If it might be fun and enriching and delightful to reproduce the same crafts in your home, by all means, please do, and share. If, however, the reading of this post makes you beat your head against the wall while repeating a tired and harmful mantra about your own worthlessness as a CM mama, please, stop. I am not sharing this to burden anybody. Don't beat yourself up.
In CM's volume one, page 315 on our website, we find:
"Handicrafts and Drills.––It is not possible to do more than mention two more important subjects––the Handicrafts and Drills––which should form a regular part of a child's daily life. For physical training nothing is so good as Ling's Swedish Drill, and a few of the early exercises are the reach of children under nine. Dancing, and the various musical drills, lend themselves to grace of movement, and give more pleasure, if less scientific training, to the little people.
The Handicrafts best fitted for children under nine seem to me to be chair-caning, carton-work, basket-work, Smyrna rugs, Japanese curtains, carving in cork, samplers on coarse canvas showing a variety of stitches, easy needlework, knitting (big needles and wool), etc. The points to be borne in mind in children's handicrafts are: (a) that they should not be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like; (b) that they should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do; (c) that slipshod work shouldnot be allowed; (d) and that, therefore, the children's work should be kept well within their compass."
In the appendices of a 1906 edition of volume 1, page 389, we find this fleshed out a little more:
Six twigs of trees (not done before) in brushwork. For occasional use, Pour Dessiner Simplement, par V. ...
Attend to garden (Aunt Mai's Annual, 1894).
Carton Work, by G. C. Hewitt (King & Sons, Halifax, 2s.) : make a pillar-box, a match-box, a pen-tray, and a vase.
Smyrna rugs (see Aunt Mai's Annual, 1894). Children make their own designs.
Self-Teaching Needlework Manual (Longmans, is.) : children to be exercised in stitches, pages 1-15. Use coarse canvas and wool ; then, coloured cotton and coarse linen."
Here is the pertinent section from Aunt Mai's Annual, 1894, which I was thrilled to discover online (it's lovely!).
(Keep in mind 1894 British prices are given for supplies.)
WHAT CAN WE MAKE?
THE educational advantages of this work are many ; it teaches carefulness, numeration, colour and design. Carefulness, in pushing the string through the bamboo ; numeration, in getting the right number on each string ; colour, in choosing the coloured reeds and beads ; and design, whether the alternate lines should be the same colour, or two and two, or two and three, etc.
The materials required for this work are :
1. Bamboos or reeds, 2/9 per 100.
2. Beads, 10d. per 500.
3. A ball of string, 6d.
4. A bar of wood for each curtain.
The bamboos are supplied in bundles of 1000 tubes, and can be had in white, red, purple, green, yellow, etc. They are each three and a half inches long, and are hollow, so that the string easily slips through. The round beads are the best for the nursery, and can also be had in many colours.
A little four-year-old is very busy at present making a short curtain for the studio window, of cut green and yellow reeds, and bright yellow beads, and the effect is charming.
The bar of wood can be made by any local joiner for a few pence. This must be three-quarters of an inch broad and thick ; the length must vary according to the width of your windows. Holes must be bored through at regular intervals of half an inch, one from the other, and he had better stain it brown or black before the children begin to work.
The following lengths are those we have found to be most useful ; but each mother can measure and decide for herself whether the curtains must be longer or shorter.
1. Cut the string into lengths of forty inches.
2. Thread a bead on to each piece of string, hold the bead in the middle, and tie once. This prevents the little fingers pulling the string out of its hole. To vary this, you can again place a bead on each side of the tied one.
3. Push one end of the string through the first hole in the rod, and the other through the second hole, leaving the bead or beads or. the top.
4. Thread four beads on the first string. This makes an effective border.
5. Thread one reed, one bead, one reed and so on, until four reeds are on. Then put a bead on and tie. The first row might be green.
6. Work the second row in the same way, substituting yellow reeds for the green ones.
7. Take another piece of string and thread one end through the third hole, and so on.
A very effective and simple pattern can be worked in the following way:
After the string has been threaded through the two first holes put—1st row; 1 bead, 1 green reed, bead ; 1 yellow reed, bead ; green reed, bead ; 1 yellow reed
2nd row; 2 beads, the rest in the same order—green, yellow ; green, yellow.
3rd row; 3 beads; &c.
4th row; 4 beads, &c.
5th row; 5 beads, &c.
6th row ; 4 beads, &c.
7th row; 3 beads, and so on, until the child comes again to one bead, when she again begins the next row with two. "
What can we take from this? Breaking this down, it's essentially stringing beads and rods in a pattern, right? Not just randomly, but for a specific project of some use. But you could begin with a tin of beads and some string- a shoelace, perhaps. Our disabled child used to 'string' beads on a pipe cleaner, which I had anchored a bead at the end so she could not pull it off. A pipe cleaner was easier for her to handle. When she had a pipecleaner of beads, I would bend it into a shape- a circle, a heart, a star. one of my favourite Christmas ornaments is a bell shaped from a pipecleaner of beads she worked. Our beads came from thrift shop finds- they used to be popular in macrame projects.
You could duplicate the window curtain, or make a door curtain as a family project- if you have a place where you could keep the project out for a while, safe from babies, each family member could work on their own string, or everybody could add whatever, as they have time.
You could make jewelry, elastic string and beads are fairly inexpensive (when we orphan-hosted, we made our four boys bracelets with our phone numbers on them using number beads, interspersed by coloured beads). Youtube videos explaining how to tie these off abound. You could make key chains or Christmas ornaments or cell phone charms or something to hang from a car rear view mirror.
Mainly, you want a project involving stringing beads in a simple pattern of the child's design, the more useful the better, keeping in mind that a beaded window curtain is our standard for useful here. IOW, don't overthink the useful aspect.
Supplies are far more readily available to us than they were to mothers in CM's time, and not much more expensive in terms of real dollars.
Amazon has wooden cylinder beads, dark or light , round and oval beads of coloured wood, holes large and small (so does ebay, in an impossible variety of colours, shapes, sizes, in wood, plastic, glass and stone or clay).
You could use hemp cord or cotton embroidery thread.
You could even resort to macaroni. Dye it by shaking in a bag with a few drops of rubbing alcohol and food coloring, spreading to dry on waxed paper. I prefer more permanent supplies, and don't recommend macaroni jewelry. But for early practice in stringing colored beads in a pattern, this may be an economical alternative. I have a cupboard over my bathroom sink which is missing a door. I am thinking a beading project to hang over a shelf or small cupboard indoors might be a useful way to display a child's beading craft while improving the appearance of a messy shelf or a bathroom cupboard missing a door.
Up next, the smyrna rug.
More here as well.