Mary was bigger than Laura, and she had a rag doll named Nettie. Laura had only a corncob wrapped in a handkerchief, but it was a good doll. It was named Susan. It wasn’t Susan’s fault that she was only a corncob.
—Little House in the Big Woods
In Little House in the Big Woods we learn about Susan, Laura’s homemade doll created from a corn cob. Homemade toys are always fun for kids, so we decided to try to create one ourselves. What a fun project for children who want to make their own toys the way Laura did! (This DIY is adapted from the My Little House Crafts Book and some adult assistance is needed.)
While my daughter was excited to make a sweet doll like the one I’m sure Laura made, my two sons put their boyish twist on things and made corn cob superheroes. But then, Laura always seemed excited to try something adventurous, so maybe she would have been game for a superhero or two. Either way, doll or hero, the process is the same; and kids love to play with a toy that they have made themselves.
Preparation: You need to plan ahead a little for this project. First, prepare your corn by letting the kids remove the husks and silk.
Note: This step requires help from a grown-up. Using a sharp knife, cut all of the corn from the cob that you can. (Plan for a yummy corn side dish or corn chowder that night so your prep work won’t go to waste!) You can then pass the cob back to the kids so that they can use a dull table knife or spoon to scrape all the remaining corn from the cob.
Scrub the cobs with soap and water, then set them out to dry with the husks and silks. Drying racks will help with this step and you can set them out in the sun or near a heater. It will probably take a couple of days to dry. A word of warning, make sure you check on them periodically and don’t leave them out overnight. We had a problem with the local squirrels, who decided we’d left these out for them as a treat!
You will know when they are ready when the cobs are light, dry, and rough.
Assembling Your Homemade Corn Cob Doll
To make the simplest version of the doll, all you need to do is draw eyes, nose, and mouth right on the top part of the corncob and wrap the fabric around it like a blanket. You can pin or sew the fabric to secure it.
Fun historic note: If you don’t want to cover the doll with fabric, you can actually use the corn husks to wrap the corn cobs. To do this, soak the corn husk in warm water for about 10 minutes to make it bendable and then gently wipe it dry. Fold the piece of corn husk over the top of the corncob as we demonstrated with the fabric scraps and secure with a strip of husk peeled from an edge, instead of pins or twine to hold the clothes. Pioneer children without any extra supplies could have made their dolls entirely from the materials provided by the corn cob and husks!
If you would like a more realistic doll, make your doll hair using the dried corn silk after you’ve added the face with paint or marker. Lay a handful of the dried corn silk across the top of the corncob, centering it so it hangs down equally on two sides. (My daughter wanted hers braided into pigtails like Laura so we added a step for hers.)
If you have boys like mine that will only participate if the word “doll” is not used, you follow the same steps as above and simply cut some of your fabric, so that you can tie it like a cape. My boys painted masks instead of faces. Laura’s Corncob Superheroes it is! You could create a whole series of characters perfect for imaginative play.
The kids had tons of fun sitting in the shade on a lazy, end-of-summer day being creative and making their own toys. It was a perfect way to spend the afternoon! Combine it with your very own Little House on the Prairie-inspired family picnic for a full day of fun!
If you want to try your hand at a fun homemade doll that requires a bit of sewing, this Little House on the Prairie Rag Doll Puppet DIY is another great opportunity to get creative with the kids.
How will you decorate your corn cob doll? Subscribe to the Little House on the Prairie newsletter for more fun and creative homemade craft ideas.
A true homesteader at heart, Alicia is on a journey to make life as healthy as possible for her family. As a mom to three silly kids, wife to a super awesome man and keeper of a really dopey dog, her days are never dull. She loves nothing more than sharing her triumphs and failures in gardening and healthy, simple living.