Create a Folk Art Doll

factory pencil

Urban Folk Art DollFolk artists are people who create without having had any formal training, and they usually make art using found objects or whatever they have on hand. In this activity, we'll learn how to reuse common materials to create a doll in the style of folk artists.

Among the world's oldest toys, dolls have been around for thousands of years. They have been discovered in archaeological digs all over the world, and dolls even were found in Egyptian tombs and pyramids. Originally made in the likeness of humans, the simple figures were used to teach girls how to care for children and to serve as pretend friends.

Dolls can be created from just about anything, including paper, wood, cloth, corn husks, clay, sticks, metal, plastic, and even apples! In addition, there are many different ways to construct dolls. Some have bodies made from a single piece of cloth, while others can be ceramic with jointed arms and legs.

Many folk artists use only natural materials to make dolls. For example, a rock or seed pod may be used for the head, while moss serves as hair. The body can be made from a bundle of sticks or a sewn bag filled with sawdust. Legs and arms can be fashioned from acorn caps that are strung together.

We will make an urban folk art doll, or one created from modern, man-made materials you would normally find in the city. Not only will this challenge us to think in new ways, but it will help to reuse some materials that are hard to recycle, thereby saving them from going to a landfill.

You Will Need:

 Head
Plastic Easter egg
Cardboard tube
Masking tape

Ruler
Pencil
Scissors
Body
Plastic soda bottle-24 oz.
Mat board
Utility knife
Pencil
Ruler
Saw
 Arms
Cream containers
Kite string
Needle
Ruler
Scissors
Masking tape
Beads
Awl
 Hands
Wooden ice cream spoons
Cotton swabs
Masking tape
Utility knife
Awl
 Legs
Beads
Film canisters
Kite string
Masking tape
Awl
Needle
Shoes
Film canisters
Masking tape
Cardboard tube
Scissors
Ruler

How to:

Head head
We'll use a small, plastic Easter egg for the head and part of a cardboard tube for the neck. Cut a 3" length of cardboard from the tube, and cut it open so that it's flat. Now make a rectangle that measures 1¾" x 3". Roll the longest section of cardboard into a ¾" tube, and tape it shut. Cut the tube at an angle, as shown, and tape securely to the Easter egg.  
neck cut out

side view head and neck
Body  
Rinse the soda bottle, and remove the label. Have an adult saw the top off just below the plastic ring (above neck phlange), and then use a utility knife to cut about 2" off the bottom of the bottle. Now trace the bottom onto a piece of mat board. Cut out the circle, and set it aside until final assembly.  
sawing of the top
Arms complete arm assembly
Remove the foil tops from eight cream containers. Rinse and dry. Use the awl to poke holes in the centers of all the bottoms. Thread a large needle with a 10" long piece of kite string or other strong thread. Pass the needle through the outside bottom of one container and through the inside bottom of another. Tape the two tops together, and temporarily tape 1" or so of the loose thread to the bottom of the first cream container. Add a bead to make the elbow joint. punching creamer

thread arm section
Repeat the threading step as above. Again, tape the two tops together. Use a slightly larger bead to the make shoulder joint, and temporarily tape the loose thread to the bead to keep it in place. Repeat these steps to make the other arm. Cover the entire outsides of the cream containers with short pieces of masking tape to strenghten the arms. tape sections together

add bead to arm section
Hands  
With an adult's help, use a utility knife to cut the top off a wooden spoon, and using the awl, carefully make a hole near the wrist. Cut a cotton swab just above cotton, and tape it to the side of the spoon, making a thumb. Repeat for the other hand. hand and thumb attached
Legs leg assembly complete
Have an adult use the awl to make holes in the centers of the lids and bottoms of eight film canisters. The legs are assembled with the lids touching. Begin by threading the needle with a 14" long piece of kite string or other strong thread. punch leg hole

threading leg section
To make the lower leg, pass the needle through the bottom of one canister, and tape the tail of the thread firmly into place. Now start through the lid, and snap it into place. Start through the second lid, and continue through the second canister. Snap the lid into place, as before. Tape the canisters together at the lids, and add a bead for the knee joint. Repeat for the upper part of the leg, and add another bead for the hip joint. Tape the extra thread temporarily to the top bead. assembly of sections

leg sections and bead
Shoes assembled foot
Remove the lid from a film canister. Cut into the canister going all the way to the bottom. Remove the bottom and set aside. Roll the flat piece of plastic into a tight, cone-like shape and tape into place. Repeat for the other shoe. taped foot cutting for foot

remove bottom

roll toes
To make the heels, cut into the canister as before, remove the bottom, and open up the remaining flat piece of plastic. Cut off about ¾" from the bottom portion, leaving a strip that measures about 1" x 3 and 7/8". heel material
Now cut the piece in half widthwise. Roll and tape each piece into a cylinder that measures about 1" tall and 5/8" in diameter. splitting for heel assembly

heel taped
For the doll's ankles, cut two 1¾" x 2" pieces of cardboard from the tube. Roll each into a cylinder small enough to fit into the heel of the shoe, about 1¾" x ¼" in diameter. Tape securely into place. Now tape the heels at the back of the main part of the shoes.tape ankle and heel to foot rolling ankle

ankle and heel
Using Papier-mâché to Strengthen the Figure  
Papier-mâché is a very old method of pasting paper into layers, and we'll use it to make our figure stronger. Some parts, such as the arms and body, will need greater reinforcement. The head, hands, legs, and shoes are fairly strong as they are, so fewer coats will be needed.  
   
You will need: General Directions  
Masking tape
Wallpaper paste
Brown paper towels
Newspaper
Wax paper
Hot glue gun
Container for paste
Cotton or dryer lint
Mix the wallpaper paste according to the manufacturer's directions. Cover the area with newspaper, and work on wax paper to keep the various parts from sticking. For a better painting surface, we'll glue a final layer of brown paper towels to all the parts. After applying the paste, set the objects aside to dry. Turn the pieces in a day or so, and replace the wax paper, if necessary.  
Head
If you wish to add a three-dimensional nose, wet a very small piece of cotton with the paste and apply it to the center of the face. Strengthen the nose by pasting short strips of brown, paper towel over it and onto the face. Apply a small amount of paste to the head, and smooth on ¾"-1" pieces of brown, paper towel. Continue pasting, overlapping the paper until the face and neck are covered.
attach nose

paper nose on
Body
Starting with the text or black and white portion of the newspaper, tear it into pieces that measure about one or two inches square. Apply a small amount of paste to the soda bottle, and smooth on the paper. Continue pasting, overlapping as before, until the object is covered. Now tear the color comic section into small pieces, and apply a second layer.

As mentioned previously, some parts will need to be strenthened, so apply a third coat of the black and white newspaper, and then a fourth layer of color comics to the body. Tear the brown paper towels into small pieces, as before, and apply a final layer, being sure to cover the neck or bottle's rim.
doll with papier mache
Arms
Now, beginning with the black and white or text section, tear the newspaper into small pieces, and glue one coat over the arms. Do not apply paper to the string or tail hanging from the lower arm or joints (beads), leaving them to move freely. Glue a second, color comics layer on, and finish with a brown paper towel layer.
 
Hands
Thumbs should face forward or rest against the body. Attach hands by taping the thread from the lower arm to the palms. Paste one or two layers of paper towels over the hands, paying special attention to attaching the string so that it stays in place.
attach hand
Legs and Shoes
Have an adult use a hot glue gun to fasten the shoes to the legs. Cover the legs and feet with one coat of the black and white or text section, followed by a layer of color comics. Finish with a coat of brown, paper towels. Again, do not apply paper to the joints (beads), leaving them to move freely.
 
 Assembling the Parts  
You will need:
Newspapers
Brown paper towels
Wallpaper paste
Container for paste
Masking tape
Seashells, rocks, etc.
Mat board circle
Glue gun
Awl

Needle




When everything has dried, it's time to assemble the doll. Have an adult use the awl to make a hole near the top of the bottle just under the opening. Remove the tape from the shoulder joint bead. To attach the arm, thread the string through the outside hole on the container.



shoulder hold


attach arm to shoulder
Pass the thread up through the neck or top opening in the bottle. Come over the top, and pull on the string till the bead rests on the opening at the side. Securely tape the extra thread to the outside of the bottle. Repeat the steps to make the other arm. Now cover both threads with two or three layers of papier-mâché, finishing with a layer of brown paper towels.

To fasten the legs to the body, have an adult use the awl to make a hole near the bottom of the soda bottle directly under one arm. Thread the string through from the inside of the bottle. Allowing at least ¾" to 1" of string to show above the bead at the hip, remove the needle and tape the end of the thread firmly in place against the outside of the bottle. Repeat these steps for the other leg. Again, cover the strings with two or three layers of papier mache.

Stuff one page of newspaper into the bottle's neck, and fill the body with seashells, rocks, or something similar to weight it. Now add enough newspaper to finish filling the bottle, and have an adult fasten the mat board circle to the bottom using a glue gun. Finish by covering it with two or three layers of papier-mâché, taking care to cover the bottom as well as the lower sides of the bottle.




Taping the arm string
 
Hole and hip tape

covering string
 
 
  Painting the Figure  
You will need:
Newspapers
Wax paper
Acrylic paints
Acrylic varnish
Paint brushes
Mixing pans



After everything has been assembled, it's time to paint your doll. Work on wax paper, and use liquid acrylic paint to decorate the various parts of the body. Choose just a few colors, and repeat them in order to help unify the figure's look.

painted doll
  Be sure to clean brushes immediately, as acrylic paints dry fast, and paint left in brushes will ruin them. To protect its finish, and to improve the doll's appearance, you may want to apply a coat of acrylic varnish to the figure when the paint has dried.

If you'd like to make a display hook from which to hang your doll, have an adult use the awl to make a hole at the back of the bottle just under the neck. Insert a small screw eye or cup hook in the hole. Attach a piece of kite string, make a loop, and knot it.
Hook in neck closeup
  Hair, Clothes, and Accessories  
You will need:
Yarn
Felt
Dress pattern Straight pins
Scissors
Jewelry
Fabric glue or
Hot glue gun
Hair

Use scrap yarn for the hair. To make curls, as shown, wrap short pieces of yarn two or three times around one finger, forming a curl. Pass the tail through the curl. Double knot the tail to the other end of the yarn to fasten. Clip extra yarn. Repeat until you've made enough curls to cover the head.

Glue the hair using fabric glue, or have an adult fasten it in place with a hot glue gun. To protect the doll's head, set it aside until final assembly. To make hair using pom pons, see the clown puppet activity, or create your own design.
putting hair on

face and hair closeup
  Clothes

The doll's dress is made of one piece of felt. Click here for the pattern.

The pattern is half the size of the finished dress or long vest, so you must enlarge it so that it measures at least 9.75" wide and 16" long. Cut out the enlarged pattern, and place it on a folded piece of felt, as shown. Pin it into place, and cut on the dotted lines, as indicated on the small pattern. If you'd prefer to make a shorter vest, just adjust the pattern. To dress the doll, bring the front of the coat under the doll's arm, and fold over the shoulder. Repeat for the other side. Center the two "straps" under the back of the coat. Pin to hold in place as you use fabric glue to fasten the straps to the back. Remove the pins.

To fasten the coat in the front, reuse pierced earrings for the buttons. Have an adult use a glue gun to fasten the head into place. If you wish, add earrings and glue jewelry in the hair.
 






pattern placement

glue areas of coat
Tips and Tricks:

If you don't have a plastic Easter egg, reuse aluminum foil for the head. Just shape like an egg, and follow the directions given above.

While wallpaper paste is preferable for doing papier-mâché, you can substitute white glue that's been diluted with water.

Rather than painting the doll after assembling all the parts, you may prefer to paint the individual pieces and then put it together.

Instead of using yarn for hair, substitute one of the following: Strips of bicycle inner tube, fabric or pantyhose. Easter grass, feathers, shredded yellow pages or color comics, raffia, curled ribbon, or excelsior, a shredded, wood-like packing material.

Fabric glue is tackier than most white glues, so it will do a better job of gluing yarn and felt. Look for it in art stores or the craft department of fabric shops.

Create additional clothes for the doll. Try making a poncho from one piece of scrap fabric, or make a long skirt with a gathered waist. Just make a casing at the top, run a piece of yarn through, and tie to hold in place.

You can make a base on which to display the doll in a sitting position. Use scrap wood and paint it, or have an adult fasten CDs together with a glue gun. Leave the CD base as is, or use the papier-mâché technique to cover, and paint it when dry.

See How to Make Corn Husk Dolls to learn a way to make dolls from natural materials. 
 
     
Thanks to Susan Brackney for creating Polly Esther's makeup, and a special thank you to doll artist Jan Wantz for her inspiration and advice in finishing the figure.    

© 2008 Marilyn J. Brackney

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