No elbow macaroni please...
October 24, 2012 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Seeking your ideas for free or inexpensive crafts for adults that can be completed within 2-3 hours with very little instruction required. Striving for a fun process and a pleasing end product. No worthless, ugly or junky, please.

Our small town is gearing up for a winter of cold and darkness and the task of coming up with ideas for a monthly planned evening craft for adults falls to two of us who need help brainstorming.

We have no budget and must rely on free or recycled items (though I'm willing to donate a small amount for the purchase of a few key items -AND- we have some supplies that we can borrow because we craft in a space that sometimes has children's art classes).

What works and what doesn't?

Two crafts last year that were successful: recycled mat board gift tags before the holidays (cutting, gluing, layering of papers, pretty simple and people had a surprising amount of fun) and hand-painted rocks as garden markers in the spring. Both were really inexpensive, used free or recycled materials and required little to no instruction.

A craft that was *awesome* but not quite suited to the evening was decoupaged switchplates (like this). We had the tools and donated materials, but it required way too much guidance and not everyone is adept with an exacto knife or even did well with painting on the glue. Not to mention that they couldn't take their prizes home with them until the next week (after I went back in to re-coat and then spray lacquer all of the pieces). We loved the finished product, but we can't do anything that high maintenance again.

Paper quilling was another fail. Took way too much time and not everyone who came had the skill to make something that looked nice.

We will do gift tags and rocks again. But we need at least three more ideas. Some facts:
-it has to be started and finished within three hours--and portable by the end;
-the evening is free and open to the adult public, who don't necessarily come with any creative skills whatsoever;
-must be simple to understand with very little instruction;
-requires free or very low-cost art supplies (available only at a Walmart or Fred Meyer a couple hours away);
-we have access to crayons, glue guns, scrap paper, limited nice card stock and origami papers, white glue, tables and chairs and a big laundry sink;
-our one thrift store has very little to offer in the way of inspiration or supplies.

Ready GO!
posted by AnOrigamiLife to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
Crop art?
posted by specialk420 at 1:18 PM on October 24, 2012

Response by poster: Forgot to mention that we are a small town and 20 people attending would be a HUGE success.

Crop art is cool...but we'd lack supplies and 2-3 hours is not nearly enough. Please note that projects that require much at all in the way of artistic ability can be extremely frustrating for a lot of people and we want this to be a fun and welcoming space for all abilities.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 1:25 PM on October 24, 2012

How about a shamballa style bracelet but with inexpensive beads instead of the standard pave ones? Or a Chan Luu style wrap bracelet? Those involve knots and a touch of glue for skills and the supplies are carried in Wal-mart's craft aisle.
posted by kimberussell at 1:34 PM on October 24, 2012

Making fridge magnets and felted soaps are cute activities.

If you have access to heating elements and feel it is safe, making your own candles is fun and you can melt down crayons for the wax.
posted by vegartanipla at 1:35 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, or you could actually make paper.
posted by vegartanipla at 1:38 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Greeting card balls? The most fun part of these is picking out which cards to use - no artistic ability required and a nice-looking end product! If you make the triangle and circle templates ahead of time, and maybe provide paper clips to hold the edges together while the glue dries, it would probably be fun and satisfying for most people, and they could take them home the same day.

People might be able to bring in their own old greeting cards, especially if you're in an area where a lot of people celebrate Christmas, and you let people know ahead of time to save their cards. If you ask around, some people might have stashes of old cards (Christmas or not) that are too pretty to trash, but that they might be willing to give up for craft night.
posted by fussbudget at 1:44 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

How about trivets or bulletin boards made of wine corks?
posted by juliapangolin at 1:52 PM on October 24, 2012

Maybe a bit too prep-heavy if you're not buying materials, but origami mobile?
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:56 PM on October 24, 2012

Terrariums? You can re-use glass jars (mason, mayo, peanut), old fishbowls, etc., all of which are things that tend to be in great supply for free (or nearly free at garage sales, etc.). The other supplies you need are just some potting soil and gravel, and the plants, which are probably the hardest part. But for small containers, any kind of very small tropical houseplant works. Because you only need tiny plants, they tend to be inexpensive ($1-3 apiece) and you won't be able to fit more than 1-2 plants inside most of the kinds of containers you'll come up with.

You can also (responsibly) forage outdoors for some bits of moss, bark, stones, sticks, etc. to dress them up.
posted by jonathanweber at 1:58 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Your username leads me to suspect I may be preaching to the choir here, but...

The hyperbolic parabola is an origami model that looks really impressive (and elegant, and beautiful) but is actually pretty easy to fold: it's just fifteen concentric squares. If you're not familiar with it, then try it and see what you think.

There's no need to use proper origami paper, as it doesn't matter whether or not the two sides are different colours (and you're not going to end up trying to form neat points out of ten layers of paper). In fact, bigger squares would be easier for people to work with anyway; a square cut down from regular letter-size paper would probably work well. I'm the wrong nationality to know what Walmart or Fred Meyer might carry, but can you get a pad or pack of solidly-coloured printer paper, for instance?

That's not likely to take anyone three hours, so here are another couple of origami suggestions:

I think the six-unit sonobe cube is a pretty simple, satisfying and attractive model, with nothing but valley folds needed to make the units; and the units hold together really well, so it isn't even frustrating to put together. Origami paper or other pre-cut squares would be best for these, though, just to avoid the hassle of cutting down six squares of identical size per person. The end result would be disappointing if the starting squares weren't uniform enough.

And lucky stars are easy, and cute, and can be folded from any old strip of paper.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:02 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Paper flowers, maybe? (That page links to a number of different tutorials ranging from stapler-and-masking-tape to you've-gotta-be-kidding levels of sophistication and detail freakery.) From the tutorials I've looked at, it seems that the paper used can be what's available — coffee filters, newspapers, surplus wrapping paper, etc. Different papers will yield different results, but they all look nice.
posted by Lexica at 2:08 PM on October 24, 2012

Another possibility: bottlecap-and-fabric-scrap coasters.
posted by Lexica at 2:13 PM on October 24, 2012

Melt and pour soap? Quick and easy, you literally melt and pour it into moulds, can be used right away (once it has set again).
posted by thylacinthine at 2:28 PM on October 24, 2012

If you can actually make yourself cut up a book, these book page roses are lovely.

Candy cane wreath. Candy canes are cheap, but they would have to leave these to dry overnight.

Beaded ornaments are incredibly easy to make; I taught a class full of kids how to do them. They're suitable for hanging on the Christmas tree, but very inexpensive to put together.

Considering it is cold and wintry, this might not work, but then again maybe it would give people something to look forward to: Decorating flip flops.

Everyone brings in a cheap pair of flip flops and you use hot glue guns and inexpensive ribbons, tulle, etc to dress them up. All the embellishments are super cheap.
posted by misha at 2:33 PM on October 24, 2012

Paper lantern cityscape - jars, battery-operated lights, wallpaper scraps, markers

Origami foxes - paper, markers

Coffee filter fall leaves - coffee filters, templates for tracing, scissors, watercolors

Papier mache mushrooms - cardboard, sticks, newspaper or paper towels, paint, glue gun

I did a workshop last year on making cardboard lanterns which was really fun, but I can't find any good tutorials on-line. This milk carton lantern is the closest thing I could find, and you could skip the steps to give it the metallic look.
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:42 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hexaflexagons! See vihart's hexaflexagon videos to see why they're so cool.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:44 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Blown egg ornaments can be fun.

I think this could work nicely because people can go as crazy-detailed and precious, or as simple and fun as they want to with them, making it fun for a bunch of different levels.

Also, the time-frame is great for making a couple each so people would have a chance to experiment a bit.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 3:05 PM on October 24, 2012

Mrs. mmascolino hand makes all the greeting and holiday cards that we send out. While this does take artistic ability to come up with unique designs there are some tried and true formulas that are easy enough to follow and an easy easier if someone comes up with a stencil beforehand. In particular I really liked a design she made where there consisted of the outline a few snowmen on the front of the card. They snowmen were cut out of scraps of gift wrap and then glued/taped to the card.
posted by mmascolino at 3:37 PM on October 24, 2012

I'm not sure if this would be a good fit, but at a recent work team event, we spent a couple hours putting together bracelets for Case de Los Madres, a non-profit supporting victims of domestic violence. They provide all the supplies and the bracelet are super easy to put together, and it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.
posted by logic vs love at 4:57 PM on October 24, 2012

Make surprise balls, for holiday gifting! They look like they'd be cheap to scale up. I've been dying to make some ever since I saw them.
posted by peacheater at 5:02 PM on October 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

Glass blob magnets are easy, and come out well. Go through magazines, catalogs, leftover giftwrap, etc., and save nice bits of paper. If you can hustle up a bunch of Altoids-sized tins, they can be painted and used for presentation, and maybe for another craft night.
Christmas crackers are traditional in the British Isles, and you can make them yourself.
Collage pins,
Ornaments (they can be magnets or decorations if you aren't into Christmas)
Things made from tart tins
Bottle caps & resin
Things to do with canning jars.
posted by theora55 at 5:37 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gift tags, made with old greeting cards. My mother used to make these every Christmas. She'd buy gold paper rectangles, fold them, and paste a cut-out square from a greeting card on the front.
posted by imalaowai at 6:03 PM on October 24, 2012

No-sew books/journals... Like accordian books. some of the folding books can get more intricate, if people are interested. Any kind of paper will do, and it's all you need for the book itself. You can spend the remaining time decorating or filling them.
posted by jrobin276 at 6:35 PM on October 24, 2012

Ice candles! Fun to make and they set up really fast. Half-pint milk cartons work great for this, ask your neighborhood school to collect a bagful after lunch one day.

This craft stick lantern looks really cool, but you want to either use hot glue or make sure it has a good hour to dry before you start trying to fold and assemble it.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:40 PM on October 24, 2012

Popsicle stick baskets - we used to make them in summer camp. Sticks and glue is all you need, and it's so much fun!
posted by tatiana131 at 8:20 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Paper Bead Necklaces
Finger Knitting (use salvaged twine or old string for a rustic effect)
Gift Bags
Block Printing

I don't have links for the following, but you could also try:
- food carving (apples are great!)
- collage art (have out example books... PostSecret has some good examples)
- braided/"paracord" bracelets out of baling twine/salvaged or donated twine or rope.
posted by Cracky at 9:34 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about bookmarks made with paper and card scraps, ribbon, lace and cord scraps, some rubber stamps and ink, colored markers, chalks or watercolors, beads, etc.?

You might check Pinterest for quickie craft ideas - everything under the sun is on there.
posted by aryma at 10:43 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

printing cards or wrapping paper or t-shirts using the good ole potato stamp

how about a big wall mural made out of construction paper where each person makes a paper version of themselves in front of a landmark of your town?
posted by dottiechang at 10:46 PM on October 24, 2012

You could do mosaics!

Buy some cheap colorful glasses at Walmart prior to the event that you can have pre-smashed and sorted by color, and also ask that people bring in a beer or wine bottles, or an old plate or mug.

Also buy (or ask your participants to bring) some super cheap picture frames (clear works best if you have more glass bits, black works best if you have mostly ceramic bits). Give everyone their own picture frame, a tube of glue and go.

Not sure if that would take up 2-3 hours though.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 12:05 AM on October 25, 2012

You might get some ideas from Mini Eco, a crafting blog that strives to use mostly recycled materials. There are tutorials and templates to make the projects very clear.
posted by xo at 9:12 AM on October 25, 2012

I went to a museum happy hour where they had live music, draft beer, snacks, craft supplies and instruction for $20/person. To provide beer & food, you might have to hold the event in a restaurant, but it was so much fun.

My friend's kids love making jewelry and other things with duct tape, especially the new bright colors & patterns.

A friend makes artworks with plastic toys, broken watches and the like. If he lead a workshop for you, he'd invite everyone to bring 'trash' to use in their art.

Other groups might be willing to lead workshops or demonstrations. They are also a good source for donated supplies.
posted by MichelleinMD at 11:05 AM on October 25, 2012

MichelleinMD reminded me that my nephew enjoys making duct tape wallets, which are quite in demand at his school.

Turns out, you can make a lot of... interesting creations with tape! If everyone brought in a roll or two of duct tape to your craft sessions, you could put together some really cool projects.
posted by misha at 4:06 PM on October 25, 2012

Papercraft is fun and has a pretty light learning curve. Basically, you print out designs where you cut, fold and glue along the dotted lines to make (hopefully) cool little (or big) sculptures.

There are plenty of quick and easy half-hour projects, like these adorable cube people, to slightly more challenging fare. On the other end of the spectrum, there are also absurdly complex projects, like this full-sized Master Chief Mark 5 replica, which would probably at least 50 hours to put together.
posted by Green Winnebago at 8:18 PM on October 25, 2012

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