Backyard Art Fairs & Tie Dye Parties

Tie dye, anyone? When my kids were little, we had the neighbors over for tie dye parties. In the backyard, we dunked T-shirts, pillow cases, and socks into big buckets of dye. My husband Tim monitored the garden hose as we rinsed the colors out. The alley flowed with turquoise, magenta, and yellow. The clothesline sported blue pinwheels and splotches of sunshine.

roaming-the-planet on Visualhunt

Alison Sherwood is a woman after my own heart! When sharing about her, I was struck by how much we have in common.

Back in the day, I, too, enjoyed doing paper projects. I kept my baby books up to date, did scrapbooks for each child, even made personalized recipe books for my girls as adults, brimming with family recipes and traditions. I chronicled family events in both pictures and memoirs.

I’ve posted my artwork on Etsy and created many others, some on commission. My favorites are a pen-and-ink tree drawing and a “Mother Goose” landscape depicting 68 nursery rhymes.

I produced handmade gifts, too, from small quilts to framed drawings to greeting cards. Tim cut wooden animals with his jigsaw and I painted them for selling at craft fairs: pigs, geese, and roosters on a stick, back when they were popular in the 1980s.

As a mom, I went all-out with themed birthday parties and thrived on making art with my kids. We headed to the Milwaukee Art Museum for Family Sundays.

The annual tie dye parties included an Art Fair. Each year had a theme, such as oceans, stories, or multi-cultural traditions. We set up easels and paint jars, and provided piles of materials for a multitude of art and crafts, from bread dough sculptures to eggshell mosaics to pastel murals.

We invited the entire neighborhood—school and church families, too. At least 70 people attended. One year, thanks to my dear friend Norma, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel even paid us a visit and featured the fair in the Neighbors section of the newspaper (1996)! At the easel (left) is my daughter Audrey (4) and friend Amy. At the other easel (right) are my 2 daughters, Kaia (6) and Audrey (4).

A favorite yearly activity was making Potato Heads. Another shout-out to Family Fun Magazine–which arrived monthly in my mailbox. We had no internet magazines back then.

COPYRIGHT © 2018 HANDS ON: AS WE GROW; KiwiCo, Inc. © 2018

My daughters and I also hosted “Camp Moore” in the summer and invited friends for craft days. Not to mention an endless array of projects the kids made year round: papier mache snakes, sock snowmen, cardboard vehicles, Lego skyscrapers, tempera portraits, woven place mats, 3-D tissue paper fish, and a tortilla chip mural, to name a few. Yes, tortilla chips! That was Kaia’s idea.

I’d like to take a moment to distinguish between art and crafts. They’re not the same. But they can also mean different things depending on the context.

For my purposes, I’m defining them this way. In general, art is something unique—created with thought, purpose, and some free reign. A craft is something that usually looks like everybody else’s work, often dictated step by step. Deemed fail-proof.

However, there can be some variety with certain crafts, such as stamping greeting cards or making scrapbooks. People can get very creative with these, even turn them into works of art. Woodworking is considered a craft, but with beautiful results in the hands of a skilled artisan.

But have you ever walked down an elementary school hallway and seen dozens of identical paper penguins on the wall? That’s a “fail-proof” craft. NOT art by any definition.

Have you ever walked into a kindergarten classroom and seen 25 identical 12” x 18” crayoned U.S. flags? That was my school. The room where imagination was squashed to death. Remember? On the back side of one, out of sight, was the flagpole and 3 service men with hands on hearts.

Even though the flags were freehand drawings, I put them in the “craft” category, since no creative thought was involved. They all looked the same.

I’m not saying crafts are all bad. I’ve done both, some with my kids. Even at the art fairs we hosted, we had both crafty and artsy projects.

But if we want to teach children to truly create, to entwine thought with skill and initiative, if we want imaginations to flourish, we should give our kids 4 things. Watch for my next post . . .

In the meantime, do you have a favorite item you made as a child? Or as an adult? Something you’re proud of?

I’ve love to hear from you!

Ever musing,


By clicking “subscribe,” you agree with the terms of the privacy policy noted on the bottom of our website.













14 thoughts on “Backyard Art Fairs & Tie Dye Parties

  1. So to play devil’s advocate, if painters are copying the masters’ masterpieces, is it art or craft?? 😉

    I have a little wooden art craft that I made in Vacation Bible School when I was probably in first grade (I say art craft because it had a similar form to everyone else, but I got to choose the picture and verse that I included so it was unique 🙂 [possibly still a craft though])

    My girls, now in high school and college, have hung that little piece in their room every day for years. In fact, they just recently took all their decorations down to repaint the walls, but that piece was the first one to go back up.

    1. Regarding your devil’s advocate question, I was waiting to see if someone else wanted to weigh into that. I believe when artists do that, they’re focusing on the original artist’s technique. The focus is definitely on learning and process, not necessarily the end result. They are learning the “craft” of painting so they can grow in their own artistic abilities.

      How sweet that your daughters appreciate your little VBS creation from long ago!

  2. So, when I was in first grade at Washington Elementary School in Battle Creek, MI, each student in the class was given a round styrofoam ball, a little bit of glitter, a pile of sequins, some Elmer’s glue, and a copy of our first grade school photo. Using these materials, we were instructed to “create” a Christmas tree ornament for our parents. I proudly put together my little ornament and with much anticipation presented it to mom and dad. Being the dutiful and loving parents they were, my folks made a big hoopla out of that ornament, to the point that it took a prominent position on the tree every year. Well, one year when I came home from college for Christmas I didn’t see it on the tree. Lo and behold, someone put it on the back of the tree. I was devastated, but determined. I put it right back to where it belonged! That experience started a new tradition, which lasted well into my 50s. My folks would hide the ornament somewhere on the tree and when we came home to visit I would have to search for it and then put it back in its rightful position, front and center! After dad passed away and mom moved to Arizona with two of my sisters I figured that was the end of the tradition. But, would you believe that every year, mom makes sure that the now faded, ugly little ornament (with the photo of that really cute 6 year old!!!) gets put front and center on the Christmas tree and that a photo of the decorated tree gets send to me so I will know that my creative gift to mom and dad is still there!!!

    1. Funny how one little first grade ornament prompted and spurred on such a fun family Christmas tradition for so many years!

  3. Wow, how wonderful! And what great memories for your children and all those neighborhood kids. It’s pretty nifty—how you use your gifts and your love of art to draw others in and bless them. And can I just say that you are courageous. 70 people in your back yard! Karumba!

    1. I don’t think all 70 were there at the same time. It was more like an open house; people came and went. And my oldest daughter was probably the catalyst for having so many people. Her middle name is Party Hostess. 🙂 Her hospitality and guest lists were endless.

  4. I have very fond memories of high school art class. I loved the pen and ink castle with tissue paper. I also love our wood carvings, and later some stained glass. Thank you for the joy!

    1. I’m so grateful that art class brought so much joy to you! My joy came from seeing what students could do using the same materials while employing their own perspectives. I loved watching the developing of 20+ castles that were so varied and unique!

  5. I really enjoyed this post, Laura. I do remember one of those tie dye parties and marveled at how your entire family was involved in welcoming one and all to enjoy this fun project. I am definitely more of a crafter than an artist….I don’t remember any childhood creations other than crocheting afghans and doing macrame while in college. I am proud of scrapbooks completed for my mom, my husband, my sons, and five grandchildren. I am hoping to do one for myself but am finding it difficult to get started. It is fun discovering interesting anecdotes as well as uncovering facts concerning our family lives and heritage to include in the scrapbooks. I have done paper crafts, made ornaments, and cowboy/Indian villages with my grandchildren which they enjoyed when they were younger, but now they are much more interested in drawing……becoming more artistic than crafty!? Drawing seems to come as easily to them as it is to my husband and sons. My mother-in-law became very artistic later in life as an oil painter and china painter which brought us all a lot of joy. There was a time it seemed she painted flowers and/or scripture verses on just about everything, including lampshades, walls, and even trees in her yard! So maybe there is still time for me to learn to be artistic……but if not, I’ll enjoy doing crafts and marveling at the artistic gifts of others!

    1. Making those family scrapbooks is definitely something to be proud of! I hope you continue with that as you learn more family anecdotes and information.

      If you do feel compelled to start painting like your mother-in-law did, you might also be inspired by Grandma Moses who started her painting career at age 78! She was born in 1860, started painting regularly in the mid-1930s, and painted prolifically for the next 20 years in her homey folk art style. She lived to 101.

      It’s never too late to start creating!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *