Health and Wellness: Crafts for Fun & Function

Written by Maryann B. Hunsberger

Spring is in the air! Without the threat of snow and ice, many people who might otherwise stay in the safety and comfort of their home may venture out for plenty of spring and summer events. These might include bridal showers and weddings, birthday and anniversary parties, spring and summer holidays, and any special occasion throughout the year.

With such events comes the need for gift giving, which isn’t so easy when counting pennies. A great solution is to create your own decorative packaging and gifts. This doesn’t just save money, but also provides a fun activity for families and friends to do together. Husbands and wives, parents and children, or just a few good friends, can get together, socialize, and create a personalized work of art.

Plain green gift bag by adding selfsticking shapes, etc
Fennimore decorated a plain green gift bag by adding selfsticking shapes, ribbon, cardstock paper and rub-ons. “Rub-ons are pages with various words, characters, flowers and shapes. You cut the shape from the piece of paper, rub it onto a piece of cardstock using a Popsicle® stick, and the design shows on the paper.” Fennimore cut cardstock paper with decorative scissors and glued it to the bag. She finished the project by slipping tissue paper into the bag.

Gift Packaging

Karen Fennimore, a craft designer from Runnemede, New Jersey, suggested several craft projects that people with MS can do together with family and friends. One is decorating paper takeout boxes to use as small gift boxes. “These are sold in craft stores. Add stickers or sticky-backed rhinestones. Use markers to draw designs, or use stamps with stamp pads to create images. Ribbons can be tied on and curled with a dull knife or children’s safety scissors. Make designs with glitter glue pens or sprinkle glitter over designs made from clear-drying white glue (note: tacky glue, which can be found in craft shops, and Elmer’s glue, are both clear-drying white glues).

To add a gift tag, cut a small piece of cardstock paper with decorative scissors. These scissors have edges that cut paper into a range of designs. Punch a hole in the piece of cardstock, weave a ribbon through it, attach it to the box handle – and it’s a gift tag.”

People can also decorate plain gift bags or even brown paper bags. A fun way to enhance paper bags is to dip a slightly moistened sea sponge into washable paint and then lightly dab the paint onto the bag with the sponge to create a pattern. Allow to dry and add sticky letters to spell the recipient’s name. Various colors of tissue paper can be placed around the gift, with the top of the tissue papers peeking out from the opening of the bag. “There’s no right or wrong way to stuff the tissue paper. Just do whatever you like,” notes Fennimore.

A nice thing about creating gift bags – or any crafts mentioned in this article – is that they don’t need to be perfect. People with fine-motor problems can create a design using puffy foam stickers, dimensional stickers, self-sticking letters or rubber stamps. Family members with steady hands can add to designs by filling in rubberstamped images with markers. Projects needn’t be expensive, as products can be found not only in craft shops, but also in dollar stores and discount chain stores.

Card Fennimore made was crafted from lavender cardstock paper
The card Fennimore made was crafted from lavender cardstock paper. After folding it in half, she glued a smaller piece of pink cardstock paper across the middle with red cardstock below it. Above and below the pink cardstock, she glued ribbon. She applied six stickers and wrote with a marker. Inside, she used more cardstock paper and a marker. Stickers with preprinted words could be used in place of writing with a marker.

Bookmarks, Greeting Cards, Scrapbooks, and More

As for gifts to slip into those bags, creating bookmarks is a great way to make a present. Craft these using the same supplies used to adorn the bag. Cut a sheet of cardstock paper into the shape and size of a bookmark with decorative or plain scissors. Add a spongepainted design, stickers, rub-ons or self-sticking letters to personalize the bookmark.

Let’s not forget the card! Begin with a folded piece of cardstock paper. Vellum paper (translucent paper that often has sayings on it) can be attached to the front with vellum tape (thin double-sided tape that is sticky on both sides). Some people like to attach pictures to the front of a card with paper fasteners (also called brads). “Brads come in all shapes and sizes, even holiday shapes. The brad shows through the corners of the pictures. This gives it a look like upholstery nails in a couch.”

Those with fine-motor difficulties can decorate the card with the same tissue paper that fills the gift bag. Rip two or three sheets of different colored tissue paper into strips (neatness isn’t important). Dip a paintbrush into glue water (three-quarters cup white glue to one-quarter cup water mixed together). Apply the glue water widely to one side of the tissue paper and stick it onto the card front in any design. Let dry. The finished product will look crinkly.

Bookmarks aren’t the only presents that can be tucked into a gift bag. Friends and family can also create scrapbooks together and place them into an adorned brown grocery bag. Scrapbook kits – with decorative papers, letters and words – are available in craft shops and some discount chain stores. For a more personal touch, many options are available.

“Scrapbooking isn’t just about pictures,” says Fennimore. “It’s about all the things you put around the picture to embellish it that relate to the picture. Start with a piece of colored cardstock paper. Attach your photo and then add any embellishments. Be sure to insert the decorated cardstock into a protective plastic page. The scrapbook will be thick, but most are. Use scrapbooks with adjustable hinges, as these can be made larger.”

Some embellishments Fennimore suggests are as follows:

Photo of a scrapbook
For this scrapbook page, Fennimore cut a rectangle in a sheet of decorative cardstock paper. Using white glue, she fastened a picture onto a piece of ivory linen paper and glued it to the back of the cardstock. She cut a piece of a different cardstock paper with decorative scissors and glued a precut decorative letter to it. She fastened the letter to the cardstock with metal brads, added a metal charm and a metal page corner with a low-temperature hot-glue gun, and glued on thin ribbon fibers.
  • Attach dimensional paper flowers with white glue.
  • Glue buttons with white glue. “These can be found in the home or bought at the store. The coolest buttons are available in all sorts of shapes, patterns and colors that don’t even look like buttons. With a silk or paper flower, you can glue a button on the middle to make a center.”
  • Layer different colors of paper flowers and attach it at the center with a brad.
  • Cut printed words from magazines and affix with white glue.
  • Square alphabet beads used to make children’s name bracelets can be used to spell out words. On a baby page, spell out the baby’s name with these beads and attach with white glue.
  • Silk leaves in seasonal colors can be glued onto a page to create a seasonal theme.
  • Premade gift tags with sayings on them such as “Our Wedding” can be added.
  • Carefully glue old, inexpensive charms from bracelets to the pages or cover of a scrapbook using a low-temperature hot glue gun. “We call these ‘found objects’ because people can often find them in their homes.”
  • Use a hole-punch and weave a ribbon through cardstock to use as a backing on a scrapbook page or on the cover.

Covers may be the most important aspect of a scrapbook. Some scrapbooks come with an opening on the cover that cardstock and pictures can be slipped into. “Use colored cardstock as a background, then place a cut piece of themed cardstock at the bottom (such as one with a flowery design), and use other cardstock as frames around pictures. Use sticky shapes on corners of pictures as embellishments,” says Fennimore.

For an especially finished look, Fennimore recommends the following: “Buy an inexpensive frame, discard the glass, take off the back of the frame and glue decorative cardstock in its place. Put a picture in the center and embellish with buttons, stickers, glitter glue and ribbons. Before putting the picture in the mat, put sticky dots under the picture to add dimension (small one-quarter inch-thick foam discs). Glue the frame onto the cover with white glue. It gives a shadowbox effect and makes a great gift for grandparents.”

Mosaics are another fun craft to create. A mosaic starts with a piece of wood. Craft shops sell unfinished wooden plaques, mirrors, frames and jewelry boxes, as well as tile pieces to apply to the wood. Fennimore uses tacky glue or ceramic glue to fasten the tile pieces to the wood. Using thick tacky glue mixed with sand as grout, she applies the grout with a Popsicle® stick, paintbrush or cake decorator. While still wet, she wipes excess grout with a damp cloth. “You don’t need to be precise. Just get as much as possible into the space.”

The Benefits of Occupational Therapy and Craft Making

George Kaizar's work
George Kaizar, founder of the Kaizar School of Art in Sewell, New Jersey, taught the author’s daughter to make this mosaic. “You can be as abstract as you want, so it doesn’t matter if someone can’t be precise with their hands,” says Kaizar. He says that even a piece of plywood can be the base and stones or shells work well in place of ceramic pieces. He affixes the objects onto the wood with epoxy glue, and then applies tile grout (the type that is premixed with sand) between the objects with a putty knife or cake decorator. “You can go over the pieces with a putty knife and then scrape off the excess.”

Besides creating a lovely gift, making crafts with a group of friends helps people to develop friendships with a purpose. Kathy Zackowski, PhD, OTR, Assistant Professor at the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, spoke with The Motivator about this. Zackowski, an occupational therapist (OT) who works solely with people who have MS, says making crafts gives people something in common to share. “This is more binding than casual friendships because you work toward the same goal. People can do this with many mediums, such as sewing, exercise, a book club or other activities. The social interaction is so important. Much evidence says this can help with healing in different ways.”

Zackowski notes that making crafts can provide some similar benefits to those gained in occupational therapy (OT). “People can gain skills making crafts. It forces people to use their hands in detailed ways, which can help improve motor control. It is huge in helping with eye-hand coordination, since our vision is critical in assuring that we don’t hurt ourselves when we use our hands. It gives motivation to complete a task, which is a big deal. We need to be motivated to get out of bed sometimes, so completing tasks is important. Making crafts forces coordination between both hands. Creating crafts helps both gross- and fine-motor skills. For instance, using one’s arms to hammer a nail into a board strengthens gross-motor skills, while weaving or drawing strengthens fine motor skills. Cognitive skills are strengthened when figuring out how to create the craft.”

Zackowski says she finds crafts useful for her own patients. “I can assign someone to make a craft at home to improve their motor skills. I am not aiming to teach anyone to be a professional craft person, but instead to help improve their eye-hand coordination. These kinds of skills help people do things they need to do in life, such as dressing or driving a car.”

Occupational therapy can help many patients with MS to accomplish more. “Many tasks can become difficult for people with MS. An OT is trained to take a task and break it into smaller parts so people can adapt it. For example, if you are on one of the injectable disease-modifying therapies, it may be hard to give yourself an injection, so an OT can help design a method to make the process easier. An OT can also help you devise a strategy for taking your medicines at the right time. An OT can teach you ways to get exercise from working in the kitchen or around your home. Sometimes you need someone to look at the task and figure out how to make it work. The OT can teach you ways to address all of these issues in a practical way.”

Zackowski says accommodations can help people with MS to create crafts. “You might have to modify instructions and learn to work within limitations. We all need to do this, even if our limitation is that we’re not great at making crafts. Be sure to take advantage of technology to help with limitations. Use a pretty computer font to print words instead of writing words with a pen. Use software and a mouse to draw in place of drawing with a pencil if holding a pencil is difficult. Software is available to read directions out loud, and to increase font size to make reading instructions easier. Don’t shy away from using technology to help you reach your goals.

“Neither physical nor cognitive limitations should stop you from enjoying fun activities. Making crafts can be a powerful, inexpensive way to give gifts or decorate your home in bad economic times. The pure enjoyment of doing something you like can’t be understated. It makes us happy, and that’s important to our quality of life.”

Note: Some Nicole Craft Products™ were used to make the crafts in the photos in this article. All products shown in the photos can be purchased at local craft stores.