HOW TO: Make beautiful Waldorf dolls from upcycled materials

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Waldorf-style dolls are inspired by the educational system created by Rudolf Steiner, and they encourage creative play and imagination. As such, the dolls tend to have suggested facial features and expressions rather than strong ones, thus allowing kids to determine their mood and personality. The dolls are made from natural materials such as cotton, wool, and silk, and can be customized in any way you can dream up.

These dolls are available for purchase all over the world, but making your own gives you the opportunity to create something that you know the recipient will adore; you can even get their input on making the doll of their dreams, if they’re old enough to describe it! Although many people purchase doll-making kits, they can be a bit expensive for limited budgets. Here’s how you can make Waldorf dolls from materials you have at home, or by using materials that require only a small investment.

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What You’ll Need:

  • Soft cotton or cotton flannel fabric for the body and limbs, and to cover the head
  • Tubing of some sort (socks, and cotton or silk stockings actually work really well for this, though some people even use rolled cheesecloth)
  • Roving to stuff the insides (I like wool roving, but you can also use bamboo, kapok, cotton, or hemp roving if you’d like to keep your doll vegan
  • Long darning or tapestry needles (if you have doll-making needles, even better)
  • Thread (to match the skin color fabric you’re using, as well as any sewn accessories)
  • Straight pins
  • Embroidery floss
  • Cotton string
  • Yarn for the hair
  • A crochet hook
  • Extra fabric or yarn to make the clothing

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The Doll’s Skin

The skin is probably the most important part of your doll, as it’s the fabric that will come into contact with the child on a daily basis. It should be soft and cuddly, preferably made from a natural, organic material. For the photo examples here, I used pieces cut from an organic cotton and silk blend tee shirt, but I’ve also used organic cotton and flannel sheets/pillowcases.

Organic cotton fabric comes in a variety of different colors, so feel free to let your imagination run wild when making your doll. You can use a natural skin tone for human-looking dolls, or go for something more colorful if you decide to make a faerie, mermaid, gnome, or other magical being instead.

The fabric I used was white to begin with, but I gave it a light beige-y skin tone by dyeing it with tea and a little bit of strawberry juice, fixed with salt mordant. You can achieve a number of different pigments with plant dyes, but if you’d rather go for standard fabric dyes, try to go as non-toxic as possible, and wash the fabric thoroughly with a gentle detergent before creating a doll with it. The doll I made is only 8″ tall, and required only a tiny amount of fabric. Larger dolls will obviously require more fabric (and yarn, and roving, and tubing, etc.) so it’s better to have a bit more than you think you’ll need, and not use it, rather than need it and not have it.

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The Doll’s Head

To make the doll’s head, determine the size you’d like to make it first: for babies and toddlers, aim for something that’s a bit larger than a golf ball, and don’t use too much stuffing; you want it to be firm, but not hard. For larger dolls, some people use a ball of loosely-wrapped yarn as a base and cover it with roving, while others just roll up roving itself to achieve the size and firmness they desire. Use your instincts.

Grab a handful of the roving of your choice and roll it/ball it up until it’s the size you’d like. Wrap this in a piece of stretchy tubing (such as a piece cut from a cotton, silk, or woolen sock/stocking), and sew that closed. Pull the excess fabric to the top and back of the head and sew it down as flat as possible. It’s okay if it looks a bit messy, as there will be another layer of fabric over this.

Now to define the shape of the head: tie a piece of cotton string around the head horizontally at the mid-point, as this will define the eye area. Then tie another piece of string around it vertically to define the face. You can either create a slight nub nose, or leave the lower portion of the face smooth… that’s entirely up to you.

Next, take a couple of straight pins to determine eye placement, and use a pencil to mark the indentations. You’ll use a long needle and some embroidery floss (split into 2 or 3 strands) to embroider eyes onto the doll’s face. You’ll push the needle through the back or top of the head to come out in the eye area, embroider back and forth between the eyes until you’re happy with them, and then push the needle back out through the head to tie off the string. Those knots will be covered with either hair or a hat, so no one will see the Frankenstein stitching or weird sewn bits at all.

Use the same technique to create a mouth, but try to keep the facial expression neutral: I find that a couple of stitches to create a nearly horizontal mouth-line is ideal.

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One Response to “HOW TO: Make beautiful Waldorf dolls from upcycled materials”

  1. daynaoa says:

    cant wait to make some of these, been meaning to for a while and it slipped my mind.

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