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Doll customization tutorial (sort of)

As requested, I've whipped up a two-cents tutorial for how I made my first custom MH doll, Quin Qilin.

I started with a concept sketch--well, several, but this is the one that I eventually decided on.

I started with a "Day at the Maul" Draculaura, because she was a) cheap and b) had some accessories I could work with. I pulled her head off, carefully wiped her face down with acetone, and then cut/ripped all her hair out with jewelry pliers. But gently.

We always hurt the ones we love.
I took breaks between rubbing her makeup off to rinse the head with warm water; it prevents the acetone from discoloring the vinyl and also softens the glue so it's easier to pull out. You want to be careful when you remove the hair, as to prevent making any huge holes in the scalp that you can't plug with hair later.

I took her to pieces as much as possible and soaked her in a boiling-hot RIT fabric dye bath.

Like grim Easter eggs.

This bit was tricky--obviously her vinyl head took on color immediately, as did her lower arms and hands, but her body/upper legs took quite a bit of heating and re-heating to get the proper saturated look. Her lower legs hardly took any color at all. I'm guessing this is due to her other bits being hollow, or possibly different grades of ABS plastic--if I could have removed her lower legs and colored them separately, I'm sure i would have eventually gotten them to take the color. A couple of Wave 1 dolls that I colored had lower legs that immediately took dye, so it's possible that different plastic was used in the different waves.

My roommates were terrified of her at this point.
Then, I started sewing, because my order of hair had not come in yet! Bear in mind that I've never sewn anything in my life aside from pillowcases and I hate hate hate sewing, but as I have a very specific outfit in mind for her, nothing will do until I create it with my own crabbed fingers.

SLIGHTLY less scary in a tiny dress.

But why do that when you can ROOT HAIR? It's so fun, you guys, seriously. No sarcasm. The minute the hair came in I started a-needlin'.

Colors aren't clashy at ALL.

I built a wire frame for her horn out of some thick jewelry wire, and rooted it into her head while I was waiting for another shipment of rerooting needles. (FYI those things break hardcore fast. Order like 10-20 of them in the smallest size if you're planning to reroot a doll, because sheesh. When my needles broke I tried to use the knot method, but I found that nearly impossible to pull off on a Monster High head, given the tiny neckholes, so yeah, a rerooting tool is necessary.)

Then I used model magic to sculpt the horn and the scales around the base of her horn--turns out it was a good idea to wait to root the rest of her hair, since it let me plan out more accurately where her scales would lie on her skull.

Ignore the giant empty tubs of sour cream, my BFF and I were mixing plaster for face-casts that day, too. :P

I removed the horn, painted it and the scales, finished rooting the hair, then glued the horn in place on top--and bent the wires against the interior of her scalp to make it extra-secure. Then I pretty much filled her head with glue.

Then I started painting her face, which was very tricky as I couldn't be assured of being able to fix mistakes with paint remover--I couldn't risk discoloring the Rit dye-job.

I took it very slow and sealed between each layer of paint.

And voila!

And for some thoughts about what did and didn't work:
+ The model magic! It's lightweight but they must have changed the formula since last time I used it, because it was impossible to sand down smoothly--hence the slight lumpiness in the horn that I really don't appreciate. Still, I think it looks okay and it is REALLY lightweight, so there's that. Next time, though, I think I might try Sugru--I've heard good things about it.
+ I think after doing the initial dye with Rit, you should wait a couple of days and re-dye the head, or IMMEDIATELY seal it. I've dyed a couple of dolls experimentally since then and the vibrancy of the color has faded from the vinyl heads, so I wind up with mismatches and it is lame. Next doll I will seal right after dyeing--lesson  learned!
+ Also, lesson learned on the scalp-painting: I forgot to paint her head before I rooted the hair! The MH hair plug holes are further apart than I anticipated, so the scalp is much more visible than I'd like. DEFINITELY paint the scalp before you re-root a doll or you'll wind up with a headache like mine, where I was basically forced to add several new hair-holes to cover up the patches and I'm still not entirely satisfied with the results. Passable, but not professional.

Overall I think she turned out fairly well for a first attempt; I'm already working on several more customs so I'm sure I'll be applying what I learned here to the new dolls and learning more. If anyone's got questions or suggestions, feel free to ask and tell!


( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 20th, 2011 07:39 pm (UTC)
She's adorable!! And thanks for the info on all the work you did.
Dec. 21st, 2011 03:06 am (UTC)
I hope it's helpful!
Dec. 20th, 2011 07:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you SO MUCH for this!!

The doll I'm looking to dye I probably would want to keep the hair - would the RIT dye have much of an effect on the hair? (It'd be a Cleo, so I can't see it being too bad, maybe just adding a slight tint to the black?) If it ends up being not what I'm looking for, what type of hair would you recommend using?

What kind of paint did you use for the face up? Also, do you have a brand of sealant you prefer?

Quin came out so nicely, it definitely gives me hope for making my Jersey Devil doll!
Dec. 20th, 2011 07:53 pm (UTC)
I think you're right that a Cleo doll's hair probably wouldn't be too affected by the RIT--the only concern I think you'd have with that is not using too hot of a dye-bath, since boiling hot water can cause nylon hair to melt, break and frizz. Maybe hold the doll by the hair when you dye it and gently poke the head under the dye-bath with a pen? XD

For the face-up I used an artist-grade "soft body" acrylic, with a lot of retarder and medium to make the paint thinner and easier to spread. Then I used a liquid sealant between coats. Artist-grade acrylics like Liquitex soft body are less goopy and easier to mix and paint fine detail with--if you try to use craft acrylics, you may end up with a mess.

For the sealant, I actually haven't found one that works yet! >:| It's what's holding up my next doll--fortunately, with the red Rit dye, I didn't get much fading between the head and the body. It happened mainly with the blue and green dolls I dyed, so I'm still experimenting to find something that works--I suspect a vinyl sealant will do the trick but I've yet to try it.

Good luck on your doll! I hope you post pics of her :D
Dec. 20th, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, and for the replacement hair, I order from dollyhair.com. It's also where I get my reroot tools and needles. If Cleo's hair gets ruined somehow, ordering some nylon hair and a reroot kit from them won't set you back too much.
Dec. 20th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
Awesome :) Thanks so much again! I think I know what I'll be doing while waiting for the semester to start back up :)
Dec. 21st, 2011 12:18 am (UTC)
Do you use the nylon hair or the saran hair?
Dec. 21st, 2011 03:07 am (UTC)
The nylon; I also ordered about 4 packs of the MLP-length hair since I wasn't sure how long I was ultimately going to make it. I'm actually waiting for my roommate to come home from out of town--she's an accomplished wig-stylist and I want her to take a crack at styling Quin's hair for me. :3
Dec. 21st, 2011 01:16 am (UTC)
Mr. Super Clear is the best vinyl sealant I know of, although Testors Clear Coat can work in a pinch from what I've heard. www.junkyspot.com sells Mr. Super Clear, but if it's out-of-stock it won't be listed on the site.

I hope you can figure out the best way to not get funky things to happen to the head's colour and get it to stay stable. Do you know if dying a second time works for sure?

I wonder if perhaps Dylon's powder dye would work any better? That brand tends to have a better reputation and the one pack I've had was pretty good and strong. They're a little tougher to find because you have to look specifically in clothes-dying sections of craft stores/departments rather than just picking it up in the laundry aisle, but it might be well worth it.
Dec. 21st, 2011 03:10 am (UTC)
Ahhh, thanks for the info! I've been lurking around doll custom sites but I can never seem to find exactly what i'm looking for. I'm definitely going to invest in a can of Mr. Super Clear, and I'll report back on my findings.

Dying a second time seems to help with some colors; the red head stabilized after a second dye job and it helped with a blue head I dyed, but the green head faded just as much after a second dye-job. I suspect Rit's various colors have different formulations that cause this disparity.

Hmm, I hadn't heard of Dylon--at my local craft stores I've only ever seen Rit. I'll browse around online and see if I can locate it, though. Worth giving it a go!
Dec. 21st, 2011 07:04 am (UTC)
I think Dylon is something they have over in the UK and Austrailia. I have heard the Rit dyes over there are different from the US versions and don't work as well.
Dec. 21st, 2011 02:10 pm (UTC)
They have Dylon in the U.S. I think I've seen it at Walmart and either Michael's or Jo-Anne's. I've only heard positive things about Dylon, and mixed things about Rit (my own experience with Rit tends to be mixed as well). I didn't know the UK/Aussie versions are different. I guess ours probably has a toxic chemical that they ban or something, since that seems to be the case with most different formulas. (See US Mountain Dew for reference; it contains a flame retardant banned in the UK and Japan. :P)

Yeah, different colours use different chemical combos and such, so that's probably a factor. Good to hear that red and blue can be stabilized, although I'm a bit disappointed about the green, as I'm considering making an orc or something out of a spare Frankie that I'm apparently getting for Christmas, if I don't give it to my friend.
Dec. 20th, 2011 09:25 pm (UTC)
Quin is beautiful! You did such a great job!
Dec. 21st, 2011 03:11 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! :3
Dec. 20th, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
AAH so wonderful!!
Dec. 21st, 2011 03:14 am (UTC)
Muchas gracias!
Dec. 21st, 2011 12:22 am (UTC)
She's so cool! Thank you so much for the horn info- I've wanted to add horns to a MH doll before but I had no clue as to how!
Dec. 21st, 2011 03:16 am (UTC)
I'm going to be adding horns to my next big project; a blue dragon-girl. They'll be shorter horns, but I think anchoring them with jewelry wire is the best way to go about it; plus you can remove it to paint it. :D The heads' plastic are actually quite easy to pierce, if you're not planning on just sticking them in the hairline--a carefully-applied thumbtack will give you a nice little hole to thread the jewelry wire in. :)
Dec. 21st, 2011 12:23 am (UTC)
SHES SO GORGEOUS :D I love the sorta walkthrough. I've never seen anyone dye the body before.

This is probably gonna sound like a really stupid question and I'm sorry if I missed it in the entry somewhere, but she based on a particular legend or creature? :)
Dec. 21st, 2011 03:24 am (UTC)
D'oh! *facepalm* Yeah, I guess I should have mentioned that she's a Qilin (Kirin in Japanese). They're one of the four intelligent/sacred animals of Chinese mythology, along with dragons, tortoises and phoenixes. They're technically monsters, as they're sort of a unicorn/deer/dragon thing, but mostly they represent perfect benevolence, harmony and good. Seeing one heralds the birth of a great sage or savior, and according to legend, one appeared before Genghis Khan before he invaded India, and the sight of it persuaded him to spare the country and peacefully return to Mongolia. /nerd

I actually wrote up a whole mock-Monster High bio for her, with a Pet Peeve and a favorite subject and everything. /double nerd
Dec. 21st, 2011 11:30 am (UTC)
Oooh that sounds really cool :DDD

I wrote bios for my OCs as well. Though I've only got round to making one so far. She's a Yukionna :)
Dec. 21st, 2011 12:47 am (UTC)
Great tips and photos. It was really nice of you to share your experience. I'll probably refer back to this soon. :)
Dec. 21st, 2011 03:26 am (UTC)
Awesome! Please share anything you learn! :D And ask me any questions you like--I'd love to see other people's results with my techniques.
Dec. 21st, 2011 02:07 am (UTC)
She turned out to be rather impressive! :D I like how she turned out. And thanks for the detailed "making of" photos to show the dye process and how you did the horn. I'm kind of wanting to try my hand at dying dolls and figures, so it's helpful.

It's possible to make rooting tools out of a pack of sewing needles, wire clippers, and pencils. Stab the needle into the eraser, and clip off the end of the eye. :3 If you've got some epoxy putty like Mighty Putty or something laying around; you could make a handle from the putty instead, but you'd have to make a new one or add to it each time the needle broke.
Dec. 21st, 2011 03:29 am (UTC)
Yeah! She's actually been finished for a few weeks; I'm working on my blue dragon now. :D Hopefully she'll turn out even better! But I'm trying to do a doll for a friend first.

Oh wow, I didn't know that--I mean, looking at the needles i ordered from dollyhair I could tell they were just regular needles with the ends removed, but I hadn't thought of just trying to make them myself. That's ingenious advice. :D
Dec. 21st, 2011 04:25 am (UTC)
She's fantastic! And the dress is really lovely! You did a really good job on her. :D
Dec. 22nd, 2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!
Dec. 21st, 2011 04:40 am (UTC)
This is OUTSTANDING! great job
Dec. 22nd, 2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
Thank-you! :D
Dec. 21st, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC)
I love that you posted your process! Very interesting to see and read!
And your finally thoughts on what did and didn't work.
She looks fantastic! I adore the whole concept and I'm looking forward to seeing more of your work in the future! :D
Dec. 22nd, 2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm so glad it was helpful. Hopefully I'll have a new doll and more walkthroughs to post soon.
Dec. 24th, 2011 02:31 am (UTC)
I have one more silly question! Did you use a combination of dye colors, or did you stick with just one? I was thinking of using the powder Rit in Scarlet, but some of the reviews I've heard have said it comes out a little...pinkish. Or is that more a matter of just letting it sit in the boiling water bath for longer?

I really have to thank you for going through all this trouble - I picked up the Cleo today and started prepping her for this semester break project, heh. No more tinsel hair!!!
Dec. 25th, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
I used just Scarlet for her and it worked out just fine--it looks as deep red in person as it does in the pics! Of course, I used a Draculaura, and you're using a Cleo, who has a darker original shade, so I think mayyyybe you should consider using Wine instead? It's hard to say--the original color does affect the dye, but I haven't tried dyeing a Cleo yet.

Edited at 2011-12-25 12:33 pm (UTC)
Dec. 25th, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC)
Well, as it turns out we're going to have a tester doll...when we tried to remove the head from the DT Cleo it snapped right off. So we have a DotD Cleo in the mail right now...so we've got at least *something* to work with...and learned to be a *little* more careful with the head removal.
Dec. 25th, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC)
Oooh, yeah. Try running her under a hot tap while you wiggle the head; it can soften up the plastic and make it more bendy while you try to squeeze her off of that plastic thing.
Dec. 2nd, 2012 06:12 pm (UTC)
costumization Q's?
Did you dye and paint the shoes? Or just paint them? And, have you dyed a MH doll that still has their hair?
Dec. 2nd, 2012 06:31 pm (UTC)
Re: costumization Q's?
OK. So I read the comment above about hot water affecting the nylon hair sill in the head. Sorry about the redundancy.
Jun. 30th, 2015 08:34 pm (UTC)
( 38 comments — Leave a comment )