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Created: 12th April 2006
Worry Dolls
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Some worry dolls.

In the rural regions of Guatemala, Central America, weaving cloth has been a major occupation since the time of the Ancient Maya. And wherever fabric has been manufactured, there have always been offcuts and scraps; so just as some cultures devised 'mojo' bags from leftover material used for clothing, so did the Mayans make small 'magical' bags out of their throw-away cloth. But instead of the usual fetishes or charms, these bags contained six small dolls made from tiny splinters of wood and bits of cloth. So-called because they were used to ease worries or fears, the tradition of making 'Worry Dolls' remains to the present day.

How Do Worry Dolls Work?

When a child is worried or frightened, their parents present them with a bag, or sometimes a tiny colourfully painted wooden box, of six Worry Dolls. The child is given one doll each night for six nights and instructed to tell their worries to the doll, place the doll under their pillow and go to sleep. The next morning when the child wakes, they find that the doll has gone from under their pillow, taking their worries with it1.

Benefits Of Worry Dolls

Worry Dolls can be particularly useful in easing the troubles of hospitalised children - especially those awaiting surgery or having oncology treatments. But it is not only children who can benefit from Worry Dolls, adults with insomnia or anxieties have been known to use the dolls to good effect as well. After the six dolls have been used over six nights, all worries should be gone!2

Make Your Own Worry Dolls

To make your own Worry Dolls you will need the following:

  • Garbage bag ties3 (three per doll)
  • Coloured cotton
  • Scraps of paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Felt tip pen or marker
  • Cloth bag or a small painted wooden box

Each Worry Doll will be about three inches high, a little larger than the traditional type, but they will still work to the same ends. You can of course make your Worry Dolls with splinters of wood and scrap materials like the Mayans if you so wish, the process is much the same.

  1. Twist two of the garbage ties together about one inch from the end. Leave the short ends together for the doll's head, and separate the long ends for the legs.
  2. Wrap the third garbage tie around the other two and twist to make the doll's arms. Cut if necessary for the doll's arms to be the same length. Bend the ends of the ties for hands and feet.
  3. Tie the end of a long piece of cotton around the centre of the doll and wrap the cotton around the body and down one leg. Then wind the cotton back up the leg. Wind cotton up and down the other leg and tie off the loose ends.
  4. Wrap the chest and arms of the doll in the same way that the legs were wrapped.
  5. Fold a small piece of paper in half, and trim to a circle shape for a head and face. Fold the head over the twist tie ends, glue in place, and add a face with the pen or marker4. Now you have a Worry Doll!
  6. Repeat the steps above five times, and then find a suitable cloth bag or box to put them all in.

Once you have created a complete set of Worry Dolls, use them wisely!

1 Much like when teeth put under the pillow for the Tooth Fairy disappear come the morning...
2 This is not to be taken as read, the human psyche is a complex thing.
3 Often called 'twist ties', these are small plastic covered wires, a little like pipe cleaners but not so fluffy.
4 Two eyes and a smile are enough; you don't have to be Van Gogh.

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Written and Researched by:

Matt - feeling light blue and dolphin friendly

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Referenced Entries:

The History of Insomnia
My Experience of Cancer
The Genius of Vincent van Gogh
Anxiety Disorders, Panic and Phobia
Common Childhood Fairies

Related BBC Pages:

The Mayan Civilisation
BBC Learning: Crafts

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worry dollsApr 6, 2007


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