Cute Handmade Rag Dolls from Up-Cycled Materials

How to turn up-cycled materials into cute handmade rag dolls


Is there anything more satisfying than turning something that no-one wants any more into something unique and lovable again?

Read on for inspiration on how to turn an old shirt, a hankie that had seen better days, some frayed old jeans and a curtain tie back into a cute handmade rag doll.

Keep her yourself, give her away as a special present or have a heart and donate her for sale at your local hospice shop to raise some much needed funds.  Handmade rag dolls often become heirloom pieces – handed down through the generations and treasured forever.

What You Will Need

Heart Up-cycling!

Heart Upcycling Logo

The only thing I bought to create this cute little rag doll was some cheap calico.  Everything else was up-cycled.

An old, very well worn man’s shirt became her dress.  There is very little left of a short when I have finished with it.  The buttons are always worth saving too.

A discarded Liberty handkerchief was cut up and sewn into the little dress too.  They make such great fabrics – they always add a touch of class to a project I think?!

The curtain tie back was unravelled to yield an unexpected source of doll hair.  This tie back was also pressed into service to make angel hair for Christmas decorations – see the bottom of this post for that project.

An old, frayed pair of jeans found new life as a pair of shoes for my doll.

Finally, I didn’t even buy the stuffing.  It came from the very reliable source of Mollie the Scottie who demolishes toys faster than I can up-cycle the stuffing from them.  Keep up the good work Mollie!.

Heart Up-Cycling!

Handmade Rag Dolls Upcycled shirt for making the rag doll dress
Upcycled shirt for making the rag doll dress
Handmade Rag Dolls An old Liberty lawn hankie turns into a cute doll dress
An old Liberty lawn hankie turns into a cute doll dress
Handmade Rag Dolls Old frayed jeans become a dinky pair of shoes
Old frayed jeans become a dinky pair of shoes
Heavenly Host of Angels - Curtain Tie Back
Curtain tie back - ready to unravel
Handmade Rag Dolls Upcycled Curtain Tie Back Hair for Rag Doll
Upcycled Curtain Tie Back Hair for Rag Doll
Handmade Rag Dolls Upcycled shirt - not much left!
Upcycled shirt - not much left!
Stuffing from discarded dog toys makes great material for up cycling projects

Time needed: 

Don’t rush this – take your time.  Perfection takes patience and she will be well worth the effort!  I took three days to make this doll.

How to make your Handmade Rag Doll

Step by Step Guide

  1. First – you need a really good pattern. See the link at the end of this post for my source.  I looked long and hard before I purchased this pattern on Etsy and I was very pleased with the results.  It comes with a comprehensive set of video tutorials that really help to get the details right.  The instructions are clear and detailed and take you carefully through every step.
  2. My aim with this post is to give you some inspiration for an up-cycling project.  The instructions below are a short summary of the very detailed pattern that Elena Stefanova has created.  You will need to buy the pattern if you want to replicate the doll exactly.
  3. Pin the pattern on the calico and trace around the pattern parts, making allowance for a seam.
  4. Sew up the component parts of the doll following the detailed instructions in the pattern.
  5. Using extra strong polyester thread, sew the doll together.  Buttons are used to joint the arms and legs so that she can sit nicely and move when she wants to.
  6. Use the strong thread to create the nice little touches – a tummy button and dimpled knees.
  7. Add fingers and toes to the tiny hands and feet.  You will get toes that you can tickle when you are done!
  8. Paint the face using pastel crayons and acrylic paints.  There is a set of instructions available from the source below that guide you through this.  It really isn’t as hard as it looks!  I had a practice go for my first one, but was pleased with the result.  I am sure I will get better with more practice though!
  9. Add hair, arranged in a style that pleases you.  There is a pattern for this too, but I just used my up-cycled curtain tie-back hair and sewed it into place.
  10. Make up the dress and pantaloons.  There is a separate pattern available for this.
  11. Form a pair of feet out of sculpt modelling clay and bake them in the oven to set.  You need these to shape your little shoes around.
  12. The shoes are easy to make using hand sewing.  you can make them from leather, but you would need more tools for that and I was quite happy with a simple pair made from an old pair of jeans, embellished with beads and trim.
  13. Finishing touches always add something special to a project like this.  I decorated my finished doll with two fused fabric flowers.  See My Projects – textiles, or follow the link at the end of this post for how to make these.
Handmade Rag Dolls Pinning the paper pattern for the rag doll
Pinning the paper pattern for the rag dol
Handmade Rag Dolls Sculpey model for feet to make rag doll shoes
Handmade Rag Dolls - Sculpey model for feet to make shoes

Tips and Tricks

Make sure you place your pattern so that the material stretches horizontally and not vertically, following the grain of the fabric.  If you don’t your doll’s body will pull out of shape and look all wrong.

I used a fabric marker pen to trace the pattern, but tailor’s chalk would have been better I think.  I had to wash the doll after I had made her to get rid of the blue pen marks and it took a while to rub them out completely and then for her to dry, which was frustrating.  

When I made the second version of this doll (see below), I used a heat erasable marker pen which made the process 100% easier – what a fantastic tool!

Stuff your doll tightly – it is amazing just how much stuffing you can push into her!  If you don’t use enough, she will be too floppy.

The haemostat and turn it all tools are invaluable for making light work of turning the doll and stuffing her.  Having the right tools takes all the frustration out of this part of the process.

Have a practice on a spare piece of calico before you take the plunge and paint the face on your finished doll.  Have courage though – it really isn’t has hard as it look!

Handmade Rag Dolls Hand painted face for rag doll - practice run
Handmade Rag Dolls Face - practice run
Handmade Rag Dolls Hemostat Tool
Hemostat Tool
Handmade Rag Dolls Heat Erasable Marker Pen
Heat Erasable Marker Pen
Handmade Rag Dolls Turn it All Tool
Turn it all Tool

Working with Different Skin Tones

I also made this pattern up using a darker skin tone.  The doll was for a custom order.  

The brief was to create a doll with dark brunette skin tone, black curly hair, a blue chambray cotton dress and a headband.  I think it is really interesting to see how different the same pattern can look when the fabrics used are varied?

Handmade Rag Dolls
Different Skin Tones - Practice makes Perfect!

I really like the way this pattern gives you moveable arms and legs and life like looking dimples!

Handmade Rag Dolls
Handmade Rag Dolls
Custom Order - Dark Brunette Skin Tone
Handmade Rag Dolls - Shoes
Finishing Touches

Sources of Inspiration:

I bought my pattern from Elena Stefanova Dolls on Etsy.  See opposite for the link to her shop.

It was well worth the investment – I will use the pattern again and again.

You may also be interested in:

Rag Doll Hair Heart UpCycling Meet Molly

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