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.

9 Facts About Vincent Van Gogh

A self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh is displayed on a screen in Rome in 2016
A self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh is displayed on a screen in Rome in 2016
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

Born on March 30, 1853, in Zundert, Netherlands, Vincent van Gogh came to art relatively late, only deciding on it as a career at the age of 27. Now his post-Impressionist paintings of sunflowers, night skies, and the landscapes and people of Provence in southern France are among the most recognizable artworks in the world. But mental health issues, a lack of fame during his lifetime, and the infamous moment his ear was cut with a razor have made his story a compelling, complex narrative. Here are nine facts about the celebrated Dutch artist.

  1. Vincent van Gogh was an art dealer before he was an artist.

Before becoming an artist, Vincent van Gogh joined the art firm Goupil & Cie in The Hague in 1869 at the age of 16. In 1873, he was sent to London to work for the firm. His brother, Theo, worked for the same company in Brussels. While Theo thrived, Vincent struggled as an art dealer, and cared little for the commercial side of art. In 1876, he was fired. He then did some teaching and tried for a career as a preacher, like his father, but his first attempt at missionary work in a Belgian mining village was a failure. After six months, he'd made so little headway the evangelical committee that had sponsored him decided that he was unfit for the work.

  1. Vincent van Gogh was largely self-taught.

Vincent van Gogh at the age of 19
Vincent van Gogh at the age of 19
J.M.W. de Louw, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Although van Gogh had short stints at art academies in Brussels and Antwerp, it wasn't a good fit—the teachers didn't like his style, and he didn't appreciate their traditional teaching methods. Over three months in Paris in 1886, artist Fernand Cormon mentored van Gogh in sketching studies of models. These brief experiences were the bulk of his art education. Instead, he focused on training himself: Early in his career, he created hundreds of drawings to play with ideas and develop his skills. He also spent hours studying drawing manuals and copying prints, including those of work by Delacroix and Rembrandt, to master his sketching technique.

  1. Most of van Gogh’s work was made in a single decade.

Van Gogh’s artistic career only spanned from 1880 to 1890. In that one decade, he created more than 2000 drawings, paintings, watercolors, and sketches. In the last two months of his life, while he was settled in Auvers-sur-Oise, he was prolific, making about a painting a day.

  1. Van Gogh only signed his first name.

Despite his late start as an artist, van Gogh was confident in his brand, and signed his paintings just “Vincent.” He may have chosen this shortened name because he knew his surname was difficult to pronounce (most people still don't give it the full "vun KHOKH" Dutch pronunciation). Or, he may have been inspired by his Dutch hero Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, who similarly only signed his first name.

  1. Japan inspired van Gogh as much as Provence did.

While living in Paris from 1886 to 1888, van Gogh acquired a collection of Japanese ukiyo-e prints, which influenced the aesthetics of his paintings. (A Japanese woodblock print of geishas appears in his 1889 Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear.) When he arrived in Provence and witnessed the weathered trees and soft light of Arles, he wrote to his brother Theo: "My dear brother, you know, I feel I’m in Japan." The colors in the paintings he created in Provence, particularly the blues, purples, and yellows, reflected the dominant palette of Japanese prints of the time. He also adopted the skewed perspectives—such as in the 1888 The Bedroom—and the diagonal, streaking rain that he observed in Japanese prints. Although he never made it to Japan, his idealized vision of the country infused his early depictions of the south of France.

  1. Van Gogh's paintings today don't always look the way he intended.

Two of Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' paintings hanging side by side on display in London
Two of Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' paintings hanging side by side on display in London
Mary Turner/Getty Images

Synthetic paint tubes (a new invention dating to 1841) were increasingly available to artists in the 19th century, and van Gogh mixed their vivid hues with natural pigments. The lead-based chrome yellow gave his sunflowers their lively glow, while red made from cochineal insects were used as a warm texture in several paintings. However, his experimentation with novel colors means we sometimes don't see his paintings as he intended. The bright red geranium lake has faded from his wheat fields; a violet on the walls of the 1888 The Bedroom turned to blue as the red in the pigment dissipated.

  1. There’s much debate around the mutilation of van Gogh's ear.

One of the most well-known incidents in van Gogh's life was when he cut off his own ear on December 23, 1888, in Arles. How much he sliced off, and the circumstances of the mutilation, are still under debate. Some historians have posited that it was after a quarrel with fellow painter Paul Gauguin, as their friendship had rapidly deteriorated despite van Gogh’s hopes that they could form something of an artist community in Arles. Others have theorized that the act was in reaction to news that his beloved brother Theo was going to marry. By some reports it was just the earlobe, yet a sketch by Dr. Félix Rey, the physician who treated him, shows the whole ear being severed. Popular lore is that he presented the mangled flesh to a prostitute, but new research suggests it was a local farmer's daughter working as a maid in a brothel who was the unlucky recipient.

  1. Van Gogh's most famous artwork was painted in an asylum.

"This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big," Vincent wrote to his brother Theo in June 1889. Although he didn’t include it in The Starry Night which he painted that year, the window he described was iron-barred and looked out from the Saint-Paul de Mausole asylum in southern France. He voluntarily admitted himself into the asylum on May 8, 1889. Created during this productive yet troubled time in van Gogh's life, the nocturnal tableau of curling pigment over a small village (which van Gogh largely imagined, with a church spire akin to those in his home country) is arguably his most famous work. It draws daily crowds in its current home, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

  1. Van Gogh's success was posthumous.

Vincent Van Gogh's gravestone in Auvers-sur-Oise, a small village north of Paris
Vincent Van Gogh's gravestone in Auvers-sur-Oise, a small village north of Paris
PIERRE-FRANCK COLOMBIER/AFP/Getty Images

Two days after sustaining a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Vincent van Gogh died on July 29, 1890. Thanks to his constant correspondence with his brother Theo, later historians were able to reconstruct his biography, and recognize the essential support that his brother offered to Vincent. He had little commercial or critical success in his lifetime; the lore that he sold one painting while alive isn't completely true, but isn't that far off. (He sold at least two.)

But after his death, his star rose, helped significantly by his sister-in-law Jo van Gogh-Bonger. After Theo died in 1891, she inherited heaps of Vincent's art, and spent years organizing exhibitions, promoting his work across Western Europe, and getting his pieces in public art collections. In 1905, thanks to her efforts, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam hosted a retrospective. Now Vincent van Gogh exhibitions are blockbusters around the world. In 1990, his Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $82.5 million at Christie's, setting a new record for a single painting.

A Resin-Preserved KFC Drumstick Can Be Yours for $100

Kentucky for Kentucky
Kentucky for Kentucky

Many devoted KFC fans love the chain's crispy fried chicken for its signature taste and mouthwatering aroma. If you just love the way the chicken looks, now you can keep it on your shelf to admire forever. As Food & Wine reports, Kentucky for Kentucky is selling whole KFC drumsticks encapsulated in resin for $100.

Kentucky for Kentucky, an independent organization that promotes the Bluegrass State, unveiled the jars of "Chick-Infinity" on its website earlier in June. The chicken pieces are authentic Colonel's original recipe drumsticks sourced from a KFC restaurant in Coal Run, Kentucky. While they were at their golden-brown peak, Kentucky artist Coleman Larkin submerged them in 16-ounce Mason jars filled with clear resin "with all the care of a Southern mamaw putting up greasy beans for the winter." 

KFC drumstick in a jar.
Kentucky for Kentucky

The project, part of Larkin's Dixieland Preserves line of Southern-themed resin encapsulations (which also includes the preserved poop of a Kentucky Derby winner), aims to present the iconic Kentucky product in a new way. "Honestly, is there anything better than biting into a warm, crispy KFC drumstick after a day at the lake?" Kentucky for Kentucky writes in a blog post, "we wanted to capture that feeling in a product that didn’t disappear into a pile of bones as soon as it’s opened."

Only 50 of the finger-licking artworks were created, and at $100 a piece, they're worth the price of several KFC family buckets. You can grab one while they're still available from the Kentucky for Kentucky online store.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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