Girl Raffia Doll

Girl Raffia Doll

The adage “necessity is the mother of invention” is never as obvious as when a parent is trying to fashion a toy for a child when traditional toys are unavailable. A hankie becomes a “pew doll”, a piece of paper becomes an airplane or a “cooty catcher”, and a handful of vines or flowers can be braided into a crown. Children are very good at creating their own toys, too. I read an article that said that most popular outside toy for a child is a STICK. Yep, just your garden variety, backyard stick. Think of the possibilities!

At one time, toys were a luxury to most children. Because of that, resourceful parents made toys from discarded items or items found in nature. Corn husks, straw and other plant fibers were often the basis for toys. Bits of fabric scraps and wood pieces were saved and fashioned into toys. Following that tradition, our dolls are made from raffia, which comes from the raffia palm, indigenous to Africa. Because raffia has very long fibers, it lends itself well to make dolls very similar to the yarn dolls we shared last year. I pulled fabric from my wee pieces stash bin. Although we are sharing our how-to, this is a very “ish” project. Follow our general directions, but delight in the fact that each and every doll will be unique.

embroidery floss
calico scraps
large embroidery needle

Take raffia out of its wrapper and hang.

Find a lid or book for wrapping the height of the doll you wish to make. You can also cut a piece of cardboard to size. Mine is 7 1/2″

Cut off several strands of raffia, and holding it at the bottom of your lid, wrap the raffia around the lid. IMPORTANT: your ends must start and stop at the bottom of your lid. Continue wrapping strands until you are happy with the size.

Slip a thick piece of raffia under all the raffia loops at the top and tie tight and securely. This will be the top of the head. Leave the ends for now.

Using another piece of raffia, create the neck by wrapping raffia around the neck several times. Tie off the neck tight and secure. This should be about 1 1/2″ from the top of the head. Thread one end of the raffia tie through a needle, and weave the ends through the neck a couple of times, and clip close to the neck.

Clip the bottom loops of the raffia.

To make the arms, again wrap raffia around your lid. The arms should be about half as thick as the body. Tie off the raffia about 1 1/2″ from the bottom of the lid, and then cut through the loops at the bottom. This will give you a long rope of raffia, tied at one end.

Tape the tied end to a work surface, and braid the raffia. You will want your arms to be about 7 1/2″. I find it easiest to braid farther, then tie off the end at 6 1/2″ and cut through the braid at 7 1/2″.

DON’T throw away your scraps! Simply take the raffia you cut off, secure it in the middle, weaving in the ends, and you have a corn stalk bundle! Also, save your little scraps. You can use these in other projects… you never know!

Separate the raffia on the body in two. Slip the braided arms between the divided raffia, and push up toward the neck. Now, tie off the waist like you did the neck.

At this point, weave in the ends on top of the head. (Not pictured.)

Any number of materials can be used for hair: dyed raffia, corn silk, yarn, etc. Staring at the forehead, tack on small amounts of hair using 6 strands of matching floss. (About 9″ long.) Keep adding more strands around a center part until you get to the middle of the back of the head. Tie off. You can now “style” the dolls hair into a low ponytail, braids, a nape bun, or leave it flowing. I tied off mine to make a low ponytail. NOTE: If you would like a bun high on the head, tack on hair around the hairline instead of down the middle.

Using 6 strands of floss, add eyes and a mouth. I used straight stitches for the eyes. For the mouth, I used straight stitches, then wrapped the straight stitches several times. Your starting and finishing knots can be hidden on the back of the head.

If the bottom of the doll is uneven, clip the bottom a little to even it out. (Not pictured)

To make the bodice, ripe a piece of fabric 1″ by about 15″. (You can learn about ripping fabric HERE.)

Lay the piece behind the doll’s neck. The wrong side of the fabric should be against the doll. Crisscross the fabric over the doll’s chest. Turn the doll over and tie the ends. Clip off the extra fabric, by cutting on an angle or in Vs. 

To determine the size of the skirt, measure from the waist to the bottom of the doll. SUBTRACT 1″. This will be the length. For the width, add about 3″. (Remember, this is an “ish” thing 🙂 Rip a rectangle of fabric to these measurements.

Along one long side of the fabric rectangle, sew a running stitch using 6 strands of floss. (Not pictured.) Gather the fabric around the waist and tie off securely. You can either work the ends in, or tie in a bow.

Tah dah… done 🙂 Make one or make a whole village. I will share the directions for the boy later in the week.
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  1. What a fun and quick craft! I love that it can be done with the things we already have around. Looking forward to making a couple for our nature table 🙂

  2. where is the boy doll you promised?

    1. Kimara

      Oh.My.Stars! It appears I never posted a tutorial on making the boy. I did make a boy and I did take photos. Give me a couple of days and I PROMISE I will get the boy tutorial up! 🙂 ~Kimara~

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