Spindlewood, spindlewood, will you lend me pray,
A little flaming lantern to guide me on my way?
The fairies all have vanished from the meadow and the glen,
And I would fain go seeking till I find them once again.
Lend me now a lantern that I may bear a light,
To find the hidden pathways in the darkness of the light.
-Rose Fyleman Alms in Autumn
The warmth of summer begins to fade. Our nights are approaching quicker and the cool harvest breeze starts to blow. This is the time of the year where we light lanterns, candles, and bonfires. The word “bonfire” comes from a 15th century term “banefire” or “bonefire.” Often large ceremonial bonfires were lit at the end of the summer and beginning of harvest season.
Fire is an elemental that brings us warmth and light. It helps us see and helps us cook our food. In the autumn seeds are buried deep in the soil to keep warm. I know that I often get a bit sad when it is time to say goodbye to the warm days of summer.
This autumn you can help your children create their own little fire spirits that will help them keep their spark alive into the cooler months. A sweet little companion to tuck into their pockets on a fall lantern walk, a magical little spirit to ignite an autumn story or two.
Working with wood with children is a wonderful way to explore their environment. Wood is organic and comes from the earth. Something about cutting, sanding and working with a natural medium is so grounding. I hope you enjoy this project exploring woodworking with your children, and all the little fire spirits help your children keep the spirit of warmth with them all autumn long!
Wood- I recommend poplar or cedar
Saw- either a hand saw or scroll saw
AP Certified non- toxic water colors
Gather your supplies. I recommend a piece of poplar wood. It is a good sustainable choice for wood as it grows large and rapidly as a tree. It is also a common high quality hardwood that cuts easily and sands up nicely. Draw a basic triangle shape with a pencil on the wood. This size is up to you- I generally make my fire spirits 2-3 inches tall. You should gauge the size based on the child’s age, keeping choking hazards in mind.
If you have access to a scroll saw you can cut these shapes quickly but it can be cut with a hand saw as well. Make two cuts — one from each side — meeting at the top. Make sure to wear safety goggles and use supervision with children any time they are cutting.
You can soften the edges of the cut fire spirit with wood carving tools, a Dremel, or heavy grade sandpaper. Sand the rest of the piece, working from a heavy grade of sand paper down to fine grit until the wood is smooth to your liking.
Draw a design for the face on one side of the fire spirit. I use pencil as it is very forgiving; you can erase and start over as needed. Once you have a design you like, wood burn the design into the wood. A word on wood burners: there are several types of inexpensive wood burners that you can get at art/hobby stores locally. If you find that wood burning is something you really enjoy you might look into a professional grade wood burner available online. Always use supervision and extreme caution with all wood burners and be sure to unplug when you are done.
Paint the fire spirit. I recommend using an AP certified non toxic watercolor. For the fire spirits I started with yellow, working into orange, and ending with dark red. I like the soft transitions between the colors. Watercolors are a great choice for staining the wood and allowing the grain to show.
After the paint has dried, use a very fine sand paper and lightly sand the piece one more time. The watercolors cause the grain to rise and they need one more light sanding. Then seal the whole piece with beeswax polish. You can make this yourself by combining one part melted beeswax with three parts jojoba oil. You can also find this commercially from woodworkers and toymakers.
All done! You now have a little fire spirit to help keep your spark alive into the cold months. I love to make a basket of these and present to our friends at the end of a lantern walk in the fall!
Here is a story that we love to share as we take our fall lantern walk in search of our fire spirits. It accompanies the fire spirits well!
Chris Willow is a mother, crafter, storyteller and toymaker. She enjoys creating roots with mothers and children in her community. Her inspiration has always grown from her world she shares with her husband and two sons in the beautiful Missouri. She has a store on Etsy and blogs at mamaroots where she shares her love of crafting, mothering and reading a great book!