The culture and history of man has often been told most eloquently by the rag dolls that were created. African American rag dolls have been represented by simple playthings made from old rags to the Golliwog, a commercially manufactured rag doll designed to represent the black minstrels found travelling throughout the South. Today's African American rag doll can be a simple rag doll with embroidery knots for a hair or an elaborately costumed artist's doll with a unique mohair or karakul wig. Creating a rag doll is an opportunity to express the doll's personality for the world to enjoy.
Recreate the look of old-time simplicity by using one simple embroidery stitch, the French knot, to create the hair for a folk-art type African American rag doll. Practice making French knots on a piece of scrap fabric before attempting them on your rag doll.
Thread a needle with an approximately 18-inch piece of black embroidery floss and knot the end of the thread. Bring the needle to the front of a piece of scrap fabric.
Grasp the thread firmly with your left index finger and thumb. Hold it away from the fabric. Wrap the thread around the needle with your left hand while the point of the needle faces away from the fabric. Wrap it twice around the needle to make a small knot and three times around to make a larger knot.
Continue to hold the thread tightly as you place the tip of the needle close to the hole that it came out from. Push the needle to the back of the fabric while continuing to hold the thread taunt.
Do not place the tip of the needle in the same hole as it will pull the French knot to the back of the fabric. Do not let loose of the thread until all the thread has been passed to the back of the fabric or else your French knot will be uneven and look sloppy.
Create a more fanciful hair style for your African American rag doll by making a series of braids that can be attached anywhere on the doll's head. Braid either yarn or embroidery floss into a number of simple braids. Tie off the braids with either small strips of colourful fabric or little barrettes. Pin the braids in place all about the head with straight pins to be sure that the hairstyle appears pleasing. Sew each braid in place using a needle and thread. Remove the straight pins.
Add some real curl to your African American rag doll by cutting a simple wig from karakul, which is baby lamb skin. It is very tightly curled and can be applied directly to the rag doll's head with craft glue. Place the piece of karakul on the doll's head and adjust to fit. Allow the glue to dry completely.
Achieve a straight hair look by using a piece of mohair pelt. This is long, silky hair from an angora goat. It can be purchased as shanks of hair or as a pelt, but the pelt would be easier to manage on a rag doll since there would be no need to construct a wig cap. Cut individual pieces to achieve a layered look and glue in place.
If confused about how you would like your doll to look, check out doll books in your local library. A visit to a museum that contains African American rag dolls in their collection will also inspire your work.