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Moving out West during the early days of westward expansion was a potentially expensive and financially uncertain prospect. This left little money for children’s toys. As a result, children and their parents made creative use of the materials available to make their own. One example of this is the rag doll made out of whatever fabric was available.

Craft Project


  • Cloth strips cut or torn to approximately 1 inch x 20 inches
    • 4 solid color skin tone (for the face)
    • 15-20 strips of any other colors/patterns
  • Cotton balls
  • Scissors
  • Marker


  1. Choose three of the colored/patterned strips. Braid these together to be the arms. Tie knots at each end to keep the braid from unravelling.
  2. Lay the skin tone strips down in a pattern like two x’s:
  3. Continue laying down the other strips of fabric in the same way with the print side down.
  4. Put two cotton balls in the center of your strips of fabric.
  5. Slip one hand underneath the whole thing so your palm rests under the cotton balls. Place your other hand on top of the cotton balls. While holding it all together, flip it all over so all the strips are hanging down over the cotton balls in your hand.
  6. Bunch the strips around the cotton balls to form the head and tie a strip of cloth around the neck to secure.
  7. Slip the braided arms through the middle of the strips under the head.
  8. Put one more cotton ball inside all the strips of cloth under the arms to form the torso and tie another strip around the waist.
  9. You now have a choice. If you want your figure to have a dress, you’re done (skip to step 11)! All the hanging strips are the dress.
  10. If you prefer your figure to be wearing pants, separate all the strips hanging below the waist into two bunches to form legs. Choose two more strips of fabric. Tie one end of a strip to each ankle. Wrap the strips around each leg and tie them together at the waist.
  11. Use a marker to draw a face on the head.
  12. Use scraps of fabric to make clothes if you want to (see below for ideas).

Clothing Ideas

Head scarf – Cut a square piece of fabric approximately six inches square. Fold it in half diagonally and tie it around the doll’s head.

Vest/Tunic – Cut a rectangle of fabric approximately four to five inches by six or seven inches. Use your doll to figure out where to cut the arm holes. Cut fringe if you’d like. You can also add a belt to hold it closed.

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