Dewees' Doll Making Technique

Doll Making Technique by Dewees

Minute instructions on how to put together ingredients and apply them do not always lead to professional results. Inspiration in their personal use, and resourcefulness in dealing with mishaps lead to success. Some technical terms related to doll production are . . .

MASTER MODEL: the single original model of the design; one complete example in as many parts as determined upon for final production (the usual doll is in six parts: head, torso, two legs, two arms). From this master model the fabricator makes as many production models as needed.

From these production models, the production molds are made (plaster, metal, or one of the special compounds for this purpose). In one of these, the final model compound is processed.
The MOLD (or MOULD) made of plaster, usually regular painter's plaster, should be made in two parts for ease of separation of the cast object. This is possible when the production model is made of flexible latex compound, allowing for the undercuts in the design. Without the subtle change of direction in the model forms, the life-like quality is lost.

Model Production of Dolls by Dewees Cochran

In mass production the fabricator makes a number of production models from which to make the multiple molds with which to expedite casting of the final product. Even in a small quantity hand-making of parts, it is advisable to work with a series of molds. For accuracy and sharpness of line it is necessary to make new casting molds after the tenth duplication.
In the use of some casting mediums, a SEPARATOR is necessary. The SEPARATOR is a medium suited to the casting compound. Not all of these require a separator. . . definitely not latex, for which the porous quality of the plaster is required to develop the desired solidity of the cast part. Some casting compounds in liquid state are poured into the mold, timing the pouring for the desired thickness of form. A shallow casting results, giving a lightness and flexibility. The portion of liquid compound poured off is kept for another pouring. Liquids must be guarded from evaporation.

a. Life-like, appealing faces on naturally proportioned heads, with bodies modelled in the proportion and form natural for the age represented.
b. Human hair wigs made in the wef ted method (like toupees). The gauze of the wig is fitted for this purpose over a working form of the head. The hair is then moistened with water, styled to desired hair-do, bound in place with one inch gauze bandage. The ends are curled with metal curlers to waves or tighter curls, depending on size of curler and length of setting time. The wig is dried in normal room temperature, with no stiffness from chemical fixatives or heat.
c. Costumes are made in designs and textures suitable to size of doll. Portrait Doll outfits are copied from those of subject.
d. Play sizes desirable: 9 inches to 21 inches, representing growth differences.
1934: FABRIC

TopsyTurvy Doll Design making

A simple cambric, cut with allowance for three dimensional form, depending upon weave direction of fabric to allow for stretch, or laid straight on the weave to hold the size. In the "TopsyTurvy" design, at the top of arm and leg seams a portion "V" shape was left unstuffed. Then the top part of arms and legs were attached to the torso to allow for flexible action. This very simple device was found to be patentable, as were the appliqued features of the face.

This light wood of many textures is durable (can be treated for even greater hardness and durability). Balsa wood was used for the "KON-TIKI" raft.
The very first head I made was carved of this fabulous wood. It can be painted or stained. I had great ideas for making a swimming doll, but I was pushed too fast for portrait dolls to accomplish this.

This crack-filler was found adaptable for use for hollow castings made in plaster molds. The mold is greased with a thin, even application of vaseline, then dipped for a moment in cold water and well drained. Then the plastic wood is worked into the mold evenly and quickly with the fingers. In contact with the air, it dries quickly. Best results are obtained if the filling of the mold is done under cold water. The two parts are molded separately, then immediately bound together after correct thickness is obtained (an even quarter-inch). The parts adhere to each other. Allow drying at room temperature, while still in mold. The part is easily released from mold because of slight shrinkage of the compound. If carefully removed from the mold and dried at room temperature, and if an even thickness of the walls of the cast has been maintained, there will be no distortion of the form. Small holes caused by possible air bubbles may be filled with same compound, or whiting. Keep fillings level. Careful sanding, using either sandpaper or a damp cloth dipped in pumice, can give a fine finish. The product cannot be stained if much filling was necessary, but allover dipping or brushing in flat semi-gloss house paint gives a surface skin finish, which is suitable for tinting and feature painting.

Later, the manufacturer of plastic wood (A.S. Botle) brought out a product with the same excellent qualities combined with a fine china clay. It was intended for making tiles. Now, with very little shrinkage, I used this beautiful compound for some of my successful early portrait dolls. It requires considerable practice and technical skill.
1938: LATEX

Doll Hair by Dewees Cochran

The wish to have my dolls made entirely of the same medium remained a problem. The difference between casting legs and arms as opposed to head and torso required special and very tedious techniques. I experimented with several latex compounds available to craftsmen, and even got someone else to cast the various parts for me. Results were disappointing . . . distortion through gradual shrinkage, and discoloration. War, and the demand for strategic materials, forced me back to cambric for bodies and plastic wood for heads. Then came the wonderful Industrial Engineer from General Latex & Chemical Corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his helpful introduction to "Vultex."
1945: VULTEX

It was my great good luck to have attracted the attention of this imaginative engineer through the fine publicity given my doll work. He provided the solution to my problem: how to make a life-like doll of a composition, warm feeling, slightly pliable, unbreakable and of heirloom quality. I have used it ever since, and have not made a secret of it, as has been claimed. But I have always warned that it was not intended for craftsman use. I have always obtained it from the main plant or one of their branches, necessarily at first in alarmingly huge drums. Other than those first instructions I received, this large industrial firm could not be troubled with problem questions, of which there were plenty. But I felt that I had been put on my own by all of those first exact suggestions and warnings.

"Vultex" is a compound of pure latex (rubber), chemicals, and the finest quality china clay. It comes in heavy metal drums with excellent clasp closings which permit a number of openings of the drums. It is in two parts, which must be carefully combined for casting use.:
Part "A". . . the Latex, in heavy creamy state.
Part "B" . . . the clay, in a wet mixture.
This material must beuarded against freezing or overheating, in shipping and storing. g • g g, pp~ g g• Forty to sixty degrees Fahrenheit is best.

Doll Making Art and Study

I was cautioned not to mix the ingredients too long before use, and not to let it stand after mixing for more than two weeks. With my precise and limited production, this causes considera- ble loss in time because Part "B," the china clay, generally arrives already very much settled in the bottom of the container. It requires tedious prodding and digging (I even use a small spade and trowel) to get it to its true consistency, a thick cream.

In order to mix it thoroughly, some of the liquid of `B" should be poured off into another container to permit better stirring, then gradually returned until ALL is evenly mixed. Do not leave any of the compound in the bottom of the pail, or your compound will be unsatisfactory.
Formerly, the minimum order was five gallons of each part. Occasionally I have gotten it in two-gallon pails. Remember that selling in these small quantities is actually a gracious service from such a large industrial firm.

For the first mixing and dividing, it is wise to provide clean, strong metal pails such as used by ~I house painters, available in one or two-gallon size. The pails must have tight fitting lids. A good basic proportion is 50/50. However, too much latex weakens arms and legs and makes buffing almost impossible.

Add "A" to "B" slowly, always stirring gently and avoid air bubbles. Distribute the mix now into smaller containers, such as quart or gallon mayonnaise or honey jars. This makes it easier to handle in casting the small parts. It is wise too to strain the mix before pouring into the molds. Use cheesecloth to avoid bubbles.

The mold parts must be closely bound together with extra-wide rubber bands. I also seal the seams to avoid loss of the compound. (After the first two or three castings from the same molds, this is advisable.) Eight or ten castings are the most possible from each mold, to give a good finish and avoid much buffing.
You will have to determine how long to leave the compound in the molds. The product is hollow, one-eighth-inch wall a good average, depending on the part. I keep a chart, and always finding that torsos take the longest, arms and legs least, heads an average of one-half to three-quarters hour, depending on the temperature of the room, 55 to 60 degrees is the most desirable studio temperature for this work.
The compound begins to dry as soon as exposed to air. After the pouroff, which may be used again, dry all parts in the molds until the compound begins to show parting at the opening pouring point. If removed too soon, the model will be ruined. If left too long (until quite rigid), it will not come apart at the undercut points, and the mold will be ruined. Until you become accustomed to judging times, try a small simple piece of plaster. With your spatula, the basic modeling tool, cut small circles in an excess piece of plaster. These are good forms into which to pour a bit of the mixture. These little pieces are also useful as washers in setting in fixtures on which to string the doll parts.

Art portrait of Doll by Dewees Cochran

Dry the doll parts by hanging them on little wires in a moderate room temperature, or out-of-doors on an easily constructed high rack. Hang in perpendicular position so that no distortion results. This compound is pre-vulcanized and need no firing. The air and normal heat does this. I like to leave them hanging two days. Put the parts in trays (wax paper lined) and don't begin the finish for several days.
Then comes buffing away the molded seams and any surface imperfections. This is done by buffing one small portion at a time, using lacquer thinner and buffing at once with sandpaper or pumice. DO NOT do this work near an open fire or heat. Lacquer thinner is highly flammable! I do this work by an open window or out-of-doors. The fumes are not good for the eyes or lungs.

Also, the fumes from the latex "A" part give off a strong ammonia odor. In the 19th Century it was thought that a slight aroma of ammonia brightened the spirits, and that a whiff of aromatic spirits of ammonia should be used to bring the ladies out of their fashionable faints.

The final skin finish requires a pliable lacquer, now difficult to find. Soon I shall find another source, I am certain. This is not an ordinary paint or lacquer. It must be pliable to go over the slightly pliable doll parts. Anything else would end with cracking. The parts may be dipped in a well thinned solution of this lacquer, or it may be sprayed on. Then tinting may be sprayed on, or done with a brush. The features should be hand painted with oil paints of fine art quality.
Strung together, she is now ready for wigs and clothes.

Postscript on Technique. . .
To perform all of these operations on one doll would be folly. The portraiture of the head is completely individual, but I never work longer than one hour at a time on an individual, having several at hand to keep a fresh eye for each little personality. Each day one sees quite new things in the different faces, until satisfied that a very special likeness is finally achieved.

A series of bodies are my designs from a proportion chart for ages one to twenty, given gentle forms suitable for dolls.

If you would like to read more about the life of this amazing lady and skilled Doll Maker then buy her book:

"As If They Might Speak" by Dewees Cochran

This book presents, in text and pictures, the life and work of Dewees Cochran. She created and produced the finest dolls ever seen in America or, for that matter the world. AS IF THEY MIGHT SPEAK is designed in large artbook format and includes these features:

The autobiography of Dewees Cochran.

Hundreds of illustrations in color and black-and-white, which provide a detailed pictorial reference for doll-collectors.

The chronological listing of the various types of dolls produced by Dewees Cochran.

Pictorial reproductions of the enourmous publicity received by this artist from the 1930's until 1978.

A detailed and informative section showing the exact techniques used in her production of dolls.

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