Old Fashioned Apple Head Dolls

by Brenda Hyde

Dried apple head dolls evoke fond childhood memories for many of us. The early pioneers made dolls out of whatever was on hand, and apple dolls became cherished toys for many young girls. In 1914, Mary McAboy, a homemaker in Montana, began selling handcrafted Native American dolls wrapped in blankets, with dried apple heads. She lovingly pinched and carved the apple into a face, adding pins for eyes and string for hair. Her dolls were called "Skookums", and are highly collectible today.

Children love making apple dolls, and are fascinated with the process. I've seen ideas ranging from spooky to silly, and everything in between. It's a great project for one child or an entire group. It allows the kids to use their imaginations. When you are finished with your creations use them as decorations for the autumn season!

Here are the basic things you'll need:

  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • apples

There are many different methods that have been developed over the years. You will eventually find your own, once you do this a few times.

After peeling, (you can leave some peel at the top and bottom.) the apples need to be coated with the above mixture of lemon juice and salt to keep them from turning brown, BUT if you want a darker skinned doll you won't need to soak the apples. To maintain the light color, soak them in the lemon mixture for about 45 minutes. You'll need to do this with each apple, so you may need to double the amounts if you have quite a few. This is not exact-you can soak longer or shorter if you wish. A favorite apple to use for this is a Golden Delicious, however you may use any variety of apple. If you have a large group of kids I would buy inexpensive varieties by the bag to save money. Choose apples without bruises or other markings.

After you have soaked your apple you'll need to carve it. Use a small knife that you can have good control over. You want to make eyes, nose and a mouth, but you don't want to cut too deeply, this could cause rotting. Also, don't make slits in the apple, try to carve out the spots for the features. You can carve out ears as well. A small spoon, such as a stainless steel baby spoon can work well for carving too.

Drying your apple heads can be done in a few ways. You can take a large paper clip or a heavy piece of wire and carefully run it through the middle of the apple. Bend it at the bottom, and form a little loop at the top. You can then hang it to dry.

Choose a place without direct sunlight. It will take two-three weeks to dry. If you can use a hot attic or a furnace room it may speed it up a little. The apples can be dried on a tray or screen as well, but be carefully not to handle them as they dry. Or try a dehydrator at 135 degrees or below if you own one-this will need to be checked frequently. You can also dry the apples by placing in your oven with the door slightly ajar for four-five hours at 200 degrees, then leave them to dry on a tray or screen for several days. I think it's better to plan ahead though and use the air-dry method if you can.

Finishing Your Apple Head Dolls

Your apple heads are dry and now you need to do something with them. You can use many things as a base for your doll: a wooden dowel, heavy wire, twigs, a doll body from a craft store, or an old one you have laying around, Styrofoam cones, or any other base you can think of! You can make or buy doll clothes and stuff them with batting. You could even attach little fake doll arms and legs. Or keep it extremely simple and make a little ornament by decorating only the head. Create a wreath by attaching several heads to a grapevine base. You can use yarn or fake hair on the head, paint on the eyes, cheeks and "lips". There are many artists who create pieces from dried apple heads, so use your imagination and items you have on hand. They are a wonderful old-fashioned craft that shouldn't be left behind!

Brenda Hyde is a wife and mom to three children. She is editor of OldFashionedLiving.com and a freelance writer. Visit her website for more crafts, recipes and other old fashioned projects.

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