How to Make Primitive Dolls

The instructions below will walk you through the basic process of creating a cloth primitive doll.

Step 1 – Decide on a design for your doll.
The easiest way to do this for first-time doll makers is to pick a primitive doll pattern to work with. Some sites I like to shop for patterns on are Cloth Doll Supply and Pattern Mart.  I also sell patterns for some of the original doll designs that you see on this blog in my shop, Old World Primitives. Study the image of the finished doll that is provided along with the pattern to get a feel for what sort of techniques you will need to employ to achieve your desired finished result. I like to envision the adjectives that someone would use to describe my finished doll: rustic, rough, simple, stained, timeworn, early American, antique, and of course – primitive. Even “ugly” – in an ugly-but-endearing sense.

Step 2 – Gather materials.
Before diving in, read all of the instructions on the pattern carefully. The pattern should include a list of supplies that you will need to create your primitive doll – gather all of these supplies before you begin (you will thank yourself for this later!). Some examples of materials that you might like to keep on hand for primitive doll making are:

Fabrics

  • muslin
  • osnaburg
  • homespun
  • calico
  • cotton batting
  • cheesecloth

Stuffing

  • poly-fil
  • wool
  • cotton
  • bamboo fiber
  • sawdust
  • rags

Sewing supplies

  • needles
  • thread
  • straight pins
  • embroidery floss
  • scissors
  • seam ripper

Helpful tools for stuffing dolls

  • turning tubes
  • hemostats

Items for aging your dolls to give them that prim look

  • instant coffee
  • tea bags
  • cinnamon
  • walnut crystals
  • antiquing medium
  • sponges & paper towels
  • acrylic craft paints & brushes

Other Odds & Ends

Step 3 – Cut out your pattern pieces.
Trace the pattern pattern pieces with tracing paper and cut out the traced pieces. Next, pin the pattern pieces onto the material that you are working with. When required, make sure that the material is folded in half so that you cut out two of each pattern piece at a time.

Step 4 – Sew and stuff.
Sew the pattern pieces together inside-out, making sure to leave an opening to insert the stuffing into. Next, turn the doll right-side out (turning tubes are very helpful for turning small parts), and stuff (hemostats are helpful for pushing stuffing into small parts). After stuffing, decide if you want to sew on a scrap of muslin for a nose, or create a nose with a pinch stitch. You can also sew a mouth with a running stitch, pinch sculpt it, or paint it on later.

Step 5 – Add primitive touches.
Finally, to give your doll an old, worn, primitive look, you will want to tea stain or coffee dye them. After staining and drying your doll use some fine grit sandpaper (I like to use 120 grit) to sand your doll down around the seams and other places that would be likely to get worn down with use and age. After sanding, re-apply another round of tea or coffee staining. You can repeat this process as many times as you like to get your desired look. If you are painting your doll’s skin or painting on an outfit, now is the time to paint. Afterwards, sand again and stain one last time. Once you are satisfied, dust a bit of cinnamon powder along the seams of your doll to add some extra grunge and to make the doll smell great. Sew on some vintage buttons for eyes (flea markets are a great place to find old buttons) or paint them on yourself with acrylic craft paints. You now have a finished primitive doll!


This post is ©2008 by Stephanie Baker of Old World Primitives. You may not copy or repost this text elsewhere without express written permission, but you are welcome to link to this post if you would like to share the information.

8 thoughts on “How to Make Primitive Dolls”

  1. Thank you so much for your help. I want to make a primitive doll with a special mouth I have seen. And just from your suggestions I think if I practice I can sculpt what I want. Mary Ann Dennis, Port St Lucie, Florida, USA

  2. I am looking for a tutorial on how you paint on cloth for a primitive look. I had seen a small cloth Christmas tree that was green and some black that was made of cloth but had a hard touch to it. Do you know how to do that. If so, I would be very grateful to know how it’s done.

    Thank you
    Sue

  3. Hi..alot of muslin bunnies, dolls, etc are very stiff in the shops. Do you use any starch, or what makes them like that? Thanks,
    Sally

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