Maren has taught pre-school through college. She loves the wonder of learning.
Low Cost Activity for Children's Summer Fun
If you are the parent or caregiver of a child from preschool through middle school age, you probably have many of the supplies on hand to make corn husk dolls. All you will need to procure is corn on the cob! (Please, buy it with the husks: do not husk it at the market.)
I am giving my suggestions, modifications, and experiences based on the excellent book Native American Gardening: Stories, Projects and Recipes for Families by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac. It is a fantastic book.
Start With the Corn
Carefully peel the husks off the cob, trying hard to keep them intact. A trick I learned from a friend is to cut across the bottom with a paring knife before peeling. This helps immensely. Save these husk leaves and also save all the corn silk for hair.
I have only made the dolls after an overnight of drying. If you make them immediately upon husking, I have no idea how this will work. If you try it, please write a comment to let me know.
Other Supplies Needed
Most of us have these in our home:
- String (or twine or embroidery floss or dental floss)
From the photographs, you may already be wondering why are some husks are flat and some are curly? I think the big factor is humidity.
When I make corn husk dolls inside an air-conditioned house, the husks stay flatter.
When I make them in non-air-conditioned places and try to keep them flat by putting a plate over them, they get mildewy. That is not good. Therefore, I leave them alone and they curl a little. This could actually be good for frills on a skirt, but you will hope for some relatively straight pieces.
Trim the pointed ends from the husks with your scissors. Also, trim the wider ends to be straight across.
Begin Building the Body
Gather enough husks to be the main trunk and lower half of the doll's body. I use about six leaves.
Even up the leaves on one end and tie them together with string near that end.
Head and Body
Invert and Bend to Make the Head
Have another length of string cut about eight inches long and ready to use. Now you will grasp the tied end—called the bulb—and hold it with the untied leaves pointing up. You will be pulling each leave down over the first string and hold it until all leaves are down and surrounding the bulb as if it was a T-shirt turned inside out.
Another way to explain the next step is with excerpts from page 103 of Traditional Native Gardening.
"...the little bulb of husks will become the inside of the head.
"Turn the whole bundle over. Now invert the long pieces of husk down and bend them over the bulb...Gather these husks in tightly under the bulb and tie them off to form the neck."
This works beautifully and I find that using string enables one to really make a firm connection. That said, I wish I could be with native children to see their tips for securing ties with thin strips of husk.
Making the Head of the Corn Husk Doll
To make the arms, take a few of the thinner husks and roll them together in a straight line to make the doll's two arms fully extended.
Tie the ends to make wrists and trim the edges to even out the hands.
Body and Arms of Cornhusk Doll
Lift up half of the "body husks" below the head string.
Place the arms piece inside the two halves, perpendicularly across and centered.
Then, gently allow the top half to settle back down over the arms piece.
Tie the body husks with another piece of string underneath the arms. This will secure them and create the waist of the doll.
Waist Is Secured
Finishing a Woman's Skirt
If you desire extra length or thickness in the skirt (or the curled husk ornamentation), add more husks around the waist and tie in place.
Furthermore, if you wish, a wide husk waistband can be added over the top of the skirt and tied or glued in place.
Almost Finished Corn Husk Doll
Making a Man Corn Husk Doll
All my photos are of female dolls. If you want to make a boy or man, now is the time to make legs instead of a skirt.
Separate the husks hanging below the waist into a left bunch and a right bunch. If you need to use scissors or a knife to make an even division, use it.
In the traditional method, thin strips of husks are wrapped around each leg like the diagonal stripes of a candy cane or a barber's pole. The bottoms are then tied securely and ends trimmed to have evenly-length feet. I would again prefer to use string over using husk strips.
Coiffeur and Face
Finally, we turn to the glue and the corn silk. Place a generous number of gobs of glue on top of the head and pat the dried corn silk in place. My kindergarten helper wanted to make Rapunzel and corn silk is wonderful for that sort of long, flowing hair.
The traditional native American method is to have no facial features. Certainly imagination can fill in whatever one wants to see. I am familiar with faceless dolls from our local Amish children, so this does not bother me. However, my helper felt the need to use a fine-tip marker to draw eyes and a mouth. It worked well on the dried husks.
Attaching Corn Silk Hair
Durability for Play
My helper is a gentle child who lives in a central air-conditioned house. Her dolls (oh yes, we had to make several once she made her first one) stood up well to her playing.
How will your dolls do? I cannot predict. I also wonder about the little ones living a hundred years ago who made dolls and practically lived outdoors. Please let me know what your family's experiences are.
PS - When you are done with this doll, it can go into the compost pile. What a bonus!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Maren Elizabeth Morgan
mel-kav on July 16, 2018:
This is a really cool idea. It reminds me of an Indian type doll I had as a child.
Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on August 03, 2013:
Toytasting - thanks. I did them with my niece and she thoroughly enjoyed it.
Toy Tasting from Mumbai on August 03, 2013:
This is so creative, will try them out with my niece
Thanks for sharing! :)
Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on August 18, 2012:
Thanks, marcoujor. It is a fun activity for adults and kids, both.
Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on August 16, 2012:
It was wonderful being referred to this charmingly crafty article through moonlake's delicious article on corn on the cob... so today was indeed a double bonus for me.
Thank you for this useful information, which I will enjoy trying with the little ones in my family. Voted UP and UABI.
Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on September 13, 2011:
Aaah, the simple pleasures. There is a lot of pride in creating something unique. Thanks for your comment.
jean2011 from Canada on September 13, 2011:
I remember doing this when I was growing up as a kid. It's a very creative, and cheap way to get a doll, and to learn how to sew. I have voted this hub interesting. Thank you for sharing.
Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on September 09, 2011:
Thanks, peacelovejoycoming. It is kind of easy, once you know what you are doing, isn't it?
peecelovejoycoming on September 09, 2011:
this is a really good easy corn husk doll.
Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on July 14, 2011:
Or, even make one for your home décor now. I agree about the memories - I think it is the doing and the togetherness factor as much as anything. thanks for writing, Avamum.
Sarita Harbour from Yellowknife, Canada on July 13, 2011:
This is very cool. What an original idea for a hub! Isn't it true that some of the best memories we can make with our kids come from some of the least expensive and non-techno-gadget-like activities? I can't wait to try making a corn husk doll with my littlest girl....in a couple of years or so! Nice photos as well.
Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on July 13, 2011:
Thanks, kat11. It really is rather easy. Maybe you can post a photo if you and yours make some?
kat11 from Illinois on July 13, 2011:
In the Midwest we have a lot of festivals that we took our children to during the summer months. I can remember going to one where my daughter was intrigued by the Native American's making corn husk dolls. This article was awesome and the steps of making the corn husk doll with photos was great.
Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on July 13, 2011:
Hey sp smartee - I agree. It would be a good way to occupy the kids during a vacation, at day care or camp, or vbs.
sp smartee on July 12, 2011:
Amazing art ..useful for kids specially in summer ..i think it may be great fun and enjoyment for kids ,,,thanks..
Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on July 10, 2011:
Hi PrairiePrincess! Once I found the instructions in the gardening book, I HAD to give it a try. Since I learn best with visual aids, I tried to capture every step on camera. I hope you can share this skill with your mom.
Sharilee Swaity from Canada on July 10, 2011:
Maren, this hub caught my eye because a neighbour bought some corn husk dolls when my sister and I were children, and my Mom had always been curious about how they are made. Now you have answered it! Such sweet dolls. Thank you!