Appalachia Games

Unique Baby Dolls

Appalachia homemade baby dolls

When I was a little girl my favorite thing to play with was my dolls. There was a doll on my Christmas wish list every year. I had dolls with hair that grew and ungrew; a doll that walked back to you; a doll that twirled like a ballerina; and all kinds of dolls that looked like newborns. I still have what had to be one of my first newborn dolls. I used to pretend it was baby Moses and I was the princess who found him floating in the river. The same doll played baby Jesus in more than a few church Christmas plays.

Chatter and Chitter didn’t care so much about baby dolls when they were little. They liked any kind of stuffed animal, but baby dolls not so much.

I’ve read stories about how back in the day all sorts of things were used as baby dolls. People used old rags to make dolls; of course there were corn-shuck dolls; and the Foxfire 6 Book tells of cucumbers, apples, and potatoes being used as dolls.

It’s Not My Mountain Anymore written by Barbara Taylor Woodall, has two stories about dolls. After reading them I knew I’d never forget either one. The first was about her little sister.

Barbara tells of how her sister loved to play with paper dolls she cut from old Sears books. She would pretend the dolls were attending church, playing out all the regular church routines like passing the offering plate, having an altar call, and singing in the choir. Barbara’s sister played her game of church dolls in front of the open fire place with small pieces of kindling for her church pews. After she was finished, her Mother would sweep the whole mess into the fire cleaning up the dolls and burning them up all at the same time. As her mother cleaned up the mess her sister would chastise the dolls and tell them they should have listened to what she told them during the service and they might not have been sent to the fiery furnace.

The second story was about Barbara’s brother drawing a beard on her only baby doll, Nancy Louise, cutting all the doll’s hair off and then throwing it out in the snow naked. As I true doll lover, when I read about Barbara’s brother I wanted to reach back through the years and pinch him good!

Bev, one of my best friends from childhood loved dolls as much as I did. One time she got a blond blue eyed doll as a gift we both took turns playing with the doll. It was so pretty. Then a miracle happened or at least we thought it was a miracle. Her Daddy seen a box full of toys sitting by the side of a dumpster. He looked in and found another blond headed blue eyed doll just like the one Bev already had. He brought it home to her and neither of us could believe our good fortune! The doll was just like new except it had paint or something spilled on its back side. We both decided the paint was like a birthmark and after we put clothes on the doll no one could see it no how. After I had Chatter and Chitter, I thought back to those twin baby dolls and the joy they brought me and Bev more than a few times.

As I said, Chatter and Chitter didn’t care much for dolls. However, reading about the potato and cucumber dolls did bring a memory back to the surfaces of my mind.

The girls and their cousin were about 6 or 7 years old. We were working outside in the spring of the year or maybe it was the fall who knows. I went to check on the girls and discovered all 3 of them had gotten a log from the woodpile they had them wrapped up with old rags pretending they were babies. I said “Why don’t you go in and get some real dolls to play with?” They all said “No they liked their log babies better.” They carried them things around all day long. I guess when it comes to playing imagination is the best toy there is.


*Sources Foxfire 6; It’s Not My Mountain Anymore written by Barbara Taylor Woodall


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  • Reply
    September 9, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Ember has had a fleeting interest in dolls over the years. She’s quite a tom-boy, but she loves babies. One of her favorite dolls was a winter squash with a drawn on face. She took that little starch everywhere! When it finally started to turn I was met with a good bit of opposition regarding tossing it! Parenting, it’s never boring.

  • Reply
    jo an wineske
    May 1, 2013 at 6:40 am

    war baby dolls made with a hankerchief, take 2 corners and twist a little and tie a soft knot, thats the hands and arms in the center of this cloth edge, that has the hands, wad a little of the cloth and stuff,with a dab of cotton any thing sorta soft, this is the head of the baby, tie a ribbon around the small stuffed wad and smooth the face a little … hope you undrstand, may have to try and get a picture

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    April 23, 2013 at 6:02 am

    My most exciting Christmas ever was when Santa brought me Patty Playpal. She had long brown hair and blue eyes. Her dress was red-checkered with a white pinafore and black patent shoes. I had pointed her out at Belk’s. I can still feel the excitement.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Ethel and B. Ruth-I still have Chrissy!!! She has long red hair and orange knee boots : ) You can push her belly button in and pull out her hair. Then to make it short-you wind it up with a knob on her back. I’ll have to see if I can take a photo of her.
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    April 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Jean-your hollyhock doll sounds beautiful : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    April 22, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Bradley-what a wonderful heartwarming story-and to know she still has the doll too! Granny made me a Raggedy Ann one time-I think I still have it too-but its really Raggedy after all these years. One time Paul threw her in the swimming pool (a little plastic one) to drown her!!!!! And Raggedy had to hang on the clothes line for days to dry out : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    April 22, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Here is a doll story of sorts. When my daughter was about five she saw a little Raggady Anne doll and wanted one. That thing was so small I wanted one bigger for her. Couldn’t find one.
    Years before when I was in high school, some of the girls showed me how to sew a little (a little). One day on my lunch break that I decided that I would go down to the cloth shop. Told one of the women what I wanted a pattern and material for a Raggady Anne Doll! She said I was in luck. She had a life size pattern. Hope you’re not in over your head she said with a funny look in her eye. I told her “Don’t worry none no!” I left and went to Momma’s house and hid the pattern and material.
    I worked on that thing for weeks in secret. Made the dress, little bloomers, and apron. My wife helped me sew the orange yarn onto the head. That was the hardest part.
    Finally it was done and my sister-in-law (that never brags on anything) said it was great! My daughter could wear Anne’s clothes and did many times. She still has that doll. Just shows what a proud Daddy can do when his little girl wants something.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Hi Tipper, memory time again,tkank you! G-ma fergie made me a sawdust doll,and we made dolls from her hollyhocks useing a bud for the head and flower for the body.God Bless.Jean

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    April 22, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    and Mr. Will U. Burnett…It is so funny that I also thought what could the twins have names those dolls relating to wood…
    How about HOLLY, Annie OAKLY,
    FIRgiven, BEECHIE-nut, WILLOW-weepy, MULBERRY-may…
    I have also had dolls made out of buttons, sticks, rag dolls etc.
    The story-book dolls were’nt the
    high-end expensive dolls…These were dolls that Mom and Dad saved grocery store receipts for. It took a long time to save $25 dollars worth of receipts back then to trade in for a doll. When I got Cinderella, I thought she was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. She was in a cellophane front box..wired in…After I looked at her and looked at her, I put her high on a shelf in my bedroom..It was a whatknot shelf built into government housing back in the day…
    When Mom or Dad went to the store I would stay in the truck and whatch for people coming out of the store and tossing their receipts on the ground and out I would jump to grab it up…Sometimes it was just a dime, quarter or fifty cent receipt as those were for quick purchases like cokes, crackers or candy bars, or moonpies and RC’s…LOL..but I knew they would add up..Sometimes an elderly person, would see me picking them up and give me their grocery receipt and say, “You savin’ for one of those dolls” I would answer “yes” with glee and soon I had regular receipt savers and givers…Even the barber shop guy that cut Dads hair saw me and contributed to the cause…LOL I would go home and count up my receipts and study over how I could wrangler up more. I was afraid they would quit the promotion before I could get the ones I wanted..I finally got the Irish Lass before she expired from the display…
    Thanks Tipper, I’m Gone or I might think of another doll story!

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo aka Granny Sal
    April 22, 2013 at 9:26 am

    When I was staying at my Aunt Mamie’s house out in Hayesville about70 years ago, an elderly neighbor Lady gave me a doll that she had when she was a child. She trusted that I was just the little girl who would treasure and keep her doll in good shape. I am sorry to say that her trust was misplaced.I do not remember what happened to the doll, but I do remember burying it, somewhere. I suppose it is resting in peace somewhere.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    April 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Probably most “mountain bred and grown” girls have remembrances of how we played with dolls in our Appalachian upbringing. I loved the rag dolls my mother made, as well as the corn-shuck dolls. They each had a name and place and were handled with tender loving care. And then I remember the year I asked Santa Claus to bring me a beautiful doll like the China doll pictured in the Sears and Roebuck Catalog. Times were hard, for it was still depression times, and my parents said they didn’t really know whether Santa could have enough dolls to go around or not. But they still allowed me to dream about that beautiful doll, and to shape my wobbly letters and write Santa a letter requesting it. I even gave him the page number where the doll was pictured in the Sears catalog. Then came that eventful Christmas morning. I was up probably at the crack of dawn to see if the doll had been left by Santa. There, under the tree we’d cut from our pasture and decorated with colored paper chains and strung-up popcorn was a box with this tag: “To Ethelene – from Santa Claus.” But lo! I recognized the inscription as my daddy’s writing. As I recall, I was only five, but I had already learned my letters, numbers, how to make them–and how to read (thanks to my mother and older sister and brother who had taught me!). Inside that box was that beautiful doll I had wanted so badly! But at the same time, I found out that my Daddy must be Santa Claus–else why was his writing on my doll box? Should I tell that I knew, at age 5, that great secret of how the magic of Christmas was not spread abroad by Santa–for hadn’t my Daddy and Mother really done this? If I told, it would ruin Christmas for my younger brother. And besides, if they knew that I knew, Santa might not come to see me, ever again! What a dilemma for Christmas morning and a five-year-old! What did I decide? To keep my little mouth shut and go along with telling everyone what Santa Claus brought me–the beautiful doll I named Lilly White because of her beautiful dress!! And for all the years after that, as long as I played with dolls, Lilly remained my favorite–having come to be my child at a hard time when the Depression made many presents impossible. I grew up in a way on that fifth Christmas of my life; but I learned something else very important, a lesson that has remained with me throughout these years since: Giving is motivated by love, and what can be more loving that parents who sacrifice to provide not only what their children need but sometimes that extra–what they want–that will bring happiness? Lilly White moved with me even after I was married and set up my own home. And when my own daughter, Cynthia, got big enough to play with dolls, she got Lilly White. And later, when her first of four daughters was born, that same doll, from ‘way back in the mid-30’s and from that Sears-Roebuck Catalog, provided many happy hours of playing for at least three generations of girls! That makes me wonder: Is Lilly White somewhere still, maybe with one of my great granddaughters? I’ll have to try to check on the whereabouts of dear Lilly White!

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    April 22, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    I always asked for a BB gun but got a doll every year!!! As I’ve grown older I’m reminded of those dolls whose eyes would close when you tilted them back because that happens to me now. Kick back that recliner and my eyes close, too!

  • Reply
    April 22, 2013 at 11:37 am

    My sister and I also cut paper dolls out of catalogs – sometimes we glued them onto cardboard cut from cereal boxes to make them last longer. Sometimes we glued them onto paper my grandmother provided and made up stories about them. We also cut out flowers from seed and plant catalogs and put together gardens and bouquets on those pages. Grandma had put them all together in a scrap book of sorts, but after she and Grandpa moved into my Granny’s house, I never saw that again. My sister doesn’t remember this – as I recall she was just learning how to cut things – so thanks for the opportunity to recall and to share.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2013 at 11:07 am

    I enjoyed all these stories about
    childhood dolls. My girls are 7
    years apart and they were very
    different. The oldest was gentle
    and loved her dolls with kindness.
    When the second one got here, no
    toy would last her very long. She
    was a live wire! Now that they have
    girls of their own, I’m so proud
    of their Christian leadership…Ken

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 22, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Loved dolls when I was younger. I will never forget the last doll I had before I was too old for them. It was a soft newborn baby, how I loved it. The neighbor boy pulled it’s head off playing. I was devastated.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    April 22, 2013 at 9:33 am

    I loved, loved this post today.
    The stories brought back many memories. Some long ago, some not so long ago.
    I am still looking for that perfect baby Crissy doll…The one that is big and sits and has all that beautiful hair growing.
    Iguess I don’t really want one, or I would have found it by now! LOL
    I kept all my dolls from my childhood for several years. My first doll that I remember was a rubber baby doll, that wet and had a little glass bottle tied on her wrist, molded hair, and a single little cloth diaper. Sometime during playing as a child, brothers, dogs, etc. had one little finger bit off..Yep, by then her bottle was lost, and she was peeing out her finger as well as the normal function, So, she was put in the back of the playhouse. I stored them in a box in the closet. Later after I graduated from high school and was working they were revived from storage.
    A man that worked for my Dad, had a house fire right at Christmas. Mom and I went to the basement closet and pulled down those dolls. I couldn’t part with my storybook type dolls, (that is another story) but chose the 1940s rubber baby, a big tall doll, a medium type Besty McCall type doll and a few other smaller ones. No storybooks would go. Since these girls were little, only the babytype dolls where chosen. We got busy and made clothes for the dolls. Cleaned them up, etc. Lost shoes were replaced with baby socks, bows covered matted hair, or cut out..Mom went thru some of the boys old toys and found some they didn’t want…This family had five kids…With a happy and can you understand a sad heart sent Dad off to find where they were staying and take the children and family somne money and toys.
    We worried that they wouldn’t like those used dolls, even if it was sort of replacement for their Christmas toys…
    I told Mother that my dolls never looked prettier all dressed up in their new clothes. It took me back to my youth making doll clothes with my Mother.
    In later years, I ran into the man that had worked for my Dad and lost everything in the fire..
    He hugged me and said he would never forget what Dad did..He was now a pastor and wasn’t doing much carpendar work…Right then that little tinge of sadness about giving away some of my favorite dolls left me forever..
    As a 72 year old, I now have more dolls than I can ever sell. Still have my storybook dolls with added company. “What goes around comes around” my husband said. I guess you were meant for her to choose you to have them. As one day a lady came to me and said she had theDionne Quintuplets and wanted me to have them, of course for a reasonable price…
    Yep, there are five of them…in full clothes, shoes, name badges, etc. and what is the best…they are small just like my storybook dolls that I kept and really loved the best…Is that not weird! The lady could have got lots of money for them from somebeody else..I still didn’t know her or why she chose me for them…ooooooohh.
    I know this is long, I’m sorry..
    Thanks Tipper for reminding me of this doll story…I think I’ll go to the cabinet and have a look at those old dolls!!

  • Reply
    Will U Burnett
    April 22, 2013 at 9:16 am

    I’ve spent too much time this morning trying to think of names for firewood babies. The only thing I could think of was Woody and Forrest. What did the girls name them?

  • Reply
    April 22, 2013 at 8:45 am

    Your parents must have been rich! I only dreamed of the dolls with hair that grew. Mom used to buy us one of those little 3-4 inch dolls with moving eyes that was so popular at the time. I remember getting paper dolls with a book of clothes that had to be cut out. The dresses were attached to the body with paper tabs that you folded in several places. We never got dolls big enough to carry like a baby. I had to learn about changing diapers when I got my real live doll.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2013 at 8:31 am

    I too, loved to play with baby dolls and then later on Barbies–I was a lucky little girl for my dad, a carpenter by trade made me a replica of our home—and I spent hour upon hour in the little house—in fact I still have that little house—now painted to look like a log cabin and there is a doll in there dressed in colonial garb cooking on a pot belly stove—so many memories are still being made in that little house for my children, my nieces and nephews and now my grandchildren get to enjoy it—the boys did not seem to mind so much since it looks like a log cabin they did not think it too “girly” and of course “granny” in the little house could cook for them–

  • Reply
    Gina S
    April 22, 2013 at 8:18 am

    My twin grands, being boys, never paid much attention to dolls. I remember though how fascinated they would be with each other. Reading your words caused me to wonder if your girls each had a real live baby doll in a twin.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Nothing is more precious than a child’s imagination. I remember, especially with my sister, her imaginary friend, Kiki. Then there were great memories of dolls when I was a little girl. My favorite was one my aunt hand crocheted a very long dress for, she had a flat hat type on her head and form fitting underwear. This doll sat on my bed for more than years I can remember. The doll is now sixty-four years old and I still have it. It sits proudly on top of a book case to be forever cherished.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 22, 2013 at 7:48 am

    Imagination is a very fine toy in adult life too!
    I had a few dolls but I was always more interested in animals like cats and big cats, also I liked cowboys and Indians, horses, whips and guns. Also rocks!

  • Reply
    April 22, 2013 at 7:29 am

    I never did like dolls, the blank stares bothered me. I was once captivated by the doll you mentioned whose hair grew, I think her name was Chrissy. I got one but don’t remember playing with her much.

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