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Toothpick doll
Toys in Miniature: Frances Armstrong
This doll is very simple to make, but can be modified to look quite good.  The diagram shows her in enlarged size (she's the width of a toothpick).  The photos are nearer real size.  The one on top shows the doll adapted to a Kewpie style, and the one below shows her dressed and with long hair.
Choice of toothpick.
Don't laugh--it matters. To my mind, toothpicks have always come in two forms, round and flat.  Now they are also available with nice decoratively turned tops, but in the US the plain round ones seem to have been replaced by square toothpicks with round ends. They are sometimes made of bamboo.  In Britain they appear to be called cocktail sticks.

Now that I've established the complexity of the subject, I'll offer the suggestion that if you can buy 1/16 dowel rods instead, you may get a more consistent quality.  The average packet of toothpicks contains some duds that are too soft, or cut with the grain crooked.  Lee Valley (see their web site) carry very good 1/16 dowels.

If it's a toothpick you're using,  first cut off the pointed end. The best way to cut round sticks is to
lay them flat and roll them along under your knife blade, cutting gradually all round, before
you snap it off.

Mark a line where the neck will go. This should be about 1/16 inch down, the same as the width of the toothpick, so the head will be nice and round. Mark this using the same rolling technique with your knife, but don't behead the poor thing. 

Round the top of the head by sanding. 

(If you're using a turned-end toothpick, you should probably sand off a fair bit,
so the head won't be too big.)

Using a triangular file, or any other way you like, indent the neck.  I don't think it's worth setting
this up on a lathe, but you can insert the toothpick in a Dremel tool or power drill and file it as the
drill turns.  Or just file it as you would your nails.

I find that with something so small, a simple ball shape is usually better than any effort at carving
(but see Historical Note).  If you want a Kewpie-like doll, give him a point (meant to be a wisp of hair) at the top of his head. (Kewpies are all boys--see that Historical Note again.)

Make another mark about 1/4 inch from the top, to indicate where you plan to cut the doll off below his or her feet. WIth a file, or a nice sharp X-acto blade, taper her down to the feet, but keep the foot part sturdy enough so the doll doesn't snap off yet.

If you like, you can mark in a division between the legs.  This isn't really necessary if you plan to dress the doll. 

Now give her a face.  If you're an experienced mini painter, coat the face with a sealer of some kind so the paint won't run, and use your finest brush.  If not, try this method:

For eyes, put on your best magnifier and all the lights, and get a black felt marker pen and a pin. Apply the pin to the pen so you get a little ink on it, and poke the pin gently into the head where you want an eye to be. For a "cute" effect, put the eyes halfway down the face and fairly far apart (see HIstorical note). With luck, just enough ink will remain to be the right size for an eye. If too small, repeat the process. If too large, sand off and try again. If you can't sand the eyes off, turn the doll round and make the face on the other side of the head.

Use the same technique with a red marker to make the mouth. A simple dot is often more effective than a big smile, in this scale.  If you want at bit of a smile, you can make a tiny cut with the tip of a knife that you have wiped on a red marker, but be careful--it's only too easy to make a big mouth look like a slit throat.

Find an old, nearly-dried-out red or pink marker, wipe off any excess ink, and carefully put a blush on the cheeks. The doll's, not yours.

Paint on her hair. Dark shows up best, but Kewpies usually have blond hair. It's also easy to use Bunka, unravelled, for hair,  or a little bit of frayed silk thread or ribbon.  Even frayed cotton thread can work.

If you want to dress her, do it now, before you've given her arms.  Here are two simple techniques:

(a) Use about 3/8 inch of 1/8 wide silk ribbon, glued  into gathers at the neck; or
(b) cut a piece of coloured tissue paper in this shape and glue it on, gathering it at the neck a little.

For arms, a simple way is to take a piece of 1/32 x 1/32 inch  wooden strip, round it slightly so it's more like a dowel than a squared-off strip, and cut off pieces about 1/8 to 1/16 inch long. Round off the cut ends too, then just glue in place. It's easier than it sounds.  You can also use the tips of your toothpick, sanded down if necessary.You can cover the arms with fabric or paper for sleeves, before you glue them on.

If the legs are still a bit fat, taper them down more.

Now comes the difficult part: separating the doll from her toothpick.  If possible, find a location where the flooring contrasts nicely with the colour of a toothpick. Place the toothpick on the edge of your cutting board, with the doll hanging over the edge except for her feet, which will still be on the board. With your very sharp knife, or better still a single-edged razor blade, gently roll the toothpick under the knife below the feet. When you've gone round once, place a cloth or kleenex over your cutting hand and the doll, and keep on gently rolling and cutting till the doll flies off. (If you snap her off before you've cut all the way through, she'll have broken feet.)

Retrieve the doll from your hand or the kleenex or the floor.

Tidy up her feet with sandpaper, and paint on shoes if desired.

Historical Note:
This doll has no real historical counterpart, but is based on the toy designs of Jean Greenhowe, who used to write in the British magazine Woman's Weekly, and who has published books of (larger) toy patterns. (I'm showing my age here--I guess 30 or so years ago is "historical" enough.)

If you make her face a bit longer (if using Japanese turned toothpicks, leave the first section as is) and perhaps attempt a chin and nose, and paint her in a glossy white with black hair, she might resemble a 19th century Frozen Charlotte.

Kewpies were invented by Rose O'Neill early in the twentieth century.  Their name is derived from the word "cute," and they have the cuteness of baby mammals, with big heads and big eyes.  They are all boys (though you wouldn't guess it) but their activities included supporting women's suffrage.

Copyright Frances Armstrong 2001

You are welcome to make copies of this project to share with friends, but copyright laws apply, and you should not sell copies or claim to have written the instructions or designed the doll yourself.

This page was last updated on: May 15, 2010

For EASY TO PRINT version, click here.