Mechanical Dancing Butterfly Toy Class

I had the great pleasure recently of taking my very first class with Bethany Carlson-Mann, a new teacher at Castle in the Air.  She taught us how to make a mechanical dancing doll toy.  The base of our toy was a wooden cigar box.

Wooden cigar box and spun cotton pieces

Wooden cigar box and spun cotton pieces

Bethany got the cigar boxes from the Piedmont Tobacconist, which sells them for dirt cheap.  These boxes are beauties, with their dovetail joints.

The doll part of our toy was going to be a butterfly.  The three white pieces of spun cotton you see in the preceding photo were the three sections of our butterfly.  We started out by painting and decorating our cotton pieces.

Painted spun cotton butterfly body parts

Painted spun cotton butterfly body parts

Painted mid section of butterfly body

Painted mid section of butterfly body.

Top view

Top view. As you can see, I suck at painting with a steady hand!

To help disguise my less-than-perfect paint job, I decided to add some gold glitter:

Adding glitter

Decorating with glitter

For the third section of my butterfly body, I tried painting stripes after I saw a fellow student do a beautiful job on hers.  But I scrapped that idea soon enough and ended up deciding to add tiny spots of yellow to my black painted spun cotton “pine cone” piece:

Adding yellow specks

Adding yellow specks

It was a simple enough touch that I could manage :0)

I forgot to take a photo of my ladybug’s head while I was painting it, but here it is with the antennae and eyes attached:

Butterfly head with antennae and eyes attached

Butterfly head with antennae and eyes attached

The antennae were pipe cleaners that we curled on one end.  To attach them and the eyes to the spun cotton head, we had to use an awl to make holes like these:

Holes for legs made with an awl

Holes for legs made with an awl

The pipe cleaners for the legs were vintage and had alternating thick and thin sections.  I added glue to the holes I had made and inserted the stems, which I had cut to the proper length, for the legs.

Butterfly thorax with legs attached

Butterfly thorax with legs attached

The three parts the butterfly body were then attached using pieces of wooden dowels/skewers that were glued and inserted into additional holes that we’d made.  A skewer was then inserted into the bottom of the butterfly’s thorax, which was then inserted through a hole in the top of the cigar box.

Body sections of butterfly all attached

Body sections of butterfly all attached

To make the wings, we had a choice of papers to use.  I chose a translucent white paper that Bethany had saved that came with the cigar boxes she had purchased for our toys.  The paper had a spiderweb design embossed on it.

Translucent paper with spiderweb design

Translucent paper with spiderweb design

I decided to sandwich a piece of fine red crepe paper in between two pieces of this translucent paper for each section of each wing.

Cut pieces of paper for wing

Cut pieces of paper for wing

Butterfly wing "sandwich" with bent wire glued on

Butterfly wing “sandwich” with bent wire glued on

The piece of bent wire you see in the above photo was glued on so that a short length protruded out. The wire would be used to attach the wing to the butterfly’s body.

The second section of the wing was glued over the wire to form a single butterfly wing.

Single butterfly wing, all completed

Single butterfly wing, all completed

It wasn’t until after I had completed my second wing, that I discovered I had glued the pieces of the wing together incorrectly.  The wing pieces should have been glued together so that the finished wings would end up being mirror images of each other, but as you can see, I glued them together exactly the same:

Completed butterfly wings

I didn’t have enough time to redo them, so I left them as is.

Bethany gave each student a little basket.  I glued some fabric flowers on to the basket.

Basket of flowers

Basket of flowers

I attached the basket and a paper umbrella to my butterfly by wrapping her legs around them.

Butterfly with umbrella and basket

Butterfly with umbrella and basket of flowers

Then I made holes in the body of the butterfly and glued the wires of my wings to the thorax.

My finished butterfly:

Completed butterfly

Completed butterfly

My glue job on my wings was not the best, and you can see small air pockets where the coverage was uneven.

Less than perfect butterfly wings

Less than perfect butterfly wings

For the cigar box itself, we lined the inside with decorative paper.  For the back and bottom, I chose this colorful image that Bethany had photocopied from a children’s book:

Decorative paper photocopied from children's book

I measured the interior of my box and trimmed the paper to size.  Using craft glue, I adhered the image to the inside of my box.

Lining the interior of cigar box

Lining the interior of cigar box

The only problem was, the image came up short, so I used some decorative washi tape to fill in the bare spot.

Using washi tape to fill in the gap

Using washi tape to fill in the gap

Next, I lined my image and the outside edges of my box with gold Dresden trim.  Then I lined the two sides of the interior with paper from a vintage dictionary.

Lining the side with dictionary paper 1

Lining the side with dictionary paper 2

Remember the gap inside my box that I covered up with washi tape?  Well, I also lined it with some of the Dresden.

Lining gap with Dresden trim

Lining gap with Dresden trim

I debated whether or not to line the inside top of the box and decided not to.  If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have.

Unlined inside roof of cigar box

I did however, line the outside back of my box with some scrapbook paper after I got home.

Outside back of cigar box lined with scrapbook paper

I decided to leave the rest of the outside unlined to show off the beauty of the cigar box, as is.

My cigar box, all lined:

Cigar box, all lined with paper and Dresden

Cigar box, all lined with paper and Dresden

Bethany gave each student four wooden pieces for the feet of our box.  I ended up gluing mine at home after class.

Cigar box with wooden feet glued on

Cigar box with wooden feet glued on

The hardest part in the construction of our toy was the mechanism itself.  Prior to our class, Bethany had drilled small holes on the top and either side of each box and had inserted dowel rods through the holes, so that one rod ran vertically through the top, and the other rod ran horizontally through both sides.

Each student was given two slices of cross-sections of a tree branch.  One of the pieces had a hole drilled right through the very center.  This piece would serve as the platform that rotated at the top part of the mechanism.  The other wooden piece had a hole drilled off-centered, about midway between the center and the edge.  This latter piece would be the part of the mechanism that would lift and rotate the platform piece.

To put the mechanism together, we removed one end of the horizontal dowel from the box and glued and inserted it into the hole of the wood slice that had been drilled off-centered.

Gluing the wood slice to the dowel rod

Gluing the wood slice to the dowel rod

We then reinserted the dowel back into the hole.

Dowel rod reinserted back into hole

We glued a wooden stopper to the left end of the rod on the outside of the box and a wooden domino piece to the right end of the rod to serve as the hand crank.  (For lefties, the stopper and the hand crank would have been switched around to the opposite sides, so that the crank would be on the left side of the box).

Stopper on one end of dowel rod

Stopper on one end of dowel rod

Domino hand crank attached

Domino hand crank attached

The crank was supposed to consist of two pieces.  I left the second piece behind in class and had to find a substitute for it from my craft stash when I got home.  Here is my hand crank, all glued together:

Hand crank, all glued together

(Pardon the less than perfect glue job).

The key was having everything – the dowel rod, the wood slice, the stopper, and the handle of the crank – move as one unit, so we had to let all the glue dry before we could proceed.

While everything was drying, we took our other wood slice, the one with the hole drilled through the middle, and decorated it.  I glued a ladybug, some toadstools, flowers, and moss onto mine before gluing the entire “platform” to the vertical dowel.

Close-up of decorated wood slice

We had to make sure that the two wood slices were resting against each other so that the mechanism would work properly.

Bethany let us choose a vintage wooden spool of thread from her stash for the vertical rod to run through the top of our box.  We decorated the top of our cigar box with more embellishments – paper and fabric flowers and leaves.  I wrapped the stems of my flowers around the spool of thread.

Decorating the top of the cigar box

Decorating the top of the cigar box

The last step was gluing on our butterfly to the dowel protruding from the top of our box.

Mechanical dancing butterfly toy, all put together

Mechanical dancing butterfly toy, all put together

After I got home, I decided to dress up the part of the dowel that was protruding from the top.  I took some paper flowers that I had in my craft stash and wrapped three of them around the rod.  They also served to draw attention away from the paint splatter that I had gotten onto the dowel by accident.

Decorating the dowel rod

Decorating the dowel rod

Here’s how the top of my cigar box looked after everything was done:

Decorated top of cigar box

I think I could have done a better job decorating the top, but nevertheless, I’m happy with the end result.

My mechanical dancing butterfly toy, all finished:

Mechanical dancing butterfly toy, all finished

A close-up view of the mechanism inside the cigar box:

Interior mechanism of mechanical dancing butterfly toy

Another view of the butterfly:

Close-up of butterfly

Close-up of butterfly

I made a video showing how this toy operates.  Notice how the butterfly spins and rises up, while the ladybug and toadstools on the wood slice spin around.

In order for the mechanism to work smoothly, you really want your wood slices to be as round as possible.  The wood slice in my toy that was mounted on the horizontal dowel rod didn’t have that nice smooth, round shape, so when I set the mechanism in motion, the movement was kind of choppy.  But I was able to get it to work, so I’m happy.

This was a fun class, that’s for sure.  Thank you, Bethany, for teaching it!  I hope to take more of your classes at Castle in the Air :0)

You can see more of Bethany’s work here.

What have you been up to lately?  Please share in the comments.

 

 

 

About Serena Y Lee

Serena worked in the biotech industry for 18 years before leaving to pursue her life purpose - to live in freedom with creativity and simplicity. Her love for baking, creativity, and story-telling compelled her to start blogging to share her ideas with a wider audience.

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