Phantastical Phoenix

fantastical phoenixThe legendary bird of fire, wisdom, and regeneration is once again transformed…into an awesome box puppet with moveable head!

We read The Girl Who Drew a Phoenix by Demi (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008). Feng Huang finds a phoenix feather and captivated by the phoenix’s power. She decides to use her artistic abilities to create the perfect phoenix drawing, and capture some of the power of the phoenix. But her drawings are clumsy, and her friends laugh at her. The Queen Phoenix, seeing Feng Huang in need, flies to earth and allows Feng Huang to practice drawing her. But the drawings still don’t look right. The Queen then sends Feng Huang on a mission to learn from the phoenixes of Wisdom, Clear Sight, Equality, Generosity, and Right Judgement. When her journey is complete, Feng Huang is able to draw a phoenix so amazing, it soars into the sky, carrying the artist and her friends on its back.

You’ll need:

  • 2 rectangles of red felt (approximately 4.75″ x 11″)
  • 1 phoenix eye template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • A small square of yellow or gold metallic poster board (approximately 2.5″ x 2.75″)
  • 3 red and/or gold sparkle stems
  • Red masking tape
  • 1 small feather in red
  • 1 triangle of red felt (approximately 2.25″ tall)
  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 6”)
  • Red construction paper
  • Phoenix decorating supplies (we used red construction paper, sparkle stems, red pipe cleaners, cellophane, large gold embossed foil seals, small red feathers, red & gold embossed foil paper, gold wrapping paper, textured gold paper strips, and gold & red curling ribbon)
  • A large rectangle of red cellophane (approximately 9.5″ x 20″)
  • 2 pieces of red crepe paper streamer (approximately 18″)
  • 2 strips of yellow poster board for legs (approximately, 1.5″ x 9″)
  • Scissors, tape, stapler, and glue stick for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

The phoenix puppet consists of 2 parts: 1) A sock puppet head; and 2) A box body that conceals the puppeteer’s arm. We’ll start with the head. Stack 2 rectangles of felt on top of one another and round one end of the stack. The rounded end will eventually be your phoenix’s head.

phoenix fabricAfter some debate about sewing vs. hot glue, we decided to sew the 2 felt pieces together. Lacking a sewing machine, we hand stitched, using double thread. Katie used a running stitch, I went with a classic whip stitch. It took a looooong time (like, 6 hours!). But in the end, when you turned the sewn heads right-side out, they looked great and held up to quite a bit of pummeling. However, if I was to do this project again, I would purchase pairs of red socks instead.

sewn phoenix headTo make your phoenix’s crest, bunch the bottoms of 3 sparkle stems together. Wrap red masking tape around the bunch, then use the barrel of a marker to give the free ends of the sparkle stems a little curl. Cut a pair of eyes from the template, and a beak from the yellow (or gold metallic) poster board. Then hot glue the crest, eyes, and beak to the top of the head.

head step 1Hot glue a red feather onto the masking tape to cover it, then hot glue a small triangle of felt over the bottom of the feather to complete the look.

crest coverage Set the head aside for a moment – it’s time for the body! Cut square openings in the ends of a box. Make sure to keep these openings fairly wide. If they are too narrow, they’ll rub against your arm while you’re manipulating your puppet.

holes in boxUse red construction paper to cover 2 sides of the box – the top of the box, and the side that faces outwards (i.e. towards your “audience”).

paper on boxNext, cut a tail and a wing out of construction paper. You only need one wing (which will eventually go on the side that faces your “audience”).  I cut my wing from 5.75″ x 10.5″ rectangle of red construction paper, and gave it a pointy shape.

wingThe tail was cut from a 3.65″ x 13″ rectangle of construction paper. Like the wing, I gave it a slightly pointy look.

tailI recommend decorating the wing and tail before you attach them to the box (because it’s much easier for kids to decorate an object that’s flat on the table). For decorating the wing, tail, and front & back of the box, we offered red construction paper, red and gold sparkle stems, red pipe cleaners, cellophane, small red feathers, red and gold embossed foil paper, gold wrapping paper, textured gold paper strips, and gold and red curling ribbon, and large gold embossed foil seals. In addition to these items, each tail had a big piece of red cellophane and 2 red crepe paper streamers.

To simulate feathers on the phoenix’s chest, I used this crazy fluffy yarn from Michael’s Craft store. I gave each kid a 3 foot piece and told them to wind it around and around the neck opening of their boxes (and secure it with glue or tape). It looked great!

fluffy yarnWhen you’re done decorating, attach the wing and tail to the body with hot glue. The tail needs to attach above the rear end opening! That way, the tail will hide your arm when it’s inside the puppet.

tail attachmentThe final step – phoenix legs! Cut toe shapes out of the bottom of 2 yellow poster board strips. Tab the bottom of each strip to create a foot, then tab the other end of the strip and hot glue it the bottom of the box. Done!

To operate your puppet, slide your arm through the openings in the box. The slide the phoenix head onto your hand. Tuck the end of the head into the box. The head doesn’t attach to the body (so later, if you want to discard the body and simply use the head like a sock puppet, you can). Wrap your free arm around the bottom of the box so it looks like you’re cradling your phoenix in your arms. Or, you can just carry your phoenix around like this adorable little guy did!

phoenix friend

Herbal Magic

amuletHave issues with goblins? Need a peaceful night’s sleep? Are you seeking wisdom and courage? This herbal amulet is just what you need! We made these amulets at a Robin Hood/ medieval history event, but they would also work splendidly at a Harry Potter program.

You’ll need:

  • A 3.5″ mini organza drawstring bag (I bought mine at Oriental Trading Company)
  • 1 tissue (I used the smaller, 8″ x 8″ square kind)
  • herbal amulet list template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper
  • A 30″ piece of ribbon or string
  • A selection of dried herbs (more on this below!)

After doing a little research on medieval herbal lore, we created a list of herbs and their purported properties. I purchased the herbs in bulk, which is much cheaper than buying them in individual bottles.

scrollAt the event, kids checked off which herbs they wanted in their amulets. Then a student volunteer helped the kids put dried herbs on squares of tissue. A little herb goes a looooong way, so just a sprinkle is needed – especially if kids select multiple herbs. Here’s about how much you want in your amulet in total:

tissue and herbsNext, bunch the tissue around the herbs and slide the bundle into a mini organza drawstring bag. Roll up the herbal list and slide it in the bag too. Tighten the drawstring and tie a 30″ piece of ribbon or string around the top of the bag. Hang the amulet around your neck.

finished amuletThat’s it! You’re now ready to repel bad spirits, fight curses, attract money, and scare away thieves! At the very least, you will smell quite, quite interesting.


Many thanks to the Savory Spice Shop in Princeton for donating the dried lavender in the photo! Mmmm…lavender…

Quill Pens

quill pensNeed a simple project for a big event? Perhaps these quill pens will do the trick!

Last Saturday, Cotsen hosted a table at Princeton University’s Community & Staff Day event. Because of the big crowds, we needed something simple, fun, fast, and literary. Last year, we made flying books. This year, we decided to make Harry Potter-esque quill pens.

We were, of course, dressed in hats and robes. Even though it was 85 degrees out. Because comfort never comes before costuming, am I right?

wizard robes   You’ll need:

First, twist a sparkle stem into the desired shape. We offered 3 different shapes to choose from (even though some kids made their own shapes of course):

stemsPlace the sparkle stem on top of the feather. Then use masking tape to attach the feather and the sparkle stem to the the top of the pen. You can continue covering the pen with tape if you’d like (just make sure you don’t accidentally tape the cap on). Done!

pen from sideBelow you can see the layout of our event table, including a display pen floating in the upper right-hand corner of the photo. It’s always a good idea to have an example of the project displayed somewhere. That way, kids can see what to expect and grown ups can get a jump on gathering the appropriate supplies.

table side 1On the opposite side of our event tent was a mirror activity. Here, kids could use their newly-created quill pens to do some inverted writing and try their skills at mirror mazes.

table side 2The mirror activity is very simple to put together. We duct-taped 6 bookends to the back of an inexpensive door mirror and stood it up on the table.

mirrorSince we weren’t able to staff the mirror activities during the event, we printed up some display instructions (here are my mirror writing instructions). I put the instructions in a double-sided plastic display stand.

instructionsWe stacked practice paper and 4 types of mazes (which we found using Google images) on either side of the mirror. The mazes were really popular, even with older kids!

boys writingLooking for a few more simple Harry Potter crafts? Try these PVC pipe wands, or this wrist owl (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the owl example). Defense Against the Dark Arts enthusiasts might enjoy this boggart!