Four Ideas For a Craft-y Gathering with Friends

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[Another fun one that I wrote up for the Lawrence Journal World.  I'm leaving in the local places for the locals, but these supplies are pretty universally available.  Go forth and have a craft party!]

Whether you create something for charity or just your own enjoyment, planning your next gathering around a craft project is a way to party with a purpose. But while an afternoon or evening of making things with friends is fun, it does require a little more planning than the average shindig.

First, you’ll need to decide what project you’d like to make. In doing so, it pays to consider how crafty your friends are. For an experienced crafting crew, you can pick something more difficult, like knitting, embroidery or even a quilting session. For novice makers, however, something easier might be more appropriate — the stenciled tote bags and the mini-terrariums below are perfect for beginners.

Second, you need to think about supplies. While some supplies — for example the potting soil for the terrariums — just make sense to buy in bulk, to keep costs down it’s also a good idea to have your guests bring supplies they’ll take home and use again, like knitting needles.

Lastly, as with any party, you’ll need some good eats. While it’s not mandatory, it’s certainly fun to come up with food to match your craft party theme.

Here are four craft party ideas, complete with supplies and food suggestions, to get you started.

Project: Stenciled tote bags

Supplies: Have guests each bring a blank tote bag or two. The host can provide freezer paper, several sharp X-Acto knives, craft paint, brushes, an iron, scrap paper and a few self-healing cutting mats.

Directions: Working on a cutting mat, use the X-Acto knife to cut a simple picture out of a piece of freezer paper. Remember, the freezer paper is a negative image — the places where there isn’t paper is where the paint will go. Repeating a basic shape, like a triangle or a circle, will make an easy, modern bag. A simple monogram is also a good beginner idea.

Lay the shiny side of the freezer paper on top of the tote bag, and use a warm iron to adhere it securely. Let the freezer paper cool for a few minutes, then slip a piece of scrap paper inside the bag to keep the paint from bleeding through.

Next, use a paint brush to paint inside the stencil. Use an up and down, dabbing motion rather than moving the brush from side to side, which can make the stencil edges bleed. Let the paint dry before peeling off the freezer paper. Lightly run a warm iron over the design to set the paint, and you’re all done.

Food idea: Working with stencils and paint will make you feel like you’re in grade school again. Embrace the feeling with a build-your-own milkshake bar.

Project: Mini-Terrariums

Supplies: Guests should bring a small plant, a large glass container, and any other decorative items they may want for their individual terrariums. (Clinton Parkway Nursery, 4900 Clinton Parkway, has suitable plants, and the employees were super helpful in picking one.) A closed terrarium will need a container with a lid and a moisture-loving plant, like a fern. An open terrarium can be made in a container without a lid, but needs a plant that likes dry places, like a succulent.

The host should bulk buy pebbles, activated charcoal and potting soil. (Activated charcoal can be found at Pet World, 711 W. 23rd St., with the fish tank supplies. Don’t use barbecue charcoal; it will kill your plant.) The host will also need to have small tools on hand for scooping dirt. Plastic spoons work well.

Directions: Layer each jar with a few inches of pebbles, a very thin layer of charcoal, and about 3 inches of soil. Then, gently loosen your plant from its plastic container. Dig a small hole in the soil and gently lower the plant into it, patting lightly to keep it in place. Add any other decoration you want — a plastic dinosaur, perhaps — and just a little water. If the terrarium is closed, you should hardly need to water it at all; if it’s open, treat it as any other succulent plant.

Food Idea: Think green to go with the plants — guacamole and mojitos, anyone?

Project: Embroidered Dishtowels

Supplies: For this party, it makes sense for the host to front the supplies. Buy a few big packages of “flour sack” dish towels, several colors of embroidery floss, and a package of embroidery needles. You’ll also need a few water-erasable sewing markers and several pairs of sharp scissors to share.

Directions: Using the sewing marker, draw a small design on the corner of a dish towel — a flower or a simple doodle. Then, cut off a piece of embroidery floss that’s about the length from your fingertips to your elbow. The floss will have 6 strands. Divide it in half so that you’re working with 3 strands, tie a small knot at one end, and thread a needle.

Then, use the floss to outline the shape you drew. Try to keep the stitches reasonably small, but don’t pull too hard — you want a nice, even tension. Finish with another knot tied into one of the stitches on the back of the fabric. Trim up the ends and enjoy your beautiful kitchen towel.

Food Idea: Embroidery is so Jane Austen. It calls for an old-fashioned tea party with finger sandwiches, dainty cookies and a selection of nice teas.

Project: Knitted Hats

Supplies: A pattern (Google “charity hats” for simple ones), corresponding needles, yarn and stitch markers. Other than perhaps the pattern, the guests should probably bring their own supplies for this party (Yarn Barn, 930 Massachusetts St., is a mecca for knitters in the Midwest, and if you go in with a pattern they’re always happy to point you to the right needles and some good yarn options.)

Directions: While knitting isn’t hard, it typically requires hands-on instruction beyond the scope of written directions, or, at the least, a few good YouTube tutorials. If you’re going to have a knitting party, I recommend having at least one veteran knitter for every few newbies. You can begin the party with a few simple lessons (casting on, knitting a stitch), and then the veterans can help troubleshoot for the newbies as the crafting festivities go on.

Food Idea: Wine is to knitting as wool is to sheep: essential. Have several guests each bring a bottle, and sip with some fancy cheese and crackers.