Do Your Natural Thing

The Making of African Girl Dolls!


I wanted to give my daughter a meaningful gift to show her how much I appreciate her warmth, generosity, and all around amazingness!  She has been wanting a baby doll for quite some time now, but a couple of things were holding me back.

The first is that every doll that I found was made in China.  I am working towards reducing dependence on goods that are made in sweatshops, and I feel that is an important lesson to teach my daughter as well.   I spent hours searching the internet for responsible doll companies, and companies who produce dolls in countries that are not notorious for sweatshop labor.  I hit many dead ends along the way, and after much research, including reaching out to other responsible toy companies (that do not offer dolls) I found nothing.

The second problem was that it seems like 99% of brown-skinned dolls of African decent have straight hair.  I am all about self love and embracing your natural hair, so that did not work for me.  The few dolls I found with natural hair were incredibly expensive.  We are talking like $50-$80 for a Barbie.  Just because she has natural hair.  That may work for some families, and you can find these barbies at companies like Natural Girls United.   They do have fabulous hair, and I realize now that it takes quite a bit of time to create natural hair looks on dolls.

One evening, after I singed my daughter’s Barbie’s straight hair in the fireplace, in a desperate attempt to create some kink, I decided to look into alternatives.  It turns out, you can create the look of natural hair at home, with some pipe-cleaners and boiling water!  I found a couple of tutorials online, and decided to give it a go.

So, to solve problem number 1, I scoured local thrift stores and Craigslist for dolls who were not directly purchased from a sweatshop.  I like to think of it as recycling.  It was surprisingly hard to find baby dolls of African decent in the Dallas area thrift stores, but I ended up finding two.  Two dolls with a lot of hair – I had my work cut out for me!


Basically, you take a pipe cleaner and bend it in half, cutting it as needed.  For the baby doll, I cut the standard length ones in half, and for the second doll, since her hair is so long, I used the entire length, at some points adding to them.

You take a small section of hair (did I mention these dolls had a lot of hair?) and, starting as close to the scalp as possible, zig zag, or weave, the section in and out of the folded pipe cleaner.  It is very important that you spiral twist each section as you are working on it, and keep it tightly twisted as you zig zag.  The smaller the section, the kinkier the look you will achieve, so it is worth the extra effort.  It is a bit awkward at first, but becomes easier as you get down the rhythm.   Twist the two ends of the pipe cleaners together when you get to the end of that section of hair, and move on to the next section.


Here they all, done at last and ready for their bubble bath!  I’m not going to lie, it took me several hours to do all the hair for both of these dolls, but it was a labor of love.  Also, both of these dolls had an abnormally ample amount of hair.  On many dolls, the hair thins out substantially towards the middle of the head, as you move away from the hairlines, but these two were pretty thick throughout.  A good beginner project would probably be a regular-sized Barbie.

Next, I boiled a big pot of water and poured it into a separate tub, so as not to get anything toxic from the doll hair in my pot.  Working quickly, I submerged all of the hair under water for a slow count of 10-15 seconds.  It was a bit harder to get all of the baby dolls hair under, since her head was bigger, so I had to use a spoon to poke it all under the water.  I left the curlers in overnight, until the hair was completely dry.

When you remove the pipe cleaners, you are left with funky, twisty, bouncy twists.  I liked the look on the doll with the longer hair.  It reminded me of my long twists, and it just felt fun, so I left her hair alone after removing the pipe cleaners.


The baby doll’s hair showed a bit more scalp at the back once the pipe cleaners were removed, so I separated the curls on her.  Her hair did not turn out as curly as I expected, but it nicely mimicked the curl pattern of my daughter’s hair, so it worked out well.


The final step was sewing some outfits for the dolls, using African-print cloth.  My daughter was overjoyed with these girls, and she is thrilled that they have hair like her, so in the end the project was very worthwhile!  From what I have found online, the curls should stay pretty well for quite some time, just be careful to avoid hot water!

I hope you enjoyed this post, and that it inspires some of you to give the children in your lives dolls that encourage positive self image!  Please leave comments below, share, and don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss a post!


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