'HISTORY is to society what memory is to the individual'.

Rag/Cloth Dolls forever hold a strong affection in our hearts and minds having been created & recreated many times over the centuries. 

The fact that they were unbreakable and inexpensive resulted in them getting more wear and tear than other  more costly toys which would have been handled with more care and respect and thus there are fewer examples of antique rag dolls in museums and homes today. 

Those that do survive reflect the fashions and culture of the times. Traditionally dolls and particularly cloth dolls have been a way of passing cultural norms on to children.

Over the years, cloth dolls were stuffed with straw, sawdust, leaves, feathers, fabric scraps, left-over thread and yarn, cotton batting, wood-wool, Kapok, foam chips and nylon stockings and more recently Polyester filling.

Doll clothing was made from fabric scraps left over from the family sewing basket. The clothes would have reflected the clothes of people during the time the dolls were made, including underwear, petticoats, long dress, pinafore, apron and bonnet. Doll shoes and stockings might have been sewn or painted on. 
Facial features were embroidered or painted with ink or stained with natural dyes: berries, flowers, leaves, tea. In some cases,  e.g. primitive dolls, the dolls might have no face or perhaps given eyes only. Early dolls were often made from all sorts of materials, such as animal skin, corn husks, cotton fabric and other soft materials. 

Linen doll, made in Egypt and filled with rags 
and papyrus (Roman, 1st-5th century AD)

Despite being of a perishable nature, some examples of cloth/linen dolls, which can be traced right back to ROMAN, EARLY GREEK and EARLY CHRISTIAN times survive in museum collections today. The British Museum has a Roman rag doll, found in a child's grave dating back to 300 B.C.

Other early finds include 1st Century Peruvian dolls made from woven materials and 6th Century Coptic dolls made from brightly coloured wools. They were not always used as toys, but also as religious or fertility symbols.  

The pattern/design of the early cloth doll was quite basic, usually consisting of two identically shaped outline body pieces  Sometimes, arms and legs were added to a head/body torso. Today this simple type of doll is called a 'Pancake Doll', which describes the flat construction.  

Between the DARK and MIDDLE AGES, there are no examples of cloth dolls and wooden toys and puppets predominate. Children worked as soon as they were able and many families struggled for daily existence with a few meager belongings. Christianity denounced the practice of making graven images at this time. Indeed, cultures such as the Amish in America, also seem to adopt this view. Hence their faceless creations.

During the SEVENTEENTH and EARLY EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES, a wave of people emigrating across the Atlantic swept from Europe to America. Successive groups of Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, Scots, Irish, Dutch, Swedes and many others attempted to transplant their habits and traditions to the new world.

Inevitably, however, forces such as the geographic conditions peculiar to America, the interaction of the varied national groups on one another, caused significant changes, creating a character that was distinctly American.

Cloth dolls made by these COLONIAL AMERICANS are mentioned in diaries, property lists and literature of the time. They must have been treasured items, indeed. Early Colonial dolls are also known as Primitives  or Pioneer dolls. In Europe during this time, rag dolls were made for doll houses, as playthings and as adornments for needle cases, made from rolled fabric with faces drawn on.

In the 18th Century, the dominant figure in the textile industry in England was Richard Arkwright (1732-92) from Preston, who changed the cotton industry completely with the help of a brilliant inventor Thomas Highs (1718-1803), by introducing a machine for cotton spinning together with new mills and factories to replace the old cottage industry involving working at home by hand. Cloth would have been regarded as a cherished commodity due to the long hours invested in its manufacture. Even the smallest scraps or material were diligently saved and reused. 

There had already been the invention of the Flying Shuttle in 1733 by John Kay (1704-c1780) from Bury, and the Spinning Jenny by James Hargreaves (c1720-1778).  In 1765, Massachusetts, USA, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin to harvest the cotton crop, and tremendously increased cotton production in the Deep South, helping to revive a badly lagging economy. Suddenly cotton began to rival the tobacco industry's profits. 

The AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, however, coincided with the after-effects of this period of over-production in the late 1850s. Consequently, exported supplies of raw cotton from the southern states of the USA to England slowed down considerably. This resulted in mass unemployment, poverty and starvation in the north of England, affecting many towns within Lancashire including Preston and Burnley. This British Cotton Famine, or Cotton Panic, was one of the bleakest periods in the history of the Lancashire Cotton Industry and lasted four years.

The knock-on effect of this poverty and unemployment was that the mill-owners were unable to sell all the cloth they had made and began stockpiling it, until eventually, one by one, the Lancashire mills began to close down.
This may explain, in part, why the craft of cloth doll making became more popular in American, North America and Australia than in Great Britain. 

Famous cloth doll makers throughout history also include Izannah Walker, (1840s) who made cloth dolls with a primitive, folk arts look. Izannah Walker patented her dolls in 1873 and these dolls are very much in demand by collectors.
In Europe the cloth doll was being produced by the Lenci Doll company. Steiff and Lenci, began to experiment with stockinet and felt which was hot-pressed over a mould.
In the early 1920's Norah Wellings (Chad Valley designer) used velvet for her souvenir and commercial character dolls. 

As a result of the invention of the sewing machine and magazine pattern printing, home made rag dolls gained greater popularity in the NINETEENTH CENTURY.

From about the 1850's, commercially produced rag dolls where the dolls were printed on cloth or had their features hand painted in oils became popular. 
Flat panel/printed dolls were first sold in sheet form in the EARLY 2Oth CENTURY and were of the outline/pancake style.

Examples may be seen at Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, London   

<Doll bought from  Bethnal Green Museum 1968 as a flat printed piece of cloth, cut out, sewn and unfortunately filled with foam chips! 

To be continued...