They always say to enjoy the process and not worry about the outcome. This project, out of any other one I've done with my girls, is the perfect embodiment of that idea. We spent the entire day dipping, re-dipping, mixing and brainstorming as we built these natural wood dyes. Talk about an invitation to play- their work table was full of little bowls and wooden people being dunked in fun new liquids all day! Any moment they felt bored or wandered by, up they climbed and dunked a little person or two into a new concoction and then continued on with their day. Sometimes they would work for 15 minutes, sometimes just 60 seconds- but it was an all day process that brought every person in my family together.
This activity was inspired by a story time we watched recently where the main character walked all throughout her city looking for different marrones (browns). In the book, some people had skin like cinnamon, others like chocolate or café con leche and it sparked a super sweet conversation with my kiddos where we tried to describe our own skin color. One of my kiddos said her skin is vanilla yogurt with a little strawberry jam mixed in and the other girl said her skin is the color of Simba...I didn't push it or try to change their answers, it was nice just having a creative conversation where we thought outside those restricting "black" and "white" color boxes constructed for us.
I had created natural wood stains before but never thought of trying to do it for peg people until it hit me the other day that our beautiful and beloved Grimms peg people all have the same milky light skin. I hadn't ever noticed until the other day and at once felt embarrassed that it had gone overlooked (hello, white privilege) and then quickly became determined to turn this into a lesson for myself and my kiddos.
Okay, enough chit chat- here's the idea.
You want unfinished peg people- I bought these on Amazon (they are actually pretty small but I still like them- in the future maybe I would go for ones that are 2.4" instead).
All of our dyes were made completely out of pantry ingredients. I cannot give you a specific formula because, like I said, we dipped and re-dipped and mixed all day. This is not a quick process where you get instant results- you need to work as a team and brainstorm!
Here are some of our most successful ingredients for our dyes:
--Strong brewed coffee-still warm. Reheat to dip whenever it cools. (nice brown colors)
--Strong black tea- let it brew for a full day. (brown with a touch of red)
--Red wine (purple- nice when layered with other dips)
--Balsamic vinegar (nice brown- richer color)
--Distilled vinegar and steel wool- let the steel wool sit in vinegar overnight- this creates the black/grey color and will definitely stain your fingernails and other things- use with caution.
--Tumeric/curry paste- just mix a little spice with some water to make a paste. (loved this- yellow color- great on its own or mixed)
--Chili powder paste- same as above- just mix with a little water. (Not super strong but nice when layered)
--Paprika paste (great reddish-brown color)
Strong coffee, tumeric and balsamic vinegar were probably my favorites and gave strong and consistent results with lots of dipping. We tried to soak and submerge some overnight and didn't the results we thought we would- dipping over and over is definitely a better system although more involved.
Once we loved the colors (trust me, you'll have some that don't turn out so beautiful but that is just part of the process) and they were totally dry, we sealed them to protect the wood. We used beeswax to seal them but you can use any wood oil- just make sure it is non-toxic and safe for your littles.
The best part about this activity? The conversations that are had as you work.
"Oooh I like this one with curry colored skin"
"Ooooh this one has paprika and cinnamon skin"
"This one is coffee with just a little bit of vinegar"
"This one has chili powder and coffee skin"
I didn't even think it would be as profound on my children as it was. It gave them the vocabulary for their little wooden people to become so much more than light or dark skin- now they have coffee, paprika, tea, curry, purpleywine and so much more.
Of course we practiced Spanish too!
Words we used:
Café, kah-feh, coffee
Canela, kah-neh-lah, cinnamon
Vinagre, beh-nah-greah, vinegar
Madera, mah-deh-rah, wood
Persona, pehr-soh-nah, person
Now comes the questions, do I paint them and give them clothes? Or leave them in all their naked glory?