Rag Doll Making

Home-sewn rag dolls

Lifelike rag dolls are becoming scarce in the children's doll market that is dominated by molded plastic pieces. Hand-crafted fabric dolls are more costly to manufacture than molded plastic, so that is why sewing your own rag dolls for the little girls in your life may be the next hobby on your list. Rag dolls are soft all over and therefore more cuddly than dolls made from plastic. They also help encourage imaginative play by avoiding the beauty stereotypes that are a risk with plastic dolls that exaggerate human ideals of beauty.

The dark-haired doll shown above in three different outfits is about twenty inches tall and was made from a 1973 Simplicity pattern for the Holly Hobbie Stuffed Doll with a custom pattern created for the head. The embroidered face and yarn hairstyle were inspired by Jill Hamor's blog, bybido.blogspot.com, and from her book Storybook Toys. Almost any fabric doll pattern you consider attractive will work for children, since they will be thrilled to receive whatever craft your sewing machine produces for them.

Here are several hints for sewing rag dolls:

  • Select fabric with a tight weave that will maintain strong seams and resist wear from rough play. The doll pictured was made from thick cotton interior design fabric with a satin weave. High-quality muslin or quilting cotton is also recommended.
  • Use a short stitch length, 1.5mm, to increase seam strength.
  • Polyester stuffing is fine, but pack it tightly. The doll pictured required around 10 to 12 ounces. Some dollmakers recommend wool stuffing, but this is difficult to find, expensive and not necessary when polyester fiberfill works well.
  • Iron-on face transfers are available, but consider trying embroidered faces, even if you are not skilled at embroidery. Children are not picky about quality of the embroidery, and the embroidery thread is more durable than an ironed transfer.
  • Invest in yarn with a mohair component for increased durability. Two types of yarn mixed together create an interesting effect. For blond hair, avoid the yellow yarns and select an off-white color similar to the body fabric color for a more realistic appearance.
  • Keep the clothing modest. Little girls learn about modesty from the dresses they have for their dolls, so take the opportunity to start teaching them early.
  • If possible, allow the girl who will be the recipient of a doll to help in making decisions about face design, hair color and clothing. The doll will feel more like her own if she is able to help during its construction. Some girls may be old enough to help with stuffing and other tasks. The blue and multi-colored dresses pictured here were designed by girls ages four and six. Some day soon, they will be learning to make their own doll clothing.

Enjoy creating classic toys for the children in your life!