Wednesday, September 20, 2017

From One Arm to Three

27-inch one-armed transitional mama doll and her replacement arms

First seen here in a post about mama dolls (dolls with voice boxes that make the ma-ma sound when the they are tilted or otherwise positioned), this 27-inch doll arrived to me during the late 1990s missing one of her composition arms.

A closer look at the missing arm area
A couple of years ago I was gifted an identical white version of this circa late 1940s/early 1950s doll for the sole purpose of using the white doll's arm to replace the black doll's missing arm.  I could not bring myself to destroy an otherwise well-preserved doll to restore another. So Lynn, the black mama doll, remained in need of an arm while Jane, the white doll, was spared.

My husband suggested that I make a mold of Jane's arm, which I did.  He then sculpted, on his own, what looked like the perfect replacement arm for Lynn.  Unfortunately, he used a mixture of old and new polymer clay which did not properly bond.  The arm was also very heavy.

So I created a papier-maché arm using the mold of Jane's arm, which has served Lynn well.  I never was content with the way I painted the fingers, which could have easily been repainted, but deep down I really wanted her to have a composition replacement.

I created and saved an eBay search for "composition doll parts" and received daily updates for years, but arms in the length and shape needed remained elusive.  One of these search results included two composition arms from a child-size store mannequin that I purchased.  Unfortunately, they were not the correct size.  I listed these on eBay for the same price I paid and they sold.

Recently, my eBay search notification included a buy-it-now or make-offer auction for "a pair of baby arms for repair of German bisque head baby" that measure 8 and 8-1/2 inches.  An 8-inch arm is what I needed.  I made an offer which the seller counter offered and I accepted.  My plan had been to use the arm I needed and resell the other.

Seller's photo of replacement arms
The arms arrived as described and shown above and in the first image.  The circumference of the biceps area, however, is larger than the doll's original arm should be.  I discussed the dilemma with my husband and showed him the doll and the replacement arm. He agreed that the potential replacement was too large.  The following conversation ensued:

Him:  "Why didn't you buy the other arm?"
Me:  "I did.  I have both arms."
Him:  "Then you can just replace both arms and you'll have a match.  You didn't think of that?"
Me:  No.  I was focused on just replacing one arm, but yeah... I can do that.

Geesh!  Why didn't I think of that?  Probably because my intent was to keep the doll's original arm intact and because it would be so much easier to replace just one arm.  He gave a several suggestions on how the repair should be done.  I said, "Nope, you're going to have to do all that.  It's just too much."  He said, "No, you need to learn this!"

So... I (we) did it!

Original arm after removing
First the doll's original arm and rotational disk to which it was attached was removed.  This required slitting open the cloth upper arm area by gingerly removing a few stitches.   (My husband did this part with an Xacto knife while I held the patient.)

Patient post amputation
For the replacement arms, using a wire clothes hanger, the doll doctor created a fastener for each that looks like an inverted U with laterally extended arms that insert into the inner arm.

Fastener centered inside replacement arm with tissue paper stuffed around it
With the fastener in the center-most area of the arm, my husband used tissue paper to fill in the gap between the arms of the fastener and the inner arm.  Over this was applied air-dry clay to permanently hold the fastener in place.  I worked on the other arm simultaneously completing the same steps except the inner arm was filled in by me with polyfill before covering with air-dry clay.

Both arms with fasteners centered in place and air-dry clay molded around to permanently hold the fastener inside

New rotational disks for new arms
I created two new arm disks using cardboard.  These were made firm with several coats of Mod Podge, which was applied after the above photo was taken.

Flawed ring and pinky fingers
As the seller had described, the hands of both replacement arms had flaws.  A fracture of the ring finger of one hand had been previously repaired. The pad of the pinky finger of the other hand was worn down.

I used wood filler to create a new finger pad for the pinky finger and to reinforce and smoothen the fracture line of the ring finger.  The wood filler applied to the fingers and the air-dry clay molded around the fasteners were allowed to dry overnight before additional work proceeded.

After everything hardened, the disks were placed onto the fasteners and a metal dowel was fashioned from a metal clothes hanger to hold the disks in place.  Not shown in the above photos, but Epoxy was added to areas where the inserted dowel and the fastener meet to secure the dowel in place permanently.

The arms were painted using a combination of nutmeg brown and real brown acrylic paint as base coats and a top coat of toffee brown.   The final coat  was a mixture of toffee brown and matte varnish to seal and add a slight sheen.  A few drops of dark red acrylic paint were added to the toffee brown and acrylic mixture and dabbed onto the elbows and the dorsal surface of the hands and knuckles to add blushing.

Painted arms

New arms attached to body (one is a little lower than the other, but Lynn doesn't mind).
Before inserting the new arms into each cloth armhole, the bottom opening of each armhole was reinforced with a few stitches.  Next, the arm disks were inserted into each cloth armhole and the cloth at the top stitched closed.

With two arms now, Lynn is happily redressed and back on her doll stand.

Lynn rejoined her friends and Jane, the doll that was willing to sacrifice one of her arms for her.

After nearly 20 years of being here with only one arm, Lynn now has three.  Two are attached replacements and the third (her original arm) has been stored in the event that another left-arm-only doll is in need of an arm that size.

(Note:  The arm replacement process wasn't as difficult as I had imagined.  Doc Garrett was right, I needed to learn to do this myself.)

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  1. You did a wonderful job replacing her arms! She is gorgeous!! and displays so beautifully. I really want to add more vintage and antique dolls to my collection.

    1. Thank you, Doll Party. I hope you're able to add more vintage dolls to your collection. While not as sophisticated as today's dolls, they are part of doll history and remind us of the types of dolls children played with in the past or the types of dolls our mother's might have enjoyed playing with had they been available/affordable.


  2. Love these "How To" tutorials. I'm a big fan of the matte finish on the arms. She looks amazing completed! I'm glad no one had to give up an arm.

    1. I love sharing my how to's, Julius, but I love completing long overdue projects like this one even more.

      I am happy no one here had to give up an arm, too.



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