For years I’ve wanted to make a few Christmas crafts. Mainly I knew I wanted to make at least an advent calendar (still working on this) and a nativity set. The nativity set I remember most growing up was a small wooden set that my mother had in our house growing up. It was for kids and all the pieces were very rudimentary and small. I think the baby Jesus was no bigger than half an inch. It didn’t matter though because we just liked moving the people around, staging the manager – where did the shepherds go, where were the sheep, and where can we hide baby Jesus and the Wise Men until it’s time for them to show up. I wanted to create something that had the same durability for my children but also look cute. I was looking at Pinterest (the mother of all craft inspiration) and saw a pin for an Etsy shop selling peg dolls. The dolls were a personalized family set but thought that it would translate so well into a Nativity set. And after some searching I got some great ideas! I wanted to start small, just Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, as I was also going to make a set for my niece and nephew at the same time.
DIY Peg Doll Nativity Set
Here’s the finished product and below is the tutorial for anyone interested in making one for yourself or just interested in some of the supplies I used. I’ll also let you know what I figured out along the way and would do differently if/when I make these again.
I typically start out on Amazon when searching for craft supplies. This is because as a busy mother it’s easier than running out at lunch to a crowded shopping center during the holiday shopping season. I also typically work through my lunches so I can run out the door at 5 pm. This leaves Amazon as really my saving grace most days. Anyway, I found these great affordable peg people and bought two bags worth. Why two bags, you ask? Because I love having extra supplies. I also didn’t know how much I wanted to expand my set once I got started. And lastly, since the set had a variety of figure shapes, and I didn’t want to have a voluptuous Mary, I knew I’d want more options to play with shape wise. So I got 2 bags of these babies Woodpeckers® Decorative Wooden Doll People – Assorted Sizes – Set of 40 Includes 5 Shapes. Since they were so inexpensive, I don’t mind having leftovers.
Once I got the pegs, I started planning out the shapes I wanted to use for each. I knew I didn’t want the womanly shape for Mary. These are for kids, people! Plus I doubt Mary had an hourglass figure the night Jesus was born, am I right? So I decided on the big square shape peg for Joseph, the small tapered shape for Mary, and the smallest peg person for Jesus.
Next I needed to decide how detailed I wanted to get with the clothes and face. Since these are for kids, I knew I didn’t want to get too fancy. Eyes and hair for the head. Color block outfits. They don’t know the difference anyway. This would make it easy on me for painting as well as straightforward for the kids. Win-win in my book.
So I planned on my colors. Thankfully I have a stash of Folk Art paints that I’ve been using for most of my crafts the past few years. (Again, why I sometimes buy more than I need.) I fished out blue for Mary’s dress, browns for Joseph, white to paint the shawls, headdresses, and swaddle blanket, and lastly black. Those are really the only colors I used. Except I also had one gold fine tip paint pen which I knew I’d use for Jesus’ halo. Also more on this later.
First I started with everyone’s face. I wanted everyone to have the same skin tone so I mixed up some paint and painted everyone’s face. I painted all of the baby Jesus pegs because I wasn’t sure at that point how I was going to handle the baby J.
After painting the faces, I was most excited to work on Mary. So I broke out my blue (which was actually periwinkle, don’t tell) and painted the body.
As those dried, I worked on Joseph’s brown torso. This took a bit of planning because I wanted to make sure the brown was darker than the skin but lighter than the dark brown I wanted to use for his sash. I knew Joseph was going to be primarily in browns so I wanted to vary then as much as possible.
I then did his sash, which was frustrating. I wanted to make sure the width of the sash was even all the way around and matched up perfectly. I think my biggest issue was the paint I used wasn’t new and separated a bit. Since the paint was on the oily side, I wasn’t getting great coverage which made me have to go over the section again and again, which always yields to inconsistencies in strokes. All in all I think they came out OK so I moved on.
As my Josephs dried, I went back to Mary. I decided that I’d start working on her face. I gave her some brown hair with a side part. It just took two swoops of paint on the forehead area since I knew I was going to cover the rest of her hair/head with a headdress. I used the white to give her a nice white shawl/headdress that went down to her feet.
The last step was her eyes. I really didn’t want to mess this up. I knew I wanted to use black since it would stand out more than brown. Plus with Joseph being mostly brown, I wanted to vary the colors just a bit. So I dove in with the black and just went with two small dots for the eyes. If I was to do this again, I would definitely have gotten a paint pen like the gold pen I used later for Jesus’ halo. The paint goes on smoothly and you can place it exactly where you want it. With my (old, old, old) brush, I knew I wasn’t going to get consistent marks. But that’s what gives it a handmade look and charm.
So my Marys were done.
Next to finish my Josephs. I felt better after doing the Marys’ hair and wasn’t as intimidated this time. I wanted to give Joseph a beard but again, this would be brown, on brown, on brown. So I went back to some of my reference peg nativity sets and saw that some of the Josephs also had headdresses on so I decided he would have a white headdress as well. So I dove in with the hair and beard. On the first one I placed his head a bit too far to the right. While Mary didn’t have a “front” and “back”, since Joseph had the sash painted on, he had a definite front side. And I messed it up. Thankfully not by much and it’s not noticeable unless you are really paying attention. But just a piece of advice when painting to always make sure you’re orienting the peg in the right direction before you start painting.
So I put on all the Joseph faces, hair and eyes. Next I painted his white, shoulder length headdress in the same fashion I did Mary’s but I had it come down a bit more on the forehead because I wanted to paint a headband around his head for added detail. Except for that one placement of the face, I think my Josephs came out well. While I was painting I wondered how historically accurate was the wardrobe I was painting…and quickly decided not to go down that road.
Last but not least was baby Jesus. I decided on white swaddling clothes and a nice gold halo. I gave the swaddle a little v-neck look. Gave him two little black eyes like his parents. And I used the gold paint pen for the halo. It was so much easier and the gold looked much better than the gold paint I had.
I decided to put a coat of Matte Mod Podge on all of the pieces just to give it a finished look and make sure the paint doesn’t come off easily. And I was done!
All in all it took me less than 2 hours to make the three sets. Since I had all the painting supplies it didn’t cost me anything but the cost of the pegs. Next is to see if I want to expand to a few shepherds and three wise men. I figured I have until January 6 to deliver them which gives me some time.
Tips for making your own peg dolls
- Always paint more than one doll at a time. I was able to maximize my time because by the time I finished the third doll, the first was dry.
- I found it was easy to mix all the paint once and get a consistent look on all the dolls. Another tip I read and should have followed is not using mixed paint. By mixing you always end up throwing paint out because you mix too much. Instead buy the exact colors you want and work from the lid of the paint container.
- I would get fine tip paint pens for details like halos and eyes. Looking at some of these pictures you can really see the different eye shapes made with the brush. For my little niece and nephew they won’t care, but if you want them to look a bit cleaner, definitely invest in those pen like these Sakura Pentouch Metallic Ink Marker, Extra-Fine, Gold pens.
Knowing how quickly I was able to make these sets, I’m already planning out when I’ll work on the three kings.
Hope you liked my tutorial on how to make a peg doll nativity set. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!