Button Dolls


My version of the Button Doll

When my daughter was in middle school our Girl Scout troop went to The End Of The Oregon Trail Museum.  We spent the night camping on the grounds, and we got to tour the museum.  It was a lot of fun.  The only thing that really bothered me was the freight trains that ran through the town ALL-NIGHT-LONG.  It seemed as though I had set my tent up right on top of the train tracks.  Anyway, I digress.

When we were in the museum they showed us the wagons that the pioneers used and talked about the kinds and amounts of things they had to take with them as they traveled across our country.  One of the things that I was particularly interested in was a handmade doll, called a button doll. 

Now this doll was not really very attractive, but you could tell that it was made with things that a mother might have on hand and it was also practical.  The doll’s head and body were made from flour sacks or other rough cloth.  The doll’s clothing was made also from flour sacks or from old clothing that may have been discarded.  But the doll’s arms and legs were made up of strings of buttons!  The buttons were salvaged any time a piece of clothing was discarded or sent to the rag bin, and they were used to replace lost buttons, or when a new piece of clothing was made and required buttons.  At this point the mother would just borrow back the doll and remove however many buttons she needed, then she would re-string the doll’s arm or leg and return the doll to her child.  Isn’t that a wonderful idea?

Needless to say I was enthralled by the idea.  I bought a modern doll from the museum’s gift shop (see photo below),  

Raggedy Ann Button Doll from the Museum Store

but then I decided to try to make my own.  So my daughter and I bought a bunch of buttons and stuff from JoAnn’s and got busy.  We made a lot of dolls and sold them at a local toy store, and St. Agatha’s Holiday Bazaar.  We also gave many away as gifts.  We also taught a class on how to make them at Sellwood Middle School.  I think you can see why we liked them so much.


7 responses »

  1. Those button dolls are absolutely darling! And what a good idea — I’m sure it was a practical way for the pioneer women to keep track of their spare buttons. I like the dress you made for your doll, Kay!


  2. Great digest entry, Weetie! Very much enjoyed reading it. I agree that the old Betsy doll is much cuter — something about the higher forehead and her eyes being placed lower on her face. They lost this special look when they decided to go back into production.

    Keep it up. You’re much more fun to read than emails from Viagra salesmen and creditors!

  3. My original Betsy sits on my dresser at all time. I was blessed to find a new Tonner Betsy for $5 at a neighbor’s garage sale.

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