Creating and crafting something from nothing has great appeal, and seeing the finished product after laboring over it offers great satisfaction.
Science also backs the idea that losing oneself in a craft or DIY project can yield tangible health benefits. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first described as “flow” the notion of becoming so absorbed by an activity that time seems to disappear and little else matters at the moment. It’s no surprise that “flow” has been associated with meditation and yoga as well, since the benefits are similar.
Crafting has a dopamine effect, research shows. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter the brain releases when you do something pleasurable. A study of more than 3,500 knitters, published in The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, showed that 81% of respondents with depression reported feeling happy after knitting, while more than half reported feeling “very happy.”
That effect can be repeated when you see the finished project or receive compliments on your work.
There are no knitting designs on the following pages, but we’ve assembled some DIY projects that may give you the aforementioned sense of satisfaction and offer additional health benefits—for you and the planet. We hope you enjoy.
From Plastic Waste to Practical Products
A memorable scene in the classic 1967 film “The Graduate” has a young Dustin Hoffman—just out of school, bored and uncertain what life will bring—at a house party when an older family friend approaches. “I just want to say one word to you,” the friend tells Hoffman. “Just one word: plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.” A future, yes, but as it turns out, one that can be considered more tarnished than great. Each year, Americans discard more than 30 million tons of plastic, a durable material that doesn’t biodegrade, only 8% of which gets recycled while the remainder ends up in landfills, is incinerated or becomes litter, according to the activist group Plastic Pollution Coalition. That litter threatens wildlife, while exposure to the chemicals leached by plastics is linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other afflictions in people.
Dutch designer Dave Hakkens got tired of seeing the world awash in plastic, so he built homemade machines that can recycle the ubiquitous material into an array of useful products.
More than that, he made the machines using readily accessible items, putting blueprints and instructional videos on his website so just about anyone can make the devices. You can build a shredder for turning plastic waste into workable flakes that will be the building blocks of products, an extruder for dispensing plastic, a device for creating molds, and a machine for injecting plastic into the molds to make bowls, tops, planters, knife handles, hats, vases, clipboards—really, anything you can imagine. If you’re a DIY enthusiast, following Hakkens’ plans will give you double the fun—you can make the machines to make the products, then make the products themselves. And you’ll help clean up the planet. Visit PreciousPlastic.com.
Chopsticks Made Simple
In a culture in which technology has enslaved many of us, going back to basics—and making that effort a labor of love—seems like a pretty good idea.
Enter John Economaki, founder and president of Bridge City Tool Works in Portland, Oregon, and a former wood shop teacher equipped with liberal amounts of creativity and design savvy.
Economaki put those elements to work and came up with a tool that lets consumers make their own chopsticks. His Chopstick Master consists of a wood plane to shave the main shape of the included chopstick blanks, or raw wood, and the blades needed to finish off the ends into a pyramid shape, resulting, Economaki says, in a handsome pair of durable “gallery quality” chopsticks of cherry, walnut, teak and other woods.
Economaki got the idea when he was helping a tools customer in China promote his booth at a 2015 trade show. He thought it would be novel to let his customer’s clients who visited the booth make their own chopsticks. “We had a line 200 deep to make chopsticks,” Economaki recounts. “It was a very visceral reaction. One woman said she was thinking of her ancestors while making her chopsticks. We made about 1,000 pairs of chopsticks in four days.
Everyone in China uses chopsticks. It’s got deep roots. We knew there was a company that we needed to start.”
The device should find favor among the health-conscious—chopsticks pick up small, individual bites (if you don’t use the shovel method). And they force you to focus on what and how much you’re eating, especially if you’re a novice user of the utensils and can’t afford distractions that might make you drop your food.
Chopstick Master is also capturing the attention of the eco-conscious in, of all places, China, where environmentalists have linked the widespread use of disposable chopsticks to deforestation. “The Chinese government is trying to replace single-use chopsticks in the Chinese culture,” Economaki says.
The toolmaker says his device is simple and safe enough for kids age 8 and up to use and can add a new dimension to dinner parties. Indeed, every bite you eat with your handmade chopsticks should come with the taste of achievement. Visit bridgecitytools.com.
A Native American Rattle, Soothing and Spiritual
The custom of soothing a baby with a rattle is rooted in native cultures where rattles were used to ward off negative spirits and keep children protected. Not all native tribes use drums in their rituals, but ceremonial rattles are nearly universal, says Denise Linn, a member of the Cherokee Nation and author of Kindling the Native Spirit: Sacred Practice for Everyday Life (Hay House), and are used in celebrations as well as healing ceremonies.
“Just as drums were considered sacred because their rhythm created a bridge from the physical world to the spiritual world,” Linn says, “the cadence of native rattles also had the ability to alter consciousness and transport one to other realms.”
The frequency of most shamanic rattling measures in the theta/alpha range, roughly equivalent to what many say is the Earth’s natural frequency, according to Linn, who has studied native cultures around the world, including the Zulu in Africa, the Maori in New Zealand and the Aborigines of Australia, as well as Native American tribes in North America.
You can make your own rattle, either from rawhide, by hollowing out and drying a gourd or with other material.
Here are instructions from Linn’s book for making a rawhide rattle.
- Soak the rawhide overnight. While it’s soaking, this is a perfect opportunity to honor and thank the animal from which the hide came. This is very important. (There are many sources available online to purchase rawhide. You can even use the large rawhide pieces from pet stores that are used for dog chews.)
- Even after the rawhide is softened, it will still likely be tough to cut, so you may need a box cutter or a strong pair of scissors. For the rounded part, you can use a turned-over bowl or circular plastic lid to cut around. Remember to leave one part longer (see illustration).
- You can use an ice pick or a leather punch with a hammer to make the holes.
- Lace the two sides together tightly with a tapestry needle and some waxed cotton sinew (or even dental floss).
- Fill the rattle head with sand and pack it tightly to make it into the shape you desire, and let it dry for a few days. Put it in the driest location in your home, but not too near to a heat source.
- Remove the sand. The rawhide should be dry and hard to the touch.
- Place the two ends into water. This allows the handle to soften so it can be attached to your stick.
- Fill with small stones or other materials. Possible materials for the interior of your rattle include small stones, seed beads or larger beads. In some native customs, it was common to use the small, smooth stones that ants carry out of their nest called “ant hill stones.” These tend to be very uniform in size and make a soft, gentle sound in a rattle. Some people use corn, beans or seeds, but these tend to break down over time and thus can affect the sound of your rattle.
- Insert a wooden handle. (You can use a dowel or a strong stick from nature.) Wrap the handle with the wet rawhide. You can secure it with thin strips of soaked rawhide. When the leather strip dries, it will cinch down on itself to secure the rattle handle in place. You can also use glue to secure it.
Reprinted with permission from Kindling the Native Spirit by Denise Linn (Hay House)
Spirit of the Medicine Bag
A medicine bag, also known as a sacred bundle, is a pouch or bundle in which people of native cultures place what are considered objects of power, says Linn. Shamans place items they believe will deepen their spirituality. The first chronicled use of a medicine bag dates back more than 5,000 years, Linn says, citing the Frozen Man, who is believed to have lived around 3,300 B.C.E. and was found almost perfectly preserved in the Alps in 1991. Frozen in the ice next to him was a medicine bag containing an assortment of medicinal plants.
Traditionally, medicine bags are made from animal skins, but any material, including fabric, will do. Medicine bags, Linn says, typically range from two square inches to twelve square inches (without the fringe). They can be decorated however you choose, she adds, though every design should be significant to you and not be haphazard.
What do you put in your medicine bag? There’s no rule, though you should include items that are meaningful to you, Linn says, adding that you can add items to it slowly over time.
Consider gathering items that represent various aspects of nature. Here are some suggestions:
Mother Earth: You might place a stone you found in a mountain stream. Or include a crystal or a polished stone such as agate, bloodstone, citrine or moonstone that has special significance to you.
Plant People: Place some kernels of corn, naturally grown tobacco or bark from a tree in your bag. Some people like to put the “Three Sisters” of corn, bean and squash seeds together to represent bounty. Cornmeal tied up in a small bundle can also represent abundance in all areas of life. Even dried petals of flowers, herbs or plants that have had meaning for you can be added.
Animal Kingdom: Put feathers, bones or fur of an animal into your bag. (For example, if you have a beloved dog, the next time your brush him, you could take some of his fur and tie it in a small bundle.) Carved stones that resemble an animal that is sacred to you are also a great way to honor the animal kingdom.
Air, Water, Fire and Earth:You can include objects that represent the elements or even write the words on small pieces of paper.
Creator/Great Spirit/Great Mystery: You might place a small heart-shaped stone, a small metal Buddha, or a tumbled opal . . . anything that symbolizes the Creator to you will bring potency to your bag.
Special and Meaningful Objects: Perhaps your grandfather gave you a special coin when you were five years old. This might bring the energy of wisdom of the elders into your bag. If it seems untraditional but feels good to you, include it!
Reprinted with permission from Kindling the Native Spirit by Denise Linn (Hay House)
Two Methods for Making a Medicine Bag
- Material: Your bag can be made of lightweight leather, felt, cotton, linen, velvet, silk or wool. Every fabric and every color has a different kind of energy, so choose the one that feels best for you.
- Size: A small bag can be just as potent as a large bag, so think about how you are going to use it and where you are going to keep it to help you decide the correct size. For example, if you are going to wear it around your neck, you might want a smaller one than if you’re going to keep it next to your bed.
- Cut: Cut two pieces of fabric/leather exactly the same width, but one piece needs to have a longer length by two-thirds. This extra length folds over the top. If the leather is too thick, you will need leather-working tools. With thin leather you can use a sewing needle or a sturdy sewing machine. You can place a button and create a buttonhole on the flap to hold the contents in the medicine bag.
- Stitch: Face the front side of both pieces of leather/fabric together and sew all the edges, except the top where the opening is. Turn inside out, and you have created a simple medicine bag.
- Strap: You can add a strap for a fabric pouch with cording or strong ribbon. For a leather bag, consider braiding thin strips of leather together. Make two holes on either side of the flap, put the strap through the holes, and tie knots in the strap. Alternatively, you can sew the strap into either side of the bag at the opening.
- Decorate: You can use beads, shells, paint or whatever feels “right” to adorn your medicine bag. However, whatever you use, it should have meaning.
- Take a piece of leather, felt, or fabric and cut it into the desired shape (see illustration).
- Cut or tap holes into the leather or fabric.
- Take leather strip or cording, and weave it through the holes.
- Pull on the cording to create a sack.
- Add decorative elements on the flap of the bag and tuck it into the cording.
Coconut Rose Oil Conditioner
This three-in-one natural recipe from Wendy Rose Gould, beauty expert for the hair tutorial and advice site Latest-Hairstyles.com, acts as a hair mask, deep conditioner and leave-in treatment.
“I’ve always been good at conditioning my hair—I condition religiously, in fact,” Gould says.
“However, some mistakes resulted in hair that needed serious resuscitation, and so I was on a mission to find the best products to help. I found some good ones, of course, but as a DIY-er, I also concocted my own deep conditioner. I consider this DIY hair conditioner a moisture bomb, of sorts, as it’s loaded with hair-loving oils and butter.” To give it an extra personal twist, Gould added a little rose oil.
What You Need
5 tbsp shea butter
3 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp Dr. Bronners’ Pure Castille Soap
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
15 drops 100% camellia seed oil
6 drops rose essential oil (or scented to preference)
- Combine three tablespoons of shea butter and the coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until everything is melted, and mix well.
- Add the castille soap, olive oil, camellia seed oil and rose scent. The castille soap will help during the rinsing process, the camellia seed oil will soften and the coconut oil, shea butter and olive oil will provide intense moisture to restore shine and strength to your hair. The rose scent isn’t necessary, but it’ll add a little bit of rose fragrance if you’re into it.
- Place the mixture into the fridge or freezer until it’s cool, but not solid.
- Add your remaining two tablespoons of shea butter to the mixture and whip with a hand mixer. It’ll turn into a normal, conditioner-like consistency.
- Place in a container and date it. The conditioner should last up to 30 days.
This conditioner works in multiple ways:
Deep Conditioner: After shampooing, apply the DIY conditioner. Let it set for three to five minutes, then rinse. Consider this a deep conditioner and use it only once or twice a week.
Conditioning Mask:“This is my favorite way to use the conditioner,” Gould says. Simply apply to ends of dry hair and let it set for 15 to 20 minutes before shampooing.
Leave-In Conditioner: This is an option for very dry hair or coarse/textured hair. Rub a dime-sized amount of the conditioner into your hands and apply to your ends of damp hair. Style as normal.
Source: Wendy Rose Gould and Latest-Hairstyles.com
Made-From-Scratch Cleaning Supplies
Making your own cleaners should be an obvious choice. Many store-bought cleaners are caustic and filled with chemicals that may help remove a spot or stain but are hardly healthful to have around—especially your living spaces. By making your own cleaners, you’ll know the ingredients and control their level of safety, plus you’re sure to save some money.
Used by permission from The Made from Scratch Life: Simple Ways to Create a Natural Home by Melissa K. Norris (Harvest House)
Fill a spray bottle a quarter of the way with vinegar, and then top off with water. “I’ve used this cleaner with paper towels and washable rags, and it cleans my sliding glass door, the mirrors, and all the windows without a single streak,” says author Norris. “Now that my son is old enough to help with chores, I don’t worry if he goes a little bit spray-happy or happens to get some on himself while cleaning.”
The vinegar smell leaves as the cleaner evaporates, but if you don’t like the scent of vinegar while cleaning, try this next recipe.
Homemade Citrus All-Purpose Cleaner
4 to 5 citrus peels
3 cups white vinegar
Fill a quart-size canning jar three quarters full with your lemon peels. Pour white vinegar over the lemon peels. Let it set for a minute and then top off with more vinegar. Completely submerge the lemon peels. Cover with a lid and band, and set in a dark cupboard for two weeks. Shake the jar every few days. You might want to mark the top of the lid with the date in case you forget.
In two weeks, pour the vinegar through a strainer or cheesecloth. Dilute with two parts water to one part lemon vinegar. Use on windows, countertops, mirrors, and as a general multipurpose cleaner. You can use any citrus fruit or add some herbs for your own unique custom blend.
If you don’t have any citrus peels, you can add ten drops of your favorite lemon or orange essential oil.
Ever notice small dark spots in the divots of your linoleum? Over time, soap builds up and dirt sticks to it. Using vinegar eliminates these spots. If you have little ones or pets, you won’t have to worry about harsh chemicals where they play.
Add a cup or so of vinegar to your bucket or sink full of water. No soap. Use to mop your hardwood, laminate, tile or linoleum. (It is not recommended to use acid-based cleaners, suchas vinegar or citrus, on limestone and marble.)
Kokedama, Marrying Nature and Art
There are myriad studies showing the health benefits of being around nature. Add to that the advantage of crafting something natural yourself, not to mention something new and novel, and you’ve got kokedama, a delightful marriage of nature and kinetic art.
“Kokedama is a free-form planting method that derives from bonsai, which is the practice of training and manipulating small trees and shrubs to evoke the majesty of their ancient counterparts found in nature,” say authors Tara Heibel and Tassy de Give in Rooted in Design: Sprout Home’s Guide to Creative Indoor Planting (Ten Speed). As Heibel and de Give explain it, creating a kokedama involves wrapping a plant’s roots with soil and moss to create a living sculpture of sorts. They are designed to dangle, suspended with colorful twine inside or, in warmer seasons, out. They can also sit on a shallow dish for display.
Kokedamas are wrapped in an exterior layer of moss. Heibel and de Give say it is important to select plants that will work well in bright but indirect natural light because direct sun will cause kokedamas to dry out and fade. Ideal options: anthurium, Epipremnum pinnatum, ferns, Ficus pumila, fittonia, most orchids, philodendron, pilea, peperomia and selaginella, among others. (For sunnier locations, consider using preserved moss instead of living.)
Reprinted with permission from Rooted in Design by Tara Heibel and Tassy de Give, copyright © 2015 (Ten Speed/Penguin Random House) photography © 2015 by Ramsay de Give and Maria Lawson
Make Your Own Kokedama
1 small houseplant in 4” pot
An 8:3 ratio of peat moss and bonsai soil (for a 4” plant use 2 cups peat moss, 3?4 cup bonsai soil)
Plastic grocery bag or small bucket
A small container of water
Sphagnum moss for wrapping the soil
Strong string or twine
Sheet moss (dried or live, depending on your project)
- Gently remove the plant from the pot that it came in. Remove the soil from the roots until most of the soil is fully separated from the root system. Plants with finer root systems may need to be rinsed in the sink to help remove the soil. Prune the roots and leaves to the size you want.
- Mix together the peat moss and bonsai soil in a plastic grocery bag or bucket. (Wear gloves if you like.) Add small splashes of water as you mix. Keep mixing until the mixture can be formed into a firm ball of soil with your hands.
- Form a ball of soil that is big enough to encase the root system of the plant. Set it aside.
- Wrap a layer of dried sphagnum moss entirely around the plant’s root system. The plant’s roots will grow into this layer.
- Using string or twine, secure the layer of sphagnum moss to the plant by wrapping the string around the moss several times and tying it off.
- With your fingertip, create a hole in the ball of soil that is big enough to insert the sphagnum-wrapped root system into. Carefully put the wrapped root system in the hole and re-form the ball until it is nice and solid.
- Using the sheet moss, cover every part of the soil sphere, and wrap it securely several times with twine or string. Be sure to tie it off when you are done. Leave on some extra length if you would like to use this same string or twine to hang your finished kokedama.
- The same string or twine may be used to display your plant. Attaching a thin chain or decorative cord to the wrapping can serve as a mechanism to hang the kokedama.
- Before hanging your kokedama, make sure to soak it in a bowl of water. The living moss and plant will benefit from the moisture.
Care: The kokedama requires regular misting—daily is best. Get to know the weight of your construction. If it seems exceptionally light or if the outer layer of moss feels dry, then you may need to soak it in a bowl of water for ten to fifteen minutes to rehydrate it. You can add a little bit of fertilizer to the water once a month during its active growing period (March through October) to provide some essential nutrients. Bright, indirect light is best.
FlipBookit, for Old Timey Interactive Media
With a flip book kit from FlipBookit, you can transport yourself to the late 1800s by creating your own flip book, a popular medium of the day and one of the first forms of interactive media. FlipBookit’s various products let you either view an existing supplied animation (with Galloping Horse animation cards) or create your own 24-frame animation, with the company’s Blank Card Kit, by uploading your video or images to an online flip-maker tool. You can hand-crank the animation or upgrade to a motorized unit with a MOTO upgrade kit. Visit FlipBookit.com.
Kraut Source for Homemade Gut Health
You can take responsibility for your gut health with Kraut Source, an innovative kitchenware device for making fermented foods like sauerkraut, natural pickles, and kimchi in a wide-mouth mason jar. The stainless-steel unit is dishwasher safe and easy to use. Kraut Source encourages the DIY, artisanal spirit by enabling home cooks to create gourmet live-cultured foods that are delicious, nutritious, and economical.
Kraut Source, for singles and families, was designed by Karen Diggs, Kraut Source’s self-described Chief Fermentation Officer, and a classically trained chef, certified nutritionist, culinary instructor, and author of Happy Foods: Over 100 Mood-Boosting Recipes (Viva).
The Kraut Source unit fits on wide-mouth mason jars so you can make pint, quart, or half-gallon sized batches. Unlike traditional stoneware fermentation crocks, Kraut Source takes up little space so you can have several batches fermenting simultaneously, and they’ll be ready in a fraction of the time. The glass jar enables you to observe your progress. And its elegant, streamlined design gives your countertop visual appeal. Visit krautsource.com.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.