Finger Turning – An Ah-Ha Moment…

Jim and I are working on our next DVD, Mimi’s Modular Mermaid. I have enough
body parts stitched and mostly stuffed to complete 14 mermaids! So…yesterday I spent the afternoon turning hands and fingers and stuffing them.

I noticed that when I used the turning tools I had made it was difficult to get the fingers turned. But when I switched to the set of turning tools made for me by a student’s husband while I was teaching in Australia those fingers turned immediately, without exception. It was time to determine what differed between the two sets of tools.

The ones I made consisted of a bent doll needle with the sharp point stuck in a cork and a brass tube. I learned this from a student who learned it from Noni Cely many years ago. The needle’s point is pushed into the cork for about an inch, which left the eye end 2-1/2” long. The brass tube had been cut in half and was six inches long.

Original Tools

I then examined the ones made by the Australian wood turner. The lovely wood handles aside; the brass tube was set and epoxied into the handle. It had a flat bottom so it fit comfortably against my chest when working with it. The ergonomic wooden handle that holds the needle is comfortable to hold and the eye of the needle sticks out of the handle only for 5/8th “. I also noticed that the needle was thicker with a larger eye and that the top of the eye was a tiny bit broader than the eye of the doll needle.

Austrailan Student's Tools

I went searching through my needlebook and discovered that this was a chenille needle used for embroidery, especially for stitching with ribbon or narrow tapes.

I then replaced the doll needle in one of my corks with a chenille needle and tested it. It works as well as the fancy hand tooled one. I also cut off one end of the tube, (which flattened that end), and now I have to buy a bottle of wine to get a nice cork to glue the cut end into. I will make several sets for classroom use.

Chenille Needle Vs Doll Needle

So if you have made finger turners with doll needles and brass tubes from the model-railroad shop, as I have been teaching for years, replace them with chenille needles and put the tube into a cork s well. Your doll’s fingers will turn more easily and quickly.

Now, for those of you who haven’t read how I turn tiny fingers here’s how:

Cut out hand leaving very narrow seam allowances, especially around and between fingers.
Snip the V between each finger almost to the stitching or it will not turn without unsightly wrinkles.

Use Grrrip glue (available from with the long metal applicator tip and run a very thin bead of glue around the entire hand and around and between each finger.
Turn hand over and the glue the other side. Glue is on the seam allowance only.

Use your fingers to pull the excess glue off pulling it away from the hand and fingers.
Set aside and roll and rub the glue off your fingers.

Push the brass tube into each finger to make sure the fingers have not been glued together.

Fold five pipe cleaners, not chenille stems, but pipe cleaners from the smoke shop or newsagent. Pipe cleaner’s wires are stronger and the cotton fluff squashes into smaller fingers than chenille stems. Pipe cleaners cost between 90 cents to $1.49 (US) depending where you buy them. Caution: do not buy the sharp, raspy ones get the soft cotton ones.

Use your small hemostats to grasp each pipe cleaner and push the folded end into the tip of each finger.

Decide if it is a right or left hand and on the palm side push the thumb wires up the center on top of other wires and then into the thumb.

Bend the pipe cleaner at the wrist.

Clasp hemostats across the palm holding all the wires in place and roll down the arm as far as you can, Wrap the wires altogether keeping the thumb wires in the center and on top of the bouquet of finger wires. This allows the thumb to move naturally into many poses.

Remove the hemostats and stuff the arm by stuffing and turning the arm after each bit of stuffing is inserted in order to keep the armature in the center where it cannot be either seen or felt when completely stuffed.

Wired Hands are Poseable and Can Grasp Objects

Wired Hands Attached to Arms

That’s all folks…



8 thoughts on “Finger Turning – An Ah-Ha Moment…

  1. Thanks Mimi, I don’t have trouble with the larger fingers, but those eenie weenie ones are always a lot more work and patience. Thanks for this tutorial for making that easier for me…Romona

    • You’re welcome, You’re welcome. I appreciate hearing that I have helped. You might also want to check out “The Screaming Mimis” on Groups.Yahoo.Com, which is open to anyone who is working on my dolls and wants to talk to other dollmakers and share information. The exact link is given in comment 3 above.

      Happy Dolling,

  2. Thank you so much for all you did this weekend in Columbus, Gloria. It was a great class and you are such an inspiration. I’m already looking forward to the 2013 convention.

  3. Hi Pat,

    You can make them easily. First get a chenile needle (has a square end after the eye) the right size. Then go to a model railway hobby shop and buy the copper or brass tubing that fits over the chenile needle with a little room to spare for the fabric. You need about a 3-inch piece of tubing and it usually comes in 12-inch lengths, so you may have to cut it.

    Put the needle point-first into a wine cork and the tube with the good end out into another wine cork and you have a set of turning tools.

    You can get corks in large craft shops if you don’t do alcohol and don’t have friends who do. If you can’t find a chenille needle, try to find a needle with a large eye and a flat end.


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