10 Awesome 100-Year-Old Crafts for Kids

Handicraft for Handy Girls By Albert Neely Hall, Dorothy Perkins
Handicraft for Handy Girls By Albert Neely Hall, Dorothy Perkins

At the dawn of the 20th century, middle class children were less likely than at any time in history to spend their days toiling for survival next to their parents. So they started getting bored. And books, full of things to make and do, began to emerge combat that new sensation.

Many of those projects are still fun to create today. Others require way more hatpins and unused cretonne scraps than are commonly found in modern homes. Below we’ve uncovered 10 craft and building projects, of various skill levels, that are just as fun to make today as they were 100 years ago.

1. AN UMBRELLA PLAYHOUSE

To make this clever little tent, all you have to do is find an umbrella that still has a curled handle, and secure it tight to the rung of a chair with twine (or nylon rope). The author recommends sheets or old draperies for the walls, and clothesline for the “braces.” Fasten the braces to each spine of the umbrella: “The best way to attach them is by using a needle and thread and sewing each to the little eye in a tip.” Then, stake the rope into the ground outside, or, if inside, thumbtack it to the floor. (Which parents probably won't allow, but it’s still nice to have outside!)

2. CORN STARCH JEWELRY

Here’s the recipe: 1 tablespoon of corn starch to 2 tablespoons of salt, to 1 tablespoon of cold water. You can add food coloring or watercolors for color.

Mix the water and cornstarch, and heat the salt in a pan. When it is “piping hot,” put it in with the cornstarch and knead. To make the Bracelet, roll the dough into round beads with your fingers and poke a hole through them before they harden. Intersperse with tiny beads. For the Lavalliere, the author recommends silk cord for stringing, and forming the pendant around a hairpin, so it’s easier to string.

3. STILTS

Books of this era usually assumed even children had familiarity with basic carpentry and construction, so instructions could be brief.

Take two stout poles, P, about six feet long and from one and a half to two inches square, for the uprights (Fig. 1). The foot blocks, C, should be about four or five inches long, three inches wide, and as thick as the upright. Nail these two feet or more from the lower end of the upright, using strong steel nails or screws to keep them in place.

It is also recommended to nail on a leather strap to help feet stay in place.

4. A GLASS REFLECTING FRAME FOR COPYING PICTURES

Scanning, copying, and printing a picture you want to copy is for the faint-hearted. True art lovers build one of these and do it by hand. Again, instruction is brief, even when the intended reader is an 8-year-old girl.

Two boards (A and B), two cross-pieces (C andD), and a small picture-frame with the glass fastened securely in place (E). The boards A and B should be about 1 inch longer than the picture-frame, and they should be square. Place the pieces upon the pair of crosspieces C and D, with the edge of the picture-frame slipped between them, and nail them to the crosspieces, driving them tight up against the frame to hold it securely in an upright position.

To actually copy a picture, you would trace the reflection in the glass onto fresh paper. Brilliant in its simplicity.

5. SPATTERWORK PICTURES

It’s easy to let children experiment with things that spatter in a world of washable fingerpaints. One hundred years ago, there was just ink. Black, permanent, terrifying ink.

To make leaf impressions, place flat leaves on paper, making sure to block off the edges where you don’t want paint. (Also it might be wise to have your child do this project in a parking lot while wearing a trashbag.) Then,

Dip a paintbrush into the ink, and draw the blade of a pen-knife across the ends of the bristles, as shown in Fig. 586. Move the brush from side to side so that the spattering will be even. When the ink has dried, lift the leaf from the page, and you will find a white silhouette of it upon a stippled background.

6. A BOOK-MARKER

This book marker needs 1 ¼ yards of satin ribbon, and “fancy work ring.” (We're not sure what that is, but any flat ring would probably do.) Cut the ribbon in two pieces, one 12 inches long and one 24 inches. Pull them halfway through the ring and stitch them all together. Notch the ends so they don’t fray. The hand-lettered verse, "Not mine to tell/If the book be good/But I keep my place/As a marker should” is optional.

7. CIGAR BOX HARP

To make this cute cigar box harp, drive thin nails through the front and back of the box, then stretch “elastic” bands (rubber will likely do) across two nails. Use bands of varying width, and tighten them to your personal taste by wrapping them around more than once. Then use a quill to play it. Except you probably don’t have a quill, in which case a toothpick should work just fine.

8. CLOTHESPIN DOLL

Drive in two little nails for the arms, cover the head with clay, and draw on a face. Stiff paper “of an intense color” is used for the dress. Tie a contrasting sash to keep the dress on, and stick on a button for a hat. If you want her to stand up on her own, turn up a half inch hem and glue it heavily.

9. DAVID AND GOLIATH SLING

Dennis the Menace slingshots are old and busted. It’s time to harness the power of centrifugal force in your rock throwing. You’ll need an oval piece of leather, about 3 inches long, and leather strips tied to each end, one long and one short. Then,

Whirl the sling several times around your head, and let go the shorter thong. The stone will fly to a considerable distance, according to your skill and force. As long as the leather holds the stone it can not fly, but the moment the thong is released the stone escapes at right angles to the radius of the circle.

10. THAUMATROPES

Before Netflix, there were thaumatropes. They’re a small circle of cardboard with a picture of two things that go together on either side, such as a bird and a birdcage:

Attach two pieces of string, six inches long, to each edge. By holding the ends of the strings between the thumb and forefinger of each hand and twisting the disk around rapidly, the bird will appear to have entered the cage.

Bob Dylan's Lyrics, Poetry, and Prose Showcased at Chicago's American Writers Museum

A collection of Bob Dylan poems that was auctioned off by Christie's in 2005.
A collection of Bob Dylan poems that was auctioned off by Christie's in 2005.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Like a Rolling Stone, Tangled Up in Blue, Blowin’ in the Wind, and The Times They Are a-Changin’ are among Bob Dylan’s best songs, but the 77-year-old singer’s writing isn’t limited to lyrics. Dylan has also penned poems, prose, an autobiography, and a nearly four-hour movie (that got terrible reviews).

An ongoing showcase at Chicago’s American Writers Museum is paying homage to Dylan the writer. The "Bob Dylan: Electric" exhibit, which will remain on view though April 30, 2019, highlights dozens of items from Dylan’s expansive career.

“The world knows Bob Dylan as a prolific songwriter,” museum president Carey Cranston said in a statement. “'Bob Dylan: Electric’ gives the public a chance to see how his writing shaped more than just American music, but American literature as a whole.”

The period covers Dylan’s “electric” career, beginning with the time he made his electric guitar debut at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The exact instrument he played at the festival—a 1964 sunburst Fender Stratocaster—is naturally one of the items on display.

Visitors can also check out Dylan’s personal copy of The Catcher in the Rye, which he read in the summer of 1961. He jotted down notes and drew doodles in the back of the book, including a bottle of rye and the words “good book.” (Interestingly enough, a talent agent approached Dylan the following year and asked if he’d play Holden Caulfield in a movie adaptation of the book. For better or worse, that never came to fruition.)

Dylan’s writing was recognized with a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. At the time, the committee's decision to award a songwriter rather than a novelist was a controversial one. The New York Times dubbed it a “disappointing choice,” while Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh (author of Trainspotting) was a little more blunt, calling it “an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”

Nonetheless, Dylan accepted the award, eventually releasing a video detailing his literary influences. Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey are just a few of the singer-songwriter’s many inspirations.

Vinnie Ream: The Teen Who Met With Abraham Lincoln for 30 Minutes Every Day

Library of Congress // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Library of Congress // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Some of the most important people in the world have trouble getting even a few minutes of the president’s time. But in 1864, 17-year-old Lavinia “Vinnie” Ream managed to steal half an hour with Abraham Lincoln every day—for five months.

Ream made a name for herself as an artist at a young age. Word of the teen prodigy’s painting prowess quickly spread, and in 1863, Missouri Congressman James Rollins introduced her to sculptor Clark Mills. Through Mills, Ream discovered her talents included molding clay.

After creating small, medallion-sized likenesses of General Custer and many Congressmen, including Thaddeus Stevens, several senators commissioned Ream to create a marble bust—and this was just over a year after she had picked up the skill. The senators allowed Ream to choose her subject, and she picked the president—Abraham Lincoln.

Ream's friends in the Senate personally asked Lincoln to pose for the sculpture, but he declined. After hearing that she was a struggling artist from a Midwestern background not dissimilar to his own, however, Lincoln relented. “He granted me sittings for no other reason than that I was in need,” she later wrote. “Had I been the greatest sculptor in the world I am quite sure I would have been refused.”

Not only did the president agree to the sitting, he gave her a half-hour of his time every day for five months—no small sum of time for a man in such demand. “It seemed that he used this half-hour as a time for relaxation, for he always left instructions that no one was to be admitted during that time,” Ream said. “He seemed to find a strange sort of companionship in being with me, although we talked but little.” He occasionally talked about his son Willie, who had died two years before. The stories sometimes moved him to tears, and he told Vinnie that she reminded him of Willie. Lincoln "never told a funny story to me. He rarely smiled," Ream later recalled.

After Lincoln's fateful night at Ford's Theatre, Congress hired Ream to create a memorial statue of the fallen president, making her the youngest artist—and the first woman—to receive a commission from the U.S. government.

Though she had already proved that she could create a remarkable likeness of Lincoln in bust form, not everyone on the commission was convinced she would be up to the task of sculpting a full-length version. “Having in view the youth and inexperience of Miss Ream, and I will go further, and say, having in view her sex, I shall expect a complete failure in the execution of this work,” Senator Jacob Merritt Howard said.

But Ream had the last laugh: Her work still graces the Capitol Rotunda today.

Vinnie Ream's sculpture of Abraham Lincoln still stands in the Capital Rotunda
USCapitol via Flickr // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

This article originally ran in 2016.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER