In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use paper bags, wrapping paper, or recycled packing paper to produce this fun paper doll garland. My pattern is loosely styled on a primitive doll or gingerbread men, but feel free to use make modifications to my basic template- a printable PDF which you can download for FREE below.
This project takes only a few minutes and uses materials you can probably find for free! It’s a great project to do with kids- or a fun way for grownups to create unique Christmas decorations without the ethical, environmental, and labor concerns or purchasing mass-produced decorations, and making your own paper doll chains is even a good way to turn your downtime into a way to produce low cost inventory to resell at craft shows, flea market booths, or yard sales.
This paper doll pattern is actually a template I designed over a decade ago for a custom cookie cutter I had made for making clay Christmas ornaments. I needed a unique primitive paper doll type pattern that was thicker than average in some spots and more slender in others, to durably stand up to the construction and firing process. It turns out, the same shape that made my clay gingerbread man-style cutouts tough enough to be handled before firing is the IDEAL shape to make strong and sturdy paper dolls that stand up to play, party decorating, or annual holiday decoration put-up and take-down.
Materials Needed to Make Paper Dolls:
- Iron & Ironing Board (skip if your paper is new and already flat)
- Paper Doll Pattern & Template (download a printable template for the paper dolls pictured here, below)
- Paper Doll Scissors for Kids – Here’s the thing, it’s slow, painful, and frustrating to make paper doll chains without really good scissors, and really good scissors aren’t safe tools for most kids. If you are creating paper dolls with kids, and want to let kids do the cutting, you’ll need to either do all the cutting for them, or let them use child-safe scissors cutting just 2 or 3 layers of paper at a time. Alternately, for older kids, bandage cutting scissors can be a good blunt-tipped option for effectively cutting multiple layers of paper but they are still very SHARP and able to cut skin, so extreme care should be used if you are supervising kids and scissors.
- Paper Doll Scissors for Adults – You need good scissors, not just any scissors, mama scissors– you know, the really sharp scissors your mom wouldn’t let you use when you were a kid? If you’re still calling $5 scissors your “good scissors,” it’s time to get yourself a pair of mama scissors. You will HATE me if you attempt this project with basic scissors, because you’ll be stuck having to cut 2 or 3 layers at a time instead of 8+. Fiskars Razor Edge scissors are my mama scissors- they go from my fabric cutting table to paper projects like this without complaining or dulling beyond the repair of a basic scissor sharpener. (Confession, I have butchered a chicken with my Fiskars Razor scissors, ran them through the dishwasher, and gone back to cutting ribbons for Christmas wreaths!)
- Brown Paper – I made mine with used packing paper from shipments of leather dog collars we were receiving in my store regularly at the time, but paper grocery bags cut down into flat sheets will also work. White or brown Kraft paper on rolls is perfect, but used paper is fine- even wrinkled or pre-printed paper is ok too, as long as one side is unprinted. (There’s a trick to getting good results using used, creased, or crinkled paper, which I’ll show you in steps 1-2.)
Before you Start: Uncrumpling Crumpled Paper
[Skip this step if your paper is new and unwrinkled]
First, wad the paper all up. Yes! Cumple and crinkle it uniformly. This process starts by making crinklyness a uniform texture instead of a blemish, so gather your family and crunch, wad, and fold your way to paper with lots of crinkles and ridges.
Next, smooth the paper out one sheet at a time on an ironing board and with your iron set to a high-steam output, begin to iron your paper. You won’t remove the creases entirely, but as the paper becomes uniformly flat, the creases will become decoration on the paper rather than ridges to be felt. (If your iron doesn’t have steam, or the steam is not dampening your paper enough, a wet washcloth wiped over the paper before ironing will work just as well)
How to Make a Paper Doll Chain
How to Make a Paper Doll Chain
Time required: 10 minutes
Print and Cut Template
Print our free PDF pattern, and cut out the design in a simple cutout.
Cut Paper Strips
Cut long paper strips. The strips should be as wide as your gingerbread cutout is tall (a cutting mat and a disc cutter make strip cutting extra quick). Cut strips and bring the cut strips to your ironing board
Trace Outline Onto One End of Paper Strip
Lightly trace around the paper doll person template, being sure to line up the end of of the figure’s hand parallel to the end of the strip of paper.
Add a Marker for Folding
One you have traced the figure’s outline, add a strong line at the end of the hand to indicate where the paper will crease in the next step as we begin to fold the strip of paper to form a paper doll chain
Begin folding the strip
Begin folding the paper strip in an accordion pattern (folding forward in one turn, and backward in the next turn), leaving just enough space in between folds to accommodate the width of your gingerbread man pattern.
Iron for Crisper Folds
Crisp folds are even folds, and even folds help keep the template straight and each and every paper doll looking like it should all the way to the end of the chain. You can skip ironing, but I think it makes it easier!
Cut Out your Paper Doll chain by following the penciled outline
Prep a stack of folded strips, then curl up with your scissors, your folded paper strips, a bag or small box to collect paper scraps, and some Netflix and start trimming away the excess paper on the outside the outline of the paper doll pattern traced on the top of the stack. Do not trip paper edges where the doll’s hands extend off the paper- that’s where the doll hold hands with the next paper doll in the chain!
Finish Cutting and Unfold
Once you’ve cut all the way around the pattern (being sure to NOT cut the portion where the doll’s hands meet) unfold your strips to reveal festive paper doll chains.
Now Draw, Color, Paint, or Decorate with plain paper doll chains
After you cut the shape into your first folded strip, unfold to reveal a chain of paper dolls, perfect for traditional or rustic style Christmas decorations or as a canvas for imaginative open-ended play with kids. When your dolls are free, pull out the crayons, markers, and paints and let kids build their paper doll community!
NOTE: Be careful to not stack more paper than your scissors can cut through with control and safety. Always, always supervise kids with scissors and if kid are cutting, never stack more paper folds than kid’s scissors can easily cut (usually a maximum of 2 or 3 sheets, depending on thickness of the paper).
That’s it! Just a few steps to enviable paper doll chain rows that cost you nothing but a bit of time to create and can offer hours of imagination and fun for kids!
STORAGE TIP for homemade paper doll garland:
This paper doll garland can be folded and stored in an envelope for use year after year. For repeated use, at the end of the season simply fold the paper gingerbread garland back into the accordion folds, pin it in place with a binder clip, and stuff into a manila envelope.
For more compact storage that protects your garland from moisture or damage during storage, pop the folded garland into a FoodSaver bag and use a Foodsaver to remove the air from the package and seal. This method means your tender folded paper garland will come out good-as-new after a year of storage.
Why homemade decorations?
The obvious answer is cost savings, but I want to point out that “handmade” Christmas decor items sold in stores, unless marked fair trade, are typically not ethically sourced. The rustic, “handmade look” is easily produced in environments where unfair wages are paid to workers in harmful working conditions in developing countries.
When you hand-make your own Christmas decorations, you can create the same prized handmade look while saving money and knowing that you arent supporting companies using unfair labor or unsafe working conditions.
Lindsayanne is a professional artist, writer, and serial-DIY-er with a knack for solving problems creatively at home, in the studio, out in the garden, and even online. Learn more about Lindsay, her training, and her background here.