Introduction: Baby Doll | We Can Rebuild You

About: I am an Architect and Dad, based in Dublin, Ireland. Instagram @rob_salmon_1981

I recently inherited a box containing limbs, a torso, and a head!

It was my Mothers First Doll, which was both second hand, and already somewhat broken to the point of being fully bandaged, when she received it 70 years ago. Over the years, it became bandaged and battle weary. The body completely broken, the limbs unattached, the connections lost. Additionally, there were missing pieces, which were broken and lost. Needless to say, the doll has sentimental value.

What follows is a guide on doll repair which could hopefully inspire future similar projects. A Repair and restoration project like this is rewarding and not too challenging.

The primary supplies required are Glues, Tapes & Paints.

I could write a book about glue, and its powers of stickiness! Without glue, many repair jobs become impossible. Porcelain vases, china cups, and plaster dolls, around the world would be relegated to the rubbish bin. Children would be scolded, punished and scarred for life. Thank God for Glue.


Super Glue

(I use the cheapest most generic stuff you can get!!)

There are different types of superglue of various viscosities - i wanted something "watery" so it could seep into cracks.

Epoxy Resin Glue

(I use the cheapest most generic stuff you can get!!) This is 2 part glue, that requires mixing - it sets very hard, and bonds really well, and can be sanded. It has GRAB Power... and unlike superglue, it can bridge gaps.

Chemical Filler

Such as Isopon P38 - Basically a car body filler. Some cars are 90% Isopon! This is quick setting and easy to sand, and it seems to adhere to anything.

Duct Tape & Masking Tape

Duct Tape here was used to almost act like a formwork , and to pack things out. Tape is so versatile, it is fantastic to use it outside of its primary use!!

Masking tape here was used as a clamping device. It has just enough grab to not be annoying to pull off & again, its great to use things in imaginative ways!

Bungee Rope

I used some 6mm Bungee Cord, to string the Doll back together - Alternatives would be anything in any way elastic - A robust thick elastic band would do.

Paint / Finish

Acrylic Model paint seems to be quite versatile. I used Tamiya "Flesh" Coloured Paint & a can of Spray Lacquer.

Bits & Bobs

If you are repairing anything, you must be prepared to look for things everywhere. You will not know what you need until you need it, be it a spoon, or the back of a remote control.

I ended up using an IKEA desk grommet in this project, as well as panel pins, and scraps of brass trim. I would never have planned to use these. Always be prepared to think outside the box!


Dremel MultiTool & 120 grit Sanding Drum... Or 120 Grit Sandpaper

Snips& Needle nose Pliers

Small paintbrushes

Step 1: The Thinking

The doll is a plaster doll, and relatively common. It doesn't hold any particular monetary value.

At an early stage I had to decide...How would I conserve and repair this doll?

Would this be Japanese style ceramic repair? (Google It) - Like Kylo Rens Repaired Helmet. Each crack could be gloriously ousted in contrasting colour, telling the history of the piece. Letting the doll wear its battle scars!

This is the single-most biggest decision when repairing ANYTHING. Its a question of sensitivity & integrity.

In conservation architecture, we like a buildings history to be revealed through it's fabric... certainly not "filled and painted". Likewise, surely we should let this dolls history be part of it.

In my case I thought the following:

1) It's only a doll

2) It will look positively scary - like a Frankenstein Monster, should it's cracks be glorified!! It already looks freaky enough as it is.

However case by case, it may not be this easy a decision.

ONWARD the gluing and taping.

Step 2: Establishing the Scope of Repair

After the obligatory gratuitous workbench "lets do this" shot, I set about establishing exactly what there was to do. This involved a demummification of the doll, stripping off its ~70 year old bandages.

  • Broken "Collars" on Arms & Legs
  • A missing "shoulder"
  • A missing piece of "back"
  • Bad 70 year old wobbly glue joints to torso - being held together by a bandage.
  • Cracks in legs
  • Cracks in head
  • Lazy Eye!

But, with enough glue, you can do anything!

Step 3: The Big Glue Up

I bought 3 "double tubes" of 2 part epoxy resin, and used it all. This was mostly however waste, due to the fast setting time of the glue.

I mix my glue on anything & do it anywhere! Watch out for ventilation with glue - keep the windows and doors open, lest you get a dreaded epoxy resin induced headache.

When visuals are not an issue, I liberally apply glue & I don't wipe off the run out. With Epoxy resin, this can be sanded off later.

I used cheap peg clamps to hold some pieces together, until I got to a point, where this would not work... Enter Masking Tape!

I can honestly say that i got to a point here, that the repaired doll was looking FAR WORSE than the original doll. It was all getting very Frankenstein's Laboratory.

Ultimately I got to the point where that all existing torso pieces were reassembled thanks to liberal Epoxy Resin Application!

Step 4: Fill in the Gaps

Once the Epoxy hardens. I sanded it out. This did two things.

i) it gave a chance to remove slight misalignment in between the cracked pieces.

ii) epoxy has filled some of the gaps - once painted it should be invisible.

I sanded this using a Dremel multi-tool with 120 grit sanding drum. Super speedy, and fairly precise. Hand sanding may be more arduous, as epoxy is fairly hard. As epoxy is harder than plaster, care was taken to ensure I didn't sand away too much of the doll!

After this I was left with a big issue...The MISSING PIECES.

1) The Back

See photos - Again, Tape to the rescue, this time DUCT TAPE (MacGuyver Style) - I used ducttape and a cardboard tube, to create an extremely primitive form-work, to allow me to lather on Isopon bodyFiller.

Body filler, is so easily sandable, that I did this with abandon!

2) The Arm

See photos - Once More, Tape to the rescue. I squished up duct tape to the approximate form of the shoulder, and then mercilessly applied the body filler, having little care for what it looked like.

3) The Limb Sockets.

See photos - The plaster for the limb sockets, was mostly broken off. Here i cut ~6mm sections of curtain pole, for the arms, and vacuum cleaner tube for the legs.. I searched through my stash of "bits and bobs" for anything that had the approximate diameter of the sockets. Once placed, I liberally applied epoxy resin glue to hold these fast for ETERNITY!

Step 5: Painting & Finishing

I used Tamiya acrylic model paint. I bought 3 small jars...and just about had enough. Always overestimate on paint. The colour was called "Flesh" and I was relying on the colour representation of my computer monitor to colour match. You can see from the photos, its not an amazing match to the original, but the show must go on.

After the first coat, I got more of an understanding of any areas which were uneven. These areas got resanded, before the second coat.

After fixing the wonky eyes "by pushing them with a stick" - it was time to tackle the head.

Here I filled any hairline cracks with super-glue, and scraped off remaining paint flake remnants....before sanding and painting.

There was a sense of original colour on the dolls head.. I did my best to match this by adding a small amount of acrylic brown and red paint, into the flesh coloured paint.... I may have overdone it. it also involved artistic flourishes of brush stroke, and I think i may have been heavy handed!

Lastly, a coat of spray laquer was applied to everything, to give a porcelain-esque shine.

I think you'll agree that some of these photos look decidedly creepy!

Step 6: Assembly!

With all the pieces painted, the doll had to be assembled... but how?

The connecting pieces had long since disappeared.

The way this works, is that each limb, and the head, get a hook, elastic or bungee cord is threaded through the body (by the big hole in the back, and the limbs get hooked on to the taut elastic.

This means the limbs are movable and stay in place via friction.

For the arms and legs, I made little Tabs, using brass strip off cuts (first image) cut with an aviation snips. These were eyeballed to size, so that they could be placed inside the limb sockets, and then turned to hold in place.

After cutting the brass tabs to size, I hammered a panel pin through the center, and used a needle nose pliers to bend a hook, of the approximate radius to catch the bungee cord.

For the head I struggled... I didn't have an off-cut to fit it, thankfully in my box of bits and bobs, I found an IKEA desk grommet cover... It was the perfect size to fit inside the head!!!

The last image, shows the Dry run piecing together... it's alive!!!!

Step 7: Epilogue

Though a bit heavy handed when painting on the hair, the end product has brought new lift to an old doll.

Is it unrecognizable to the original? Does it look too new? This is the big question that remains, and I urge you to ponder it before restoring ANYTHING!

Mending / Repairing / Restoring anything, brings with it a great sense of satisfaction. Ask anyone who has repaired their Washing Machine themselves, and avoided having to buy a new one!

In any case, it certainly needs new clothes, and is ready to be given back to my mum, who will no doubt get a great kick out of this.

Glue & Tape Speed Challenge

First Prize in the
Glue & Tape Speed Challenge