Crafting a sensory forest

Finished craft: A sensory jungle. Image: Annalice Creighton / ANMM.

Finished craft: A sensory jungle. Image: Annalice Creighton / ANMM.

Feathers, fur or fins,

shell or skin or scale,

if it walks on legs or flys on wings,

if it runs or crawls or slithers or swims…

I’m not sure if the timeless lyricism of Don Spencer echoes in anyone else’s mind when they behold the stunning selection of images that make up this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year but they sure do for me (possibly just a side effect of life in the kids programs lane – there is a catchy tune for almost everything!) Mischievous lizards catching tiny birds on the tip of their tongues, frenzied swarms of cuttlefish, grinning foxes, a veritable feast of tones, textures, unbelievable moments so magical and yet so vivid you feel like you could reach out and touch them.

Inspired by the Wildlife Photographer exhibition and our upcoming Sea-side Strollers sessions this month’s craft spot is devoted to wilderness themed sensory play resources, it’s a craft activity that is not necessarily done with kids but crafted for very young children.

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How to make a mini planetarium

Star light, star bright, first constellation I see tonight...

Star light, star bright, first constellation I see tonight…

There’s almost no end to the fun that can be had when kids have torches in their hands. Shadow play, bedroom projections, reading under the covers after lights out, spooky face stories, or… a handheld miniature planetarium.

This month we’ve been inspired by current exhibitions Ships Clocks and Stars, as well as our upcoming school holiday program, to make a nifty little star gazer out of some everyday items for our kids craft spot. This mini-planetarium is perfect for projecting under the covers, onto bedroom walls or with evening story time. More than just a toy, it’s also a great way to learn to identify constellations in the night sky.

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Flying home: How to make a zoetrope

Spinning, swirling, flapping, flying, a single line, a blur of blue, a flickering image, a zoetrope.

Spinning, swirling, flapping, flying, a single line, a blur of blue, a flickering image, a zoetrope.

For this month’s craft spot we were inspired by the subjects of acclaimed author and artist Jeannie Baker’s new book Circle, showcased in an exhibition of her collages opening this Thursday. Circle follows the journey of the Bar-tailed Godwit bird, an at-risk species of shorebird that undertakes the longest unbroken migration of any animal, flying from their breeding grounds in Alaska to Australia and New Zealand.

Here we’ve created a paper craft zoetrope of flying Godwit birds. Originally developed as a simple animation toy in the 19th century, the zoetrope relies on the persistence of vision to create the illusion of movement, making it perfect to display these beautiful creatures on their journey “flying on and on, for nine nights and nine days, flying without rest” ( Jeannie Baker, Circle).

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Pieces of Eight and a Parrot Pinata

finsihed piñata

It’s almost unavoidable, if you have small children in your world, at some point they will probably ask for a pirate party. There’s something irresistible about those tricorn wearing terrible thugs that no amount of education on the truly Horrible Histories of Pirates can overcome.

I once made the mistake of festooning a 3 year old’s pirate birthday with my favourite  skull and cross bones cardboard bunting and the adorable Pete the repeat parrot, not anticipating the swashbuckling scoundrel-like behaviour that would ensue once the face paint eye patches and paper pirate hats began to encourage a little too much role play.

Needless to say Pete was minus a head and an arm after being thrown off the “pirate ship” (read cubby house/swing/ nearby tree) a few times. Never to flap his awkward mechanical arms and chirp again.

This month’s craft spot is inspired by our Horrible Histories Pirates exhibition ( after all Golden age Pirates really did have parrots and other exotic animals, stolen ones of course, to fetch a pretty penny) and pirate parties, and pirate-like toddler behaviour perhaps. It’s a parrot piñata- something you beat up to steal all its goodies, sounds like piratical mischief to me. Fringing onto an adhesive base is also a great craft for with older toddlers and young children as it’s easy, glue free and a good opportunity to practice some fine motor skills with layering, tearing, cutting and collage.

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How to make an easy deep sea diver costume

What might there be at the bottom of the sea? Oceans galore for you to explore; A shipwreck’s sunken treasure, a fearsome colossal squid, a stealthy submarine or a deep sea diver, out to explore the ocean’s floor.


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Make your own carrot submarine

This month’s hands-on activity is inspired by our new interactive exhibition, Voyage to the Deep, featuring the fantastical steampunk Nautilus submarine. In this activity you’ll get to the root of how submarines work.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 carrot – fairly straight, not too tapered (If you don’t have a carrot; cut down a potato)
  • Baking powder (not baking soda)
  • Toothpicks
  • Deep bowl or pot of water

Materials needed to make a carrot submarine

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Craft like a Viking! How to make a felted longship rug

Raiders, traders and crafty-art-makers, this month our craft spot is inspired by the exhibition Vikings- Beyond the legend. Get ready for some sudsy, sloppy, slimy fun as we give a nod to Viking age textiles with this whimsical wet-felted rug!

Felt-like material has been found in Viking age archaeological sites and was likely worn by the people we now know as the Vikings. Wet felting is fantastically messy but a really fun craft activity for with children. Best of all you can customise your felt rug with fabric scraps, cut-outs, threads or ribbon trapped between the layers to make a unique artwork or a themed play mat. Have a play and don’t be afraid to experiment with different colours and textures in your felt.

felted rug

A Viking longship felted rug in the making- learn to create your own with the instructions below


  • 1 or two heads of wool roving in different shades/ colours if you can ( available from places like Virginia Farm Woolworks)
  • Dishwashing detergent or soap flakes
  • A large bamboo sushi mat/ bamboo blind or bubble wrap or PVC grip mat
  • A few towels
  • A spray dispenser with hot water
  • Some scrap fabric/ threads or cut-outs.
  • A pair of scissors

Materials for your felted rug

Step 1

Prepare and plan your decorative scene for the rug, if you are adding cut-outs as we are, prepare these first. We chose to make 3 Viking longships with shield details from scraps of pre-made felt and fabric. Ours were cut free-hand but if you would like a guide for your shape just find a nice clear outline /silhouette image online and trace around it onto your cloth before cutting.

felt shapes

Decorative shapes to create a scene in our felted rug

Decorative shapes to create a scene in our felted rug

Decorative shapes to create a scene in our felted rug

Step 2

Lay down your mat (the bamboo mat or bubble wrap- bubble side up or PVC grip liner) first. Make sure it is big enough for the size of rug you are making.

On top of this lay your wool roving to the size you require.

Gently separate out the strands of roving with your fingers. You need to layer your roving in different directions- horizontal then vertical then horizontal etc. We started with 3 layers.

roving on mat

Laying down the first layer of roving onto our mat in a horizontal direction

All three layers of wool roving ready to be felted

All three layers of wool roving ready to be felted

Step 3

Spray the surface with hot or warm water all over and a small about of detergent or soap flakes drizzled on top. You can combine the soap flakes or detergent into the water spray for convenience if you like. Gently press down the wet surface with a spare piece of your mat fabric.

Spraying the surface of the wool with hot water

Spraying the surface of the wool with hot water

Adding some detergent or soap flakes to the wet wool

Adding some detergent or soap flakes to the wet wool

Step 4

Now the wool is hot and soapy it is ready for friction to be applied so that the open fibres will bind together. Roll up your mat on top of the felt layers and give it a good rub back and forth for a few minutes. You may even like to turn the felt over and spray and roll from the other side as well.

Pressing down the hot soapy wool with some of the mat

Pressing down the hot soapy wool with some of the mat


Rolling the mat back and forth to bind together the fibres into felted fabric

Step 5

Now it is starting to look a bit flatter and evenly wet, add your decorations to the top layer. Lay over these another layer or two of the lighter coloured roving. Remember our next layer of roving is horizontal, then vertical and so on. We have laid ours very thin so as to avoid obscuring the scene but if you are doing more of an abstract thread decoration this will not matter as much and more than one layer on top will ensure your decoration is more securely embedded.

adding the fabric cut outs to felt

Adding in our decorative elements and another layer or two of roving

Step 6

Repeat as before with some hot soapy water sprayed on, press down with your mat and then proceed to roll. TIP: The bamboo mat is not the most ideal for this stage as it can distort the surface of your design and pull at any small threads so if you can use bubble wrap or grip mat that will be helpful. Keep rolling and rubbing (this can take a while) until your wool is looking much thinner and flatter. Give the surface a pinch test to see if it is all well bound together.

Pressing down the hot and soapy wool fibres before rolling again

Pressing down the hot and soapy wool fibres before rolling again

rolling the felt

Rolling back and forth to bind the fibres into felted fabric. Be gentle on decorative surfaces. Pinch the surface to test if it is properly felted, no fibres should pull up if it is well done.

Step 7

Once you are happy with the texture of your felt rug, rinse it out with water and use the towels to squeeze out excess moisture.

washing the finished felt

Washing out our completed felted rug. It will take quite a bit of water to wash out all the suds.

Step 8

Hang your rug out to dry.

hanging rug to dry

Squeeze out excess moisture and hang to dry.

And there you have it. A felted Viking longship rug perfect for play, stories or just for decoration!

For more Viking crafts and activities pop along to our Scandinavian Sunday Family Fun Day this weekend. Full info online here

Make it at home: miniature garden terrariums

Use unusual glass vessels to create a terrarium

Use unusual glass vessels to create a terrarium

For this month’s make-it-at-home craft activity we’ve taken inspiration from the beautiful landscape photographs by the American photographer Ansel Adams featured in Ansel Adams – Photography from the mountains to the sea, open at the museum on 4 July, until 8 December. We’re going to show you how to make your own mini-landscapes in glass jars, called terrariums.

Terrariums are great fun to make with children, especially when it comes to designing your landscape with plants and rocks.

We’d love to see your terrarium creations. Please do send us photos either by email at web[at] or via Instagram, just tag the photo with our username @ANMMuseum.

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