20 DIY Crafts Not Plastic

A Case For Exposing Your Children to Traditional Arts Using Natural Materials. Photo © Liesl Clark

When my children reached elementary school age and we enrolled them in programs that had art classes, we were amazed at how few natural materials were used for art supplies and just how much of it was plastic: glitter glue, colorful plastics for mosaics, acrylic-coated feathers, various items to be “recycled” through art like yogurt cups and plastic straws. The myriad cut-and-paste-style art projects they did were primarily made of art supply store plastics. All too often schools and art classes are cutting corners and can only afford cheaper plastic materials for art supplies.

Hand-crafted tiles or buttons, made by a young Nepali stone-carver. Photo © Liesl Clark

I would’ve preferred sticks, stones, leaves, sea glass, natural feathers and wood over the pre-fabricated plastic materials my son and daughter were exposed to. These plastics were simply mimicking what’s found readily in nature. I also believe the color palette children are exposed to in those early years, through day-glo style plastics, can affect their color choices later in life. Gone might be an appreciation for natural greens, browns, blues and purples found regularly in the environment. We started to opt out of the popular kinder art projects in preference to doing our own art, making an effort to learn from traditional artists who work with stone, wood, glass, wool, and ceramics. These experiences, for our children, were enriching as they learned quickly that they could create things of beauty from resources found in the natural world, as people have done for millennia.

A Young Nepali Artist Carving Prayers Onto a Mani Stone. Photo © Liesl Clark

A coupling of leaves, feathers, and flowers could become a miniature nest or fairy’s bed from a 7-year-old’s imagination.

A Fairy Bed, Made From Leaves, a Pod, Feathers and a Flower. Photo © Liesl Clark

Or a piece of wood might be whittled into a boat, a stone carved into a work of art. Exposing children to traditional folk art from around the world is a great way to teach them how natural materials that are readily available can be turned into works of beauty.

Azurite Is One of The Pigments Used in Traditional Himalayan Art. Photo © Liesl Clark

On a recent trip through South Korea while we were in transit, we took part in a program at the airport in Seoul that teaches traditional art forms. Every time we pass through this airport our children learn a new form of art made from a surprising material. They’ve worked with rice paper to make stone carving prints onto them, they’ve made paper lanterns, they’ve hand painted fans, and they made a tapestry necklace. This time, they learned the Na-Jeon art form, working with mother of pearl-colored shells and shellac from the lac tree.

Learning the Na-Jeon Art Form in Korea. Photo © Liesl Clark

This highly sophisticated ancient Korean craft utilizes iridescent abalone and conch shells in contrast to a lacquered black wood background, creating a sense of balance and harmony in this mariage of opposites.

A Hand Mirror Made in the Korean Na-Jeon Style © Liesl Clark

The children were given hand mirrors to decorate in the Na (which means “pearl”) Jeon (which means “decorate”) style. The focus and concentration the craft required was mesmerizing for us to watch. And the mirrors will be treasured for years to come in our family.

IMG_5929 © Liesl Clark

If you’re looking for some ideas for arts and crafts less plastic, we came up with a list of 20 traditional crafts from natural materials found in and around your home that are easy to try. Copy this list or share the link with your art teacher at school. No need for spending money on cheap plastic art supplies when there are supplies we can contribute from our own homes and backyards: scrap fabric, acorns, sticks, scrap paper, wool sweaters, leaves and sea shells are just a few. Incorporate information about the cultures that started the folk art form you’ll practice so your children appreciate the history behind their craft and how interconnected we all are through our art forms:

1) Doll-Making: Fabric Scrap Dolls have been made for the children of many cultures for centuries.

DIY Tiny Dolls Wear Fabric Scraps in Style

2) Vegetable Stamps: My favorite veggie to use for stamps is okra. But you can also carve stamps from a potato with excellent results. And the celery rose stamp is absolutely beautiful.

3) Fabric Scrap Mosaic: Reusing fabrics is an art unto itself and certainly has been passed down for generations. Try making a pretty mosaic from your leftover scraps.

4) Embroidery: Try your hand at embroidery. You can even embellish a tired old lampshade to create color in a room.

5) Twig Basket: Collect some long green twigs and make a freeform basket out of them.

6) Origami Tea Bag Folding: Learn the traditional art of origami paper folding using the paper the covers tea bags! If families saved up their tea bag covers, a school art program would have plenty of paper to work with and couldn’t complain about budget constraints.

7) Scrap Paper Flowers: Art classes should save all scrap paper to make these beautiful flowers. Or toilet paper rolls are all you need to make these flowers.

 

Toilet Paper Roll Flowers. Photo © Kelly Munson

8) Fallen Leaf Art: There are many beautiful artistic creations you can craft from leaves.

9) Scrap Paper Tree: This pretty craft utilizes tiny pieces of your favorite scrap paper as well as sticks collected from outdoors.

10) Seashell Arts: We’ve made mobiles from sea shells and endless mosaics. These seashell koalas would make any child happy.

11) Tin Topiary: Use pie tins to make these beautiful tin flowers.

12) Knitting: With some saved-up chopsticks, you can teach anyone how to knit.

Knit with Old Chopsticks photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

13) Felting: Learn how to felt your wool sweaters.

14) Rubbings: Make rubbings for things natural or extraordinary.

15) Weaving: DIY weaving is easy and a great craft to do with scrap yarn and fabric strips. You can even make your own loom.

16) Phone Book Paper Painting Meditation: Teach the kids meditation by doing phone book paper art.

17) Sock Crafting: If you’re in need of a stuffed animal, try making one from a sock.

Sock + Rubber Bands + Bits & Bobs = Sock Hippo. Photo © Liesl Clark

18) Hand-Made Valentines: Valentines are an original folk art scrap hack.

Handmade Paper Valentines, An Original Folk Art. Photo © Liesl Clark

19) Stencils: You can make stencils from food boxes and use beets as your ink dye.

20) Driftwood Sculptures: If you collect enough of a variety, driftwood lends itself to creative art from their smooth appealing shapes.

What crafts from materials readily-available can you add? We love to make things from what’s abundant around us!

Create An Inventor’s Kit For Your Curious Child

Our alarm clock went on the fritz. It just didn’t keep good time anymore and when we put new batteries in, the whole thing decided to stop ticking. Rather than throwing the clock out, our 9-year-old took the opportunity to try to fix it. He looked deep inside and saw the inner workings of the mysterious time-keeper, its simple gears and all the parts that added up to the whole: A simple machine. The adventure in taking-it-apart-land proved fruitful and now any broken gadgets in our household are fertile ground for young inventors searching for new parts to connect together, creating new-fangled machines.

Motherboards are a universe of fascinating connections for the curiosity-seeker. Keep your youngsters’ minds exploring, even if it’s inside the things you thought would never tick again.

The secondary benefit is not throwing perfectly reusable items away. Rather than putting it all into the metal recycling bin or e-waste, these items will have a prolonged life. Our children’s relationship with “things” is changing rapidly, as they see how items may have a new use in a different iteration.

The fun part of finding an old case to use for the kit. We cleaned out some boxes in our storage room and found these to create new kits to give to neighbors.

IMG_6913_DL.png

Spark creativity in the kiddos around you. You’ll be surprised by what they build, and do send us your suggestions for what you’d add to your child’s inventor’s kit!

20 Wine Cork Uses

25 Reuses For Natural Wine Corks. Photo © Liesl Clark

Wine corks have a natural mystique. There’s something attractive about those stoppers of cork once they’re released from a bottle of fine wine. And when you’ve accumulated a few, cork projects come to mind. One of the first DIY projects I made for my first home was a cork board out of a frame of recycled old painted wood found at the dump in Aspen, Colorado. It was such a thing of beauty, I made several of them, collecting corks from local restaurants, and I sold them to a shabby chic antique barn.

Before I start in with this list, I feel compelled to bring attention to the fact that cork is a renewable recyclable material. Recycling your cork through Recork or Cork Forest will keep your cork out of the landfill and result in cork flooring and other cool products made of cork like shoes. Each organization can point you to your nearest recycler or you can take corks to a bin at Whole Foods Markets since they have a partnership with Cork ReHarvest.

The cork forests of Portugal are one of the oldest forms of sustainable agroforestry in the world. They’ve been in production since the 13th century and harvesting of the cork does not require cutting down the tree. Buying wines that use natural instead of plastic corks helps sustain these forests and their biodiverse habitats that need continued protection. But how do you know which wines have natural corks? There’s now a web app for that!  Put out by Recork, I love this app called CorkWatch. I did a search for my favorite local winery, Eleven Winery, and found that all of their wines are corked with natural cork. Kendall-Jackson by contrast has a Reserve chardonnay in natural cork and their less expensive everyday chardonnay in plastic.

Although there’s risk of getting a wine with cork taint if you sample a natural cork wine, I still prefer purchasing a plastic-free wine. We know plastics leach BPA into liquids and there is good evidence showing that the plastic corks are not allowing wines to mature properly. Recork’s CorkWatch is helping me reduce my plastic footprint. Furthermore, Cork Forest Conservation Alliance has a method of identification on the bottles themselves which some wineries are using: If you see an acorn on the bottle it means the cork is natural.

If you have accumulated some plastic corks, apparently the industry says you can recycle them. Of course our recycler won’t take them. I couldn’t find any information whether Seattle takes them and Earth911 had zero results for a recycler in our region. Hmmm. I think I’ll stick with traditional cork.

Ok, so you want to do something cool with your saved natural corks rather than recycle them? Here are a few ideas.

1) Wine Cork Cork Board: It’s as simple as gluing the corks against particle board with a frame around it. I use wood glue.

2) Wine Cork Pot Grippers: I squeeze them inside the handles of my cookware so I can pick up the pot tops when they’re hot without the need of a pot holder. Corks don’t conduct heat so these cork handles have become a staple in our kitchen.

cork potgrippers

3) Cork Stamps: If you’re good with an exacto knife, try carving some stamps.

4) Bulletin Bar: Line up your corks and glue them to a yardstick. This makes a yard-long bar for pinning things like your children’s art.

5) Cork Placemat: With 50 corks, a utility knife, and a hot glue gun you’ll have a cork placemat in no time (Okay, it’ll take some time.)

6) Cork Plant Labels: Cork looks natural in the garden labelled with the names of your veggies and herbs you’ve planted.

7) Furniture Leg & Floor Protector: Little cork disks make great furniture leg pads to protect your wood floors from scratches.

8) Wine Cork Key Chains: They might keep your keys afloat!

9) Cork Centerpiece: If you have a large glass bowl and a tea light you can make a pretty cork centerpiece.

10) Cork Trivet: Cork is a great material for making a trivet.

11) Cork Backsplash: If you have a wet bar, a cork backsplash would look great.

12) Cork Ornaments: Corks and beads make pretty Christmas ornaments.

13) Wine Cork Wine Coasters: They might be a bit wobbly for your wine glass but the do look cool.

14) Cork Wreath: Even wreaths can be made from wine corks. Next thing you know, you’ll be able to make a planter out of wine corks.

15) Wine Cork Bird House: This video shows you how to do it. Doesn’t look tough.

16) Wine Cork Place Card Holder: These aren’t difficult to make and they leave a great impression.

17) Wine Cork Curtain: Alas, I can’t find a decent tutorial, but imagine stringing corks and beads together to create a 60’s-ish curtain of cork-strings in your doorway.

18) Wine Cork Base Board: This Old House shows you how to make a base board runner made of wine corks.

19) Wine Cork Dog Leash: Really! And it’s not hard to make.

20) Plant Pot Moisture Absorbers: This one is 2 ideas in 1. You can place corks in the bottom of your large pots to reduce the amount of potting soil you need to put in while providing drainage. But you can also grind up some corks in your vitamix and put the bits in your soil to help hold moisture on hot days.

Doll House Haunted House

It was a dark and stormy night…(yes, we get plenty of these in the Pacific Northwest) and a couple of innovative kids created a mini haunted house from items they found in boxes and toy collections. They wanted to create something to play with but also to put on display outside the front door, without purchasing anything new. This haunted doll house is now a treasure, simply because they transformed a few everyday items and found some seasonal ones to add to the ambiance. The key is: Buy nothing and craft a cool Halloween decoration.

Here’s how this easy rainy-day project can quickly come to fruition for you, too:

1) A dollhouse will need to be your centerpiece.

2) Then, a glow-stick-style flashlight that glows a flourescent green will need to be procured from a closet. Or, use a regular flashlight and use some green plastic sheeting as a gel for your light.

3) Tiny plastic bugs must be curated out of your vast collection of creepy crawlies.

4) Next comes a search for white yarn scraps you might have thrown in the waste basket but thought better of. These will serve as cob webbing.

5) And finally, any tiny otherwise useless Halloween bits and bobs you’ve accumulated from previous years will make your mini haunted house’s yard art especially intimidating. If you don’t have anything, just ask for them on your local Buy Nothing group.

6) Put on some scary mood music (Pandora can be great for that), and let the mini doll-style Halloween fun begin.

What no-buy, no-waste Halloween ideas have you crafted up?

Fabric Scrap Tiny Tents For Little Hands

Our daughter has been sewing avidly since she was 6. She loves to design and sew her own doll clothes and to make little spaces for her toy animals out of fabric scraps. Here’s a great project for small hands and a fun sewing project for 2, using up fabric scraps and old trousers, too!

Step 1: Trace a perfect circle onto a stiff fabric like felt, fleece, or corduroy (we used some old corduroy pants of mine). The circle will determine how tall your tent will be. We cut ours about 6″ wide.

Step 2: Cut that circle in half and then trace it onto a pretty fabric of your choice which will be the outer fabric of your tent.

Step 3: Cut the half circle out of your pretty fabric.

Step 4: Pin the rounded edges of the half circles together, stiff fabric facing in on one side and nice fabric facing in on other.

Step 5: Sew the pinned rounded edge of the 2 half circles together.

Step 6: Turn the half circle right-side-out so the sewn edge is hidden. Fold it in half and then sew the remaining straight edges together as shown in the photo.

Step 7: Turn this right side out and you have a cute closed tipi/tent for little animals or people to live in (or a pointed hat for a doll!)

Step 8: A variation on this tent/tipi is to add a door: Simply leave a couple of inches of “flap” left open on the last straight edge and sew the flaps back about 2-3 cm so you have a tipi opening opening.

Looking for more ideas to use up your fabric scraps? Please visit our Trash Backwards app that has reuses for everything in your home!

Click Through for Fabric Scrap Reuses at Trash Backwards.

 

Non-Toxic Magic Marker Easter Egg Dye

How did our little hackers dye their eggs for Easter the last few years without producing waste or buying new? With dried out colorful markers! We thought they were at the end of their life, so we threw them upside down into glasses of water, added a splash of vinegar, and….presto! Easter egg dye.

After soaking the eggs in the watery dye for 20-30 minutes, they came out beautifully. And an unexpected added bonus? The markers work perfectly again! All they needed was a few minutes at the spa for a soak. Caps are back on  and they’re back in the marker bag with their friends.

Happy Trash-Hacky Easter.

Fabric Scrap Doll Tutu

Easy Fabric Scrap Tutu For a Child to Make, Photo © Liesl Clark

Visiting grandma means we get to dive into her boxes of fabric scraps. For 40 years, no fabrics have been wasted in her house. Just last month, she passed on several boxes to a local quilt-making organization, but luckily we found a few more up in her attic.

Grandma's Fabric Scraps, Photo © Liesl Clark

We looked in the Trash Backwards app for some good fabric scrap reuse ideas for small hands and landed upon a fun tutu tutorial for a little girl. My daughter decided she wanted to make it for her stuffed panda. So, we took our lead from the tutorial at Home Sweet Home and made a mini version for a doll or stuffed animal.

Strips of Fabric Scraps, Photo © Liesl Clark

1) First, cut your fabrics into 1/2 inch to 1 inch wide strips. We made ours approximately 6-8 inches long.

2) Find an elastic waistband, about 8-12 inches-worth and sew 2 ends together so you have it in a loop.

Sew Your Waistband Into a Loop, Photo © Liesl Clark

3) Fold your strips in half length-wise and place them underneath the waistband with the loop sticking out of the top and thread the ends of the fabric scrap through your loop, tying half of a square knot. This is how you tie on your skirt scrap pieces.

Adding Fabric Scraps to The Waistband, Photo © Liesl Clark

4) Tie your scraps on one after the other and gather them together tightly.

Tying One On, Photo © Liesl Clark

5) We wanted to be sure that the waistband was sewn together well, so grandma reinforced it with some hand-sewing.

Reinforce Your Waistband Ends, Photo © Liesl Clark

You’re Done! Spread around your strips so they even-out your skirt and you can add on more strips of color wherever they’re needed.

A Tutu For a Doll or Stuffed Friend, Photo © Liesl Clark

Panda Loves Her Tutu, Photo © Liesl Clark

Dancing With Her Tutu, Photo © Liesl Clark

 

Fabric Scrap Tutu, Photo © Liesl Clark