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!

Rockin’ Valentines


Gratitude to all of you who venture here to read about our trials and jubilations as we journey toward a lower impact life. These little rocks were gathered down at our nearby beach and turned into missives of love and positive affirmation by my daughter for her classmates and friends.


A few stones and some scrap yarn brought smiles to 26 fourth grade students, proof that the simple things in life can still be perceived as beautiful and grounding. We wish you a happy Valentines Day, a day of love and kindness, and a break from it all.


Love and gratitude,

Liesl, Pete, Finn & Cleo

Valentines: The Original Folk Art Scrap Hack

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

I remember having to make valentines cards in elementary school for each of my classmates. The handmade cards tended to come from whatever scrap paper, lace, and paper doilies we had around our home. Each valentine was different, a scrapper’s attempt at making beauty from what was available.

Scraps of Paper. All You Need to Make an Original Valentine. Photo © Liesl Clark

And then things changed, and there was a new ethic afoot: Skip the handmade valentine and buy a mass-produced version for your friends, complete with a stash of sweets. All you had to do was fill in your name, the recipient’s name, and add a packet of hearts. It certainly was a time-saver, but these so-called valentines felt like a cop-out and an opportunity for some not-so-creative folks to make money off of us. I’m still a big fan of the hand-crafted valentine. You might say the valentine is an original form of folk art, and some still practice it today.

Our kids, over the past few years, have been assigned, at school, to make valentines for their classmates from materials found in their home. Alas! We could bring back the tradition. Here are a few examples I’ve pulled from our photos over the years:

1) The Traditional Scrap Paper Valentine:  We first gathered our scrap paper and cut out traditional hearts on card stock we had rescued from the landfill. We also save pretty scrap paper from magazines and junkmail so we have plenty of colors and textures to choose from for projects like this.

Cutting, folding, and gluing paper is all it takes to make a valentine. Photo © Liesl Clark

2) A Scrap Fabric Valentine:  Then we found some pretty scrap fabric and cut out hearts to glue to the reclaimed card stock. Those felt a little more 3D and folksy.

Add a fabric scrap to your valentine for a more 3D effect. Photo © Liesl Clark

3) Bookmark Valentines:  Cut long strips of paper about 2 inches wide by 6 inches long.

Paper strips from handmade paper. Photo © Liesl Clark

Punch a hole (we punched a star, really) into one end of each strip.

Punching a hole in the end of your strip. Photo © Liesl Clark

Tie a little ribbon or scrap fabric through the star, and you’ll have bookmarks ready to decorate as useful valentines.

Bookmark Valentines are Useful. Photo © Liesl Clark

4) Valentine Heart Wands: In our pantry, we found some pie tins and colorful plastic straws we had found on the beach, saved, and washed. These would become our raw ingredients for heart wands we made for several of the students:

Heart wands are easy. All you need are pie tins, straws, and a glue gun. Photo © Liesl Clark

Cut a heart out of your pie tin and glue it to the end of a straw. They work with pretty sticks, too. And if you want to embellish your silvery pie tin heart, you can glue a smaller heart to your tin heart.

Hearts of Paper and Hearts of Tin. Photo © Liesl Clark

The Tin Man would be proud.

Heart Wands From Pie Tins and Straws. Photo © Liesl Clark

We've been making these for years. Photo © Liesl Clark

5) Wire and Yarn Hearts:  We often craft wire hearts from scavenged wire and then wrap them in yarn. The children love hanging them around the garden. The little heart below was made by my daughter when the deer ate her bleeding hearts. She was so saddened by the loss of her hearts, she placed a fence around them and crafted this wire heart on the outside for the deer to eat, still leaving them something to enjoy. The sweetness of a 6-year-old is undying.

A wire and yarn heart to help protect the bleeding hearts from the deer. Photo © Liesl Clark

6) Classic Hand-Stitched Valentine: My daughter love to sew by hand. These hand-stitched valentines took her a month to make, but she poured her love and talent into each one. She left a little pocket in each to be filled with organic jelly beans, her favorite treat we buy in bulk at our local store. These are pretty easy to make so long as you have felt. We asked for felt on our local Buy Nothing group, and neighbors had plenty to share! She cut out hearts in varying sizes with my pinking shears and then layered them and sewed them together, leaving a pocket at the top.


7) Produce Sticker Heart:  This one might be a bit of a stretch, but for those health-conscious sweethearts in your life, why not craft a produce sticker heart valentine? It was a cathartic exercise, for me, because those plastic stickers to announce that we’ve bought organic produce bother me greatly. No tutorial necessary, right?

Produce Stickers are Pink and Perfect for this Healthy-Heart Valentine. Photo © Liesl Clark


Send in a picture of your own homemade valentines. We’d love to share them with all our sweethearts.