I’ve been gathering photos of old spun cotton figures and ornaments (like the one below) and really studying them, in hopes of making a few of my own. (You can see a lot of them on my Pinterest Crafts board.) Since a lot of these were intended as Christmas ornaments, this is a perfect time to try making one. I’m sure this isn’t the way the original ones were made, but it’s the best method I could come up with. They cost almost nothing–but they do take some time!
A few weeks ago while thrifting, I found a large bag of vintage cotton batting, and some very cheap crepe paper for garlands–so I was on my way. Other supplies included heavy (but very flexible) gold floral wire from the dollar store, cotton retrieved from newly opened vitamin bottles, some squeeze-on glitter (also thrifted), tacky glue, heavy thread, and a printed child’s head (look on my Pinterest Vintage Scrap Board). Here are my first two ornaments amid a forest of small bottle brush trees on my mantel.
First, print and cut out a Victorian scrap head and shoulders. You’ll leave a tab under the head—where the neck is—so you can stick it into the batting and armature.
Then create a u-shaped armature from the floral wire—this will be the legs and torso of the figure, so match the length to the size of the head you printed. The full length of the wire should be about twice as long as you want the full body. Also cut a single piece of wire the full length of both arms, with a bit to spare where it will intersect with the torso. Take a properly sized rectangle of the cotton batting and glue one edge to the full length of one side of the u-shaped armature. You don’t need to wrap the entire armature, leave a little of the top of the U free from batting. Roll the batting tightly around the wire until you get something that looks the width of a leg. (This will probably mean wrapping about 1 1/2-2 times.) Then cut the batting and glue the long edge to the other batting wrapped around the wire. So the same thing on the other leg. Once that’s dry, take a rectanglular piece of batting that reaches from the top of the wire U to the length of the skirt and wrap it around the top part of both legs–you’re creating a torso. Wrap the full length of the arm wire with one piece of batting the same way you did the legs. Shape mitten-like hands at the end of each arm with a small scissors. Glue the batting together on the hands a bit so it doesn’t fray.
While all those pieces are drying, decide what kind of costume you’d like out of the crepe paper. I created a pleated skirt, jacket, and scarf. Add glitter where you want on these pieces–I put scallops on the edges of the sleeves skirt, and scarf. Let that dry. At this point, you can also decide if you want white cotton trim someplace on the costume. I put it on the hat and jacket. You can also add wings, halos, holly crowns, other miniatures, etc. to these ornaments.
To assemble the body, cross the arm wire behind the leg armature, just a little way down from the wire U at the top. Take heavy thread and tie if to the wire, then criss-cross the thread front and back across the arms and legs and through the wire U many times to secure the arms to the torso. Tie off securely. The thread will make an X across the front of the torso.
Leaving a little tab below the neck of the head, push that tab down into the cotton batting against the wire, glue securely and let dry. Then add about 4 layers of batting exactly the size of the head by gluing each layer to the back of the printed head. This gives the head some depth. You’ll want a hat of some kind, so figure out what that will be in advance. Mine was a pretty simple bonnet. I cut crepe paper to the size of the back of the head and glued it there, then glued a pleated bonnet rim of crepe paper around the edge of the face, on the cotton batting behind the face, and on the bonnet back. (Here’s how my first doll looked when she was finished. She’s a little crude, but this first one was a great learning experience. I got better when making the red doll in the photo above.)
Because the crepe paper garland material I was working with doesn’t have as much opacity as expensive crepe paper, I wrapped the body and arms with a pain crepe paper of the same color before adding the final outer garments with glitter on them. This makes the color of the clothing stronger so the batting doesn’t show through. Just cut pieces to size and glue onto the cotton batting (use as little glue as possible, but it does need to be secure.) Then you’re ready to add the outer clothing.
Add the outer skirt first with glue, just above where the bottom of the jacket will fall. (The thick batting you added to create the torso should not show below the bottom edge of the skirt.) Add the sleeves on the arms, then the jacket. You will have to cut little armholes in the jacket, and because you don’t want to completely bend the arms, just slit the crepe paper above the armholes to make it easy to assemble. You will glue these slits together on the shoulders. Add a scarf if you want. Move onto the trims–add white cotton where you want it by gluing or any other ribbons, etc..
Turn the end of the legs up a little to look like feet. (If you want you can cut out Victorian shoes and glue those on top of the feet.) Finally, bend the arms forward and add the paper posies or pet, or a real bottle Christmas tree by gluing to the hands. If you want these to hang from a tree, be sure to add a gold cord loop to the back during the assembly process—the ends of the cord should be hidden by the back of the bonnet.
To get really vintage, I’m thinking you could tint the cotton batting even further with tea, and even age the crepe paper by crumpling it (I’m not sure I’d get the crepe paper wet–it may change the color or ruffley texture.)
There are endless variations of these, but by making one–you’ll understand the process and be able to go from there. Vintage European Santas would lend themselves well to this craft. You can make animals, too–sheep especially! They’re really cute! Look on my Pinterest Crafts board for more inspiration.