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How to Make Matryoshka Nesting Dolls

Russian Nesting Dolls are most popularly associated with ​Russia and are the quintessential Russian souvenir. They are also called matryoshka dolls. Russian nesting dolls are made in various shapes, sizes, and numbers and are decorated with many different themes and techniques.

Educational Benefits of Matryoshkas

Matryoshkas are wooden dolls that come in a set: they range in size and can be placed inside of one another. The first nesting doll set was carved in 1890, and in 1900 the dolls were presented at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, where the toy earned a bronze medal. Since then, this toy has been a noticeable part of Eastern European culture and my childhood as well.

This little toy teaches a lot of basic concepts to children, and because it is made of wood, they can start playing with it during their first year.

The Types of Nesting Dolls Available

Russian nesting dolls are typically painted to look like women in traditional Russian clothing. However, Russian nesting dolls can also depict Russian fairy tales, world leaders, cartoon characters, pop culture icons, sports heroes, or animals. Russian nesting dolls can be painted with particular themes like holidays or religion.

Russian nesting dolls are usually brightly colored, but some can be plain, decorated with a wood burning technique, or embellished with gold paint.

Do-It-Yourself Matryoshka

You can always buy a set, but if you paint it yourself, you can add educational elements and personalized elements. It can become a unique toy for your child that will have real history and culture behind it! Painting a Matryoshka set is simply fun, and if you have older children, who are around four and older, it can be a great family project.

Matryoshkas come in very different designs. Many sets would feature the same design, painted on a different scale, but there would be other sets where all the dolls will be different. Frequently, Matryoshkas depict women in traditional dresses with headscarves; however, there are sets of animals, cartoon characters and even politicians. Here I am going to show how to paint a very simple Matryoshka.


  • a blank wooden set
  • paints (Gouache or Acrylics)
  • if you use Gouache, you will need a polyurethane varnish; if you use Acrylics, a water-based varnish will work as well

I feel more comfortable working with Gouache. From what I know, it was also a traditional way of painting these dolls. However, in modern times, it is very common to use acrylics for painting Matryoshkas as well.


Step-by-Step Guide

1. Line all of your nesting dolls in front of you. Depending on how big your dolls are and how young your child is, you might want to remove some of them from the set for now. In my set the biggest doll is 4″ tall, and I prefer to take the two smallest ones out. I am left with three dolls.
2. Paint each in a uniform colour. I am going to paint them red, blue and yellow, so that the dolls can be used for teaching colours and some basic sorting activities.


3. Mix a skin colour (white+a bit of red+a bit of yellow) and paint circles for their faces. Add some curls and fringes.


4. Now is the time for the most important part – babushka! Sometimes Matryoshkas are even called Babushka dolls, for the traditional headscarves they wear. It is funny that the English word for them happened to be babushka. In Russian, when you say babushka, you mean grandma. Old women do wear headscarves a lot, but those are called kosynka in Russian.

Linguistic curiosities aside, you can simply outline the headscarf or decorate its edges, like I did with the blue doll. You can paint some pattern on the headscarf or on the dress, like I did with the red and the blue dolls. I will also add a pattern to the yellow one, later.


5. Another noticeable feature of a traditional doll would be a painting on its belly. It could be a decorative floral design or a scene from everyday life. Often it is enclosed in a circle. Start by painting circles on your dolls’ bellies.


6. After the paint dries, make a small design inside of each circle.


7. Paint facial features.


8. Add any other details you want.


9. Varnish your dolls to preserve the paint.


10. Have fun!

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