If you spot us, do say hi!
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!
– 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
– fine-grain sandpaper
– wooden clothes pin
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.
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.)
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.
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.
The countdown to ComicCon continues, and I am seeing some progress.
I’ve managed to get Thing 2’s bodysuit finished, which is, to me, the most difficult part. I hate sewing stretch fabric, but a bodysuit really needs to be stretchy. This is especially true for children, who will shed costume pieces if they find them too uncomfortable. These costumes have to work for ComicCon and Halloween, so I’d like them to be worn for more than five minutes at a time. Of course, when sewing this bodysuit I managed to put in one of the sleeves inside-out the first time. This seems to be an inevitable state of affairs for me whenever I make clothing.
I also painted Thing 2’s shoes for the costume, since we couldn’t find any in bright orange.
My Day 1 costume is pretty much complete, much to my great joy. I didn’t do a lot of sewing for this one (just the belt and the white part of the sleeves, actually), but there were a lot of little details that needed to be carefully painted and then dried. I probably could have sewn it in less time, but definitely not for less. The cap was $5.00 at Michaels, the shirt (which was blank and plain blue at the time) was $2.49 at Value Village, and the skirt was $3.99 at the same place. The gloves were $2.50 at the dollar store. I already owned multiple pairs of black leggings. The belt was made out of scrap fabric from my stash, and the buckle was made out of a $0.79 plywood circle from Michaels. The most expensive things were the shoes, which I paid $29 for (I think) at Payless, but they’ll get lots of use after the Con, so I don’t feel too bad about that purchase.
For many, many years I didn’t have a craft room. I worked wherever I could find the space: in my bedroom, my living room, all over the dining room table. Then the kids came along, and I found it increasingly more difficult to work on large projects because I had to have every last piece tidied up at the end of each crafting session. I couldn’t leave painted pieces out to dry, or pinned items ready for sewing, or even a simple needle and thread where the kids could get at it. Which is why I couldn’t have been more overjoyed when we moved to our current house and I could wall off a section of the basement as my own — separated from the rest of the house by sturdy baby gates.
I finally painted this space and really made it my own last summer. As you can see, it’s just a long stretch along one wall of my basement, “walled” off on one side by copious second-hand bookshelves. There are more shelves on the other side in the kids’ play room, and they’re all screwed together, making a solid-but-temporary barrier.
The kids aren’t babies or toddlers any more, so I can do without the baby gate and trust, for the most part, that they will leave my things alone. It’s a good thing, too, or they’d never get their costumes for ComicCon or Halloween in time, let alone all the little constant repairs that I have to make on their things.
Those first two photos were taken immediately after the renovations were complete and before I’d had a chance to get into any major projects. Right now… Well, it’s less than three weeks until ComicCon, and every surface is covered with costume pieces in the works. I’ll mostly be living in this room until then.
When I’m making costumes, especially when I need five on a short time limit, I have to multitask. Today I’m working on a ball cap, a T-shirt, a skirt, a pair of sneakers, and a head. That last “head” one is my most ambitious project this year, and I hope like heck that I manage to get it done in time.
If you already recognize what the costumes are going to be, well, you’re as big of a geek as I am. Congratulations! I’ll probably see you in a few weeks at ComicCon. Don’t hesitate to say hi!