Friday, April 27, 2012

modern medieval family : Not So Modern Toys

When we pack up stuff for the kids to go to an event with us, we typically toss a few medieval-themed modern toys together (we have a portable castle set that can hold several toys within it), and take that along.  The kids are familiar with these toys, and though I never particularly liked their modern nature, I also never particularly gave it much thought.

Then I was browsing around the internet on a few of my favorite medieval inspiration sites (those sites I go to for that "I want my kit to be like that" feeling), and spotted a couple images where young children were playing with toys that were decidedly not modern, but were not necessarily period either.  They did, however, seem to fit the context of medieval recreation a bit more than a plastic figurine does.

So I set to work doing some research, and located the toys page at  After looking at just about every single image, I decided that I wanted to make 4 new "period" toys that would be specifically designated for events.  Here's what I came up with:

I used burnt sienna colored Sculpey clay to create a figurine inspired and styled (somewhat) after a 15th century figurine from Rhineland.  She's about 3.5" tall, just the right size to fit nicely in a child's hand.  It took me a few attempts to get her right (the final was version 3), but I'm really happy with the way she turned out.  Since the Sculpey clay has a softer, warmer feel than traditional clay, she's a bit "friendlier" for the kids to hold.  I did have some concerns about her ending up in the kid's mouths, but so far they don't seem to care to taste her.  Sculpey is non-toxic, however, so even if they do put her in their mouths for short bursts of time, there's no damage to either party.

Medieval rattles aren't usually cloth in nature, but rather metal, wood or clay.  I particularly like the clay pig rattle.  I decided to do a cloth version for no other reason than I figured out how to do it!  I used some of the Sculpey clay left over from the figurine to create a handle.  The ends of the handle are connected with a narrow, straight bar.  There are also two holes in each end of the handle (like button holes).  I used a scrap piece of wool, folded it in half and created a pouch.  There are actually two layers of wool- I cut the pouch long and tucked the extra into the pouch.  I tossed two small jingle bells into the pouch, then sewed the pouch onto the handle with some linen thread.  Since the wool is doubled over, the jingling is slightly muffled, so it's a rattle, not an annoying parent torture device.

Rag Doll
I wanted to make something really simple that could get tossed around and not do any damage.  I was inspired by this Roman rag doll from Egypt.  I took a long strip of linen, folded it in half and tied the looped end into a knot, with just a bit of the loop sticking out to make the head.  Then I tied knots in the ends to form the feet.  No arms, though, so we'll just say he's hugging himself.  We came up with all sorts of Roman names for him.  I think we settled on Magnus.  After letting the kids play with him, I think I need to take some linen thread and stitch the knots in place so they don't come undone.


I didn't find anything on medieval teething toys, but as I have three children in teething phases, I decided I needed a better, more period option than the plastic ones we have at home.  I found several varieties of bunny ear teething rings with a Google search, and decided to make my own.  The ring is an unfinished, sanded curtain rod ring.  The ears are made with scraps of linen, sewn into a strip with tapered ends.  This too needs to be stitched into place to prevent the kids from pulling the ears off.

I'm really excited about having these new "old" toys to take to the next event, and though I'm sure the kids will be more excited about what's going on than the neat basket of period-friendly toys, I'm satisfied that I've helped our family kit look a little more authentic!

*Post-Script Note: I received a comment on this post that was really vague (so much so that I didn't allow it), but it prompted me to want to add that I don't want to make it sound like people shouldn't bring modern toys to events for their children- that's just a choice I made for my family.  These toys are safe, but like any toys (modern or not) they do require supervision.  If you feel more comfortable/safe with your children playing with non-homemade toys, that's perfectly reasonable, and I won't judge you!**

1 comment:

  1. I am a Youth Officer in the SCA, and another Officer and I have developed a Rag Doll as well - and it is basically a "corn husk doll" made of strips of fabric- rather than reinventing the wheel we looked for a pattern and found this: - rather than the apron and kerchief, the other officer made a tube of fabric with shoulder straps for a Viking Apron (and she even sewed a short string of pony beads to make a treasure necklace). She ran it as an activity for preschoolers at a local event and it went over very well! We used scraps from any donated fabric - even modern prints (one child even has a rag doll made from Raggedy Ann fabric!)

    (If you go on facebook and "like" It Takes My Child to Raze a Village - you can find a few photos of children and their dolls!)