Guest Post: Create a mini-reef “diorama”

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The challenge for our family with crafting is that my boys are four years apart. Finding a project that both enjoy can be challenging and sometimes it’s easier to find a project that can be done in two parts together. For this craft, the younger one helped create the seaweed bowl, while the older one made the sea “creatures” to fit inside. The shells are real, but the starfish and sand dollar are painted salt dough. This idea came together from a whole whack of strange inspirations. First I was looking up different paper mache techniques for an upcoming birthday pinata. I came across the recipe for paste from this tutorial on Carolyn’s HomeWork blog for a really pretty wool bowl.

This bowl makes a fabulous starting point for an ocean-themed reef “diorama.” The wool bowl, made with green wool yarn looks so much like seaweed that is is a wonderful place for shells an.

Coral Reef Craft

This is how you and your kids can make an mini-reef “diorama”

You will need:
Yarn / Wool (We used nubbly soft yarn in a variegated green colour to look more natural.Note that in Canada we say wool where Americans would say yarn. However, strips of raw wool would also look cool with this project.)
Green Paint
Watercolour Paint set or acrylics in Gray, Purple, White and Brown

Ocean Crafts

1. Tear the newspaper into short strips (long strips don’t lay flat)

Ocean Crafts

2.  Make paper mache paste.

Combine ½ cup flour and 2 cups cold water in a bowl.

Boil 2 cups of water in a sauce pan and add the flour and cold water mixture.

Bring to a boil again.

Remove from heat and add 3 tablespoons of sugar IF you are planning on keeping the excess for another project. This paste keeps well in a closed container but there is a possibility of molding and the sugar helps to keep that from happening.

Let cool. The paste will thicken as it cools.

3. Make a small layer of paper mache on the “top” of the balloon (the side opposite the knot) to strengthen what will be the bottom of the bowl.

Add as many layers as you like allowing them to dry between layers. We only did one but our bowl certainly doesn’t have much strength to it.

(Note: Were I to do this again I would actually make a wool layer there first, then a paper layer over that so that the inside of the bowl would be prettier when removed from the balloon. You can see in the photo that I tried to add a layer inside the bowl after it set but that was much too fussy.)

Ocean Crafts

4. Pre Cut lengths of wool in both long layers (reaching 3/4 the way around the LENGTH of the balloon) and short layers (1/2 way around the length).

Lay them so that they will be easy to grab with sticky fingers. My job was to separate them and hand them to the boys because the second their hands get goo on them the grabbing of the wool turns into a nightmare.

Lay the wool strips across the “top” of the balloon.

(Note: I am saying the “top” of the balloon because usually if you were tying a helium balloon to a string or drawing a balloon you think of the part across from the knot as the top So just to be clear that is the part we are covering.) We laid the longest strips across the middle and used shorter ones as we went up the sides but you can lay them however you like the look of.

MAKE SURE you do at least a few of them in different directions and not all completely side by side to make the bowl stronger. Smooth out the ends of the wool against the balloon to create a wispy look. The edges should not be uniform, the ends of the wool finishing in different places is what makes it look more naturally like seaweed swirling in the water when it’s finished.

Ocean Crafts


5. Take a few pieces of mucky wool and make a circle on what will be the bottom of the bowl. This will help it to stand on a flat table surface when finished.

Paper Mache


6. Allow a LOT of time for the bowl to dry. If you want the swirly look like our bowl has then remove the balloon before it is completely dry and it will sort of collapse in on itself. This wasn’t on purpose (we left it overnight and it seemed dry “enough” apparently so the boys took out the balloon early) and to make the bowl more of a round shape I would have left it for two days at least. We actually placed it in front of the heating vent so I’m not sure how long it would take to dry without. DEFINITELY 48 hours at least. Wool holds a lot of muck!

7. When the bowl is completely dry touch it up by painting any newspaper that shows in a similar green to the wool so that it blends in.

ocean craft


8. Make your salt dough. The ingredients are simple:

1 cup Salt
1 cup Flour
1/2 cup water

Dump them all in a bowl and mix well with your hands. You could use a spoon or a fork to mix it until it starts to come together in a ball.

You can judge if you think you need a little more water. It should be a similar consistency to play dough.

8. Mold the dough into any shape of sea creature you would like. This was great fun. When we decided our grass Easter basket would be an Ocean Bowl we spent some time going through our ocean books to find the creatures we thought we could make. The pieces we came up with were starfish, sand dollars and coral. We found some close up photos of dried starfish and I used to collect sand dollars when I was a kid growing up on the ocean, so I know that they lose their spines and get fairly smooth.

PLEASE DO NOT gather these animals from the ocean and dry them! They are alive and should be left alone in their natural environment. Our oceans are precious resources and they are not doing well so they need all the help we can give them. I also encourage you to not buy dried ocean creatures from a store as that encourages a trade in ocean artifacts.This is a great time to discuss how important it is to keep the ecosystem intact!

We used a pointy thing (skewer) to poke little holes and dents in fancy designs into the dough when we had a shape we liked. The trick to getting them look realistic is to make them pretty flat and not “puffy”.

They will still look weird until you paint them but the idea is to not make them too perfect. They should be off center, a bit misshapen etc.

Nature is rarely perfectly symmetrical.

9. Bake at about 200F (or 100C) for 1 – 3 hours depending on the thickness of your pieces.

10. Allow to cool completely!

11. Use paint with a lot of water to do sort of a “wash” over the surface of the sea creatures. The dough is porous and will soak up the water into the crevasses allowing more colour to pool in the nooks and crannies and giving a realistic colour. Just experiment until you get a look you like but remember that you can always add more, but you can’t add less! build the colour up in layers a teensy bit at a time. Allow to dry.

ocean craft

salt dough activity


Note: We didn’t “protect” our pieces with any sort of coating both because we don’t use toxic substances in our house and because they look more natural without the gloss that most coatings would create. I’m sure they will not last forever, but that’s perfectly OK.

12: Arrange your pretty sea creatures in your seaweed basket and Oooh and Ahhh over it lots! Make sure you put it front and center in your home so that people can see it. It makes for a great conversation piece!

ocean craft

Guest post by  Andrea K. Bell. Visit Andrea’s beautiful website Tapestri , or visit her on Facebook.


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