Restoring curly doll hair

In this post I will describe how I fixed my second-handΒ  Animators’ Merida’s hair. I will say up front that the process could probably be improved upon, but since the results were satisfactory I think it’s worth sharing.

I apologise – the photos in this section aren’t exactly art. Just dolls in poorly lit bathtubs and such.

If you remember, the doll arrived in a pretty rough shape hair-wise:

Animators' Merida frizzy hair

First, I washed the doll’s hair.Β  I don’t think the kind of shampoo matters too much. Just to be safe I went with a simple one. I did not bother to brush her hair beforehand – it’s easier later on.

Merida washing hair

Next, I applied hair conditioner. I can’t tell if it changes anything in the long run, but it nonetheless serves a role – it makes the hair more slippery and easier to brush. I left the conditioner in for about 15 minutes. The one I used was a glycerin-based one, but again, I don’t think it matters a lot.


Still leaving the conditioner in, I laid the doll on a flat surface and started to brush out the tangles. This way of doing it is a bit messy but I believe it makes brushing easier. I used a Barbie brush and it worked OK. It’s always advisable to start at the very ends and work up your way towards the rootsΒ  – otherwise you the mess bunches up in one place in a gross, hairy Gordian knot. In this case the tangle was pretty bad so I also sectioned the hair into very small strands – I worked on a single lock at a time. It helps to work consistently from one side to the other keeping track of which strands have already been brushed. It’s best to hold the strand you’re brushing firmly with the other hand so that the pulling won’t rip the hair out of the doll’s head.

brushing Merida doll.jpg

After washing, conditioning and brushing, I arrived at this result:

brushing accomplished

At this point the hair didn’t look very neat, but I swear that the brush was passing through it smoothly πŸ™‚ I am impressed with how well the curls endured all the water, product and harsh brushing. It would normally be reassuring to know that the original hairstyles on the Animators’ dolls are made to last, but in this case it was a problem. I wanted the hair straight so that the old curls wouldn’t interfere with the new ones.

Dipping in hot water makes doll hair smoother and straightens it, and this was my next step. I boiled the water in an electric kettle, poured it into a bowl and dipped the doll’s hair in it for about 10 seconds. At first I waited for the water to cool slightly, but seeing that it’s not working as well as I expected I repeated the process a few more times, now dipping the hair right after the water boiled. I can definitely say that my doll did not suffer from such treatment in any way, but excessive heat may be dangerous to dolls, so try at your own risk. In fact, some dolls should not be allowed to even get wet at all, such as, reportedly, American Girl dolls.

Sorry, but this is the best photo I have of ‘dipping in hot water’ – handling a bowl of hot water, and aΒ  doll, and a camera with only two hands proved too fiddly. But unlike in this photo, I did dip the hair all the way in.


After multiple rounds, the hair was better, but not perfect. Hmm. It seemed to work better for the people on the Internet. But doesn’t it always? πŸ™‚

boil-washing progress.jpg

At this point, if I had had a flat iron, I would have used it, despite it being plain risky on plastic hair. Since I do not own any such contraptions, I took an experimental approach. I wrapped the hair tightly in cloth and dipped again. My reasoning was that the cloth would press the curls flat, and the hot water would make them stay that way.


It wasn’t a full success, but still an improvement. I decided it probably wasn’t getting much better from then on, rinsed the hair thoroughly to make sure all the conditioner was all gone and dried Merida with a towel.

Wet Animators’ dolls in towels are cute, so here is a photo πŸ™‚

Merida in a towel.jpg

And here is the result of all the dipping and straightening:

Animators' Merida straight hair.jpg

Merida straightened hair.jpg

I was surprised how long her hair is when it’s straight. It looks kind of nice as it is, if not very Merida-like. Lady Godiva comes to my mind.

When her hair was still a little damp, I started re-creating the curls using drinking straws and hairpins.Β I used straws which are wider than typical ones. I took small strands of hair, brushed them and twisted each tightly around the straw in a fairly thin layer, securing both ends with hairpins.

The ends were still a little curly and scruffy and wouldn’t lay as flat as the remaining length. I think I should have trimmed the ends.

Apart from keeping the hair damp I also used lightweight styling mousse. I don’t think it’s necessary, but I really wanted to make sure that my hard work would not fall apart two days later (I intended to use hairspray but I read online that i wasn’t the best of ideas). I tested the mousse in my own hair to see how hard it would make them. I’d say not hard at all, which is nice, but on the flip-side, I am not sure if it did anything to preserve the curls either. At least her hair smells fruity to this day πŸ˜‰

curling doll hair with straws.jpg

I had about 70 hairpins and I thought I was well-prepared, but I ran out and had to start using string. I would not advise using those cheap little rubber bands, many will break from the hot water used in the next step (and with them your heart over the lost time and effort).
Much later…

Merida in straw curlers

After the straw curlers were all on and secured I dipped the hair in hot water again for about 20 seconds. This is supposed to make the curls permanent (more or less).

I left the hair undisturbed for three days to dry and to set. One would have supposedly been OK, but I wasn’t in a hurry and I figured it can’t hurt to wait longer.

When I was taking the straws off it turned out that the hairpins had rusted. They left a rusty residue on the hair, but when I wiped it off there were no stains. This is probably in part due to Merida’s already rusty hair colour. Rust marks from hairpins could be a problem on lighter-haired dolls, though.

And this is what she looked like at that point:

silly curls.jpg

Definitely curly, but still not quite Merida style.

I took each lock of hair and separated into two or three strands. It wasn’t was as easy as I expected. Even though I had brushed carefully, there were interlocking hairs which didn’t let me separate the strands. At this point it’s too late to brush again – brushing would turn the hair into one big fluffy ball. In fact, from now on Merida’s hair care consists solely of making sure that no hairs get pulled out of their designated strands πŸ™‚ Brushes, hook and loop fasteners and children are the greatest threats.

And, finally, the end result as shared in the previous post:

Disney Animators' Merida face 1


So, how long did this project take without the drying and waiting part? About 5 or 6 hours…

Was it worth it? Since it’s all done and over, I’d say yes. But if I had known beforehand, I might have been tempted to settle for straight hair after all πŸ™‚

New (used) Animators’ Merida!

If you have been following my posts, you know that the next doll I wanted to eventually add to my collection was… Ariel. I am still hoping to own her one day, but in the meantime I saw a very good offer online for a used Merida doll and I decided to take advantage of it.

By the looks of it, the doll was in a good condition, despite probably coming from a child’s collection (she was sold among other children’s toys), and, what is totally unheard of pre-loved kids’ dolls, she had shoes!

Both shoes! Can you believe that? πŸ™‚

Alas, my seller thought it was a good idea to send her in a bubble envelope. That’s irresponsible packaging.

Merida's feet in bubble wrap

She was about ready to get out of it, too. All that pent up Merida energy πŸ™‚

I wasn’t thrilled to see how she’s handled traveling in pretty much a loose bag…

Animators' Merida opening a package

Even if her hair was in a decent state at the time she was put out for sale, it wasn’t so anymore after her difficult journey.

The most disturbing part was the mist of frizzy hair surrounding her head:

Animators' Merida frizzy hair

Deciding to buy second hand I took comfort in the fact that doll hair can be restored if needed, but it wasn’t my plan for this doll initially. Now this necessity was looking me in the face from behind her out of control curls.

Even knowing that the hair situation is serious, I honestly considered leaving it as it was – at least for one “thrash the doll” photo shoot, because a) it is in Merida’s character to have her hair somewhat messy and not care, b) I knew that if I put a lot work into fixing her, I will be skittish about having her outside doing the very ‘adventurous’ things she is meant to do.

Finally, I decided I had to redo her curls if I were to fully enjoy her as a new doll.

And here she is after the operation:

Animators' Merida fixed hair

I do not claim that the hair is now the best it can be, but it’s certainly an improvement. Keeping in mind that I can’t be the only person facing the problem of ruined doll hair I intend to devote a separate post to explaining how to re-do dolls’ curls.

Call me a hygiene-freak, but I also scrubbed her clean and hand-washed her clothes and shoes, because it bothered me that I didn’t know where she’s been and what she’s been up to. I also ironed her dress on a low setting, avoiding the pattern area altogether, because it was a bit creased. It still is ever so slightly, but I didn’t want to go overboard and ruin it.

Disney Animators' Merida 2015

Now that she is nice and neat I feel like I can say a few words in the way of an informal review.

Based on her dress, she is the latest version of the Animators’ Merida dolls – still available at the Disney Store. I believe she is from 2015, but I am not entirely certain.

Her dress is reminiscent of the first series of the dolls, with two major differences: the new dress lack the sash, but it does have an interesting print near the hem. I would have liked the sash, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to add, while the Celtic pattern would be hard to come by in fabrics and other doll clothes, so I am glad it’s there on my doll’s dress. (There is also the second edition green-dress Merida – I like the colour of her dress the most, but then the shape looks too modern to me. Have no fear! I will sew something green for her to run around the forest in :))

Animators' Merida shoes, tights and pattern

I am overjoyed to have another pair of shoes to match with my handmade outfits, and they are lovely! It’s a great colour which will naturally work with certain blues, provide a pop of colour in more low-key outfits and should be sweet in combination with various pastels. I also like the shape of the shoes a lot – as much as I love Mary-Jane shoes, the ones that most Animators’ dolls wear are a little bulky. It’s not so with these cute flats, the shape is very graceful and versatile. I must admit that these shoes were a big incentive for me to buy the doll.

The tights are not elastic at all, which I believe to be the reason why they wrinkle at the ankles. That’s a little unfortunate.

Another great reason to have this Merida doll in your collection is of course her unique facial features:

Disney Animators' Merida face 1

Her mischievous smile proves that the creators of the Animators’ series know how to pour the characters’ personality into a doll, in my opinion better than in any other line of Disney dolls. However, she is not only precious as an accurate representation of Merida, she is a fun and unique doll regardless of what sort of character she will be in her owner’s imagination.

I am not even a huge fan of Brave, but this little rascal is too cute to pass up.

Despite certain challenges I am pleased to have purchased this particular doll. I did have to put my time into restoring her, but thankfully I did have the time to spare, and she cost half of what Animators’ dolls in similar state (and often without shoes!) cost. She has a lot of unique personality and I can’t wait to sew something designed especially for her, whether medieval or modern in style πŸ™‚

Washing Rapunzel’s hair

As I mentioned in my previous posts, the new doll had “crunchy hair” from the amount of gel that was in it. It’s a little scary to put a brand new doll into a bath, but I was convinced it was necessary. For a somewhat scary operation it turned out to be kind of fun and produced a few cute photos that I wanted to share.

Please excuse the doll nudity πŸ™‚

02b Rapunzel washing hair

I washed her hair pretty much like any hair (I did use a gentle organic shampoo. I’m sure vinyl skin is very sensitive :)). People advise using conditioner on dolls to facilitate brushing, but she didn’t have any tangles and I wanted to see what her hair is like without any product whatsoever.

03 Rapunzel washing hair

I intended not to mess with the original parting, but a few strands got displaced anyway. I had to move the hair strand by strand to restore the criss-cross pattern that ensures there are is no blank line in the middle.

04b Rapunzel washing hair

I learned a few things about doll hair in the process. Looking at online auctions of used dolls used to make me wonder how children manage to make straight-haired dolls look like poodles. Well, now I know. The hair is slightly elastic. If you pull on it too hard while brushing it stretches and then springs back curled up. It only happened to a few individual hairs in my case, but I can see how harsh brushing can turn it all into a frizzy mess. Even if it does happen there are ways of restoring it, just look around on YouTube or Google (I haven’t tried any of them myself yet).

Another tip I can share is that it helps to put a small pillow under the hair while brushing.

05b Rapunzel washing hair

All done and lovely, if still wet.