Festive, Funky Art Dolls and Softies | Halloween Ideas for Mixed-Media Artists

Art dolls (softies) and article by Denise White, as seen in Cloth Paper Scissors magazine (September/October 2014)

The best way to learn how to make art dolls, also known as stuffies or softies, is to just jump in and start. I don’t always know how my dolls are going to turn out, but I start by drawing what I think I want the doll to look like. Don’t be afraid to change things up a little as you work on your own doll. Many times as I’m cutting, sewing, and painting, I make modifications. Sometimes mistakes turn into something wonderful.

I still have the first doll I made—it’s ugly and floppy, but I have kept it all these years. It’s good to take it out once in a while and see where I started. Below are guidelines for making a basic art doll. Be sure to add your own touches and make it yours.

Art dolls & softies | ClothPaperScissors.com

Halloween Art Dolls: Materials for Your Softies

  • Paper (for planning and cutting pattern)
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Muslin, unbleached
  • Sewing machine
  • Hemostats
  • Fiberfill (I used Poly-fil® polyester fiberfill.)
  • Needle and thread
  • Paint (I used DecoArt® Americana® acrylic paints: Snow White, Burnt Umber, Lamp Black, Alizarin Crimson, and Driftwood.)
  • Paintbrushes (I used a wash brush, stencil brushes, a flat brush, and a liner brush.)
  • Sandpaper
  • Hair: wool, yarn, real hair, strips of fabric, sticks, etc. (I used raw wool.)
  • Coloring tools: colored pencils, fabric markers, crayons, coffee, etc.
  • Fabric, for clothing optional
  • Embellishments: vintage jewelry, lace, buttons, etc.
  • String or ribbon, for hanging

How to Make Softies and Art Dolls

1. Draw a full-size pattern for your doll on paper and cut it out, or use the pattern provided. (FIGURE 1; click here) You may choose to add arms and legs separately. My doll is just one piece.

2. Fold the muslin in half, right sides together, and trace your doll pattern onto the muslin, adding a 1⁄2″ seam allowance all the way around. Cut the pattern out roughly.

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Art dolls & stuffies | ClothPaperScissors.com
Left; Figure 2. Right; Figure 3

3. Sew the doll body on your sewing machine. (Figure 2, above left) You can either leave a section of the seam unsewn for turning and stuffing or cut a slit in the back as I did. Do whatever you think will work best for your design.

4. Trim the excess fabric to about 1⁄4″ from the sewn line. Clip the curves, trim the corners, and then turn it right-side out. Use the hemostats for turning any small parts, like arms and legs.

5. Stuff the doll body tightly with fiberfill. (Figure 3, above right) Use the hemostats to poke the stuffing into small places, like arms and legs. Stuff completely and then sew the opening closed by hand.

TIP: Be sure to stuff the doll as tightly as possible, and then add some more stuffing for a nice smooth finish.

Art dolls & stuffies | ClothPaperScissors.com
Figure 4

6. Sketch a face with pencil, adding any other details you want to include on your doll. I like to start by adding blush to the cheeks with paint and a big scruffy brush. (Figure 4)

NOTE: If you want to stain or color the fabric for your doll before adding facial features and details, using a big wash brush to apply coffee, tea, or paint, etc., is helpful.

7. Block in the large areas of paint first. (Figure 4) You may need 2 coats. Let each coat dry before painting another color, like for the eyes. Use a small, flat brush for filling in larger areas of color and a liner brush for details.

Art dolls & stuffies | ClothPaperScissors.com
Figure 5

8. Add details like lines around the eyes, freckles, faux buttons, and shading. (Figure 5) Use anything you feel comfortable with to add these details: colored pencils, fabric markers, paint, crayons, coffee, etc. Let dry, and then sand the painted areas lightly to soften the paint and give the doll an aged appearance.

Art dolls & stuffies | ClothPaperScissors.com
Figure 6

9. Add some hair. I like to use raw wool, but use anything that fits your doll’s image. Sew the hair on by hand, using strong thread. (Figure 6)

10. Add some clothing. Make it as simple or as elaborate as you want. Paint it on or sew a simple outfit. I painted some of her clothing on and then added a fabric skirt. I cut the bottom from a vintage apron, using the hem section as her skirt and part of the tie for the waistband.

11. Add embellishments as desired. I added a fabric scrap bow on her head.

12. Optional: Add a loop with string or ribbon on the back of the doll’s head for hanging, and sign your work.

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