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DIY Pirate Accessories From Dollar Store Items

When my boys were little, they wanted to be pirates.  Henri especially – it was either a Viking or a pirate, depending on the day.  Inspired by Jake & the Neverland Pirates they drew treasure maps with large scrawled Xs and hid their toys and told me it was their secret booty.

I wanted to give them some real toys to play with, but all the pirate-themed sets I could find weren’t safe for my rambunctious 3-year-old.  I needed something childproof, and ideally inexpensive.  Finally, after catching him trying to use his sippy cup as a spyglass just like the Backyardigans had on one of their pirate-themed adventures, I had an idea.  One trip to the dollar store and some recycling-bin scrounging later, these fast, easy, and inexpensive toys were born.

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You’ll need:

I used items found locally, but the links above would work just as well 🙂

First up – the binoculars.  (Btw…yes I know pirates didn’t use binoculars.  But I couldn’t be certain my kids would use the spyglass as such, and not a makeshift sword, so I wanted to give them another sight-related option.  Feel free to leave this one out, or use it for a different play idea.  Perhaps an adventurer, bird-watcher or a fun game of I-spy?) For the binoculars you will need 2 clean toilet paper rolls, one cube from a dollar store packet of wooden craft shapes (about the size of a sugar cube), and a roll of electrical tape.  At my dollar store this tape comes in a set of 4 colors all packaged together.  You can use Washi or other decorative tapes on the outside, but I would not use them for the support structure.  If you want to use them, apply them at the end, for decoration.

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Step one is to cover the tubes in tape.  I had done these first, and only later realized I should have covered the exposed edges FIRST, THEN wrapped the sides.  When I get to the spyglass you’ll see I fixed that.  If you want to be smarter than me, fold little pieces of tape over the exposed edges first.  Be careful to not place the inside edge deeper than the width of the tape itself so you can cover it later.  I have enough tubes for 3 sets shown because my neighbor’s young son was also really into pirates and I wanted to surprise him with a set of his own.

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Step two is to cover 4 of the sides of the cube in tape.  Place the tape on one edge of the cube and just keep wrapping around the other 3 sides until you reach the beginning again. You’ll be left with 2 exposed edges that are opposite of each other.  Don’t worry about covering them, as they will be against the tube rolls and won’t show.

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Step three is to connect the rolls to the cube.  Place it a bit in from one edge so it looks like the bridge on a pair of binoculars.  Be sure to place the raw, exposed edge against the tape so the covered sides are what is shown.  Secure well with more tape.

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This is what it looks like when you have three rolls done.  I’d run out of tape, and had to go buy more to get more blue… d’oh.

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This is when I covered the edges and realized I should have done it first.  Oh well.  If you’re like me, and goofed, place short strips around the exposed edges.  This is for aesthetics as well as durability – no open edges means it’s less likely the toy will tear or fray after some hard toddler use.  Be sure to not place the inside edge deeper than the width of the tape itself (see: left roll).  Once you’ve covered the edge completely, cut a length of tape to fit on the INSIDE of the roll, and place it around, as close to the edge as possible, to cover and secure all the short edges (see: right roll).

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Then you can use another length to go around the outside, covering those short pieces too.  (This step is unnecessary if you covered the edges first).

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Here’s a completed pair of binoculars.  The new blue tape I’d bought was darker than the original, so it gave a nice finished look, almost like adjustable lenses.  Even though they’re ‘only’ toilet paper rolls, the rubbery tape gives them a surprising amount of durability.  Don’t get them wet, however, as the inside paper is still exposed.

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Next I made the spyglasses out of paper towel rolls (though you can cut down wrapping paper tubes too).  As you can see, for these I was smart enough to cover the ends FIRST, THEN wrapped the tubes.  It’s easier to see on the white than the blue, but when you wrap, ease the tape slightly sideways so you can move along the tube/roll.  Because the tapes are rubbery, they’ll stretch to where you want them to go, instead of tearing.

Finish covering the tubes by wrapping a piece of tape around the inside of the open edges to cover the short pieces.  Because you did them first here, you won’t have to add more tape on the outside.

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(This picture makes me laugh because it’s such a typical scene in my house – the dining room table covered with mom’s crafty projects, the kids’ placemats and a bag from the latest dollar store run for supplies.  *chuckles*  Plus seeing the boys’ bibs reminds me just how long ago I’d made these.  Those are their “I ❤ Dic Ann’s” bibs.  *grins*)

Once the spyglasses have been covered with tape, use glitter glue (from the dollar store) to paint on whatever decorative touches you’d like.  I went with gold grip handles on mine.  Set them aside to dry overnight, using drinking glasses or other supports to avoid messing up the wet glue.

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For the treasure chests you’ll need some kind of chest-like container.  I was lucky that my dollar store had these little wooden chests, but you can use any container or box you have on-hand, even an old Tupperware.  I bought strips of glitter gem tape to decorate mine, but you can use sticker letters, nail gems, paint, or anything you like.  (Oooh they would look INCREDIBLE painted to look like real, aged chests!)

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Finally, you’ll need some pirate booty.  I got these acrylic diamonds from my dollar store, as well as the strands of ‘Mardi Gras’ beads.  I would have loved to include gold coins, but couldn’t find any on that visit.  This set I found on Amazon has both gems and gold coins together, and would have been a great addition.

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Decorate the chests.  My kids picked their favorite colors of these jewel strips and I cut them to fit along the top edges, but you can do whatever you like to the outside of the chests.

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To secure the booty inside, we’ll be using a high-tack craft glue.  If you have older kids you can omit this step and leave the treasures removable, but since two of my recipients were 3 years old and some of the jeweled edges were sharp or choking hazards, I elected to make my treasures permanent.  Plus this would ensure there was always booty ready to be discovered.  Place a thick layer of glue in the bottom of the case, a little more than you think you’ll need because the wood absorbs some.  Begin placing your chains and jewels down into the glue so that they look like they were piled in haphazardly.  Use more glue as needed to secure any loose bits.  Feel around to make sure any sharp edges are embedded in the glue vs sticking out.  Every now and then hold up or shake the box to see if any bits move or shift, and keep adding glue into every nook and cranny.  I went crazy on the glue because I know my toddler will find any loose edge to play with.  Don’t worry about the white glue showing as it will dry clear.  Finally, once you think your treasures are secure, set it aside to dry at least overnight.  I dried mine overnight then held it upside down and shook it around, then added more glue to any of the bits that moved.  One of the chests was going to be a gift for a toddler and I didn’t want to worry about any accidents on account of it.

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Here’s how my collection turned out.  They made fun play accessories for around the house and costume day at school, and were surprisingly long-lasting.  The boys didn’t manage to get the gems and beads out of the boxes for at least a year and a half, and the chests, the spyglasses and even the binoculars are all still intact in our dress-up bin all these years later.

If you make any of these I hope they give your toddler/child just as much fun as my kids had with them.  🙂

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How to Make Minecraft Steve and Creeper Heads

Update: This tutorial is now also available as a downloadable PDF here. More details at bottom of this post.

It’s October!  That means it’s okay to start talking about Halloween, right?

It is according to Henri- when I woke him up for school this morning he gazed up at me sleepily and grinned “It’s October 1st.”  When I asked why that mattered he smiled even more adorably and said “Because now it’s almost Halloween.”

‘Almost’ is relative.  (He clearly gets his awareness of time from his father).  However his mention of it reminded me that I never showed last year’s costume.  So.  Now, with plenty of time to get ready for this year’s holiday… here’s how I made the boys Minecraft Steve and creeper heads, and how you can too!

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The boys decided for Halloween they wanted to dress up as their favorite Minecraft characters.  They do sell ready-made cardboard heads in stores but they are expensive, and there are a ton of tutorials online.  I looked at a few, then worked things out with what I had on hand, and what I was able to find at the dollar store.

What you’ll need:

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1. Yannick came home with 2 small boxes he’d found somewhere.  Grocery stores often have ones you can ask for, or as a last resort you can buy boxes.

2. I used two-sided tape to tape the outer flaps to the inner ones (not shown) so the inner flaps wouldn’t drop down onto the kids’ heads.  Then I used masking tape to fully tape over the top seam, both to securely close one end of the box, and to make the seams less visible once they were painted.

3. I cut the lower flaps off the boxes and then used the same masking tape to cover the exposed edges.  It would gave a cleaner look, vs the rough look of cut corrugated cardboard, plus was less likely to catch and tear, which could potentially pull off the paint.

4. I divided the 4 sides and top into even grids.  I looked at pictures of the characters online and mapped out roughly how many squares per color/face, and then used a ruler to divide the front (face side) into the grid.  Once the face was set, I carried the markings around the sides of the boxes, and finally the top.  Because the boxes are taller than wide, the top has fewer squares than the sides do.  That’s not what the characters SHOULD look like, but I didn’t think the kids would mind.

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5. Once the boxes were plotted I used a cutting blade (also from the dollar store) to slice out the eyehole sections.  For Steve, only the dark pupil area was cut out.  For the creeper it made more sense with where Henri’s face was to cut out the larger nose/mouth section.  After removing those areas I covered the exposed edges with masking tape.

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6. Finally it was time to start painting.  The paints and brushes were from – you guessed it – the dollar store.  The advantage with the Minecraft characters is that if you have to custom mix your paints to get the right colors, it doesn’t matter as much as it would in most projects if you have enough to complete your painting or if you need to mix more and risk not matching quite right.  The goal is to have an assortment of shades, so blending colors works perfectly.

That said, if you prefer a more accurate version, I have compiled this tutorial into a downloadable PDF (linked at the bottom of the post) which includes full-color screen-accurate charts for both characters, including the hex codes for each color so you can color-match accurately.

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Here’s the four sides of the painted creeper head.  I set the boxes to dry on a paper towel roll to hold them off my counter until the lower edge was dry.  (I held them up the same way while painting too).

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Same goes for our buddy Steve here.  I’d only had three shades of brown paint on-hand to work with, so I blended them together with some black for the hair, and then lightened with some white and a touch of red for the face.  (I’d actually done the face/neck/ears first, so then I could re-use the same paints but darken them for the hair.  That avoided any waste and kept the same unifying overall color tone for the head.)

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I had them both on the counter while I cleaned up the dining room table of all my painting gear.  Couldn’t resist this dramatic shot.  Look out!  He’s behind you!

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7. The next step was to seal the heads with an aerosol can of clear sealant.  I didn’t know what the weather would be like on Halloween and didn’t relish the idea of my hard work being ruined by a few drops of rain or thick snow settling on the kids’ heads.  I moved the heads into the garage and set them on some newspaper to protect the floor as I sprayed, and did a few coats, allowing each one to dry for about 20 minutes in between.  If you have a dry, open area outside or good, even weather you could do this next step outside, but here there was nowhere I could leave them unattended, so I had my garage door open the entire time I sprayed, and then left it about a foot open during the drying time between coats.  Once they were properly sealed and dry to the touch I brought them inside and allowed them to dry for a full day before the final steps. 

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The last bit in getting the masks ready to wear was to block out the open areas.  I bought a gauzy sheer black scarf (also at the dollar store!) and cut off squares large enough to fully cover the open areas.

8.  Using the same double-sided tape I secured the black fabric down around the cut areas.

9. Finally I covered all the exposed edges of the cloth with masking tape, making it doubly secure and hiding any rough, cut edges so they wouldn’t catch or fray.

With that, the masks were complete!  The black gauzy fabric looks opaque from the outside but from the inside it’s so sheer that it’s quite easy to see through it, making it perfect for this project.

From idea to finished product this project took about 4 days.  Halloween was on a Friday last year and Yannick brought me home the boxes on Monday night.  Tuesday I did everything up to/including painting.  On Wednesday night I sprayed the clear coat, and then on Thursday night I stuck the black fabric in.

They were pretty darn excited!

Halloween night they posed for a quick picture inside…

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…then it was time to go trick-or-treating.

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Can’t you almost hear the tick…tick…tick…BOOM? The heads held up beautifully and the boys felt like mini celebrities as they walked down the street and people from all over, even in passing cars, yelled out “Steve!” and “Creeper!” and gave them high-fives.  The heads have now become part of our dress-up box and are still in great condition, and they wore them for ‘Halloween Day’ at their camp this summer.

*Update in 2020: the heads are still going strong! The boys outgrew them of course, but we keep them as nerdy shelf displays and they look exactly the same as they did back when I made them.

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I hope this post shows you how easy and fast it can be to make your own Minecraft Steve and Creeper heads!

You can adapt the tutorial to make any Minecraft mob, and I’ve got an assortment compiled for you here.

As mentioned above, if you’d like an easy-to-print-and-save PDF version of this tutorial, I have made it available on Etsy here. The 9-page PDF includes full instructions with additional details, clear photographs, as well as game-accurate full-color numbered charts for all 5 sides of both character’s heads along with their hex codes for perfect color matching.

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More Minecraft-themed fun:

How to make a Minecraft Enderman head and diamond block trick-or-treat basket

How to make Minecraft Lootbags

How to make Minecraft Mob fondant cake/cupcake toppers

How to make a Minecraft cake

Throwing a Minecraft birthday party

Minecraft Zombie Charts

Minecraft Jack-O’-Lantern Charts