Crafts Unlimited (UK) Toy Repairs -

Restringing a doll is fairly straight-forward and is something you can do yourself.  The instructions look long and complicated but the process is really simple - it is just amazing how much text you need to describe a simple procedure in enough detail for it to be understandable.

These are general instructions for restringing dolls, there are many different types of fixings and some dolls will take specialist techniques (like celluloid dolls) and often a bit of lateral thinking is required to work out the best method of attaching loops to strangely designed fixings.  Example-1.

  • It is a good idea to have another pair of hands to help out, unless you are really organised with a restringing hook secured to a heavy bench to act as a "third hand".
  • Some really beefy elastic (unless you are dealing with a tiny doll) - knicker elastic is not strong enough.  There are different thicknesses suitable for different sized dolls so the bigger and heavier the doll then the thicker the elastic should be.  Proper restringing elastic is round (not flat like knicker elastic).  You can buy some (a metre is usually sufficient) of this stronger elastic from Ellie's Doll Workshop  There are different thicknesses suitable for different sized dolls and if you tell Ellie's what size of doll you are working on then they will be able to advise you.
    Strong Elastic bands - good for small dolls and also arm restringing.  See below.
  • You will probably need pliers (at least to make the long "stringing hook").   Hopefully all the original limb fixings will still be there.
  • A restringing hook.  See below.

We now use very strong and stretchy elastic bands (rubber loops or Latex bands) that can be bought in two ways.  The bands have been basically cut from the end of a tube of material (you can see that by the irregular "edge" to the bands).  We used to buy them ready cut from Dollspart in the US but then tried to find the tubing to cut them ourselves.  The tubing comes in different sizes and you can vary the size of the bands required by cutting each tube at an angle - which elongates the band.  We have NOT been able to find this tubing easily available in the UK but did find a place in Canada to sell it to us (for the purpose of doll restringing).  Have a look at ThisOldDoll.  However, they are only good for some sizes of jobs - usually small dolls or arm restringing.


For this (and other restringing purposes) we've made ourselves up a long hook from hanger wire.  For jobs like this you really need a good comfortable handle, the handle is optional - although a lot of force is required to stretch the elastic so it is a good idea.  However a handle is not absolutely necessary if you only intend to restring one doll.

We got a large 3/4" piece of dowel about 4 or 5" long, rubbed down the ends so they were nice and rounded and then drilled a hole through the side so the hanger wire was a tight fit.  We pushed the hanger wire (the hook at the other end) through the dowel rod, bent it at 90 degrees (about 1 inch of it) then again bent the end of the bend down back towards the dowel rod.  Where it pointed to the dowel we put another hole (not all the way through) and cut a small groove between those two holes so the long bend of hanger wire would fit snugly into it (when pulled back).  We then pulled the wire back through the dowel so the long bend sat in the slot we'd cut and the little bend fitted back into the second hole - we glued it in with Araldite Rapid.  We now have a secure and comfortable handle with a long hook about a foot long.

The best way to restring a doll is to string the arms together and then string the head to both legs.  Some people will make up a large loop that holds the head, arms and legs but because there is a weak pull inwards on the arms (just the large loop trying to move to the middle of the doll under the head fixing) they are not usually held satisfactorily.  Also, if the arm hooks do not rotate in the arm then the arms can only be turned through 180 degrees before the large loop catches the edge of the arm fixing hooks and stops them turning - so the arms tend to spring back into one position rather than being pose-able.

First of all make sure all the fixings on the limbs and head are secure and will take the elastic loop or stringing band - you may have to use pliers to open up hooks so the elastic will slide easily through them - you don't want limb hooks clamped tight onto the elastic or band - it should easily slide inside them so the force on each limb can equalise.

There are many different types of limb fixing.  Some are hooks fixed in one position, some are loosely fixed so they rotate, some are on a T bar that can easily fall out of the limb unless held under tension with the elastic and some are horrible star-type fixings that fit inside the limb and have a nail poking through the centre of them - this latter type are awkward to use, sharp and often fall inside the limb, or fall out or get locked inside the limb.

If you already have a suitable sized loop you can skip this and the next 3 paragraphs - otherwise you need to make up a loop.  First of all double over a piece of stringing elastic (into a loop) and pass it through a leg hole, up the doll and out of the neck - hook it onto the head but keep hold of the two ends poking out of the leg hole. Now pull the loop slightly tight to hold the head in place and feed your hook through the opposite leg hole, grab a piece of elastic out through that other leg hole and hook on the correct leg - unhook your long hook tool.  Now you must pull the loop (which you are still holding poking out of the other leg hole) tightly out of the other leg hole - how tight you stretch the loop is a matter of preference (i.e. how tight you want the doll to be strung) but remember it needs to be pulled tighter than the required finished tension because the leg hook usually protrudes inside the body.

The best guide to the tension required is to hold the doll upright and then put the leg you have hooked on into a horizontal position (so she is "sitting" in mid air) - the leg should easily stay there (some dolls have extremely heavy limbs so this will not always be possible), if it does not then tighten the loop by pulling harder on it and grabbing it roughly where it will hook onto the still free leg just inside the open leg-hole.

When you think you have the correct tension mark the two pieces of elastic with a felt tip pen at the position you think they should be joined. (two pairs of hands are a great asset when doing this).

You must now release the elastic from all the doll parts and connect the two marked points of elastic. I have seen the two ends of the loop tied together tightly with wire wound around and around - I have had dolls in for repair (not restringing) that have fallen apart because the elastic has pulled out of the wire, so I do not think this method is very secure and it can fail prematurely  (while the elastic is still in good condition) over time.

Some people tie a couple of knots to secure the ends - I don't like this, I don't think it is reliable and the large knots tend to get in the way of the restringing (and looks very messy inside the doll) - if you must do it then apply some superglue to the knot to stop any future movement.  I've also seen very nice double tube devices clamped tightly onto loops by manufacturers - I wish I could find these and the tool to apply them.

I usually sew the ends together by overlapping them and using a strong buttonhole thread with lots and lots of stitches.

Once the loop is made, hook it onto the head fixing, put your long hook tool into one of the doll's leg holes, up out of the neck and hook the elastic loop.  Pull it down through the doll, out the leg hole and hook on the correct leg.  Then use your long hook tool through the other leg hole to hook the loop and pull it out of the leg hole - hook on the remaining leg then unhook your long hook while holding the leg away from the body - ease the leg back into place gently (again two pairs of hands make this easier).

Obviously if you have a multi jointed doll (where the leg is in multiple pieces) then you must thread the elastic through all the pieces on one leg and then pull it through all but the last piece on the second leg in order to work out the required length. The same goes for multi-jointed arms.

The process for the arms is exactly the same but of course the head is not involved - just make up a loop (if you don't have a suitable stringing band) that holds the arms tightly together across the body.

The restringing should not be TOO tight (this is a bit of a judgement call) especially on dolls that have weak bodies or are showing signs of cracking.  If you find after restringing that the limbs are binding or scraping in the sockets a dab of petroleum jelly will make the limb slide more easily.