How to Make a Pioneer Handkerchief Doll

Handkerchief dolls were traditionally made of materials already on hand. They were also known as “prayer dolls” because, if they were dropped during a church service, they were quiet and didn’t disturb nearby worshippers.

Make a Basic Doll

Things You'll Need

  • Man’s handkerchief

  • Ruler or tape measure

  • Embroidery floss: pink and blue

  • Embroidery needle

  • Polyester stuffing or cotton balls

  • Ribbon (optional)

  • Lace scrap


  • You can substitute a 12-by-12-inch hemmed fabric square for the handkerchief.

Find the center of one edge of the handkerchief. Measure down 3 1/2 inches and mark the spot.

Embroider a pink French knot at the mark for the doll’s nose. About 1/2 inch above the nose, make two blue French knots, about an inch apart, for the eyes. You may also make closed eyes with 1 or 2 small straight embroidery stitches -- or leave the face blank.

Make the doll’s hands.

  • Draw up one side of the handkerchief.
  • Tie a doubled thread about 1 inch from the corner or tie a knot there. If you are in a hurry, use small rubber bands.
  • Repeat on the opposite corner of the same top edge.

Place an egg-sized ball of stuffing or cotton balls on the back of the handkerchief, directly under the embroidered face.

Wrap the top edge around the stuffing to cover it completely. Tie an overhand knot with doubled thread around the gathered handkerchief, just under the stuffing, to form the neck.

Fluff the arms out to the hands. If you want the doll to have a waist, tie another thread just below the arms.

Stitch or glue a row of lace to the back of the head to make a bonnet. Make your doll a little fancier by stitching or gluing two rows of lace to the bottom hem of the dress.

Dress the Doll

Pioneer dolls' outfits were often made from Mama’s leftover quilt scraps. Dress up your doll with a simple skirt for her special events.

Things You'll Need

  • Calico scrap

  • Scissors or pinking shears

  • Needle and thread

  • Ribbon scrap

Cut a 6-by -2-inch square of calico. If you want a finished look to the skirt, use pinking shears or clean-finish one long edge.

Gather one long edge with a basting stitch.

Place the gathered skirt at the doll’s waist and wrap the top corners to the back of the doll.

Baste the top corners to one another and to the doll’s waist.

Bring the bottom corners together and stitch them to each other. Cut away any of the handkerchief that peeks below the skirt.

Tie a piece of ribbon over the top edge of the skirt.


  • Trade your doll’s bonnet for a scarf by cutting a small square of calico, folding it into a triangle and tying it around the head.


About the Author

Pamela Martin has been writing since 1979. She has written newsletter articles and curricula-related materials. She also writes about teaching and crafts. Martin was an American Society of Newspaper Editors High School Journalism Fellow. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Teaching in elementary education from Sam Houston State University and a Master of Arts in curriculum/instruction from the University of Missouri.