This Old Doll Hospital
Assembling a Compo and Cloth Doll
People ask me how to wash or replace the cloth body of an old compo doll. Others want to restore the arms and legs and need to get the doll apart to do it. If you need to repair the eyes on one of these dolls, you have to get the head off to get inside to take out the eyes. Seeing how to put one of these dolls back together can answer a lot of questions. You can click on the pictures to see them full size for detail. Use the back arrow on your browser to get back to this page.
The doll was in need of total restoration. I took her apart to fill, sand and refinish her arms, legs and head. Her hair is glued to the top of her head which was already sawed off to form a pate. Most dolls just have wigs that can be removed from the head but this wig is old enough and was so firmly glued to the pate that I was afraid taking it off would damage it. So I'll put the doll together and work work on the wig as a last step. She needed lashes replaced on her eyes so I removed her eyes also. So now I just have to get her back together.

The first thing I had to do was pull all the mats out of her stuffing. On a large doll this is a big process and there's a lot of dust so hold the stuffing well away from your face, put a fan over your shoulder to blow the dust away from you and if this isn't possible, wear a face mask. This stuffing is at least fifty years old so wash your hands often while you do this or wear latex gloves. It's necessary to get the mats out unless you don't mind having a lumpy doll.

When I pulled the stuffing out of this doll it all fit in one grocery bag with room to spare. After unmatting, it fluffed up to the three bags full that you see here.
First the legs. The body is inside out, face up. Toes up, the leg goes into the neck of the doll.
and all the way down to the bottom of the cloth part of the leg. Be sure the big toe is nearest the center seam. If it's not, you'll have the legs on the wrong sides.
Push the fabric on the bottom of the leg taught over the rim of the leg and wrap it with heavy florist's wire and close like a twistie.
Next, put the other leg into the neck, toes up and push it to the bottom of the lether cloth leg.
Push it to the bottom of the other leg
and again, wrap the rim with the wire and twist shut.
So we now have two legs inside the inside-out cloth body.
When you pull the neck up over the legs, the body is right-side out and we get this. That's all there is to putting on the legs.
Now the thighs get stuffed. Push in the stuffing through the neck to the bottom of each of the cloth legs.
If the doll is going to be able to sit, the legs will have to bend at the hips. Stuffing won't fold so there has to be a seam across the top of the thigh to separate the stuffing. Use straight pins across the top of the leg stuffing, pushing the stiffing down into the leg so it's firm below the pins.
If you have a sewing machine with a foot that will let you sew over the pins and against the stuffing, use it but I think it's easier to just run a row of stitches across the pins by hand. I use heavy thread, doubled, and a darning needle for this. After removing the pins, the legs are finished.
Next the arms. Since the body is now right side out, just push the arm into the pocket by the shoulder. You're working from the front so be sure the thumb is up and the palm is facing you. If it won't go this way, you're putting the wrong arm on this side.
Push the cloth-covered arm up through the neck opening and wire the arm on as you did the legs. Leave just enough slack in the wire that the arms can turn in the wire. This will make posing your doll's arms possible. Be sure, though not to leave so much slack that the arms will come out of the wire.
After the other arm is put on the same way, holding the doll up by the neck opening, we have the arms and legs on the body and now, all that remains is to finish stuffing and then atach the head.
Push a handfull of stuffing through the neck and into the pouch in the back above the legs. Push another onto the other side. This is forming the doll's buttocks. Next, push more into the doll's stomach. Pack firmly and be sure not to leave any spaces. Keep packing until about half of the stuffing is inside the doll.
Push your hand into the neck and dig into the stuffing to push it out to the sides and use your fingers to push it into any pockets while using your other hand on the outside to smooth out any lumps or bumps.
When you remover your hand, push more stuffing into the hole your hand made. Now is the time to put in a voice box if your doll has one. The original probably quit working decades ago but they're still being made today for replacement. Put the holse of the voice box next to the fabric of the chest. You may see the impression of the circle and holes from the original still on the fabric.
Push in all the rest of the stuffing, giving special attention to stuffing the shoulders and making sure arms can move a bit at the shoulders. Finally, pull the front and back of the neck opening together and stitch the neck opening closed.
Before putting on the head, I want to put the eyes into the doll. The open head makes this easy. If you doll has a wig, you may want to cut the back off of the head about an inch above the wig line to get this kind of access. If the neck opening is large, it's possible to work through the neck. All there is to this is to lay the eyes into place so that they are looking out of the eye sockes. Next the cross bar is placed over them and the prongs on the side go into the original holes on either side of the head. It's an expansion bar so putting needle nose pliers into the holes on the sides of the bar and then opening or closing the pliers will make the bar shorter or longer. Shorter to fit, and once lined up with the holes, longer to seat into the holes.
OK - eyes are in and now to glue the shoulder head to the body. Place it on the body and push the top part of the stuffed body into a shape that will fit.
The inside of the shoulder plate will have traces of the old glue to show where the new glue has to be put. Mucilage was used for this originally. It's perfect for this as well as for wigs because when it dries it holds firmly but will crackle under direct pressure so it makes it possible to remove the head or a wig without damage to cloth or compo. If this doll had been repaired previously and assembled with a different glue like Elmer's, fabric glue or contact cement, getting off the head would have made if necessary to cut the cloth body. With the mucilage, though, I just had to poke between the body and the plate with a spoon and the glue crunbled. Here's the brand of mucilage I can find in some stores in the stationary or school supply departments and school supply sites on the web. I leave the cap off so it evaporates by about 50% and gets thick.
So I spread the mucilage on the inside of the plate, covering the old glue.
And I place it between the doll's shoulders, making sure it's centered - side to side and front to back. Sometimes there's an impression of on the cloth where the plate was previously to use for reference. Once I'm sure the cloth is making full contact with the plate and it's as for down in the stuffing as it will go, I press firmly and hold for a few minutes.
I use two rubber bands around the buttocks and over the opposite shoulders to hold the head firmly in position while the glue dries.
Finally the wig goes on. If this had been a normal wig, I'd have put mucilage inside the wig and then places it on the head. The mucilage on the wig just has to go around the wig edge and in the crown - just dotted on, not spread like it was on the shoulder plate. Since this wasn't a normal wig, I used Quick Compo on the compo cut edge of the pate and pressed it onto the cut edge that was on the top of the head. It set up in ten minutes so I was able to style the hair.

All done!