Make a Rag Doll Family

You recently met some of my girls’ rag doll family when we shared our 3D model of  Seurat’s “Bathers” .

3D Model of Seurat's "Bathers"

We decided to get rid of all our Barbie dolls and their sexy outfits a few years ago, but we kept our beautiful wooden dolls house and all the furniture.

I decided to make each child a rag doll lady and man, and they chose whether to have a rag doll baby or toddler. Later I added the granny and grandpa.  (They are about the same length as the traditional fashion doll, so much of the store-bought clothing could still fit.)

Rag doll family

Some of you asked for the pattern, so I have created this tutorial for you and you can download the patterns at the bottom of this post:

How to make the body:

  1. Start with 3 pipe cleaners.  The wire makes a bendable skeleton. Make a loop for the head and the rest becomes the body and 1 leg and foot.  Use the 2nd pipe cleaner as the other leg, twist a foot and  twist to join the first pipe cleaner at the pelvis.  Use the 3rd pipe cleaner to  create 1 arms, wind around the body to make shoulders and out to make the 2nd arm  Twist a small loop to make hands.
  2. Cut several 2cm wide (1 inch) strips of medium thickness wadding/ padding and wind this around the head, limbs and body.  Use extra wadding to flesh out the head, the breasts and hips.  I was modest and made the breasts smaller than the Barbie’s! (This way the women can be used as teenage girls in their games.)  Create wider shoulders for the men.
  3. Using double thread, just wind the thread around the wadding tying it tightly on the skeleton.  Create knee and elbow joints by tying more thread tightly at these parts. Just knot the thread to finish off.
  4. Place the padded body on top of skin coloured stretch material and use a magic fabric marker to draw around the entire body.  Cut 2 matching pieces.
  5. Sew together by machine (or by hand if you wish) leaving the 1 side under the arm to the hip open.  Turn sewing inside.
  6. Insert the rag doll and hand sew the side seam closed.

Rag doll pipe cleaner and wadding bodies. (Notice my wooden model to help with proportion)

Rag dolls in various stages - 2 dolls with wadding untied, 1 doll tied and 2 with 'skin' on

How to make the hair:

  1. Make hair with wool.  Wrap the wool around 2 or 3 fingers (for short hair) or around all 4 fingers (for longer hair) about 15 times.  Remove this circle of wool and cut through one end of the loop.  I will use 2 layers of hair, so do this step twice.
  2. Using the same coloured thread as the wool, sew the first loop of ‘hair’ together in the middle of the loop of hair and knot it to secure.  Now place this ‘parting’ in the middle or at the side of the head (for a side parting in the men) and stitch on to the head of the doll.  Spread the wool to cover all the scalp.  Sew over each woolen thread all around the hair-line so that the hair will always cover the scalp.  Create side burns and ear space as you sew the hair down.
  3. Now use the 2nd hair loop.  Sew it together in the middle of the loop and knot to secure.  Place this over the first layer of hair.  Shape and style to cover and drape or fall as you wish.  Sew through each wool thread and on to first hair layer to keep the style.  For the women, I left the long hair loose from over the crown and below so they could braid or tie the hair up.  Trim the lengths to style.

Rag doll man's hair and face

Rag doll lady's hair sewn around hair-line

How to make faces:

  1. For all the faces I used felt.  The eyes and lips were first glued and then stitched with suitable colour thread to make features.
  2. Use pale neutral lip colour for men and brighter pinks for women.  Sew across the lips to create the mouth opening.
  3. Stitch the eyes to create the eyelashes for the women and in the pupils in the centre of the felt circle for the men.  The men wear eyebrows.
  4. The grandpa wore a mustache.
  5. Sew pearl beads for earings.

Granny rag doll with pearl earings and violet eyes

Grandpa rag doll

child-size rag doll

Baby rag doll

Some technical facts:

  • The wire is soft and can break with repeated bending after about a year or more.  I opened the seam, replaced the pipe cleaner with stronger wire in that section and sewed up the doll.  My girls thought this was major surgery, so, this procedure is best done at night while the children are asleep!
  • The dolls can be tossed in a mesh bag and washed in the machine, however the felt colour is not colour fast and it created ‘shadows’ on the faces.
  • The woolen hair does get fluffy and fuzzy if brushed.  This is good for fur on animals, but not our dolls!  I trimmed the fuzz and sewed another layer of new matching wool over the existing doll’s hair-do.
  • The soft wire body makes sewing clothes a breeze!  No awkward arms and legs to wiggle into sleeves.  The girls make most their own doll’s clothes. BUT, the waist is tiny and I battled to sew the jeans and insert the elastic!
  • My girls wanted to use store-bought plastic shoes, but the rag dolls feet and legs were a little too fat, so I did some serious ‘liposuction’  and removed a bit of the wadding in the women’s legs.  I think their legs look too spindly now, but the results delighted the girls.  If you want to use plastic shoes, bear this in mind and make your rag doll legs thin!

This rag doll family has kept the girls entertained in the most creative and wholesome way for absolutely ages!  They travel with them, make clothes for them and use Lego to build incredible yards and gardens.  At times, they play that the dolls are married mommies with children, at other times they are all brothers and sisters in a large family.  I love the innocence and freshness of child’s play with these rag dolls.

Happy rag doll family

Dolls house with rag doll family

Click here for your pattern download ~   Making Rag Dolls and these are the patterns you’ll receive:

Step-by-step how to make rag doll

Page 2 Rag Doll body pattern

Page 3 clothing patterns

Page 4 clothing patterns

I’d love to see your dolls ~ so if you make them, please upload your photos to share with us!

10 thoughts on “Make a Rag Doll Family

    • Barbie dolls present an image that is not attainable nor desirable for our young girls. These rag dolls are imperfect, original and created as one-of-a-kind … as the Lord made us?


  1. You make it all sound so easy, even the part about the “major surgery”! They do look absolutely adorable, though. Maybe you should consider selling them!


  2. The ragdolls are so cute and so creative! Thank you so much for the patterns! I think my grand daughter will be delighted to make some 🙂


  3. I made 2 of these dolls. Your directions are wonderfully clear. Instead of pipecleaners, I used electrical wire as I wanted to make these dolls without having to buy anything. For skin I used an old t-shirt. This was a wonderful project that my kids “helped with.” We discussed how the wire was the bones, the stuffing was the muscles, the string was the nervous system. and the t-shirt was the epidermis. Thank you for posting such wonderful directions which lead to am exciting and creative afternoon.



    • I’m delighted that you could make these rag dolls! What a great idea to give a biology lesson while doing it too, Mia. Now, enjoy your children while they have fun and play creative games with them!


  4. These are adorable, but a bit beyond my sewing skills. 🙂 Thanks so much for the tutorial…I’ll have to file this away for when my girl is older (and my sewing is better!).


  5. Hi Ya

    Thought these dolls were great to make and easy also . I had great fun making them for friends and family as little keepsakes .

    Thank you


  6. Working in a school where some children need help from a councillor to adjust their family emotions (re: separation, death, etc). I made wooden dolls to help them speak about their family to the school social worker. These would sure be perfect for such therapy. Thanks!


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