Delanie Holton-Fessler remembers hanging out inside cardboard boxes when she was a kid, just for fun, and playing pretend in the woods of her family’s suburban Chicago property. When she visited her Colorado grandparents near Red Feather Lakes, “Grandma had a big basket of junk that she would put out for all the cousins,” she remembers. “There was always an attitude of creative play.”
She brought this concept to the business she started in 2014, an arts and crafts workshop studio called The Craftsman & Apprentice. Now, Holton-Fessler offers her favorite kids’ projects to families at home through her book, Maker Camp. We talked to the author and mother of two about her latest effort to get kids creating.
CP: What defines a heritage craft? Have you seen more families turn to heritage crafts during the pandemic?
DHF: In Americana, heritage crafts are traditional arts and crafts that families have done for years, like hand-sewing and woodworking—practices that help them develop practical skills. I have noticed an uptick in interest in these kinds of crafts during the pandemic, in a time that feels slower. These kinds of experiences can get the kids off screens and help them connect with one another.
CP: There is a fire-building activity in the book that might raise some parents’ eyebrows. Can you comment on your view of kids and risk-taking?
DHF: I think we have developed a culture of keeping kids safe, but that doesn’t allow kids to assess risks. Kids have an inherent ability to learn how to control their own internal safety. Fire is dangerous, but when they are able to have some control over it, [with adult supervision] they feel the risk inside. We start the project by lighting a match, and it helps to feel a little bit of the danger themselves, instead of hearing an abstract “no.”
CP: What advice can you give parents who wish to nurture lifelong creativity in their kids?
DHF: I think one thing we do as parents is control kids’ production too much. For kids, it is so much more about the process than about the outcome. Try to stay in the process with your kids without taking over. Ask them things like, “How did that go?” Creativity is not about making a perfect product; it’s about asking what is possible and being flexible. I always tell kids I have piles and piles of art that didn’t turn out, but I learned what to do different next time.
CP: What is one project in your book that gets kids and adults excited every time?
DHF: We chose 20 projects for the book that have been fan favorites over seven years [at The Craftsman & Apprentice]. The most popular has been the junk robot. It lends itself to open-ended creativity, plus there is the building and design aspect. When we make them during kids’ parties, the adults are like, “I want to make one!”
CP: What project in your book is great for beginners, or for families who don’t do a lot of crafts?
DHF: The cardboard project—you just use what you have around you. When kids have the resource of junk material, they go to town! It’s open-ended and there is not a lot of set-up.
CP: What is your hope for families that pick up your book?
DHF: I hope it serves as a resource guide. I like how much support it provides to set up a space for, and culture of, creativity. I hope families can get back to something that feels simple.
Try your hand at a simple sewn Stuffie, one of the projects from Holton-Fessler’s Maker Camp: Heritage Crafts and Skill-Building Projects. Find instructions here.