Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Auntie Sarah's Favorite Craft Recipes

I published these about 20 years ago as laminated cards. As a public service to my friends with children and for those friends who just like to play, here are 12 of my favorite playtime recipes.

aka "That Weird Squishy Stuff"

Solution A
1-1/2 cups warm water
2 cups Elmers Glue
Food coloring

Solution B
4 teaspoons Borax
1-1/3 cups water

Mix together Solution A in a small bowl. In another larger bowl, mix together Solution B. This is the fun part: pour Solution A into Solution B.
Squish it around and pour off excess water. You've got Gack!
            Don't use anything but regular Elmers glue - school glue or carpenter's wood glue don't work. Gack will store indefinitely in the refrigerator if kept in an airtight container. At room temperature, it will eventually spoil, but most kids play it out before that happens.
            A word of caution: Gack is made of glue and will stick to fabrics and carpets. (I speak from experience; my son sat in his). You can wash it out if it doesn't harden, but it is difficult to remove from carpets and upholstery.  Keep it away from the couch!

“Experience teaches you to recognize a mistake when you've made it again" -- Unknown

Modeling Dough

1-1/2 cups boiling water
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 - 4 teaspoons food coloring
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup salt
1 teaspoon alum (optional)

Add oil and food coloring to boiling water. In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and carefully pour in hot water mixture. Mix well.
Dump the resulting mess onto a lightly floured surface and knead together. Trust me, the dough will get smoother and easier to handle.

Add small amounts of flour if the dough is too wet, or water (a little at a time!) if too dry. Alum acts as a preservative and is not necessary for nice play dough, but does make it last longer. Store in an airtight container.

“Art is dancing with your hands!” – Sarah Gowan


Sidewalk Chalk

1 cup water
2 cups Plaster of Paris
2 Tablespoons Tempera Paint (wet or dry)
2 Toilet paper tubes with duct tape over one end

Stir together water, plaster and pigment. Let mixture stand a few minutes. (Don't leave it too long, however, or you'll end up with a one big bowl-shaped sidewalk chalk.) Stand tubes, open end up, on cookie sheet lined with foil or wax paper. Pour mixture into tubes. Allow plaster to set until semi-firm - about 30 minutes. Peel off cardboard and allow to dry completely - they will be ready to use in about an hour and a half.
     Plaster can also be set in plastic ice cube trays, which have been coated with cooking spray. Pop out when firm.
            Do not allow children to play in wet plaster as it can cause skin irritation with extended exposure. Do not pour leftover plaster down drains. This causes major plumbing disasters. Dispose of any unused plaster in trash.

“We decorate our houses to bring home the world.
We decorate the world to make it our home.” – Sarah Gowan

Sidewalk Paint

1 cup cornstarch
1-2 Tablespoons Tempura Paint
2/3 cup water (more or less)

Mix all ingredients, adjusting amount of water or cornstarch if the paint seems too thick or thin for easy brushing. Add more tempura for stronger color.

This is a great non-toxic, easy on the environment sidewalk paint, excellent for filling in large areas of a sidewalk masterpiece.  It washes away easily with the hose or the next rainfall. Keep your camera handy! My seven-year-old daughter filled our generous driveway with a mandala that I’ll forever regret not photographing before that summer thunderstorm blew through.

Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can. -- Danny Kaye

Seal Gum
or How to Make Your Own Stickers

4 packets (1/4 ounce) unflavored gelatin
6 Tablespoons white vinegar
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
1 Tablespoon lemon or vanilla extract

Bring vinegar to a boil in a small pan. Add gelatin and stir until completely dissolved. Add corn syrup and lemon or vanilla extract (added for flavor.) Stir until well blended.

To use: Brush gum thinly on the back of your pre-drawn sticker, homemade envelope or whatever you want to be able to stick down later. Allow the gum to dry. The stickers may curl as they dry. This is OK, they'll uncurl when you lick 'em and stick 'em! Any leftover seal gum can be stored for several weeks or even months in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will gel when it cools, but can be reliquified by placing the container of seal gum in a pan of hot water and stirring.

"Even when freshly washed and relieved of all obvious confections, children tend to be sticky."  -- Fran Lebowitz


Papier Mâché

6 cups shredded newspaper
1 cup flour
3/4 cup water
oil of cloves (optional)

Step 1 - Cut or tear newspaper into 1 inch pieces until you have about 6 cups. Put the paper pieces into a large bowl and fill with hot tap water at least 1 inch higher than the paper. Stir the paper until all the pieces are wet and set aside to soak overnight.
Step 2 - Fill a blender about 2/3 full of water and add a handful of soaked paper. Blend until it's a pulpy mess. Don't overwork your blender! Add more water if it seems to be straining to blend the paper pulp. Pour the resulting sludge into a strainer or cheesecloth bag over a sink. Press and squeeze to remove as much water as possible. Do this for all the newspaper pieces. You should end up with about 3 cups of drained pulp.
Step 3 - Make paste by putting the flour into a small bowl and slowly stirring in the 3/4 cup of water. Add several drops of oil of cloves to the mixture and stir until blended. Mix the paste with the pulp and knead thoroughly. The finished papier mâché should be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
The oil of cloves will help prevent molding and mildewing of the pulp while it is drying. You can substitute other preservatives such as oils of wintergreen or peppermint.
Use papier mâché to make beads, ornaments, masks, puppet heads, fake rocks, game pieces, tiaras, dinosaur eggs, suits of armor.... you get the idea.

"Children have more need of models than of critics." -- Carolyn Oates

Powdered Milk Paint  (Casein Paint)

1/2 cup nonfat powdered milk
1/2 cup water
Powdered paint pigment (tempera)

Mix milk powder and water. Stir until milk is dissolved. Combine only as much milk solution with powdered pigments as you intend to use in one sitting - it spoils quickly! Mixed paint will store for a day or two in the refrigerator, but it is best to mix fresh at each sitting.
            You can "palette" your colors by dumping little piles of pigment on your palette (or old plastic plate, which is what I use) and adding just a few drops of milk to make a thick paste-like paint. Thin as needed with more milk solution.
            The addition of milk makes the powdered paint more durable than poster paint and less inclined to powder or flake off. Casein paints have fallen out of use in favor of synthetic binders such as vinyl and acrylic, but I think it is well worth giving them a try for the unique finish and sheen they can give a project.

"Children who always color in the lines, invariably turn into boring adults" -- My Mom, Susan Terry

Face Paint

1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon cold cream
food coloring

A muffin pan works great for mixing this recipe. In each cup, mix above ingredients with the color of your choice. Brush, dab or smear on face, arms, legs. Washes off easily.

Soap Crayons

1-3/4 cups Ivory Snow Powder
50 drops food coloring
1/4 cup water

Mix water and soap flakes together. Add food coloring and pour mixture into an ice cube tray. Allow to harden. These are great for writing
on the tub at bathtime. The kids like them, too!

"Thank God kids never mean well." -- Lily Tomlin


Biggest Bestest Bubbles

2 cups Joy or Dawn dishwashing detergent
6 cups water
3/4 cups light Karo corn syrup
1 Tablespoon glycerin (optional)
A note on the ingredients: As much as I hate to admit it, name brands are important to this recipe. Other brands simply don't work as well.

Combine ingredients in a plastic bottle or container with a tight fitting lid.
Shake well. Allow solution to settle for at least four hours before using. Pour solution into a cake pan or any wide flat tray for dipping and blowing. (For parties, I’ve made gallons of this stuff in a small plastic wading pool in the backyard!) You'd be amazed at what you can use to blow bubbles. Try funnels, a coat hanger loop (for big bubbles), pipe cleaners, your fingers. Pretty much anything that can make a loop can be used to blow bubbles. Save any leftover solution, it improves with age! Bubble blowing is best on humid cloudy days, or just after a rain. The area around the bubble pan can get VERY slippery with spilled and dribbled solution. Try to keep excited kids from running near the bubble pan and wash down slippery spots frequently.

“It is utterly impossible to dwell on the past or fret about the future while blowing soap bubbles. OK, maybe it's not impossible, but why bother trying to prove me wrong?” – Sarah Gowan



3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
2-1/2 cups cold water
food coloring
1 teaspoon boric acid
2 teaspoons glycerin

In a saucepan mix sugar cornstarch and 2 cups water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and turns clear. Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup cold water, boric acid and glycerin. Allow mixture to cool.  
            When you're ready for painting, divide mixture into smaller cups, add food coloring, posterpaint or dry tempera, as available, for color. Fingerpainting works best on a slick, glossy paper - freezer paper works well - or you can purchase specially coated fingerpaint paper from craft supply stores.
            The boric acid acts as a preservative and is optional. The glycerin helps the paint to stay moist and slows drying time. Dish detergent can be substituted for glycerin.

"Fingerpaints are direct descendants of mudpies. All I have done is add the rainbow." -- Ruth Faison Shaw



At least 1 box cornstarch
cold water

Slowly add water to cornstarch until it gets just past the crumbly, sticky stage and becomes a smooth, thick liquid. Now start playing! This is my simplest and most favorite fun recipe. Cornstarch takes on some really strange properties when it gets wet, behaving both as a liquid and a solid. Try rolling it into a ball. Now stop. For the very brave, try punching it with your fist, now let your hand sink slowly to the bottom of the bowl. Try to jerk your hand out.
My family learned about cornstarching from the amazing Ken Feit, who used it to illustrate principles of non-violence as part of his performances. It doesn't take long to see why.
            Object lesson aside, cornstarching is way-cool fun! Cornstarch is gentle on the skin, easy to clean up, and very affordable. You can even allow it to dry out and reconstitute it again another time. It's been a huge hit at my kids' birthday parties. I mix up 20 pound batches in a big tub in the backyard and just hose down everything, including the kids, afterwards.

"There is more to life than increasing its speed." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Copyright 1994 by Sarah Gowan

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