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Handicraft for Handy Girls By Albert Neely Hall, Dorothy Perkins

10 Awesome 100-Year-Old Crafts for Kids

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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 ten 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, if it’s been invented). 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 probably isn’t going to happen, 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 and D), 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.” I’m not sure what that is but I’m pretty sure any flat ring would 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

There really is beauty to be had in nicotine addiction, in the form of this cute cigar box harp. Drive thin nails through the front and back of the box, then stretch “elastic” bands (I’m guessing rubber will 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.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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