Blog My own art and craft

Whittling Wood

I’m guessing you may not have thought about whittling wood as a hobby. Yet if something’s never in fashion, it can’t go out of fashion, right?

I got a starter set from my niece as a present (see below), and quickly realised that sitting outside with a beer and chopping bits off a chunk of wood is a surprisingly pleasurable way to spend summer’s evening. I’d encourage you to give it a go, you might be surprised how relaxing it is.

Starter set

Whittling isn’t something I did with the kids, I wasn’t sure I was safe to be handling sharp implements, let alone supervise them (I still intend to buy a protective glove as I nicked my fingers quite a few times). However, I’m including it in the blog as an example of how you can get better quickly with a bit of perseverance.

If you buy a starter kit, you get a pack with a range of different tools in. Basically, they all do slightly different functions. Some carve deep lines, some scoop, some do a blunt edge, some curved. I’m sure you can google what they all do, but I found the only way to figure it out was to mess about with each one. The rough outline of an owl below was literally me just getting a block of wood and taking each tool in turn to see what cut it made. It was good enough to keep me going.

First attempt – an owl. Mainly just trying to figure out which tool does what.

I then moved on to trying to do a little figurine. You can see that first attempt below, carved and then painted. Its rough around the edges but by this time I was really enjoying it, and although its tricky visualising what you want to do in three dimensions, I decided to take it a bit more seriously and find out how to do it properly.

Mike Shipley’s books do carving people in much more detail, but here’s a quick overview of how I did mine.

As mentioned, the tricky bit is visualising in three dimensions. I think Michelangelo is mis-quoted as saying about sculpture something along the lines of ‘it’s easy, just take away the bits that aren’t David’; and whilst I’m sure he wasn’t referring to carving a small bit of wood in your back garden, there is a truth to it in that as you take layers away, it slowly gets closer to what you want to see. You just have to think of how making a cut might change the look of the other sides of what you’re doing.

Using a template can help with those first steps. I got one of a woodland chap and just shrank it a bit onto some card so it would fit the block I was working on. You can see below that it helps with thinking about what the character looks like from the front and from the side. If you draw around these onto the block, you’ve then got an idea of the proportions you want to achieve at the end.

POWER TOOL ALERT! – I don’t have many tools, I’m simply too clumsy to use them. In this case however, I did use a Jigsaw to get cut it roughly to size and shape, and get an overall outline. This did save a lot of time as the tools in the starter set are for intricacy rather than just cutting big bits off. I forgot to take a photo of that stage but it basically looked like the picture below but without the detail on the face, hair etc. Needless to say I was pretty proud of myself at this point and grateful that I still had all my fingers.

I basically then just worked away at the shape, taking an area at a time, and working it with the tools, from each side and then using sandpaper to smooth it off. The hat for example, you just keep rotating it until each side is what you want. The body and feet etc were easy enough, just give it some shoulders, arms, legs and shoes etc.

The face was the trickiest bit as I’m more used to painting where for example, you’re adding a layer each time you paint and the nose can grow towards you with the thicker layers of paint. With carving though, its the opposite – if you want a big nose, you have to leave enough wood where the nose should be. I found that hard to get used to, and made a few mistakes. It was also tricky to do ears as they were quite intricate so I kind of gave up on that and just painted them on at the end.

When I’d finished the carving and sandpapering it looked like this:

I then moved on to the painting, which was fun. I chose quite bold colours and used acrylics as I wasn’t sure how well they would stick. That seemed to work well.

Finally, I gave it a coat of clear wood varnish I had in the shed, and the finished product looked like the figure below. As I said, I didn’t involve the kids but they saw the various stages and were impressed with the final transformation with the paint. I was chuffed with it, and genuinely think you might be surprised what you can do if you give it a go.

Blog Ideas for arts/craft to make with kids

Old shirt = New peg bag (or how to make a peg bag from an old shirt whilst your wife appoints herself as the Health and Safety officer over the project!)

We haven’t bought a peg bag in years. Probably neither have you, but is the reason because you make them out of old shirts? No? Well read on and save yourself a fiver every ten years!

Old shirt, new peg bag.

6-7pm can be a challenge in our house as we’re shattered after work and the kids are tired but won’t admit it. I wanted to carry on with the blog and so chose to use this time today for a quick project. Not the wisest move ever and took a bit of cajoling. However, this project is pretty quick and it doesn’t really matter whether the sewing is a right bodge as long as it holds together at the end, so it went pretty well.

Here’s how we did it:

Take a shirt (preferably clean). Cut the arms off just past the shoulder seam, and chop the length off wherever you see fit. Remember it will end up an inch or so shorter than you’ve cut it.

The kids loved this bit and couldn’t believe they were allowed to wreck one of my shirts. At this point, my wife saw the scissors and appointed herself as Health and Safety Officer; remaining very committed to this role throughout the project.

I’ll take you through my version of how to sew in case there are are any dads reading this who don’t know where to start. For all those who can sew, just turn the shirt inside out, sew all the way around and then turn it back (and that’s pretty much it!)

Turn the shirt inside out and then get ready to sew.

Sewing, for those who don’t know and aren’t bothered about it looking neat:

Get some cotton and thread your needle. Its worth getting quick at this, as if you’re like me, you’ll end up doing it a 100 times when making something. Below is an easy way:

I tried to show my son and daughter how to do this. It turned out my mum had already shown him, so he wasn’t very impressed, but my daughter got it too after a while (“this is so tricky daddy”).

After you’ve got your needle threaded, you just need to work around the edge of the shirt, about an inch in, sewing it in what I think is called a ‘running stitch’ (I might be wrong).

This is pretty straightforward and just involves holding the material together in one hand, putting the needle and cotton through so it goes from the top to underneath and pulling it though underneath until its tight (but not too tight). You then put the needle through from underneath slightly further up on the cloth and pull it through to the top again. Repeat until you finish.

Some things to remember – whenever you start a new piece, either tie a knot in the end of the cotton, or just go over the same bit a few times so the cotton doesn’t pull out the whole thing each time and you have to start again. Whenever you finish, the same thing applies (go over the same bit a few times and then loop under it) just to keep it from fraying.

My daughter got bored, I think she’s maybe too young for this, but actually my son took some pride in doing the bottom part once he’d realised he was actually interested in helping us.

That’s pretty much it, except to then flip it so its not inside out anymore, put a coat hanger in it and then fill it with pegs! Its not a work of art but its functional and the kids were keen to see it come together. They plan to give it to someone as a present – bet that person will be glad!

The finished product! Not a piece of art but it works!

Here’s one we’ve had for years (if you needed convincing!)

Old faithful

Blog Ideas for arts/craft to make with kids

Like a puppet on a string.

I wanted to launch the site with something a bit tricky that people might not have thought of doing. My daughter’s been watching Pinocchio, and so we decided on trying to make a string puppet. It was pretty fiddly, but I’m chuffed with the end product, and the kids were genuinely impressed when it all came together.

A word of warning – It took maybe 3-4 hours in total (including a break for lunch and to let the paint dry) so it isn’t a quick thing to do. After initial enthusiasm, the kids got pretty bored of making the parts, so I got left with that whilst they went off to watch telly. They did however like painting it. They have also really enjoyed playing with it – we’ll see how long it stays in one piece!

Here’s how we did it:

We started by getting an idea of what we needed to make. I figured we needed moveable arms and legs, a body and a head. That made 12 pieces in total (see the sketch above – I originally wanted the feet to be separate but got bored and did the shoes on the lower leg as one piece).

Making the pieces was relatively easy but time consuming. I had some old
wallpaper in the shed (you could use any paper I guess), and then for each
piece we basically just scrunched that into the shape we needed before wrapping around it a number of times with masking tape It used quite a bit of tape but meant the shapes had a base surface to paint on.

When we’d finished the pieces it looked like this. For the lower leg/feet, I just folded it and put enough tape around to make the fold stay in one place.

All the pieces.

At this stage we needed to work out how to link them all together. I started by looping some old wire and taping it to the piece. For the body, I did one loop to attach it to the head, and then a big loop that overhangs across both shoulders (see below). That one went okay, but when I tried to do it to the arms (the blue one below), it kept slipping out and it just didn’t have any strength. At this point, it was taking ages, the kid’s were getting bored and to be honest, so was I!

I needed a new plan, and found that using pipe cleaners was much quicker and easier. For the head, I put two holes at the bottom and fed it through to make a loop (see below), which I then knotted (same process at the top of the head). For everything else, I just made a circle with the pipe cleaner, tied it, squashed it into an oval and then taped it on. When we’d finished this bit, it felt like the hard work had been done. It looked like this:

Suddenly the kids were interested again and wanted to paint it. We just used basic kid’s paints from Hobbycraft. I tried to speed up the drying by using a hair dryer, but was told they couldn’t hear the telly, so gave up.

This called for a well earned lunch whilst it dried.

A quick smile, eyebrows and some googly eyes later. Everything was dry and we began putting it all together. I made a selection of small circles with more pipe cleaners, and used them as a link to the two pieces it was joining. There’s probably better ways of doing this, but it held okay, and now we look like this:

Nearly there! I’m not sure whether string is attached to separate sticks on
proper puppets, but I just crossed two bits of twig from the garden and wrapped string around it to secure (one stick slightly off centre, so the the front is shorter).

I then tied string from the top of the head to the front of the sticks, and attached more string to each of the wrists.

And Voila! All finished. It took a while, we’d all definitely had enough by the time it was done, but the kids loved the end product.