Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Saskia Project Conclusion

As you might imagine, life has been a little disorganized around here lately.  The same storm that put a branch through our roof actually left two more holes in the house, so we've had to replace the roof and do a few other maintenance things.  Next week the hole in my studio ceiling will be patched up, so I should be able to get back to normal soon after that.  The nice thing is that both our insurance company and our contractor are awesome, so things are about as good as they could possibly be given the circumstances.

With the roof construction underway, studio time has been scarce.  This offered me the perfect chance to finish up the Saskia Project, though, because I'd already assembled Saskia and taken a few pictures of her before the storm hit.  All I had left to do was snap a few photos outside in the sun--no studio necessary.  This should have been an easy thing to do, but there was one small problem: as much as I love this doll and as cute as she is in real life, she's not at all photogenic...especially outside.  I suspect this is mostly because I made her way too shiny with all of those layers of sealant.  I'm also not accustomed to photographing baby dolls.  They don't stand up on their own!

Anyway, in today's post I'll show you how I assembled Saskia and then share a collection of pictures that I took of her after she was finished.  To put these pictures in some perspective, I took over 500 snapshots of this doll...and only about 50 of them turned out.  Here's one of those 50:

"Saskia" reborn kit doll by Bonnie Brown (completed).
At the end of the last installment, Saskia was a pile of painted vinyl body parts:

Well...a pile of vinyl body parts with a painstakingly hand-rooted head of red hair.

Compared to the task of rooting hair, stuffing Saskia's body and attaching her limbs seemed relatively easy.  So easy, in fact, that I didn't bother to read any instructions for this step.  That was a mistake.  Not a huge mistake, to be sure, but definitely a mistake.  There are so many good (free) online reborn tutorials these days, it was foolish to not at least glance at one of them.

Anyway, here's the cloth body that came with Saskia:

It's not typical for reborn kits to come with a body.  I like Bonnie Brown's kits because they all seem to come with a custom body.  That saves me from having to figure out which body to buy for a specific vinyl kit.  Not only did Saskia come with a body, the body already had cable ties inserted around all of the limb holes--checking another thing off my shopping list.

I had to purchase some Poly-fil stuffing for the body:

And some glass beads for weighting the body:

Back when I made clay babies, I stuffed my dolls with plastic pellets.  I really liked those pellets.  They were inexpensive, and I could buy them at nearby stores like Jo-Ann Fabric and A.C. Moore.  It's much more common nowadays to stuff dolls with glass beads, and I suspect this is because most reborn kits are made out of soft vinyl or a silicone-vinyl mix.  I've heard that silicone-vinyl mixes do not play well with plastic products.  In contrast, glass is fairly non-reactive.

I went with the norm and purchased about 8 pounds of glass beads (which is way too much for one doll).

I also bought some inexpensive pantyhose because these are recommended for keeping the glass beads contained--so they don't leak out of the doll.

I purchased the Poly-fil, the glass beads and the pantyhose from Bountiful Baby.  Here are the prices:
Poly-fil: $6.95
Glass beads: $2.09 per pound (four pounds was plenty for me, so $8.36)
Pantyhose: $2.99 (despite the $3.98 price tag)

Bountiful Baby is a nice online store that makes the purchase of reborn supplies easy.  They have lots of affordable vinyl kits, great tips, and clear pictures of most of their products.

I knew from my reading that I would have to weight Saskia's limbs and head before I attached everything to the cloth body.  I decided to start with the head:

I got out a 1 pound bag of glass beads and cut off one foot from the pantyhose:

I stretched this section of pantyhose over a small cup so that I could easily fill it will beads:

These beads are really small--much smaller than I expected.  They look like tiny grains of clear sand. I'm not sure why reborn artists don't just use sterilized sand for this step.

I wasn't sure exactly how much glass to use for the head, so I just filled the cup and used that amount:

About the size of an apple.
I knotted the pantyhose tightly and then folded the extra hose back over the bundle of glass beads and knotted it again.  I actually did this twice so that there were three layers of pantyhose covering the glass.

I layered the pantyhose mostly because the glass beads are so tiny (I have a hard time even calling them beads).  With only one layer of hose, many of the grains of glass were leaking out and getting all over the table.  Maybe you can see the spillage in this picture:

Anyway, here's my little bundle:

Before I put the glass into Saskia's head, I added a dense layer of Poly-fil.  I wanted the glued ends of her rooted hair to be protected from the heavy bag of glass.

After I packed a generous amount of Poly-fil into the head, I tried to add the bag of glass...

...but I had grossly overestimated the size of Saskia's neck hole.  Oops.

I removed about an eighth of the glass beads and then re-tied the pantyhose, this time leaving a lot of space above the beads, like this: 

I was only able to double-layer the pantyhose this time, but the extra space allowed the glass beads to spread out:

This sausage-shaped bag of glass was much easier to get into Saskia's head:

After the beads were in place, I filled the rest of Saskia's head with tightly-packed Poly-fil:

I also wanted to stuff Saskia's limbs, but the holes on those (especially on the arms) are much smaller than the hole in the head:

I decided to start with Saskia's right arm:

I tried to replicate what I did with the head by first stuffing some Poly-fil into the arm.  I had to use the handle of a paintbrush to poke the stuffing all of the way towards the hand:

Once Saskia's wrist and hand felt firm, I tied off another section of pantyhose and pondered what to do next.

I was worried that I'd never be able to fit a bag of glass beads into the small opening of the arm, so I decided to put the pantyhose into the arm first and then fill the hose with beads.  

So, I pushed the tied end of the pantyhose into the arm with a paintbrush...

...then I folded the open end of the hose back over the top of the arm...

...and then I tried to funnel some glass beads into the arm with the bottom part of a turkey baster:

High-tech equipment.
This worked fairly well, but it was hard to get the glass beads to settle towards the hand.

I pushed on the pantyhose bag with the baster, but the hose are so thin, this just jabbed a bunch of holes in the pantyhose...causing the glass beads to leak out all over the place.  Ugh.  

I pulled out the pantyhose and started over.

At this stage, there were tiny grains of glass everywhere.  They were in my lap, on the floor, and all over the table.  I live in Maine, so I'm used to having sand everywhere--especially in the summer.  But the small size of these beads was actually concerning to me.  What if I inhaled some of them?  What if my small dogs licked them up?  It's strange because Bountiful Baby was advertising these as larger than other beads on the market.  I hate to think what the smallest beads are like!  I would not want to work with those.

The small size of the beads actually helped me with what I decided to do next, though.  

I experimented with the opposite arm by ditching the pantyhose idea and simply pouring the glass beads straight into the arm.  This filled the delicate hollows of the hand really nicely and gave the arm a more solid feel.  I filled the arm about a third of the way with glass (to midway up the forearm) and then stuffed the rest of the limb with tightly-packed Poly-fil.  This worked really well and was super-easy.

I wanted to repeat this technique on the right arm, but remember that I'd already stuffed a bunch of Poly-fil deep down into that arm.  The glass beads would not move past the Poly-fil.  So, I pulled out as much of the Poly-fil as I could reach--scraping out clumps of it with my paintbrush handle.  I wasn't able to get every last piece of stuffing out, but I got a lot of it.

With the legs, I filled them to just under the knee with sand and then packed the rest with Poly-fil.

I really like how this method of stuffing makes the limbs feel, but I was a little worried about those tiny glass fragments leaking out of the limbs and into the rest of Saskia's body.  There are plastic plugs available for sale that will seal off the ends of the limbs and the bottom of the head to prevent leakage.  I saw these plugs at Bountiful Baby, but didn't want to spend any more money.

Instead, I covered the ends of the limbs with cardboard discs:

For extra security, I covered the discs with a generous amount of Modge Podge glue:

I set the limbs aside overnight so that the glue could dry thoroughly.

I still don't know how professional reborn artists stuff their dolls' limbs, but I was pretty happy with how this turned out.  The only downside is that Saskia's right arm does not feel as nice as her left arm or her legs.  Because I was never able to remove all of the Poly-fil from that one hand, the glass beads could not make their way past the wrist.  So, Saskia's right hand is soft and squishy while her left hand is firm and heavy.  Live and learn.

Finally, it was time to stuff the body!  Once again, I wasn't exactly sure how to proceed with this step, so I improvised.

I filled a large section of pantyhose with glass beads and tucked this into Saskia's bottom:

Then, I attached the legs and filled the rest of Saskia's bottom and lower belly with Poly-fil.  I added one more bag of glass to Saskia's waist area and then filled the rest of the body with stuffing:

For some reason I was fixated on not over-stuffing the body.  This train of thought made me way too cautious.  

I ended up dramatically under-stuffing the body:

Poor Saskia could not even begin to support the weight of her head:

I clipped the cable tie at the neck, removed Saskia's head and added some more stuffing.  Fortunately, I had some extra cable ties laying around from the My Twinn Project.

This was better...

...but still needed work.

I ended up putting the whole rest of the 8-ounce bag of Poly-fil into Saskia's body.  

That did the trick:

Once I was happy with her balance and weight, I tucked the ends of the cable ties into their seams, like this:

And I declared Saskia complete!  Hurrah!

I still needed to find her a good outfit, though.  I got lost in an hours-long internet search for the perfect clothes for this special doll.  I knew I wanted to find her something green (to match her eyes) and I also wanted to find something that would acknowledge her beautiful name.  Saskia is a Dutch name, but I'll admit that I lazily generalized this into a vague search for northern European clothing.

This search led me to an amazing Scandinavian clothing company called Molo.  I wish I'd known about this place when my kids were younger.  Molo's designs are creative, unique and very appealing to my taste...especially the outfit I found for Saskia:

It's a simple little cotton dress, but the print is incredible.  Look!

The dress is covered with colorful little antique dolls.  It's perfect.

Maybe a little spooky...but perfect nonetheless.
This dress is part of a bigger collection of clothing.  There are about a dozen pieces that either have this doll print on them or that coordinate with it.  I would have gleefully bought a complete outfit, but none of the stores in Europe (where the clothes are easy to find) would ship to the United States.  I found Saskia's dress at Nordstrom, and it was the only item (and the only size) available from the collection.  That was probably a good thing in the end, though, because the clothes are not cheap.  This dress was on sale and it still cost me $37.46.

Saskia would probably fit the "newborn" size Molo clothing perfectly.  This 0-3 month dress is big on her--even after I washed it and dried it on a hot setting.


The dress isn't really appropriate for January, so I paired it with some Peek brand pantaloons ($8.00) and this gorgeous hand-knitted sweater from Quilts and Knits by Gail on Etsy ($27.50).

The sage green of this sweater matches Saskia's eyes perfectly.  Thank you to Gail for the color-accurate photos of this lovely cardigan!

This sweater's 0-3 month size works really well for Saskia, too.

Saskia's coloring and shiny face photograph pretty well in my studio, but she's big and heavy so it's hard to pose her in my set-up.  I really wanted to get some pictures of this baby outside--to match the outdoor pictures I took of my mystery reborn baby, Paisley.

But look at how the first picture turned out:

That is a really shiny, fake-looking baby.

At this point, there was a hole in the ceiling of my studio, so I tried taking a few pictures in other areas of the house.  Here, Saskia is resting in my living room, cradled in a woven basket from A.C. Moore ($14.99):

I positioned Saskia in front of a window so that the lighting would be natural, but this makes her look shiny...and also casts huge reflections on her eyes.

Next, I draped a blanket over some chairs to try and set up a makeshift studio in front of the window:

This picture is overexposed, but I like Saskia's serene face:

I really wanted to get some full-body shots of Saskia, too, because her limbs are so realistic and chubby.

Those pictures made Saskia cold, though, so I had to bundle her up immediately afterwards:

I tried playing around with a lighter background--paired with the fuzzy beanbag chair I used for Paisley's photoshoot.

Saskia's Molo dress looks good with a wide range of colors, including this powder pink cardigan from Baby Gap:

Toy Box Philosopher

The cardigan's hood messed up Saskia's hair a little, but I think these pictures of her with charmingly frizzy hair are among my favorites.  It looks like she just woke up from her nap:

Toy Box Philosopher

The green sweater is definitely the best fit for Saskia, though:

Toy Box Philosopher

After I took these pictures, I sprayed Saskia's hair with some water to try and get it to lay flat again.  It looks like she's fresh from her bath:

I was eager to find some new posing scenarios, so I asked my son (home from college) to hold Saskia for a minute while she was still wet--remembering the days when I used to hold him after his bath, dancing him around until he was ready for bed:

Time flies.
Buoyed by my son's willingness to carry this baby around, I asked him to come outside with me to try a few shots in the shade:

Not ridiculously shiny this time! Yay!
In these pictures she's wearing a snowsuit that I purchased years ago for another doll.

Of course when I asked my kid to hold Saskia up high near the green trees, he did...while belting out the opening theme from The Lion King:

Nants ingonyama bagithi baba...
In between giggles, I got a few more pictures:

I mentioned that I wanted to try a few basket shots with Saskia next, and of course my son immediately started pretending to shoot Saskia towards an imaginary basketball hoop.  I told him it was fine if he wanted to go back inside.

On my own, I ventured into the woods and set Saskia's basket under an evergreen so that she could inspect the branches:

She was mesmerized:

As it got a little warmer outside, I lifted Saskia out of her basket and carried her around the yard.

At one point I even took her snowsuit off so that I could get a clear picture of her adorable little feet!

My favorite pictures of Saskia are the ones I took at the very end--with her Molo dress showing and her hair and eyes shining in the sun.

Toy Box Philosopher

That brings me to the end of my photo session--and almost to the end of this project!

I want to mention that I didn't treat Saskia with any special care throughout this review.  By that, I mean that I treated her like any other baby doll: redressing her a dozen times, propping her up against several different surfaces, putting hats and hoods over her head, setting her in the snow, wetting her hair and face, leaving her in the clutches of my son, etc.  I wanted to see how well she would hold up to this kind of handing.  For the most part, she did great.  The amazing thing is that I never noticed any of her hair falling out.  It still looks as thick today as it did the day I finished rooting it:

She did manage to acquire a faint scuff along her left cheek, though:

Overall, I think this kind of reborn doll would do fairly well in the hands of an older child, but probably isn't the best choice for kids under 5.

Update: Farrah's comment, below, reminded me that I meant to include one last comparison of Saskia today vs. Saskia when she arrived in the mail--the creepy, empty eye socket baby head. :)

And one last picture of her outside:

Bottom line?  Well, let's talk a little bit about the literal bottom line for this project--the cost.  Here's an itemized list of the supplies from all three stages of this endeavor (only the items I actually used are included this time, and prices are rounded to the nearest dollar):

Bonnie Brown's Saskia kit (with body): $113
German Lauscha flat-back glass eyes in 20mm: $35
Eyelashes (wispy carrot): $2
Miracle Blend paints: $32 (again--just for the colors and sealants I used)
New paint brushes: about $20 for two mop brushes and a few packs of cheaper brushes
Rooting needles (43 gauge forked): $10 (I used about four needles--none of them broke)
Mohair (Yearling OOAK): $40 (I have a lot left over)
Little pink scissors: $6
Razor comb: $6
Thinning shears: $4
Spray bottle: $2
Modge Podge (glossy and matte): ~$6 each, $12 for both
Poly-fil stuffing: $7
Glass beads (4 pounds): $9
Pantyhose: $3
Molo designer dress: $37
Han-knitted cardigan: $28
Peek Pantaloons: $8
Total: $374

I spent a fair amount of money on extra things, too, like shipping fees, the basket, the glass eyes I rejected, another brand of mohair, and the Miracle Blend paint colors I didn't need.  I'm not sure how I should factor these "overage" costs in.  I have enough experience now that I probably wouldn't overspend like this again.  Overall, I think it's fair to say that $400 was more than enough to make the best version of Saskia that I'm capable of making.  

This brings up a few of my original questions: first of all, can a reborn kit (a pile of vinyl parts) really be worth over $100?  Well, for this I'd have to say yes.  Everything that's amazing about my Saskia is because of the underlying artistry in Ms. Brown's stunningly realistic, unique mold....and purchasing this mold was only about a third of the project's total cost.  I should emphasize that I don't think all reborn kits are worth $100--not even close.  But this one is.

The next big question is, given the final cost of completing this particular kit, is the resulting doll worth the price (~$400)?  This gets hard because value can be so subjective.  My opinion is that Saskia is a great doll, but there are a lot of artist dolls in the $400 range that I'd rather own.  For example, given the choice between Saskia and my Dianna Effner Little Darling doll, Rowan, I'd choose Rowan in a heartbeat.  I also could have bought the entire Maru and Friends Mini Pal collection for this amount of money.  But the experience of assembling Saskia was worth something, too; something that purchasing a pre-made doll in a store can't replicate.  I'll set that intangible value aside for a moment, though, and conclude that my completed Saskia doll is not worth $400.  I say this primarily because I would not have paid that price to buy her in a store.

My other big question was about whether or not a person with relatively little reborn experience could have any kind of success completing one of these kits.  I'm happy to say that the answer to this question is a definite yes--mostly because of the wonderful, free, online help that's available these days.  Granted, Saskia has some pretty glaring flaws (her shiny skin, her inexpertly-rooted hair, her unevenly-stuffed limbs, the ill-fitting clothes...) but she turned out better than I expected, and when I look at her, I'm happy.  To me, that's a success.

I figured that the worst part of this project would be trying to root the hair.  That was a daunting task, no doubt, but the hardest part actually came at the very end when I struggled to take decent photographs of Saskia for you guys.  It was frustrating that my portraits couldn't capture what I see right here in front of me.  I wonder, though, if perhaps my frustration had less to do with shiny vinyl and poor lighting and more to do with the simple fact that it's impossible to capture the saga of Saskia's assembly in a single photograph.  I've been on quite a journey with this doll: watching her come alive with the insertion of those green eyes, the exhilaration of rooting her first few hairs, the way her body parts sat on our dinner table for weeks (creeping everyone out), her first nerve-wracking haircut, feeling the weight of her stuffed body in my arms, the fun of finding that incredible dress, 4 seasons of Gilmore Girls...and I could go on.  Which brings me back to the hardest question: does the experience of this project make the doll worth $400?  It'd be poetic and nice to end by saying that it definitely does, but I don't think that's true.  $400 is a lot of money.  If Saskia had cost half of what she did, my conclusion would be easy.  The thing is, I suspect it's entirely possible to make a similar, fully-rooted reborn doll for $200 or that's exactly what I plan to do next.

Toy Box Philosopher


  1. Wow! Saskia looks really great! I don't know much about vinyl and how it would react to powders, but would applying some translucent powder to her (or even baby powder) bring down the shininess? The added bonus of baby powder would be that it would make her smell nice and realistic, like a baby fresh from a diaper change.

    1. I was going to suggest the same thing. Just a dab of it, maybe?

  2. For Heaven's sake! You made my daughter Ivy! Seriously, put little red blotches on her forehead and upper lip, and it's my Ivy! Her hair wasn't as frizzy, but it it that colour. And I third the powder suggestion.I was thinking that too. The only drawback might be that it slightly changes her colouring.

  3. Wow, so glad to see the conclusion! I'a new reader and I've fallen in love with your blog!

    Saskia is gorgeous, I think my favorite pic is your son holding her up to the trees. She looks so curious yet confused, like a real baby lifted up.

  4. Yay! You finished! I really like her, but wow. $400! I'm excited to see upcoming reborns, this'll be interesting!

  5. Saskia is adorable :) I still love the face mold! And even with her overly shiny face, she's still such a cutie. I guess it's time to drool over reborn dolls and try to keep from buying one! (A completed one of course I am no artist lol)

  6. I am impressed! Wow, that was a lot of work!

  7. Saskia is very beautiful, you must be very happy with how she turned out! I'm not a very experienced dollmaker or modifier, but how I've dealt with shininess in the past is to put some matte sealant on a makeup sponge and lightly dab it on the vinyl. It's much easier to control the shine that way and get it to that nice area inbetween finishes where it looks realistic. Thank you for the beautiful pictures, they're always my favorite part of the review. I'm excited to see what you do next! Best wishes from Wisconsin :)

  8. Do you feel that the glass beads are safely encased, enough for a child, not a very young one but in the age range you mention, to handle?
    Not fond of the face mold personally, but for those who like that baby's look, quite the unique doll. Doesn't look as real as I would have thought in the photos
    Also, though I love the doll print dress, I don't like it on that baby. Love the sage green sweater
    Thanks for detailed review and story. I admire your work, writing and skills ,putting this doll together.

    1. The limbs would have to come off, the glued disks come out, and the stuffing to come out, for the glass to come out. That doll would have to be as abused as an old metal Tonka truck for that to happen.

  9. Saskia turned out great. She looks like a real baby to me. I look forward to seeing your future reborn projects.

  10. That is incredible. I'm not going to lie..when I first saw your post with the creepy, empty eye socket baby head, I had my doubts, but you transformed her completely! She literally looks like a real baby in a lot of those photos. Thanks for sharing this project with us!

  11. I love your Saskia!
    I think you can fix her shiny skin, only need a matte Mr. Super Clear spray. Some people use it on the Blythe's shiny stock face, is the best for resin BJDs too. Probably you know it.

    You can see a example of before and after Blythe here:

    Mr. Super Clear can be find at Hobby Link Japan or any doll suplies shop, is it: (the new desing is in the rigth side).

    But maybe you don't wish change it, thats is ok because she don't need, but would be possible if you want.

    In other hand, I really would like can see any baby made of you, I read your blog for years and always wish see some doll made for you.

    Besides, I'm really glad your house is almost done and everyting was fine. Have a happy day!

    1. Sorry, I wanted say: "Any baby made FOR you", I mean your clay babies... Only if you can and want show us some of your work.

      I'm so curious about your collection of realistics babies and toddlers too, I'm sure they are so gorgeous.

  12. I think that scratch in her cheek looks like a tiny scar, it doesn't look bad. I have a scar in my eyebrow from when I was 1 year old. I think it works well with Saskia, makes her more realistic.
    I also notice her skin is less shiny as the pictures go on, that's a good thing.

    Over all, she looks lovely. You did a great job. And I'm glad your house is getting repaired without much trouble.

  13. Oh my goodness, the pictures of your son holding Saskia are too cute. I also love that he sang Circle of Life! My mom and I sing it every time we try to hold our cell phones up for signal. :P
    This looks like a really interesting project, and i would love to attempt such a thing one day. I love the feeling of having a baby doll in my arms while I'm just hanging around, and it would be really fun to have it actually weigh as much as a real baby. (and I'm ages away from having a real baby!)

  14. You did such a beautiful job with Saskia. She's just lovely.

  15. My first two thoughts: WOW and ARE YOU CRAZY? but you know she looks beautiful and it was all worth it. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Wow, that would be a daunting project for me because I'm not a crafter but you pulled it off!

  17. Saskia looks amazing! Beautiful, incredible job, Emily! :)

  18. She reminds me of Elora Danan from the movie Willow.

  19. Wow, Emily! Saskia looks so real that I'm happy the extra shine is there to remind me she's a doll :-)
    It was expensive, but I imagine that being able to control every aspect of the final result is also worth something. Ready made dolls don't have that much variety from what I've seen.
    At any rate you did a wonderful job and it was great to see the process involved in making a reborn doll. Thank-you!

  20. Emily,she is so beautiful. And looks so much like real baby girl. I love ho she looks so curious. You did incredible job on her. I like silicone reborn babies. But your Saskia is just amazing. And I m so happy I could see her reborn step by step.

  21. your son is a riot, i love it.
    also, someone mentioned MSC above, but it can be difficult to get a hold of; my personal rec is testors dullcote. that stuff will matt anything. ANYTHING.

  22. gosh a very tedious project! perhaps you would review something a bit simpler? was looking forward to your review on the zombie gaga doll..really love your reviews and your blog,

  23. Я совершенно влюбилась! Чудо!

  24. Well, now I think I have to pull apart a pricy baby doll my daughter never cared much for, and try to do this with it. :)