In many cultures, the art of doll-making is seen as a magical and powerful way to call for protection and good fortune. A ritually made doll acts as a guardian, guide and lucky charm, bestowing the owner with prosperity and wisdom. From Guatemalan dream dolls, and Native American katchina dolls, to an array of Japanese dolls, African Bocio dolls (original voodoo dolls), and Slavic Motanki – the cultural approach to doll-making has a long and fascinating history entwined with magical thinking and superstition.
A talisman doll is a good luck charm that can carry powerful protection spells, as well as intentions of healing, love, prosperity and fortitude. Such a doll, created in a ceremonial setting with a specific intention is a powerful and lovely reminder of our connection with a spirit, guides, ancestors, and angelic helpers.
Dolls hold a very special place in the psyche of ancestral cultures, according to Clarrisa Pinkola Estes, an author, and scholar on cultural and ethnic origins of feminine power
“A doll represents a little piece of soul that carries all the knowledge of the larger soul-Self. It reflects the inner spirit of us as women; the voice of our inner reason, inner knowing, and inner consciousness. Most of all, a doll serves as a powerful talisman”.
Motanka (Motanki Pl.) is a particularly enchanting doll. These Slavic ancestral dolls come in many shapes and sizes and are created for all sorts of benefits, from protection during childbirth to ensuring a happy marriage or safe travels. They are always created with a positive intention. They are not effigies, they do not hold the spirit of something or someone, rather they reflect the nature of their owner in a gentle and loving way.
Motanki used to be offered to infants. Mom would have used a gown or a dress that carried her scent, so the baby would sense mom’s presence, and since the doll was made with soft fabrics, it was the baby’s first comfort toy.
Making a doll was also an excuse to gather and spend time in a meaningful way. Women would sit together in the evening and create dolls while telling tells, old stories and myths, often to teach youngsters about the way of life or to scare them a little to protect them from foolish behavior. Baba Yaga stories served just such a purpose.
Rules & Principles of Making a Motanka Doll
The process of Motanka making has many characteristics of auto-therapy. A doll serves as our inner mirror, signaling a need to focus on some issues and unresolved problems. She might be resentful or picky, act silly, or very serious. She might argue for the brightest yellow fabric for her dress knowing all well you hate yellow! Why? What will you do? Will you resist, or give in? What is she trying to tell you?
All dolls are created with a positive intention and can’t be used to control someone else. Such magic is possible but not recommended, and definitely not practiced here, as the negative energy always returns like a boomerang. The victory from dark magic is short-lived and not worth the price.
Motanki Dolls are created without the use of sharp objects, like knives, scissors or needles. The fabric is torn into pieces then wrapped and tangled. A poke with a needle is considered a bad omen and the making of a doll has to begin all over.
Upon accomplishing your doll, a personal gift is offered to her. A piece of jewelry, or a scrap of fabric that carries special meaning for you. Maybe a pendant, gem, or grandma’s hand-sewn handkerchief? This gift should be a true offering as if you were giving it to your best friend.
Place your doll where you can see her daily. That completes the union and ignites the magic.
Motanka has no facial expression for a very important reason. Join us at the workshop and find out why!
You don’t need a lot of materials to make a doll, feel free to recycle old fabrics and go hunting for scraps in your local arts and crafts store. Make sure the fabrics are easy to work with, which means they should be easy to tear apart as we don’t really use scissors. Linen and cotton are easy to work with, the more natural the fabric, the better and closer to the original technique. Cotton mixes and fun stretchy materials are ok; highly synthetic fabrics are hard to work with.
The Materials needed to make the doll:
A white plain fabric, about a yard. This will be the body, head, and sleeves; cotton, linen or something slightly stretchy works well so it’s easy to work with.
Strong treads. Traditionally we use red thread to signify protection and ancestral connections. White and black treads are also good colors symbolizing protection, change, and new beginnings.
Yarns. We will use them to tighten up different parts of your doll’s wardrobe, they can also decorate the hands. Yarns will also be used for the hair.
Dress and aprons – This is the fun part, this is where your intuition and creativity kicks in. What is the intention for your doll? The color, pattern, and texture can symbolize your intention. Looking for change? Find a fabric with butterflies, or dragonflies. Trying to invite more prosperity? Green, golden and shimmering materials might be what you need, or a piece of very expensive beautifully decorated fabric might be exactly what will attract more of that beauty! Think outside of the box. A fun material printed with bananas can mean you’re going banana for your new project!
You can choose scraps and recycled materials, a baby blanket, wedding accessories, or a grandma’s handkerchief… Don’t be surprised if your Doll gets picky or indecisive – you might end up bringing home enough fabrics to make 3 dolls! Some dolls wish for more than one dress! Princess and Witches alike!
Hair – Usually we make the hair from yarns, but I also like to use wool roving yarn.
Headscarf– a large square of fabric.
Accessories are optional – jewels, gems, herbs, pendants, ribbons, leather strings, whatever you wish to offer your doll is great. Sometimes the accessories come to you after the workshop.
The wooden core is needed for the “Task Dolls”. It is considered to be the masculine aspect of the doll, while her body and outfit represent the feminine part. As we all have both the feminine and masculine elements in ourselves, I find this option a good balance. If you wish, you can make the core out of a rolled fabric, which is softer and more portable.
Scissors, notebook, water
|FABRICS & MATERIALS commonly used for doll-making|
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SO MANY TYPES OF MOTANKI DOLLS
Motanki have many different looks and are created in very different ways. The only common thing between them is that they are tangled and fastened with yarns and strings. But some are tall and slim, others are short and round – filled with grains and herbs. So let’s take a look at the most common types of Motanki.
- The Task doll ZADANCA – Usually created for a very personal reason, special intention, or with a particular outcome in mind. A wooden branch is her core.
- The Nourishing Doll – This well-endowed little doll’s mission is to grant plenty of luck and abundance. We use dried herbs and flowers to fill up her belly, she’s short and delicious. Herbs, spices, flower petals, dried leaves, and berries, can be added.
- The Grain doll ZIARNUSHKA is a protector of the home nest and brings prosperity to our household, she is made with grains that symbolize the wealth and abundance in our life. Can be additionally filled with herbs crystals, and coins that represent wealth. Sometimes accompanied by a male counterpart who completes her.
- The Threshold Doll – This doll symbolizes the ending of some period in life and the beginning of the next one. She’s made like a task doll, with the intention focused on this very important change in life – coming of age, marriage, first job, first business…
- The Travel Doll – Long ago women would give a travel doll to anybody who was to undertake travel – which meant that they probably wouldn’t see each other for a long time. Sometimes men were called to arms, going for a seasonal hunting expedition, merchant trip, or visiting a far-away family member. The doll was meant to protect them during the travel and grant them a safe return home. Nowadays their role is to bring good luck on any trip we take in our global village.
- Mother Doll – RODZICIELKA – a doll with a bunch of little cute babies attached to her belt. They signified a prosperous mother, a happy household and wonderful maternity.
- The Lovers – A popular wedding gift, and one of the more difficult dolls to make. The two dolls – a boy and a girl, are conjoined with one arm that represents their everlasting union. Often given to the wedding couple in order to ensure everlasting love and partnership for both.
In the past, Motanki dolls were women’s companions throughout life. The grandmothers and mothers would let the little ones play with them and later, young girls would learn how to make such dolls themselves, marking new stages in their lives.