Thursday, February 25, 2010

Encouraging Creativity in Children: Costume Parties

I'd like to introduce Salley Mavor, one of my favorite children's book illustrators and the author of one of my favorite craft books, "Felt Wee Folks". I have long admired her work, and this year have started to get to know her and her work a little better through her blog. I asked her to help me start a series about encouraging creativity in children on Acorn Pies. I asked her because she wrote about the special creative environment in which she grew up in the introduction to "Felt Wee Folk." In this posting, Salley tells us about some special costume birthday parties she hosted for her sons when they were little. Thank you for sharing your wonderful stories with us, Salley!

When I was a child in the 1950's, we had a wooden chest full of "dress-ups" that included old clothes and costumes that my mother had made. I remember different colored Snow White dresses that she made from this McCall's pattern.

I continued this tradition with my own children and our dress-up box was a hit when friends came over to play. We had an eclectic pile of capes, belts, scarves and head gear that would go together in any number of combinations. The children would spend a long time adorning themselves and then run around playing inside and out. When they were three years old, my son Ian and his friend Sam made monster masks. They would pull them down over their angelic faces, scream and growl, and then lift them up and laugh.

For the boys' birthdays, we had our share of bowling parties and trips to the go-cart track, but the most memorable birthdays were the themed parties that were linked to a familiar story. In the late 80's, we had several costume parties when the boys were 5 to 8, when kids are willing to dress up and engage in fantasy play. Legendary characters like pirates were the inspiration for our parties. The stories surrounding these compelling characters could easily be translated into party activities and their exciting outlaw image was an added attraction. The boys would draw and write out their own invitations, asking their friends to come in costume.

It is advantageous to have a warm weather birthday for these parties, although we did have a pirate party in February, complete with a make-shift pirate ship in the yard. We devised a raised, plywood floor, propped up on tree logs, and added a boarding ramp. All it needed was a mast to fly a pirate flag.

For another pirate party, this time in July, the children came ready to travel by boat to a pirate beach.

Here they are, waiting for the pirate ship, with their cardboard telescopes.

They arrived at the island, where a bottle washed up into the shallow water off the beach and inside was a treasure map!

They followed clues on the map and found the treasure chest full of goodies, including water pistols.

Looking back at the pictures, the life of our children looks so much simpler and not as commercial as today. We did work hard to keep our home life uncomplicated and creative. I'm sure that my mother would say the same thing about my childhood 30 years earlier. Young children are developing their imaginations and we as a society need to nurture this, but at the same time be aware of how impressionable they are. I think that being exposed to the same commercial images over and over, no matter how compelling or beautiful, stops children from seeing in their mind's eye what something or someone looks and acts like. Even the McCall costume pattern, which was copyrighted 1938 by Disney, shows a clear connection to the animated movie that we have come to think of as the classic rendition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, even though the story is centuries old. As for pirates, the brilliant Johnny Depp has forever imprinted his depiction in our minds. I'm not sure how to keep a child's imagination alive, but I think that giving them the opportunity to create characters of their own, whether through art or play acting, can make a difference for some and help them imagine new possibilities in the future.

To visit Salley's wonderful blog and have a look at her work, just click on the title of this post, or on the name Salley Mavor in my blog list. Thank you again, Salley!

Copyright 2010 Salley Mavor.


This is Phillipa. She is a 12" doll from my little etsy shop, primroses.

She is on her way to the arms of a little red-headed girl in Texas.

There is another red-headed doll there already, a doll named Baby Xiola which the Mama made. Soon Phillipa will be joining in tea parties, picnics, strolls, toy horse-riding, sofa-climbing, clothes-switching, blanket fort-building, and warm snuggles to come.


The rain is saturating our town. It is dripping from the black, wet trees and from the broken gutter. It is spangling the windows and tapping with a faint metallic sound on the cover at the top of the chimney. It is trickling in the streets and making puddles mixed with street sand and soggy leaves and pale worms. It is percolating through the soil and being sucked up through thirsty white roots. It is making sprouts. They are popping up everywhere, appearing like magic overnight, pushing aside the sodden leaves, and making their fresh green debuts.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I have been spending some peaceful hours cutting and collaging color-aid paper at a table in my studio,

making irises,

a goldfish with a freedom-wish,


and a dala horse, (this one also has some gouache paint for details.)

I put these collages in my etsy shop.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Graphing Colorwork Designs for Knitting

There is a wealth of visual resources we can use for design projects. Art books, magazines, folk art, and museum collections are full of ideas. The design above came from a sixteenth century Persian miniature painting. Take a close look at the strip of decorative textile on the tent in the painting below.

I used ordinary graph paper to plot out the design. That works fine for geometric designs. If you are designing pictures to knit, it is best to use graph paper which is made especially for your knit gauge so that the proportions will come out right. You can get free knitting graph paper on line.

I collected a big pile of mixed aqua tones, and another of mostly darker blues, greens and lavenders. I began cutting the yarns at random lengths, and tying them together until I had a giant aqua ball, and a giant dark yarn ball. I learned this great color mixing method from reading about the Poppy Vest in Kaffe Fassett's book, "Glorious Knits". As I knit, the colors changed themselves for a rich result. Warning: If you use this method, you should try to weave in your ends as you go! It is best to use a drop-sleeve design when you use an allover geometric color pattern for an uninterrupted rectangle of shapes on the body.

I knit this sweater over 15 years ago, and I'm still not tired of it. And with all the layers of wool in it, it is my warmest and coziest.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Snowy Beach Walk

We went for a walk on the beach on a cold, gray day.

Wherever we found uncovered beach, we looked at the fascinating tangle of stuff which washes up in the tide. Winter is not gray on the beach.

I looked for bright spots of color and saw some bittersweet hanging on dead vines.

I saw withered orange rosehips clinging to the beach rose briars.

The tawny color of dried grass is one of my favorite winter colors. How can this dried grass still be standing after all the cold, dark nights full of wind and rain and snow?

This sea grass near a tidal pond is flattened into a swirl. The tide must have come very high during a recent storm.

Here is the tidal pond itself, looking as black as a tarn.

Snow blew sideways as it fell last week, and froze on the trees.

I have been looking at all the different kinds of ice I can find during our walks, inspired by Spirithelpers. I love this bright ice full of tiny cracks and bubbles.

My husband and dog are walking through frozen sea foam in the picture below. It is made up of delicate flakes of ice.

My boy has his own ways of exploring the different kinds of ice. He experiences things with his whole body. Here he is touching some little ice floes.

Here he is walking and crawling on hard, slippery ice.

We used to have to talk him into these walks on the beach. But this little strip of beach is different every time we walk on it. He always finds something fun to do, and so do we.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Make a Shadow Puppet Play!

When my older children were young, we had a beautiful little wooden and vellum shadow puppet theater from Hearthsong Catalog. Here is how to make one of your own, and a cast of puppets.

I started by making the shadow puppets with the help of a wonderful book by Laura Ross, called Hand Puppets: How to Make and Use Them". Using her drawings as a guide, I drew the characters from "Peter and the Wolf" onto some poster board. Black poster board would be best, but I only had red. You could also use cereal box scraps, or even thick construction paper. If you are worried about your drawing skills, try not to let that stop you. Young children tend to admire their parent's drawings very much. You could also trace characters in a book, or create imaginary creatures.

Once I had cut out all the characters, I mounted them on long kabob skewers, using paper hinges, like so:

For the theater, you could stretch a white sheet across a doorway, glue vellum to a wooden canvas stretcher, or like me, tape one-ply white paper to an old metal frame from the attic. My son helped and directed the creation of the scenery. Our first stage was small and today we enlarged it so that the puppets had more space to move about. Unfortunately, the paper seam showed. I would try to use one large sheet of paper next time.

We put the theater up on some chairs and covered the bottom of the chairs with a blanket, to hide the puppeteers. You can see a little bit of our scenery through the paper.

We clamped a strong light behind the stage, to shine on the back of theater over the left shoulder of the puppeteer. If it is angled correctly, your own shadow should be out of the way.

By now it was dark and we turned off all the lights except the spot and began acting out "Peter and the Wolf" by Prokofiev, narrated by Carol Channing on audiotape. My son wanted to be the primary puppeteer, and I was his assistant until there got to be too many characters on the stage for him to handle alone.

It is hard to manage several puppets at a time. A piece of styrofoam below the stage is handy for sticking puppet skewers into, as you can see below.

Now, for a view of what the audience sees! Here is the bird, the duck, and Peter himself.

Here are some friends trying out the puppets after they saw the puppet show, using the characters in their own ways.

Oh, dear.....

As I hoped, my little boy got an idea for his own shadow puppet play after we did "Peter and the Wolf", and that's what we're going to work on next!