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I've been designing and making textile figures for many years. I have also recently taken up knitting and crochet again after a lengthy break  and I'm LOVING IT!  Textile Creations UK (http://textilecreationsuk.blogspot.com ) is my new website/ Blog, which includes all my knitted, crocheted, sewn, woven textile creations.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Rag Dolls

Rag dolls
Everyone recognises the rag doll as a children's toy, so named because it was traditionally home-made from spare scraps of material and was often stuffed with scraps of material, too.  For many the term rag doll  conjures up an image of security, comfort, love and hugs.
Traditionally home-made from spare scraps of material and was often stuffed with scraps of material, too, there remains the stigma that these are unsophisticated toys.

More modern rag dolls were commercially produced to simulate the features of the original home-made dolls, such as simple features, soft cloth bodies, and patchwork clothing, though they are stuffed with polyester filling which has flame retardant and hypoallergenic, machine washable properties.  

The term rag doll, therefore seems to diminish the perception of the quality and workmanship involved in using this medium in today's doll making.  

Due to the perishable nature of cloth, there are few rag dolls that have survived the ravages of time over the centuries and throughout the cultures. They are one of the most ancient children's toys in existence a Roman rag doll, found in a child's grave dating from 300 BC can be found at the British Museum.

When asked to describe a rag doll, most people are likely to convey an image that is quite simple and traditional. 
Traditional Rag dolls often had their hair in braids or tied in bunches and were dressed in long frocks with pantaloons and petticoats. 
However, other dolls that do not follow this conventional description quite happily fall into the ‘rag doll’ category. So, perhaps a better definition for them would be that they are ‘dolls made for children entirely from cloth with textile embellishments’.

In the past, rag dolls have been greatly under-valued and largely ignored by the so-called serious collectors in favour of porcelain, china, bisque and wooden dolls. Even teddy bears seem to have a greater kudos. Sadly this still seems to be largely the case in the UK today, whilst attitudes in other countries have thankfully changed. Linda Edward in her book 'Cloth Dolls from Ancient to Modern' states that the term rag doll is an ancient and honourable title and I agree that it should be used and regarded as such. After all, most seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century doll manufacturers referred to their cloth products as rag babiesMany Interior Designers use rag dolls as accents to add a touch of whimsy to a home.

Rag dolls have become celebrities in their own right, being featured in a number of children's stories, most notably Raggedy Ann in the 1918 book by Johnny Gruelle and British children's television series such as Play Days, Play School, Bagpuss, Rosie & Jim, Andy Pandy and Ragdolly Anna
Certainly when you think of examples of rag dolls in children’s literature and the media such as Jemima from Play School, Madeleine from Bagpuss, Raggedy Ann created by Johnny Gruelle, Rosie and Jim and so on; each one is as individual and diverse as the other. Demonstrating the wealth of variety, imagination, workmanship and love that goes into each and every doll made. 

Amish dolls also fit into the rag doll category. These dolls have no facial features or hair in keeping with the Old Testament Commandment which warns against making graven images. They have a full set of clothes including a white under-bonnet for the girl doll. Rag dolls have a unique quality and charm and fulfill a child's deep-rooted need to be comforted. Safety, washability and softness are of paramount importance in their production, whilst the end result provides a child with emotional security as well as an awareness of the world around them through play and socialisation. 

Today’s EEC regulations require us in the UK to be even more safety conscious when making toys for children. Nevertheless, rag dolls would seem to be the perfect embodiment of care, safety, love and security and these childhood treasures from bygone days have evolved over time to become a true art form.

Edith Flack Ackley was well known for her rag doll designs in 1920s and 1930s and still has a popular following today. 

These Ada Lum style dolls, bought via USA in 2007, are very clean and new looking and possibly not originals from the 1950's and they have no makers stamp on them either. Indeed, the fabric used for their heads, hands and legs seem more modern. They have cute little embroidered faces, removable shoes and traditional style clothes. Ada Lum and her fellow missionaries made and sold such handmade dolls in traditional costume to make money for refugees who were trying to flee from post-revolutionary China.


  1. The "rag doll" has become very popular again in North America. It seems to be having a new popularity with a bit more sophisticated look. The faces are much more animated.

    1. Hi Mary Ann, that is lovely to know.
      I enjoy seeing the variety of characters in all cloth doll creations.

  2. Rag dolls have a character of their own. I think kids really love to have these cuddly dolls because of their cuddly nature. They can take them to bed with them or where ever they go it goes with them. I think they will be with us for a long time to come yet.

    1. Hi Shashi, yes I'm sure they will and I also believe they can be works of art, too.


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