Make and Dress Clothespin Dolls
Clothespin or clothes peg dolls with wooden bead heads are easy to customize and dress. The tutorial that follows will show you the basic steps for making a doll, along with a range of easy ways to make facial features and hairstyles for your dolls. The doll's shown here have been made as decorations for Mother's Day, and feature various ethnic groups and costumes to represent mother's from around the world.
There are also instructions for making a clothespin groom and a clothespin bride.
All of the dolls shown here feature costumes made from glued on ribbon and bits of fabric. These instructions show methods for making dolls that are easy for children or adults. The dolls make good play figures or figures for school diorama boxes and scenes as well.
Prep Your Materials
The simple clothespin dolls shown in this tutorial use basic wooden clothes peg bodies and wooden ring stands, along with wooden bead heads. The parts are available online or from many craft supply stores. For the dolls shown here, we used wooden beads 1 1/4 inch/3.3 centimeters diameter sometimes called dowel caps as they have a single, fairly large hole on the base of the bead, and 3 3/4 inch long/9.5 centimeters clothespins. The ring supports are 1 1/8 inches/3 centimeters wide. Online you can buy the doll pins and stands from Dick Blick.
These parts produce a doll that is slightly smaller than the standard dollhouse (1:12) scale, but which can be used with many standard dolls house accessories and clothes. Arms for the dolls can be made from chenille pipe cleaners, or from 18/20 gauge paper or fabric wrapped wire, covered with embroidery floss to suit the doll's skin tone or costume.
To prepare the doll bodies for the insertion of arms, a hole slightly larger than the covered wire or pipe cleaners used for the arms is drilled just down from the shoulder of the clothespin. You can use a power drill or a pin vice to drill the armhole if you have the correct sized drill bit. Make sure you line up the armhole so it goes through the body at right angles to the legs!
Prep the Parts
The dolls shown here have been prepped by sanding the opening in the pin with fine-grit (240 or better) sandpaper, as well as sanding any rough spots on the head and base. For some dolls, we stained the doll head, body, and base with the artist's acrylics. The Nigerian mother was stained by painting the parts and wiping off the excess paints. The Japanese doll and the doll in the Saree were left a natural wood, while the contemporary doll was painted with acrylic paints. The easiest way to paint the parts is to set the pins in a base and paint the heads while they are held loosely on a pin as shown above.
We suggest you paint only the sections of the doll's body which will be seen once the doll is costumed. The head and neck might need painting, depending on the skin tone you wish. If the doll will have a short-skirted costume or shorts, you may need to paint the legs. We painted the contemporary mother's legs to match her skirt colors and added tiny white polka dots to the legs to make stockings. We used the end of a sharp toothpick to make the tiny dots in a regular pattern.
If you wish, you can paint the doll support base ring. We painted the ring for the contemporary doll as it will be on view, but the other doll's rings are covered by the fabric of their costumes.
If you use artist's acrylic paints, you should only need two coats. One will be a full coat, the other a touch-up coat. Tube acrylic paints are better for this work than craft bottles of paint, which may have a poor liquid to pigment ratio. You will need very small quantities of paint.
How to Paint Hair and Facial Features
Faces and hairstyles for clothespin dolls are much easier to create than you might expect. Pencil in your features as suggested below to test the face. The doll on the left of the photo has the facial features penciled in to check the spacing.
We used Tombow Brush Markers in a range of colors. These are watercolor based so they need to be finished with a fixative or gloss overcoat. If your dolls will not be handled often, a quick coat of a suitable hairspray might work as an inexpensive fixative. For our dolls, we used a UV resistant lacquer overcoat with a matte finish, Mr. Super Clear Flat UV. Super Clear Flat UV.
- Eyes: Simple eyes can be made from circles or ovals which should be marked roughly the width of the body apart, and set halfway down the bead. To control the direction of the gaze, make a small dot with white paint in the pupil area of the eye. If you want colored eyes, use acrylic paint or permanent marker to make the eye shape, then add a black pupil and a dot of white.
- Noses can be made with tiny dots or a small semi-circle.
- Lips and mouths can be made with a small line, a heart, or a circle either alone or on top of a line as shown.
- Cheeks can be wiped on with thin watercolor, or pastels but faces with pastels or watercolor will need to be painted with a clear acrylic overcoat, or preferably spray-coated with a fixative.
- Hair can be painted on with acrylic paints, using brush strokes in the direction the hair would normally run. Small beads can be painted for use as buns. If you wish, embroidery floss, viscose, or mohair can be used for curls, braids, ponytails/pigtails, and doll wigging. Hair should be painted on after the skin tone coat is thoroughly dry. Attach the beads for hair extensions to the head after the basic hair is painted on the head bead.
If your doll will be wearing a head covering (like the Gele on the Nigerian Doll), you may not need to paint hair.
Make Simple Arms
For quick and easy clothespin dolls, especially those made by children, or those with costumes that cover the arms, pipe cleaners make easy arms. Use a length of pipe cleaner suitable for the size of your doll. For the dolls, we used a length 4 1/4 inches/11 centimeters and turned the ends back into loops to make hands that can hold accessories. Choose a pipe cleaner which is similar to the skin tone of your doll.
Make Wire Hands
As a more detailed alternative to making simple arms and hands from pipe cleaners, you can wrap wire with embroidery floss to shape simple loop or mitten hands for clothespin dolls. To make the hands and arms by this method you will need a 4 1/4 inch/11 centimeters length of 18 to 20 gauge wire, preferably wire which is wrapped with thread or paper (try the cake decorating or floral departments of a craft store).
To make the hands, begin wrapping the wire roughly 3/4 of an inch/2 centimeters from the end of the wire, wrapping the wire towards the end (see photo). Use full strands of embroidery floss which are not separated into threads. Use a color suitable for your doll's costume or skin tone. When you reach the end of the wire, glue the floss lightly to the wire at the end and allow the glue to set. Do not cut the floss.
Use a pair of pliers to bend the wire back on itself so the end of the wire is just slightly on the hand side of the start of your embroidery floss wrap. Take the thread back from the wire end to the main wire, wrapping over the wire to cover the end of the loop so all of the wire is covered with floss.
Fit Clothespin Doll Arms in Armholes
With one hand shaped and the arm wrapped up to the wrist of the other hand, it is time to fit the clothespin doll arm wire through the armhole. Glue your floss to the wire at the wrist point and leave to dry. Cut your embroidery floss so you have a sufficient length (at least 4 to 6 inches/10 to 15 centimeters) to finish wrapping the arm and second hand. Use a darning needle to thread the floss through the armhole, then insert the wire and fit it through after the floss as shown in the photo above. Set the arm in place and finish the second hand the way you did the first.
Finished Arms and Hands
With the wire fully wrapped, the final hand is bent around to match the first and the embroidery floss is wrapped around the wrist to finish off the final hand join. If you wish, you can now wrap embroidery floss which corresponds with the doll's costume, around the upper part of the arms to make sleeves. All floss ends should be glued in place to the wire or floss layer beneath.
Make Fabric or Ribbon Sleeves
To make simple tops or shirts for your clothespin doll, you can glue ribbon or fabric sleeves to the body of the doll. Cut a suitable section of ribbon and glue it across the front and the back of the doll so the ribbon sits neatly over the "shoulder" of the clothespin. Do not glue the ribbon to the doll's arms. You can also make tubes of fabric or ribbon to fit over the doll's arms. Try to keep these free of the arms so the sleeves will bend naturally when you bend the arms.
Finish the Basic Shirt
To finish the basic T-shirt or shirt for a clothespin doll, wrap a section of ribbon around the doll's body, covering the ends of the ribbon glued on for the sleeves. Overlap the ribbon and glue it neatly to the back of the doll.
The shirt and doll shown here will be dressed in a traditional saree made from wired ribbon.
Easy Clothespin Doll Clothing
The clothespin doll shown here has a shirt made with ribbon sleeves and a body. Since the ribbon is too stiff to bend back on the doll for sleeves, a bit of satin ribbon was used to extend the neckline. The doll's skirt is a simple 3 inch/8 centimeters diameter circle of fabric with a hole cut into it so it can be slipped over the doll's body. The body section of the shirt (also made of ribbon) is glued over the top edge of the skirt to hide the opening. The skirt shown here was edged with embroidery floss to finish the edge, but you could also use lace, or simply finish your fabric circle with fray check or a thin line of PVA glue.
As the clothespin dolls work well with most 1:12 scale miniature accessories, you can use a range of tutorials from this site to fit specialty items to suit your clothespin dolls.
If you want to make a clothespin doll baby and mother for shower decorations or a cake topper for a new mother, it is easy to make a newborn baby doll to fit in her arms. To make the baby shown here, we glued a round wooden bead to the top of a vase-shaped wooden bead.
Once it was glued in place, we painted the face and hair. When they were thoroughly dry we used a permanent pen to add tiny eyes and a mouth. The baby was wrapped in a scrap of soft fabric and laid in the arms of the clothespin mom. Before finishing the set, we positioned the mother's head to be admiring her baby and glued the head into position. If you would rather, you can use museum wax/tacky wax to hold the head on the body so it can be repositioned for other uses.