, and doll owners, shy away from this fabric because the ribs are more noticeable. Which is one of the reasons I love it, the doll feels more made out of fabric.
But to each their own. You need to use them, and see which one you like best.
Laib Yala also comes in many different skin-like shades, and like DWE, it lightens up considerably once you stuff the doll with wool. Take a gander at some of the dolls created with this beautiful fabric.
Now, these are not the only two companies producing fabric designed and manufactured especially for dollmaking. There are quite a few more, but over the many years I have made my dolls, these are the two that are most mentioned in the dollmaking circles due to quality and consistency.
These are the ones I have chosen time and again, having tried a few others and being terribly disappointed. Poor fabric is a painful mistake to make, especially when you invest at least 20 hours of your life making a doll. Nobody got time for that.
Weir Crafts Premium Doll Fabric
Now, I am going to mention this interlock fabric, although I have never used it myself. I am mentioning it because several professional dollmakers do use it to make their dolls, and although it is not comparable to DWE for example, neither does the price.
It is a much more economical fabric, but with high quality and nice skin tone shades. You might fall in love with it, if you do use it and have encouraging words about it to other dollmakers, please write them in the comments.
Do pay notice that Weir Dolls manufactures two kinds of knit fabric, and I am recommending the PREMIUM kind. Like I said, I have never used it so I can't personally attest to its behaviour or life span but it comes recommended as a good choice by people I like. You can be the judge and then let us know.
( Robin up above was made with Laib Yala Light Peach | 4355, I just love this shade! )
I will give you a few tips on how to use these fabrics:
1. Do not pre-wash. For everything else, I always recommend pre-washing fabrics. However, with these dollmaking knits, you are going to encounter more issues than by leaving the fabric alone. Especially with LY. I repeat, do not prewash (unless your fabric comes in super dirty, in which case I would contact the supplier).
2. Pay attention to the the stretch of the fabric when placing your patterns or designing new ones. Normally you want the ribs to go on a vertical fashion on your pattern pieces, so that the stretch occurs to the sides. In very limited situations would you place the piece with the ribs at an angle, so make notice of this when working with these fabrics.
3. I normally use a normal pencil to trace my patterns on these fabrics. I use a pencil with a soft lead, but not too soft. For most of my dolls, I trace my patterns, then sew over the lines traced, then I cut leaving a handy seam allowance all around. I find that tracing the actual seam line gives you better results with pattern placement and accuracy.
4. Make sure to leave space as seam allowance in between the pattern pieces but not too much. If you follow my method, of tracing the seam line-sewing-then-cutting you need to leave plenty of space between the pattern pieces. But don't go crazy! These fabrics are very expensive and I am very stingy with their use.
5. Dark skin tones are beautiful and not many dolls are made with them. One of the problems is the embroidery of the eyes. In order to make the eye embroidery pop from the dark colour one has to get real crafty: add white dots above the iris, do white to the sides, or use very bright colours for the iris. Either way, if you are itching to make a doll with a darker skin tone, take in consideration what colour you are going to choose for the eyes and in which way you will highlight them from the fabric (a handy eyelash does the trick for me!).
6. I normally use just red beeswax to blush the fabric in all the right places, but you can experiment too. Sometimes I have used orange or a bit of brown, depending on the skin colour I am working with. It pays to have a different set of beeswax crayons so you can blush cheeks, ears, hands, elbows, knees, bellybuttons, eyebrows, or bums with just the right shades!.
7. I keep a bag with all the fabric off-cuts of my many years of dollmaking. I use these little bits to make "blushers" for my dolls. This fabric is expensive and not only that, I like to make use of as much of the materials that come into my dollmaking studio as possible, so I try not to throw away these little bits. I just cut them up in rectangles and I blush them deeply with my red beeswax and I include them with my dolls. You can also use them for ears, you need so little! Or for the tender parts of boys (giggle!), or added belly buttons, or to make faces of really tiny dolls. Get creative and use all those wee bits of dollmaking skin fabric.
As usual, these are my recommended suppliers. Not only do I buy regularly from them (the ones in Canada and the US), they are trustworthy individuals that will go to great lengths to ensure you have a pleasant dollmaking experience.
**If you live in Europe and in the future you want to obtain certification in order to sell your toys legally as toys for children, you will need to comply with a rather long list of requirements, and my dear colleague Maike Coelle from Feinsleib has created a handy booklet that can guide you through that process. I won't go into any of that here on the blog.
***If you want to figure out the requirements to comply with selling dolls and toys in the US please join the US Toy Compliance Facebook group where there is a pool-full of vast knowledge to aid you in the process.
So that's it folks! I hope you find all the above useful. I was going to post a gazillion photos of the many dolls I have done over the years, but since the blog is already full of them, perhaps that would have been overkill.
If you think it can be helpful to you, I can start mentioning shades, types of fabric and specific colour of hair in future doll posts, so you can compare what the fabric looks like once stuffed, and some pretty colour combinations, if you are the kind of dollmaker that is after that.
Like I mentioned, over time dye lots vary. Also, the wool varies, so you are never playing with static materials. Which is one of the many reasons I love this kind of dollmaking. Very organic, very experimental.
If you have a preference of a fabric over another, let me know in the comments as to why. Also, if you are in the know of some super secret doll skin fabric manufacturer, don't be stingy and share the wealth!. The more we support them, the happier everyone is.
Now I must go and tend to my wool children, hope to come back soon with some VERY exciting news in the pattern-making front. Oh, I am such a tease!.