HandBook for Dollmakers
Making an Armature and Display Base
by Gloria J. "Mimi" Winer
I use armatures in my dolls because with an armature and base, you don't need a doll stand. I find the free-standing figure much more appealing because it is more realistic. You don't see people propped up in people stands, so you shouldn't see dolls propped up in doll stands.
Jim (my husband) makes the armatures for my dolls. He has carefully researched and tested materials so that you will be able to find them locally, and form them easily into an armature by yourself.
The stronger armature material is less expensive, and works better for holding up the doll, but it requires more strength on your part to form the armature.
For a "strong" armature that can support a quarter-scale (15 to 18 inches tall) doll standing on one foot, use Dand-O-Line vinyl clad steel wire, number 17050, by Anchor Wire Corp. You can get it in a 50-foot coil at Home Depot and many other hardware stores. It is about a 14-gauge, single-strand, steel wire coated with see-through green vinyl.
For a "medium" strength armature that can support a quarter-scale doll standing on both feet, use a single conductor 12 gauge vinyl-covered copper wire stripped from 12-2 NM-B indoor electrical cable with ground. This is common house-wiring cable that you buy at the hardware store.
Start with a piece of cable about 4 feet long. (Or about twice the height of the doll plus 6 inches.) Strip off the outer plastic jacket and remove the paper wrappers so that you have a black wire, a white wire, and a bare copper wire. Discard the bare copper wire. You can use both the white wire and the black wire for armatures, but if you use a light colored fabric, the black wire may show through.
- Always use plastic covered wire. Eventually, bare steel wire will rust. Eventually, bare copper wire will oxidize with a green, crumbly surface that will stain the doll.
- Aluminum sculptor's wire is too soft to make an armature of this type. It will not hold the doll up.
- If you can find it more easily than the Dand-O-Line, the black and white wires in 10-2 NM-B indoor electrical cable with ground are barely strong enough to support a doll standing on one foot. Some electrical supply stores may also sell white vinyl-clad #10 solid copper wire by the foot.
You will need the following tools:
- Wire cutters (5- or 6-inch size)
- Vise (optional)
- Marking pen
- Scratch awl
- Hand or electric drill and set of drill bits
Making the Armature
To make the armature, follow these instructions:
Measure out about 3½ feet of wire or twice the height of the doll plus 6 inches. Cut off the measured piece of wire.
Put the two ends of the wire together and grasp them with one hand. With the other hand, slide up the wire, squeezing it together so that it forms a hairpin shape.
Squeeze the rounded end in the pliers until it is quite narrow. (Leave it just big enough to get the awl or a screwdriver into the loop.)
Clamp the rounded end in the vise to hold it, or, if you don't have a vise, put the awl or a screwdriver through the rounded end and hold it in one hand.
Twist the ends of the wire until the twisted part is 5 inches long. If you don't have a vise, hold onto the rounded end (using the awl or screwdriver) with one hand while you twist with the other hand.
For measuring, I use a craft stick that is marked off at 2½ and 5 inches. I find that this is easier than using a ruler.
Mark the twisted part of the armature 2½ inches from the top. This is where the arm wire will be inserted.
Measure out a 2-foot piece of wire for the arms and cut it. Mark the center of the piece of wire.
Push the awl through the twisted part of the armature where you made the mark. When you remove the awl, this will leave a hole.
Push the arm wire through the hole in the twisted part of the armature until the center mark is at the center.
Bend both arms around until the arm wire is locked to the armature by a loop.
Grasp the armature with the pliers near the end of the twisted part. Bend the legs straight out to either side. Then grasp a leg with the pliers about an inch away from the armature and bend the leg straight down. Do the same with the other leg. See photo.
Use the pliers to hold the part that's not bending. Then bend the part next to the pliers with your fingersit works much better than trying to bend the wire with the pliers.
Using the Armature
To use the armature, follow these instructions:
Pull the arm wires straight up.
Slip the armature into the doll body.
Straighten the arms back out into the shoulders.
The rounded end of the armature should stick up where the doll's head goes.
Making the Display Base
The display base is made from a square of 2X8 wood. 2X8 is actually 7¼ inches wide, so the trick is to cut off a piece exactly 7¼ inches long. I cheat. Home Depot only charges 25 cents a cut, so I select a nice 2X8 by 8-foot board and have them cut it into 7¼ inch pieces. That gets me about twelve pieces per board at a reasonable cost per piece.
I may have to do a little sanding at the edges to take off splinters and smooth rough spots, but not much because of the spray paint I use. The paint is a two-step system designed to make wood look like granite or marble. It nicely covers up any unsanded areas because stone is supposed to look rough.
There are several brands of this paint available in many colors in the craft store. All of them will work nicely, but the directions are slightly different, so be sure and read the can for the brand that you use.
Stone Craft by Krylon® and Fleck Stone by plasti-kote® are flecked paints that make the wood look like colored granite. Each is followed by a clear, protective coating in the second step.
Marble Craft by Krylon puts a shiny base coat on in the first step and adds marble-like veining in the second step.
Look at the colors and textures indicated on the boxes to find the one that will go best with your doll and costume.
Mounting the Doll.
Paint the base before mounting the doll.
Position the doll on top of the base with the armature wires touching the base.
Use a marking pen to make a small dot where each wire touches the base.
Select a drill bit that makes a hole just big enough to hold the armature wire. If necessary, drill test holes in a scrap of wood to find the right size drill bit.
Drill holes in the base where you made the dots. Be careful to drill straight down through the base. Use a scrap of wood underneath the base to protect your worktable from the drill.
Using the point of your largest drill bit, scrape off any splinters around the top or bottom of the holes you drilled. (If you have a countersink, you can use it instead of the drill bit.)
Put the doll onto the stand so that the end of the armature wires stick through the bottom of the stand.
Push down on the doll and get it properly adjusted.
Grip the armature wires on the bottom of the stand with the wire cutters. Grip them as close to the stand as possible, and squeeze hard enough to mark the wires. You can either cut the wires or just mark them.
Remove the doll from the stand and cut the armature wires a little bit above the marks so that the wires will not stick quite all the way through the base. (That way they won't scratch the table that the doll is standing on.)
When you position the doll, be careful to put it in a balanced posture. The doll shouldn't look like it is overbalanced or about to fall down.
Copyright © Jim and Gloria Winer.
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