Historic Crafts

It hasn't always been as easy as it is today to just go out to the store and buy whatever you need. For a long time, people made pretty much everything they used, including clothes, blankets, soap, ink and pens, furniture, etc. And, of course, kids also used to make crafts just for fun, too. Here are a few old-time crafts you can try out! (Of course, be sure to make sure you have permission to use any tools and materials you need, and don't forget to ask an adult for help when cutting things out or working with anything sharp.)

A Cardboard Fan

Light cardboard (like from a cereal box or inside a new calendar), ribbon, glue, scissors, paint or colored paper, if desired

Lady with fan.Cut out 20 pieces of cardboard 8 1/2 inches long, 1 1/2 inches wide at one end and 1 inch at the other end. Trim the cardboard pieces so that they are rounded on the shorter ends. At this point, depending on what color they are, you may want to paint the slats or cover them with tissue or construction paper. In each slat, punch a small hole at the bottom (the end that's only 1 inch wide), and, in all but two, cut a small vertical slit in the middle and another one near the top. (The ones without the slits will be the slats on the end.) You will use these holes and slits to string the fan together with ribbon, so make them in the same spot on each slat. To join the slats together, line all the slats up and pass a length of narrow ribbon through the slits at the top. When you've threaded the top ribbon through all the slats that have slits, paste the ends of the ribbon onto the end slats (with no slits), at the same level as the slits on the other slats. Repeat this process for the middle ribbon, but do not paste the ends of the ribbon down until you've added the bottom ribbon. To add the bottom ribbon, put all the slats together by closing the fan, and thread a length of ribbon through the bottom holes and tie the ribbon tightly, or knot it at both ends to hold the fan together firmly at the bottom. Then open the fan, and glue down the middle ribbon, holding just so the ribbon lies flat but is not too tight. You may want to paste the top ribbon to each slat for added strength.

The Thaumatrope

Light cardboard (like from a cereal box or inside a new calendar), string, needle, scissors, pencil or crayon

Cut out a circular piece of cardboard (you can trace around a glass or cup).  On one side draw a bird and on the other draw an empty cage.  Poke a hole near the left edge of the circle and do the same near the right edge of the circle.  Tie a string to each of these holes.  Then take the strings between the index finger and thumb of each hand, close to the card, and twist circle rapidly around.  The bird will look like it is in the cage!   For other designs try a tight rope and a dancer; a body and a head; candle and a flame; a picture and its frame, etc.

Pressed Flowers and Leaves

Materials: Fresh but dry flowers and leaves, large book, paper, newspaper and weights

Pressed flowers and leaves seldom fade and are very pretty and useful. Place flowers on a sheet of paper, arranged to look like they do in nature.  Put another sheet of paper on top and then put the pages into a large heavy book.  Try putting leaves and ferns between pages of newspaper.  Close the book and put weights or other books on top to press the pages down.  Move the flowers to new dry pages each day until they are completely dry.  Some flowers should be immersed - all but the flower head in boiling water for a few minutes - before pressing, to prevent them from turning black. (especially orchids). When dry, you can decorate pictures or gift cards with the dried flowers and leaves.  Dried roots and seeds look interesting too!


For amuseument, young people would sometimes create for themselves a coat-of-arms like those used by knights even earlier in history. Different background colors had different meanings, as did the different designs used. Here are some different elements you can incorporate into your own coat-of-arms, and their meanings. These are just some basic elements, so if you're interested, you can find more about the "language" of this sort of design.

Background Colors

  • Gold or yellow: Wealth, ability, or knowledge.
  • White or silver: Brightness, purity, virtue, innocence.
  • Purple: Authority, power, grandeur.
  • Green: Hope, life, vitality, youth, freshness.
  • Orange: Strength, honor, generousity.
  • Crimson or red: Boldness, enthusiasm, impetuousity.
  • Black: Darkness, doubt, ignorance, uncertainty.

Plant and Flower Emblems

  • Almond tree: Hope.
  • Bulrush: Docility.
  • Blue violet: Faithfulness.
  • Buttercup: Riches.
  • Cherry tree: A good education.
  • Red Clover: Industry.
  • Daffodil: Uncertainty.
  • Dandelion: Coquetry.
  • Hollyhock: Ambition.
  • Ivy: Dependence.
  • White lily: Purity.
  • Olive tree: Peace.
  • Ox-eye daisy: Patience.
  • White violet: Modesty.
  • White Rose: Silence.

*For more crafts, look for these historic books that have been reprinted for children today: 

The American Boy's Handy Book by D.C. Beard. 1882, reprint 1983 by David Godine.
The American Girl's Handy Book by Lina and Adelia Beard. 1887, reprint 187 by David Godine.
Games and Songs of American Children by William Newell. 1883, reprint 1963 by Dover Books. 
The Girl's Own Book by Mrs. L. Maria Child. 1834, reprint 1992 by Applewood Books.
The Boy's Own Book by William Clarke. 1829, reprint 1996 by Applewood Books.