When you are learning how to make dolls, stuffing them becomes a steep learning curve. If you are working with wool stuffing, then the difficulty increases, as wool behaves quite differently than other materials.
In this dollmaking post and video tutorial I will give you some hints and tips on how to best work with wool in order to achieve those super smooth and firmly stuffed doll's limbs.
What will I need?
When working with wool batting or roving to stuff your dolls with, you are confronted with two things: the “stickyness” of your wool, and how clean it is.
Believe me, I have tried many different types of wool for stuffing and at the moment I enjoy using this one. If you are new to using wool as a stuffing material and would like to learn more, please head over here so you can check out a handy list of suppliers, tools and most importantly, all the different techniques you can use to stuff dolls or toys with wool.
If you want to learn a little bit more about waldorf dolls and why they are stuffed with wool you can check out this post: Starting your dollmaking adventure.
1. Wool Batting
Now, For the purpose of explaining the “rolling wool” method, I will assume you are using wool batting. Batting means the wool comes to you in big sheets, instead of a super thick chunk that looks more like un-spun yarn.
It would be quite hard to roll roving, I’m sure it can be done, but I have never used it for this purpose so we will let that go.
2. Rolling tool
Now, on top of using wool batting, you are going to need a rolling tool. This can vary greatly, as it depends on your technique and what you feel most comfortable with.
My advice is to use a four-sided hard-wood implement, hopefully with a handle, so that you can turn it with ease, you don’t become too frustrated and so that you are gentle with your wrists.
What I use, and you can see it in action in the video, is a custom-made tool my husband made for me. I have them in different lengths, depending on the length of the doll’s legs or arms I am set to stuff.
You can purchase a similar tool like mine, over HERE and HERE (although I do have to warn you, that tool is way more fragile than mine and you can't make super thick/firm rolls for larger dolls, but you can use it very easily for smaller dolls).
Other recommendations are: chopsticks if it comes to that, a hex-key or, upon instruction on how to roll wool, my friend Monika 3D printed hers. Lucky duck.
Before I dive into a step-by-step written account of my method, let’s watch this handy video that shows the technique in action.
Be sure to pause the video half-way, when the screen turns black, so that you can read the instruction card at your leisure, then continue watching the rest of the video.
Hope that made clear to you the motions you go through, but here is an extended and written instruction on how to achieve what I demonstrated in the little video.
Let's start with prepping our wool batting and cutting it to size.
Once you open you big roll of batting and unfold it, you are going to cut it to the full length of your doll’s leg or arm.
If you are stuffing a doll leg that is about 8” in height, and your roll comes in a width of let’s say 48” unfolded, you will be cutting strips of batting that are 8” by 48”.
Once you have this uber long rectangle, you are going to try to split it into thinner versions of itself, since usually batting is like a sandwich of several wooly layers.
Don’t go extremely thin, my batting can usually be split two or three times at the most. This for the purpose of working with thin layers (think of those layers in puff pastry, except that instead of folding the “dough” you will be “rolling” it onto itself).
Once you have two or three layers of thin wool, in the measurements you will be working with, you grab your tool and you start. Obviously your tool needs to be at least as long as the length of the doll leg or arm you are going to stuff.
Starting on the 8” side of your wool batting, you will begin by slowly rolling the wool onto the stuffing tool.
This can be a little problematic at the beginning, just so that the wool starts grabbing onto itself. Don't despair, it just the way it is. It takes the wool a wee bit to get acquainted with itself.
Once you get it going, keep rolling the wool evenly and gently, pulling (to create a little stretch in the wool) with one hand or arm, and using the other to turn the stuffing tool and keep rolling the wool.
You are basically making like a fat cigar-shaped roll…or a burrito…or a rolag. Whatever analogy serves you better.
Once you finish your first sheet of wool, you are going to twist it or torque it more onto the tool, until it becomes all evenly compacted. This is THE most important part of rolling wool.
The whole roll has to be so firm that you can’t twist it anymore. This is one of the reasons why a four-sided strong tool is extremely important, so that you can really twist and twist and torque and torque and the wool just keeps grabbing onto itself and your tool won't become misshapen or broken in the process. Being there, done that. Not recommended.
Try to do this as even as possible, so that there are no thin layers and super fat ones over the tool.
If you are stuffing a very small doll, check the circumference of the roll of wool on the tool, an approximation to wether that is the thickness you are going for with your doll. If it’s a go, then you can head straight to step 5, if not, you continue to step 4.
Once you have a super compacted first layer of wool, then you grab another sheet of your prepared cut batting, and you roll a second layer.
This gets easier as you go because you already have a very firm roll of wool on the tool, and the new wool grabs onto that like nobody’s business.
You can roll the entire thing, if that is the circumference you are trying to achieve. It takes a little bit of experimenting to gauge how much rolled wool, i.e. how fat the rolls have to be, in order to stuff your doll’s leg or arm properly.
Measure as you go, even try sneak it in the sewn pattern piece, to see wether you still need to fatten those legs or you are good to go.
Continue this process until you achieve your ideal thickness, smooth out as much as possible the outside layer, as this is the one that will be in contact with the cotton fabric, and the one that will show the most how crazy good you rocked this.
You are now going to grab, let’s say the leg pattern piece. As you saw in the video, I stuff the foot first of course, and then roll the wool for the leg.
I grab my stuffed-foot+empty-leg pattern piece and by holding onto the tool for dear life, I slide it inside the leg.
I try to push it as far as it will go (the heel) and then we will start compressing the rest of the wool inside the leg.
Do not pull the tool straight out just yet.
Since you compacted the wool as you were rolling it, it will be very silly to try to just sneak the tool right out.
You need to unwind it a little bit, while holding the leg and wool roll firmly. This sounds harder than it is, intuitively your hands will feel how to unwind the tool just a little, and then pull up just a wee bit of the tool out.
I say just a wee bit, because you are going to use the empty space now left at the bottom of the leg, by taking the tool out, to re-stuff it with the inside part of the wool roll you made.
You achieve this by pushing wool from the inner sides down. You do this little by little.
If you sneak the whole tool out, you will have a flippin’ hole down the center of the entire leg, which with time will compact even more and your doll is going to look like she is not filling her legs or arms anymore. Not good. Trust me.
You need to slowly push wool from the inside down, to gently keep filling the space left by the tool as you move your way out of the leg.
Easy does it. Take a bit of the tool out, push wool down.
Once you get to about the knee part or thigh, it gets very cumbersome to work with the long tool, so I take the tool out.
I then grab my hemostats and use those to push the remaining wool down, or to grab small bits of wool from my batting and stuff them inside until I completely and utterly fill the hole left by the tool.
If you do this, the legs will feel rock hard. You want rock hard to begin with, especially with legs and arms.
Even though we are rolling layer upon layer of wool, and compacting it as much as we can from the get go, wool will compact even more with play, snuggles and time.
Dolls that I stuffed extremely hard a mere year ago, are still feeling very firm but no longer rock hard.
Now think of ten years down the line, a few washings, and lots of dressing and undressing and standing of the doll. You want as firm as you can get it.
And that's that. Once you get to the top of your arm or leg, there is no more stuffing to do. Only sewing. Good luck!.
In the photo below you can see a small comparison of two dolls I made a few years ago.
While both dolls are cute and snuggly, the one stuffed with rolled wool has smoother limbs and belly, and has retained her shape more accurately.
I hope you feel encouraged to try this technique and see wether it suits you or you rather stuff your dolls with a different technique.
I know this made a huge difference for me, not just on the appearance of my dolls, but on how they feel in your hands.
Since the legs are so firm, the doll stands very securely, which I love because I like to take photos of the dolls outside and I need them to have strong muscles for long photo-shoot sessions (I also feed them lots of treats so they are agreeable during the whole procedure!).
I hope you liked watching my first-ever little video, and that this tutorial has been illuminating for you.
If you have questions or some aspects are not extremely clear for you, please feel free to ask a question in the comments.
I have big plans to keep releasing small videos on my YouTube channel, so keep a sharp eye for those in the future.
In the mean time, I wish you all the luck in the world trying this technique with your own doll making. Let me know how you get along.