Paper Bag Leaves

IMG_1070Here’s a way to use up extra paper grocery bags AND decorate for fall at the same time. This might even be considered “up-cycling”—the new trend in the “reduce, reuse, recycle” movement. How hip is that? Since most of us have cupboards or closets brimming over with used paper bags, you’ve got most of the supplies you need for this craft already! You might need to pop out to Michael’s or Jo-Ann’s for the paint and brushes, and maybe for some Aleene’s tacky glue or a hot glue gun as well. But these supplies are pretty cheap, so this isn’t a break-the-bank project, even if you didn’t have everything on hand already. Here’s the supply list:

  • Craft paper bags, preferably with twisted raffia handles
  • Twisted raffia cord in natural, if your bags don’t have raffia handles*
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Sponge paint brush
  • 2-ounce bottles of metallic acrylic craft paint (in fall colors)
  • Fall leaves to trace—maple, oak, birch, aspen
  • Hot glue gun or Aleene’s tacky glue (not pictured)



First step: Take a walk and look for good leaves to use as your patterns. If you want to use these as a grouping on your table, mantle, or whatever surface needs a touch of fall whimsy, try grabbing leaves from a variety of trees. Heck, you could even offer to rake your neighbor’s yard to find some choice specimens!

Once you have your leaves in hand, you’re ready to begin. Cut the paper bag down one side, and cut off bottom. Discard bottom of bag, as the folds and double-thickness make it not usable for this project. (If you think of another use for the bottoms of the bags, please let me know! If I think of a project using bag-bottoms, I’ll be sure to let YOU know.)

IMG_1101Remove handles from bag. (I’ve got a Chipotle bag pictured here, but a lot of places use bags with the twisted raffia cord handles. I suppose this would work with white bags as well as the brown. Would need more paint to cover, probably…) Cut each handle into 4 pieces, for a total of 8. If you’re using purchased twisted raffia, cut pieces 3-4 inches long for leaf stems. (*NOTE: I could not find the twisted raffia cord at Michael’s, Jo-Ann’s, Hobby Lobby, or Walmart, places where I’ve found it in the past. But I did find it online at Set aside.


Trace leaf shapes onto printed side of bag with a pencil. Trace as many as you want! The bag pictured here would yield you about 8 leaves, perfect for the number of leaf stems you get from cutting up the handles. Making a bunch at a time is easy, and then you’ll have more to work with when decorating later on.



Next, tear out the leaves along the pencil line. This works best if you use both hands, and keep your thumbs and index fingers tight to the pencil line—that way you will be able to control the tear best, and keep your leaf shape in tact. The leaves look the most natural if you squiggle as you tear. So don’t aim for perfection.


Glue your stem to the printed side of the leaf, which will be the back side. If you use a hot glue gun to adhere, you can continue on with the project right away, perfect for the impatient crafter. If you use Aleene’s tacky glue, let stems dry for 30-60 minutes before continuing. Aleene’s tacky glue is MUCH preferred over Elmer’s school glue, which takes forever to dry, and makes paper soggy.

FullSizeRender-2Here comes the fun part. Fold your leaf along where the main veins of a leaf would be, and then crumple it. Doesn’t that make it look like a real leaf? Well, you’re getting there. Some paint will help…




Paint front side of leaf with metallic acrylic craft paint, let dry a bit, and then flip and paint back side and stem. Once dry, flip and give front a second coat, if needed. I’m using purple paint in this tutorial so it shows up against the craft paper, but for my leaf grouping, I used gold, bronze, copper, rust, burgundy, and dark green. (See final picture.)


Once, your leaves are dry, you will need to crease at veins and crumple again.

Place all your leaves in a grouping in your fall display, and enjoy! And when it’s time to put these away and pull out the Christmas decorations, throw these in a Ziplock bag or a box, and they will be ready for service next fall. I’ve had the leaves you see (pictured last) for about 15 years now. I came up with this project when we needed a cheap fall craft for kids ages 6-12 at my kid’s school one year, and it was a hit. But there’s no reason to let the elementary crowd have all the fun! Make your own batch and enjoy fall colors indefinitely.

Guinea Pigs with Houses

IMG_0906Anyone have a kid beg them for a pet, and promise, promise, PROMISE they will take care of it all by themselves? Have them make their own pet guinea pig, and no one has to remember to feed and water, clean a cage, or pick up poop! This project has been a hit with both boys and girls, ages 4-12. The beauty of it is that you can whip it up with the kids in about an hour, or you can hand older kids a pile of construction paper and recycled materials and let their imaginations run wild as they build a little habitat for their hamster. (I can’t decide which rodent this creature resembles more…guinea pig or hamster?)

I came up with this project to help a group of 20 elementary kids aged 5-12 celebrate Earth Day. We had gathered toilet paper and wrapping paper tubes, berry crates, egg cartons, shoe boxes, and anything else we could think of to create an environment for their furry little friends. The guys tended to concentrate on crazy structures, while the girls often decorated the dens with stickers, markers, and glitter glue. But they ALL raved about how much fun they had doing this, and each student left the room with their new pet named and housed.

You can find the supplies to make these at Jo-Ann’s or Michael’s. I could not find pom poms at Walmart this summer when I went hunting for supplies to lead a kid’s project at a family reunion. Jo-Ann’s had variety packs with gray, white, tan, black, and brown pom pom’s in various sizes, which was fairly cheap. Michael’s had the packs sold in color and size groupings, so then you can buy exactly what you need for this. Aleene’s tacky glue is your secret weapon for this project! Do not attempt it with Elmer’s—you need the tacky glue to get fibers to stick together. Save the Elmer’s for back-to-school bags.


1½-inch pom pom (head)
2-inch pom pom (body)
½-inch pom pom (tail)
Mini pom pom (nose)
2 small black pony beads (eyes)
1 sheet pink or tan felt
Aleene’s tacky glue

Shoe box for house, jewelry box for bed, egg cartons for food dishes, construction paper, etc. Use whatever materials—recycled or otherwise—that would make a happy “home” for your new pet!

Cut a disk with little feet sticking out of it from the felt, and 2 tiny triangles for ears. Set aside. Working on a paper plate (to keep glue from your tables and counters), fluff up the 2-inch ball and the 1½-inch ball, and separate each one to get a sort of flat place to glue the two pom poms together. Use about a quarter-size glob of Aleene’s tacky glue, and set on plate to dry. (Convince your charges not to touch this while it dries for 10-15 minutes! Or else you have to keep starting all over again and will have more glue than pom pom, and a big, sticky mess.) Glue on ½-inch ball for tail.

Using toothpick, separate fibers on a head pom pom, back near the neck of the critter, and dip bottom edge of triangle pieces in Aleene’s tacky glue, and place ears in crevasse. (If you fold the triangle in half before placing in pom pom, it will look more like an ear.) Use toothpick to fluff some fur around and into the center of the ear. Use the toothpick again to dig out a spot in the pom pom for the eyes. Pick up a small pony bead with the toothpick and dip in glue. Place eye on pom pom, trying to get eyes towards side of head, as that’s where real guinea pig and hamster eyes are. Add mini nose pom pom with glue. Glue felt feet disk on bottom of 2-inch pom pom, towards head pom pom, but not onto head pom pom. Let critter dry while kids build out house.




Hardware Choker

IMG_0945This choker is another boredom-buster for the men in your life. Little men, that is… My sister Judy is teaching summer school to a bunch of 8-year-old boys. Since her elementary ed training is in music and special ed, she asked me for some craft ideas for Fridays as a reward for the poor little guys having to suffer through school in the summer. (Having raised 3 boys, I’ve got a few guy-friendly project ideas in my arsenal, and am having fun digging through files and tripping down memory lane.) Last week the fellas had a blast making Slime, and this week they’ll be doing these cool hardware chokers. I’ll post 2 more projects in the weeks to come.

You may already have the supplies to make these on hand, and if not, you’ll find most of what you need at Walmart and your hardware store for a couple bucks. (I had to hit Jo-Ann’s as well for the lanyard hooks. They didn’t have them at the Walmart near me.) These are just suggestions to get you started—you may have other choker-worthy supplies in your tool chest. The nice thing is, you can do this without firing up the glue gun, or messing with paint. And your little dude will be sportin’ a new accessory come time for school in the fall.


Suggested supplies

3/8″-16 zinc plated hex nuts (stainless steel are nicer, but more expensive)
1/4″-20 zinc plated hex nuts
1/8″ x 3/4″ zinc plated washers
Lanyard hook
Jump ring
2 pony beads (not pictured in supply photo)
30 inches of Leather lacing

Have kids lay nuts, washers, etc. out in a pattern. Symmetrical patterns will look best in the finished choker, with biggest pieces in the center. String the main middle pieces onto leather lacing and move to center. Tie knots on either side of grouping to hold in place. Leave a little space and tie knots on either side of main section. String more nuts and washers on either side, and tie knots to hold in place. String a pony bead through each of end of choker, and then string a lanyard hook through on one side, and a jump ring through on the other side. Double back with the leather lacing, pushing the ends through pony beads to secure the clasps that have been created with lanyard, jump ring, and pony beads. Adjust lacing as needed so choker is correct length. (You can add a drop of hot glue or Aleene’s Tacky glue to the leather under the pony bead for extra secure finishing.) Cut off excess leather lacing. Choker is ready for wearing!




FullSizeRenderAnyone heard “I’m boooooorrrrr-ed!” from a kid this summer? Here’s an activity that’ll keep kids occupied for hours on end. You can buy Gak (Nickelodeon’s name for it) at Toys “R” Us, but making your own Slime or goop—or whatever you want to call it—is way more fun. What magic powder turns simple glue into goo? Borax. It hooks the glue’s molecules together, making it into a polymer instead of a liquid. (Actually, according to my Physics/Chemistry major son, it is now a non-Newtonian fluid.)

Kid’s of all ages (like smarty-pants college-age Mitch—those aren’t pre-school arms pictured above…) love the tactile sensation of Slime, and you may have trouble prying it away from adults to let the kids have at it. Just be warned that Slime and fabric are disastrous together, so keep it clear of your favorite tablecloth, jeans, barbie outfits, etc. It should be played with on a hard surface, with plastic or wood utensils or toys. And that’s the end of my disclaimer, so don’t come crying to me when you’ve got Slime stuck in your sleeping bags. (Been there, done that.)

Aside from pulling out this science experiment for bored kids in the summer, I also used to keep an “I’m Bored Jar” on the kitchen counter. Whenever my offspring uttered that dreaded phrase, they had to pick a piece of paper from the jar. They might get a fun activity like making Play-Doh or a marshmallow gun, or they might get a chore like picking up Legos or cleaning mirrors. After vacuuming Mom’s van (kidding…sort of), they learned to entertain themselves.

Makes 1 cup

4 or 7.62 ounce bottle of Elmer’s school glue
(Size of bottle doesn’t make a difference in outcome, but little kids will have an easier time managing the Slime made with 4 ounce bottle.)
2 cups distilled water, divided
10 + drops of food coloring
1 teaspoon Borax powder

1. Pour glue into small bowl. Fill the empty glue bottle with distilled water, leaving a little extra room at top. Add food coloring. (To get a lime green, add yellow food coloring to your water first, plus a few drops of green.) Put cap back on bottle and shake vigorously.

2. Pour colored water into bowl with glue and stir with wooden spoon.

3. In separate bowl, combine 1 cup distilled water and the Borax.

4. Slowly pour the colored glue into the Borax water and slowly stir. You will see globs and strings begin to form. Lift the globs out of the bowl with your hands and knead out water until smooth. Add extra strings of glue as you can, and combine.

5. Store in Ziplock back or plastic container with tight-fitting lid.