Traditional African Dolls

No two homemade African dolls are alike. Common household materials are used to craft homemade dolls. Intricate details, jewelry, necklaces, bracelets, rings, clothing, hats and other accessories help create a signature look. Clothing and adornments are of African nature and will be native to a specific region or country in Africa.

Traditional African Dolls - dowel body

external image african_doll.jpgMaterials

  • 4cm Black or Brown Barrel Macrame Bead
  • 7 inch Dowel
  • 2 Black or Brown Chenille Stems
  • 12” x 4” Fabric Piece for Dress
  • 1 ½” x 6” Fabric Piece for Headdress
  • Small strips of Fabric or Ribbon
  • Tacky Glue
  • Acrylic or Tempera Paint for Facial Features
  • Optional: Masking Tape


Insert the dowel into the macrame bead. If dowel is too small, wrap the end with tape until the bead fits snug onto the dowel.
Connect the two chenille stems at one end. Twist the midpoint around the dowel about 1 inch below the bead. Fold in the chenille stems inward to double the thickness of the arms.
Cut a notch out of the center of the larger fabric piece so that the bead can perfectly fit through it. Tie small strips of fabric around the waist and neck of the doll.
Use the remaining fabric piece as a headdress. Attach it to the head with tacky glue.
Add facial features with paint.
The Legend of the West African Dolls
Dolls are a integral part of black Africa. In the black culture, dolls have many uses. They are used as toys, teaching tools, and used in displays. The African Doll Collection symbolizes the culture and heritage of the people of the West African Rain Forest.
These beautiful black dolls are dressed in traditional West African clothing made from the finest materials from Ivory Coast, Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana. They wear gown sets and head ties, and traditional feast celebration attire made from sackcloth and straw.
In addition to their attractive clothing, the dolls are accessorized with items used in the everyday lives of the West African people. Some of the dolls carry hand held baskets filled with fruits, vegetables, straw, fish, and other items. Others carry baskets on their heads with similar goods. Some dolls are even decorated with zinc buckets, jugs, beautiful boxes, lanterns and sacks filled with doll clothing.
The doll on this page is featured on

Traditional African Dolls - bottle and wire bodies
How to Create African Dollsthumbnail
How to Create African Dollsthumbnail

  • Place a ball of pillow batting or lint about the size of a golf ball (the cotton is soft and will compress to a small round head for the doll), in the center of the 5-inch square fabric. Make the head of the doll by gathering the corners of the fabric together, pressing the cotton into a small ball and tying yarn around the fabric corners. Keep the excess hanging fabric.
  • 2Make the body of the doll. Wrap the 20-inch piece of fabric around the 8 oz. bottle. You might want to use African fabric or a pattern similar to textile designs from Africa. Do not cut the excess fabric.
  • 3Insert a piece of wire through the excess fabric. Push it through the body to the other side until you have enough length on both sides of the body to make the arms. Cut any excess wire with cutters. Wrap a small piece of lint or cotton around each wire arm; and wrap the excess fabric around it.
  • 4Connect the body to the head. Put the head of the doll on top of the body and secure them together by wrapping the doll in yarn. Begin by crisscrossing a long piece of yarn over the shoulders of the doll and around the waist. Continue wrapping the doll until no more fabric is visible.
  • 5Take another piece of yarn and tie it around the left shoulder of the doll. Wrap the yarn down the entire length of the arm, leaving a small piece to form the hand. Then, wrap the yarn back up the arm to the shoulder, wrap it around the doll's waist, and tuck the remaining yarn into the body. Repeat this step for the right arm and shoulder.
  • 6Squeeze glue in the corner of the 18-inch square piece of fabric. Press the fabric onto the chest area of the body and wrap it around the chest and underneath both arms, while leaving folds of fabric for a draped garment look.
  • 7Add accessories. Use a hot glue gun or tacky glue to attach beads, shells, pine needles, twigs and buttons anywhere on the doll's clothing or body. You may also choose to use pine needles or other natural items to create facial features such as the mouth and eyebrows.
  • 8Bend the doll's arms inward, as if they are holding something. You may choose to glue a small basket into the arms.
  • 9Glue on hair. Cut synthetic hair into three 8-inch pieces. Braid the three pieces together. Rub glue on one side of the braid. Wrap the braid around the head, pressing it to secure it in place. Allow it to dry. You might glue on beads or a piece of fabric trim as a head wrap.

Read more: How to Create African Dolls |

How to Make a Homemade African Doll - sock body

How to Make African American Hair for a Rag Dollthumbnail
How to Make African American Hair for a Rag Dollthumbnail

Traditional African doll from Swaziland.


Things You'll Need

  • Brown fabric paint
  • Brown sock
  • Fabric paint
  • Bag stuffing
  • Polystyrene ball
  • Small sewing needle
  • Black/brown thread
  • Black yarn

    • 1Place the polystyrene ball inside the brown sock, all the way to the toe end of the sock. Shape the sock fabric around the ball. The rest of the sock should be filled with stuffing to form the body, up to 8 inches high. Add stuffing to the base shape to taper the fabric inward from base to the neck. The base seam is hand-stitched along the edge of the base and then tied off.
    • 2Wrap new thread tightly around the base of the ball three times to form the neck. Secure by sewing a knot into the sock at the neck.
    • 3From the open end of the sock, cut vertically, lengthwise up the center of the sock approximately 3 1/2 inches, then cut across the top, according to The two long pieces will form the arms. Using the cut fabric, arms are made by stuffing the pieces of fabric and sewing the fabric at each end. Arms are attached at each side of the base, right below the neck.
    • 4Add facial features to the doll by using fabric paint or by sewing knots into the sock to form facial features. Use black fabric paint or thread for eyes, forming an almond shape. Use brown fabric paint or thread for the nose, in the shape of a raised knot. Lips are applied with red fabric paint to create a full mouth resembling that of a person of African descent. It takes 24 hours for paint to dry into the fabric.
    • 5Cut 30 to 40 pieces of black yarn, each 6 inches long, folding each in half. Using black thread, sew each strip into the top of the head around the hairline. Strips should be sewn close together to create an even head of hair and conceal the sock underneath. More or less thread can be used, however the end result should resemble a ponytail after the hair is gathered together in a ribbon. If hair is too long, trim to the desired length.
    • 6Dress the doll in African printed fabric. A 7-inch by 5-inch strip of fabric is used as an underskirt. Other pieces of fabric should be cut in proportion to the doll's length from neck to bottom to form a dress. Pieces of fabric should be cut to create sleeves. Fabric glue is used to secure the fabric onto the doll, no sewing is required. Secure all rough edges by folding the fabric over and gluing in place. A head wrap can be added to the head for added flair.
    • 7Wrap gold thread around the neck and the wrists and cut and tie in a knot to create a necklace and bracelet. Cut off any excess fabric and add the knot to secure it in place. Bracelets can be further secured by sewing the gold thread into the fabric of the arm.

Read more: How to Make a Homemade African Doll |

Creating hair for your African Doll
Adding hair to any rag doll enhances the doll's special personality.

The culture and history of man has often been told most eloquently by the rag dolls that were created. African American rag dolls have been represented by simple playthings made from old rags to the Golliwog, a commercially manufactured rag doll designed to represent the black minstrels found traveling in the South. Today's African rag dolls and other home-made dolls can be given more personality by adding hair, e.g. using French knots, braids, a mohawk, karakul or mohair.

Things You'll Need

  • Embroidery needle
  • Embroidery floss, black
  • Scissors
  • Scrap fabric
  • Yarn, black
  • Small strips of colorful fabric
  • Small barrettes
  • Straight pins
  • Karakul
  • Craft glue
  • Mohair pelt

    • 1 French Knot Hairexternal image How_to_do_French_knots_by_LAMdesigns.jpg
    • Recreate the look of old-time simplicity by using one simple embroidery stitch, the French knot, to create the hair for a folk-art type African American rag doll. Practice making French knots on a piece of scrap fabric before attempting them on your rag doll.
      Thread a needle with an approximately 18-inch piece of black embroidery floss and knot the end of the thread. Bring the needle to the front of a piece of scrap fabric.

    • Grasp the thread firmly with your left index finger and thumb. Hold it away from the fabric. Wrap the thread around the needle with your left hand while the point of the needle faces away from the fabric. Wrap it twice around the needle to make a small knot and three times around to make a larger knot.
    • Continue to hold the thread tightly as you place the tip of the needle close to the hole that it came out from. Push the needle to the back of the fabric while continuing to hold the thread taunt.
    • Do not place the tip of the needle in the same hole as it will pull the French knot to the back of the fabric. Do not let loose of the thread until all the thread has been passed to the back of the fabric or else your French knot will be uneven and look sloppy. Example of French knot hair on Marmy Doll external image 004.JPG

      • 2 Short wool hair
      • Tie pieces of wool onto the head all over the head. Cut the strings to the length you require.
      • Here are photos of the steps:
      • Using my needle I take embroidery floss in as close to the same shade as possible and place across the head close to the top seam. I also place a few on either side of her face.(How many and how close you place these will alter the look in the play and have fun!)
        I then take my yarn and cut into about 6-8 inche lengths.

        external image Cdollhair1.JPG

        So my thread looks like this across the doll's head.......

        external image Cdollhair2.JPG

        and I take my strands of yarn and divide them into small sections. (How ever many pieces of embroidery floss I placed thru the how many bundles of yarn I will need)

        external image Cdollhair3.JPG

        I usually start right at the top of my dolls head and place ONE bundle of thread between the strands of embroidery floss. I take the floss and tie a knot TIGHTLY right in the middle of the bundle.
        I keep taking the bundles and knotting the floss in the middle. You will shift the bundles around a bit as you tie. Offset them from the others. Different yarns give you more room to play with.

        external image Cdollhair4.JPG

        Close up of my knot......bundle would be right in the middle of that knot!
        external image Cdollhair5.JPG

        Working your way around the dolls head, wrapping the bundles with the floss.....her hair is now starting to really appear FULL.
        How large your bundle of yarn and how many bundles you attach across the head......all will effect the finished look of the doll.Play around and have fun!

        external image Cdollhair7.JPG

        As simple as a change in the style of yarn used will create a different effect in this technique. Play around with the lengths of yarn....the types of yarn.

        external image Cdollhair8.JPG
      • Example
        external image 003.JPG
    • 3 Braids
      Create a more fanciful hair style for your African American rag doll by making a series of braids that can be attached anywhere on the doll's head. Braid either yarn or embroidery floss into a number of simple braids. Tie off the braids with either small strips of colorful fabric or little barrettes. One way to attach the braids is to follow the same steps to attach the braids described in the Short Wool hair tutorial above.Another way to attach the braids: Pin the braids in place all about the head with straight pins to be sure that the hairstyle appears pleasing. Sew each braid in place using a needle and thread. Remove the straight pins.
    • 4 Wool mohawkexternal image VooDoo-Mohwak.jpg
    • Attach various colours of wool to the middle of head, ensuring you leave a string of wool which will be cut to form the hair. Here are the steps for attaching longer hair to your doll, by attaching the hair with knots to the head's 'skin':
    • To make doll hair for a knitted doll, you need to cut lengths of yarn that are twice as long as you want the finished hair to be, plus maybe an inch and a half more, to allow for the knot and a final trim - it's always better to make hair too long, so you can trim to the exact style you want, rather than hair too short, which doesn't look right.

      external image doll+hair+003.jpg
      Insert a crochet hook into the doll's head where you would like a strand of hair to be.
      external image doll+hair+004.jpg
      Fold one of your strands of yarn in half and put it on the crochet hook...
      external image doll+hair+005.jpg
      ...then pull a loop through.

      external image doll+hair+006.jpg
      Take the two ends of the yarn and pull them through the loop you have just created...

      external image doll+hair+007.jpg
      Then pull gently to create a firm knot. Voila - your first two strands of hair. Repeat all over the doll's head. This method gives you great control over your doll's hairstyle! Try using a mixture of different yarns and different thickness.

      external image lucius%2Band%2Bseverus%2Bhave%2Btea%2B2.jpg (Source
    • 5 Longer hair I
    • Create the Hair:
        • To make the hair, use the Small book and place a 4 inch piece of yarn across the top edge of the book as you did for the body.
        • Wind the yarn around 50 times.
        • Slip the wound yarn off the book and tie the yarn together tightly with the 4 inch piece of yarn.
        • Cut the opposite end of the wound yarn along the bend so that you will have cluster of long strands, tied in the middle. See photo at #9.
      external image yarnsteps5.jpg
      external image yarnsteps5.jpg
      • Place the hair over the head with the gathered tie centered at the top.
      • Use a doll maker’s needle and the hair color yarn to carefully, sew the hair in place at the top.
      • Bring the needle and yarn down to one of the sides of the neck. (This should be done by sending the needle through the inside of the doll's head.)
      • Loosely stitch over a small segment of the yarn hair along the neck, then another segment, then another, and so on until you reach the other side of the neck and the hair is secured evenly across the back of the neck as shown in the photo at #10.
      • Tie off the end of your stitching yarn under the hair where it is concealed.
    • 6 Longer Hair II
    • A Waldorf Doll Hair Tutorial – Or: how to make Lina’s hair.


    • What you need:
    • - Yarn in the desired hair colour. This can be any yarn you like, from sock yarn to DK weight yarn to mohair. It all depends on the size of your doll, and the desired look. For Lina, I used Dream in Color Smooshy.

    • - Tissue paper

    • - Painter’s tape

    • - Sewing thread in (preferably) the colour of the yarn you’re using for the hair

    • - A sewing machine

    • - A CD cover or book to wrap the yarn around
    • How it’s done:
    • Wrap as much yarn as you need to cover the head (from forehead to halfway down the back of the head) around a CD cover or book (depending on the length you’d like the final wig to be). Make sure all threads of yarn are neatly arranged. A bit of overlap is okay, but there shouldn’t be any big gaps.
    • Secure the yarn with painter’s tape on both sides of your CD cover or book. You should have an opening of about 1 inch (approximately 2.5 cm) in the middle.
    • external image 2998643441_e62507129a-300x225.jpg
    • NB: I use painter’s tape instead of sellotape, because it’s less adhesive and thus can be removed more easily later on.
    • Once the yarn has been securely taped together, cut it at the bottom end. Gently remove the yarn from your CD cover or book and lay it down on a piece of tissue paper. You should end up with something like this:
    • external image 2999300578_b88459b504-300x225.jpg
    • Cover it with another piece of tissue paper and pin it together, like this:
    • external image 2999300662_0ca74ed046-300x225.jpg
    • NB: you don’t necessarily need to cover all yarn with tissue paper. A smaller piece will do the job just as well – just make sure the two bits of painter’s tape and the gap in the middle are well covered and won’t slide away when you’re sewing!
    • Transfer the whole package to your sewing machine and make sure the pressure of the machine’s foot is very low, or you’ll shred the whole thing to bits and your machine will eat the yarn! Not pretty, I can tell you from bitter experience.
    • Gently sew up and down the middle a few times. I find three times usually does the trick. You want to use a sewing thread that’s more or less the same colour as your yarn. (For clarity’s sake, I’ve used a contrasting colour in this tutorial.) If all goes well, you’ll end up with something like this:
    • external image 2998461163_4f26e4e60f1-300x225.jpg
    • Next step: take out the pins and very, very gently remove the tissue paper! Don’t rip it, because then you’ll probably end up taking half of the seam you’ve just made with you. Then, ever so gently remove the tape as well. When you’re done, pat yourself on the shoulder because…
    • external image 2999300950_ca5e580def-300x225.jpg
    • Voila! You’ve just made your first layer of hair!
    • Pin the hair to your doll’s head like so:
    • external image 2999301020_49e0ec0dcf-300x225.jpg
    • Threading a long doll needle with a string of yarn, backstitch your layer securely into place in the middle. Go back and forth a few times. It’ll look like this:
    • external image 2999301178_be8fcc09dc-300x225.jpg
    • Next, stitch it into place all around the head, starting at the eye line, like this:
    • external image 2999301270_3c7f6ec8e3-300x225.jpg
    • The end result should look something like this:
    • external image 2999301442_7d397c622a-300x225.jpg
    • First layer done!!
    • For a very full head of hair, repeat this process for one more layer, but omit the stitching to the side of the head; just stitch down in the middle.
    • OR you can skip this second layer and go straight ahead to the final bit:
    • The side part. For this, I made two small packages of yarn:
    • external image 2999301526_2eb610c3e6-300x225.jpg
    • One will once more cover the head, one will form the side part. They’re both the same length as the previous layer(s). For the smaller layer, which will go to the front of the head, you’ll have to make sure the painter’s tape is to the side instead of in the middle. (A good way to decide where to sew it, is to quickly tack it to the head and mark the place where you’ll want the side part to be.) Cover with tissue paper and sew both packages on the machine like you did before.
    • Pin both layers to the head like this:
    • external image 2998462141_353c4d717f-300x225.jpg
    • The bigger one pinned down in the middle, the smaller one to the side.
    • Front view:
    • external image 2998462213_a6b572ab9c-300x225.jpg
    • Stitch both to the head with yarn, removing the pins as you go. Do a few stitches to secure the front hair to the right (the part you didn’t sew on the machine) side of the head. This is to keep the hair from falling into your poor doll’s eyes all the time.
    • Tie a bow to one side, trim the hair so it’s neat and tidy (or don’t, if you like a wild and tousled look), and…
    • external image 2998462375_0d1e7591dc-300x225.jpg
    • Hurray! Your Waldorf doll now has hair like Lina’s!

    • 7 Longer hair III - How to cover the back of head
    • 2999301832_e911ab286
      A couple of people have told me they had problems covering the back of their doll’s headwhen using my tutorial, and since I remember having the exact same problem when I first started making this kind of hair, I thought I’d clarify!
      I haven’t got my original model Lina here at the moment, since she’s still hanging out at my friend Stefanie’s house, probably drinking Summer cocktails and thoroughly enjoying herself!

      Fortunately, Mina offered to take her place. Thank you Mina!
      The trick with getting the back of the head covered is to add enough yarn as a whole, especially at the back. Also, having more than one layer helps.
      What I do is this: my first layer of yarn, spread out from the front to the back of the head, covers the doll from forehead to about halfway down the back of her head. I stitch this down in the middle, until just below the crown, bunching up the surplus yarn at the back as I stitch (because it originally went halfway down when spread out, and I’m now securing it until just below the crown, I’ve got some extra yarn). After it has been secured, I fingercomb this extra yarn down the back of the head, starting at the crown. Unfortunately, I can’t show you any pictures of this part right now, as most of my dolls-in-progress are still in boxes waiting to be unpacked! But I hope my description will be sufficient for now.
      The next step is to stitch this first layer all around the head as usual, starting at the side, at eye level, making sure to gradually dip down a bit when you reach the back of the head, and up again to the other side. Like this:
      side view stitching
      side view stitching

      And seen from the back:
      back view stitching
      back view stitching

      This should leave you with a well covered head!
      A ‘regular’ second or even third layer of yarn, stitched down just in the middle, will make it look even better.
      centre seam stitching at the back
      centre seam stitching at the back

      And combed down, it’ll look like this:
      hair combed down
      hair combed down

      I hope this helps! Please let me know if there’s anything that’s still unclear, and I’ll do my best to clarify things a bit more!
      © Meike, August 2009.
    • 8 Bangs all over the head (Raggedy Anne)
    • Knotting the yarn wigs on dolls is a fun and creative task in doll making.

      For the Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls in the photo I use 2-foot lengths of yarn threaded through a large eye metal needle.
      Raggedy Andy and Raggedy Ann sewn by Susan Kramer
      Raggedy Andy and Raggedy Ann sewn by Susan Kramer

      Just use a single strand - not a double strand and no knot at the end.

      Pattern: Beginning at the doll’s right jaw line I work up around the face line to the left jaw line. The next arc of stitches goes in a row one quarter inch behind the front row beginning at the doll’s left jaw line this time.

      Continue sewing rows moving back over head and side to side. I make the hairline across the lower head even with the jaw line.

      Now - here’s how to attach the locks of yarn hair
      how to knot on doll yarn wigs by Susan Kramer
      how to knot on doll yarn wigs by Susan Kramer

      Study the photo for a minute. I work in a circle around the scalp, this shows the lowest row. I then add rows behind it to fill in the scalp.

      Beginning with your long thread:
      1. Take a stitch, pull it tight, leaving a 2 inch tail hanging.
      2. Take the 2nd stitch and rather than pulling it tight, leave it as a 2 inch long loop.
      3. Take a stitch and pull it tight. (Being careful not to pull so hard that the loop of the previous stitch is disturbed.)
      4. Take a stitch and rather than pulling it tight, leave it as a 2 inch long loop.
      5. Take a stitch and pull it tight. (Being careful not to pull so hard that the loop of the previous stitch is disturbed.)

      Continue repeating the sequence of alternating one loose loop with one tight stitch.

      Believe me, it holds up - my grandkids play with their dolls and their hair is still holding on tightly!

      I like to use both acrylic and worsted wool. The dolls in the photo have acrylic wigs. Be sure your choice is washable, though! Enjoy your doll making projects!

      Article and photo credits Susan Kramer
    • 9 Funky hair for smaller dolls
    • Tie a knot in yarn for hair
      Tie a knot in yarn for hair

      Fold a bunch of yarn around your hand until you get just enough for some funky hair. Tie a knot in the middle as shown. Add a dab of glue and stuff in roll and clip hair. Give her some bangs, long hair, short hair, braids. Finish with cute hair bow or bow tie for the boy. Add a button and your finished!
      Polly and Patty Powder
      Polly and Patty Powder

      Have a Great Day!
      Have a Great Day!
    • 10 Needle Felting
    • This is how I needle felt my doll hair. Some may do it different. Some may do it exactly like this.

Get yourself a set and play around with it. Once you needle felt will be doing hair that way alot!

    • The doll head has already been stuffed and is nice and firm. I take a piece of the sheeps wool and place it across the seam of the dolls head. Holding the felting needle very carefully....they are very sharp and HURT like the dickens when you jab your finger! I start jabbing the needle thru the wool right into the dolls head.
    • ( if you are in the least bit of a foul mood...OmGoodness this is a great way to release your frustration!lol)

    • Image hosted by
      Image hosted by

    • You continue jabbing the needle thru the wool until you can see it is attaching. What is happening is the needle has tiny barbs cut into it. Those barbs are "grabbing" the sheeps wool as they go down inside the doll. The barbs are then "catching" the stuffing inside and messing them together. The more you jab the needle down into the stuffing....more of the wool is being attached.
    • You can see here the tiny pieces that have attached.

    • Image hosted by
      Image hosted by

    • You can add as many pieces of the wool as you wish your doll to have. Just keep jabbing with the needle where ever you wish the wool to attach.
    • Before you know it....your doll has a full head of sheeps wool for hair!
    • Doesn't she look so very prim!

    • Image hosted by
      Image hosted by

    • 11 Karakul
    • Add some real curl to your African American rag doll by cutting a simple wig from karakul, which is baby lamb skin. It is very tightly curled and can be applied directly to the rag doll's head with craft glue. Place the piece of karakul on the doll's head and adjust to fit. Allow the glue to dry completely.
    • 12 Mohair
      Achieve a straight hair look by using a piece of mohair pelt. This is long, silky hair from an angora goat. It can be purchased as shanks of hair or as pelt, but the pelt would be easier to manage on a rag doll since there would be no need to construct a wig cap. Cut individual pieces to achieve a layered look and glue in place.

Read more: How to Make African American Hair for a Rag Doll |