Doll to plush action figure: a journey

Not gonna lie: I’m a 3D artist, but there’s different types of 3D artist and dolls happen to make that list. Going from doll to plush action figure has been a journey, let me tell you.

Growing up, sewing was everywhere…

Just about literally. 3/4 of the family room was focused solely on sewing including monstrous (and old!) industrial machines. It was a world of “I can do that!” sewing, since the words “I can do that!” are what started most of it. Me, I was less fond of sewing dolls and doll clothes back then.

Then, much like now, I wanted to make clothes for Barbie-scale dolls. To me, they were just the right size to suit my ability and to be fair, they won their share of blue ribbons at the county fair. I also loved making stuffed animals and yes, my bed was more stuffed animal than bed with over 150… ish. Including the 101 stuffed Dalmatians (because I adored that movie and loved discovering the book!) Back then, I didn’t design my own, though.

Fast forward many years later to…

My loving comic books and trying to make them by hand. The one struggle I had (aside from proportion and shading in drawing my characters) was keeping their design consistent. Somehow, I always had trouble using the same colors for characters each time I drew them. I could have drawn up character sheets like for animation (which I very much love!), but I wanted something… 3D, to guide me. I hunted down a simple doll pattern and set to work making little felt dolls of every character in my roster.

No photo description available.
5″ tall felt Dream Angel doll

On a silly whim, I posted them on Facebook and got a lot of “that’s adorable!” type comments. This got me thinking about selling them alongside my books, which were just getting started at the time.

Well, the felt was fine for my own reference, but not so good for kids to play with as they read the books (or have them read to them). It wasn’t washable or very durable. And so, the bigger 10″ dolls were created.

No photo description available.
10″ Arora Arum who could change outfits to become Dream Angel!

At 10″ tall, these could have outfits that could come off, making them more versatile. They were cute, but somehow, didn’t seem quite right as companions for the books. More hunting for patterns later and I found what I wanted on Etsy from Prairie Crocus Studio. These are fascinating dolls and a good size for easy enough construction and dressing.

By this time, I was just getting into needle sculpting. The 10″ dolls were, sadly, the guinea pigs for this learning process and frequently ended up with faces that were lopsided or looked like they were sucking on lemons!

No photo description available.
The very first Dream Angel using the new pattern and needle sculpting

Fast forward a lot of practice later…

No photo description available.
Arora’s head showing off makeup, face details and realistic hair!

And you get dolls with improved needle sculpted faces (I finally figured out how to fix the lemon face look!) and more detail. Detail that began to include makeup and realistic hair. Well, now these dolls are looking more action-figure-ish, aren’t they? By this time, stuffed weapons and other accessories had appeared with magnets in them and the dolls’ hands.

No photo description available.
A small assortment of the weapons and accessories the plush action figures can “hold” magnetically.

With the addition of makeup and realistic hair, they started to more closely resemble how they looked in the comic books (after a lot of improvement was made there, too!) Not forgetting the wire inside the dolls’ bodies and the “action figure” part of things is very complete. They started to look almost like they did in the comics, much like the plastic action figures we find commonly in stores.

May be an image of 1 person
With dolls now more closely resembling their comic book appearance, it’s safe to call them “plush action figures!”

It’s been a journey, can’t lie about that, but along the way a lot has been learned. Most importantly perhaps, is that cutting a lot of small pieces can be very, very painful!

Catching up to present day…

We find a Cricut Maker in my sewing toolset and it’s definitely proven its worth and earned it’s place! By itself, it’s been a process to learn. As a dollmaker, let me share some wisdom: no soap on the mats! I’ve unfortunately learned this one the hard way! Why? Simple: most advice for the Cricut is for the paper crafting end of its ability and not for its fabric cutting abilities because until the Maker, it wasn’t really meant for cutting fabric. Sure, slightly older models could do bonded fabrics, but they weren’t really meant for it as much as the Maker.

It would be too easy to rave all day about how fast and accurate it is cutting out the tiny pieces for plush action figure outfits and accessories (and I’ve designed plenty, believe me!) but it’s better to get to the knitty-gritty: This thing is worth every penny if you plan to use it for doll making!

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not an affiliate for Cricut, I’m simply happy with the result of the machine that makes it considerably easier to cut the pieces I need for making these amazing plush action figures.

Going from doll to plush action figure has been quite the journey, but for all the ups and downs, pleasures and pains… well, it’s been worth it. These plush action figures are beautifully hand made with a great deal of blood, sweat, tears and love.

Leave a Reply