Here's some emails about doll wigs
Hi Michele! I recently acquired a Raving Beauty, dark auburn with brown
eyes. I don't know what to do with her hair! It's practically in dreadlocks
and I really can't tell what kind of style it had. I've looked at your doll
and several on Ebay, but she doesn't appear to have any bangs or part in her
hair. There is no way for me to get a comb or brush through it without
yanking out a lot of the hair. I have removed her wig pretty much intact.
This hair is much fuzzier than the saran hair that I am used to working
with. Should I just try to seperate the dreadlocks and boil perm her? Any
help would be appreciated. Also, can you think of any other dolls with her
body size and type so that I can watch for an outfit that might fit her. I
know that her clothes were made by "Michele of California" but they seem to
be few and far between.
Michele in California
Sounds like your Raving Beauty has a mohair wig. Before you can do anything, see if you can pull a single strand away from the wig without breaking it off. If it pulls apart like cotton candy, it's either rotted or moths have gotten to it. In this case it gets to stay as it is or it can be replaced. One nice thing is that the Raving Beauty often had synthetic or Saran wigs so at least you don't have to find a mohair or human hair wig.
If the wig is in good shape, you can wash it. No, you don't want to put it in boiling water like you would a synthetic. Since you have the wig off the doll, pin it on a styrofoam ball the same size as the doll's head. Now you and wash it with shampoo or Woolite - put the shampoo in warm water in the sink and let the ball float for about ten minutes. Rinse in a few more sinks of clear tepid water and then put cream rinse on it ahd work it through the hair - try to loosen the tangles with your fingers without putting out the hair. Dip the wig in the last sink of clear water and then spread it out sopping wet on a hard surface (a formica table or the flat side of the bathtub works). Now with a very wide toothed comb, start at the very bottom of the hair and try to work up the length to get a lot of the tangles out. You won't get them all out - mohair is fused together short strands so a lot of the tangles are what is holding it together. When you get enough out to be able to separate locks for setting, set them on the smallest curlers you can find (or roll on small pieces of 3/4" tubing from the hardware store.)
I dry these by taking a paper grocery bag and cutting off the corners on the bottom of the bag. Then I put the wig (still on the ball) into the bag and prop it open with a couple of coffee cups. Now turn on the blow dryer and leave it on the floor aimed into the bag. The wig will be close to dry in an hour. Put the ball in one of the coffee cups and forget about it until the next day.
Now that it's dry, you can unwind the curlers and turn the wig inside out. Dot the inside of the wig and around the wig's edges with Elmer's and position on the head. Make sure it's pulled tightly onto the head - no gaps. Arrange the curled hair onto the face so that when the glue dries, you'll be able to style it.
When it comes to styling, I'll often use a wide rubberband or two to hold it down in the general position (like over the crown) while I style it on the ends. Another trick is to put it into a hair net. Hair pins also hold curls in place. Use whatever it takes to whip it into some form of a hairdo. Next I use hair spray to hold it that way. When the spray is dry, pull out the pins, lift off the net and cut the rubberband and pull it out. Once in a while, the hair cut is good enough and the mohair comes out soft enough that all the styling and hair spray aren't necessary. Finally, don't be too concerned if you loose quite a bit of the hair in the comb. There's usually plenty there to work with so loosing a little won't matter.
Think I'll do my next hospital page on wig washing! :)
Good luck, Raving Beauty is such a pretty doll, you'll be proud of the result.
Oh, about the dress. Most of them weren't tagged anyway. She's got a unique figure, though so buying a dress for one off of ebay may be a problem - I've never had any luck buying clothes because the measurements are always sketchy. The best way to find clothes for them is to take yours to a doll show. There are always clothes for sale at them and you can try on the dress before you buy it. Of course, you could see if you can make a dress for her yourself. That's another thing I can cover on the page - making clothes for your dolls without a pattern. I'll have to ask forgiveness of the real seamstresses who see it, though. There are some experts out there who might get a good laugh at the way I don't finish the hidden seams.
Well, good luck and let me know how you make out!
NOTE: Michele wrote back to tell me she was having success with detangler on the mohair. Thanks for the tip, Michele!
I have a 50-'s doll sort of like a rubber vinyl.... her hair is
all matted... could I wash it or something to make it seem fresheer and
cleaner without ruining it??
First we have to know what the doll is made of. From the 50s it could be compo which is like a cross between paper mache and wood filler - which is about what it is. Each company had its own secret recipe for composition but it always included shredded cloth and sawdust that was mixed with some kind of glue into a paste that was pushed into the molds. When it hardened, it was sanded and painted and sanded and painted and sanded and painted and ... Eventually the surface looked like either bisque if a matte finish was used or china if a semi gloss finish was used. It really looked like painted wood, actually. Fine detail was not possible with compo, so the doll will have fat fingers. In any event, if your wig is on this type of doll, it has to be removed before you can wash it, if you can wash it.
Another material 50s dolls were made of is hard plastic. Hard plastic dolls generally don't weigh as much as compo dolls of the same size. If your doll is strung, you can look inside the head and see how thick the material is. It it's a quarter to half inch thick, it's compo. If it's thin, 1/8" or so, it's hard plastic. Hard plastic dolls have a chemical smell to them - usually very slight, but sometimes a really distinct odor. This is because the early plastics weren't stable compounds. Hard plastic is practically indestructible, however so the wig would not need to be removed before washing - again, if it can be washed.
Then there's vinyl. This is softer than plastic or compo. If you tap a fingernail on the surface, instead of a "click", you'll hear a "thunk". It also is possible to press a fingernail into the vinyl. Early vinyl was also not a stable compound and over the years much of it turned yellowish and has a greasy surface. Some of these dolls had wigs but most had hair rooted directly into the scalp. The rooted hair was also usually saran or some other synthetic, so it can definitely be washed and carefully brushed out with a wire wig brush.
Finally there's rubber. An old rubber doll is heavy for its size. The rubber may have hardened over the years and become brittle, but it will not be as hard as compo or hard plastic. There will be at least very fine crazing on the surface of any old rubber doll. You may need a magnifying glass to see it, but it will be there. This is the kind of crazing you see on even an old rubberband, as opposed to the crazing you see on compo dolls which is cracking paint. Wigs on these dolls were rare, and moisture in rubber will cause it to rot, so if you have a rubber doll with a wig, remove it before trying to wash it.
So, if it's hard plastic or vinyl, the wig can stay on the doll. Otherwise, remove the wig.
Now, what is the wig made of? If it's synthetic or human hair, it can be washed. If it's mohair, it can be washed, too, but with a LOT more trouble. One way to tell is to take a strand of the hair and hold it over a flame. If it melts, it's synthetic. If it burns to a fine ash, it's mohair or human hair. If you were able to pull a complete strand out of the wig and it burned to an ash, it is human hair. If the strand pulled out was like pulling a fiber out of a shetland sweater and it broke or is very fine and kinky, it's mohair.
Warning -before soaking any wig, make sure the wig base is stable. If it's frayed, thin, or rotting, do not soak the wig - the base will shrink up or just fall apart and you'll just have a mass of hopelessly tangled hair. Now, assuming the wig base is in wonderful condition, you can wash synthetic or human hair - just use a mild shampoo or Woolite and soak the wig for a few minutes using luke warm water. Rinse several times and I use a cream rinse or fabric softener in the last rinse. This makes it easier to brush out with the wig brush. To brush it out, work on it very wet on a flat table if the wig is off the doll. Start at the ends and hold the hair so you're not tugging on the wig base. Work your way up to the wig base. Once all the tangles are out of the wig, use drinking straws or cut pieces of plastic tubing you can find at the hardware store for curlers. If the hair is too stiff to wrap neatly around the curlers, use tissue squares on the ends like they used to use on home permanent kits. Once the hair is all rolled up, if the wig is synthetic, hold the wig in the live steam from a boiling tea kettle. If the hair is human, use moose, hairspray, or daub on setting lotion or gel. This will hold the set. Once the wig is completely dry, carefully take out the bobby pins and pull out the curlers. You'll have a nice clean head of perfect curls. Style if you like or just arrange the curls with your fingers.
If the wig is mohair, you may realize this is a lot of work and the wig may be damaged if you try to wash it. I have washed mohair in the same manner as human hair in the above explanation. All I can say is that it was so bad that I was willing to risk it, and in all but one case, it's been delightful to have clean, soft, fluffy mohair on my doll. The one case that didn't work was bad enough, though that I was made to realize how lucky I was with my success stories. First, you have to know that mohair is not a single strand in a wig base. It is several strands fused together into a single strand from a wig base. Depending on this fusing process, the joins may come apart when the wig is wet or when an attempt is made to brush out the mats even from dry mohair. If you do decide to risk soaking a mohair wig, when it's wet, pin it to a Styrofoam ball the size of the doll's head. Now use a wooden tooth pick to gently undo each of the knots in the matting. You'll probably find quite a lot of the strands are coming out of the wig. Save these. Don't try to get out all of the tangles, remember most of those knots are what's holding the wig together. Once it's hanging down it's full length instead of totally matted up, let it air dry. When it's dry, you can use a soft boar's bristle brush to work from the bottom and brush out some more of the tangles. Be sure to hold the hair to avoid tugging on the wig base. Now use a darning needle and stitch any of the strands that came out back into the wig to fill in any thin spots. Now you can spray it with water and set as explained for synthetic or human hair.
If all this is too scary, and I don't blame you because it is risky, you can use the toothpick on the dry, dirty wig and gently pull the individual strands away from the mats. If you're patient, you can actually untangle and separate the strands to a point where the wig can be brushed or even set. If you want to really freshen it, a safe way is to dampen two wash clothes in water with a little fabric softener. Hold the detangled strands on one cloth and pat with the other. Now set that strand on the tubing and secure with a bobby pin. Get the next lock of hair, pat between the clothes, roll up on a piece of tubing and secure with a bobby pin by putting it into the adjacent curler and this one. Once it's dry, take out the curlers and glue the wig back on the compo doll. About wig glue - I use Elmers for hard plastic dolls with synthetic wigs. I use mucilage (old fashioned paper glue from the office supply store) to glue synthetic wigs back on compo or plastic. This mucilage will dry out and crumble when the handle of a spoon is poked under the wig and makes getting the wig off again in a few years a lot easier than if white glue had been used. This is also the best method I've found to remove a mohair wig from the compo doll. Pulling on it can tear the wig base.
So, the answer to your question is yes, you can probably wash or clean or at least freshen you doll's wig. The general rule when working with old dolls is to do as little as possible. So try just lifting the hair with the toothpick and gently brush the style with a soft brush or arranging with a wide-tooth comb. Anything else when it comes to a wig on compo requires the wig to be removed. Never have a wet wig on compo - compo is water soluble.
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