Box-board Vikings

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What’s in the box?

A warrior’s sword, a dragon’s treasure, a great castle, a fearsome sea serpent,  a beautiful crown…and a million other wonderful things…all you need is cardboard plus a little bit of imagination.

In case you also were wondering what to do with all those boxes left behind after the festive season’s gift giving, this month’s craft spot is inspired by cardboard boxes and our summer Viking Adventure!

Surely you have attempted the cardboard box car before…well here we have a how to on box-board viking armour and a wearable longship! Your little raiders and pillagers can wield their fearsome (but non-injury-causing and recyclable) armour while sailing the high seas in this swashbuckling creation. Cardboard box craft is always terrific fun and as a bonus these props will inspire hours of imaginative play- perfect for keeping them amused this school holidays.

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Raiders and Reindeers- How to make Viking gingerbread

finished gingerbread scene

We may have gone a little bit nuts on all things Vikings and all things Christmas here but we are hoping you are as a much a fan of craft that’s equal parts beautiful and edible as we are.

If you’ve ever tried to make a gingerbread 3 dimensional anything ( house, boat, tree) as an activity with small children you will remember how difficult it can be to accomplish said 3 dimensional object with little hands whose strength are not quite up to the challenge of icing cement and building with easily breakable biscuit walls.

So here we’ve crafted our very own spin on this festive and fun activity in a more kid friendly and conveniently thematic design. These stand-up gingerbread forms are great for a holiday activity or can even be wrapped up to give as a gift.

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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

How to make… a search and rescue hat

One of the best things about a visit to the Maritime Museum for many kids is making crafty and creative souvenirs in our activity spaces and exhibitions to take home. Why wait until your next visit? Join us for some papercraft capers inspired by current exhibitions and all things maritime!

Boy wearing crafty rescue hat

Make your own search and rescue hat.

This week the Rescue exhibition is our thematic with a crafty take on the search and rescue head torch. Dazzling stripes of colour and a cellophane cup torch will brighten up any dress up costume or imaginative play game inspired by our favourite everyday heroes! Continue reading

A Morse Code Lighthouse Limerick

Oh Hark Oh hark

It’s time for a lark!

The Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse and lightship Carpentaria are shivering with anticipation. It is none other than International Lighthouse and Lightship weekend, culminating in a very special day of fun on Sunday- Lighthouse Larks family day!

Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse

Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse on a beautiful sunny day

You can climb the lighthouse for free, admire Carpentaria from the wharf, or travel Round the Twist with Tony, Pete, Linda and Bronson in a special screening of best episodes from the award winning television series.

Lightship Carpentaria on the wharf

Lightship Carpentaria on the wharf

It wouldn’t be lighthouse day without something around our other famous beacon, the Tasman light, a lighthouse lens in the middle of the museum where we have storytelling performances. Mrs Cedar Shore, an old lighthouse keeper’s daughter will be weaving tales of lighthouse lunches, naughty seagulls and wild storms.

Craft Lighthouse sculptures, souvenirs and more in Kids on Deck

In Kids on Deck we will be crafting lighthouse sculptures resplendent in white and red, experimenting with circuitry to make a working lantern, writing lighthouse poetry and making inspired souvenirs. There will also be dress-ups and games and an attempt to create a giant collaborative parabolic reflector like those used to increase the brightness of light sources inside a lighthouse.

view of the lens in Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse

View of the lens in Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse

But it’s more than fun and games, International lighthouse lightship weekend aims to raise awareness about the need to take care of our historic beacons and also to promote amateur radio.  Lighthouse stations all around the world will be tapping out radio communications including morse code, and the Hornsby and District amateur radio society will be camped out on our wharf all weekend to do the same. We thought you might like to get in the mood with this little morse code lighthouse limerick….can you tell us what it says?

– …. . .-. . / .– .- … / .- -. / — .-.. -.. / — .- -. –..– / .- / -.- . . .–. . .-. / — ..-. / .-.. .. –. …. – …

.– …. — / .-.. .. -.- . -.. / – — / -.. .-. . … … / ..- .–. / .. -. / ..-. . .- – …. . .-. / …. .- – … / .- -. -.. / -… .-. .. –. …. – …

– …. . / … . .- –. ..- .-.. .-.. … / .– . .-. . / … -.-. .- .-. . -..

.- -. -.. / …. .. … / .– .. ..-. . / …. .- .-. -.. .-.. -.– / -.-. .- .-. . -..

.- … / …. . / … .- -. –. / .-.. .. -.- . / .- / -.. -.– .. -. –. / … .– .- -. / .- .-.. .-.. / – …. .-. — ..- –. …. / – …. . / -. .. –. …. – …

Lighthouse Larks Family Fun Day Sunday 19 August 10am – 3pm.

See for full program details.

Art in the dark

Longhead dreamer, yellowhead hulafish, horseface unicornfish,eyebrow wedgefish, scribbled pufferfish, longhorn cowfish, zebra hornshark, toothbrush leatherjacket, piano fangblenny, pacific jellynose, abyssal ghostshark, curious wormfish, splendid snaggletooth, glowbelly seabass….

Believe it or not, these are real fish …. and there’s even stranger ones where they came from.

Deborah halpern

Deborah Halpern- Neon Fish, 2010, perspex and fluorescent tubes

I’m standing inside Fish in Australian Art and staring at the fish names installation as they light up one by one, flickering lights shimmering like a school of silver scaled barracuda. I’m imagining what we can play here for our Art in the dark family tour this saturday. We’ve been busily crafting luminescent art games- glowstick connector sculptures, exquisite fish corpses painted with glow in the dark pigments, taping together experimental drawing tools, and choreographing some fish inspired dance moves.

french fish

French meets Fish in Art- the theme of our fun filled torchlight tour!

I’m also talking with our indefatigable character actor, who shall be known only as Monsieur Le Poisson. A chameleon and master of disguise this torchlight tour guide also wears the hats of Johnny Grog-Nose, our resident Pirate and Spanker Boom, the museum’s night keeper.

This Saturday he will be a somewhat more refined creature in French inspired attire, moustache, beret and accent to boot. Monsieur Le Poisson( Mr Fish) is not a fish, but he knows all about them, he is not an artist, but he could be, and he is taking time out of his busy Bastille day celebrations to take us through the inspiring exhibition Fish in Australian Art– sans lumiere.

torchlight tour 2

Torches at the ready we will uncover a world of stories, strange materials, peculiar fascinations, artistic wonders. Following a line from rock art to contemporary as we seek to answer  the timeless question “What is art?”… “Why did they make that?”…. “What does it mean?” …

fluro paints

Get painted up like a glowbelly sea-bass with glow in the dark face paints

After dark tours are a special affair, giving visitors a chance to see the exhibitions when the lights are out and no one else is around! They’re also an occasion for fun and interactive games, art making activities and delicious food. This Saturday we are being inspired by the chance occasion that it is also Bastille day, and of course what is more French than good art, and good food. So we are planning delights like crepes avec nutella and pommes frites, to be enjoyed after our tour alongside some creative capers with fluorescent face paint and a blacklight torch!

Needless to say, we’ll be painted up like a glowbelly seabass by the time the night is done.

Art in the dark- Torchlight family tour– Saturday 14 July – Bookings Essential

More info:

Terrific Tugs Family Day – Sunday 24 June

This Sunday at the museum we are celebrating all the things we love about tugboats! We have a great day of activities planned, so we hope you can come along and join us.

Our ever popular Kids on Deck program will be running, where children can make their own model tug, play lots of games, along with character led tours of our wharves and museum!

On the wharves we will host five visiting tugboats, including Albert, the cute mini tug who will be zipping around the basin. Visitors are invited to climb aboard a working tug to learn how they operate.

Book cover featuring Heroic with Queen Mary as a troopship during world War II, on Sydney Harbour. Photographer Samuel Hood. ANMM Collection

Author Randi Svensen will also be speaking about her new book, Heroic, Forceful and Fearless: Australia’s Tugboat Heritage, and recount the memorable characters and the brave little vessels of our tugboat industry, past and present. Bring along your copy or purchase at the museum store for signing!

To find out more about Terrific Tugs Family Day, head to our website.

Costume dramas: Fishes, foam and fabrics

It’s just over three weeks till April school holidays and I’m on the phone with a costume-maker discussing the merits of various types of foam and fabrics being used to make fins. Can foam be painted onto? Should the fabrics be sparkly or matte? Stuffed or wired? Blue fish or red fish?  Decisions, decisions! The costumes are being custom made for our Autumn Kids on Deck program Fish Fantastic. Inspired by a selection of works in the upcoming exhibition FISH in Australian Art, they will allow children participating in Kids on Deck to dress up and recreate these famous artworks as tableau vivante or living pictures.

fish costume sketch based on Outhwaite's Elves and Fairies

Back before the wireless, the talkies and tv, a live pose to recreate a famous historical moment or classic work of art was the height of popular entertainment. Often part of a royal court ceremony, a special religious service or a theatre production, tableau vivante recreated images in painstaking detail, the participants often painted head to toe as well as costumed to reflect the particular qualities of a painting. While we may not be going to so much detail this time around we will have four special costumes inspired by Deborah Halpern’s Neon Fish, Kenneth Macqueen’s The Beach Fisherman, Anne Zahalka’s The Cook, and Ida Rentoule Outhwaite’s illustrations from Elves and Fairies to spark some imaginative pretend play.

Fisherman costume sketch based on Macqueen's The Beach Fisherman

Bringing paintings and sculptures to life will be just one of the fun and fantastic activities in this program being designed and produced by some creative friends and volunteers. Aside from our museum design team who often create spectacular paper craft for our children’s activity space, there are many minds and hands that contribute to the making of a Kids Deck program. We also have our faithful and very talented volunteers Jon and Terri producing handmade lino-cut prints of fish scales for printing onto calico bags. Jon and Terri have made all sorts of wonderful custom made designs for us over the years- shark rubbing templates, plastic stencils for Batik inspired by Indonesian folktales, prints inspired by the travels of Sindbad the Sailor and a suite of beautiful wooden toys.

neon fish costume sketch based on Halpern's Neon Fish

But back to the question of foam and fins…..we’ve decided to experiment and hope for the best. And yes to sparkles! I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.