I love my hands. I love hands in general, they are one of the first things I notice about people. I’m as fascinated by people’s hands as I am by their faces, because for me they can be just as expressive.
I spend a lot of time making the hands for my dolls. Sometimes a pair of hands can take as long to make as an entire torso or head for the same doll. I thought you might like to know how I make them. The best piece of advice I can give you when making these is to TAKE YOUR TIME. There’s often a tendency to rush through the smaller details, but for me it’s the time taken on the smaller details that counts.
Creating the pattern or template
I tend to draw most of my patterns free hand for each doll. I also usually make the hands of my dolls last, so their shape and size is determined by the rest of the doll.
Work out what size your hand pattern will be by placing the arm on a sheet of paper and drawing the width of the wrist opening. Draw a wrist, long enough to fit into the arm opening.
Now look at the size of your doll’s face. Naturally, hands are about the same length as your face from the chin to the middle of your forehead. From the top of the wrist you’ve drawn, measure straight up to give you the length of your hand based on the length of the face from chin to the middle of the forehead.
OK, so now we have the key measurements in place and you can draw the rest of the hand. The key here is to keep it simple, think of a mitten, rather than a slim elegant hand.
Make sure that there is a curve between the thumb and the rest of the hand. This will make it easier to turn the hand the right way around with the seams smoothly curving on the inside.
It may take a few tries before you get find a shape that works for you. I have a whole envelope full of random hand shapes that did or didn’t work at some point down the line. The point of learning to create your own patterns is that you get to alter and choose exactly the shape that suits your project, instead of being stuck with a pre-determined shape then having to try to adjust it to make it more your own. Drawing patterns yourself takes time to get right, but ultimately it means that you’re in control of making your own ideas come to life.
This is a pretty typical hand pattern for me.
I have not added seam allowance because I’m now going to draw directly onto the fabric using this hand template. The drawn line will give me an exact guideline to sew along.
Choosing the fabric, and sewing the hand shape
I personally like to make my hands in two different fabrics, one firmer fabric for the outside of the hand and a softer, finer fabric for the palm. You’ll see why in a minute.
I always, always draw on the firmer fabric. This is because it’s far less likely to move around and become distorted, and when you’re working on small details like this, precision is really important. While we’re on that point, iron your fabric before you start. Seriously, it makes a difference, even if you’re planning on washing and dying and beating up the hand once it’s made. Make sure that you place your template on the straight grain of the fabric. The easiest way to tell where the grain is is to look at the edge of your fabric and place the template in line.
I use a regular, sharp pencil to lightly draw around my hand template leaving a narrow seam allowance around the drawn line. I then place this onto the softer fabric, making sure that the fabric grain is going in the same direction.
I start sewing around the hand at this point and work my way back to the wrist opening where I do a couple of stitches in the same place to secure the thread, then sew small, close stitches along the pencil edge. Make sure that the stitches are as small and neat as possible. The closer together the better and if you really want to be on the safe side, double back over the curve on the inside of the thumb. Personally, I find that if the stitches are small and neat, there are rarely any problems with the neatness of the hand once it’s turned the right way out. Once you get to the other side of the wrist opening, work a couple of stitches in the same place then double back and finish opposite the place where you started.
Double backing like this avoids the need for knots and reduces the risk of the stitches coming undone when you turn the hand the right way out. Knots tend to show through and ruin the look of small, detailed pieces of work.
If you like you can paint some Fray Stop, or PVA glue along the outside edge of the seam to make it a bit more stable, then let it dry. I usually miss out this step, but find what works best for you.
Trimming and turning
Now carefully snip away the excess fabric on the outside edge of your seams. Now very, very carefully snip down to the edge of the inner curve of the thumb. If you go too close the fabric will fray when you turn the hand out the right way, so leave a couple of millimetres ( a sixteenth of an inch).
This is the bit that loads of people ask me about – turning your hand shape right side out. My best advice is be very patient, take your time and get yourself some of these very useful, and very inexpensive tools.
– tweezers (not too sharp or they’ll damage your fabric).
– orange sticks (easy to find in the hand and nail section of a pharmacy or supermarket), today I’m using a small wooden knitting needle instead.
– and nail art tools. I use the ones designed for “dotting”. They have small rounded tips that are perfect for pushing through thumbs without splitting the fabric. I bought a large set of nail art tools for a few pounds online.
First of all, push your tweezers up through the wrist opening of the hand. With your tweezers open, gently push the tip of the hand with the nail tool (knitting needle or orange stick) until you’re able to grasp it with the tweezers on the inside. Gently, and I can’t stress this enough, GENTLY pull it through.
Find the tip of the thumb on the inside of the hand, and start to push it through with the tweezers. It probably won’t go all the way through, and that’s fine. This is where your nail art tools, knitting needles or orange stick come in.
Again, GENTLY push the thumb through to the right side. This can take a while. Be patient. A lot of people give up half way through and end up with stumpy thumbs. If you find that it gets stuck half way, take out your orange stick or nail art tool, and try pushing from a different angle. It will come through eventually, but if you push too hard you risk breaking the stitches or punching a hole in the fabric or seam. If the last bit is stuck, try using a needle from the outside of the thumb to guid the last bit out.
Once it’s through, again, use your orange stick to smooth out the seam on the inside. You should now have what looks like a little mitten. Take extra care to smooth out the curve between the thumb and the rest of the hand.
Take a small amount of stuffing, less than you think and push it into the tips of the fingers using your tweezers. There should be just enough to give the hand some shape. In my experience less stuffing creates a more natural shape. To stuff the thumb, take a small amount and give it a bit of a twist before using your tweezers to push it into the base of the thumb. Use your orange stick or nail tool to then push the stuffing all the way to the tip of the thumb. Again, take your time. Too much stuffing and too much pushing can split the seams.
Sewing the finger details
I don’t draw the finger positions on the cloth, but if you want to I suggest using a vanishing pen, the ones you use for quilting, to mark the position of the fingers.
For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m using dark, contrasting thread so you can see the stitches, but matching your thread to the colour of your fabric can create a lovely subtle effect.
Push your needle in on the palm of the hand, close to the wrist and bring it up at the point where you want to begin your first line of stitching. Leave a “tail” ( a loose, dangly bit of thread that you can deal with later). Work a tiny stitch a couple of times in the same spot. Push the needle through to the other side, and very carefully work your way up to the top of the hand. Remember, we’re effectively sewing the gaps between the fingers, not the fingers themselves. Once you get to the top, work a stitch a couple of times in the same place, then move your needle along to the top of the next finger gap, and continue in exactly the same way.
At the beginning and end of each finger gap, work a tiny stitch a couple of times in the same place to secure the row before moving on to the next one. All together you’ll sew three lines per hand to create the shape of four fingers. Once you’ve finished the fingers,
Can you see why we didn’t put too much stuffing in now?
Sometimes I add hands to arms by inserting the wrist into the arm and sometimes I sew the wrist over the arm. It just depends on the doll.
To insert the wrist into the arm, add a little more stuffing, but not too much to the wrist – not the palm. Using the tweezers, fold this and push it into the arm opening. Secure it with a pin, the stitch it into place.
To add the wrist over the arm, don’t add any more stuffing, grasp the bottom edge of the arm with your tweezers, then push it into the wrist opening.
If you want to give the hand a bit of a curve, simply shape it with your hands before joining it to the arm. It really is that simple. Just manipulating it a little bit with your fingers can create a more realistic curve, the trick is to avoid to much stuffing or it’ll end up misshapen.
So that’s it! It takes time and practice and a lot of patience, but quite straight forward after a few tries.
I would love to hear how you get on with this, please send me photos or tag them on Instagram with #palerooktutorial .
If you have any questions, or if any of you have your own tricks and tips on making hands, please let us all know about them in the comments section.
10 thoughts on “How I Make Hands”
This is so generous of you. Clear and with such handy hints that will make the difference.
For Turning my small pieces and also long handle shapes etc I use a bow whip/ turning tool. The package comes with three tubes (straws work but not always firm enough) and sticks (like long orange sticks ) in wood and metail to fit each tube. The tube goes inside the item and then you carefully push the fabric through the tube from the top. Once started the fabric slips through the tube easy and it is right side out!
I think I found mine on Amazon. Sew worth the money (pun intended)
Thanks so much. Looking forward to an online workshop – ❤️
Thanks for the tip Doris, I’ve seen turning tools but never used them. I might have to invest in some. 🙂
A lovely piece, clear and well written. The photos are very helpful. Thanks!
I would buy your book xxx
Thank you, I would LOVE to write a book!
This information is great! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge so generously.
Such precise instructions and easy to follow. Very talented.
Time consuming but definitely worth it. Great effects at the end 🙂
Thanks for the instructions. I love your work and would certainly buy your book….