Tutorial: How to Make a Pioneer Handmade Rag Doll

This is a fun craft that requires no sewing–a handmade rag doll. My kiddos love picking out the fabric and creating stories for these dolls once they have them made.
No Sewing Required for this Handmade Rag Doll
handmade rag dolls

Kiddos with their No-Sew Pioneer Handmade Rag Dolls

Make life more simple and teach the art of making a handmade rag doll.

It’s a lazy Sunday and we’ve retreated into the world of simplicity. It’s a quiet haven for once at our house and in celebration, I dug out some fabric scraps and we sat together making these easy Pioneer handmade Rag Dolls. They need no sewing and if you can tie a knot, you have the mad skills to do this.
Laura Ingalls Wilder. Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Croporation.
Laura Ingalls Wilder

We are huge Little House on the Prairie fans and my girls love to dream about being Laura Ingalls. These dolls are what I imagine Caroline would have made with Mary, Laura and Carrie. They require the materials she might have had on hand.

The great thing about these dolls is, like children, each one will be its own character. Even if you used the same instructions and the same material, every doll will be one of a kind. They are as individual as we are!
These instructions make either one girl or one boy handmade rag doll.
handmade rag doll materials

Simple Materials Make This Handmade Rag Doll

  • Handkerchief, or muslin or cotton material cut into 12″x14″
  • cottonballs
  • yarn, or string
  • fabric swatches cut into:
  1. 1.75″x9″
  2.  7.75″x5.5″ (cut from the center a square 2.25″x1.75″ and on 1/2″ on each side of this  “square hole” a 3″ slice )
  • scissors
  • ruler
fluff up the cottonball

1. Fluff up your cotton balls (they will be the head)
2.) Place the large piece of white material (handkerchief) so the longest edge is on top. Place the cotton balls you fluffed  in the center of the cloth, about three inches from the edge.

handmade rag doll head
3.) Fold the top edge of the cloth over to cover the cotton, then gather together and tie with a piece of yarn or string. (Note: Make certain the edge of the cloth is securely tied in)

handmade rag doll body
4.) To make the arms: Hold up the two short ends of the handkerchief. One at a time, hold one end and gather the handkerchief ends and tie a know at close to the ends as possible (these will be the hands.

ragdoll arms

5.) One at a time, hold one end and gather the handkerchief from the knot (hand) down to the head. Tie  near head to form arm. Repeat on other side.’

a rag doll tutorial

6.) fold the center piece of the printed fabric down and press it with your fingers.

Note: If you are making a boy doll, skip to step ____ of the instructions for completion. If you are continuing to make a girl, continue with step 7 for dressing your doll.

a rag doll tutorial

7.) Tuck the OUTSIDE tie under the doll’s arm and tie it over the shoulder. Repeat for the other arm

a rag doll tutorial

8.) Add the bonnet by folding the 1.75″x9″ piece of fabric over the doll’s head and tie around her neck with a piece of yarn or like a bandanna.THE DOLL IS NOW FINISHED!
Give her a name and Enjoy!

Completing the boy doll:

a rag doll tutorial
9.) After completing the arms, tie a piece of yarn under the arms to form a waist.

a rag doll tutorial

10.) Hold the fabric from the body out to the sides (like a snow angel) and find the center of the fabric.

a rag doll tutorial
11.) Now make a small cut with a pair of scissors.

a rag doll tutorial

12.) Tear the fabric up almost all the way to the waist (no worries, you can’t tear it TOO far!)

a rag doll tutorial

13.) To make legs and trousers, use the printed fabric from Step 6. Tie the two outside ends around the back of the waist and trim off the excess.
Cut a small snip in the center of the fabric and tear up within an inch or so of the waist.
Tuck in the raw edges of the legs and trousers, and use yarn to tie at the ankles. Make one more tie around the knees.
You may choose to cut off any excess fabric at the feet.

a rag doll tutorial
14.) Tie the rectangular piece of fabric around his neck to make a neckerchief!


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  1. Anonymous says

    These are really great instructions. I have been making dresses out of pillowcases for our church's mission trip to Tanzania and I'd like to place a doll in each pocket. It may not get completed for this trip; but there will be more. Wouldn't it be great … to receive a doll that has a matching dress!! Thanks for the great photos!

    • says

      @Greg Davies: You have my permission; I just ask you link back to this original post; please?@Anonymous: How did the project go for you? I think this is such a wonderful idea. You are so wonderful to bring joy through missions.

  2. Ramblin Mama says

    Oh, wow! Great memories – my grandmother used to make a similar "pioneer doll" with me when I was small. (No, I didn't live in Laura Ingalls' time period! Though it sometimes seems as tho I'm THAT old!!) Incidentally, "muslim" is a religion, "muslin" is a fabric. No harm done, easy and common mistake. Made me smile! Great blog, by the way!