Poppets (traditional handkerchief dolls)

The word poppet is an older spelling of puppet, from the Middle English popet, meaning a small child or doll. Also commonly known as pew dolls or church dolls, poppets were popular toys for young girls (and boys) to take to church. During the American Colonial period, church lasted all day and children became restless while trying to be quiet for such a long period of time. A poppet could entertain them, but if it was dropped it would not make any disruptive noise.

In its most rustic form, a poppet consists of a fabric square simply knotted at three corners, forming a head and two arms. More commonly, however, a small bit of stuffing is used in the head and then bound by thread, ribbon, or yarn. Any type and color of fabric can be used, but you may best recognize a poppet made from a handkerchief. 

The handkerchief could have evolved from a “fichu” – a decorative piece of fabric women wore around their necks for modesty or warmth. More likely it evolved from a kerchief, which is a triangular piece of fabric worn around the head for warmth, protection, or decoration. At some point in history, a kerchief was designed to be held in the hand and the handkerchief was born. Early handkerchiefs were larger and not of the uniform square sizes we are familiar with today. In the 18th century, King Louis XVI of France decreed that the length and width of a handkerchief would be equal. The square handkerchief has dominated ever since.

How to make one: Lay the handkerchief upside-down on a flat surface. Fold in half so it forms a triangle (putting opposite corners together). Center a cotton ball inside the fold. Gather the handkerchief around the cotton ball and tie a thread around the bottom of the cotton ball, forming a head. Tie a small knot in two corners to make arms. Carefully draw eyes on the head to make a face.

Click here for our free pdf of the instructions!

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One Response to Poppets (traditional handkerchief dolls)

  1. Pingback: Poppets: A very sympathetic tradition | Chesterfield Pagans

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