A Gift from Helen Pringle:
Tansy-Tabby Topsy Doll

Edyth and Helen Pringle have been friends for many years.  Helen P. shared instructions and images for making a topsy doll she calls Tansy-Tabby with Edyth to share here with MAIDA readers.

Tansy-Tabby Doll Instructions 

By Helen Pringle

I made up this doll to use in classes teaching oil-painted cloth dolls. Most makers chose the traditional one black girl and one white girl, but they could both be the same skin tone, one young/one older, or any variation. Since there has to be a skirt to cover Tabby when Tansy is up, I never could think of a way to do girl/boy. (Kilt, maybe?) Both faces can be on the same side of the doll, or one face each way. Since oils take a long time to dry, I usually had them face the same way so T/T could lie down while drying, and I like to see both faces at once. She could, of course, dry in a doll stand.

2/3 yd. calico or documentary print (if doll and skirt are same fabric), plus 18” coordinating fabric for body (if doll and skirt are different fabrics)
1 yd. trim, ½ or ¾” width
Needles, pins, thread, doll stuffing, Liquitex Light Modeling Paste, paints, brushes, sewing machine, scissors, tape measure, fabric glue, iron and board, a good light, etc., etc.

This pattern has only two pieces, the head/body piece, and the arm. The body pattern has a head on each end, and they share a waistline. Their arms are separate and will be sewn on to the shoulders so that when Tansy is in view and Tabby is covered by the skirt, her arms will fall naturally (thumbs forward), and vice-versa.

1. Cut two head/body pieces from calico or documentary print, adding ¼” seam allowance if not shown.

2. Cut four arm pieces from the same fabric.

3. Right sides together, sew the body pieces together, leaving a small opening on one side seam for stuffing. Stuff firmly and whip the opening closed.

4. Right sides together, sew arm pieces together, leaving top open for stuffing.

5. Stuff each hand lightly, then sew lines separating the fingers. Stuff the rest of the arm not too firm, stopping about an inch from the top. It is simpler to paint while the arms are not attached, so lay them aside until coating.

6. Using the top of the head seam line as your boundary, paint a light coat of Liquitex Light Modeling Paste on the front of each girl’s head, neck and shoulders, and the back of the neck and shoulders, leaving the back of the head in the calico, which will be the back of her cap. (Do not use gesso as the undercoat, as it will crack and mar the paint. The LLMP will provide a base for the paint and will remain flexible if pressed.) You may use more than one coat if you like. It dries fast, so work quickly.

7. Paint all four hands, curving the fingers into a natural shape before the undercoat dries. Let dry several hours or overnight.

8. Paint each girl’s face and hair, shoulders and hands on the undercoated surfaces. If painting with acrylics, let dry several hours. If using oils, let dry several days, until thoroughly dry to the touch. You can use oils over acrylics, but NOT vice-versa. I sometimes painted a coat of acrylic paint in the proper skin tone over the basecoat before painting the features and hair with oils. Because you have to hold the doll(s) to paint them, if using oils it may be good to paint one head and let it dry before painting the second one.


9. Using small lace or trim, cover the paint lines on wrists, necklines, and around the top of the head and the neck in back to outline the “bonnet.” Carefully glue the trim in place, turning under the raw edge at the end.

10. Using the same fabric you cut the doll from, or using a coordinating calico (this gives a good look), cut a skirt as follows:
A. square 24” x 24” for the skirt. Cut with one edge on selvedge, if possible.
B. A rectangle for waistband: Width, 2-1/2” x Length, dolls’ waist measurement, plus 2”.
C. Right sides together, sew the skirt long edges (selvedge) together and press seam open. You now have a 12” x 24” tube. Turn right side out, fold raw edges together and you now have a 12” x 12” tube with two right sides (so both skirts are right side out and there is no hem).
D. Make sure the skirt will be long enough to cover the hidden girl, and it should be a tight fit at the waist so that it won’t slip. Finished length of 10” should be plenty on a 12” T/T, and the waistband should be about 5/8” wide finished on the skirt. Gather the top of the skirt evenly to the length of the dolls’ waistline. Raw edges even, right sides together, centers matched, pin, then baste, the gathered skirt to the waistband. As a guideline, baste in a bright thread just below where you will stitch the two pieces together. Stitch, then fold the waistband up, fold over at what will be the top edge, fold the back seam allowance under and hand sew that edge along the skirt gathers. At the back ends of the waistband, trim off if necessary, and fold ½” cut ends inside the waistband tube and invisibly slip-stitch the ends together on the dolls. I recommend putting the skirt on the very last thing – after all the trim is applied, and after the arms have been attached. One girl will have the waistband, the other girl will have a sash (I like a coordinating ribbon tied in the back).

11. Attaching the arms: Fold the raw edges inside the arm, slightly gather and ease as you whip the top of the arms onto the shoulders. Make sure the thumbs point forward and the arms are the same length and loosely attached enough that they can hang down inside the skirt when that girl is hidden. The arms should be pretty lightweight so they won’t tear the shoulder fabric over time.

12. Tie the ribbon sash around the waist of the girl without the waistband. Secure with several invisible stitches or a few dots of fabric glue.

This was a simple little doll with historical ancestors, quick to make and a good way to learn painting a cloth doll with oils. I have several old Topsys, but none of them as nicely-dressed as Tansy/Tabby turned out to be.

Helen P.


  1. Oh Wow! Helen's work is pleased that she is sharing this with us :0)

  2. Oh wow Dixie your post about Edyth and Helen brought tears to my eyes, How sweet of Helen and Edyth to create this tutorial for us all, It is good to know Helen is still creating! Thank You also Dixie
    Hugs Sherrie

  3. Wonderful! I love topsy turvy dolls. What a great gift.

  4. Thank you Helen for this delightful double girl.


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