Doll collecting is one of the world’s most popular hobbies. Reborn and silicone dolls are some of the most popular types of baby doll available today, with prices ranging from £100 to £23,000. They mostly look as close as possible in size, weight and appearance to a real premmie, newborn or toddler. Although there are some artists who produce miniature babies, or baby animals and fantasy babies such as fairies and mermaids.
This blog post only talks about Reborns and silicones, but many collectors also collect OOAKs (one of a kind) sculptures or resin reproductions. Ill post a separate article on that.
Reborn dolls are made of vinyl, typically with a soft stuffed cloth torso which makes them cuddly and floppy like a real baby. They are individually had painted by a “reborn artist” to look as close as possible to a real baby. The artist will also add weight to the different parts to make it feel more like a real baby – with skill this will be very balanced and is an important part of making the finished baby.
Historically, an artist would take a factory painted doll from companies such as Berenguer or Ashton Drake, and strip the vinyl parts in order to refinish it with more detail. Nowadays, specialist “reborn doll kit” kit companies (or the original sculpting artist), produce the arms, legs and head in unpainted vinyl, ready for the artist to work their magic and turn it into a realistic looking baby doll. The original sculpting artist makes the master model for the doll as an original in clay and this will be reproduced in factories as unpainted kits in editions from 200 to 1000 at a time. Popular kits may have a second or more edition produced.
- Orignal Artist sculpts original model in clay
- Factory produces parts in vinyl, in large editions 200-1000
- Reborn Artist paints, assembles and sometimes adds hair to finished doll.
- Sometimes a separate rooting artist will add the hair.
Silicone Vinyl Dolls
There is no such thing as silicone vinyl. This is a marketing term that means the vinyl is softer. It is not silicone. It is vinyl, made in a factory in large volumes, painted by an artist using the same method for all vinyl dolls.
Silicone dolls are generally produced in very limited editions of 10 to 12. The original sculpting artist will create the original in clay – just the same as for a vinyl reborn, but it is then molded by a specialist craftsperson (sometime this is the original artist). This mold is filled or “poured” in liquid silicone which cures to a soft very flexible reproduction of the original artists model. The silicone is solid.
- Orignal Artist sculpts original model in clay
- Spcialist Silicone Craftsperson produces parts in silicone, in very small editions 8-12
- Silicone painting Artist paints, assembles and sometimes adds hair to finished doll.
- Often all three stages are completed by the same person.
Silicione dolls can be cloth body, partial or full.
Cloth Body Silicone
A cloth body silicone baby has a fabric body, somtimes with weight added and stuffed with a soft filling. The arms, legs and head are made of squishy flexible silicone which is solid. Sometimes a belly plate will be supplied to add to the realism when displaying the doll.
A partial silicone baby doll sometimes means a cloth body (as above), but more generally it means that either the upper or lower torso is also solid silicone as well as the arms/legs/head. Always check with your artists which they mean. Lower body partial silicones are preferred if people want to have a definite “boy or girl”. Upper body partial silicones are preferred for dressing with short sleeves and lower necklines.
Full Body Silicone
Full body silicones are made totally of solid silicone. Generally the arms/legs and body are cast in one piece with no seams. The head is sometimes cast as part of the rest of the doll (a one piece pour), but mostly they are cast separately from the body. They can then be stuck to the body, which is known as a “fused neck”. This gives a nice neat neckline but slightly restricts the ability for the head to turn and stay in a position. A ball jointed neck means the neck has a large solid ball on it which hides inside the head and allows it to glide to different positions and stay there. The neckline will have a join if a ball joint is used, and a good sculpting artist will make this neat and look like a little fold of skin. Always ask to see photos of the back of the neck when buying silicones. The choice of ball joint, fused neck or one piece pour is down to the individual and each have their advantages.
Hair for baby dolls
Silicone and Reborn dolls are available bald – like many real babies, or with hair.
Painted Hair is very popular as the most hardwearing hair option. A good artist can make painted hair look very real especially if the look is very sparse thin hair. This is a good choice for people who want to play with thir dolls and dress them in hats. The paint used is generally the same as is usd to paint the rest of the doll, although some artists use pens or pencisl and seal them with a special varnish. Like all aspects of the art of making dolls – the skill of the artist is highly variable.
Wigs are more commonly used on toddler dolls where a thicker hair appearance is appropriate. They can also be added later or changed to refresh a heavily played with doll or give it a whole new look. Wigs are available of soft wispy mohair, real human hair or more commonly man made fibres that are heat set to stay perfectly styled.
Hand Applied Hair
Hand applied hair (typically mohair) is glued onto the head in lyers to make it sit in a natural style. This is more common on resin and OOAK dolls where rooting is not an option.
Rooting means that the hair is pushed into the silcione or vinyl using a specialist needle so it looks like it is growing from the head. The quality and standard of rooting and materials for rooting vary tremendously. Most artists use natural or spcially dyed mohair or alpaca hair which is very fine like a real baby’s hair. Rooted hair will generally add to the value of the doll. The materials used are very expensive and depending on the approach used it can take a very long time to implant each hair. It can also be done very quickly, but the results are very different. I have written a separate blog post about this detailed subject.
Rooted hair will generally make a big difference to the value of the doll and can make the doll look and feel incredibly real. It is not a hard wearing option and must be treated with great care. Pull on hats should be avoided and bonnets used carefully. Vinyl rebrons will have the hair seald on the inside with a glue to prevent hair loss, although friction will still break the fragile strands of hair. Silicone babies have a solid head so the hair cannot be sealed. A skilled artist can root hair very deep into the silicone so it is unlikely to fall out, but it is a very skilled method that requires a lot of patience and experience.
Rooted hair is generally inserted “directionally” to create the natrual direction of a baby’s hair growth including the spiral crown. A master artist can make the hair sit flat and in the right direction without any need for water or styling. Because the hair used has a right and wrong way, just like your own hair, a patient and skilled artist will root “from the cut end” to ensure that the hair shaft is smoothed and all sitting in the same direction – otherwise it would be like backcombing half the hair and it would go dull over time. The quality of the mohair also makes a difference as it is only when it is very carefully processed that the artist can tell which is the right and wrong way.
Combi hair is a combination on the same doll of painted and rooted hair. This allows the artist to put the finest hairs around the face in very finely with a brush and paint and the thicker hair using the rooting method.