How to Make Matryoshka - Russian Nesting Dolls - with Gourds


Happy 90 Days until Christmas! "90 Days Until Christmas" is a big holiday at my house because it is the official kick-off to the "getting ready for the winter holidays"!

I am celebrating by putting up my 90 day count down to Christmas calendar and putting the final coat of spray on my Matryoshka ornament...


and this set of Matryoshka - Russian nesting dolls - made from gourds.

I have been having way too much fun with this project! Which is a surprise as I have been putting it off for at least three years.

I promised a tutorial a few days ago in the Folk Art Giveaway post!

And, since it is the time of year to pick up some lovely gourds at local farms or farmers markets, now is the perfect time for you to make your own Russian nesting dolls!


Except for the tiny 2" jewelry gourd, I picked these up at the Pumpkin Patch. However, if you don't have access to gourds, you can order them from Amish Gourds (east coast), or Wellborn Gourd Farm (west coast) , or Northern Dipper Gourd Farm in Canada.

Bottle gourds are probably the best gourd shape to use for this particular project. And, if you want them to nest, be sure they will fit inside each other.

This may take a bit of guess work, so you might want to pick up a few extras. You can always use the extras for ornaments or gifts!

A word about leaving some areas of the gourd surface exposed and unpainted.

Although my original intention was to paint the entire surface of the gourd, using flesh color for the face and a color that would contrast with the robe on the "tummy", once I began working, I decided to leave these parts of the gourd unpainted.

This is a personal choice, one born of a love for the uneven coloration on gourd surfaces. But it may not work for everyone. Even  I was a little disappointed that the acrylic spray darkened the face of the largest doll.

If you choose to paint the face and tummy areas, do so between steps 5 and 6. I would suggest applying two coats of paint.

Materials needed for making Matryoshka

Bottle gourd - three to five

Acrylic Paint - I recommend Plaid Folk Art Acrylic Paints

Paint brushes - broad to fine

Pencil and eraser

Masking tape

Acrylic Spray - gloss or matt

To clean and cut the gourd - see below


If you are planning to make a nested set, you will need to cut and clean your gourds. Diane posted a great tutorial on Craftstylish some time ago. Check it out!

I have to tell you that I am not thrilled with the cuts I made in my smaller gourds - they are pretty uneven. I think I have been used to working with larger gourds and used just too much "power" while cutting. The smaller bottle gourds are a bit more fragile than the larger gourds, so keep that in mind when you are cutting.

Slowly and carefully - just keep those words in mind while cutting.


1. Once you have cut and cleaned your gourd, put the two halves back together and tape into place with a couple pieces of masking tape.

2. Draw the outline of the doll's robe (large red or purple areas covering the back and top and bottom in the photos at the top).

3. Paint along the edge of the line. Taping the hemispheres together will insure that the edges of the robe will match where they meet at the cutting line.


4. Let the paint dry about 20 minutes and then remove the tape and continue painting the entire robe area. Trust me, these are much easier to handle while painting the robe if the gourd is in two pieces.


Note: Painting the robe on an uncut gourd is a bit more challenging because there is the pesky little problem of where to hold it! Paint all of the robe area, but leave a bit at the top and the bottom area unpainted. These can be painted after the robe area is dry.

TIP! I found little squares of wax paper worked wonderfully well for holding dabs of paint. When I was finished using a particular color, I would fold the paper in half and toss.


5. Once the first robe coat has dried for at least an hour, apply a second coat.

For most of the designs, I only used one coat of paint. But for this large surface area, and especially on a gourd with dark stains on the surface, a second coat will give you a beautiful, even finish.


6. Tape your gourd hemispheres back together making certain the edges of the robe match up.

Note: Originally I taped them back together just to be certain that my designs would match from one side of the cut line to the other. But I soon found out that it was also MUCH easier to paint the designs holding a whole gourd rather than half of a gourd!!

7. Now the fun begins! Using your pencil, draw your design onto the surface area not covered by the robe. Mistakes will easily erase.

(If you would like, you are more than welcome to copy my designs if you are having trouble coming up with something.)

8. Begin painting!


Note: There are no rules! But, because acrylic paint tends to dry very quickly, I did find that it was easiest for me to work with one color at a time.


9. To avoid smearing, let the painted designs dry completely between different color applications.


Note: Once the acrylic is dry, you can actually draw on it! So, if you would like to create a little design along the edge of your Matryoshka robe - or decorate the entire robe for that matter, you can do so. Just draw on your design. And, if you need to erase something, you can - without disturbing the paint. Let the paint dry a full hour before drawing on it.


10. Paint the face! For those of you who might need guidance in this department - like I do - Joanie (Nini Makes) has provided this very helpful tutorial for doll face painting. I hate to even think of what my doll faces would look like without her help.

This face is very similar to the face I painted on my Gracie Doll which I made using the step by step instructions in Joanie's lovely e-book Stitch Village.


Sometimes I see Matryoshka with their little eyes closed. These are much easier!


If you read the previous post about Folk Art Acrylic, you might remember the little apron I painted on the 2" gourd.




Almost done! Just a bit of paint here and there.

11. Let your dolls sit overnight so that the paint can completely dry.


12. Spray with acrylic spray - matt, satin or gloss - whatever your preference.

Gourds usually require two to three coats of gloss to achieve a very glossy finish. Matt spray - one coat is usually sufficient for protection.

Although I seldom use gloss on gourd projects, I really wanted a high gloss look on my little nesting dolls.

TIP: I found that egg cartons make great holders for spraying little items like these that may need a bit of support or need to sit at an odd angle when sprayed.


To hang your ornament, drill or make a small hole with an ice pick in the top of the gourd. Insert an eye screw.

As always, if you have questions, please ask! I will try to help.

Added 9/29:  Andy asked a very good question.  Apparently I didn't make myself clear on this point.  I did not cut the gourd I used for the tree ornament (shown at the top of the post).

I am hoping to see your gourd Matryoshka in my flickr pool!

Pam - these are great! I

Pam - these are great! I wanted to tell my blog followers about these matryoshkas in my Saturday Link List tomorrow. Hope you don't mind me using one of your pics. {:-Deb

These are absolutely amazing!

These are absolutely amazing! Having grown up in a small Ukrainian town in Canada, we were taught Pysanky growing up and also saw lots of examples of Matryoshka's in relatives homes. I will definitely try these one day! Thanks for the links as to where to buy gourds from.

How long do they last??

How long do they last??

Hello Pam - we are growing

Hello Pam - we are growing Russian Doll gourds in our public horticultural garden, in our veggie garden (for a change). I found your blog with the instructions on how to make these wonderful dolls and would like to include the URL on our sign that gives the 'map' of the garden. Would that be all right with you? They are so lovely and your instructions are excellent.

So is the little woven coaster idea, using a cardboard loom. We have a children's activity every afternoon, July & August and I think we should use that idea there.

Many thanks for the creativity and inspiration,

Pam, we must have these at

Pam, we must have these at Miss Adeline's. Your blog is incredible.

I love all your decoration

I love all your decoration ideas. I'm going to ask my neighbor who has a giant gourd patch if she has any in this shape. I also love the horse ornament and have ben wanting to try felting. I shrink sweaters and make things from them. Felting is like the next step.I will be stopping by again!

I love this idea! So

I love this idea! So adorable, and thank you for referencing my website. We have washed gourds available year round, anyone interested in purchasing just a few gourds is welcome to call our toll free number (1-877-843-0770) and I will be glad to ship via USPS to save money on shipping. Thanks again.

These are adorable! Thanks

These are adorable! Thanks for the idea and instructions as well as mentioning my website....anyone who would like to purchase gourds at a lower shipping cost is welcome to call our toll free number 1-877-843-0770 and I will ship via the USPS. Thanks again

I adore them!! Thank you for

I adore them!! Thank you for sharing such a genius (and beautiful!!) craft!

I love this project! You did

I love this project! You did a great job on the dolls and the tutorial.

I'm speechless. Those are

I'm speechless. Those are absolutely fantastic.

These are really great. Are

These are really great.
Are you hanging these on the tree?
How do you get them to hang as one piece after you have cut them in half to nest?

(Did you say, & I just missed it?)

Thank you.

Oh, these are just

Oh, these are just beautiful!! You just inspired me to get my boxes of gourds out of the garage and start making Christmas presents! Thank you for this!

Great idea! I love it!

Great idea! I love it!

I love these. I am hoping to

I love these. I am hoping to get some gourds here in the UK. We have a pumpkin shop that i discovered the other day, so I'll try there first. Otherwise may have to look for something similar. Your tutorial is excellent. Thanks

Pam, I hope you know that

Pam, I hope you know that you're a crafty genius! :-D I just loooooove this tutorial. I have a great love of Matryoshka dolls and I will absolutely need to get to my farmer market to make theses before they don't have any left!

Wow, wow, wow! This is simple yet it looks so much fun to make!

*Add to the "to-do list"!* :-D

Much hugs to you! xoxo!

This is such a genius idea. I

This is such a genius idea. I love these so much. You are amazing! My brain is fried, so I can't think of a thoughtful comment, but I just wanted to say WOW!

So great! What a perfect

So great! What a perfect idea. I've just added another set of seeds to my grow list for next year. And I bet the largest doll would look less weird with her darker face if maybe she wasn't a blond. Just a thought.

These are darling, your

These are darling, your tutorial and extra information is wonderful. TFS.

Oh Pam! I gasped when the

Oh Pam! I gasped when the pictures loaded on this post. Your dolls are stunning! Where on earth do you find time in the day?! Just gorgeous!

These are amazingly

These are amazingly faboulous, great so so great I want one, actually all of them stocked up

Hi Pam, I had to comment and

Hi Pam,
I had to comment and tell you how much I enjoyed this post. I came via Diane's tweet about your nesting Matryoshka dolls from gourds, and so glad I did. I love your designs on them! They really couldn't be anymore perfect.
Thank you, so much, for sharing this with us.

Okay, young lady... have you

Okay, young lady... have you opened a shop yet? I have been assured by Diane that I do not have to have multiples of something. You can put something up there and say: One of a Kind, People!

This is the cutest damn thing.

I finally got my injection Friday, and I have had a busy weekend of painting and gluing and trying to get finished with everything before next week, so I can just pack and learn more French. HA! Like I'm learning any now?


I can't even express to you

I can't even express to you how awesome these are!! I love them!!

Pam, these are adorable! Your

Pam, these are adorable! Your talents amaze me! :)

These are just gorgeous. You

These are just gorgeous. You always have up such tempting projects. I will now avert my eyes to avoid being distracted from my holiday knitting.....

Your Matryoshka dolls are so

Your Matryoshka dolls are so cute and so lovely. I have a weaknes for nesting dolls, I think it is the child inside me.

These are fantastic! Are you

These are fantastic! Are you going to decorate a Christmas tree with them? They would also be really cute treat boxes - you wouldn't have to wrap them and you can fit little toys or candy inside.

You have an extra day for

You have an extra day for crafting!! There are 91 days to go, because there are 31 days in October. (Unless you are counting til Christmas Eve, which I suppose *should* be the deadline for getting stuff done) The dolls are beautiful.

Wow, these are beautiful! You

Wow, these are beautiful! You make it look so easy!

Thank you, Phyllis!  Actually

Thank you, Phyllis!  Actually the only reason it looks easy is that it is easy! The project does take focus, patience and time however! 

I think if I were to do this again, I would probably not cut the gourds.  I don't plan on displaying them nested! 

Looking forward to our joint post in November making Advent candles!

They look wonderful, I have

They look wonderful, I have no skill when it comes to painting but this is something i'd love to have a go at. We don't really get gourds like this in England...but perhaps when I move to Switzerland!

I had no idea gourds were not

I had no idea gourds were not widely available.  But I am thinking that some clever person could possibly create  something similar using two baloons and papier mache! NOT me!  You know how I hate working with that stuff!  But some clever people out there who love getting their hands in paste could do it I betcha!

They are brilliant! I love

They are brilliant! I love them all so much. You must have really enjoyed making these. We can' get gourds here but now I'm going to look at butternut squash in a whole new way! You, clever, clever lady :)

Thanks for the generous mentions too.

You are welcome, Joanie!  I

You are welcome, Joanie!  I appreciate that you shared the link to painting simple doll faces.  Otherwise, I would not kave known where to begin but I assure you the results would not have been pretty!

Making the projects in Stitch Village has brought me so much pleasure - I try to share the link as often as possible.

Hey Pam These are absolutely

Hey Pam
These are absolutely terrific!!!
I'm going to keep my eye out at the farmer's market for some gourds.
Folk Art paint is my favorite too!
Thanks so much for this.

Hi Gail!  Thank you for your

Hi Gail!  Thank you for your lovely compliment!  Coming from you - this is high praise indeed! 

After seeing what you can do with Pysanky - I imagine that your Matryoshka will be absolutely beautiful.