Ribbon Paper Dolls

By Paula Kirwan


Many of us remember the fun we had playing with paper dolls when we were young. They brought hours of joy and creativity as we chose clothing and accessories to match the make-believe activities we imagined for them! From everyday clothes to beautiful ball gowns, the paper dolls were transformed from girl next door to princess just by folding down the little tabs that allowed the clothing to hang from them.   


As their popularity flourished, paper dolls gave birth to a craft idea that enjoyed popularity in the 1920s and 1930s: ribbon paper dolls. Kits were developed that consisted of a cardstock paper doll and instructions on how to cut and apply ribbon, bits of fabric, lace, feathers, small beads, sequins and other bric-a-brac to create a fancy outfit on the doll. 


While researching for this story, I looked through GasLamp and GasLamp Too and found one example of such a craft (in the photo, below left). The one seen in the photo at right hangs on a wall in my own home. It is probably from the 1920s. The clothing is velvet, and the hat and sash are satin; there is glitter on her shoes.


When ribbon dolls were popular, crafters could follow the directions in the kit for cutting and gluing and create beautiful gowns, hats, bouquets and special outfits. The ribbons and other items were not included in the kit, which gave the crafter an opportunity to choose her own color scheme and use her own scraps, which ultimately insured that each picture was entirely unique. When the paper doll and clothing design was completed, it was framed and hung as a lovely piece of original art. Although most of the paper dolls in the kits were women, you could also find babies to dress.


It was during the ’20s and ’30s that this craft prospered, but kits for ribbon doll kits resurfaced in the 1950s, as seen in this example I found at GasLamp Too (photo, left; T-147; $49). Although these pictures are not considered rare, they are a bit hard to find these days, as are the original kits from ’20s and ’30s, and even the ’50s.


Even today, ribbon dolls make for charming wall art when framed and hung. It is something unexpected; would love lovely in a nursery, a woman’s home office or a teen’s bedroom.


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