Doll Anatomy 101 ~ The Body


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When you understand how your dolls are made, it is easier and less intimidating to customize them or to repair them if necessary.

What are you made of?

Almost all of today's play dolls are made of vinyl. Vinyl is a plastic material that comes in many different formulations, some hard and some quite soft. Some dolls are all vinyl, such as Magic Attic Club dolls, and others have a vinyl head and limbs with a cloth torso, such as American Girl. A few of the dolls, like Chatty Cathy, have a hard plastic torso but hard plastic is mostly used in older and/or smaller dolls.

If the doll has a cloth torso, it is stuffed tightly with cotton or polyfill. It is difficult for manufacturers to get the same amount of stuffing in each doll, so you should expect to find variations in clothing fit even between dolls of the same brand. It's usually not difficult to remove the doll's head (see step 2 in The Body Swap) to adjust the amount of fill up or down if your doll has a weight problem.

Generally the cloth part of a vinyl/cloth doll starts just below the neck but some dolls have a breastplate that extends the vinyl down, allowing the dolls to wear a larger variety of fashions without exposing their cloth parts. Creative Doll Ashley (right) and Madame Alexander Dear America dolls are examples of dolls with breastplates.

Are you articulate(d)?

Articulated: Anatomy. Consisting of sections united by joints; jointed.

The vinyl head is generally attached to a cloth torso by having the cloth cinched tightly into a groove above a flange in the doll's neck. (A flange is a piece of material that protrudes outward to stabilize and attach two things. See pictures in The Body Swap for what this looks like.) The fabric has a casing through which a cord or vinyl zip tie is threaded and this is tightened into the groove. Sometimes this is exactly how the arms and legs are attached as well, particularly on kit dolls. This is the most basic type of joint a doll can have.

Instead of having articulated arms and legs, dolls can also have cloth upper arms and legs, allowing them to move and sit, like the Springfield doll on the left. These dolls can't pose or stand on their own but can be quite cuddly, which is why baby dolls are generally made like this. Other American Girl-type play dolls that are made like this are Lissi, Heidi Ott dolls and the cloth-torso Engel-Puppen.

You can make a cloth-body doll like this articulated with an internal armature; My Twinn dolls are an example. The type of armature usually found in vinyl play dolls is like a plastic "skeleton" with many sections like large beads that can bend between the sections. Armatures can also be made from wire. An armature gives a doll a large range of motion and can be added to a non-articulated, soft-body doll to improve her poseability. (See the Kit Dolls article for sources for doll armatures.)

There are two basic types of joints for articulated dolls: strung and flange.

American Girl and Magic Attic dolls are examples of dolls with strung joints. The body has a concave vinyl portion in the torso into which fits the arm or leg, like a ball-and-socket joint. Typically, a piece of cloth covered elastic string (like thin bungee cord) holds the limb into the body, being held in place either with crimped metal or with a hook. Sometimes a "strung" doll will have a vinyl zip tie in place of the covered elastic string which makes the joint stiffer but stronger. Some smaller dolls just use rubber bands. A "semi-strung" doll has a separate string for each limb, such as this Just Pretend doll shown to the right with one leg off so you can see the way the other leg is attached. A fully strung doll has a single piece of string that zig-zags between hooks to hold on the limbs and sometimes the head as well. It is often smaller dolls that are fully strung.

A flange joint is a simpler type of joint where the two parts fit together tongue and groove style so that they are locked. Flange joints result in arms or legs that can only go in circles, not move in or out at all, so it is the less expensive dolls that generally have flange joints.

In addition to jointed arms and legs at the shoulder and hip, dolls can have jointed elbows and knees and sometimes waist, wrists and ankles. Some all-vinyl Engel-Puppen, American Girl Hopscotch Hill and Madame Alexander Friends Forever are examples of dolls with these extra joints. There is a large variety of designs used in these type of extra joints.

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Copyright 2004 Maria Greene All Rights Reserved

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This page was last updated 08/09/06