How to Make Japanese Geisha Dolls

By Melissa J. Bell
Traditional geisha doll in full costume.
Traditional geisha doll in full costume.

Doll making is a versatile art that encompasses many different skill sets. Dolls can be created out of a variety of materials, including plastic, vinyl, metal, wood, cloth and even clay. Dolls are also created for a variety of purposes, such as display figurines, toys and sculpture. One popular type of doll that can be used for any of these purposes is the character doll, depicts a particular person or occupation. A geisha doll, for example, portrays the classic female Japanese entertainer in her traditional costume.

Geisha in Furisode-style Kimono

Measure the distance between the doll's shoulders, divide it in half, and add 1/2 inch; this will be the body width for the kimono. Also measure the distance between the doll's shoulders and feet and double this measurement to determine the length of the kimono.

Cut two rectangles from the kimono fabric using the measurements from Step 1. Mark the halfway point on the length of the rectangles. These will be the body pieces of the outer kimono.

Sandwich the body pieces together, right sides touching. Pin the pieces together along one long edge, stopping 1/4 inch before the halfway mark. Sew 1/4 inch away from the edges on the pinned area. Iron the seam allowance open.

Fold the body piece in half at the halfway mark; the open side is the front side. Cut the top of the opening into a small curve so that it fits the doll's neck.

Cut a rectangle that is 1 inch wide and twice as long as the distance between the doll's neck and hip. This will be the kimono's collar.

Fold the collar in half along the width and iron it flat. Pin the long, raw edges of the collar to the neckline of the body, matching centers. Sew the collar to the body, 1/4 inch away from the edges. Zigzag stitch the raw ends of the collar and sew the remaining front edges under 1/4 inch.

Measure the circumference of the doll's upper arm and divide it in half, then add 1/4 inch. Pin the side edges of the body together, stopping this distance from the top. Sew the sides together, 1/4 inch away from the edges.

Fold up the bottom edge of the body 1/4 inch and sew it in place.

Measure the distance between the doll's shoulder and wrist, and add 1/2 inch. This will be the length of the sleeves. Measure the distance between the doll's shoulder and knees, and double it. This will be the width of the sleeves.

Cut two rectangles using the measurements from Step 4. Mark the halfway point on the width of the rectangles. These will be the sleeve pieces of the outer kimono.

Fold the sleeve pieces in half along the halfway point. Sew them together along the raw edges, leaving gaps at the top that match the shoulder gaps on the body piece. Turn the sleeves right side out.

Hand stitch the sleeves to the shoulders of the body. Turn the wrist edges under and hand stitch them.

Geisha Accessories

Sew a second kimono in a contrasting fabric, this time with no sleeves or with small, fitted sleeves. Put this inner kimono on the doll body, and tie a piece of string around the waist to hold it in place. Put the outer kimono over the inner kimono, also tying it in place with a piece of string. Arrange the outer kimono so that the inner collar shows.

Cut a rectangular piece of your obi fabric that is three times as long as your doll's waist circumference, and as wide as the distance between the doll's bust and hip. Serge or zigzag stitch the edges.

Tie the obi onto the doll, using the obi-tying guide in the Resources section.

Cut a piece of ribbon that is slightly shorter than the obi to use as an obiage, which will be tied around the obi. Wrap the ribbon around the bow part of the obi, then tuck the ends into the front of the obi, at the top.

Tie another piece of string around the obi and obiage to hold them in place. Make a bow at the front.

Geisha Makeup and Hair

Draw basic features on your cloth doll's face using light pencil marks. Mark the placement of the eyes, nose, eyebrows and mouth.

Outline the facial features with a brown colored pencil, and fill in the eyes and eyebrows with a black gel pen. Add red colored pencil to the lips.

Cut 7-inch long strips of black yarn and lay them side by side on top of a piece of tissue paper. Fold the tissue paper over the ends of the yarn and sew a line of machine stitching along this fold. This will create a "weft" of attached hair pieces.

Create several hair wefts. Lay the wefts over your doll's head and handstitch them to the head, covering all visible scalp.

Pull the hair into the desired geisha hairstyle, using the guide in the Resources section.

Tip

If you would like your geisha doll to be highly accurate, make a distinction between "maiko" and "geiko" geisha, who wear slightly different clothing and makeup styles. You can also add hair ornaments to your geisha, which are often small bundles of flowers, bows and beads.

About the Author

A writer with a Bachelor of Science in English and secondary education, but also an interest in all things beautiful, Melissa J. Bell has handed out beauty and fashion advice since she could talk -- and for the last six years, write for online publications like Daily Glow and SheBudgets.