Lane County, Oregon

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


In Appalachia, as well as other parts of the country, cloth dolls have been part of the culture as long as there has been fabric around to make them. Cloth dolls were both hand-stitched or machine-stitched or both types of stitching were found in one doll. The cloth dolls in this post average about 15 inches in height. 

I found these dolls in the Appalachian area. They probably are indigenous to the area however they could also be migrants from other parts of the country. No documented history came with these dolls. 

The above doll is more than likely from the 1940's. She has both hand stitching and machine stitching on her body as well as her clothes. The fabric appears to be 1940s plaid. The buttons also speak out 1940s. She is in excellent condition given her age.

A close-up of the cloth doll shows her hand stitched face. Hair is sewn on yarn

Her cloth shoes made with the same material as the dress are capped by swirling buttons. The maker of the shoes even used a white material to indicate soles. 
I would consider the doll in the charming rose floral dress above to be a "rag doll." Some use the term cloth and rag interchangeably. To me a rag doll looks rather primitive in its structure I would consider them a piece of folk art. . I sometimes wonder if these loosely made dolls were made by children.

This guy in the blue polka dot pajamas has a happy smile on his face -- another doll that I would classify as folk art. Both the rose dress lady doll and the blue pajama guy have early printed fabric as clothes. They could or could not be original to the doll. 

Folk art can be found in many types of material including fabric. The cloth and rag dolls are part of our "make do" culture. Our doll history can be traced back to when this country began. 

Take a look around -- attics, yard sales, and second hand stores. You might just find one of these pieces of our folk culture. 


  1. What a wonderful collection, Barbara. I love the heart shaped face of the first doll - so expressive of the love and care that she represents. The buttons on her shoes really caught my attention too. Are they bakelite by any chance? Also, these dolls remind me of the practice of making stocking dolls.

  2. Oh, what a comfort those dolls were to some lovely child! To hug a homemade doll and tell it all would have been the height of security! Somehow, a homemade doll seems to hear and understand better than does a store-bought doll. Oh! of course that's not true....but it seems like it should be true! I love these! What a treasure you found, Barbara!


  3. LiD -- I am not sure about the buttons on the shoes -- I am not knowledgeable enough to say if they are. I almost forgot about the making of dolls with stockings. I haven't seen any of those around for such a long time -- except for the monkey sock doll that is still being made. Thanks for the nice comments. -- barbara

  4. Thanks for the comments Elora. I was surprised to find, when I was researching cloth dolls, that archaeologists found one dating back to Roman times. -- barbara

  5. Wonderful dolls! I love the very primitive ones.

    I still have my first cloth doll from the early Forties -- but I never felt the same about her after she fell into the toilet. And we have a cloth doll angel that I made that has topped our Christmas tree for many years now.

  6. I loved my rag dolls when I was a little girl. My dear grandmother made one for me and then made matching outfits for me and my dolly. I think the history of dolls is fascinating. When I was really small, it was customary for a man to give his fiance a large beautiful doll to place on her bed. I remember seeing them on my aunt's beds and woe unto anyone who dared to touch them.

  7. Vicky -- What a funny story about your doll falling into the toilet. The doll must have great memories for you as well as the cloth angel doll that you made as a topper for your Christmas tree. Thanks for your memories. -- barbara

  8. NCmountainwoman -- Fascinating story about the large beautiful dolls that were customary for a man to give his finance. I am familiar with those dolls but never knew the custom that went along with them. Also, what a wonderful grandmother that she made matching outfits for you and your dolly. Great family stories. Thanks -- barbara

  9. I love the first doll, especially her neatly-made shoes. I think the Cabbage-patch dolls that were all the rage for a few years when my kids were young were a take-off on rag dolls. My mother and I also made "lifesize" cloth dolls for my girls (about 40 inches tall) from a pattern. So much more huggable than most store-bought dolls!

  10. barefootheart-- How lucky were your daughters to have their mother and grandmother make them life sized dolls. I hope they still have them. Cloth and rag dolls have a flexibility to them that the stiffer store-bought dolls did not have. Maybe that is why they are more huggable! -- barbara

    1. I am so happy to see these dolls. I too found one of these Appalachian dolls in Independence,Mo about 15 years ago in the basement of the Court House. It was well loved and not so good of shape but she sits amongest my other dolls I have picked over the years. Thank you for sharing! Kay Connelly, Surprise, Arizona