Thursday, July 13, 2017

Clothing a Circa 1920s Composition Doll

This 7-inch circa 1920s composition with dimpled cheeks doll arrived wearing dirty trousers
that were several sizes too large.

I won this little girl in a make-offer eBay auction for $7.50 (the seller's beginning bid had been $15).  Because of the doll's condition, I did not think a $7.50 offer was unreasonable.  The seller did not think so either and accepted the offer. The marks on her back appear to be AGD.  The seller thought the G looked like a C and attributed the doll to American Character.  The "C" actually looks more like a "G" to me.  The doll was probably made by Allied Grand; they made dolls from 1915 through 1980.

The doll has a one-piece composition body with spring joints.  The body is severely crazed from age, which is common for some composition dolls that have been exposed to drastic changes in temperature or moisture.

Because it is uncommon to find black composition dolls of this type that bear a manufacturer's marks, (unless they were made by one of the well-established doll makers like Alexander, Effanbee, Horsman, or Vogue, who usually always marked their dolls), I wanted to bring this one here to make her presentable.

Some materials used to make clothes:  plastic wrap, scissors, water, gift tissue paper and Mod Podge (not shown)

First and foremost, she needed clothes.  Because I do not sew, I decided to make a papier mache-type romper using gift tissue paper.  I have done this before for modern fashion dolls (a link to that post is provided at the end of this post), but never for a vintage doll.  Because of the composition medium, which should never be exposed to water or moisture in any form, I was a little hesitant to do this, but decided to take the plunge (or allow her to, so to speak).

First the baby was wrapped in plastic wrap from head to toes.

The next task required placing several squares of wet tissue paper over the body to create what would be a romper.  (See the cut-out squares underneath the scissors in the above image).  Several layered, wet squares were used.

In the above images, wet pieces of tissue paper have been placed over the baby's plastic-wrapped body to create the shape of a romper.  The baby was next placed in the face-down position with body propped up on hands and feet to allow the tissue paper to dry.

Next, Mod Podge was applied generously all over the tissue paper.

The baby was again propped up in the position shown above to allow the Mod Podge
 to dry for several hours.

In the above photo, the Mod Podge has dried.

The romper was removed by first cutting a slit across the crotch.

Next, a slit along the right side of the romper was made. After the romper was removed, additional Mod Podge was added to all edges of the romper to ensure all layers remained flat. After the romper and plastic wrap were removed from the baby, I cut and folded two strips of  extra tissue (about 1/2 inch wide each), applied Mod Podge to these and added one strip to one side of the crotch and the other was secured to the the side slit.  This extended these areas for the closures that would be created later.

I used Elmer's Wood Filler to repair a hole that developed between the baby's legs that must have been caused by moisture seeping through the plastic wrap.  After the wood filler dried, I painted that area with Real Brown acrylic paint by Apple Barrel, which closely matches the original paint.  Using a make-up sponge with several drops of the Real Brown acrylic paint applied, I rubbed the sponge across areas of the baby's face, body, arms, and legs to cover some of the cracks in the composition.  I repainted the hair area black and sealed that area only with matte varnish.

Delicate lace was glued to the leg openings and crotch to add trim before a self-adhesive
Velcro closure was created.  One piece of Velcro was placed on the extra strip of tissue that was added to this area.  The opposite Velcro was placed on the other side.

Velcro was added to both sides of the side slit with one piece placed on top of the extra piece of tissue that had been added.  

This is how the right side looks when closed with Velcro.

The baby also underwent minor facial repainting of the eyes and mouth.  A matching apple green ribbon was glued to the top-center of the front of the romper, which ties in back, as shown next.

Back ribbon tie

For completion, a tiny white bow was added to the front center of the romper.

I think she looks and feels so much better!
Here is the link to the first set of paper clothing made using toilet tissue and gift tissue.  

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  1. The papier-mâché romper looks just right on the doll, in a way that fabric clothing would not (and I write as someone who does sew). It complements her composition body nicely. Your "minor" repainting of the eyes and mouth has made a major difference!

    1. Thank you, Gini! The creases in her romper match the wear and tear of her composition, which I intentionally avoided over correcting. I wanted to maintain her original appearance.


  2. Thanks for the tutorial. I've used a similar method to create pates for antique dolls but it didn't occur to me to use it to create clothes (and shoes) like you have.
    I'm glad the baby is where she'll be well cared for. Congrats on getting her and thanks for sharing your pictures.:-)

    1. I would love to see photos of some of your doll projects, Maricha. I am sure I could learn a thing or two from you.


    2. I've learned a lot from you so I doubt it. I was always just doing ooak repairs for very patient friends and neighbors. Thankfully old dolls were well covered.;-)

      I could kick myself for not thinking of taking pictures back then, just notes and simple sketches. I had no idea there would ever be platforms like blogs and that even old style photographs could be scanned and uploaded to them so easily.

      Some of it would be useful now that doll hospitals are as rare as hen's teeth. I had found a pretty easy way to create mirror images of doll limbs that I used to replace some lost and broken ones but I can't find the hard copy instructions.

      For the past month or so, I've been looking through CDs I burned in the early aughts hoping I at least had the sense to save them somewhere.

      Anyways, no sense in crying over spilt milk -though it's hard to resist- I'm using my free time and improved health this summer to fix my dolls and I'm definitely going to document everything properly the way you do this time around. I'm using some of your tutorials ( like the lash one to fix a Crissy doll) but there are a few fixes that will take me where no woman has gone before, fingers crossed.:D

    3. I am happy to hear about your improved health and hope you remain well, Maricha.

      Thank you for letting me know that things I have shared have been helpful. That's why I enjoy sharing (to remember what I've done as well as) to help others along the way.

      Since I can no longer rely on my memory, I actually had to refer to my paper dresses post when creating the romper for the compo baby.

      Good luck with your planned projects and exploring areas where "no woman has gone before."


  3. Debbie, thank you for sharing! A very unusual way of making clothes! I have many years sewing clothes, but I do not know ... the original!

    1. Thank you, Svetlana! I have another doll from this time period with the same spring jointing. It wears its original romper, which is the reason I decided to make this baby a romper. I am sure that sewing something would have taken a lot less time than using paper, but it was a challenge I enjoyed.



Thank you! Your comments are appreciated!