If you had a great time crafting with the kids over the Easter holidays or are looking ahead to the summer, then we hope you will love reading this interview with Tracey Radford, author of two brilliant recycled craft books for kids, blogger, maker and mum. Read on to find out about her craft journey so far and her advice for keeping little fingers busy...
I’d say it started when I was very young, encouraged by my Mum who was always happy to draw or colour-in with us. One of the first things I remember making was a rather fetching outfit for a doll from tin foil and tissue paper. I moved on to cardboard box ‘rooms’ for my toys - fully furnished of course, with tubes and cereal packets covered in sticky back plastic. They were all lined up in my bedroom like a mini village.
It grew from there really. I’ve always loved any kind of craft and have tried my hand at a few over the years. I feel a bit lost if I don’t have some project or other on the go. I think knitting was a kind of therapy for me during university and when I started working as a journalist. A way to relax and gently switch off for a bit, even if the outcome wasn’t always so successful! Like the enormous jumper I made for a friend that went down past her knees…
It wasn’t until I had kids that craft become more than just a hobby. Making things with them was fun - well it definitely was for me! And it was lovely doing something creative together. Craft also gave us something to focus on while my husband was away with the army. It was during a particularly long stint on our own that the kids and I started making zoo animals out of easy to get hold of stuff like egg cartons and cardboard tubes. I shared the projects on my blog, which seemed to go down well, and as our zoo grew so did the idea of putting a craft book together. I was over the moon when CICO liked the idea too. Make Your Own Zoo came out in 2015.
Your recycled craft projects are so simple and original! How do you come up with ideas for making the animals and other cardboard items?
I like having a theme and craft projects that work or link together - I think it helps with the creative process, because one idea can often spark another. I also believe a theme is a great way to keep kids interested, because a zoo or a farm is something they can keep adding to.
I love a challenge, so coming up with new ways to make, say, a bull or a dovecote out of bits of cardboard packaging is the perfect job for me! And I love the added challenge of trying to keep each project as simple and straightforward as possible too. It’s so satisfying when something works; when you find a great shape, like the flying owl (or flying parrot) in the side of an egg carton.
Strange the things that make you happy! One thing I don’t do though when I’m working on a book is look online, so I’m not swayed by someone else’s ideas without realising it. Sometimes a project comes together very quickly, other times it takes more patience and quite a few trial runs. Like the tractor…
Do you have a favourite project in the new book?
That’s a bit tricky! I know my husband’s favourite is the sheepdog, and I like that too, but I’m especially fond of the cow and bull because of the shape of the face cut from the side of an egg carton… or maybe the flying owl? But the little bunnies are sweet too and I’m quite partial to the hens. Probably should stop there!
What do you think is the best part of recycled crafting with kids?
It’s such a great way to encourage creativity and imagination, because you’re essentially turning something pretty ordinary and boring into something exciting and fun. This transformation is a kind of crafty magic that hopefully shows kids a pile of old cardboard packaging can be anything they want it to be. With a bit of imagination. The possibilities are endless once they get going. It’s also a very inexpensive way to encourage kids to explore their creative side. Just hang on to a good collection of recycling stuff so you’re always ready for a bit of making.
With the long summer school holidays looming ever closer, what would be your advice for parents, grandparents and carers looking for ways to entertain children?
Craft is a wonderful way to connect with kids and spend quality time together, but I’m not going to pretend for a minute that my kids rush to the table when I suggest having a go at a craft project. Mentioning making isn’t always greeted with a great deal of enthusiasm! So my advice would be, don’t ask if they’d like to do something crafty, but just get the craft stuff out and start making yourself. Hopefully, before you know it they’ll have joined you, like bees round a honey pot, wanting to start making too. And as I’ve said, a theme can also help hold their attention, so if you’ve made a few hens, make a nest and then maybe a rooster and a hen house. Building something together takes patience but it can be really rewarding and it’s very likely to be an experience they won’t forget. ‘Making time’ has got to be a good thing, whatever way you look at it.