I wasn't going to do this one, because it's in "My Little House Craft Book," and it's so darn straightforward, but I find that my next few projects are stalled out waiting for yarn/fabric, and I want to post something in the meantime . . .
When I was younger, I found so much pathos in the idea of a little girl who is so poor that she only has a corncob to play with. As I got older, I found it slightly comical - it has that air of a grandparent telling children, "When I was your age, we didn't have all these fancy toys! We played with dirt, and we liked it!"
Now that I have a toddler, I can understand why a parent might hold off on giving a small child a toy with potentially small parts like button eyes or bits of yarn hair that can be yanked off and choked upon, and why 'upgrading' might be delayed when you have three small children and a house to take care of with absolutely no modern conveniences.
The retired blog Our Pioneer Homestead had an example of how the hankerchief idea can make quite a perfectly respectable, if limbless, doll. The picture can still be seen on Pinterest, but the tutorial is gone. Little House Living has one, just tie the hankerchief higher and fluff the 'skirt' out more to get the Pioneer Homestead look.
You can push the corncob idea even further and build a doll with legs and arms, or you can chuck the cob altogether and make a doll from the husks instead, or indeed, make a doll from just the hankerchief.
According to the tutorial, hankerchief dolls have a long history as an economical, quiet toy for children to play with, often made from the hanky of a loved one who had been lost or was far away. My hankerchief came from a rummage sale, so the sentimental value is lost, but while it won't keep my exuberant three year old quiet for longer than a few seconds, it certainly has the virtue of falling silently to the floor.
Unlike Ma Ingalls I don't really have a lot of hankerchiefs or corncobs at my disposal - but I do have lots of cheap yarn (lots and lots and lots). There are a few different ways to make a simple yarn doll, but this is how I learned, probably from the same doll book that I traced my paper dolls from. Should you find yourself with one or more small children trapped in your house on a rainy or cold day, it's an easy, quick, kid-friendly craft so you can all play dolls like Mary and Laura.
-Yarn (any weight or fiber will do, I'm using worsted-weight acrylic)
-A book or a piece of cardboard a little taller than you want your doll to be
Working lengthwise, wrap the yarn about 70-100 times around the book, then cut the end (all numbers are approximate; wrap more times for thinner yarn or if you want a plumper doll, fewer for thicker yarn or a thinner doll).
Cut about a 8" length of yarn from the ball. Tie it very tightly around the wraps to hold them together (it is not necessary to trim the ends of the tie), and then slide the bundle of yarn off of the book
Cut another piece of yarn at least 10" long. Holding the bundle about two inches below where you tied it, so that the tie is at the top and the knot is inside the bunch, wrap another piece of yarn around the whole bundle. This will be the neck. Wrap it around at least twice and knot it tightly. Set aside.
Working widthwise this time, wrap the yarn around the book about 50-75 times and cut the end. Carefully slide the bundle off of the book. This will be the arms.
Cut two 6" lengths of yarn. Tie one around each side of the shorter yarn bundle about an inch in from the ends to make hands.
Place the arms inside the loop of the larger bundle just below the neck. Tie another 10" length of yarn around the body below the arms to hold them in place and make the waist.
Cut open the bottom of the bundle.
Trim the ends and fluff out for a skirt . . .
. . .Or divide it in half, left and right, and tie with short pieces of yarn to make legs. You can trim the ends of the hands or leave them as loops.
Sweep up all your little yarn ends, and play!