Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Natural Hair for Dolls Tutorial

Calista before getting her cute natural puffs and after

The search is over. No more buying expensive dolls just because they have curly or natural hair. Parents and caregivers, I have discovered the hottest thing since sliced bread. Her name is Kristl and she runs an amazing blog, How To Play With Barbies. I asked Kristl if I could share her Custom Rotini or Halo Hair post but she went above and beyond and created this post exclusively for us. I have already given a couple of A's dolls natural hair so I will post those pictures later but for now, just sit back and enjoy. :)


Most dolls have nylon hair. Nylon hair cannot be heat styled using blow dryers, curling irons or straightening combs. Human hair products like gel, mouse and hairspray are also ineffective. They tent to coat the hair in a whitish glaze and look more like a thin glue than a hair styling product.

The preferred choice of people who style nylon hair is something called a boil perm. When styling nylon hair, boiling water can be used to straigten hair or make it curly.
A boil perm will stay in a doll's hair through many trips to the swimming pool. It will be compromised however, in a hot bath. While creating tiny twirl hair do is time intensive, if handled with some care, it will not ever have to be done again.

This tutorial details the steps for giving a straight-haired doll a curly style that approximates the tiny twirls of hair that are associated with African-diasporan people all over the world. The curly of African hair is said to the be "the only perfect circle in nature."

At the Tyler home we try to be very proactive in our use of language around our daughter's hair and encourage her to see it for the miracle that it is. You will see that in giving a doll this magnificent hair, you will have a few opportunities to make your esteem of tiny twirls known. It is important to list your husband or other adult family member's support in this unique opportunity.

A note about our doll: After looking at a variety of brown-skinned dolls including American Girl, Journey Girls, FAO Schwarz and several others we decided to go with Calista of BFC Ink. We felt that she had the prettiest face. We felt that the American Girl offering was by far the ugliest. Journey Girls Taryn and FAO Schwartz's Nina were also not as beautiful to us as Calista. Calista has become less available in stores (or so it seems), though she can still be found online. At the time we made our decision Disney had not yet come out with it's 18 inch Princess & Me line. Were we buying today we would probably buy the Tiana 18 inch doll. The nice thing about this doll is that if your daughter likes other of the Disney princesses you can buy their outfits and have brown-skinned Tiana wear them - so you can call the doll "Ariel" or "Belle" or any other name when they have on that princess outfit.
So the doll used for this tutorial is Calista of BFC Ink. Leah had cut her hair a number of times before I started her "perm."

Start by combing out the doll's hair. If you need to, wet the hair and slather it with human conditioner. De-tangle from the ends upward. Comb the bottom two inches out, then move up and comb out the bottom four inches, etc until you can comb from root to ends easily.

If you starting with a curly-headed doll and want to make the curls tighter, band the hair and dip it into boiling water for ten seconds to get it straight before starting this process. Straight hair is a better starting point for this process.

Once the hair is straightened take a good look at how the hair is rooted on the head. Generally doll manufucturers root the hair much more closely and thickly along the front hairline (across the forehead and along the back hairline - where it would show if hte hair were in a single ponytail. If the doll's hair was origially styled with a part, the hair along the part line will also be rooted better than other areas of the scalp.

Because of this rooting pattern, it is not possible to braid the hair into intricate patterns like those seen on human heads. You are limited because of the rooting pattern - which is very sparse in the middle areas of the scalp. A person interested in changing this rooting pattern actually add hair to the scalp. For most people however, observing the root pattern is enough as they will then know more about what hairstyles are going to work best for the doll.

Once you have the doll's hair combed out and fairly straight, cut pipecleaners in half and fold into "V" shapes. To cut the pipecleaners you can use wire cutters or scissors. Needle-nose pliers almost always come with a built in wire cutter. Household scissors can be used but cutting wire will dull the blades so try to use the back of the blades so that the scissors can continue to be used effectively for paper and other materials.

Calista with her pipecleaners. Calista's hair when we started was cut short and cut unevenly.

You will section off the hair, twirl it and then do a zig-zag pattern onto the pipe-cleaners. The size of the section will dictate the tightness of the final curl pattern. The more patience you are able to marshall during the pipe-cleaner wrapping process, the better the style will come out.
It is important to keep the twirl of the hair tight all the way from the roots to the ends. So after beginning the zig-zag of each section, pause to twirl the hair as many times as needed to keep the twirl tight.

Twirled hair. Make the twirls slightly smaller for best results.

Twilrled Hair Zig-zagged onto pipecleaner.

Use the back of the scissor blades to cut the pipecleaners - to keep from dulling the scissors main cutting area.

The overall process is as follows:
1) Section off a bit of hair.
2) Twirl it tightly.
3) Pace the pipe-cleaners "bend" against the "scalp" of the doll and zig-zag the hair up the pipe-cleaner until you run out hair.
4) Twist the ends of the pipe-cleaner to lock the hair onto the pipe-cleaner.
5) Use the ends of the pipe-cleaner to attach the pipe-cleaner to other hair sections - to keep the hair out of your way as you work on other sections.

When all the hair has been put onto pipe-cleaners you may want to style the hair so that the curls fall in a certain way across the head. In other words, if you want the curls to fall onto the forehead, arrage the pipecleaners so that they are pointed down onto the forehead and held there. If you want the hair to fall open across the original part, arrange the pipecleaners so that they are open at the part.

Arrange the sections over the forehead in clusters so the hair will train properly during the boil perm.

Hair-rooting pattern on back of head is very sparse, limiting style options.

Boil a pot of water and dip the doll into the pot for the count of ten. Allow the doll/hair to cool overnight.

Dip dolls head in boiling water for count of ten.

Remove the pipecleaners from the hair. Cut stray hairs as necessary and feel free to cut the "V" end of the pipecleaner if it helps release the hair.

If you like the look of the hair once it has been removed from the pipe-cleaners, you needn't ever brush out the curls.

Fusilli style. If her hair had not been previously cut, it would have looks very different at this point.

Again, the sparse rooting on the back of the head is limiting.

We like to refer to curls by different names and I often call my daughter's hair "Rotini." My husband was gushing over the doll's hair at this point (He rarely pays any attention to our doll activities) and so I mentioned that this hair was curlier than Leah's and was actually "Fusilli". Leah began to get mad - jealous of the hair that was curlier than hers. So we played it up a little and talked about how lucky Calista was to have such curly hair and that everyone wants curly hair but only the most blessed girls get to have such beautiful hair.

After we spent some time admiring Calista's Fusilli hair, I began to comb it out.

Cute Lioness style.

Comb out Process:
1) For each Fusilli, trim the ends - usually less than a half inch will need to come off. You just want to remove anything that doesn't match the curl pattern. I trim at an angle.
2) Untwirl the hair and comb from root to tip with a fine tooth comb.
3) Repeat for each Fusilli.

Back Comb:
Note: Back combing is sometimes called "ratting" the hair.
Grab small sections of the hair between the fingers of one hand. Holding the ends of the hair with one hand, comb from the tips toward the root while attempting to hold the hair tightly with the other hand. As you comb downward, you progressively let go of the hair until it is all back-combed out of your grip.
When the hair is completely back-combed you can shape with your hands and also shape by trimming.

Since Calista's hair was so unevenly cut before her boil perm, her hair is in need of a trim.

I style the hair by teasing it out full and then parting along her original part line. Not sure what this style is called.
When the hair is "big" like this I like to refer to it as "powerful" and "awesome" and avoid words like "crazy" or "out-of-control". I also make references to "The Lioness" and how she is the queen of all animals.

Finally, I style Calista's hair into "PUffs" - because they are so cute.

Super cute Puffs with bangs. This is the style we'll stick with.

Puffs from the back. I may eventually add some hair to get rid of this issue.

Thank you so much for sharing this with us all Kristl! You have made my week. :)

Kristl Smith Tyler writes a blog called, "How to Play with Barbies" her blog gives step-by-step instructions and tips for using 11.5 inch "fashion dolls" to create a world full of possibilities for her young daughter. Her daughter's barbie world is a world where girls with beautiful Ebony eyes and dark hair are much more common than "that skinny blonde chick who always wears miniskirts". Her daughter's dolls include brown-skinned dolls with a range of body types, natural as well as straightened hair. She also has Asians, Muslims, Indians and many other diverse dolls. Her latest post is about creating dolls with locs or dreadlocks. Check out her blog at: http://playbarbies.wordpress.com/


  1. This is soooo great! I love it.

  2. beautifulll...she almost look like it has life in her...I like how u take care of her hair already:):):)

  3. I am so glad you posted this! This is a great way for moms to revamp their daughter's dolls to look like us and to proud of it! LOVE it!

  4. omg this is sooooooooooooo cute! I will def try this on my daughters dolls!

  5. wow, that is so cute and very unique!


  6. That's amazing!! I love how when you take the pipe cleaners out it looks like a twist-out! So pretty!

  7. Amazing! I hope to have a child so I can 'fix' a doll's hair too!

  8. This is the cutest thing :)

  9. Great work! I don't have a daughter (yet) but I will certainly suggest this to all the Chocolate Divas I know who do!!! KUDOS

  10. How cool would this be if this doll were a reality?! An actual doll you could buy! I have posted this on random sites, and EVERYONE KEEPS ASKING ME where to get it. I already told my eggs if they turn into little girls, they shall have this beautiful doll! Soooo, can we mass produce this like now!

  11. adorable and such a great idea. so simple - yet effective

  12. Love this!!! What a mom's love can inspire!!
    A'Lelia Bundles

  13. If you were to zig zag the back of the part, you probably wouldn't have to add more hair! (that is, adding hair from the left bottom row to the right puff, and adding hair from the right bottom row to the left puff, then doing the same on each row going up the back of her head)
    And this is a great tutorial. Hopefully by the time I have kids old enough to play with dolls, there will already be plenty on the market.

  14. thanks for a great fantastic post. I tried this process and my daughters doll turned out great, the curls are not as tight as I wanted them to be but my daughter loves her doll having big hair so not a biggie (",)

  15. This is absolutely amazing! We have linked to this post. Thanks.

  16. I've just stumbled upon this most wonderful post. How refreshing (and adorable) to see a doll with 'life-like' curls! I'm off to try this at home - can't wait. Thank you for sharing

  17. The Lioness is so beautiful on the doll and on women. I just love it. I tried to boil perm my Shawnee's hair but I couldn't get it right.

  18. What beautiful works of art...can't wait to try some...I need help in finding the right size hair beads for a Tonner Antoinette doll head. I would like to do her hair in braids like Bo Derek in 10. Any suggestions on where to find those beads? Thanks in advance...



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