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.
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.
To help disguise my less-than-perfect paint job, I decided to add some gold 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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
I attached the basket and a paper umbrella to my butterfly by wrapping her legs around them.
Then I made holes in the body of the butterfly and glued the wires of my wings to the thorax.
My finished butterfly:
My glue job on my wings was not the best, and you can see small air pockets where the coverage was uneven.
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:
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.
The only problem was, the image came up short, so I used some decorative washi tape to fill in the bare spot.
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.
Remember the gap inside my box that I covered up with washi tape? Well, I also lined it with some of the Dresden.
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.
I did however, line the outside back of my box with some scrapbook paper after I got home.
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:
Bethany gave each student four wooden pieces for the feet of our box. I ended up gluing mine at home after class.
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.
We then reinserted the dowel back into the 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).
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:
(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.
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.
The last step was gluing on our butterfly to the dowel protruding from the top of our box.
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.
Here’s how the top of my cigar box looked after everything was done:
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:
A close-up view of the mechanism inside the cigar box:
Another view of the 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.