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Tea Party Winners: Carla Gade's winner is Becky Dempsey, Andrea Boeshaar's winner Caryl Kane, Gina Welborn's winner Jasmine A., Carrie Fancett Pagels' winners book copy -- Lynda Edwards, teacup and saucer -- Wendy Shoults

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Colonial Crafts ~ Corn Husk Dolls




As long as there have been groups of people eating corn, there have been dolls made from the husks. Museums have examples from multiple cultures dating back centuries--and I daresay most of us have made these simple, fun dolls at some point or another.

But if you're like me, it's been a loooong time. So in preparation for a class I'll be teaching in September to a bunch of homeschoolers, I had to dust off my doll-making skills. I watched several tutorials on YouTube after first just looking at drawings on websites (so didn't help me, LOL), and just kinda picked my favorite methods from a bunch of them.

You can use fresh or dried husks for these, store bought or straight from the cob. I husked 5 ears yesterday and was using those. I just cut the stalk ends off the cobs and then peeled the layers of husk away, and the silk. Most of them I used on Monday, but then I put the remainder under a bookend overnight to keep them from curling up. If you're using dried husks, either steam-iron them flat (my mother-in-law's favorite method) or soak them in water for 10-15 minutes to make them pliable again (drying them off before use, of course).

So begin by assembling your supplies. You'll need the husks from 1 ear of corn (I didn't use all of it, but that gives you a good selection of thicknesses and widths), some twine or thread (Native Americans traditionally used sinew), whatever you want to use for hair (the silk from the corn or yarn), and a pair of scissors.

I personally think the hair is an important part of a doll, so I chose the method that incorporated it directly into the construction of the head and didn't require gluing it on separately. LOVE this! You can use the silk of the corn, and I did on one of the dolls, but I opted for yarn on this one--the plus of yarn being, of course, that you can choose whatever color you'd like. I've done blonde, brown, red, and black at this point. =) In this one, I chose black.

So you start by cutting your yarn. Keeping in mind that about two inches of it will be inside the doll, just measure it out as long as you'd like it to be, and as thick. I did this totally by sight. Once you've cut your yarn, tuck it inside 4 or 6 husks, with the ends up toward the pointy ends. Make sure you have an even number of husks. 

Once you've got them hugging your hair, cut off a length of twine (I usually cut about 6 inches) and wrap it about an inch from the pointed ends of the husks. 

Wrap it around and around until you've used most of the thread, pulling it as tight as you can. This will ensure your hair stays put!

Once you've done that, then start folding the husks down over the knot you just tied. This is creating the head, so shape it as desired--in this one I even balled up some bits of husks to round out the head a little more.

Then tie this off with another length of twine--good and tight again. This is forming the neck.




You now have a head and body. The next step is arms. Choose a husk and fold the tip inside it until it's the length you want, and then roll up the husk into a slender cylinder.




Tie each end with twine to form hands. Once you have that cylinder tied at both ends, it's time to insert it into the doll.

Divide the husks of the body evenly and just slide those arms right between them, positing it under the head, centered. Try to get it as far up the body as you can, as close to the head. Once you've got it where you want it, tie it into place.

So now you have a basic body, and if you like how it looks, you could pretty much stop there.



The next step, though, is to add shoulders and a bit of a bodice. For this, I chose thin, supple husks and split them to the width I wanted--about the width of my thumb. Position the square end at the waist (you can just trim off any hard pieces) and wrap it diagonally up the doll, over the opposite shoulder. Bring it around and take it over the end to hold it down. Make sure you leave enough of the wispy end to tie. Do the same thing on the opposite side, creating an X over the bodice of the doll. Tie this down with twine.



I very nearly stopped there, because I really liked how she looked. =) But since this was for instruction... Next step is the legs. If you're making a male doll or just want your girl to have legs, you can either divide or cut the husks below the waist into two groups.

I really liked the way that top husk was sitting, so I opted to fold it out of the way and preserve it for the skirt and just cut the husks into equal parts to form the legs. You could also just gather them into two sections. Tie at the ends for the ankles, and you can tie another spot halfway up for the knees if you want (which I meant to do but forgot). And voila! Legs!


If you want a nice full skirt, select some wider husks. I was running out of wide ones at this point (these were my leftover husks from Monday, remember), so mine aren't all that wide. You are working this step upside down and inside out, so it will look a bit strange.


But position the husks around her waist so that the side you want to show is against her body and the tip is pointing toward her feet. You might have to push her arms up out of the way, but layer them all the way around her. Once she's surrounded, tie the tips tightly around her waist. Then fold them down to form the skirt.

There you go! She's pretty much finished. Just trim the bottom of the dress to make it even.


Now, if you don't want the arms standing straight out, just get a bit of twine or yarn or ribbon and tie them down at the sides. Once the doll is dried out, the arms will retrain that shape.

To get fuller hair, I separated the strands of yarn, which makes it nice and curly and full.



Decorate however you wish! You can leave them natural or use fabric to dress them. On this one, I just added a ribbon to her hair thus far.


On Monday, Xoe and I had a blast playing fashion designer. We just used scraps and bits from our craft basket, some fabric glue, and a few dabs of hot glue here and there. I personally love how a simple circle skirt looks on them. I measured it with one of my small plates, cut a small hole in the center, and then tied it in place with another strip of cloth. A simple triangle of cloth can serve as a shawl, and voila! You have a simply dressed but lovely doll! (Or get fancy and make a bride. You know. Whatever.)

I think I'm ready to teach my homeschool class the art now! And have a new past time for evenings after we've had some fresh corn from my family's farm. =)

*Special thanks to the awesome Xoë, who not only manned the camera for me, but who donned my new super-high-heel shoes to give herself a better perspective. ;-)
 

13 comments:

  1. What an adorable post Roseanna! compliments to Xoe, too! My mom had corn husks dolls as a child and I've seen them but I never knew how they were made. Love all the pictures!

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    1. I had to watch a tutorial on YouTube, LOL. I never knew either!

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  2. You are a wealth of talent, Roseanna!

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  3. I need to try this. Now to find the time. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. They only take about 15-20 minutes, so it's not too bad! When next you have corn with dinner, just save the husks from one, and that's your after-dinner entertainment. ;-)

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  4. I commented previously but it seems to be missing. I'll try again.
    You and your photographer did such a great job! I used to make and play with corn husk dolls when I was little. Living next to a field of corn, I had plenty of material. Your's have much fancier clothing than mine ever did. I used Autumn leaves for skirts and green leaves for tops.
    I think your home school group will love them!

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    1. I bet those were lovely! We broke out the scrap basket. ;-)

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  5. Super cool, Roseanna! My mother told me how they used to make dolls out of flowers and all kinds of things when she was a little girl growing up Amish. Modern children have no idea how to entertain themselves without toys from the store by making their own.

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    1. My kids do love their bought toys, but they've also always been the type to create their own--scrap wood, cardboard boxes, rocks, all fodder for the imagination!

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  6. I enjoyed seeing these made again. Many years ago I made some with my daughter.
    Fun times!

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