Before Technology Took Over

Arts & Crafts of the 1980s and 1990s
October 17, 2016
There’s a meme I’ve seen on Facebook that says, “I’m so glad I had a childhood before technology took over.” I certainly am. There were plenty of ways to pass time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but my favorite was the many popular arts and crafts of the era. Here are some of the most memorable.

Loom and Loopers
In 1988, when I was five, I was given a kit that came with a plastic loom and stretchy colorful loopers that were to be used to make a potholder. You put loopers on the loom vertically and wove them horizontally to make a checkered pattern. The kit also came with a silver-grey backing for the potholder and a tube of glue to hold the backing on. I made potholder after potholder with this kit. When I made too many for my mom to use, she started giving them to my grandmother. I remember my grandmother using the potholders to remove hot dishes from the microwave or oven, and as a trivet when setting a hot dish on the table.

Latch Hook Rug Kit
This was another craft kit that I had when I was five. It came with a stiff backing that had the design of a rainbow and clouds printed on it (the picture is similar, but not exactly like the design I remember), and many short pieces of yarn in all different colors. Presumably, the kit came with a hook, but I remember using one that my mom had on hand. You hooked the yarn onto the appropriate color on the backing. The kit made a small rug that was probably no more than one foot tall or wide. It wasn’t big enough to use as a throw rug, but made an attractive decoration. I believe the kit came with a frame too, or else my mom found one that was the right size.

Knitting Knobby / Knitting Nellie
I’ve heard these called by different names, and they’ve certainly existed long before the 1980s. However, that’s when I first used one. They’re a circle made of plastic or wood with prongs around the top. You use a big needle to weave yarn up and around the prongs to make a knit tube. The wider the circle, the wider the tube, and vice versa. I had a kit that came with one narrow pink plastic spool and one wide one; it also came with black and white yarn that had silver flecks running through it. You used the narrow spool to make legwarmers (it was the 1980s, after all!) for Barbie, and the wider one to make a dress. In the mid-1990s, I got a Knitting Nellie kit from the American Girl catalogue. It was supposedly a favorite hobby of the 1940s-era American Girl, Molly McIntyre.

During the summer of 1990, I attended a day camp called Camp Bobcat but the counsellors joked that it should have been called Camp Gimp. That’s because so many kids were doing gimp! In case you don’t know (or don’t remember), gimp was a flat plastic string that came in many colors that you could weave together in different stitches. The first stitch I learned was “box,” but I soon figured out that “barrel” (also called “barber pole”) was the same thing but on an angle. It seemed that most of the time, people did gimp for the sake of doing gimp, rather than to make something useful. However, I do remember people doing “zipper” to make bracelets, and my friend doing “butterfly” to make a keyring.

Perler Beads
I remember doing this craft at birthday parties. Perler beads were small plastic beads that you put on a frame that had pegs for each bead. Then, some adult would put your design between wax paper and iron it so that the beads melted together. I liked putting the beads on the frame, but started to find this craft disappointing. More often than not, the beads fell apart. I remember making a bracelet at a party that fell apart immediately after the birthday girl’s mom ironed it. Meanwhile, it seemed like all of the other kids’ jewelry or artwork stayed intact.

Fashion Plates
This was a plastic toy that came with individual plates that had the raised print of a model’s head, torso, and lower body. Then, you put a piece of paper over the plates and rubbed with a colored pencil or crayon, to get the image of the model on paper. You could mix and match the plates to create different looks for the model. I remember playing with the original Fashion Plates set at my friend’s house in the late-1980s, but by the early-1990s, there were various spinoffs of this toy. My sister had a Little Mermaid themed set. The fun part about that one was that you could change the lower body plate to give Ariel a fin, human legs, or a long skirt.

Puffy Paint
This reached the height of popularity in the early 1990s. The reason it was called Puffy Paint was because the paint was still raised and textured when dried, instead of going flat. You used Puffy Paint to decorate T Shirts, shoes – just about anything. Either my sister or I had a Barbie that came with a little tube of Puffy Paint and a plain jacket that you could paint. Puffy Paint came in all different colors, even glitter and glow-in-the-dark. It could be hard to get the paint out of the bottles when they were running low. Some tubes actually came in a spring-shape, which were easier to work with because you could squeeze them vertically to get out the last bits of paint.

Scrunch ‘n Wear
“Have fun with your hair with Scrunch ‘n Wear…”. I remember the commercial vividly, as well as playing with this toy on the floor of my sister’s room. I was in middle school at the time. The kit came with tubes of fabric and elastics that you put on a frame to make scrunchies. Even though I often wore scrunchies in the ‘90s, I don’t ever remember wearing the ones that I made with Scrunch ‘n Wear. One problem was that there was no way of securing the fabric at the ends. When you put the scrunchie in your hair, the fabric tube came apart, leaving the elastic exposed. Still, my sister and I enjoyed this toy. We actually made up a story about two girls who became rock-star famous after appearing in the Scrunch ‘n Wear commercial.

Those were some of the crafts that I remember from my childhood. Some of them are timeless, but others are very much products of their time. What were your favorite arts and crafts?
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