When you see beautiful, natural cloth dolls, don’t you think “I wish I could sew”? You can! This soft baby doll with knotted hands and feet requires only the simplest of sewing stitches, and it will be done in an afternoon (or less).
If you aspire to make a Waldorf doll or a seasonal table covered in beautifully decorated gnomes, you can easily take that first step toward making your own dolls with just two simple stitches: a running stitch by hand and a straight stitch on a sewing machine. Or, you can skip the sewing machine and sew the whole thing by hand.
Why Make Natural Cloth Dolls
Babies, toddlers, and older children love dolls—soft, squishy dolls in warm, natural materials like cotton and wool. There are dolls that work well for every age. It can get expensive to buy more than one of these beautiful heirloom dolls, though, so you might want to learn to make dolls for your child.
This knotted baby doll is meant to be easy grabbed by a teething baby. Even now that they are older, though, both of my children want the dolls I make. They had to negotiate who could keep the doll you see in the photos below.
Small Knotted Baby Doll Instructions
- Scraps for doll body: 2 pieces 7″ square, 1 piece 5″ square, 1 piece 4″ x 2″ (OPTIONAL)
- Scrap for doll head: 1 piece 5″ round
- Hand-sewing needle
- Small amount of wool or other material (even scraps) for stuffing
- OPTIONAL: rice to add weight to the doll
There are a lot of options when you are making dolls. I will mark options and make suggestions for other choices.
This doll is small enough for baby hands but not so small that it can become a choking hazard. The shape is simple: two triangles and a round head with a tall, soft hat. The knotted hands and feet will give a teething baby a hard yet secure bump to rub against sore gums.
Time: 30-60 minutes. It took me 20 minutes to make this doll, including photo taking, but I make a lot of dolls. Plan an open afternoon to make it so you can finish in one sitting.
1. Cut pieces. You will need 2 7″-square pieces for the body, 1 5″-square piece for the hat, and one 5″-circle for the head.
OPTION: If you are going to add a rice bag, also cut a 4″ x 2″ piece or two 2″-square pieces.
OPTION: Thinner fabric works really well for a knotted dolls. Cotton bandanas are perfect.
2. Trim hat by folding the smaller square in half and cutting the open edge into a curve.
3. Sew hat seam and turn. Turn edges of body fabric and finish by sewing down the edge if you are using fabric that might unravel. If you are making the doll for a baby, just make sure that there won’t be stray threads that your chewing baby might swallow. Finishing helps prevent that.
OPTION: If you use materials that won’t unravel, like wool felt, you can sew visible stitches on the outside of the hat. Cotton embroidery thread looks nice and bold against solid color wool felt.
4. As you sew, taper the edges as you reach the corners that will be knotted. I stopped the turned edge about 1″ from the corners.
OPTION: I tapered the finishing at the corners that would be tied into the knots. You can also cut a piece of fabric that isn’t square but has longer corners to make knot tying easier.
|1. Four cut pieces||2. Trim hat in a curve|
|3. Sew hat seam & turn edges||4. Taper edges toward corners|
Prep for Body
5. Look at your pieces. You can already see the shape of the doll coming together.
6. Cut neck hole by folding overbody piece corner to corner then corner to corner again in quarters. Cut a small, 1/4″ piece off the tip at the center of the square.
7. Make sure the hold is small. If you are in doubt, cut it quite small and check that you don’t have more than about a 1/2″ hold in the center of the piece.
8. If you are going to add a rice bag, sew together 3 of 4 edges of the smallest squares. It doesn’t matter if you put pattern in or out, since you are going to enclose the rice bag in the doll.
OPTION: Many homemade cloth dolls are made with a heart-shaped charm at the center. In the baby dolls for my children, I sewed gems inside small heart shapes. I also put rice bags in the lower part of the doll (the doll’s bottom) to help the doll sit.
9. Open the small square.
10. Pour rice in small square. Don’t add too much rice. You want the doll’s body to be squeezable. Also, you need to have plenty of room to sew up the last edge.
11. Sew last edge of rice bag. I just push the rice to one side and use a straight stitch on the sewing machine. I also rounded the corners slightly because I wanted the body not to have any corners poking out.
12. Check the size of your rice bag against the body. It should fit corner to bottom edge with a little bit of edge left to sew the body together.
13. Sew lines on underbody to create a square that will fit the rice bag.
14. Wrap rice bag in a thin layer of wool to give the body some softness.
15. Stuff rice bag into square space in body.
16. Sew up each edge of underbody to enclose rice bag and stuffing.
OPTION: You can easily make a knotted doll without a stuffed body. I wanted a doll that would be easy for a baby to grab, but this doll is much easier to make without the body steps.
17. Finished underbody will fit into overbody with the point through the neck hole.
18. The underbody won’t show other than the legs.
|Sew body square||Wrap rice bag|
|Stuff rice bag into body||Enclose body|
|Underbody through neck||Doll body takes shape|
19. Cut head fabric using a compact disc. It’s a perfect size for this doll. Anything round that is 4.5″-5″ across will do. For this head, I used old swatches from a friend who owns an organic fabric store. She didn’t need them anymore, and I knew they would be a great size for doll heads. This whole doll is made from scraps.
OPTION: This is the step that I simplified for a first doll. A Waldorf doll has a shaped head with chubby baby cheeks. This is created by sewing and shaping over a thin gauze then adding the top layer of skin. It isn’t particularly difficult, but there are many steps to learn when making a Waldorf doll head. Learn them! These heads make beautiful little faces for your dolls. For now, though, a ball of wool in a circle will make a fine head.
20. Wind the wool in a tight ball to make the core of the head. Take small pieces of wool and wind around many times to get a round shape.
OPTION: If you use scraps, still wind them in a tight ball to give shape to the head.
21. Place wool ball in enter of head fabric and wrap the circle of fabric around the wool tightly enough to keep it from unraveling.
OPTION: You could also stitch around the head fabric 1/2″-3/4″ from the edge with a long running stitch (a basting stitch) then pull the thread to gather the head fabric around the wool core. I like the other way because I can adjust to the size of the ball, which does change a bit with every doll.
22. Wrap thread around the neck. I went around 5-6 times very tightly then tied a knot with the two ends. This doesn’t have to look great, but it does have to hold tight.
23. The neck on the head fits through the neck hole on the body. Just gather the flared ends of the head from the right side of the body.
24. Push the neck ends through the neck hole toward the wrong side of the fabric. The head needs to be on the bright, right side of the fabric.
25. Sew the body to the head from the wrong side of the body. I try to stay as close as possible to the neck about 1/8″ away from the neck hole. I’ve shown here just a simple running stitch: poke the needle through body fabric and head fabric close to neck, grab 1/16″ of the fabric then poke back up, skip 1/16″ from the top then take another stitch.
OPTION: If you are using a fabric that won’t unravel, make sure the neck hole is a tidy circle, and just take a visible stitch from the right side. A bold blanket stitch looks very nice.
26. Sew all around the neck hole and tie off securely.
27. Place the underbody inside the overbody. The long edge of the under body will be the doll’s legs. The point of the stuffed diamond touches the neck where you just sewed it through. You should be able to pin the overbody edge at the sewn lines along the stuffed portion of the underbody. Sew along those same lines.
OPTION: You can also choose just to secure the overbody at the point. This leaves a more open doll.
28. Pull hat onto head with the long, curved seam in the back. The seam should touch the edge of the body at the back with the edge angling toward the forehead. You can pin if the hat seems like it might slip off one side while you are sewing the other
29. Sew hat to head with another simple running stitch that takes 1/16″ from the head then 1/16″ from the hat. This will be a mostly invisible stitch.
OPTION: Whether or not you have an unraveling fabric, you can also use visible stitches to attach the hat. Anything from a simple blanket stitch to more fancy embroidery stitches will cover up the edge.
30. Doll finished but for knotted hands and feet.
31. Tie knots in points to create hands and feet.
OPTION: You could decide to stop at this point and leave the doll without knots.
- SUPPLIES: Waldord dolls supplies in Canada at SewFunky.ca
- SUPPLIES: Waldorf doll supplies at Weir dolls
- SUPPLIES: Organic fabric at PM Organics
- TUTORIAL: Instructions for a basic Waldorf doll at Echoes of a Dream
- PATTERNS: Free Patterns for dolls and other Waldorf playthings at Wee Folk Art
- BOOK: Making Waldorf Dolls by Maricristin Sealey
- BUY: Waldorf and other natural toys at bynature.ca
3 thoughts on “DIY Envy – Yes, You Can Sew!”
thanks for posting this. im researching making a few rag dolls for my daughter. I have experience in sewing but have never made a doll before. I was trying to decide if rice was a feasible stuffing. I found one site where someone actually said rice and beans should never be used in dolls but recommends glass beads or bee bees?!
It probably depends on your climate whether you use rice and beans in dollmaking. In my dry climate, rice and beans have never been a problem in the toys I’ve made for my children. Use what you have on hand to give weight to the doll, though. Glass beads can be a great alternative if you enclose them. I always put my doll weights inside a little sewn pocket, so they are safely tucked away and can’t escape. Good luck!
This is adorable – thank you for sharing.