One of my favourite ways to add eyes & features to a doll face is by hand-embroidered. In this post, I’m gonna show you how I made Caleb’s mischievous eyes. By the way, there is also a free download of a file for tracing.
When I first started plushie making, I didn’t try other methods of making facial features on a plush.
No paint, no buttons. I jumped right into embroidered doll eyes.
I used to work in fashion, and, for the longest time, specialised in custom design work.
What I mean is, I am no stranger to embellishments.
Sequins, gold thread, appliqué, lacework… to name a few.
Needle and thread is like an extension of my hands. Like who needs a stapler?
Why embroidered doll eyes
Now you know how I got started in hand-stitched doll eyes, let’s move on to practical reasons.
1. Zero barrier to entry
If you sew at all, you already have everything you need to get started. And of course, a pair of scissors is helpful as well.
2. Safe for baby, children & clumsy adult
Why do you craft?
I sew soft toys because I like cuddly plushies to hold, and, to play with.
Embroidered doll eyes do not pose any safety hazard, nothing falls out from rough play. They are soft enough as babies’ and children’s sleeping companion
I like the texture when i run my fingers on it. I like feeling the quality of a handmade doll.
Variation of colours and reflectiveness can be achieved easily by using a different type of thread or embroidery floss.
Reiterating the 1st point, not only do you not have to buy new items to start, these items to be replenished are cheap compared to alternatives.
Putting your best doll face forward
In my opinion, a successful attempt should says something.
The message written on the face is loud and clear.
The doll could be telling me it’s a happy puppy, a conniving villain, or an overgrown venus fly trap.
Even if your intention was to create a blank expression, the face should explain why.
About a boy doll
This post is really about how I designed Caleb, a boy doll.
I made Caleb as a companion to a recent creation, a girl doll called Keila.
Keila has a neutral expression, round hand stitched eyes, small nose and a humble smile. Her face leaves so much room for imagination, she could be a boy if I say so.
To convey a sense of mischief, it would be difficult with a few stitches as eyes only. So I decided to give Caleb brows on fleek.
What makes a boy doll, a boy?
I like making girl dolls. Pigtails, eyelashes, flowy skirts, it’s all so fun to make and oh so stereotypical.
If I removed all these tell-tale signs, will the girl then become a boy doll?
On a boy’s face, there is almost always a spark of mischief. The eyes twinkle with life, together with the other features, tells you he has something up his sleeves.
With all that in mind, I have an image of Caleb in mind my, and the specs are as follows:
- Green eyes in 2 colours x 2 threads
- Nose and mouth in 4 peach threads
- Eyebrows in 2 colours x 1 thread
Trust me if you make enough doll face, you, too, might start thinking of faces by thread count.
Basic supplies for embroidery
My supplies nothing more than usual sewing notions and common stationery a crafter would own. I didn’t buy them specially for hand-stitched eyes on dolls.
You may not have access to all of them, but I’m sure you can find substitutes. My suggested alternatives are in brackets below. If you were still unsure, please leave me a comment below, I will be happy to see what may work for you.
Supplies I used
- Sewing thread, 100% polyester (or embroidery floss)
- Self threading needle (or tapestry / chenille needle, or any needle that holds 4 threads)
- Pilot Frixion Highlighter in Blue (or any other disappearing marker, or even pencil)
- Copy paper (80-100gsm, approx A6)
- Elmer’s washable school glue (any non-permenant adhesive that washes away easily)
- Thread cutter, or scissors
As I said earlier, strictly speaking, you really only need needle and thread, and scissors. The rest is really there to make your life easier.
Let’s get stitching
Tack Fabric to Paper
The paper is used as a stabiliser here.
I dabbed some washable school glue on a small piece of paper.
Then I placed the face over it, making sure the parts to be stitched are secured to the paper.
Doll eyes are small and only covers a small area, so, usually, I don’t bother with stabiliser or hoops.
Transfer Face Template
After the glue has dried, I drew the face on the fabric using my favourite Frixion Highlighter marker.
I have tried water soluble markers , tailors’ chalk, wax pencil, graphite pencil of all widths and hardness.
Frixion emerged my favourite of all. Not only is it affordable, precise, in yummy colours, it disappears with heat.
This means that the drawn lines will be taken care of effortlessly by the last step of ironing.
Stitching Doll Eyes by Hand
- Start with a knot, bring the needle from the back of the fabric o the front right in the centre of the eye.
- Insert needle in the left corner of the eye.
- Then, using back stitch or running stitch, sew the top outline from left to right.
- At the end, sew directly on top of the last row of stitches, back to the starting point in the left corner.
- Repeat with the bottom outline.
- Now you have a sewn v turned clockwise. Make a knot at the back, do not cut the thread.
- You have just locked the tension of stitches you made.
- Now, we do a sparse satin stitch from top to bottom row of stitches.
- And, when you reach the right side, repeat in the opposite direction.
- Tie a knot. Give your fingers a rest.
You what may look like an interlocking mess of threads.
This is it. This is one eye.
It may not look very pleasing, or even look like anything. But, just like impressionism, after you embroidered all the features, it will look like a face.
Quick & Simple Eyebrows
As this is a toddler doll, I wanted only enough definition. I do not wish to emphasize the brows, retaining a youthful look.
Using 2 threads of different colours, I stitched on vertical strokes in the natural brow growth direction.
Choosing Thread Colours for Nose and mouth
Because the focus is on the eyes and brows. For rest of the features are downplayed.
For nose and mouth, I chose a light peach colour that harmonises with the red hair, without drawing too much attention.
With 4 peach threads, the nose and mouth are swiftly formed with backstitches.
Remove paper & marker
Next your work to the wrong side.
Tear off the paper.
It should be easy if it hasn’t already detached itself halfway through the thousand jabs you made.
Then, wipe off the glue residue with a damp cloth.
Congrats, it’s a boy!
After all that hard work, you are done with a new face.
Does your face on the fabric now look wonky? Like the thread tension is all wrong? What? He wants a face lift?
During the stitching process, you tugged and pulled, jabbed and twisted the fabric. It is entirely normal that it looks crumpled like your week old shirt.
It’s time to bring out the iron
The iron does 2 things.
- Flattens the fabric
- Removes the blue marker
Set the iron on a medium low setting.
Start ironing from the centre or the nose, push the wrinkles out slowly with the tip of the iron. Do so swiftly so not to burn synthetic threads if using.
There you have it, a wrinkle-free boy doll.