How to Make an Ancient Egyptian Doll

Written by jamie wilson
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How to Make an Ancient Egyptian Doll
Children have as much fun making an Egyptian paddle doll as playing with one. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Toys and dolls have been found in numerous Egyptian tombs, either because children played with them or to represent people like slaves or servants. Dolls found in tombs are one of three types: jointed wood or clay dolls resembling marionettes without strings, rag dolls and paddle dolls. A paddle doll is a flat thin piece of wood or dried clay with a rounded top and wider bottom connected by a narrow neck section. Their "hair" is uniquely Egyptian, composed of strings of beads to replicate in small scale fashionable Egyptian braided hairstyles of 4,000 years ago.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Rolling pin
  • Plastic dropcloth
  • Spray bottle filled with water
  • Blunt table knife or heavy plastic knife
  • Air-dry children's clay (or any preferred substitute), about the size of a grapefruit
  • Assorted beads
  • Yarn or heavy string
  • Watercolour or acrylic paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Elmer's school glue or Gorilla glue
  • Paper towels

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    Making the Paddle Base

  1. 1

    Spread your plastic dropcloth on a table or bare floor and lightly mist with water from the spray bottle. Place rolling pin and knife where they will be accessible.

  2. 2

    Roll clay into a large, even ball. If it's hard to roll, mist with water and knead, then roll again until the clay is malleable and sticks together well.

  3. 3

    Place clay on centre of water-misted area and gently flatten. If the edges crack excessively, repeat step 2 and try again. Mist rolling pin with water and use it to roll out the clay into a large oval about a half-inch thick.

  4. 4

    Etch out a paddle shape on the flat clay using the tip of the knife. It should be roughly peanut-shaped, with one end of the peanut about 50 per cent smaller than the other end.

  5. 5

    Cut the clay around the paddle shape. Store excess clay for later use. Carefully remove the paddle shape from the dropcloth; peel away the dropcloth if necessary, but be careful not to bend the clay shape. With wet fingers, smooth the edges and other rough spots on the paddle.

  6. 6

    Roll out a small snake of clay from the extra clay set aside, then flatten to make an Egyptian collar necklace. Shape this into a rough "C", making the centre part a bit wider than the two ends.

  7. 7

    Score the back of the necklace by making small criss-cross marks all over it. Score the section of the doll's "neck" where the necklace should be laid. Use your mister to slightly dampen both criss-cross patterns, then arrange your necklace on the doll, scored sides touching, and gently press them together. The damp clay on the scoring areas will merge, acting like glue when the doll is dry.

  8. 8

    Decorate the clay doll's "clothing" sections by using the knife and other objects like dowels, forks or your fingernails to impress patterns and outlines. You may also shape a nose out of clay and use the scoring technique above to anchor it to the face, but this is not absolutely necessary.

  9. 9

    Remove the clay paddle shape from the dropcloth carefully. Do not bend the doll or smudge your work; if you cannot remove it without this happening, leave it on the dropcloth. Set it aside to dry for about 24 hours in a nonhumid environment.

    Decorating the Doll

  1. 1

    String beads on your thread to make short strands about 4 to 8 inches in length. Leave about four inches of unbeaded string on one end so you can tie it to the doll's head later.

  2. 2

    Check the clay. It is dry enough if the colour appears consistent and you cannot make an indentation in an unobtrusive location with your fingernail. If the clay is not yet dry, set it aside for another day.

  3. 3

    Paint the dry clay doll with either watercolour or acrylic paint. Use bold, vivid reds and oranges on the dress designs and collar necklace, and paint the skin dark; Egyptians ranged in skin tone from olive to Nubian black. Glue other beads or decorations to the dress if you wish.

  4. 4

    Draw traditional Egyptian heavy black eyeliner around each eye and paint the doll's lips red.

  5. 5

    Tie the bead-strand hair in place by threading the unbeaded ends of each string through the front of the holes left around the doll's scalp and tying them to themselves using any style knot that will not slip loose. Cut off any excess string.

  6. 6

    Allow the doll to dry overnight.

Tips and warnings

  • You can speed up the drying process if you place your doll in the oven and turn it to about 93.3 degrees Celsius. Do not leave it in for more than an hour, as overdrying can cause it to crack and crumble.
  • You may also sundry the doll.
  • Store the Egyptian paddle doll flat for at least a week after making it to ensure the clay is thoroughly dry.
  • If you use Gorilla glue, wipe off any residue that gets on your skin with a dry towel, then wash your hands and apply lotion. If left on, it can stain your skin.

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