Washing and Setting a Compo Doll's Mohair Wig

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This is the patient. She's an R&B Nancy Toddler, a compo doll with a wig that's been matted under that headpiece for at least 55 years. It's filthy and moth eaten and if we just tried to brush out the mattes, all we'd have left is a bald doll and a brush full of mohair.
First step is to remove the wig. We want to wash it and that means water. Water is death to composition, so we can't work on the wig while the doll is wearing it. Use an inverted spoon to scrape across the compo scalp and punch into the wig glue. The base of the wig is probably rotted and very fragile, so we don't want to tear it if we can help it. The old, original mucilage should be crystalized by now and should just crumble under the force of the spoon.
Now the the wig is off, we want to loosen the mattes. A rat-tail comb is good for this.
Some mattes are real knots and here I am, using my fingers to pull one apart.
So I continue lifting, picking and separating.
After about an hour, here's the wig. All the hair is lifted away from the base.
We can't just plop this into a pan of water. The wig base is just old cotton gauze. The only thing holding it together could be the old glue which would dissolve in water. So we have to pin the wig onto a wig form.

I use three large T pins to put the wig onto a styrofoam ball the size of the doll's head. If I can't find one the right size, rolling a larger one on a flat surface will make it the right size. I also glued the ball to a dowel stick so I could hold it between my knees while I work.
Here I separate a lock of hair on the part to be my first curl.
And here I spread out the lock so it will wind over a curler.
So, it's time to wash the wig. Here's what we need. Three large bowls of warm water. Into one I stir a couple of table spoons of shampoo and into another a dollop of cream rinse. Any good brand of these is fine. Also, we need a soft brush, a towel to catch drips - this is a messy process - and three wash cloths. The curlers to use depend on the size of the wig and the the style you want to re-create. The tighter the set, the smaller the diameter of the curler. The straighter the style, the larger the rollers. You can use anything from drinking straws to fish-tank uplift tubes. For this 18" doll, I bought pastic tubing at the hardware store and cut lengths about 3" long. The tubing has a thick wall, so if you use this, you'll spring the bobby pins. Keeping a supply of bobby pins just for this is a good idea. Finally, tissue wrapping papers will help get the curl started and keep the ends straight when rolling.
So, wet one washcloth in the shampoo water and blot the water through the lock of hair.
Now with another washcloth wet with plain water, rinse out the shampoo from the lock.
Next, saturate the lock with the third washcloth with the cream rinse water.
And smooth it over your hand.
Use the soft brush to lightly smooth the strands. Remember, you're not tring to brush out the mattes, just to give them the general direction of a lock of hair. There should be no hair coming out in the brush.
Now wrap the end with a winding paper.
And lay it over a roller and wind under.
At the top, secure with a bobby pin.
Continue to separate, wash, rinse, and roll locks of hair working in a pattern.
Here's the front of the wig all rolled up.
Here's the back.
And here's the side. Now just put it somewhere to air dry. This will take a few days. Before we can continue, the wig and the wig base must be bone dry.
OK - It's dry! Pull out the straight pins holding the wig on the form and carefully pull out the styrofoam ball.
While the hair is still on the rollers, it's a great time to glue the wig back onto the head. Spread some mucilage on the inside of the wig. Mucilage is the old fish or horse glue that's still made by LePage but more easily found under the Ross brand name. It's amber in color and has the consistency of honey. You can find it in many dollar stores or Ben Franklin if there are any in your area.
And spread some on your doll's head, as well.
Now place the wig on the doll and stretch and pull to get it to the hairline and well onto the doll.
Time to take out the curlers. Hold the curler and pull out the bobby pin. Next, gently unwind the curler, pull off the paper, then roll it back over the roller and pull the roller out.
What you'll have is nicely shaped curls.
Here she is ready for her styling. I just use my fingers to separate the curls and turn them into a style. You can use a soft brush or even a wide-toothed comb to style, just don't drag the comb or brush through the hair. It's clean, smells nice and looks alive, but it's still very fragile.
And there she is.
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