How to Make a Japanese Washi Doll

Written by f.r.r. mallory
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How to Make a Japanese Washi Doll
(Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Japanese washi ningyo (paper dolls) are traditional dolls made from a Japanese paper called washi. These dolls, which can range from simple to elaborate, incorporate a lot of detail to capture classic Japanese clothing styles and shapes. A simple washi doll can be constructed with a few pieces of paper and a few simple tools.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • White paper
  • Styrofoam ball, (approximately ping-pong ball size)
  • 1/4-inch artist brush
  • Straight pins
  • Rubber band
  • 1/8-inch wood dowel rod
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Art board
  • Black paper
  • Patterned papers
  • Embroidery floss
  • Scissors
  • White glue

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  1. 1

    Cut a circle approximately three times the size of your styrofoam ball from the white paper. Paint one side of the paper with white glue using a 1/4-inch artist brush. Place the ball in the centre of the glued side and wrap as much of the paper around it as you can without creating folds. Make small v-shaped cuts in the paper to ease the remainder of the paper around the ball. Trim any excess.

  2. 2

    Press straight pins through the paper and into the ball to hold the paper in place while it dries. Wrap a rubber band around the ball to help accomplish this. Set your paper-covered head aside.

  3. 3

    Cut a circle of white art board that is 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Select a wood dowel that is 1/8-inch diameter and 3-inches long. Sharpen one end of the dowel with a pencil sharpener. Glue the blunt end of the dowel to the centre of the art-board circle and set it aside to dry.

  4. 4

    Select a sheet of patterned origami paper that measures 3 inches by 9 (or more) inches. Fold the paper in half so that it measures 1 1/2 inches in width. Fold the paper in half again, and then again. You should have a strip that is 3/8-inch wide.

  5. 5

    Find the centre of the folded paper, lengthwise, and make a small mark. Pinch the folded paper together a half-inch to the left of this mark. Take the paper to the left of your pinched fingers and bend it toward you. Unfold the paper end by one fold and bring the unfolded paper back toward the centre. Repeat this on the right side. You should end up with what looks like a scarf hanging down on both sides. This is the basic obi.

  6. 6

    Remove the pins and rubber bands from the head. Decide which half of the ball to cover with hair (this will allow you to cover any cut marks). Cut a piece of black paper to 1 and 1/2-inch by 6-inches long. Apply a bead of glue along the 6-inch side and wrap the glued paper around the head. Continue to glue over the black paper once you have gone around the diameter of the head once. (6 inches of black paper should wrap the head 2+ times.) Use small scissors to trim fringe or shape the hairstyle. The white glue should dry invisible.

  7. 7

    Press the sharpened dowel into the head where you think the doll neck should be. Wrap the scarf-like obi around the doll and glue it to the dowel. Fold a 1-inch by 6-inch sheet of patterned paper to form a sash. Tie the sash at the back and tuck the ends around the sash once to make a bundle.

  8. 8

    Cut 1-inch by 2-inch rectangles of patterned paper. Fold the paper in half to form a 1-inch square. Glue the folded paper together to form sleeves (this allows the pattern to be on both sides of the sleeve). Glue one edge of each sleeve to the obi and sash.

  9. 9

    Gather the hair together (you can cut it into frayed ends if you like the look) and tie it with embroidery floss. Uncut hair can be shaped into a bun (with a few drops of glue) and the floss wraps around and ties to the side. This adds a finished look to the hair.

Tips and warnings

  • Eyes and other features can be drawn on with fine markers although they are often left off or just barely suggested.
  • To understand the obi shape, look at images of Japanese clothing.
  • For a more complex doll, you can build wire arms and create an under body for more substance.
  • You can embellish your dolls with tiny decorations found in the scrapbooking area of your craft store.

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