The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

How To Make A Dried Apple Doll

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1991

Issue: November, 1991

A just-carved apple head sitting in the kitchen window to dry.A just-carved apple head sitting in the kitchen window to dry.Making dried apple dolls is an old Blue Ridge tradition created, perhaps, out of necessity by a mountain mother on a limited budget. They are fine examples of the homemade art that was commonplace in the lives of the people of the Blue Ridge. Mountain art flourished in everyday items such as patchwork quilts, which like our dried apple dolls, were often the art of necessity.

One resource quite plentiful in the Blue Ridge was apples. The climate was just right for orchards and the early pioneers planted seeds as they went, often for someone else to reap the fruits. Perhaps apple dolls were invented to amuse a fretful child at the time when the womenfolk in the family were cutting apples to dry for winter. Perhaps a granny carved one of the apples in the shape of a head and handed it to a child to play with. Perhaps that apple head was set on a shelf and forgotten until it had dried and then the child discovered it, brought it out and asked if a body could be made for the head so they could play with a real doll.

Mountain families had little to spare in money or materials. Few children had bought dolls, but mothers improvised. Sometimes fathers or grandfathers would whittle a wooden doll as they sat around a fireplace on a winter night. Sometimes a few scraps of material would be spared for a rag doll. When the corn was being tended, a young ear of corn was made into a doll. Dried corn silks were often used for a pretty reddish-black hair.

You can make a dried apple doll easily. All you need to get started is an apple and a small paring knife with a sharp point. Don't worry if your doll is lop-sided or it you accidentally cut off a nose. At the very worst, you can eat your failures!

Start with a firm apple. The softer varieties of apples are harder to carve and tend to crumble. Peel the apple. Cut long slices off the sides of the apple that are to be the sides of the head.

Trim around the bottom of the apple to make a neck. Cut a sharper curve in the front of the head where the chin will stick out and rounded at the back of the head.

With the tip of the knife, outline where the nose will go in a "U" shape. Cut away a triangular wedge of apple from either side of the nose to form the eye recessions and cheeks. Cut away a small thin slice directly beneath the nose. The nose, cheeks, eye placement and eyebrows are now defined. Remember, as the apple dries, it will shrink, so make the features bigger than you picture the finished product.

With the point of the knife, trace the outline of lips. Cut carefully around them and cut out a tiny piece in the middle of the lips for the finished product to have a smile. Be careful working around the chin. It could easily break off when you are doing this.

For ears, make a semi-circular shallow cut on the side of the head. Make another cut of the same shape directly behind it and remove a wedge of apple so that ear stands out. Trim the inside of the ear out and smooth the apple toward the face. Turn the apple around so that you can mark the other side of the head for the other ear. You can make an impression in the apple with your fingernail for the placement of the other ear so that it will match the first one. Cut second ear same as the first.

Now that you have the major features carved, turn your apple around and around looking at it. Use the knife to shape the head so that it is in proportion. For instance, there will probably be lumps that you will want to smooth off so that the shape of the whole head blends together.

Push a thin stick or a pencil in the bottom of the apple when you are finished carving it and sit it in a place where it can dry undisturbed. Make sure that nothing is touching any part of the apple as it dries. A sunny windowsill makes a good place for drying.

The drying process is slow and can take a couple of weeks or more. The apple will mildew if it is not in a dry or warm enough place and you will have to throw it out and start over. During this stage, you will probably get a lot of kidding from your family about what the apple looks like. You can tell them that you are taking a correspondence course in head-shrinking and it they are not quiet, they will be next.

When the apple is completely dry, it will be considerably smaller and darkened. For a lighter colored apple, you can soak the apple in salt water before you start carving it.

You can use a variety of things for eyes. The traditional eyes for an apple doll are apple seeds. You can also use glass head pins for colored eyes, just pushing them in at the appropriate places. For hair, you can use cotton, dried corn silk or polyester toy stuffing.

A small bleach bottle makes a good body for an apple doll. You can look around your kitchen or laundry room for many types of bottles that are a good "body" shape. You might want to pour sand or something into the bottle to give it more weight so that it will not turn over easily. Punch a hole in the lid of the bottle and push the stick you dried the head on into the hole until the neck is in the right position. Make a dress for the doll out of gingham or calico. A bonnet and apron for a "granny doll" make a nice touch.

If you want, you can make a cloth body for the doll and sew the neck into place. You can then dress the doll as a little old man or woman. You might wish to make a pair of dolls, male and female, as a set.

You can get as elaborate with dressing the dolls as you wish. You might like a tiny straw hat for a man or a miniature basket over the woman's arm. You might want to get a small log cabin and sit them on the porch in rocking chairs. You are limited only by your imagination and the amount of time you wish to spend on them. If you get started now, your dried apple dolls could be an unforgettable, treasured Christmas present for some lucky person this year.