Unusual but Accessible

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The pandemic world sucks.

While COVID-19 keeps us all in varying degrees of lockdown, separation and financial strain, we’re all forced into thinking creatively about how to keep ourselves sane. To that end, here’s my list of entry-level, unusual but accessible arts and crafts that you may not have considered trying as you while away the time, all of which you can take further should your interest and situation allow:

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Grass crafts

Stop mowing the lawn. That’ll be music to the ears of many Sunday-morning prograsstinators.

Survivalists strive to produce usable items from what they can find around them and some of those lessons can easily be adapted for a more artistic purpose. Grass may be one of the readily available natural fibres growing nearby to you. You will need to use it as you pick it as it will become dry and brittle quickly, but there are ways to keep it hydrated in the short-term, and if you enjoy the results then you can look into sourcing more durable natural fibres.

Instructables has a great simple tutorial to make grass cordage/rope, and from there why not try your hand at netted bags or wrapped rocks?

If making rope isn’t your thing, then consider simple grass baskets, mats or woven baskets if you have access to broader-leaved grasses and plants.

You’ll need to use your grass rope quickly – it will dry out considerably even after just one day.
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Puppetry

The Muppets are perhaps the most famous puppets on the planet today, but puppetry has a long history of storytelling for both adults and children, from Punch and Judy to Cambodian Khmer cultural shadow puppet displays (pictured left).

Sticking eyes on a sock is probably the easiest and most well-known entry-level method of making a puppet (check out Wikihow for the basics), but puppetry is a craft that you can take as far as you like and with whatever materials your imagination can come up with. Just check out some of the entry-level ideas that these accomplished puppet artists suggest:

Barnaby Dixon, creator of the YouTube puppet series for grown-ups, Dabchick, and whose highly complex finger puppets feature in the recent Dark Crystal Netflix remake, presented an intriguing design for finger puppets made out of nothing more than post-it notes, packing tape and a felt-tip pen. Just be aware that he himself states that his videos aren’t really intended for kids.

Adam Kreutinger is a maker of Muppet-style puppets with many tutorials on his YouTube channel, but to start out I’d recommend his ‘How to Make a Puppet – Puppet Building 101’ video, then check out his more in-depth design videos and free patterns (scroll down towards the bottom).

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Soap Carving

If you want to learn the principles of carving but found that wood and stone carving are difficult entry-level mediums due to the skill needed work with such hard materials, have you ever considered soap? Soft and easy to carve, you can get started with a bar from the bathroom and an exacto blade or utility knife.

Common themes tend to be flowers, but the skies the limit (or rather, the bar size is the limit) and you can take the craft from the Joker to dental anatomy!

Just be aware that if you search for soap carving on YouTube, I recommend including ‘-asmr’ (don’t forget the minus sign) to keep the search limited to tutorials. ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) is a whole other story. If you want a good chuckle at what not to do when carving soap, have a look at Jazza’s attempt and perhaps stick with pre-made bars unless you make your own soap from scratch.

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Recycled Paper

At some stage in our childhood, many of us have glued sodden strips of newspaper to make bowls that only our mothers would admire. Traditional papier mache is still a fantastic, messy craft, but did you know that you could also turn your old paper or spare toilet roll into air-drying clay?  Scrap paper, flour, water and salt is all you need to get started making your own paper clay, and if you happen to have a few more supplies to hand (which may need a trip to the hardware store), you can make a much finer substance for a smoother papier mache effect.

If sculpting doesn’t take your fancy, try making your own sheets of recycled paper. You’ll need a couple of items from a hardware store or cheap shop to make the mould and deckle, and then with a few items you might have in the kitchen and linen cupboards, some scrap paper and water, you’ll be off and racing.

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Book Binding

Coptic stitched handmade notebooks using repurposed Monopoly boards for covers.

At first glance, this may not seem like an entry-level craft, especially if you look at traditionally-bound tomes that need specialised equipment such as bone folders, waxed thread, book presses and rubber brayers. And yes – if you do want to make traditional, hard wearing sewn books, you will need a range of tools at hand.

But, if you want to get started into book art, there are book binding methods that are forgiving of imprecision and only need what you’ll find in your cupboards:

Piano Hinge Binding only needs wooden skewers or toothpicks, scissors and paper (printer paper is absolutely fine to get started).

The Turkish Map Fold Book needs even less – just a square of paper for the basics and something to glue it to as a cover, and has a definite ‘wow factor’ upon opening that lets your imagination run wild.

When you want to branch out into stitched books, buy yourself a sharp awl and a darning needle and give Japanese Stab Binding or Coptic Stitch (pictured above) a go. You can substitute the blunt edge of a butter knife for the more specialised bone folder in the list of equipment that you need.

Get creative with the covers – anything you can find that can be recycled or upcycled, including worn out clothes, drink coasters, or picture frames can be repurposed with a bit of lateral thinking.

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Story Writing and Flash Fiction

Got a story or an idea for a fantastical world in your head? A pen and paper or a laptop is all you need to get writing. You’ll find a plethora of three- or four-word ‘rules’ online that are meaningless until you’ve had some practise (show, don’t tell; write what you know; don’t head-hop), but the only way to get that practise is to just start.

Here’s another ‘rule’ you’ll see quoted a lot but does make perfect sense when you are starting out: write for yourself. No-one has to read it if you don’t want them to, so write the story that you like in the way that you want, and if you decide that you like the process and want to take the craft further by writing for an audience, then you can put the work into learning the principles of what makes writing ‘publishable’.

Can you think of any other ‘unusual but accessible’ beginner arts and crafts that can keep the boredom away in lockdown? Leave your comment below and let’s expand the list!

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