The main characters in my newest mystery novel, My Name is Marnie, make shrunken apple head dolls and sell them at craft fairs and online. That’s not the plot, just a creepy backdrop. As I was writing the book it occurred to me that I had no idea how to make these dolls. I couldn’t describe the process, didn’t know the texture of the apples after they’d dried, or how to affix the heads to the bodies. So I decided to research the craft and make some. I learned a lot, mainly that they’re fun and easy. Through trial and error I picked up some tips on what to do and what not to attempt.
I can’t sew so their bodies look like something a kindergartener would make, but I think they’re cute just the same
Step one, pick up Granny Smith apples. They’re the big green ones. For my first failed batch I used a different type. They were smaller and I broke four of them when I tried to core them (with a knife). This time I bought Granny Smith. They’re very large and round, perfect for heads. I also picked up a good apple corer at William Sonoma. It was $10 and really well made.
I cored and peeled four apples. Squeeze lemon juice (I used one of those plastic lemons from the produce section) and a little salt into a bowl. Next I carved deep eyes into them, mouths, and cut around noses. I made ears too but their hair ended up covering them up. Once you finish an apple, soak it in the juice for about 30 seconds. Make sure all surfaces get a good wash from the lemon. This keeps them from getting overly brown or rotted. Here’s a picture of the four of them next to two leftover from the failed batch two weeks prior. This shows how much they will shrink and gives some carving examples. Cut deep and wide as they shrivel quite a bit and shallow cuts will get lost.
VERY IMPORTANT-Once the apple dry, it’s very difficult to change the features so put whole cloves in the eyes when the apples are first carved. I saw a few websites that suggested popping rice into the mouths for teeth. I thought that was a great idea but it was hard. Two of my apples had closed mouths. On the two that were open I managed to get a few pieces of rice into one but the grains were hard to work with. If you do this, use tweezers and poke a hole in the apple with a toothpick first. Speaking of toothpicks, for the other apple, I shoved broken toothpicks in to see how that looked. It didn’t look good a week later. I’d suggest no teeth or make the effort to use rice.
I set them on a cooling rack on the counter. A few times I set them in the oven on 170 for an hour or so and that sped them along. If they lean forward, cut the apple until the face is upturned. Otherwise when they dry, they’ll fall forward. With the oven to help, they took a week to dry. They make shrink a little still but I think they’re mostly done now.
None of the sites I found explained in detail how to make the bodies. I used some thick foam from the craft store and a gingerbread man cookie cutter. I cut the head (in the foam) to wedge into the dried apple head hole, where the core was. It’s a nice snug fit. If the apple shrinks more, it will form around the foam.
From here, I sewed some felt around the forms and stuffed cotton balls underneath to give them depth. I adorned them with buttons and belts, added some felt hands and boots.
Note, on one of the heads not shown, I brushed a little blush/tanning powder to see how it looked with color. I didn’t like it. I also used a light pink marker on the lips. This also looked bad. I recommend keeping them with their natural color. Finally, I glued some cotton balls to their heads.
I think they look just adorable. My characters will do a better job and sew more skillfully, and use matching thread, or maybe made soft rag doll bodies. But this experience was enough to expose me to the craft.
Now that I know what I’m doing here, I’ve got some editing to do. Happy writing and happy crafting!
Good luck with your dolls!