Posts tagged: arts and crafts books

Metal – Tin Can Knitter (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , May 25, 2008 8:09 pm

Above you can see the product of this week’s Unplugged Project theme of metal: a knitted hamster.

I know what you’re thinking: “Wait a minute, the theme was metal, why is she showing us a knitted hamster?” Well, my point here is to prove just how flexible the Unplugged Project can be.

This is not just any old knitted hamster, it is a hamster that was knitted on a homemade tin can knitter. A tin can is made of metal. Voil√†! There is the connection! Our finished product was made of yarn, but it was made by using something metal, so it “counts.”

This type of knitting apparatus is known as a French Knitter, a Corker, a Spool Knitter, a Mushroom Knitter, a Knitting Nancy, a Knitting Knobby, and a few other names too I believe. My daughter has a commercially produced wooden one like this with four prongs that produces long, narrow, “snakes.” But you can easily make these knitters yourself (see links at the end of this post).

For even more fun, you can make big ones with various sizes of tin can which will produce different sizes of knitted tube. Ours is made from a 15 ounce can.

I found the instructions for the knitter and the hamster in the wonderful book Corking (Kids Can Easy Crafts) by Judy Sadler and Linda Hendry. There are also some instructions online here.


Here is how we made it:

You will need a clean tin can, some finishing nails (small heads) that are about 1.5″ long, and some sturdy tape. Small nail heads are important because the knitting process involves slipping loops of yarn up over the top of the nails, so you don’t want the yarn to get stuck on the nail heads. The book calls for cloth tape, but all I could find was colorful duct tape and that worked fine despite being a bit annoying to cut (I recommend slicing it with a box cutter instead of using scissors, which tend to stick):

First we removed the bottom of the can. You can usually do it with a can opener, but sometimes the bottom edge is rounded and must be removed with a dremel tool, or small saw. My advice: make sure you use a can whose bottom rim is narrow enough to be removed with a can opener.

Beware of sharp edges. I had a sharp shard that was sticking out on my can, so I squashed it down with some pliers, and then wrapped both raw edges with the tape.

Next apply a strip of tape just under the lip of the can sticky side out. Stick a pair of nails side by side (they should be touching) to the tape. Make sure to have about half an inch of the nail sticking up above the can edge and the other inch below. In order to knit, the nails must be stable so you’ll want a lot of the nail to be attached to the can:

Put another pair of nails on opposite the first. Continue putting on sets of nails around the can. It doesn’t have to be scientifically precise, but try and space them about 5/8th” (1.5cm) apart. After all the nails are stuck to the can, wrap a few strips of tape all the way around the diameter of the can to hold the nails in place.

Press the tape down between each pair of nails. Next cut short strips of tape and apply them to the can between the pairs of nails like this:

Wrap more tape around the diameter of the can. I did two layers of tape, and finished off with more little strips between the nails for added stability and to cover up any raw sticky edges. You can either leave your can like that, or decorate it with glued on paper, fabric , or ribbon. We glued some fabric on and this is what we ended up with:

You can experiment with different sized cans which will produce different sized knitted tubes. If you use a jumbo, restaurant-sized can, you can even make an infant hat!

This was so much fun that after my daughter finishes her own hamster (which is well underway), I think I will steal the knitter back and make some nice, cozy socks for my two year-old. The tube that comes off this sized can looks to be just about the right size for her feet!

So that is it for the metal part of our post. If you want to know how to make the hamster, then you should buy Corking, or borrow it from the library.


Make a Sculpey Clay Spool Knitter

Make a Spool knitter out of a wooden thread spool

Spool Knitting (instructions on how to make a knitter, and how to knit)


What did your family make for the theme metal? If you did a metal Unplugged Project this week, then please leave your link in Mr. Linky (and a comment in case Mr. Linky malfunctions and I have to remove him).

If you didn’t join us, then feel free to explore everyone’s projects to get inspired, and please consider joining us next week. You don’t have to do anything fancy or complicated! For more information on the Unplugged Project as well as instructions about how to participate even if you don’t have a blog, read more here.


Next week’s Unplugged Project theme will be:


So far we’ve done quite a few Unplugged Projects that used paint, but I don’t think that it has ever been the theme before.¬† Hope to see you here next week!



Newspaper – Newspaper Beads (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , May 11, 2008 9:21 pm



The theme for the Unplugged Project this week was newspaper. I confess that I was being sneaky when I chose this theme. I had planned on doing this project last week for green (green=eco=recycle=newspaper beads – get it?) but we lacked time, so I made sure to pick a theme this week that would still fit my plan. That is an advantage I have in being theme-picker!

We adapted a project that I saw in the wonderful book: Recycled Crafts Box by Laura C. Martin. The project is Paper Bead Bangles (p. 25) and she suggests using gift wrap or glossy magazines. I thought the beads might look interesting made with newspaper instead, so we tried it.

What we needed: newspaper, drinking straws, Elmer’s-type glue, small paintbrush, string or yarn, ruler, scissors, and pencil. Here are our supplies:


The first step was to choose our newspaper pages. My two oldest children chose the colorful comic pages. I thought the financial section or classifieds might make interesting beads due to the small typeface.

Next we drew a rectangle over the area we wanted to use. The rectangle was 1.5″(about 4cm) tall and exactly the same length as the straw. Here are our rectangles:


We poured some glue into a bowl and used the brushes to paint it on the back of the newspaper rectangles. Make sure your children flip their rectangle over before applying glue, otherwise the wrong side of the paper will be showing. Be sure to glue thoroughly all over the rectangle, paying special attention to the edges. The seam should be really well glued for this to work well.

The final step is to glue the paper to the straw. Put the straw in the center of the rectangle. Wrap one side over the straw as tightly as you can. Then roll the straw up in the rest of the paper, again, as tightly as possible. We then brushed glue on the outside of the wrapped straw, especially along the seam.

Here are some of our wrapped straws:

Let the straws dry and then cut them up evenly into “beads.” String the beads on the yarn or string (or wire?).

One point to consider: the straw openings are really too big for a knot. Of course you can string the beads without a knot at the end if you are making a loop for a necklace or bracelet for example. But if you just want a single strand for a tassel or something similar, then you can tie the first bead on to the end of the string by looping the yarn through and then knotting it. That will make a large enough blockage to prevent the other beads from falling off. That’s what we did for our tassel. You could also string a large ordinary bead on first to prevent the paper beads from falling off. That might be pretty too.

You can make bracelets, necklaces, bookmarks, or even tassels to hang on backpacks or dresser knobs. If you and your kids really like this project and have lots of time and straws, you could even make a 1960’s-style long beaded curtain to hang across a doorway. That would be really funky and unusual, especially for a teen!

Another idea: My daughter said she thought it would be fun to cut rectangles out of plain paper, decorate them with markers, and then turn the “homemade” paper into beads. Or how about turning old children’s artwork into beads?

Here are our finished projects –

A bracelet:


A necklace:


And our favorite – a tassel for my oldest daughter’s school binder (that they use instead of backpacks):


My littlest (age 2) desperately wanted to join in and was fixated on the paintbrushes and glue so I gave her some newspaper, a cup of water, and a paint brush and she was pretty happy despite a crabby day. She even proudly showed us what she “made” (soggy newspaper):



What did you make for newspaper?

If you made something newspaper-related with us this week, then please put a link to your project in Mr. Linky. If not, then please visit the participants to see what creative projects they came up with…and join in next week!


My oldest daughter picked next week’s theme:


Good luck and have fun!


Great Resource for Keeping Young Toddlers Busy!

By , October 11, 2007 8:57 pm

At the end of September I wrote a post entitled How to Get By Without the Electronic Babysitting Box, inspired by the frequent questions I get along the lines of “how do you make supper without a TV to keep the kids occupied?” In the post I mention that for me, the1 to 2 year-old range is the most challenging one to keep independently busy when necessary.

This evening I was going through one of my bookshelves and I happened upon a little book that has very simple and creative ideas for keeping 1.5 to 3 year-olds busy. It is The Toddler’s Busy Book by Trish Kuffner.

I was given this book as a gift when my oldest was just a baby. Honestly, at first I was completely underwhelmed by it. Not knowing much about little ones, I had no idea what challenges I would face when my sweet infant became an active young toddler. Activities such as “Car Wash” (p.128 – child washes riding toys) or “Pasta Sort” (p.184 – child sorts different shapes of pasta into small containers) sounded pretty boring and unimaginative. After all, wouldn’t my little one be creating art masterpieces and reading War and Peace by age 2?

Well, several years and several children have taught me that activities such as “Car Wash” and “Pasta Sort” are, in fact, the absolute height of brilliance! I think that for adults, well for me anyhow, it is much easier to come up with projects and ideas for older children because they are more physically capable and think on a level closer to our own.

As I said in my Babysitting Box post, I do not believe in being my children’s entertainment committee, but there are times when they just mope about bored. So, especially being without TV, I find it useful to have a few ideas to throw out there for them to try. Older kids can do art, or origami, or crafts, or make books, or any number of things that adults can relate to.

Little ones are more of a mystery. Plus, they rely more on a grownup to play with them, or at least supervise a suitable independent project for their age. I find it challenging to think of appropriate ideas. Since most grownups would find pouring dried beans incredibly boring for example, it might not occur to us that something so simple can be a mesmerizing project for a 1.5 year-old!

This book has 365 such projects. Some are more complicated or require a bit more parental involvement than others, but all would truly be entertaining for a child in the 1.5 to 3 range. When I read these simple ideas now that I am on toddler number three, I often have a reaction of: “A ha! Why didn’t I think of that?” For example, the “Car Wash” idea would be a great toddler distraction on a warm day while Mom tries to garden. Or why not have your little one sort pasta shapes in the kitchen while you make dinner?

The 365 ideas in this book are organized by theme to make it easy to find just the one you need for any particular situation. The themes are:

  • Rainy Day Play
  • Kids in the Kitchen
  • Water Play
  • Outdoor Adventures
  • Out and About
  • Nursery Rhymes and Finger Plays
  • Early Learning Fun
  • Music and Movement
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Birthdays and Holidays

There are also sections on what to keep on hand in your craft cupboard, craft recipes (playdough, homemade paint, etc.) and other useful tidbits.

Trish Kuffner has written a series of other “Busy Books” too. We have also recently acquired The Children’s Busy Book : 365 Creative Games and Activities to Keep Your 6- to 10-year Old Busy, but have not used it yet. Leafing through it, I must say that the projects look really interesting. We’ll have to try a few of them soon. I’ll report back!

Here are links to all the books in the Kuffner “Busy Books” series in case you feel like browsing.


By , September 22, 2007 11:14 am

Here’s an Unplugged Project for kids: Origami! I used to love doing origami as a child and I even still have my origami “how-to” books and paper. Yes, I really am a packrat.

I gathered the kids, my old books and my ancient origami paper, and we made some origami. Here are the results. You should be able to find two butterflies, two swans, two fancy boxes, and one ruby-throated hummingbird. The hummingbird was actually one of my childhood creations. We found it squashed between the pages of one of the books!

A Really Useful Art Book

By , August 30, 2007 11:11 am

Yes, I have stumbled upon yet another art book full of really great art activity ideas that I will never have time to do with my children. Big sigh.

The Usborne Book of Art Ideas is a cute miniature (5″x7″) hardcover book packed with neat projects that are very handily arranged by medium (watercolor paints, inks, and chalk pastels for example). The photographs are bright and very appealing (very much like those in the DK Publishing books if you are familiar with those).

Here are some photos of the inside:

This book seemed like an Amazon bargain to me at only $7.95 for a hardcover with tons of ideas (over 200, the cover claims). Plus it is eligible for Amazon’s 4-for-3 Promotion.

The ideas are very original and doable with things that most families have on hand. A few that struck me as interesting are:

– Glue pictures (creating a raised pattern or drawing using Elmer’s-type white glue)

– Blow paintings (using a straw to blow paint around on paper to create spiky shapes)

– Pulled cardboard prints (using thick cardboard to spread paint on paper)

– Cracked wax effect (creating a crackle appearance using crayons and paint)

There are also tips for working with each different medium as well as technical hints such as painting perspective, painting skies, etc.

This book is also full of useful odd bits of information. Did you know that “If you sprinkle salt onto watercolor paint, the salt soaks up the color, and leaves a grainy effect when it dries” (p.58). This makes sense now that I think about it, but it never would have occurred to me before I read this.

I would try out these ideas with my 5 and 7 year-old, but for the under-4 set, many of them might be too complex or messy. Imagine a 3 year-old blowing paint, the image is not a pretty one! A few of the ideas might be easily adapted to younger children though, so if you are interested, check it out of the library and take a look.

There is also an interesting-sounding large Usborne book called The Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas. According to an Amazon reviewer, it is apparently a compilation of this little book, plus two other Usborne titles: The Usborne Book of Art Skills and The Usborne Book of Art Projects (Art Ideas). This might be a good one to look at too if you think you might also buy the other books in the series.

The Usborne Book of Art Ideas inspires me to drop my laundry basket and sit down to do some art. In fact, I think I shall!

Also take a look at these:

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