Christmas Craft - Christmas Dolls

Most Victorian homes had the familiar narrow boxes containing wax tapers; these empty little cases were often recycled to make pretty and ingenious homemade toys. In 1891, Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine provided directions for converting these type of boxes into homemade toys for Christmas. Little costume figures that could hold a selection of special sweets were easily made from long match-boxes (those six and one-quarter inches long by one and one-half inches wide). This novel form of doll dressing was a craft that could be readily done by children. Odd scraps of various fabrics and trimmings were suggested for the dresses, and the other materials required were some die-cut (scraps) heads in relief, white cardboard, a bottle of liquid glue, some white cotton wadding, and a few beads, gems, and sequins. All these materials are easily obtainable today to make a truly old-fashioned Christmas toy.



Old-Fashioned Christmas Santa

A Santa or Father Christmas is, perhaps, the simplest of the little figures. For this, take one of the long match-boxes, and cover it tightly with red flannel or silk, leaving one end uncovered so that the box will open. The flannel, or silks, should be cut about one and one-half inches longer than the box, joined up the front, and turned over neatly at the top. A strip of cotton wadding, three-quarters of an inch wide, should be stitched around the bottom of the box, also up the front, hiding the joint. Cardboard arms are then added; these are sewn into the sleeves and fastened securely to the sides of the match-box a little over an inch from the top. Die-cut (scrap) heads of Santa can be bought in sheets; one of these should be gummed onto a circle of cotton wadding, about two inches in diameter, and fastened to the box in such a way that it projects about half an inch above the top. A hood about three inches  deep, trimmed with cotton wadding, will hide all the back of the head, and can be tied in front with a bow of narrow white ribbon. Strips of wadding form the cuffs. The hands should be painted; in one of them might be placed a small spray, or fir, or artificial holly. These figures, when filled with candy, are particularly suitable for the Christmas tree.


Victorian Christmas Craft - Nurse Doll

Godey’s representation of an old-fashioned village schoolmistress, with the head of a cat or a sheep on her shoulders, in place of a human one, is very comical. She should be dressed in some woolen material of a dark shade; a strip of this, one and one-half inches wide, is stitched firmly round the box, about an inch from the top, forming the dress bodice. The full skirt, which should hang a little below the bottom of the box, must be gathered onto this. A scrap of gray print fabric forms a suitable apron; and a bit of red flannel, pinked out round the edge makes the shawl. The sleeves should have deep lace cuffs. It is best to gum the head onto a bit of cardboard to strengthen it. It must project an inch or more beyond the top of the box, and the space at the back filled in with cotton wool. A large frilled white muslin cap, tied with narrow ribbons, completes the costume of this comical old woman. She should hold a tiny book in a stiff paper cover in one hand, and a diminutive birch-rod, formed of slender twigs, in the other.


Christmas Doll Craft

Black Nurse with Twin Babies

[This primary historical image described and displayed in this article may contain materials offensive to some readers.]

The black nurse’s dress is made in precisely the same manner as that of the schoolmistress described above, only in more colorful material. Her apron should be large, and provided with a bib. She should also have a bright red or blue shawl and lace collars and cuffs, the former fastened by a brilliant imitation gem, serving as a brooch. A suitable black doll’s head is needed for this figure. One ear is adorned with tiny gold sequins, and her black hair is crowned by a colorful turban made from a red and yellow cotton handkerchiefs. It should be arranged as naturally as possible to cover the ears and meet the collar, the back being stuffed with cotton wool. It can be still further ornamented by a bright bow of ribbon at the top. The bodies of the twin infants are formed of tiny strips of cotton wool, about two inches long; a bit of thread is fastened round the necks to form heads, and another, about half an inch lower down, for the waists. Scrap infants' heads are gummed on. Cambric skirts, about three and one-half inches long, are next added. These can be fancifully trimmed with lace or embroidery. No bodices or sleeves are required, as the upper parts are entirely hidden by little pinked-out head flannels, fastened by bows of pale pink or blue China ribbon. One of these babes is stitched into each of the nurse's arms. Hands must be carefully cut out of some stiff black material and gummed into the nurse's sleeves. These show out well on the pure white robes of the infants.


Christmas Craft: Victorian Lady

A lady in full ball costume and a stylish opera cloak is easy to make and needs no description.

Very quaint little dolls in various national costumes can be constructed: A Spanish Signora with black lace mantilla and a rose at one ear; a Dutch frau with a wonderful headdress and blinkers; a Welsh woman in the well known national costume; or an Eastern woman with flowing robes, the head and face shrouded in a thick veil, leaving only a glimpse of bright dark eyes. It would be impossible to enumerate all the various figures that can be successfully created from the small empty match-boxes; anyone with a little ingenuity and skill will be able to invent and carry out endless designs.


Christmas Craft: Nun

The figure of a nun in the dress of a Sister of Nazareth is quite charming. She wears a plain dress of black alpaca, and over it a circular cloak, made very full, and bound with dark blue ribbon. Her fair, smiling face is framed in stiff white calico, and her head is enveloped in a large loose hood of black alpaca bound with blue. A tiny rosary hanging from the waist in front of the dress completes the costume.


Christmas Craft: Italian Peasant Woman

An Italian peasant woman is particularly successful doll. The costume is as follows: Skirt of dark blue, trimmed with a band of narrow black velvet, partially covered by a long straight apron in scarlet and yellow; full bodice and sleeves of white fancy muslin; over it black velvet stays, laced with gold silk; a very pretty head with dark hair and eyes makes a typical Italian; earrings are added of gold sequins, and a necklace of bright beads; she wears the picturesque headdress of the Roman peasant made of white muslin, folded flat on the top of the head, and hanging down behind, secured on each side by small fancy pins. Owing to the peculiar shape of the headdress, it is impossible to entirely hide the top of the box, so it must be first covered neatly with black paper to form a background for the face. She can carry a tambourine, made out of the lid of a good sized pillbox, or she may be appropriately accompanied by an old-fashioned hurdy-gurdy and monkey.

The hurdy-gurdy is rather difficult to make, but will well repay the time and trouble spent over it. It is composed of a small flat match-box, three and one-half inches by one and one-half inches, fixed into a small box about one and one-half inches square. A bit of cardboard is cut the size of the front of the flat box and covered with green silk, put on very full and gathered in the center under an ornamental star or spangle. This is firmly glued to the box and framed neatly in black paper. The whole of the rest of the hurdy-gurdy is covered with black paper, afterwards painted with two coats of ebony varnish stain. A gilded handle at one side must not be forgotten, and a leg should be glued on, the end inserted in a small flat piece of cork to enable the instrument to stand alone. A plush monkey perches on the top. It adds greatly to the appearance of the little creature if its head, arms, legs, and tail are painted brown; a gay little red coat, trimmed with gold thread, may be added.