Donna enjoys using her arts background to create fun craft projects with a special focus on using repurposed or handy household materials.
DIY Russian Doll Craft
I've always loved Matryoshka dolls, sometimes referred to as Russian nesting dolls. I love the bright colors and the way the figures fit into one another. I've never owned a set, but I've always wanted one.
When I lived in Ann Arbor, there was a gift shop with a front window full of different designs of Matryoshka dolls. I loved looking in the store and seeing all the different decorations and styles of the dolls. I always planned to buy my own set, but could never decide which dolls to get!
This easy tutorial shows you how to create your own Matryoshka style dolls to using polymer clay and pull tabs from any can in your recycling bin. Your completed and decorated dolls can then be used as charms for a necklace or bracelet, as a colorful pin or brooch, as a key chain, or as a fun and cheerful figurine.
There are a lot of fancy tools you can buy to use with polymer clay. I prefer to keep my tools simple so that anyone can follow my tutorials. You may find other items around your home that you can use for working with polymer clay, but here are the tools I used:
- Several colors of Sculpey brand polymer clay: I prefer to use Sculpey for this project because it is soft and easy to model. I used a few colors to make my dolls, but you can blend colors of clay as you do paint colors, so you don't need to buy a lot of colors of clay to get started.
- A bunch of pull tabs from recycled cans: Pull tabs actually come in a number of sizes and styles. You can use almost any that you have handy, just make sure they are clean and the top part that connects to the can is removed. I found that pull tabs from soup cans worked the best, because I liked the round hole that you put your finger through to open the can. Pull tabs from soda cans tend to be rather small and it's hard to fit much detail in the features of your doll.
- X-acto knife or pen knife for cutting your clay
- Rolling pin* or dowel to use as a rolling pin
- Dull pencil or ballpoint pen to draw in details
- Stamps, buttons, or other items to stamp into your clay for decoration
*Important Note: Do not use items or tools that you will later use to eat or prepare food with when working with polymer clay.
I am not an expert on Matryoshka dolls. In making my Matryoshka-inspired polymer clay figures, I focused on the shape of the traditional doll, the flowered decoration, and the similar features of all the dolls within a set. These are the details I wanted to capture in my polymer clay dolls. To begin making my Matryoshka style dolls:
Step 1. Choose a color of polymer clay to use as your background color. Take about half of a block of this color, and knead it in your fingers until it is soft.
Step 2. Roll your softened clay into a pancake that is about 1/8 of an inch thick and at least 1 inch taller and 1 inch wider than your pull tab.
Step 3. When your clay is flat and smooth, press your pull tab into the middle of the clay so that it is slightly embedded into the clay.
Step 4. Use your X-acto knife or pen knife to cut the clay around your pull tab. Leave a border around your pull tab that is about an 1/8th of an inch wide and mimics the shape of a Matryoshka doll. You may want to make your border slightly wider on the bottom to give your doll a rounded shape.
You may also want to make your border a little wider at the top for space to put a hole if you choose to use your dolls as charms or a key chain.
Step 5. (Optional) You can use stamps, interesting buttons, or the end of a pen to stamp a decoration around the border of your doll.
Step 6. If you want to use your doll as a jewelry charm or key chain, take the end of a ballpoint pen or some other item and punch a hole in the top center of the border of your doll.
Step 7. Roll a small ball of clay to use as the face of your doll. You can use whatever color you choose. The size of this ball will depend on the size of the smaller opening in your pull tab.
Step 8. Place this small ball into the smaller opening of your pull tab and push it in so it fills the hole completely, overlapping the opening a little. You can make the face of your doll rounded or flat as you choose depending on how you model this ball of clay.
Step 9. Then make a larger ball of colored clay. This will serve as the body of your doll. You may wish to choose a color that coordinates with the border color of your doll.
Step 10. Push this larger ball into the remaining opening until it is filled completely and overlapping the edges slightly. Again, you can decide whether you want this space to remain rounded or if you want to flatten the body.
Flower Decorations (Optional)
There are a few easy ways to create flower decorations for your Matryoshka dolls.
Before you begin adding decoration to your dolls, you may want to stamp the body with more texture. You can use stamps, interesting buttons, or other household items to do this. Look at the base of your pens and markers to see if they can be used as stamps for this project.
How to Make Flower Petals in Polymer Clay
- To make a petal-type flower, roll a small oval of clay and place it on your doll's body. Then take your X-acto knife or a stiff piece of paper and press a seam going down the length of your flower petal.
- Continue to make a group of four or five of these petals, positioned in a circle.
- Roll a small ball of clay in a complementary color and push it gently into the center of your petals.
How to Make Round Flower Buds in Polymer Clay
Another type of flower to use to decorate your doll is a simple round flower.
- Make a small ball of clay and place it on your doll's body where you wish to put your flower. Press it just slightly into your clay body.
- Take your X-acto knife or stiff paper and make two or three crossing line indentations across your ball as if you were cutting a pizza.
- You can add some petal flowers from above to finish your round flower.
How to Make a Stamped Flower in Polymer Clay
You can also use stamps to decorate your flowers.
- Make 5 or 6 small balls of clay and place them in a circle on your doll's body.
- Roll another small ball of clay and place it in the center of your circle of petals. This will be the center of your flower.
- Use a small button or the end of a pen or marker to stamp into the center of your flower to add some detail. Most fine tip or retractable Sharpies have an interesting base that is great for stamping.
Hair and Facial Features
The next step in the process is to make the hair and facial features for your doll. You can do this polymer clay, or you can do this with color pencils or permanent markers. First I'll describe the clay option.
- As I said before, I wanted all my dolls to look alike. To make straight pullback hair, I made two small ovals of yellow clay and gently pushed them into the top forehead area in my doll. Then I used my penknife to make an indentation for the part in the hair.
- To make curly hair, you can make a longer snake of clay, place it around your doll's head in the position you choose, then use the point of a dull pencil to repeatedly push into the clay and create texture. You can also use an old toothbrush to create hair texture.
To make the features on your doll's face, you may want to try a few different samples before starting your finished facial features.
Some people would want their doll's face to be created completely from polymer clay. This is tricky because you are working in a small area, but doable if you are careful and patient.
- First, before you bake your Matryoshka doll, roll out two very small balls of clay for the eyes. You can use tweezers to position and place these eyes on your doll's face.
- Then roll a short snake of clay for the mouth. I bent this into a slight smile, and put it in position on my doll's face. I then took the end of a pen cap and pushed it into the mouth to make a lip separation and smile detail.
- When your doll is completely finished, including the body, bake according to the clay directions.
Facial Features: Color Pencil Options
You can also use color pencils to draw in the features and details you want on your doll face after your doll has been baked and has cooled. This takes a bit of a steady hand and you may want to practice a bit on a few sample faces. But your doll's face only needs the basic facial features to be pretty and recognizable.
Facial Features: Permanent Marker Option
You can also use permanent marker to create your doll's features after it has been baked and cooled. I used a couple of fine tip Sharpie markers.
- First, before my doll was baked, I used a dull pencil to make a little indentation where the eyes would go. Then after baking and cooling my clay, I just drew a small dot in each of the eyes.
- Then I carefully drew on the smile, working from the center out in each direction.
Facial Features: Technique Combo Option
I used a combination of techniques and materials to make the faces on my final clay dolls.
- After my dolls had been baked and cooled, I used a pink color pencil to make a little spot on each cheek to give my doll a rosy complexion.
- Next, I used the fine tip Sharpie to make two dots for her eyes.
- Then I used a red fine tip Sharpie to draw in her smile.
Final Step: Finish and Bake Your Matryoshka Style Dolls
First, if you are going to use your Matryoshka dolls as jewelry charms, a key chain, or a figurine, you may want to make your doll two-sided. To create a doll to cover the back of your charm:
- Make a second doll by following the directions above. Make and decorate the face and body of your doll, but do not add a border color to the background. Just fill in the two openings of your pull tab as directed.
- Bake this second figure along with your first doll according to your clay's directions.
- When both your dolls are baked and cooled, glue your doll without the border to the backside of one of your other finished dolls. I used super glue for this, but you can use most craft glues. Let your two-sided doll dry completely.
Necklaces, Charm Bracelets, Key Chain, and Brooches
Now that you've made your dolls, what can we do with them? A lot, it turns out! You can turn them into lovely necklaces, charm bracelets, key chains, pins, and brooches.
Make a Necklace or Charm Bracelet:
- Cut some open link chain to the length you want for your necklace or charm bracelet. Be sure to attach a clasp to both ends of your chain.
- Attach one or more of your Matryoshka style dolls with a jump ring to your chain. The jump ring can be attached through the hole at the top of your charm. You can buy a package of jump rings at most craft and jewelry supply stores.
- If you are making a bracelet, you may want to use two-sided dolls as these charms will be seen from both sides on your bracelet.
Make a Key Chain:
Attach your two-sided Matryoshka doll to a purchased key ring using a jump ring.
Make a Pin or Brooch:
It is best to use a Matryoshka style polymer clay doll without a hole at the top when making a pin or brooch.
- Using a one-sided doll, glue a purchased pin back onto the back side of your doll. You can use most craft glues to adhere your pin to your doll. You can buy pin backs at any craft or jewelry supply stores.
- It is best to position your pin back so that the clasp end is at the base (bottom) of your doll. This will make it easier to close and latch.
© 2015 Donna Herron
Donna Herron (author) from USA on September 14, 2016:
Hi Ellen - So glad that you enjoyed this tutorial and found it helpful. Good luck with your students! I hope they enjoy making their dolls with polymer clay. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
Ellen on September 13, 2016:
Thank you for such an easy tutorial to follow. This has been a great tool for teaching adults with special needs to love working with polymer clay.
Donna Herron (author) from USA on April 04, 2016:
Hi ChitrangadaSharan - Thanks so much! I'm so glad you like these little polymer clay dolls!
Donna Herron (author) from USA on April 04, 2016:
Hi RTalloni - Thanks so much! As always, I appreciate your comments and support!
Donna Herron (author) from USA on April 04, 2016:
Hi Kristen - I love Matryoshka dolls and I'm happy to introduce them to you. Thanks so much for your comments and kind words!
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 03, 2016:
Congratulations for the HOTD!
What a cute and creative idea and your presentation is so perfect.
Great project for kids during holidays.
Thanks for sharing!
RTalloni on April 03, 2016:
A cute idea, especially for my little granddaughters. Congrats on your award for this post!
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on April 03, 2016:
Donna, congrats on HOTD! These dolls are so cute and perfect to have as keychain charms. It never heard of them before. But it's so easy to do and creative to make for your decorative piece. You keep on rocking out these excellent craft hubs to give you another accolade! Way to go!
Donna Herron (author) from USA on April 03, 2016:
Hi Heidi! Thanks for visiting again with your comments and congratulations. As always, I appreciate your support! Hope you are enjoying the rest of your weekend!
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on April 03, 2016:
You are cranking out the hits! Loved this darling project when you first published it a while back. Congrats on Hub of the Day! Always well deserved. Have a great week ahead!
Donna Herron (author) from USA on October 11, 2015:
Thanks! So glad you like these little dolls. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
Marian Cates from Stevenson, WA on October 10, 2015:
Great how-to article! And the photos are excellent, showing the relative size of the pieces.
Donna Herron (author) from USA on September 28, 2015:
Hi Glimmer Twin Fan - There are so many things you can do and make with polymer clay. I'm sure you could find lots of projects that would inspire your daughter on Pinterest. With the right project, I think she might really enjoy playing around with some clay. I really had fun making these dolls and love the color and charm they bring to this necklace and pin. Thanks so much for your comments! I appreciate it!!
Claudia Mitchell on September 28, 2015:
Ha - What a great way to use pull tabs. You are so creative and I'm loving the clay projects. I bought some for my daughter but she's not as into it as I thought she would be. She started out really into it, but got tired of it. Maybe if she sees some more specific project ideas like this she will be!
Donna Herron (author) from USA on September 18, 2015:
Thanks, Heidi! So glad you like them. I appreciate your support and share. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 17, 2015:
Another one of your cute tutorials I've missed in the past few days! Would've never thought of using pop-tabs for the base. Very creative as usual. Sharing here on HP!