Saturday, November 15, 2008

Restoring stiff oilcloth doll shoes

I took a couple of days' break in order to work on a couple of Madame Alexander project dolls: restringing an Elise's head and legs (a skinny-hip Elise), restringing a Cissette doll's head, and getting a pair of stiff oilcloth roller skates on my Kathy's feet. In the coming week or so I will post on Cissette and Kathy (Elise needs an outfit and isn't ready for pictures yet), but tonight I want to post some tips for restoring stiff oilcloth doll shoes.

These skates are not Kathy's originals, but a pair of replacement skates made during the 1950s by another company (like Premier) and sold separately. They had never been out of their box or on a doll, so they had become extremely stiff and shrunken over time. I tried once to put them on my doll's feet, but they were so stiff that I was deathly afraid of damaging them.

To solve this problem, I steamed them to soften the oilcloth without damaging it. When I was done, I was able to get both skates on and tied without splitting or tearing the oilcloth.

Here are the skates, with one of them steamed and on the doll, and the other still stiff and collapsed:

Since stiff oilcloth shoes are a problem with vintage doll accessories, you might want to try this technique yourself. Here's how:

1) Bring a saucepan of water to a gentle boil and hold each shoe over it until the oilcloth become pliable, checking every 30 to 60 seconds to be sure you don't accidentally get the shoe too wet. I held the skate 8 or 10 inches above the water. In general, if the shoe is in danger of getting splashed or the heat is too much for your hand, you are holding it too close.

2) Let the shoe sit for several minutes to allow the steam and/or excess water to evaporate. If you've been careful not to let it get too wet, this shouldn't take more than a few minutes.

3) Either put the shoe on your doll's foot (over a sock, of course!), or stuff it with cotton or tissue to preserve the shape. Doll shoes shrink and get stiff when they are stored off a doll for long periods of time. If you are not putting them right on a doll, stuffing them will prevent the same thing from happening again.

I also have used this technique to reshape a Cosmopolitan Ginger dress that was very stiff and had been stored flat. In my experience with the dress, it stiffened up again as the steaming wore off, but it isn't now as stiff — and it retained its new shape. So this probably won't completely do away with the stiffness in your oilcloth shoes, but it will get rid of the brittleness and help you to get the shoes on your doll's feet.


  1. Thank you, I will certainly try steaming the oilcloth doll shoes I have had in storage for 20+ years. They're so flat and hard, I want to try stuffing them gently in order to take pictures for eBay. Thanks for the tip! Lisapoo

  2. Thanks for this useful information. I was surprised to find the solution!!



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