Doll from Lifelong Friend Makes for a Meaningful Repair Job

***UPDATE***            JANUARY 2016:

I’m taking a break right now from repair work. I will let you know when I’m back to work. This site hasn’t been updated because work is steady. I published “Blue Ridge Scenic Railway” (see with Arcadia Press in Spring 2015. Right now, I’m still working on repairs BUT very selective, as I’m trying to catch up on some of my own projects as well. Please check back later. Thank you very much, Melissa

I don’t work on dolls anymore. I don’t have time, given my restoration work on embroidery, crochet, and other hand-sewing needs. And yet, I still manage to give in, on rare occasion, and work on a doll. It’s a nice break, I guess. I’m a softie for doll lovers, because I used to collect them myself. There’s something sweet and whimsical about each doll’s expression, each piece of loved-on clothing. Even seeing the grime on the doll warms my heart, because it means someone played with her a lot.

Sarah S. of Atlanta had such a doll, given to her by her beloved housekeeper when she was a child. I told Sarah it would be a while, because I had a lot of needlework projects, but she had no time limitation.

“Sassy” the doll needed cleaning, to have her clothing repaired and cleaned, and to have her hands replaced. I looked her up on Google, and discovered that she was also missing her hat, so I thought I’d make her one of those, too. Below is a “Before” shot, where you can see one of her hands has exploded its stuffing, her cheeks are dirty, and her outfit is soiled. The cotton pompoms on her nightie are supposed to be white, but have darkened with play. And her hair is dark, when it was originally quite blonde.

Mattel Baby Beans Before

I began by looking her over and deciding if she needed a new outfit, or if I could salvage her original pajama body. I like to keep things as original/authentic as possible when I can. The outfit appeared to be fine, and I decided to try cleaning it to see how nicely it would wash up. Careful removal is crucial, and I used my Gingher seam ripper to pick open the seam at her neck.


To wash her pajama body, I used “Restoration,” which is a great product in powder form and somewhat like OxiClean, but I don’t find that it bleaches the way OxiClean does. I won’t use OxiClean for that reason, having once ruined a little estate sale find of mine—a lovely crocheted baby cap—by leaving it in the product overnight. Bleach City!

Anyway, here are photos of the doll’s age-packed stuffing, her bag o’ pellets for weight so the doll sits up (including the neck piece that holds her head on) and her outfit, once removed:



This photo above shows how the head was attached by a string. Often, the bodies are tied around the necks with these nylon braided strings. American Girl dolls have string ties attaching their bodies to their heads. I had to cut the original tie to get the head off. I replaced that tie with a new, sturdy one.

Also, in the above photo of what was inside the doll, you can see that the weight bag has ink on it. There is also ink in the spot on the pjs where some ink bled through to that bag. Most of that pj ink came out with the washing.

I then made a trip to JoAnn Fabrics to find some new pompoms for her front, eyelet lace trim for her cuffs, ribbon ties for her night cap, and matching pink flannel for it. I already had the flesh tone fabric for her hands.

And here is the outfit, once washed:


Now this was set aside, so I could wash Sassy’s head. I do this with shampoo, Q-tips, and sometimes plain old hand lotion. I have Gold Bond. It works just fine, both on me and on dolls. Then, to hold her hair down to dry, and to keep her bangs in place the way they were originally, I simply used masking tape! Works great. Doesn’t she look all scrubbed and clean?

Getting back to the outfit/body, I want to show you the pompoms I found, vs the old ones. I made the decision to just replace rather than try to scrub the old ones, which were pretty dirty. I think they look so nice and white! They’re slightly bigger, but I don’t think that matters.

IMG_0050    IMG_0051

Next step: lace cuffs

Starting to look like a fresh, new doll body:


Alas, the hands, the hands! They were a mess and I needed to sort that out next. So I used what was left of the old ones to fashion new ones. Had to use old ones for a pattern:

All righty, we’re getting close. We have new hands and stuffing. More of the stuffing, and now to attach her head again. Then I made her cap. I looked at her image online so I could do the right type of cap. I don’t have photos of cutting it out, but I just came up with my own pattern.


Old Sassy, New Sassy. What do you think?

Baby Beans before and after


Baby on My Doorstep

One day in December, I came home from church to find this on my doorstep:


A baby in a basket, with a Band-Aid on her eye! The note with her was from a dad, and it said I’d spoken with his wife about fixing his daughter’s doll.

Indeed, the girl’s mom had phoned me earlier to ask if I could fix her “Jackie.” Her daughter had accidentally poked the doll’s eyes in, and now she thought she looked a little scary. You be the judge:


So I set about seeing what we had to work with here. First I had to remove the head to see how the eyes were set. I had already old my customer that I wasn’t sure I could do this repair, as I hadn’t set eyes in a vinyl head before. Have only set rocker eyes in antique (bisque) dolls, which is done with plaster. The customer was willing to let me give it a try, though. As I removed the head, this is what I found:

There was a cloth bag inside (see large photo above) with plastic pellets in it giving the doll some weight. I removed that and then removed the head from the neck piece. With a flashlight, I could see that the eyes were set into sturdy vinyl sockets. Now what to do? Cut them open and take out the eyes, fix and then re-pour plastic/vinyl/silicone?

After doing a little research, I discovered one technique used with dolls like this is to heat the eyes with a hair dryer, then pop them out from the front. Worth a try, and here is the result:

IMG_4711          IMG_4712

The eyes were set into a metal rim that rested inside a black plastic “socket.” The eyes were actually broken when the owner pushed them into the doll’s head. Tiny“rocker” notches sitting into holes in the black socket cup had been snapped off. No choice for me, then, but to re-set the eyes in a stationery position. No more rocking open and closed for her.

One eyes went back together all right, as it wasn’t as broken. But the other one would not stay *up* in position, and fell down into the socket cup. So I came up with the idea of propping it up with a fabric-and-epoxy composite:

IMG_4714        IMG_4713

I shredded this monk’s cloth to make my mixture, and then stuffed the socket cup and reassembled the eye. It worked!

Once I had both eyes fixed, after they dried a while I used the hair dryer to heat up the doll’s eye holes again. Then I popped them back into her head. After a little positioning (two attempts on one eye) Jackie was looking good! I put her pellet weights and stuffing back in, gave her a new string tether for her neck (the cloth body is tied on at the neck) and took stitches at her neck where I’d loosened the body. After washing and brightening her layette and outfit, she was ready to go home, not looking a bit scary. Mission accomplished!


Cleaning Dolls for a New Granddaughter

Marsha Y emailed asking if I could clean two of her dolls from the late 1950’s-early-1960’s. She wanted to could give them to her new granddaughter. Smile  Yes, I said, and met her to do the “pass-off” in a Walgreen’s parking lot.

Marsha’s dolls had their original clothing on. One she said was called “Marge the Teenage Doll,” and the other was a ballerina. Both dolls’ outfits were in good condition, though one dress was badly yellowed. I suggested that Marsha take the clothing to my textile cleaner downtown. She did, but the cleaner didn’t get the yellow out of the dress. So my client decided to use Oxyclean and she was happier with those results. It all depends on what you would like to accomplish with the clothing. The textile cleaner errs on the side of caution, knowing the chemicals and the fibers’ reaction to them. But for general bleaching, yes, Oxyclean and other agents (like Borax) will also lift stains. I leave that part to either the pro cleaner or to my customers.

I also asked that Marsha keep all the dolls’ accessories (shoes, hair ribbons, flocked hair flowers, nylon hose, plastic shoes, undies.) This is so nothing gets lost in the exchange, and she can keep them with the doll’s box or label them for the appropriate doll.

With the now nude dolls in hand, I set out to clean them. Here are the two of them, prior to cleaning:


Here are some areas that were cleaned:

There were mildew spots and some discoloration from dirt on the face, eyes, torsos and limbs. Both dolls’ wigs retained a good level of shininess, but after bathing the dolls, I carefully (so as not to get water inside the head) shampooed each head of hair. Once that’s completed, the wigs are brushed out with a detangling agent and then set with curlers (for Marge doll) or styled in a bun (for the ballerina.) The ballerina’s wig was totally made for a bun, as only the outer hair was long. The inner hair near the scalp was only made to have the outer hair pulled over it. So back it went into that style. 

The Marge doll had a split in her rubber face at the chin, and I tried to glue it with special cement for gluing rubber, but it did not work. I ended up getting it together with a simple stitch (beige thread) knotted on both sides. This will work well for a “shelf sitter” type pretty doll, but not for one that will be played with.

Both dolls looked great once I was finished. I’ve just been too busy to get photos from Marsha (and forgot to take them like I always do) but will post soon with “After” shots. Until then, here “Before” photos of their wigs. As stated, the ballerina’s (Left) went up into a high bun and the Marge doll’s went back the same way, but with more curl, and with her bangs smoothed down and more evened out:

IMG_4183       IMG_4186

Okay, Marshas sent these “After” photos! Don’t the dolls look great?! I just love how she had all their accessories. And the ballerina’s dress did wash up nicely.

Nice letter from a Satisfied Customer

October 27, 2010

Melissa’s Collectible Restoration and Repair offers services for repairing needlework, textiles, quilt work and dolls.  I moved back to Atlanta and stayed at my mother’s home for several weeks with my father while my mom was in California this past summer.  One day I found a Madame Alexander doll that had been in a collection in my bedroom when I was young.  My mom liked to get a doll for my sister and I each time we traveled to a foreign country so that we could reminisce on our experiences over the years.  It has been interesting to see this collection grow over time as my sister and I venture across the globe.  This Irish doll’s legs and arms were detached and the doll was in a drawer.  The red-headed, Irish doll was one of the first dolls I had received for my collection and was very special to me.  It was sad to see her lying in pieces in the drawer.  I began my search for someone who could help me put this Irish Madame Alexander back together again.

After searching for several days online, I realized that there are very few doll repair shops in Atlanta.  I finally found a small advertisement on Craigslist with Melissa’s repair services listed.  I called Melissa and within two weeks my doll was like new again.  I put her in the glass cabinet with the dolls from the countries my sister and I had traveled to over the years.

When I picked up the doll from Melissa, she said that many dolls in the past were assembled with material called “cat gut” which often disintegrates over time.  She used a more pliable material and reassembled the doll.  I’m thankful that Melissa’s restoration service was here in Atlanta.  This was a nice surprise for my mother when she returned from California.  Now, I can begin looking for my vintage Malaysian Madame Alexander doll to keep the collection representative of my travels!

I am sure you will appreciate Melissa’s services.  After speaking with Melissa, I was happy to learn that she now has a web site:

I recommend her work wholeheartedly and thank her for helping me keep my family’s collection and memories alive and motivating me to pursue new destinations around the world!


Satisfied Customer in Georgia

Restringing Madame Alexander Irish

This repair request came a few months ago, but I’m just now getting my photos on here. Kim, her owner, is moving back to Atlanta after having been away for a few years, I believe she told me. She found her doll’s elastic (catgut used in the 1960’s on Madame Alexanders) had snapped. She didn’t know it, but the “S” hooks that held the elastic in place in the legs were also missing. I got some new “S” hooks and used cloth-coated elastic string to put the limbs back together. Strung the head to the arms + used elastic to reinforce remaining catgut connecting arms, which is sure to give way one of these days. The owner was pleased to have her doll back together!

Show Me Your Unfinished Craft Project

Hey, I know you have one. What’s hiding in your closet, under the bed, or stuffed in a plastic bin? Is it a needlepoint horse head (like my daughter’s?) Or a cross-stitch of Tweety Bird to hang on a kid’s nursery door (like my boss’ wife) and now their daughter is 9?

Every one of us has something that isn’t finished. One of my biggies is a bedspread knit out of *thread* on Size 0 needles. But I can’t give away the 150 balls of thread I purchased at 10 different Michael’s. I just can’t give up on that project. It’s a crazy-ridiculous one, really. When would I have the time to do something like that? And I’m too ADHD with my crafting, anyway. I really enjoy working on more than one type of project at a time.

That’s where someone like me comes in for you! I can finish your grandmother’s needlepoint pillow that you don’t know how to stitch, but you want to finish it because she worked it. Her beloved hands were on it, and she cared about it.

I can patch that patchwork, wash the doll, fashion the cross-stitch into a Christmas stocking complete with a hanging loop, seam the knit sweater, and bind the rug!

I’ll have photos on here soon, for examples. But let me know what you want done and I’ll see try to complete you item in the most practical, affordable way.