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Monday, March 16, 2015

Project #3 Meet Helen


"May I present,

                 Miss Helen....

Lately I've been feeling a little like one of those pervy unsubs from the Criminal Minds TV show.

You see, I've been hunting down arms and legs...trolling EBay for them.

Let me clarify that a bit. China doll arms and legs... 

Let me take you back a LONG time ago.....

I grew up in mid-Michigan and where I grew up there was an historical village built with homes from the turn of the century that were transported to the village and set up. The village had it's own blacksmith shop, merry-go-round, several homes, a general store, an historic train and depot and Stanley School. Every year in my elementary, the third graders would spend an entire day going to that school so we could experience a day in the life of a pioneer child.

We would wear our bonnets and dresses and bring a pail lunch. We would sit in a one room school house and receive our lessons from the teacher. At recess, we could drink from the pump and play games. It was great fun and I spent many a fun time at that village both as a visitor and as a volunteer.
Going to the general store in the village was also a treat. While they sold the obligatory tourist souvenirs, they also had items that were for display only that would have been in the store a hundred years prior. I remember two of them very well, beautiful china doll head dolls sitting high on a shelf. One day, I said to myself, I would have a china head doll like those.

The china head dolls I speak of were the "Barbie" dolls of their day.
These were not the fancy Bru's or Jumeau's that, in general, only wealthier families would have owned, these were, instead, the common china dolls that were accessible to many families at some point.

These dolls came in two main styles, highbrow or low brow. Their hair could be blond, brown or most common, black. Our Helen is a Low brow china doll. It refers to where her hair falls on her face.


About a year ago I decided I wanted to finally purchase a doll but I figured the completed dolls would probably be out of my price range so I would purchase the components and make the doll myself. So when I saw this winsome china doll head named Helen smiling back from the pages of EBay, I knew I had my head. Surprisingly these are available on EBay for not a lot of money. But then to find the arms and legs. Not as easy as I anticipated.
Finally I received them and here is how I went about putting it all together.


There really wasn't any "pattern" per se but, like the pioneer mother's of old, I created one.

I folded a piece of typing paper and made a general pattern shape on one side. Then I folded it and cut it. I did this for the arms and legs as well as the body. Then cut it out of fabric and made sure that the sewn pieces would fit around the china.

I decided that I wasn't going to make Helen like a typical china doll, instead I was going to give her "joints" like a teddybear. In this way, she would be able to sit up and have some positioning of the arms. I also made her with bent arms so that her hands can lay in her lap like a lady should.

After I cut out the doll parts, I sewed all the parts around leaving an opening on the torso and at the end of each appendage to attach the china legs and arms. I turned them inside/out and stuffed them using closed scissors to stuff each piece as full as possible.

The easiest and most cost effective way of making "joints" on your doll is to make "button joints".  Using two buttons per "joint", Put one on the outside of the appendage and one on the inside of the body. Now sew both button together through the thicknesses. This will allow the arm or leg some give to allow them to move as opposed to just flop.

So after sewing the main body in a bracket style to allow me the opportunity to sew these joints. I then finished the body and stuffed it.

The arms and legs were another challenge. After stuffing them they had to be attached. Sometimes you get lucky and there are little holes in each leg or arm so that you can sew through the leg to the other side and directly attach the legs. Unfortunately there is also another way which was what this was set up for where there is a 'channel' in the leg through which you essentially glue the leg onto the cloth. It's not my favorite way as I've got another porcelain doll that I bought years ago and because it's glued, her leg constantly falls off. If I was brave or had another set, I would have attempted to drill a hole through the porcelain but as I did not, I did not want to risk it.

To attach the arms and legs, you start by making a run stitch around the opening and make sure that the appendage fits. Leave a tail so that you can pull it tightly and knot it.


You want a tight fit so sometimes this isn't that pretty. Then run a bead of glue in the channel and place the appendage in the hole. Then pull on the running stitch to secure it and I make several passes around the appendage tying knots in the front, now the back and again in the front. Then let the glue dry.

Stuff securely.

I'm also not sure if these arms are to proportion but that is all I had so that's what we got. So after attaching these, I stuffed the body as tightly as possible as the head is going to be the heaviest part so we need to make sure that the body is going to be secure enough to hold the head.

Stuff with closed scissors. Careful not
to poke through!
Whip stitch securely.

Then we whip stitch or blanket stitch the opening to secure it.

Now for the final ta-da.... Time to give Helen a body again.



Her head has two little holes in the should plate to make it easy to attach. You can either use a large needle and go from to back securing through the hole and under the hole or sew in the front and back of the plate to secure it.

And now our handsome lass has a body once again and one that can move!

Our next endeavor will be to create a dress worthy our hundred year old lady. I do hope when I'm a hundred years old (God willing!) I'll look as good as our friend Helen.


  1. Wow i am a vintage and antique nut she is beautiful can't wait to see her in the dress.

  2. Neat project, love the canal I'm a WNY lady myself, now located in the Southern Tier. Spring is almost here, hang in there!

  3. How cool is this!! Love this project! Thank you so much for sharing with us at VMG206 Brag About It! Hope you'll join us again very soon!

  4. Wow, how fun that you restored Helen! You did such a great job! :) And you are pretty fun about stocking ebay for body parts ;) Thank you for sharing on the Art of Home-Making Mondays Stacey. Have a wonderful weekend!

  5. Great project! I look forward to seeing Miss Helen all dressed up. Thanks for sharing at What'd You Do This Weekend? I hope you will join us again this Monday!

  6. Wow, great job! Helen looks so complete now. :) Thanks for sharing at On Display Thursday, join us again this Thursday!
    -Leia @ Eat It & Say Yum

  7. This looks incredible! Pinned and tweeted. We are so thrilled to have you at our party. Please stop by tonight at 7, so we can see your amazing projects. Lou Lou Girls

  8. So Cool! Thanks for sharing at the #HomeMattersParty - we hope to see you again next week. :)

    Life With Lorelai

  9. It might be easier to make your own arms/legs from sculpy clay and paint them? OK. They won't be antique this way, but they'll match your style (cause you make that so), and it might be easier than scouring the web?! Anyhow, just a thought. Lovely doll. Thank you so much for linking this up at The Creative Muster, a linky party I'm co-hosting this week. Hope you'll come visit us again at (e.g. for the ShareIt Sunday linky party)

  10. I was so interested to read this - I learned a lot about china dolls that I didn't know. And what a wonderful job you are doing of giving Miss Helen a lovely new lease of life! Thank you for sharing this post with us at the Hearth and Soul hop.