As a knitter, quilter, and baker I am often asked when I began my creative adventures. It was far before I began knitting at 16 and even before sewing at 9. I was born into a creative life. The adults who lovingly molded me into the person I am today valued and honored a childhood of play. I have so many childhood memories of creating and enjoying lots of free, unstructured play. I was the child who was always playing and making things with water and flour paste, homemade play-dough made on the stove, and mud. I could go for hours with my craft supplies. I made clothes, food, books, murals, gifts, and cards.
I whipped up costumes from old ballet and square dance wardrobes. I made jewelry from wooden thread spools. I designed my forts then built them and saw no reason why I could not just live there under the blankets forever. I face painted, paper painted, and I’m sure I table painted and wall painted.
When I wasn’t creating, I was playing. My days were full with lots of imaginative play. The cluster of trees in my backyard became the most wonderful fairy home where I spent afternoons baking cookies and pies with mud, leaves, and acorns. It was during this play time that I was allowed to experience and interact with nature by collecting wildflowers and watching the clouds as they passed overhead. My appreciation and love of nature began there when I was given the opportunity to interact with the earth through hours of play.
Summer was a particularly special time for play. We would drive to my grandparents’ camp to enjoy the quiet summer days. Often my grandmother and I would stay there alone, just the two of us, for a week or so. There was no television, no phone, hardly any electricity, but lots of time for play. When I asked my grandmother what we did alone in the middle of the woods for weeks she answered, “You played.” Of course, day in and day out spent hours swimming, climbing, running, and swinging. I did not have many toys at the camp; just rocks, piles of firewood, shovels, and some water. With no defined plans, I was left to be guided by the inner child within me. This is when the magic of play occurred- stones and pebbles were the ingredients to my soup and all squirrels were welcome at my restaurant. I was able to play for hours and make mistakes, fall and get dirty, sing and build. It was the purest fun and the most wonderful memories.
Play time allowed me to develop a true understanding of who I am as a creative person and how to live life by following my passions. By being given the gift of time to interact with the world freely, I discovered I loved making and creating. By being given the freedom to play I discovered how to listen to the creative whispers that speak to me. I really feel very lucky that my creativity, in every way, was encouraged. Experimenting and making and learning through playing. It’s all so good.
While I often found inspiration for play in outside in nature, inside I loved spending hours with homemade play dough. I fondly remember spending the afternoon in the kitchen with my grandmother mixing up this recipe.
1 cup flour
¾ cup salt
1 tbs. cream of tartar
1 tbs. oil
1 cup boiling water
Bring a cup of water to boil in a sauce pan. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cream of tartar. When the water is boiling remove from the heat and slowly add the dry ingredients and oil. Stir until combined and play. I’ve added various essential oils into the play dough such as lavender, which always reminds me of summers at the camp. Try using new items with play dough such as vintage buttons, pinecones, stones, and shells instead of cookie cutters. You could even go for a hunt in the park or at the beach for new play dough items.
Jessica Elliott lives in upstate New York where she spends her days hiking, sewing, knitting, baking, and photographing. She writes about her daily adventures living simply in an old school house, eating locally, and creating in her blog Turkey Cookies