2 Disturbingly Fun Ways to Repurpose Broken Doll Heads

Image: Lisa Kay Tate
Image: Lisa Kay Tate

My girls have enjoyed their dolls…a little too much.

Their Barbie-sized dolls have enjoyed tea parties, but have also flown the Space Shuttle into a planet, with the help of a sling-shot and wall, fought crime and overly-playful dogs, cliff dove into a pile of cactus, and been strapped on the back of remote control cars like little NASCAR racers.

These dolls are no sissies in our house, which has led to a few plastic mortalities. On more than one occasion, we’ve gone to put away dolls, only to find one or two surviving pieces left, often the head.

catwithheads
Look what the cat dragged in…literally. Find broken doll head a better fate with some re-paints. All images: Lisa Kay Tate.

It always seems sad to me to see those cold, little dead, unblinking eyes looking up at me with a “control your kids, moron” look about them.

To make it up to them, I’ve found ways to turn these broken little Marie Antoinettes and Anne Bolyens into little works of art.

Here are two creepy and cool re-paints using craft paint, felt tip markers, and just a few other materials that will turn those sad little heads into some disturbingly fun accessories and décor for the fall’s more macabre observances.

Shrunken Head Costume Prop

shrunkenhead
Shrunken head accessory for trading with pirates or witch doctors.

Need an accessory for a pirate or witch doctor costume? The classic shrunken head will work for both.

A little gross history, here. To make a real, shrunken head, you would have to go about the process of removing the skull, sewing shut the eyelids and mouth, removing the fat, tanning the “hide” and, if my recollections from old National Geographic back issues is accurate, shoving a little round-shaped piece of wood up the neck cavity, so it retains a nice head shape when complete.

For this process, all you’ll need is:

• Tooth picks
• Rubber band, small rope or cord
• Beads or other items for “decoration”

This works with a long-hair doll, which seems to be the majority in fashion dolls.

First, poke a hole in the top of the head, so you can string a cord through it. A Phillips screwdriver works great for this.

Fold a long piece of cord in half, and tie the ends. Tie a few longer pieces of twine on the end, at least twice as long as the doll head.

Push the folded end of the cord up through the neck of the doll and out of the top of the head.  The extra cord should stick out of the bottom to give it a “native” look, and so there’s not that gaping neck cavity showing.

Pull the hair up to the top of the head, and secure near the top end and bottom end (near the head) with a rubber band.

shrunkensteps
Clockwise from top left: Pull a cord through the top of he doll head; pull hair up and secure at both ends; and paint the face with gruesome details.

Tie a piece of small rope around both ends, to cover rubber band. Place a toothpick or two through (broken in half) through the band near the head. Leave a strand or two down on each side, and add braids or beads.

Once the hair is pulled up, Paint the doll’s entire face grey, brown or greenish. Since the eyes are painted over, make them look “sewn” by drawing black, vertical lines across each one. Do the same with the mouth.

Make some nose “bones” by painting a small piece of a wooden tooth pick white, and poking them out of each side of the nose. Making a small incision first with an X-Acto type blade makes this easier.

Hang it off a belt loop, or from your wrist, to show people your party “date” is feeling a little puny.

These are also fun summer accessories for pirate or tiki parties.

 Day of the Dead “Ofrenda” Nicho

ofrenda
Day of the Dead nicho is as colorful as the holiday itself.

The Ofrenda or “Altar de muertos” is one of the key elements of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities. People create elaborate altars, with food, photographs, sugar skulls, flowers, candles, or other items remembering a loved one, friend, famous person, or historical figure, or even a pet who has passed from this life.

This little Nicho (nook), is patterned after the classic ofrenda style. Now, to be accurate, this isn’t actually an altar, as it not a tribute for an actual person. However, it can be a nice item to place on an ofrenda of someone who loved dolls or folk art.

You’ll need:
• A small piece of cardboard or cardstock
• Tissue paper in orange or yellow shades
• Small gift box (like a candy or jewelry size)
• Optional small items like baubles or plastic skull to personalize it.

Pull the doll’s head back into a bun as tight as you can. Or pull it into a ponytail, and cut the end off short.

Paint the face in a classic Catrina Calaverera (upper class skeleton) style, with white base, and skeleton-like details. Some good examples of the Catrina make-up can be found on Pinterest or other make-up sites. Keep it basic since it’s a small space on that doll head.

Get your Nicho (the box) ready by painting the interior black or a bright color. Cover the outside with a different color, or decoupage tissue or images of sugar skulls, flowers, or other Day of the Dead images on it.

ofrendasteps
Counterclockwise from top left: Complete paint and features before placing in box, create several small tissue “flowers”, and glue all items in box.

Next, turn this head into a “bust” by making a little cone out of a circle of thin cardboard.

Paint the bust black and glue the doll’s head to the top of the cone. It will not look perfect, but once in the nicho, you will be masking it with small flowers and other items. Glue the completed bust and head in the box, and let it dry for a bit.

The flower of choice of ofrendas is the marigold, so make some miniature marigolds out of yellow and orange tissue paper and place around base of the bust. Often roses are seen adorning the Catrina’s head, and you can make these out of tissue, as well.

Add as much as you want to the nicho. Fill it in with small items or trinkets, if desired.

Now when those little sad eyes of discarded playtime look up at you, at least you’ll know they’ll have an interesting afterlife.

As for those missing doll bodies, I still haven’t found all of them.

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Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.