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With Christmas approaching I thought it might be a good time for stocking-up on crafting supplies – either as items to give as gifts to children or family members, or for ourselves as we set about making hand-crafted gifts for our loved ones. The good thing about well thought-out craft supplies is that they are a gift that can genuinely keep on giving; not only should good craft supplies last a while, but they will result in many great creations, and if gifted, save expense at a later time when embarking on projects over the next year.   

So, in this practical blog post, I’ll offer a few tips and suggest some ‘staples’ – maybe there will be something here to pop on your own Christmas wish list, ready to start a new crafting hobby in the New Year?

Collect over time, and choose multiple-use items

It’s taken me many years to collect the items that I find most useful; experience is a great teacher and it can take some time to discover which items have multiple and varied uses. Whilst one-off items like – for example – glass paints – are lovely to give as a special gift, I’ve learned that it’s very often the case that these things will be used, once or twice and then never again. In aiming for good value-for-money then, it can be useful to think about supplies that can be used over and over again for many different projects. It can be very expensive to put together a set of essentials in one go/for one specific project, so another approach is to collect key items over time. Whilst a Sellotape dispenser might seem like a very random Christmas gift – I can pretty much bet it would be a very well-used one! 

The following list is a suggestion of a few key items that are useful, and whilst they may not be gift-packaged in a special presentation pack and look ‘pragmatic’ rather than special when gifted – are very useful to have:  

An electric pencil sharpener – this is great for psychomotor O.E./busy children (but beware the number of pencils you might get through!) It saves endless mess from sharpenings and can also be a fun job in and of itself for little hands to set to work on! (we frequently hear my daughter madly sharpening behind closed doors!).

A tape dispenser – this might sound obvious, but a tape dispenser makes a huge difference to little hands! It means younger children can work alongside you just a little more independently. Also, you can give them the task of wrapping gifts and it is much easier with a tape dispenser to hand… don’t forget the Sellotape!

A good set of watercolour pencils – like this. The reason I recommend these is that they are so versatile, and also compact. They are easily stored, and therefore easily accessible, and it really opens up the possibility of just ‘doing some watercolour’ as the mood takes. The pencils can be used on their own, and being pencils, they can give a little more control/precision than a paintbrush, which is good for learning to paint in finer detail. It’s also fun just to experiment with colour blending & painting from time to time, as a super-simple activity. You might also want to invest in a set of mid-range paint brushes too. 

A set of polymer clay – this is another item that lends itself to many projects. It’s possible for older children to use this independently, and the items they create can be either just for the fun of it, or as part of another project – see this dream catcher tutorial as an example, and this Introduction to Polymer Clay in PowerWood’s Creative Corner.    

A colouring book that is also a book of greetings cards – or something similar – like this one. It means you can find multiple uses for the colourings and it gives a purpose to a simple colouring activity, if the card is going to be given – it can also save money on commercial greetings cards, and it is always super lovely and meaningful to be gifted a thoughtfully hand-coloured or handmade greetings card.

Hot glue gun – need I say more? A hot glue gun is super-handy for so many projects! There are many available but the mini-glue guns, from Hobbycraft, are perfectly adequate (don’t forget the glue sticks!).

Good glue – I’ve mentioned this before in my no-sew bunting tutorial but this glue is a must and useful for so many types of project! PVA is usually the go-to glue for children’s crafting, and whilst it is inexpensive, safe and available in copious supply (good for groups and schools etc), there’s nothing more frustrating than a wonderful creation falling apart 5 minutes later. If used carefully (and under supervision where necessary) it is definitely worth investing in a (equally safe) high-bond glue!

Acrylic Paint Pens – these look like a bit of an investment at first, but I have found them endlessly useful. They can be worked onto so many different surfaces, and their fine point gives a kind of precision that is hard to achieve with paint alone – therefore opening up more project possibilities. Also – they are pretty mess-free compared to actual paints! My daughter has used hers prolifically and covered everything from glass jars, margarine tubs, old shoe & tissue boxes, rocks, glass beads…  

Good Marker Pens – sharpies have always been very popular in our house for their bold and bright colours and thick strokes, however it’s very hard to get good skin tones in sharpies, and it can be tricky too to work in fine detail. In recent years we’ve used sets like these and find them to be very versatile and long-lasting.

A set of larger needles in varying sizes – not only can these be used for specific crafts like embroidery and sewing, but there are countless times when crafting when it’s necessary to thread something and a needle comes in handy; beads onto (thicker) yarn, tying off loose ends and so on.  

And then, a few other ‘staples’ to consider and that can be made into a little craft-bundle or hamper include: crafting wire (has multiple uses), glue dots and double-sided sticky tape, embroidery silks and various yarns – again, have multiple uses beyond their intended craft, decent scissors in different sizes (left-handed where required), a set of mixed beads, acrylic paints (and plenty of white for mixing!) a ream of A4 paper, and a bumper pack of cartridge paper is extremely useful for it’s versatility! It’s suitable for everyday use such as drawing and small projects (such as card making) but can also be used for watercolour and also still goes through a printer.  

Messy or organised?

Ideas for sorting & storing your supplies

Another thing to consider when curating your crafting supplies is a good system, for the organising of space and tools. I do believe in both having space for some creative chaos and a more disciplined and ordered space – (and there is probably a way of creating something in the middle). Both have their advantages and disadvantages; a jumble of craft supplies for children to rummage in can inspire real creativity and possibility in some, whilst for others it’s just an overwhelming mess that is difficult to make any sense of. A highly ordered space will feel freeing and calming to some as they can assess what they want with ease, whilst to others it might feel stifling, offering no sense of surprise and random chance that a less structured set of supplies offers… how you chose to approach this will be partly down to your own preferences and partly due to your children’s personalities or the stage of development they are at.

With this in mind, I’ve found over the years that it’s good to offer both. We now have some spaces that are ‘messy drawers’ with a random mix of supplies (this can also be something small and portable – doesn’t have to consume a lot of space – old tins, one good storage box full of random bits, for example), and other areas/cupboards/storage systems that are highly organised. When the children were younger, I think they definitely preferred the messy approach – they seemed to love nothing more than rummaging through boxes of random treasures and would put all kinds of fantastical creations together, and now that they are older, they seem to prefer to know exactly where they can find something. I suppose, when they were young they would create something out of whatever they found, now they tend to know what they want to create before they begin – hence it being more important to know that you can find a pair of scissors when you need them!  

With the organised systems I aim to store like with like. I try to not over-fill my more organised spaces, and organise in terms of priority of the access required.  And whilst it can be tricky due to limited space, I try to ensure that the things we do use most often are freely accessible rather than buried in boxes upon boxes (not always possible of course!). Having it freely available can create a sense of autonomy for independent-minded young creatives (although I do tend to keep the paints safely tucked away, for now at least)!

Sliding storage drawers a good option, either desktop or free-wheeling. Some of the more decorative storage systems could make lovely, practical, useful and long-lasting gifts. Hobbycraft have a good range of options and is a good place to start, at the very least to get ideas.  

A final tip

If in need of a low-key self-care style activity that can be done together and has a bit of a creative purpose, a good job to do occasionally with small children is sit and test out felt tips/pens etc and match up the lids, and sharpen any pencils. If approached this way as something to do together, it can become a simple bonding activity – rather than a frustrating and onerous chore. It can provide a chance to chat, and also model how to care for creative tools and spaces. Pens can be recycled with TerraCycle. My daughter was always madly and prolifically colouring when she was young and she would just go at such a speed that learning to put the lids on was a real challenge for her – at busy times of life I would find this pretty frustrating as not only would I find the wastefulness dried-out pens triggering, running around behind trying to keep on top of the tidying could be exhausting. Until I realised that doing this activity together – albeit a little more slowly and at a gentler pace – was still using up physical energy for my daughter; it was just redirected a little into something as constructive as the colourings she was trying to create 😊

I hope this list proves useful, if you only invest in one or two of these items, I am sure you or your loved ones will gain many hours of creative possibility to playfully fill some time in the coming months and years.   

A little note: I’ve linked to Amazon for ease of viewing/product finding wherever you are, but do think about supporting your local independent art suppliers if they have an online offering… And, if you will be buying any creative activity or art books – or indeed any books at all –  there is a great new service just launched enabling independent book shops to sell online with ease for both seller and customer – take a look at this article for more information or head straight to 🙂 

© Abigail Cole 2020

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