Classic Body Proportions
for an Antique Shoulder Head Doll

There is so much good content in the backposts.  I thought this post by Edyth deserves reposting. 
~ Dixie

While there are no rules, there can still be guide lines.  A good general one is to make the doll about four times as tall as the shoulder head.

Immediately we can think of dolls that will not fit the proportions given here.  A late china head may have a very shallow shoulder. A fine early china may have a much deeper shoulder for the size of her face. An early papier mache so called milliner’s model  will be taller than this one to four norm. Many early dolls are elongated in this way.  To make one longer yielded a doll which was effectively larger for a given size head.  At the end of the 19th century the patent washables were also made longer in proportion to the shoulder head size, to have a bigger doll to sell and increase the price.

Now that we have noted a lot of the dolls that refuse to conform,  here are some of the guidelines I use when I am making a  body for an antique head, or selecting an old replacement body.

Two examples are shown:

A pink tinted china covered wagon style on a vintage but not antique body, needed arms when I found her.  The tan linen I used for the arms is more pleasing than a white or cream fabric for this deeply colored china head.

The china doll head is 6 inches tall. The one to four ratio tells us she will be 24 inches tall. The bend of her lap will be about half way or at the 11 ½ inch  to 12 inch mark.  Her arms will hang low enough to extend below this bend.

A glass eyed papier mache head has a new body made by me except for her original fabric hands which were salvaged. For the body of old Pennsylvania homespun sheeting I made for this papier mache head, I used similar proportions, and hand stitched  the replacement stockings above the knee bend.  The bend of the knee is a bit less than half the length of the leg.  Learning to make these simple cloth bodies is a tremendous help for a doll collector. Yes we had all rather collect early dolls with original clothing on perfect original bodies, however finding lovely old doll heads is a great way to have a nice collection at a modest cost.

Edyth O'Neill - My Red Cape


  1. Edyth, I'm off to the doll show you've got me thinking of buying instead of selling! :~) This was a great lesson.

  2. Edyth, I have questions, questions, questions. Can you recommend a source for body patterns? I need one for enormous china heads...9 inches and up. What have you used for stuffing? I don't like the light feel of dolls stuffed with batting. Have you ever made leather arms for a doll? I love the look of them. Can you recommend techniques and tools for making them? I have lots of heads in need of bodies.

    1. Begin with a good pattern and size it up in increments to give you a range of sizes. I often sew several torsos to get one just right and keep the extras to use another time. Several great body patterns are in the old book "Dolls A new Guide for Collectors" by Claire Fawcett. There are patterns for leather hands there. Easy to find book on ABE. Others might be found on line, search there. For stuffing I do use cotton or poly, and I add a significant rock in the bottom half of the torso. China Heads are heavy! Wadded up cloth stuffed in carefully is traditional. I do not ever use sawdust, it will rot the doll. Just begin on a small to medium one and learn as you go.

  3. I was just think about what are the rules for body proportions. This was very helpful.Thank you.

  4. Thank you for sharing.This is very helpful.Can you tell us what you use for stuffing your dolls?carol

    1. Carol. Edyth added a reply above to ansawer both your question and a previous one. :-)

  5. If you are looking for actual body patterns and helpful construction information, copies of patterns created by Geri Milano are available for a very fair price. There are patterns for bodies starting at 4" tall and it goes straight up from there. The seller also features a number of male and female clothing patterns for old china dolls. Enjoy!

  6. Hello, can you tell where the first doll head came from? Could it be from Germany? Love greetings


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