How to Make Paper Figures

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The invention of paper figures is nearly as old as paper itself. According to Women of Texas at the University of Texas, "Japanese paper figures date back as early as 900 A.D." The first printed paper doll, complete with ensembles, appeared in 1810 in London, England and was named Little Fanny. You can make paper figures by hand, or on a computer/printer and glue the paper cut-outs to cardstock. Tracing around the figures can supply a pattern for drawing clothing. Making paper figures can be just as fun of a past time as it was for women and girls throughout the centuries.

Things You'll Need

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Tracing paper and carbon paper
  • Cardstock
  • Rubber cement
  • Scissors
  • Colored pencils, crayons or markers

Making Paper Figures on the Computer

  • Locate an image you wish to use as your figure. This can be a printable doll online, or a photo. Save the image to your computer. According to the University of Texas, "The popularity of paper dolls peaked from 1930 to 1950. Paper dolls still thrive today, exhibiting today's fashion, personalities and cultural practices."

  • Enlarge or shrink the image so the figure will be approximately 8-inches tall. Load paper into your printer. Print the image. Cut the figure from the paper with the scissors.

  • Glue, with rubber cement, the figure to the cardstock. Allow glue to dry. Trim the cardstock, with scissors, around the adhered figure.

  • Locate images of clothing. Print and cut to fit, or trace the figure onto paper with the pencil and draw clothing details. Add half-inch long tabs to the shoulders of the clothing pictures so when cut, the tabs can be folded over the figure's shoulders.

  • Color the figure and clothing with crayons, colored pencils or markers, or print with color ink from your computer printer.

Making Paper Figures by Hand

  • Use tracing paper and a pencil to trace the image for the figure. Lay tracing paper over the image, such as from a catalog. Trace with the pencil onto the tracing paper.

  • Place the tracing paper on top of carbon paper and place the carbon paper on top of a piece of paper. Trace over the tracing you made on the tracing paper, pressing firmly, so the image of your figure is transferred to the paper beneath.

  • Cut the figure from paper with scissors. Glue the figure to cardstock with rubber cement. According to Wild Art Dolls, "During the Victorian era, Godey's Lady's Book, was the first magazine to publish a paper doll in their November 1859 issue." Girls glued paper dolls to cardboard for play.

  • Use scissors to cut the cardstock around the figure. Color your figure with crayons, colored pencils or markers.

  • Trace around the figure to create a pattern for clothes, adding half-inch tabs to fold over the figure's shoulders for the clothing to stay on. Color the clothing. Trace around clothing from magazines and other pictures for finer details. Adjust the arms and other details to fit the tracing of your paper figure.

Tips & Warnings

  • Add a rectangle of paper around the feet of your figure to create a base on which the figure can stand. Cut two slits on each end of the base and insert a strip of paper folded in half into a V, an end into each slit, to allow the figure to stand alone.

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