Teacup Pin Cushion Tutorial

My kids are learning to sew, so I thought that it was time that they had pincushions of their own. I’ve seen teacup pin cushions around at flea markets and craft fairs, so I thought we’d make a go of whipping up some of our own. They’re really easy and right up the kids’ alwy, patience-wise.

Teacup Pin Cushion

– 1 teacup (saucer optional)
– 1 square of cotton or cotton-blend fabric, about 3X as wide as the teacup’s top
– polyester fiberfill
– thread

Supplies Needed:
– fabric scissors
– needle
– hot glue gun & glue
– pins

1. It all starts with a teacup — but none of Grandma’s fine china! We bought ours for about $2.00 at a local charity thrift shoppe. If you’re not into tea, a coffee or espresso cup works well, or an egg cup, or even a sake glass. We even made one using a miniature terracotta pot (picked up for about $0.75 at a gardening supply store). Basically, it has to be an opaque container that you like the looks of that’s about the size of an old teacup, or smaller. You will also need to pick out a piece of coordinating fabric that’s about three times as wide as the mouth of your vessel.

1.B. OPTIONAL STEP: If you’re very crafty, you can embroider a design on your fabric at this stage.

2. Using a pair of fabric scissors, cut your fabric into a circle about three times as wide as the opening of your teacup. It doesn’t have to be perfect, since this end will be hidden inside the bottom of the cup where nobody will ever see it.

3. Using a running stitch, stitch around the outside edge of the circle, about 1cm from the edge. Use a sturdy thread, but don’t worry about the colour, since this will be hidden as well. Tie a knot at each end of the thread, but do not stitch that knot into the fabric.

4. Making sure that the fabric is inside-right, pull the thread taut to gather the fabric, but do not tie a knot. This will make a little pouch.

5. Stuff the pouch firmly with fiberfill.

6. Draw the thread as taut as possible and tie it off securely. This will create a small cushion.

7. Stuff the cushion into the teacup, making sure that the end with the stitching and the gathering is at the bottom of the cup.

8. Affix the cushion inside the cup using hot glue. I found that I got the neatest results by pushing the fabric down below the edge of the cup, and then running a bead of hot glue quickly about 0.5cm lower than the edge of the cup. Then I carefully released pressure on the cushion until it sat at the height I wanted, holding it in place while the glue dried. Otherwise, the cushion kept trying to puff much too far out of the cup.

9.B. OPTIONAL STEP: Using hot glue or by sewing, decorate the pin cushion. You can add a border of ribbon or trim around the edge of the cup to conceal the glue. Buttons, lace, small pompoms, googly eyes, felt cutouts, silk flowers… If you’re so inclined, this is a great time to be creative.

And that’s really all there is to it!

As for our last March Break craft, Thing 2 went with a more contemporary look.

Whereas I made mine in a little flower pot. I created the floral element by sticking sewing pins through little fabric flowers bought in a confetti-like pack from the dollar store.

And Thing 1 used the fabric flowers slightly differently, pinning them into place with her pincushion’s pins.

String Art Tutorial

I’ve been wanting to try this craft with my girls for a while; it is a great way to learn how to use a hammer and nails! I never did this as a child, but my little brother did, and his string art masterpiece hung in his room for years. The nice thing about this craft is that you can make it simple or complicated, depending on the skill level of the people doing it. We went with really simple, perfect for a busy day’s work!

String Art

– 1 piece of 1/2″to 3/4″ thick wood, approx 12″ by 12″ (pine preferred)
– 1 colour of acrylic paint
– 20 (or so) 1″ long common framing nails
– scraps of thin yarn or string
– sawtooth picture hanger & screws

Supplies Needed:
– fine-grain sandpaper
– paintbrush
– hammer
– wooden clothes pin
– screwdriver

1. We started with a 12″ by 12″ piece of 1/2″ pine shelving left over from an old project. Pine is inexpensive and easy to hammer nails into. Such a small piece can be often be found inexpensively (or free) off-cut from a home improvement store. If you’re not handy with a saw, most reno stores will cut wood to size if you ask.

2. Using fine-grain sandpaper, give the piece of wood a quick once-over to remove any splinters.

3. You can leave the wood unfinished (in fact, a lot of string art is done on gorgeous, rustic barn board), but my girls opted to paint theirs. Two coats of crafting acrylic turned Thing 2’s board an eye-searing pink, while Thing 1 chose a more muted lavender. Don’t forget to cover your work surfaces with paper or plastic if you care at all if it gets stained! (Graffito from the kids is optional.)

4. Nail in the nails in the pattern of your choice. My kids went for an abstract creation of their own design. However, any number of designs and shapes can be downloaded off of the Internet, printed out, and then taped onto the top of the wood. You can then nail along the edges of the design, and rip the paper away when you’re done. Alternately, you can freehand a design in pencil and then paint over the marks before you add the string.

Since the kids hadn’t done much hammering with full-sized hammers before, we used wooden clothes pins to hold the nails upright while they got them started. This keeps their fingers away from the hammer, at least until they have a little bit more precision! (It stunned Thing 1 that I could hold a nail while hammering without smashing my fingers.)

Thing 1 went with a free-form design.

Thing 2 went with a more geometric plan.

5. Tie a few knots around one of the nails, and then go to town wrapping the string around the nails!

6. If you’re planning on hanging the string art on the wall, using a screwdriver, attach a sawtooth picture hanger with screws to the top back of the piece. Alternately, it can be propped on shelf, or held up by a mini easel.

Salt Dough Creations

A friend of mine bought me a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Treasury of Christmas Crafts & Foods for Christmas, and leafing through the project ideas therein brought back many memories of the kinds of crafts that I did when I was growing up. One of the ones that stood out the most was the salt dough Christmas ornaments. Although I never made any in the patterns suggested by this book, I did make some simple ones through Brownies and Guides, and I had a lovely little girl in a red dress as part of my ornament collection until she eventually fell apart. I thought that my kids might enjoy playing with dough that becomes a permanent creation for a change. (If your kids would basically like to do the same exercise but come away with something that they can eat, I would highly recommend Cookie Monster’s Famous Cookie Dough instead.)

Rolling out the dough and cutting it out with cookie cutters and Play Doh cutters.

I did my due Googling, and I discovered that although the style of ornament that people make has changed a bit over the years (especially when it comes to the choice of colours used), the actual technique remains the same. Multiple books and many sources on the Net stick to the basic recipe of:

– 2 cups flour
– 1 cup salt
– 1 cup water

Which you then knead together to create a stiff dough. You then cut out/shape your designs and lay them on parchment paper on a cooking tray. Advanced creations can take a long time, a lot of skill, and a great attention to detail. However, when you’re making crafts with younger children, quick and easy cookie cut-outs are the name of the game! As a bonus, since the dough is so cheap to make and is 100% biodegradable, if the kids proclaim themselves done after having made very few cutouts, it’s not too big of a deal.

Salt Dough 2//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

After shaping, you put the salt dough creations in the oven at 200°F (93°C) for… Well, that’s where directions vary. I think it all really depends on the thickness of the final pieces. I’ve seen it anywhere from two to eight hours, so I kind of guessed at three, which worked out okay. I think that what everyone agrees on is that you don’t want to bake or brown the dough, you just want to remove all the moisture.

Then the cut-outs need to be cooled on a cooling rack, which doesn’t take all that long, really, since they weren’t terribly hot in the first place. We left them overnight to hopefully remove the last of the moisture. It’s not like you have to worry about them going stale, after all.

Then it was time for paint! I have what seems like a million colours of acrylic and many different paint brushes, all from the dollar store. If you don’t have a stash of paint and want to keep costs low, stick with red, yellow, blue, black, and white. The kids can mix any colours they want with the primary ones, and it’s a good lesson in colour theory.

To be honest, my girls ran out of patience with the fiddly details, so the painting will have to be completed another day. Since I had to make dinner, I didn’t get a chance to finish painting the ones that I made either, so we’ll have to sit down and do them all together tomorrow. I really liked how the ones with the impressions turned out, though. The girls used rubber stamps, carved rolling pins, and even leaves of plants to create textures.

Of the ones that I painted, I am particularly happy some of the simplest: the Easter bunnies, made using a cookie cutter and a little ball of dough for the tails.

The next step is to seal salt dough, which I’d prefer to do with spray-on acrylic, so that will probably have to be done out in the garage once it warms up a bit. I’m told it can also be done with Mod Podge or PVA glue, both of which I own, but I’d like to test them first to see how badly they smudge. Then the ones with holes will become ornaments, and the ones without holes will have a magnet (also from the dollar store) glued on the back to become fridge magnets.

Fairy Light Lamp Tutorial

It’s March Break, so I’m trying to keep the kids entertained without plopping them in front of screens the entire time. We’re going to try to do a craft a day, and I thought I’d share what we did and how we did it so that others can use these same techniques this week (or any time, really).

The first craft we did was a fairy light lamp. There’s no wiring required, and for safety’s sake all of the lights are LED and the power source is battery-powered. We’ve all seen a string of lights in a jar, but I thought we needed to do something to take it up a notch. If you’re working with younger children, some of these steps will need adult supervision. The end result should be an ornamental lamp or night light that the kids can be proud of! As a bonus, all of the materials can be obtained at the local dollar store, or can be made of recycled materials for free.

Since there are a few ways to do this craft, be sure to read all of the instructions first, to keep from having to re-do steps!

Fairy Light Lamp

– small sturdy cardboard box with lid
– Mason jar or recycled jar with lid
– paint
– string of 20 battery-powered LED lights (or two strings of 10)
– batteries to power the LED lights
– diffusing fabric
– small piece of card or paper (optional)
– stickers

Supplies Needed:
– pencil
– craft knife
– duct tape
– paint brush(es)
– heavy-duty scissors
– drill (if using a jar with a one-piece lid)

1. Unscrew the lid from the jar. I used a 1L Mason jar because that’s what fit best with my box, but it’s a very subjective judgement. I also liked the look of a round box, but square or rectangular is fine too. Just make sure it’s the kind of box that has a lid. Don’t worry about a colour or pattern on the box, since it will be covered later. If you want to use a wooden box, that can work too, but you’ll need heavier-duty tools to proceed with the next steps.

2. Trace the opening of the jar onto the lid of your box.

3. Using a craft knife, cut a hole along the line that you have traced. Make sure not to use the knife on a surface that you don’t want damaged, since it will make marks on whatever’s underneath the lid!

4. Make sure that the jar fits into the hole as shown. If the fit is too tight, trim off edges of the hole with the craft knife.

5. Use a few pieces of duct tape (any colour) to reinforce the cardboard around the hole on the inside of the box.

6. Paint the outside of the box. My kids chose a base coat of their favourite colour, then two coats of glitter paint in different colours. We used acrylic paint, since it is more permanent and covers better than kids’ craft paint. Because of this, we covered our table in craft paper first to protect it — and if you look at the paper under the box, you can see why.

Other options to painting include decoupage, stickers, and wrapping the box in pretty paper. No matter what method you choose, make sure that the top and bottom are done separately, since you’ll need to be able to get into the box.

7. Put the batteries into the battery pack of the light string(s). Stuff the diffusing fabric and strings of light into the jar, leaving the battery packs and some cord outside of the jar. I used a cheap tulle (a lightweight, very fine, stiff netting as my diffusing fabric, which is available at most craft stores, fabric stores, and dollar stores in the craft section. A good place to look for this kind of thing is in the Christmas clearance section. You can use a plain colour or one with a glitter pattern. Whatever you choose, the point of the fabric is to make the light from the LEDs softer, hide the cords, and keep it all in place. Arrange the fabric and lights until they are in a position that you find satisfactory. I found that it helped to do so in low lighting so I could see how the light would shine through.

8. Using the heavy-duty scissors, cut a wide slot into the flat part of the Mason jar lid. If you are using a recycled jar with a one-piece lid, using a drill make hole large enough to easily pass the light string through.

9. Cut small strips of duct tape (any colour) and use them to cover the sharp edges of the hole in the lid. This will keep little fingers and the wires from the lights from getting cut.

10. Cover the inside of the lid with a piece of coordinating-coloured duct tape. If you don’t have any, a piece of card or colour in a coordinating colour will also work.

11. Thread the light strings through the hole. If you’re using a piece of card/paper, that should be between the lid and the jar. If you’re using a one-piece lid, you should do this step before you fill the jar with the lights and fabric.

12. Using a piece of duct tape in a coordinating colour, cover most of the hole. If you’re using the card/paper layer, this tape can be any colour. This step is unnecessary if you’re using a one-piece lid.

13. Assemble the parts in the following order:

– jar
– box lid
– card/paper (optional)
– Mason jar lid, then Mason jar band OR one-piece lid

14. Put the battery packs into the bottom of the box, then flip the jar and box lid over on top of the box bottom. To turn the lights off and on, just reach inside the box and flip the switch(es). If you like your lights simple, this can be the end of this craft. My kids wanted a bit more fun, though!

15. My girls really wanted to decorate their lanterns with 3D butterfly stickers, so that’s what we did. Honestly, any kind of sticker would work, although shiny ones (especially the faux-jewel kind) would reflect the light better.

My girls made a lantern each in their favourite colours. You may notice that the jars are slightly different because they’re from different manufacturers. The kids didn’t notice, though.

The lanterns look especially nice in the dark, and they throw interestingly-patterned shadows on the wall.

I promised Thing 2 that I would post a picture of her orange and gold lantern all by itself, since I’d done so many of Thing 1’s blue and silver one already.

So there you go! I hope that your kids enjoy making these fairy light lanterns as much as mine did!

Jack-o’-Lantern Herb Pots

I grow most of my indoor plants (and some of my outdoor ones) in terracotta pots a) because I like the look of them, and b) because they’re inexpensive. I generally have a row of herbs growing in a window planter all year long. I was looking for a way to spruce them up for Halloween on the cheap.

I came up with this quick craft — and I do mean quick, as in it took me less than ten minutes to decorate five pots. There are all kinds of tutorials out there for how to paint or draw on terracotta pots to make them look like Jack-o’-lanterns, which is simplified by the pots already conveniently being orange. I wanted something a little less permanent, since I didn’t want to have to re-pot my herbs for every holiday.

I took a sheet of black construction paper and cut it out freehand into the appropriate shapes. If you’re not comfortable drawing or cutting freehand, you can always Google “Jack-o’-lantern face template” and either trace one of those designs or print it and cut it out. I then stuck the pieces onto the pot with tape. Any tape will work, but for something so temporary I prefer to use painter’s tape (any brand), which isn’t meant to stick forever and rarely leaves any sticky residue behind.

I really like how they all turned out! The plants in the pots make fun “hair” for the Jack-o’-lantern faces, which tickles my kids to no end. Those plants are, left to right: chives, oregano, baby pine tree (okay, technically not an herb; this craft will honestly work with any kind of plant, I just like how quickly and thickly herbs grow), thyme, and garlic chives.

I think that this craft cost me maybe a quarter? Of course, I already had the potted plants. If you don’t have that, the pots generally run only a few dollars for the smaller sizes (they’re generally available at dollar stores and at WalMart all year round), and you can pick up a small pot of herbs for only a few dollars more at your local grocery store or garden center. As a bonus, after Halloween you can use the herbs in your cooking.

Sock Chibi-Totoro & Snowgie Tutorial

One of the standards of children’s crafts is sock creatures, usually starting with puppets and moving on to more complicated projects from there. Sock creatures can be cheap, quick, and easy, which is exactly what you need with kids who can be easily frustrated when learning a new skill. As a bonus, basic sewing is something that everyone should learn, and sock creatures are a great way to teach sewing without it even seeming like a lesson.

I have made tutorials for two simple sock creatures based on characters from popular children’s movies. The first is Chibi-Totoro, who is the smallest of three adorable forest spirits from the 1988 movie My Neighbor Totoro. The second is a tiny snowman created by snow queen Elsa called a Snowgie, from the 2015 short Frozen Fever (which takes place in the same world as Disney’s Frozen).


Sock Chibi-Totoro Stuffie

Supplies Needed:
– one white sock
– 2 safety eyes or black buttons
– scraps of tan or peach felt
– polyester stuffing
– sewing needle
– white thread
– sewing scissors

1. Lay the sock on a flat surface.

2. Using sewing scissors, cut the sock as per the above photo. Discard the ankle and the toe, or save scraps for another project.

3. Turn the remaining piece of fabric sideways, so that the heel (which will be the tail) is at the back. Cut a deep vee into the top of the sock. The actual measurements of the vee will depend on the size of sock you use.

4. Whip-stitch the top of the vee closed; this will become the ears.

5. Turn the sock inside-out to hide the seam and to make the Chibi-Totoro as fluffy as possible. Attach safety eyes or sew on buttons.

6. Stuff the creature with polyester stuffing. Sew the bottom closed using an invisible closing seam; this will also ensure that the seam lies mostly flat.

7. Take a large stitch across the back of the stuffie where you want the join between the tail and the body to be. Pull the stitch tight and tie off, hiding the ends inside the body.

8. Cut out little clawed feet out of the felt and stitch them to the bottom of the body.

9. I discovered that my Chibi-Totoro would not stay up because its tail went down too far, so I took a big stitch from the back of the body to the top of the tail and pulled tight. This decreased the angle between body and tail so that the stuffie would stand up on its own.

Now your simple Chibi-Totoro stuffie is ready to be played with!


Sock Snowgie Stuffie

Supplies Needed:
– two white sock
– 2 safety eyes or black buttons
– scraps of dark blue and white felt
– polyester stuffing
– sewing needle
– white thread
– sewing scissors

1. Lay one sock on a flat surface.

2. Using sewing scissors, cut the sock as per the above photo. Discard the ankle and the toe, or save scraps for another project

3. Do a running stitch around one end of the tube, then pull tight and tie off.

4. Turn tube inside out so that fluffiest side is on the outside. Attach safety eyes or sew on buttons. Stuff the creature with polyester stuffing.

5. Gather the bottom of the tube together and sew tightly closed. Don’t worry if this isn’t perfect, as it will be hidden by the feet.

6. Wrap a doubled piece of thread around the middle of the tube and tie tightly, creating a head and a body.

7. Cut two rough circles out of the widest part of the second sock. These will become the feet.

8. Stitch a running stitch around the edge of one foot, fuzziest side of the fabric facing out. Stuff the foot. Pull the running stitch as tight as possible and tie off. Repeat for second foot. Sew both feet onto the bottom of the body of the stuffie.

9. Cut mouth and teeth out of felt scraps and sew onto face of stuffie. Your Snowgie is now complete!

Recycled Crayons Tutorial

Back in Girl Guides, we recycled our crayons by melting them in the microwave or in a double boiler, then pouring the different colours in layers into muffin tins (waiting for the wax to cool a bit between layers so they didn’t mix). I wanted to do something a little simpler than that with my kids yesterday — since they are younger than I was when first did this craft, I wanted a process that involved less handling of molten wax. However, this is still an activity that is done with kids, as opposed to setting them up and letting them go.

Recycled Crayons

Supplies Needed:
– old crayons
– molded cookie pans OR silicon molds rated for use in an oven OR muffin tins
– flat cookie pans
– utility knife
– large, heavy knife OR clear zipper bag and hammer
– cutting board

1. Sort through the kids’ crayons and separate out the old, broken ones, along with the ones that just don’t colour well.

2. Remove the paper wrappers from the crayons. The labels can be peeled off with your fingernails. However, the quickest way is to run the blade of a utility knife lightly down the paper to slit it, then peel it off. When I was doing it with my kids, I would cut the paper, and they would take it off.

3. Sort the crayons by colour.

4. Protect the work surface with a cutting board, then use the large knife to chop up the crayons into chunks that are approximately 1cm (0.4″) long. Sharp knives should be handled by an adult. Alternately, put each colour of crayon into a clear zipper bag, seal the bag, and smash the crayons into large chunks with a hammer. This may damage the surface underneath and will be noisy, so I suggest working on a concrete surface with a cutting board over top, and using ear protection.

5. Fill the molded cookie pans or silicon molds or muffin tins with the chunks of crayon. The molds should be almost overflowing, as the air pockets between crayon chunks will be filled as they melt. To create colour-coordinated crayons, fill each compartment with different shades of the same colour. To create more contrast, add chunks of coordinating colours. Be careful not to mix too many colours, though, as the colours will mix and they may turn an unlovely brown.

6. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C) (the oven temperature needs to be low so that the wax doesn’t catch fire). Put the crayon-filled molds on top of the flat cookie pans for support; this is especially important if using silicone molds, which are flexible. Anything to do with the oven should be done by an adult.

7. Bake until crayon chunks are thoroughly melted, 15 to 30 minutes, checking every 5 minutes after first 15 minutes is up to see if there are still any lumps. Remove trays carefully from oven, being careful not to spill the wax.

8. Cool the recycled crayons thoroughly before removing them from the molds. To make removing them easier, place them in the freezer (or anywhere outside in winter in Canada, so long as it’s protected from precipitation) until thoroughly chilled. Wax shrinks when it gets cold, so it will pull away from the sides of the mold and slide out more easily.

When I made these candles, I used three different kinds of molds:

– metal, nonstick Wilton PEEPS Bunny Shaped Cookie Pans ($3.00 each at the dollar store), which released easily
– a silicone Wilton PEEPS Chicks and Bunnies Treat Mold ($4.00 each at the dollar store), which released with a little more difficulty, but cleanly
– a silicone flower-shaped IKEA PLASTIS Ice Cube Tray ($1.99 at IKEA), which stuck to the wax, obscured detail, and were very difficult to remove

All in all, I much preferred the metal pans to the silicone versions.

We packaged these crayons up into little spring-themed bags and put them aside until the week before Easter to give out at school. Of course, we had to leave a few out for the kids to colour with right away, too.