Having just finished a half doll, I decided that for this one I will try to show you how to make one my versions of a pin cushion doll. Since I never expect to use pins in mine, I will use only Polyfil as the stuffing. Please be sure to use a stuffing that is kind to your pins and needles should you decide to use it as a true pin cushion. I also do not intend to make this firmly stuffed as I’d like the skirt to hang more loosely. To make it stiff enough to hold up, I added a dowel up the center (see this in the pin cushion portion of the instructions.) An actual pin cushion should be as firmly stuffed as possible and will not require a dowel.
Here is the antique half doll I’ll be dressing.
Before beginning, adjust your mind to thinking “cut the bulk!” The waist on the one I’m going to finish has a diameter of 3/4” which is really tiny.
Lots of people who dress these dolls now use fabric glue in places. Often, glue is the answer. I try to stitch when I can and I would never put glue directly on the glaze of an antique half doll.
First you want to decide what the final height should be. I’ve found that measuring the half doll from the top of the head (not including piled on hair, etc.) to the waist (not the bottom of the half doll) is ~1/3 of your final doll with the skirt. This one is 2 1/4” so her skirt will be in the neighborhood of 4-5” and I will adjust it for the most pleasing proportions at the pin cushion stage.
Before I begin dressing her, I’ve sewn some narrow, doubled over strips of twill tape at the hole areas in the base. I prefer this to actually sewing the half doll to the pin cushion through the holes as it’s awkward to handle. I can then spread the twill tape out over the pin cushion and secure it easier and more securely. You can also run the twill tape through the holes but I like the former technique.
Most half dolls have the top of the dress already molded on and painted. Many even have hats. You can skip this portion of the tutorial if that’s the case. Since this one is nude, I had to make a fabric bodice.
There are also some really beautiful reproductions out there. Be sure they are painted nicely!
I’ve decided to dress this half doll using silk ribbon and antique lace. I have used 1 1/4” silk ribbon for the under bodice and will fit lace overtop to dress it up. The ribbon is just wide enough to cover her bosom down to her waist and I cut it long enough to fit around the doll’s body. Fold under one back edge and use a little piece of scotch tape in the center front to hold it in place. It needs to be stitched quite tightly down the back especially at the top so that her bosom holds it up. I didn’t worry about making this stitching neat as it’s going to be covered with lace.
The overtop lace is sewn the same way with the pretty edge of the lace up toward the neck. I then stitched a length of silk buds and bows that embellishes the neckline and goes down the back of the dress to cover the stitching there. Any narrow trim or lace will work here...run a gathering line along one edge as straight edge trims will not follow the top of the bodice without puckering.
You will need a stiff circle to act as the bottom for your pin cushion doll regardless of whether you stuff firmly or use a dowel as in the following paragraph. I used a 1/8” thick cardboard circle with a diameter of 3 1/2” for the size head I am using. You can glue several layers of a thinner cardboard together to make it stiff enough.
(optional) Because, I am not making a true pin cushion, as I said before, I used a 3/8” dowel which fit well inside the half doll. Slip the head on the dowel and make a pencil mark at the bottom of the half doll. Remove head and measure down from that mark the length you want your skirt to be and cut the dowel. I glued a wooden spool to the center of the cardboard bottom and then glued the dowel into the spool for stability. Do not put any glue into the half doll. She will be added later and the twill tape will secure her. Again, you will not need to do this part if you are going to firmly stuff the pin cushion.
Cut a fabric circle a scant 1/4” larger than the circle and a strip of fabric ~2” wider than the length you want your skirt and long enough to go around the circumference of the circle with enough to turn in both edges. Leaving the strip open on the ends, turn and press the ends to the back side about 1/4”. With right sides together, pin the strip to your circle all the way around and overlap with the other end of the strip. Machine stitch ~1/8” from the edge of the circle being sure to catch both layers of fabric (circle and strip) all the way around.
Turn to right side, insert the cardboard circle with or without the dowel, hand stitch the seam where you overlapped. Run a gather stitch along the opening. I like to run it overlapping a folded edge. Stuff as desired.
Spread out the twill tape previously applied to the half doll, pin to hold, and stitch firmly along the edges of the tape.
This is where there’s not much instruction as you will have to decide what your skirt will look like based on the fabrics you have. You can choose to build a skirt right on the pin cushion as I did or sew one and dress the doll. There will be more bulk for you to work around if you sew a skirt before dressing her. I actually stitched on rows of 1 1/4” ruffled silk ribbon, one over the other, for the main skirt. Lightweight silk fabric, ribbons, and trims are great to use. Even after on your doll, silk can be steamed and shaped to lay where you want it. You will see in this photo that I also made two rows of stitching on the pin cushion so that I could shape the skirt better.
The following photo shows the main skirt finished. See how far below the half doll the top of the skirt is. This is what I meant my “cut the bulk.” I’m still a good 1/2”-3/4” away from the tiny waist.
The lace peplums are made by cutting 2 half circles in wide lace with the pretty edge left straight. Gather along the curved edge and put one half circle on each side of the doll. I still have not reached the waist.
Her skirt ended up at a length of 5”. I used the buds & bows silk trim to wrap her waist and to hide the top of the peplums. I added a simple ribbon bustle.