• “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. Dr. Suess

Saturday, July 24, 2010


My mother taught me to make dolls with Hollyhock flowers. She says she learned it from her mother.

I made 2 this morning to see if I could show a granddaughter - she was delighted.

Years ago when I asked, my grandmother said, "everyone knows how to make them - anyone could have [taught me]."

my maternal grandparents in their yard
July 24 is a day of celebration and commemoration for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is commonly known and celebrated as Pioneer Day. We remember our ancestors and others that were pioneers in all contexts. Our family often spent it with my mother's parents.

Our family has many progenitors that came to North America from Europe seeking liberty and freedoms not readily available in their homelands in the 16th and 17th centuries. They settled along the east coast and as we study the founding history of the United States and Canada we find their names and deeds laced throughout our reading.

We find it fascinating!

Our heritage also threads through the history of the LDS church. Many of our 3rd and 4th great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers knew Joseph Smith and declared him an honorable, honest and noble man and joined their futures and fortunes to the church and its teachings. We have many of their journals, letters, photos and other documents (but no hollyhock doll instructions).

The lives of our ancestors consisted of work, hobbies and other pastimes that are becoming forgotten. Hollyhock dolls were a part of the play of many children of past centuries. This is my attempt to preserve a pleasure I took for granted. I remember helping my mother water the few flowers and shrubs near our home with buckets of water pumped by hand from a carefully primed well.

Every drop of water was precious and doled out with care. Hollyhocks grew near many pioneer cabins and dugout hovels because they survive with little water and, with the luxury of water left over from cleaning and mopping, they thrive.

Just a small aside here: liquids really could be scarce and were not wasted. Every edible liquid was used for meal preparation. Every bucket of water had many uses. After being used to wash dishes, water could be used to clean boots or scrub the floor. At bath time babies were bathed first, then ladies - just add another kettle to warm it up a bit, then children and lastly the caked-with-dirt-and-grime men; in the same tub of water! This 'bath' water also had many uses.  After water became 'almost mud' then the vegetables were watered and lastly the flowers.

Hollyhocks come in many colors, sizes and varieties. They can grow well over 6 feet or more in height.

Some people claim they can be eaten so children that are inclined to taste things or put them in their mouths will not be harmed by them. I think they are fairly tasteless except for the white part - it is said to be bitter. 

Many years have passed since I made these dolls but when my daughter asked about how to do it I decided to try to make some even though I only had a couple of smallish pink and darker reddish Hollyhock plants that summer. 

This would be called a 'skirt' - larger is better - after all we want a 'full' skirt - but if you want a more narrow skirt pick a bloom that is not opened so far - use your imagination.

In the upper right is a partially open bud - this could be a head/bonnet or you could use a smaller tighter bud like you will see in the next picture.

My first try was just to stick them together. Since I couldn't quite remember how that was accomplished I used what was at hand, cheated, picked up a rusty nail and punched a hole.

Here is the first doll -

I didn't think it looked right and I remembered having to peel some layers and not using a nail or anything to put a hole in it - seemed like there should be a hole or at least a weak point to push the stem through ...

so I picked a new bud - red so you can see the difference and a bit more open (notice it has 2 layers of green around the base of the flower just above the stem that is pointing at you)

and I begin to peel away the first layer of green

being very careful to not damage the bud or deeper layers - I don't want anything falling apart (not that anything ever did - don't worry so much - it won't)
and this is a close up so you can see it coming apart

- popped right off - with the guidance of a sharp fingernail

and this is where I expected to see the hole but nope - I did see a softer area so I tried it - wouldn't push in there so -

cheating again - use every resource at hand - still have that old nail left in the flower bed (from after the wind blew away part of our roof and it was replaced) - no matter how many I pick up there seems to always be one more.

and I plunge it in and make a hole,

and push in the stem of the 'skirt',

seat them together

and I have a new doll -

but I think this takes way more imagination than we use to use -

where are the little eyes that I remember, and why did we so aptly pretend it had a bonnet like a Spanish dancing lady ...

and I do not remember using any sticks or tools to make them or hold them together  ...

what if I took away the second layer of green?

what is under there?

not much besides what I already had but what if I go a bit deeper - just on the flat 'base' end circle part that kind of looks like it should give way ...

I scrape away a scrap of green still clinging and viola

there it is - there is a tiny little hole in there

- just like I remembered ...

and the pinky on the right flicks out a piece of debris in the way

as I position the stem of the 'skirt' to go up into the 'head' - but the curl won't push in so I shorten it a tiny bit and then it will - it had to be a bit stiffer I suppose

and push it in

all the way snug against each other

OHH! Look! a dolly with eyes and a huge headdress - no wonder we had so much fun with these - we'd make a bevy of beauties and then they would socialize and play - their dresses all unique - short green bustles, aprons and collars, sometimes many layers of parts added on or pinched off.

I loved the variegated edged ones and some blooms were considerably larger and therefore longer than these; also the buds could be 'bent' from funny growth into curious oddities that might give it more personality -

see the bustle of a leaf that hasn't separated? Imagination is the key ingredient here.

And really no cheating (with a nail to punch a hole or things to hold them together) is needed.

I was quite surprised too when I left them in the sun on the step but several hours later was showing off to a neighbor that came by and they were still looking quite fresh not wilted - when I tugged on them to show her how they were put together they were stuck fast and difficult to remove - like the sap was a seal - COOL!!!

Sometimes, as a child, I would make believe the top was the body and her arms were thrown up in the dance with a swirl that hid the 'head' inside - sure enough - look inside and see the fuzzy pollen head.

With bit of fern like plants or grasses etc many fanciful creatures were created. Give it a try. If you e-mail me [ ] photos of your creations I will add them here for everyone to enjoy. HAPPY IMAGINING!


  1. My mother taught me how to make Hollyhock dolls. I didn't remember the details of making them. Must not have made as many. We did not have hollyhocks in Texas. Sometimes I have planned to plant some, just to make dolls. Thanks for the memories.

  2. wonderful to see