How to Make a Prairie Doll from Rags

Mom wrote this article for the eHow site back in 2008. “When I was a little girl growing up in the Flint Hills of Kansas, my mother spent many evenings crocheting rag rugs. I remember one winter she used some of the rag strips to make my sister and me matching rag dolls. I carried my doll everywhere I went and I slept with her hugged in my arms. Here’s how you can make this old-time doll.   Things You’ll Need: strips of cloth (tear up an old sheet) a vintage handkerchief ravelings leftover from tearing up the sheet

    1. My mother tore old sheets or other cotton fabric into long strips. We’d roll them into balls to save for making rugs or dolls. (You can get worn out sheets cheaply at yard sales)
    2. Head: Lay the strips out together, you’ll need about 30 strips to make it full enough. Then fold them over in half, tying off a head-sized shape at the fold. You can put a small ball or foam ball inside the head to give it shape if you want. Figure the length by deciding how much fabric for the head, body, and skirt. Double that length for the front and back.

      Gail Lee Martin made this prairie doll from torn strips of old sheets for her daughter, Ginger.

      Gail Lee Martin made this prairie doll for her daughter, Ginger.

  • Arms: Cut some strips the length you want the arms (arm/body/arm). The arms were just a handful of strips of material 6 or 8 inch long and tied with a ribbon at each end, then stuck in thru the neck and waist ties.
  • Body: Tie off another section at the waist to form the body of the doll. The arms go through this section. Allow the rest of the strips to hang freely as the skirt for the prairie doll.
  • Hair for the doll: There were lots of thread ravellings that we had to contend with as we tore the sheeting into strips for weaving rugs. I had the inspiration to use the ravellings for hair for the dolls. We made blonde hair from yellow sheets, and we gathered threads for red, black and brown haired dolls. Even had some grey hair for a grandma doll. I first made them for our five daughters, seven granddaughters and now making them for our great-granddaughters.
  • Mother made aprons for the dolls from some of her pretty handkerchiefs and a bonnet to keep the Kansas sun from her button eyes was fashioned from some left over dress trimmings. Now when I make the dolls for my grandchildren, I gather fancy hankies and trimming from garage sales and anything I think could be used to enhance the dolls.
  • Accessories: I showed a women’s group how to make them. Everyone had a different idea on what to make the bonnets and aprons from. Some included small baskets of flowers for their doll to carry and others made shawls and scarves instead of bonnets and aprons. All were lovely. When finished the group had fifteen prairie dolls to send to an Indian mission school for Christmas presents.
This is one of the prairie dolls made from rags that Mom made during their retirement years

This is one of the prairie dolls made from rags that Mom made during their retirement years

  • Displaying the doll: My sister, who was four years older than me, just sat her doll on our bed in front of the pillows. Cute idea but I thought it a waste of a lovely play mate and when she wasn’t looking our dolls had a fun time together. Although when mine faded and became more ragged than when she was new, Melba’s was still just as pretty as when Mother made her. The local historical museum borrowed one of my prairie rag dolls & displayed her in a tiny red chair by the Christmas tree in the lease house for their special “Christmas at the oil field lease house.” What an honor!
  • Washing the doll: Every Monday when Mother washed our clothes I would slosh my doll up and down in the warm, soapy wash water and Mother would wring the water out so I could swim her around in the rinse water colored with bluing. Then I stretched her rag arms out wide and pinned them to the wire clothes line with Mother’s snap clothes pins to dry in the blustery Kansas winds. My heart just broke when she froze to the wire one winter day. Mother saved her by placing her warm hands over the frozen spots until they quickly thawed. After that I hung my doll on a wire hanger near the heating stove in the front room in the winter. If the doll is just displayed, it won’t need washing at all, just shake off the dust every so often.


My parents grew up when the way to live was to recycle everything. Who knew when you might need it. Mother’s rag dolls were a prime example of that creed and the dolls have come a long way. This memory of Mother and the prairie dolls are a heritage worth passing down to my children and grandchildren.”  

I found online another person who makes rag dolls like this: Make a Nettie Doll with Rags.

More of Mom’s crafts:

W is for Wagon Wheel Rugs

M is for Macrame Mania

Crafty Sisters

More Craft Photos

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