Kids' How to Make Corn Husk Dolls with Photos
Woman Corn Husk Doll
The Book Describing This Doll Making Craft
Low Cost Activity for Children's Summer Fun
If you are the parent or caregiver of a child from preschool through middle school age, you probably have many of the supplies on hand to make corn husk dolls. All you will need to procure is corn on the cob! (Please, buy it with the husks - do not husk it at the market.)
I am giving my suggestions, modifications, and experiences based on the excellent book Native American Gardening - Stories, Projects and Recipes for Families by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac. It is a fantastic book.
Ears of Fresh Corn
Carefully peel the husks off the cob, trying hard to keep them intact. A trick I learned from a friend is to cut across the bottom with a paring knife before peeling. This helps immensely. Save these husk leaves and also save all the corn silk for hair.
I have only made the dolls after an overnight of drying. If you make them immediately upon husking, I have no idea how this will work. If you try it, please write a comment to let me know.
Saved Corn Leaves and Corn Silk
I love my Cutco paring knife for this kind of work. It makes the slicing SO easy. Pictured here is a slightly larger knife - a trimmer.
Other Supplies Needed
Most of us have these in our home:
- String (or twine or embroidery floss or dental floss)
Dried Corn Leaves and Corn Silk
From the photographs, you may already be wondering why are some husks are flat and some are curly? I think the big factor is humidity.
When I make corn husk dolls inside an air-conditioned house, the husks stay flatter.
When I make them in non-air-conditioned places and try to keep them flat by putting a plate over them, they get mildewy. That is not good. Therefore, I leave them alone and they curl a little. This could actually be good for frills on a skirt, but you will hope for some relatively straight pieces.
Trim the pointed ends from the husks with your scissors. Also, trim the wider ends to be straight across.
Begin Building the Body
Gather enough husks to be the main trunk and lower half of the doll's body. I use about 6 leaves.
Even up the leaves on one end and tie them together with string near that end.
Head and Body
Invert and Bend to Make the Head
Have another length of string cut about 8 inches long and ready to use.Now you will grasp the tied end - called the bulb- and hold it with the untied leaves pointing up. You will be pulling each leave down over the first string and hold it until all leaves are down and surrounding the bulb as if it was a T-shirt turned inside out.
Another way to explain the next step is with excerpts from page 103 of Traditional Native Gardening.
"...the little bulb of husks will become the inside of the head.
"Turn the whole bundle over. Now invert the long pieces of husk down and bend them over the bulb...Gather these husks in tightly under the bulb and tie them off to form the neck."
This works beautifully and I find that using string enables one to really make a firm connection. That said, I wish I could be with native children to see their tips for secure ties with thin strips of husk.
Making the Head of the Corn Husk Doll
To make the arms, take a few of the thinner husks and roll them together in a straight line to make the doll's two arms fully extended.
Tie the ends to make wrists and trim the edges to even out the hands.
Body and Arms of Cornhusk Doll
Lift up half of the "body husks" below the head string.
Place the arms piece inside the two halves, perpendicularly across and centered.
Then, gently allow the top half to settle back down over the arms piece.
Tie the body husks with another piece of string underneath the arms. This will secure them and create the waist of the doll.
Waist is Secured
Finishing a Woman's Skirt
If you desire extra length or thickness in the skirt (or the curled husk ornamentation), add more husks around the waist and tie in place.
Furthermore, if you wish, a wide husk waistband can be added over the top of the skirt and tied or glued in place.
Almost Finished Corn Husk Doll
Making a Man Corn Husk Doll
All my photos are of female dolls. If you want to make a boy or man, now is the time to make legs instead of a skirt.
Separate the husks hanging below the waist into a left bunch and a right bunch. If you need to use scissors or a knife to make an even division, use it.
In the traditional method, thin strips of husks are wrapped around each leg like the diagonal stripes of a candy cane or a barber's pole. The bottoms are then tied securely and ends trimmed to have evenly-length feet. I would again prefer to use string over using husk strips.
Coiffeur and Face
Finally we turn to the glue and the corn silk. Place a generous number of gobs of glue on top of the head and pat the dried corn silk in place. My kindergarten helper wanted to make Rapunzel and corn silk is wonderful for that sort of long, flowing hair.
The traditional native American method is to have no facial features. Certainly imagination can fill in whatever one wants to see. I am familiar with faceless dolls from our local Amish children, so this does not bother me. However, my helper felt the need to use a fine-tip marker to draw eyes and a mouth. It worked well on the dried husks.
Attaching Corn Silk Hair
Durability for Play
My helper is a gentle child who lives in a central air-conditioned house. Her dolls (oh yes, we had to make several once she made her first one) stood up well to her playing.
How will your dolls do? I cannot predict. I also wonder about the little ones living a hundred years ago who made dolls and practically lived outdoors. Please let me know what your family's experiences are.
PS - When you are done with this doll, it can go into the compost pile. What a bonus!
- Lightning Bugs, Fireflies, and Fire Bees
Another summertime delight for children from one to ninety-two.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Maren Elizabeth Morgan