Tutorial: How to make a Japanese bookmark doll

Bookmark dolls, or shiori ningyo, are a fun Japanese craft all by themselves, and they also make a cute embellishment on a card or other paper project.  Despite the name, they aren't usually used as bookmarks; they are called that because of the shape.  They are really more of a paper doll.  Although they are traditionally made out of washi paper,  almost any paper can be used if it isn't too heavy to fold.

You can make one any size, but my goal here is to make one that could fit on a standard card.  I started with a plain piece of white cardstock, about 4 inches long and about a half inch wide.  Using scissors, trim away a slender neck and shoulders.  The neck looks long now, but most of it will be hidden under the head.

Next, prepare a small piece of paper to be the undergarment - kimonos are not worn directly against the skin.  I used a 2 x 3 inch piece of leftover origami paper.

Fold over the long edge a quarter of an inch, then fold it over again, to make a nice clean border to your paper.  If your paper isn't colored on the back side, you can unfold it at this point to color the part that will show, then fold it back up again.

Once you have it colored the way you like, you can wrap it around the neck of your base as shown in the picture.  Use a bit of adhesive to hold it in place.  Be very particular about folding the right side over the left as shown - only the dead wear it the other way.  Once you have the neck stable, fold the sides so they are parallel to the sides of the base.

 Pick a a paper to be your kimono.  Although most people wrap the kimono all in one piece, I find it easier and less bulky to wrap the top and bottom separately.  No one will see once you put the obi (sash) on.  For this size doll, I cut a 2x4 piece for the top and a 4x4 piece for the bottom of the kimono.

Fold over one edge and color the small piece just like you did for the undergarment.  Wrap it around the neck, letting the undergarment show at the neckline.  Again, be careful about having the right side over the left.
Fold the sides back to be parallel to the sides of the base.  If you are making a freestanding doll (not glued to a background piece) tuck the excess paper inside the fold instead of pushing it to the back.  Use a little adhesive to hold the top in place.

For the bottom of the kimono, fold and color one side of the square of paper, just like you did on the first two pieces.
Wrap it around the base, lining up the colored border.  Use a little adhesive under the flap to hold it to the base.  You can flare the bottom a tiny bit, if you like.

Now it is time to add the obi.  Actually, you can have several obis, three is a very common number.   Use a strip of a differently patterned paper, about 2x3 inches wide, and fold in the long edges to make them smooth.  Here I have two.  A little dab of adhesive under each one holds it steady while you wrap the ends to the back.  If you are gluing it to a background, then you are pretty much done with the outfit.  However, if you are making a freestanding doll, you will want a bow in back.
Here is a back view of my doll.  There are a lot of different ways to knot an obi; this is my paper interpretation of the popular drum bow (smashed flat).  I took another couple of inches of the same paper that I used to make the obi, and tucked the ends in over and under the obi.  Be careful to hide your cut ends under the bow.  In this photo I hadn't added the second obi yet.

Now it is time to make the head.  For the head,  I punched a circle out of white cardboard with a one inch circle punch.  I then cut out some hair from black cardstock, making sure that the hair was larger than the head.  You can be creative with your hairdo - hair can be long or short, fancy or plain, pigtails, buns - your imagination is the limit.  Also cut out some bangs or other hair to surround the face area.  These dolls don't have faces, so don't worry about the hair covering the eyes.
Here is my completed doll, with the head glued in place, and a few flowers added for fun.  I also have a different doll I made earlier in this picture, just to show you a different hair style.  Here they are from the back:
You can see I tried a different bow style on the second doll.  If you do a search for obi knots, you will see a lot of different variations to try.

These dolls ended up being about 6 inches long, but if I wanted to fit them on a card, it would be easy enough to trim a little off the bottom.  You may wonder about the lack of sleeves.  Bookmark dolls traditionally don't have sleeves.  However, it is your doll. You can try to add sleeves if you want, but trust me - it will not improve the look of your doll, unless you want your doll to look like Batman.

(snickering - I kill me)

The obijime (thin tie over the obi) is a very thin strip of yellow cardstock.  What Japanese girl doesn't have a headband with kitty ears?  Anyway, as you can see here, if you make the doll out of scrapbook paper, it will be sturdy enough to stand up.  the wings...er...sleeves are two separate pieces of 3 x 6 inch paper folded in half cut with a curve.  

I hope you will give this a try - it is fun,  and a great project to do with the kids, too.
Juliet Arrighi


Chris said...

Front and back...they are so beautiful!

Linda Wescott said...

Great Tutorial, look a lot of fun to make, and your finished dolls are beautiful, Japanese bat girl with kitty ears is quite something...might just catch on lol. Hugs lin

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note to let you know that a link to this post will be placed on CraftCrave today [10 Apr 01:00am GMT]. Thanks, Maria

Shelly Schmidt said...

I love Asian themed cards- and did not know one darned thing you wrote about in your tutorial- I love this idea and will give it a try! I love the hairstyles and flowers in the hair- and thanks for the chuckle about the batman sleeves.....!

Beach Cat ! said...

I really wanna make one of these... thank you for all the directions ...

Silvia(Barnie) said...

Your bookmark dolls are fantastic, thanks for the tutorial.

Danise said...

Thank you for the tutorial.I really like your dolls and they would make a great gift in any form.

Unknown said...

I'm confused! The picture shows LEFT over right but it should be the other way around! It is right hand facing (mirror image) but if the doll is from the perspective of inverted image then the fold at th neck would b incorrect!

I absolutely love making these and have modified them many times for our hospice fund raising as everyone loves them! A$3.50 and they sell like hot doughnuts lol!

I am glad I found your page as it is the most well laid out!
Highly recommended.

Thank you so much.

Diane of Fun Funky n Cool Creations said...

I love this and the information involved about the outfit. Thanks so much for creating and sharing this pattern. My sister is very much into the Japanese culture as she is writing a manga fantasy book so I am definitely going to make one for her.