Friday, March 4, 2016

Customizing a Breyer youth doll

In my recent series on 1:9 scale hunter seat equitation, I talked a lot about the advantages of using a customized doll. Today, Anne Field shows us how to rebuild an original finish doll to make it more user friendly. Thank you so much, Anne, for sharing your secrets!

Customizing a Breyer Youth Doll

by Anne Field
Here is a regular, original finish Breyer youth doll. So far nothing has been done to her except for taking her out of the box and removing the ugly,out-of-scale, factory clothes. 
Here is that same doll after I have taken her apart. What a mess! 
I use scissors, round nose pliers, wire cutters, wire, gauze (I happen to have 1 inch but if I can find narrower I am going to get it), flesh colored medical tape and Rio Rondo's Class Mate finish to customize the doll into something that can sit a horse properly and hold her arms next to her sides.
The first step is to rebuild the doll's legs. The customized doll will have entirely new thighs, but she'll keep her original lower legs. This gives more definition between the upper and lower parts of the leg and allows for a more natural looking knee. I use the old thigh to measure the wire. One end gets poked through the leftover rubbery plastic on the lower leg (there should be some left even if you had to cut to get the thigh off). I trim the knee so it doesn't stick out too much when the leg is bent. Then I wrap the top of the wire around the round stump that is left when you pull the legs off. 
Since my gauze is too wide I cut it down the middle. I don't have an exact measurement for how much I use, but I would guess 4-6 inches of 1 inch wide gauze per leg.
I wrap the leg from the knee to the top of the thigh, including the ball to which the original thigh was attached. I try to make the top part a bit wider than the lower part so it looks more natural under the breeches. I make it a bit smaller than the size I want it to be because the next step will add additional bulk.
The gauze is covered with medical tape. It looks just about like a normal thigh now!  I try to keep it as smooth as possible since breeches, even on kids, are tight. If the leg is lumpy, it will probably show.
Here's a picture of the first leg done and the second leg wire attached. It's important that both legs end up the same size. Who wants a lopsided doll? You may not be able to tell when the doll is seated, but it will be obvious if the doll is standing.
Here are both legs done and they match, really well in size and shape. A little bit of difference won't be noticeable when the doll is dressed.
The arms are a special challenge. I want them to be the same length they started out as (no gorilla arms), the same length as each other and able to be held close to the body. I work on both arms at the same time to try to keep things even. First, I attach the wire to one arm. I use the old part of the arm to double check the length. When I'm satisfied that it's good, I bend the wire down at the shoulder, and then bend the other side down as well.
Next, I attach the second arm. I'm happy when both arms match up and bend I'm happy. I wrap the wire around itself and trim the excess. It's important to keep the "arms" straight during this process.
 Next both arms get wrapped in gauze just like the legs did. Because the upper arm is so small, it only takes about an inch of gauze. I keep the gauze in place with a tiny bit of medical tape until I am ready to wrap it.
Here both arms are wrapped with the medical tape. Again, it doesn't take much because they are so small and you don't want the arms to be too thick. The coat sleeves are going to add a bit, and you don't want a youth doll with giant arms.
Here's another view of the finished arms. They can be held close to the body and bent for proper arm position.
The last step is to brush the Class Mate over all the parts that are covered in medical tape. This sounds crazy, but there is a method to my madness. I've found that the medical tape when left alone is a tiny bit sticky and will grab the clothes (especially fitted breeches), making it harder to dress the doll. The Class Mate removes this tackiness, and leaves the doll super smooth and easy to dress. 
It takes a lot of time and work to rebuild a youth doll, but the results are well worth the effort. This once stiff and awkward doll now rides with nearly perfect hunter seat equitation. Hurray!
Thanks again, Anne. 


  1. What a fascinating article. I always wondered about the inner workings of rider dolls.

    Thanks Ann, for letting Jennifer post this interesting and informative article!

  2. I am going to be another that very much enjoyed this read. I was mulling over how dolls worked in the hobby just the other day and was thinking I should research it. And, as it happens a top hobby doll provider just addressed a big part of it! Thanks, Anne, for being willing to share! And of course thanks to Jennifer for hosting the article. :)

  3. Thanks for sharing. I've been working on modifying a couple youth dolls but got stuck. I should go back to doing that but I don't know why I bother since I can't sew

  4. So helpful! Next, those bendy necks, Anna. Jennifer is right, being able to adjust the head on a doll is the difference between the feeling the "person" is there--or not there. Thank you both!

    1. I can't share the "secret" of the bendy necks, I didn't discover it.

  5. Wow, I never expected a tutorial on this sort of thing to ever be posted! Maybe now I can get back to trying to make a male youth rider to match my in-progress yellow barrel set.

  6. I would like to point out that while this does work for remaking youth dolls it isn't quite how I do it anymore. I have improved the process through a lot of trial and error. This totally DOES work, but some things have changed over the years.

    1. How do you make it so the the youth dolls ankles bend so that it can put its heels down? The breyer youth doll that I have doesn't have an ankle joint

    2. I recently remade a youth doll. I photographed most of the process and planned to blog about it but... I'll try to remember to do after Breyerfest. Mine has flexible heels.

  7. That so-called youth doll must have hit puberty REALLY early, I just noticed! Eeek. I guess "the girls" don't show much under a hunt coat, thank goodness... ;). Really interesting tutorial!

  8. What doll would you recommend? I'm looking to make one for a saddleseat academy rider, with much better eq than Breyer's dolls!

  9. I fund this tutorial really helpful! Why don't you use Epoxy instead of medical tape? Would LOVE to know!