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handwork | Atomic Bee Ranch

Tag Archives: Handwork

Summer of Mess: Tie Dye

We were going to do shaving cream paint, but at the last minute I realized I didn’t have any shaving cream. Whoops. Good thing we’ve had this tie-dye kit lying around that Cam has been wanting to use. This is not a sponsored post. Cam got into tie-dye a few months ago and I have NO IDEA how. NO IDEA. We don’t own a stitch of tie-dye clothing. We don’t have any tie-dyed stuff. I think it’s just her natural hippie personality. 

I was prepared for a total mess with this project and that’s why the kit sat around for so long. But it turned out to be surprisingly simple and, with a few precautions in place, it was SO much fun and turned out an awesome outfit for Cam. 

So the kit came with two pairs of gloves. They were enormous, but thin so Cam was able to wear them. I set up the splat mat outside and then laid paper towels down under the shirt and shorts we were going to dye. I also kept the paper towel roll outside with us. We both put on our aprons and I mixed up the dye. You just add water to the bottle and shake it up. Before getting started we had looked at a project online to see how you’re supposed to apply the dye, but once we got out there Cam started squirting the shirt and shorts like crazy and I realized that it looked way better than the project we had in mind. I did do a little demo for her first to show her not to squeeze the bottle too hard and how she could move the bottle around instead of pointing it straight down and squeezing. 

About half way through I flipped the shirt and shorts over so we were sure to get the other side (some of the dye soaked through, but it didn’t have nearly enough coverage). Cam did get a little wild at a couple points, but I reminded her that this was permanent dye and that if it got on her clothes we wouldn’t be able to get it out. There were also a few puddles of dye on the splat mat, but I made sure to mop those up right away with the paper towels so we didn’t step in them. 

When we were all done I put out some plastic wrap and laid the shirt and shorts on top, then put another layer over the top. This apparently keeps the clothes damp while the dye sets. After about 7 hours of sitting outside (it was relatively cool yesterday so I knew it wouldn’t dry out) in the shade I brought them in and rinsed them out until they ran fairly clear. Then I washed and dried them. Cam was so thrilled she put them on right away. 

Bonus, the shorts were an all-white pair (who makes all-white clothes for kids?!) that my mother in law had bought. Cam liked them and had worn them a lot so, not surprisingly, they were more gray than white. The look totally new now. You can’t tell how dingy they were. The shirt was also all white (bought by my dad this time), but Cam had never worn it so it didn’t really matter. 

This was so easy and so much fun that I want to do it again soon. Because I was worried about dye everywhere I didn’t bring the camera out so I never got a picture of the process. Next time we do it I will. If you are interested you’ll need some white or light colored clothes or fabric to dye and they I recommend the Tulip One-Step tie dye. There’s no fixer for the dye and it comes with the powder in the bottle. Just add water. The kit I’ve linked to has 18 colors, but they make much smaller kits. You can also buy refills which I assume are powdered dye you add to the bottles. You can also mix the dyes to make other colors so you could in theory buy just the primary colors, but create a rainbow. Target also sells the dye and they were on clearance recently so keep your eye out for that too. 

Handwork: Aso-Oke Weaving

I have not really made anything in the last month! I’m working on a little divided container that has a letter in each space and a tiny object whose name begins with that letter. Cam’s showed a bit of interest in letters so I’m working on drawing her attention to initial sounds. She listens, but isn’t overly enthralled so finishing the box hasn’t been at the top of my list. 

However, I came across this awesome blog post on one of the blogs I follow (Africa is a Country) and it most certainly has to do with handwork. The post, Tunde Owolabi brings Aso-Oke to the gallery, is an interview of an artist who became interested in the Yoruba tradition of Aso-Oke weaving. He studied the craft and the people who create the fabric in a village and area that specializes in making it. The interview is short but informative, but watch the video where one of the curators talks about the exhibition and the fabric. The clips of the men weaving the fabric are mesmerizing. You could definitely share the video with your kids.

One of the reasons I find this particularly fascinating is in discovering how much work goes into manufacturing it! Sure, this is a fancy cloth, but all cloth and clothes took that much work to make not that long ago. It kind of boggles the mind. 

Handwork: Threading and Lacing

While I’ve been showing handwork projects I have been working on in this series, I thought today I would share what kinds of activities I have set up for Cam that are intended to help her gear up to sewing and handwork of her own. All these activities help her develop concentration, hand-eye coordination, hand strength, and accuracy. They also allow her to play with patterns, which is an early math concept.

We’ve had a number of these activities around for awhile and even if she goes a couple weeks without touching them, she always seems to find them again and engage with them for a half hour or so. The repetition is a good thing. (The links take you to the product or a similar one on Amazon or wherever I bought it. I don’t get any part of the sale, but I know it’s frustrating to see something on a blog and not know where to find it for purchase.)

Threading and Lacing

1. Large Bead Threading

These are giant beads- palm sized for a kid- and they came with what appears to be a rope to thread them on. This was one of the first threading toys I got for Cam since it was super easy to shove the rope through the beads. I tied a knot at one end so they wouldn’t slip off and that has seemed to work. Now that Cam is clearly capable of threading these she makes patterns and necklaces and bracelets with them. 

2. Threading Apple

Such a sweet Waldorf toy, Cam loves this one. It’s a little apple with holes drilled all over and a rainbow ribbon attached for threading through the holes. This is a good one even as she gets older, because she now works on not looping over to the other side and on keeping the ribbon from twisting. That’s a lot for her to keep track of right now and is excellent practice for hand sewing. Bonus, the company we bought this from is a small local toy shop. 

3. Smaller Bead Threading

We got these a long time ago when we found them on sale at a toy store. Fortunately Cam likes cars and trains! These are a lot harder to thread because the hole is long and the string is much thinner. It took a fair amount of practice, but Cam finally mastered it. She still likes them though and makes necklaces out of these too. I should note Target has started selling Hape toys and they have several different lacing bead tubes like this one in a variety of themes including numbers. 

4. Sewing on plastic canvas

I set this up with Cam’s clothes making provocation and I kept it up because it was popular. I bought some small plastic needlepoint canvases (it was readily available at the craft store and Walmart), threaded a couple large needles with thin yarn, and also included a bowl of beads. Cam gets a kick out of this 

5. Snap Beads/Pop Beads

I had these as a kid and remember loving them. On a recent cleaning spree in her closet, Cam and I came across a set I had bought in the dollar bin ages ago and she was hooked. They are hard for her to snap together, but that’s okay because in snapping them she is building hand strength. If you buy a set, be aware that they are cheap and the snapping pegs will snap off from time to time. Buy a big bag. They also don’t bend really easily so having more to make long chains is also a good thing. 

6. Lacing Peacock

We found this at our local Christkindlmarkt last year. It’s hard because it has a lot of pieces, but Cam has been working with it and is learning how to string all the bits together. With all the beads, felt and silicone feathers, and the different colored laces there are a lot of ways to lace it and play with it. 

7. Button Snake

I made this button snake awhile back. If you have basic sewing skills and some fabric scraps they’re very easy to make. It helps practice fine motor control, buttoning, and hand eye coordination. 



Handwork: Easy-On Apron

One of the presents I made for Cam for Christmas is an art smock/apron that she can easily put on herself. I was inspired by some aprons we saw at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in their toddler splash area. The genius of them was that they had straps that came around and Velcroed down. It was a simple matter of helping Cam slip it on over her head and she got the rest. I was also inspired by a child’s apron I saw on Etsy that used a towel for the fabric. 

This is a pretty simple project that requires some sewing on the machine. It took me about an hour to make, but I was creating the steps as I went along. If you’re a fairly proficient seamstress I would say you could have it done in half an hour. 

Easy-On ApronWhat You’ll Need

  • an old towel
  • one of your child’s t-shirts (this is to help you gauge the size)
  • bias tape (1 package, but the length will depend on the size of your neck hole)
  • Velcro strips, preferably stick down with strong adhesive
  • scissors
  • sewing machine
  • thread

What To Do

  1. Fold the towel in half and lay out. Place the t-shirt on it to help gauge width and length. I used one of the finished sides (with a hem) and the bottom to reduce the amount of sewing I would have to do. Be sure to make it long enough that it will cover your child’s front. I was generous with length knowing that Cam would grow over the next year. Cut out two pieces, a front and a back. You can cut them together. 
  2. Cut a half round out for the neck. 
  3. Stitch the shoulder together. If your apron is long enough/child is big enough, you may be able to use the fold of the towel to create the shoulders. If that’s the case, you can skip this step.
  4. Pin the bias tape around the neck hole and stitch down. 
  5. Zig-zag stitch the side that isn’t hemmed. Alternatively you could fold over the fabric and do a real hem. You could also put bias tape down it or even around the entire outside edge. I just didn’t have enough to do that and the neck hole. I don’t have a picture of this specifically, but you can see it in the picture above.
  6. From the towel scraps cut two strips about 8-10 inches long. Zig-zag stitch all the way around them to help hem them. You could also use a different fabric here and sew tubes that you turn out if you want to get fancy. 
  7. Place your straps about 2/3rds of the way down on the inside of the back of the apron. Stitch down.
  8. Bring the straps around to the front and stick down the Velcro. I had a large patch of Velcro that I cut pieces from, but if you use the strip Velcro you can use both sides. Stick one side to the strap and one to the front of the apron. The terry cloth fabric of the towel actually loosely sticks to the stiff Velcro. 

Handwork: Martinmas

Gluing Lanterns I wrote last year about Martinmas and what we did. Our celebration this year was similar. Since St. Martin was known for sharing his cloak with a beggar one cold winter night we purchased a coat to give to the local coat drive. We made cookies which I will share in the December Cam in the Kitchen post. We also made the traditional lanterns for the holiday.

Martinmas LanternSince Cam was older this year I picked a lantern that she could make on her own. I made four and she made three which was about right. We’re giving them out to family and friends again. 


  • smooth-sided jars
  • pieces of tissue paper
  • white glue
  • paintbrushes
  • small bowl for glue

What To Do

  • I got some things set up on a tray a day or two before we actually did the craft. This made it easy to get it out and make the lanterns, but isn’t essential. I do suggest some prep before you get started though.
  • Cut the tissue paper into small- and medium-sized pieces. They will be covering the outside of the jars so use the sizes of your jars to decide how big to cut the pieces. 
  • In the small bowl, mix some white glue with a bit of water to thin it out. It should be think enough that it doesn’t really drip when painted on the jar, but not so thick it’s hard to spread.
  • Paint a layer of glue onto the outside of the jar. You can work in sections or cover the whole outside.
  • Begin placing the pieces of tissue paper around the outside. They can overlap. If you have a young child it might be easier for you to hold the jar while they place the tissue paper scraps on.
  • Once you have a patch (or the whole jar covered) brush over the tissue paper with the glue sticking the pieces down more and creating a thin layer to protect the paper. This will keep it from peeling off so easily and acts a bit like Modge Podge.  
  • Allow to dry completely. Place a candle inside (we use the battery operated candles, but you can use votives or tea lights).

For Your Classroom: Sewing & Fashion


I’m changing up the format of this series yet again to align more closely with documenting what we’re doing. I’ll still have a number of the same features, such as featured materials and books, for the topic, but the series will be a little more focused. Over the spring and summer I made Cam a number of dresses, pj sets, pants, and even a tunic top. The first few items I sewed I made while my mom babysat. It was just easier that way. However I ended up picking up a few of the projects on days Cam was home. She was fascinated by the process and as the wheels turned in her head she began to “make something” for her stuffed animals as she played with the leftover fabric scraps. To engage this interest I developed a few provocations that break down the clothes-making process into steps she can at least conceptually understand and can begin to mimic. At this point she just doesn’t have quite the grasp on all the work that goes into making an article of clothing, which not only means she doesn’t know where to start, it also means she can’t simplify the process to make an easy dress or shirt for her animals. She also doesn’t have the sewing and fine motor skills mastered to a point where they can be a tool to help her create things and bring her ideas into the physical world in some way. I don’t expect she’ll come away from these provocations sewing outfits, but if she begins to grasp how a project is broken into stages and a general sense of how clothes are made, I think she’ll be satisfied. I also hope they will help build those fine motor skills more so they do eventually become a tool for her to use instead of a skill she hasn’t quite mastered.


Bruno the Tailor by Lars Klinting

Bruno the beaver needs a new work apron so he sets about making one. This is an awesome book for this kind of interest. It’s instructional without feeling like it’s instructional. You see each step of the process with a page of tools he uses in each step. The drawings are simple and sweet. Bruno has a little upset at the end when he discovers he’s made the apron a bit too long. No worries, though, he cuts it down to the right length and re-hems the bottom. The back matter includes some terminology and Bruno’s pattern with measurements. 

I Had a Favorite Dress by Boni Ashburn

A little girl wears her favorite dress every Monday, her favorite day. As the year goes on, the dress gets too small so her mom makes it into a top, a skirt, a tank top and several other iterations. Finally it’s so small that she puts the final piece into a collage drawing of what her dress used to look like. The day she wears the favorite piece of clothing changes too, going through the week. The last page has her favorite pants looking a little short. I love that this book shows the reuse and repurposing of clothing. It might encourage kids to look at their clothing in a very different light (moms too, maybe). 

Archie by Domenica More Gordon

A wordless picture book about sewing. Archie is a dog with a pet dog (just go with it). His aunt sends him a sewing machine and Archie gets to work, after a bit of thinking, on making an outfit for his dog. This outfit is a hit with the other dog owners in town and Archie is swamped with orders. Then a client asks if he can make an outfit for her. This kicks off another round of orders. A cute book about creative sewing. I love that it seems prior to receiving the sewing machine Archie is not a tailor. He just tinkers around and comes up with a good idea. The wordless aspect makes it accessible even to the youngest reader. 

How Clothes Are Made Provocation

I broke the clothes-making process into four steps:

  1. Draw a picture
  2. Make a pattern
  3. Sew it
  4. Try it on

Overall I’m looking for her to internalize the idea that making something takes time and follows a process. I am sure the actual act of making a shirt or pair of pants, even for her stuffed animals, won’t happen for a long time. And that’s fine. This is about exploring the process and seeing what it’s all about. I made a poster (which I won’t share because I didn’t use copyright free images) which is hung behind the provocations. Then I cut out and laminated the picture for each step and placed that in the basket with each provocation.  I am helping her take a set of clothes for one of her stuffed dogs through the process. I’m involving her in as much of it as I can, but ultimately she’s helping me plan and watching. You might notice that this follows Bruno the Tailor pretty closely which worked out well. I didn’t have the book when I designed the project so I was really pleased to find a book that went along so well. 

Draw a Picture

IMG_2527For this provocation I got Cam one of those sets of fashion rubbing plates. Cam is not to the point yet where she draws much of anything particular so I thought this would allow her to draw an outfit without all the pressure. Using the rubbing plates is also great fine motor work. The tray has the rubbing crayon, some colored pencils, paper cut to size and the rubbing plate holder and plates. It may also inspire Cam to draw her own outfit eventually, although I’m not worried about it if she doesn’t. 

Make a PatternIMG_2532

This is just a large basket with a real sewing pattern for her to take out and look at. She can cut it up or wrinkle it to if she wants. There is a pad of paper for drawing pattern pieces onto, colored pencils, a black pen and marker, a measuring tape, and a few clothes catalogs. The catalogs I’m having her look through for inspiration and I showed her how to draw an outline around the clothes to see about pattern pieces. Again I don’t expect her to make an actual patten, just get a sense of the process and the components of the process. 

IMG_2536Sew It

This is probably the most hands on step. I have some yarn & tapestry needles pre-threaded with thin yarn in a bowl and some small plastic canvases. Cam can practice the actual act of sewing on these canvases. Although the large plastic yarn needles seem safer they are a little too big to fit through the holes on the canvas. The tapestry needles are not really sharp, the tip is blunted, so I’m not overly concerned that she’ll hurt herself. This is also the step Cam has, surprisingly, been the least interested in so far.

Try It OnIMG_2530

This is the most fun step for Cam when I make her some clothes. Since she isn’t actually making something I got her one of those magnetic dress up dolls. She is so in love with this toy and it comes out a lot. I’m pretty happy with it too and tried to pick one that wasn’t so stereotypically feminine. This girl has all kinds of hair to try on as well as pants, shirts, skirts and dresses. She looks like a kid, too. Of course there aren’t any clothes to alter, but I think that might be a little overwhelming for Cam at this point. 

Next Places to Go…

I’m not sure yet. For the time being I’m leaving everything out for her to explore. I think these are concepts she’ll need some time to work with and really internalize. I am thinking about a child-sized sewing machine, but that is still a ways off. We’ll see what else piques her interest her. Or maybe we’ll let this lie.   

Handwork: Play Canopy

Play CanopyAfter rearranging Cam’s room a few months ago there was a particular corner that just needed a little something more. It really needed something to draw the eye up and fill the space. To accomplish this I made a play canopy. It isn’t perfect, but Cam loves it and it was really simple to make. My husband was actually the one who came up with the idea to use an embroidery hoop and pushed us to go out and buy the supplies. It looks like a long process but it won’t take long- a couple hours at most depending on your sewing skills. 


  • sewing machine
  • large embroidery hoop (the bigger the better)
  • panels of tulle (we used four, each one a different color; the number of panels you need will depend on the width of the fabric and the size of the hoop, be sure the number of panels will be able to go all the way around your hoop and overlap each other a bit)
  • ribbon or string (to gather the top)
  • hook to hang it

What to do:

  1. Measure the height of your ceiling. This will determine how long each panel of tulle should be. We have 8 foot ceilings so we bought 3 yard lengths.
  2. Fold the top of the each panel of tulle over. Stitch it down so that it makes a hem at the top. This is where you will thread the ribbon or string through and gather the top. 
  3. Determine where you want your hoop to fall along the panel and in relation to your ceiling. This may depend on how high your ceiling is and how wide your hoop is. Stitch a basting or gathering stitch. I stitched around 30 inches down from the top. 
  4. Measure the circumference of your hoop if you don’t know it already. Divide that number by the number of panels you have. Add in the amount you want each panel to overlap. Add this number in twice (once for each side). This number is the width you need to gather your panels down to. So if your hoop is 45 inches in circumference and you have five panels: 45/5= 9 inches. If you want them to overlap by 3 inches add in 6 inches. Gather the panel to 15 inches wide.
  5. Open the hoop up and start to place the panels around the circumference. Place the hoops where the gathering stitch is. Put the hoops back together and begin to tighten them a little so it holds the panels in place while you adjust them. This part was really tricky for me. Feel free to curse as you do this. Don’t worry if they don’t line up perfectly. Just be sure the gathering stitch is hidden. When the panels are in place tighten the hoop completely.
  6. Run the ribbon through the top hem and gather. I used two pieces of ribbon and gathered two panels onto each. I then tied bows to connect the two ribbons- one bow on either side. I used the bows to hang the hoop, but you could just expose a bit of ribbon or string on either side and use that to hang it. 
  7. Place the hook in the ceiling and hang your canopy.

As a side note, the picture of the canopy doesn’t show it where it was actually hanging. We have since had to move it. 

Handwork: Quiet Book

For Cam’s birthday I made her a quiet book. A quiet book is a fabric book with little activities on each page. Often they involve some kind of fine motor practice like lacing, snapping, tying, etc. I used Pinterest to find inspiration, but the pattern was all mine. With some good planning up front it wasn’t terribly hard. I spend 2-3 hours per page or spread. My mom did the embroidery on the front. I used fat quarters that we had at home and some leftover batting, so out of pocket cost was less than $40 for fabric glue, snaps, and the like. 

 Quiet Book Collage 1

The first page has little colored shapes, shape outlines, and colored squares. Cam can match the shape to its outline or match it to its color. 

The second page has a large patch of Velcro where she can use the pattern blocks to make designs and pictures. The facing page has a pocket for the pattern blocks and two strips of Velcro where Cam can make and/or match patterns with them. 

Quiet Book Collage 2

Next is a clothes line strung between two trees. She can use the tiny clothes pins to clip the clothes to the line. I photocopied clothes from the book Ruby Red Shoes and laminated them.

Next to that is a heart made from ribbons that she can weave. This one is really tricky so it will take some practice and some time before she masters it.

The fifth/sixth page spread has a garden. She can button and unbutton the flowers from their stems and a little bead caterpillar can weave through the holes in the grass. 

Quiet Book Collage 3

After that is a page with a placemat. She can snap the utensils, plate, and cup into place to set the table. The placemat doubles as a pocket.

Then there is a pocket page. It holds all the felt sea creatures for the next two-page spread…

…which is an underwater scene that she can use like a flannel board. She can make up stories with all the fish and animals. 

Quiet Book Collage 4

The last page is a lift the flap. Each flap has a numeral on it from 1-9 and under the flap is the same number of buttons for touching and counting. 

Handwork: Schultuete*

SchultueteIn my post about Cam going to school soon I mentioned the schultuete that I would be making. If you Google pictures of them you might notice they can be quite large. In fact the one in the picture I included in that post is nearly as tall as the little girl holding it! According to my grandmother (and Wikipedia), they are filled with candy and sometimes, especially as kids get older, school supplies like pencils, erasers, and markers.

I spent part of an afternoon last week making a cone that could be reused. I chose, however, to make it relatively small. Cam certainly doesn’t need tons more stuff and she doesn’t really need a lot of candy either. The size limits what can fit and I got a few fun, little things that are also practical. I even stuffed a few fruit snack packs in there, a big treat in our house.

IMG_2454The cone was simple enough to make: I cut two outer triangles out of a laminated canvas and two inner triangles out of muslin. I stitched both pairs together at the sides. and turned the outer cone right side out. Then I stuffed the liner cone inside. I folded the tops down and topstitched them together. While sewing the tops I added a ribbon that loops over the top. It isn’t perfectly sewn, but I think it looks fine and doubt Cam will notice or care. There isn’t exactly a pattern, just a size for the triangle and a few tips and tricks to making it come together. If anyone is interested, I would be happy to post a more detailed list of instructions and a pattern.

Traditions Banner*It appears that you can spell the word two different ways. I can’t say definitively that this is true as I don’t speak German, but one way has an umlaut and the other has substituted a “uf” for the umlauted “u”. Since I don’t have an easy way to include the umlaut I’m going for the “ue” spelling of the word. If anyone who speaks German and knows this is incorrect, please let me know and I will change it.