Craft Old-School with Paper Dolls

Paper Doll with Recycled Paper DressAnd no, I’m not talking “old-school” like when you were in school, I’m talking “old-school” like Ma Ingalls.

Paper dolls have always been an exercise in upcycling and creative re-use. You think Ma Ingalls bought special fancy paper to make dolls for Laura and Mary? Or cut their paper dolls out of a Dover paper doll book?

Hell, no she didn’t! Seriously, this is the same woman who had her kid carrying around a corn cob wrapped in a handkerchief as a doll.

My kids are pretty gullible, but I don’t think even I could pull that one off. However, after finishing reading Little House in the Big Woods together (one chapter a night, followed by one episode of Meerkat Manor on Netflix, followed by me sitting in the dark and goofing around on the Internet while streaming Bright Eyes on Pandora until I hear two sets of snores), the girls and I have been on a huuuuuge paper doll kick, and although they can sucker me into breaking out the scrapbook paper once in a while, we generally kick it old-school with the following SWEET recycled papers:

  • wrapping paper taken from opened gifts (I’m already getting stoked about the pickings on Christmas Day)
  • comic books–check out Willow’s Go-Bots dress above. Mighty robots, indeed!
  • sheet music
  • the insides of security envelopes
  • brown paper grocery sacks–super-sturdy, and perfect for decorating

I’m not a great free-hand artist, so I generally like to work from a template. I did splurge on a Paper Dolls cartridge for my Cricut as a Black Friday doorbuster, and the kids and I have all been DELIGHTED with it, but I do NOT recommend cutting any kind of recycled papers with your Cricut. Instead, I’ve been cutting out pieces with regular scrapbook paper or cardstock, and then using those as pattern pieces to make my own stuff from whatever recycled papers, or even fabrics, that I want.

Other sources for paper doll patterns and templates are those ubiquitous Dover books, the personal web sites of people who enjoy making and sharing paper doll patterns, and even some green crafting books have been getting into the act.

My girls and I mostly enjoy dressing up the dolls and changing their outfits and thinking up new and unusual outfits, and that may be a super-girly pursuit, but there is a lot to be said for this simple kind of game. For one thing, it’s pretty cheap, and when your kids outgrow the paper dolls they get to wind up in the recycling bin instead of the landfill.

Paper dolls can also be thematic, and support learning by helping a child visualize anything from Roman society to what a firefighter would look like in full gear (they look like monsters, by the way, and they’ll sound like Darth Vader calling out your child’s name).

And that’s why my girls and I will be spending some time next week making ourselves paper doll versions of the entire Ingalls family–buckboard and Bessie the cow and all, Lord help me and my limited design sense.

Written by Julie Finn

I'm a writer, crafter, Zombie Preparedness Planner, and homeschooling momma of two kids who will hopefully someday transition into using their genius for good, not the evil machinations and mess-making in which they currently indulge. I'm interested in recycling and nature crafts, food security, STEM education, and the DIY lifestyle, however it's manifested--making myself some underwear out of T-shirts? Done it. Teaching myself guitar? Doing it right now.

Visit my blog Craft Knife for a peek at our very weird handmade homeschool life; my etsy shop Pumpkin+Bear for a truly odd number of rainbow-themed beeswax pretties; and my for links to articles about poverty, educational politics, and this famous cat who lives in my neighborhood.


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