Get Hands-on at Home

Since we’re all spending a lot of time indoors right now, it’s a great opportunity to get crafty! To give you a little inspiration, we’re sharing some family-friendly Black Creek Pioneer Village favourites, based on heritage trades and crafts. Check back for more each week!


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Rhubarb has been used for medicinal purposes in China for over a thousand years, and fetched a high price in medieval Europe trading markets.

On its own, rhubarb is quite tart — but as sugar became more readily available in the 19th century, recipe books in northern Europe and North America began to feature rhubarb in jams, pies and other desserts.

So popular was its use in desserts that it even earned the nickname of “pie plant”!

rhubarb plant

Brought to Canada by early settlers, rhurbarb was one of the first crops to be harvested in early spring. Rhubarb needs a colder climate to flourish, so Canada is an ideal place for it to grow.

It’s important to remember that only the stalks of the rhubarb plant should be eaten. The leaves are poisonous!

This recipe comes from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861.

In England, where Mrs. Beeton lived, rhubarb grows earlier in the season. Here in Canada, May and June are prime rhubarb time!

cover of Mrs Beetons Book of Household Management
Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management


Ingredients.—To every lb. of rhubarb allow 1 lb. of loaf sugar, the rind of ½ lemon. Mode.—Wipe the rhubarb perfectly dry, take off the string or peel, and weigh it; put it into a preserving-pan, with sugar in the above proportion; mince the lemon-rind very finely, add it to the other ingredients, and place the preserving-pan by the side of the fire; keep stirring to prevent the rhubarb from burning, and when the sugar is well dissolved, put the pan more over the fire, and let the jam boil until it is done, taking care to keep it well skimmed and stirred with a wooden or silver spoon. Pour it into pots and cover down with oiled and egged papers. Time.—If the rhubarb is young and tender, ¾ hour, reckoning from the time it simmers equally; old rhubarb, 1¼ to 1½ hour. Average cost, 5d. to 7d. per lb. pot. Sufficient.—About 1 pint of sliced rhubarb to fill a lb. pot. Seasonable from February to May. – From Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management

Mrs. Beeton’s recipe calls for a lot of sugar and is very sweet. (The Victorians loved their sugar.) The modernized recipe below uses half the amount, and will make a tarter tasting jam. Adjust the amount of sugar according to your taste.

Instead of cooking over a hearth fire, this will be made on the stove top!

Step 1: Gather your ingredients and supplies

ingredients and supplies for making rhubarb jam
fresh rhubarb stalks

You will need:


  • A large mixing bowl
  • A cutting board
  • 2 large stock pots
  • Jars (you can recycle old jam or sauce jars)
  • A knife
  • A wooden spoon
  • A plate or spoon
  • A set of tongs


  • 4lbs of rhubarb chopped into quarter-inch pieces (4 cups equals 1 pound)
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 lbs or 4 cups of white sugar
  • 1.5 cups of water

NOTE: This recipe can easily be cut down if using less rhubarb.

Step 2: Mix it up!

Wash rhubarb and chop into quarter-inch pieces.

Cut lemon and squeeze juice into the rhubarb.

Add water and lemon rinds, and place in bowl. Mix and allow to sit for at least an hour. The lemon flavour goes well with rhubarb and helps to set the jam.

chopped rhubarb in a bowl with lemon rinds

Step 3: Simmer

Place contents of bowl into a stock pot. Bring to boil on medium-high heat, then turn down to medium-low to simmer for about an hour.

Stir frequently so jam does not burn!

Note: Rhubarb harvested later in the spring may take longer to cook down and thicken.

Tip: Place a dish or spoon in the freezer. To test if the jam is done, put a blob of jam on the spoon or dish. If it stays intact and does not run, your jam is done. If not, continue to simmer.

blob of rhubarb jam on a dish

Step 4: Sterilize your jars

While your rhubarb mixture simmers, carefully place jars, lids, and seals into a pot. Add water until all the jars are submerged. Bring to a boil.

Remove jars, seals, and rings from water using tongs, and place on a clean tea towel.

jam jars in a pot with seals and lids

Step 5: Fill your jam jars

When your jam is complete, remove the lemon rinds and fill your jars.

cook scoops rhubarb jam into jars
jars filled with rhubarb jam

Step 6: Enjoy!

If you’ve followed the amounts in this recipe, you should have quite a bit of jam! Label the jars and share with family and friends. Store all jars in the refrigerator.

rhubarb jam spread on slices of bread
jar of rhubarb jam with hand-written label


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A camera obscura (also known as a pinhole camera) is a tool used to view the optical phenomenon known as the “pinhole effect”: light traveling through a small opening in a dark room or a box will project an image on the surface across from it.

The existence of this effect was known for hundreds of years, but in the early 19th century camera obscuras became the basis for devices used to create the first photographs, and led to the invention of cameras as we know them today.

To learn more, check out our online exhibit on the History of 19th Century Photography.

There are several ways to make a camera obscura. Here is a simple method that uses supplies you can find around your house!

Step 1: Gather your supplies

You will need:

  • A box that can be closed (either with a lid or with tape)
  • A sheet of white paper
  • Scissors
  • A pen or pencil
  • Some dark-coloured, heavy-duty tape such as duct tape, electrical tape, or hockey tape

Tip: You can use a box of any size, but we found it easiest to work with one that’s at least 10 to 12 inches wide.

supplies for making a camera obscura at home

Step 2: Make the screen

Cut the piece of white paper to fit one side of your box; use the tape to attach it to the inside. This will be the screen that your image projects onto.

crafter attaches sheet of white paper to the inside of a box

Step 3: Make some holes!

You need to make two holes in the side of the box directly across from your screen. One hole should be small: just poke the tip of your pen or pencil through the box.

The second hole will be your viewing hole. This one can be bigger — just enough for you to be able to see into the box.

You want to place the holes far enough apart so that when you look through the viewing hole, your head won’t block the light from entering the smaller hole.

crafter uses pen to punch pinhole in cardboard box to make camera obscura
crafter uses scissors to add viewing hole to camera obscura

Tip: If you make your holes too big, or put them in the wrong spot, don’t worry! You can patch it up with some extra cardboard and tape and try again!

Step 4: Close it up, tape it shut

Close your box and tape it shut using the dark-coloured tape. When you look into your box you shouldn’t be able to see light leaking in from the corners or edges.

Use a second or even a third layer of tape to make sure there is no extra light coming in.

crafter uses heavy-duty tape to seal cardboard box and prevent light from leaking into camera obscura

Step 5: Try it out!

Your camera obscura will work best if you are in a dark room with the holes pointing toward a bright subject. For my experiment, I turned off the lights in the room and stood with my back to a window.

crafter experiments with homemade camera obscura

When I looked into the viewing hole, I was able to see a tree projected upside-down on the screen! It was pretty dim, but I could clearly make out the tree!

You can see how the image appeared below on the left. To the right is an actual photograph of the tree

Upside-down image of a tree projected inside a camera obscura
actual image of tree

When I put my phone to the viewing hole to take a picture, it blocked more light coming into the box. This made the image appear more clearly; I was even able to see some colour!

DID YOU KNOW? A camera obscura can be used to look at the sun without damaging your eyes! These devices have been used for centuries to study solar eclipses, and are still a popular way to safely view them today.


If you can’t see the image at first, there are a few tricks you can try:

  • Move around! Carefully walk back and forward, moving the camera up and down and side to side, until you see an image. It might take a little practice, as the scene you are trying to see is behind you.
  • If all you see is darkness or a very dim image, you can try making your pinhole a little bigger. The image won’t be as clear, but it will be brighter.
  • Try turning off all the lights in the room, but leave one lamp lit. Stand with your back to the lamp, about five feet away.
  • Make a camera hood! Have you ever seen a photographer in an old movie taking a photo from underneath a black cloth? This is the same idea! Put a blanket over your head and part of your camera, leaving the pinhole uncovered. You should be able to see the image more clearly.


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19th century illustration of a thaumatrope
A thaumatrope.
A thaumatrope is a toy consisting of a disc with a different picture on each of its sides. When the disc is rapidly rotated, the two pictures appear to combine into a single image. This is called an optical illusion.

People of all ages enjoyed optical illusion toys in the 19th century. To learn more, check out our online learning lesson on optical toys.

Making a thaumatrope is easy and the design possibilities are endless! So get creative, and make your own toy — or two!

Step 1: Gather your supplies

You will need:

  • Two pieces of yarn or string, about 30 cm long
  • Cardboard or card stock, cut into a small rectangle or circle
  • Markers or pencil crayons
  • Scissors

scissors with string and other supplies for making a thaumatrope

Step 2: Make your thaumatrope

With the tips of the scissors make a small hole at each end of your cardboard. The holes should be directly across from each other.

Weave a small amount of string through each hole and tie a knot. Leave enough string to grasp in your hands.

crafter threads string through hole in piece of cardboard to make thaumatrope

Step 3: Get creative

Now, a chance to put your artistic skills to work! On the two sides of the cardboard, draw the images you’d like to combine. In this example, I’ve drawn a face on one side, and a picture of the sun on the other.

crafter draws picture of face on one side of piece of cardboard to make a thaumatrope
crafter draws picture of the sun on other side of piece of cardboard to make a thaumatrope

Some other ideas for thaumatrope images:

  • A flower and pot
  • A tree and apples
  • A candle and flame

Or design your own!

Step 4: Have some fun!

Amaze family and friends with your new toy. Gently grasp the strings on either side, twist, and give a gentle tug. The cardboard will spin, and the images will merge. In this example, the face appears to be on the sun.


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Bake a ‘1-2-3-4 Cake’ from a Historical Recipe!

NEW! We baked this cake on Facebook Live! Follow along as Black Creek’s Victoria bakes a Victorian cake for Victoria Day.

“Cup cake is about as good as pound cake and is cheaper. One cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs, well beat together, and baked in pans or cups. Bake twenty minutes, and no more.”From The Frugal Housewife, by Mrs Lydia Marie Child, 1838.

page from Victorian recipe book
A page from The Frugal Housewife. VIEW LARGER.
This “cup” cake recipe is likely not what you were expecting! The recipe is also called a “1-2-3-4 Cake”. We’ll see if you can figure out why. (Hint: look at the ingredient list.)

This simple recipe is taken from an early Victorian cookbook, The Frugal Housewife. It can be challenging to work with older recipes: cookbook authors assumed home bakers knew all the basics, so instructions were brief. Don’t worry! We’ve filled in the detail for you.

The cup cake recipe is an easy one for a beginner baker — no more challenging than making cake from a mix!

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Serves: 8 to 10

A note for families: Because this recipe involves the use of an oven, always make sure kids have adult supervision in the kitchen.

Step 1: Gather your ingredients and supplies

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F.

You will need:


  • Mixing bowls
  • 1 cup measuring cup
  • A whisk or fork
  • Wooden spoon
  • Greased 8×8 cake pan (use a larger pan and reduce the baking time for a thinner cake)


  • 1 cup of butter (at room temperature)
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 3 cups of flour
  • 4 eggs

Tip: Eggs in the 1860s didn’t come with expiry dates stamped on them. So how could people tell if eggs were fresh? LEARN THE SECRET!

supplies and ingredients for preparing a Victorian cup cake

Optional: This recipe makes a thick batter. If you want to thin it out, just add about a half cup of milk. For extra flavour, add a teaspoon of vanilla and a pinch of salt. Once the cake is baked and cooled, sprinkle with icing sugar if desired!

Step 2: Cream the butter and sugar

To cream butter and all you have to do is mix room-temperature butter with sugar until you have a somewhat smooth, thick paste.

baker creams butter

Step 3: Add the eggs

In a separate bowl, crack the eggs and whisk until beaten.

baker cracks eggs into bowl

Next, add the beaten eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, and stir with the wooden spoon until smooth.

baker adds eggs to butter and sugar mixture

Step 4: Add the flour

Add the flour to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Be careful not to overmix the batter!

baker adds flour to cake mix
baker mixes together cake ingredients

Step 5: Bake it!

Grease your cake pan and pour in the batter.

Place the cake on a rack in the centre of the preheated oven, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes at 350 F. You will know it is done when the top of the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Note: The baking time may be less if the cake is baked in a larger pan.

cake batter in pan ready for baking

Step 6: Time to eat!

Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool before removing it from the pan. Sprinkle with icing sugar if you like. Enjoy!

Victorian cup cake fresh from the oven
Victorian cup cake ready to serve

Rising to the Occasion

Seasoned bakers may be wondering: Where is the baking powder?

Mrs. Child didn’t include baking powder in her recipe because it hadn’t been invented yet!

Baking powder was first created by a British chemist named Alfred Bird in 1843. His wife was allergic to yeast and eggs, and he wanted to find an alternative to make bread rise. He combined cream of tartar, baking soda, and starch to create a leavening agent that helped cakes to become light and fluffy and bread to rise quickly.

It wasn’t until the mid to late 1800s that baking powder became widely used in kitchen across Canada.

For a lighter touch, you can half-teaspoon of baking powder to the recipe above to make a taller, lighter cake.


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knitted heart

Corking, also called “French knitting” or “spool knitting”, is an easy craft that can keep idle hands busy for hours!

This style of knitting makes a knitted rope or cord that can be used for many different crafts or decorations. A quick online search for corking crafts will show you hundreds of different uses!

Corking is not done with knitting needles, but on a simple knitting loom. In the 19th century, textile factories began using large automatic knitting looms to create fabrics faster and with finer threads. By 1867, most textiles were produced in factories. Corking, however, remained a fun pastime that introduced boys and girls to the useful skill of knitting.

Our knitting loom in this tutorial is made with items you can find around your home. Let’s get corking!

Step 1: Gather your supplies

You will need:

  • Yarn
  • An empty toilet paper roll
  • Four pencils (You can also use chopsticks, popsicle sticks, or straws! They should be about 2 cm longer than the toilet paper roll.)
  • Tape

toilet paper roll with yarn and other supplies for corking tutorial

Step 2: Make your knitting loom

Tape the four pencils (or other sticks) to the toilet paper roll, spacing them out evenly. The pencils form the pegs of the knitting loom.

pencils taped to toilet paper roll to form loom

Step 3: Foundation stitches

Pull the yarn through the toilet paper roll, leaving a bit of a tail.

Holding the yarn in place with your left hand, use your right hand to wrap the yarn clockwise around the first peg. Wrap each peg, moving clockwise around the loom.

crafter loops yarn around pegs

When all pegs have been wrapped with one loop of yarn, wind the yarn around the outside of all four pegs.

crafter wraps yarn around outside of pegs

Take the bottom loop of yarn from the first peg, and lift it over the peg, passing the top loop. Do this with each peg.

You have now made four stitches. In knitting, this is called casting on.

crafter casts on by passing bottom loop of yarn over top loop

Step 4: Get corking!

Continue wrapping the yarn around the outside of the pegs and pulling the bottom loop of yarn over the top of the peg.

If you like, use another pencil to help move the stitches over the top of the peg. Your cord will begin to emerge from the bottom of the toilet paper roll!

Repeat the same process, around and around, until your cord is as long as you want it to be!

crafter wraps yarn around outside of pegs
crafter wraps yarn around outside of pegs
crafter wraps yarn around outside of pegs

Step 5: Casting off

To finish corking, you need to properly cast off your stitches to stop the cord from unraveling when you take it off the loom.

To cast off, you need to:

(1) Cut the yarn from the ball, leaving a tail of about 6 inches long.

crafter cuts yarn

(2) Pull the end of the yarn through the last stitch you made. This will pull the yarn off the peg. Pull tight.

crafter pulls end of yarn through last stitch

(3) Make another stitch on the next peg and pull the end through this stitch, taking the yarn off the peg and pulling tight.

crafter pulls yarn through stitch

(4) Repeat this step with the remaining two pegs and pull tight once more! You can now pull the finished cord out.

crafter removes finished cord

crafter wearing knitted headband
Time to get creative!

Step 6: Use your imagination!

What will you make with your knitted cord? A woolen bracelet? A garland for a Christmas tree? Or maybe sew it into a coil, making a hot pad for the kitchen. I’ve made mine into a headband!

Share your ideas and creations with us! Send photos to us on Facebook or Instagram, or email them to We can’t wait to see what you make!


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Back in the 1860s, eggs didn’t come in cartons stamped with expiry dates. So how could people tell if an egg was fresh?

Your eyes and nose are the best tools for determining freshness — but you can’t smell or see inside an egg before you crack it (unless you’re highly skilled).

Fortunately, there is another way: THE FLOAT TEST!

First, you’ll need to gather your eggs. We collected some farm-fresh eggs this morning! We’ll test these against some eggs that have been sitting in the fridge for a few weeks.

Next, fill a bowl or jar with cold water. Place your eggs in the water.

farmer gathers fresh eggs from nest of hen
farmer pours cold water into jar
eggs sit next to jars filled with cold water


  • If your eggs sink to the bottom and lie flat on their sides, they are very fresh.
  • If your eggs stand on one end at the bottom, they are a few weeks old, but still fine to eat.
  • If your eggs float to the surface, they are no longer fresh. Don’t eat them!
farmer drops eggs into jars filled with cold water
fresh egg sinks to bottom of jar while older egg floats to surface


The reason this method works is that eggshells are porous, which means they allow some air to get through. Fresh eggs have less air in them, so they sink to the bottom. Older eggs have had more time for the air to penetrate the shells, so they are more buoyant and will float.


Crack Your Egg and Sniff!

If you are not worried about keeping the shell intact, you can crack the egg onto a flat surface. If it’s fresh, The yolk should be bright yellow or orange, and the albumen (the egg white) should not spread much.

You can also sniff the egg — fresh eggs do not have any smell.


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a pat of homemade butter is shown along with the ingredients for making it

Step 1: Gather your supplies

You will need:

  • ½ litre of 35% whipping cream
  • a mason jar
  • two bowls
  • a wooden spoon
  • A jug of cold water
  • A good pinch or two of salt

supplies for preparing homemade butter

Step 2: Shake it up!

Pour 1/2 litre of whipping cream into the mason jar and close the lid tightly. Begin shaking the jar up and down. You will have to do this for about five minutes. If your arm gets sore, enlist family members to take turns helping!

Mason jar full of cream being shaken

The cream will first start to thicken, and then begin to separate. Keep going — you’re almost there!

Step 3: You’ve got butter!

When the liquid and fat have separated, will hear a sloshing sound in the jar. The liquid is buttermilk. The fat is your butter!

fat separated from liquid in Mason jar

Step 4: Mold and wash the butter

Remove the butter and buttermilk from the mason jar and place into a bowl. With a wooden spoon shape and mold your butter into a ball, gently squeezing out any liquid.

butter in wooden bowl

Carefully pour the buttermilk into a separate bowl or container. Do not throw this away! You can use it for baking or making pancakes.

bowl of butter with buttermilk in separate bowl

Rinse the butter several times with cold water. Repeat until the water runs clear.

Step 5: Salt the butter

To keep your butter fresh longer, mix in approximately 1 tsp of salt.

adding salt to homemade butter

DID YOU KNOW? Before the refrigerator was invented, salting food helped to preserve it longer!

Step 6: Enjoy!

Enjoy your homemade butter on a piece of bread, or use in a recipe for cookies or cake. Store your butter in a container in the refrigerator.

bread with homemade butter


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a crafter uses cardboard and yarn to make a woven bookmark

At the Black Creek Pioneer Village Weaver’s Shop, the weaver uses a large wooden machine called a loom to make blankets, rugs, and table runners.

With this easy craft you can make your own loom from a piece of cardboard, and weave a bookmark with items from around your house!

Step 1: Gather your supplies

You will need:

  • A small piece of cardboard. This will be your loom. The one in the picture above is 8 cm wide and 14 cm tall.
  • At least 3 meters of yarn or string. This will be your warp and weft thread.
  • A paper clip. This is your shuttle. It carries the weft thread.
  • A hair comb. This is your beater bar to help push your weft thread into place.
  • Scissors. These are still scissors!

A ruler and a pencil to mark your loom may be helpful as well.

supplies for making crafts


Loom: A machine a weaver uses to weave cloth.
Weft: The thread the weaver holds in their hands. It is the active thread passing over and under the warp thread.
Warp: the threads held in place on the loom. This thread does not move.
Shuttle: The shuttle is attached to the weft threads. It carries the weft thread through the warp threads.
Beater Bar: The beater bar pushes the weft threads in to place along the warp threads so there are no gaps in the cloth.

Step 2: Make your loom!

Cut a series of 1 cm slits into the top and bottom of the piece of cardboard. The example in the photo below has seven slits, each about 1 cm from the next.

small piece of cardboard with scissors and pen

Take your yarn or string and thread your “loom” by tightly wrapping string around the cardboard, tucking it into each slit. Leave a tail on each end. This string is your warp.

string is wrapped around a piece of cardboard

Step 3: Make your shuttle and start weaving

Cut a second piece of string to a length of one wingspan (about 1 meter). This will be your weft.

Tie one end of this string to the paper clip. You can now begin weaving by passing your paper clip shuttle through the warp thread, alternating above and below.

With each pass, pull the string all the way through, and then turn around and continue the pattern in the other direction. On your first pass, you will need to leave a tail, as you did with the warp.

crafter weaves by passing paper clip shuttle through warp thread

Step 4: Using the beater bar

As you go back and forth, pay attention to your tension. Don’t pull too tight or you will end up with an hourglass shaped bookmark!

crafter uses a comb as a beater bar

Use the comb as a beater bar to push down your weft string after each pass of the paperclip shuttle across the warp. This will help to keep your work tight and neat.

Step 5: Tying off

You can make your bookmark as long or short as you like! When you are done weaving, tie the warp and weft tail ends together in a simple knot.

crafter ties off warp and weft tail ends

Next, turn your loom around and cut the threads in the middle.

crafter cuts warp threads with scissors

Tie the thread ends together to secure your weaving. Trim them down to your preferred length.

crafter ties thread ends together

And now, back to reading!

crafter marks page with woven bookmark

Step 6: Share your masterpiece with us

Share your woven bookmark with us on Facebook and Instagram, or email us a photo at</strong >. We can’t wait to see what you made!


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potato stamp

In the 1860s, pictures that were to be printed in newspapers were first carved out of wood or etched into metal, and then placed in a printing press. The printer (a person, not a machine) would roll some ink on to the carving and place a piece of paper on top. When the printer pulled a lever, the machine would “press” it all together, transferring the picture to the paper, just like a large stamp!

You can carve your own stamp at home today with just a potato, a pencil, and an adult with a sharp knife.

Step 1: Gather your supplies

You will need:

  • a potato
  • paint (this will be your ink)
  • paper
  • an adult with a sharp knife
  • Some newspaper or an old tablecloth to keep your work area clean
  • a carving tool – like a pen, pencil, metal straw or wooden skewer

supplies for making crafts

Step 2: Cut your potato

Get your adult to cut your potato in half. Cutting on the short end will give you more of a circle or an oval shape that looks just like an Easter egg.

Four halves of a potato on a cutting board with a kitchen knife

Step 3: Design your stamp

Carve your design into the potato with your carving tool. Go over your design a few times to make sure there is no “gunk” in the grooves.

A hand drawing a heart into half of a potato

Step 4: Prep your stamp pad

Pour out a little bit of paint onto a piece of paper or a paper plate. Use a piece of potato to spread out so the pool of paint is larger than your potato. This is your stamp pad.

A sheet of paper with four circles of paint next to four bottles of paint

Tip: Make sure there is only a thin layer of paint on your “stamp pad” so it doesn’t get into the grooves!

Four potato stamps next to circles of paint

Step 5: Get stamping!

Press your potato into the paint and stamp away!

Four potato stamps on a piece of paper half covered in stamps

Step 6: Share your masterpiece with us

Share your artwork with us on Facebook and Instagram, or email us a photo at We can’t wait to see what you made!

completed potato stamp crafts