Activities, Lesson Plans, and Resources

Use the menu tabs to the left of the content area below to go to an activity description.  Click on the pdf at the bottom of each activity page to download the Activity Brochure to read or print out.

Activities, Lesson Plans, & Resources Introduction

Edith Dollarhide painting chinaHere you will find eight hands-on activities based on embellished objects from The Urge to Embellish exhibit. Doing the activities or looking through them will give you an appreciation for some historical traditions of embellishment, some cultural traditions of embellishment, and some techniques and materials used in embellishment.


You may find a new hobby, or find an inspiration for your hobby in an object, pattern, or technique. A background on the art form is presented with related ISM museum collections online, and with bibliographies of related books and websites.


We hope that if you create an embellished object based on an object or method of embellishment presented in the exhibit, you will share it with us by uploading it to your social networking site and send us the URL. This site is set up for comments with attachments, too. If you send us a small image (less than 1MB), we may add it to the exhibit gallery if the curator feels it extends the meaning of the exhibit objects.


Embellishment in the Classroom
Because the activities are based on State and National Learning Standards, teachers can use them as lesson plans. The objectives are built in and the standards listed at the end. Each activity brochure has Websites and print resources listed in it that you can use for more information about a craft, or for how-to advice.

Natural Materials Activity

Hair WreathThis activity encourages the use of natural materials in art and craft to emulate the aesthetic of the Victorians, whose parlors were decorated with shells, cones, mounted animals, and many layers of fiber art such as rugs upon carpets and doilies on furnitiure. Have some fun using easily accessible natural objects as decorative elements. Find out about the meticulous crafts that were made from wool fiber and hair!


Hair wreath from the exhibit on the left; seashells as art materials on the right.


Click on the link below for a full activity (based on state and national standards).

Using Natural Materials Activity865.92 KB

Playing with a Grid

beaded needlepoint lambrequinPlay around with grids in this activity, which introduces you to many textile embellishment methods. The patterns are arranged like the threads of a cloth, in horizontal and vertical rows. The needle arts included are filet crochet, needlepoint, beading and bead-knitting, and cross-stitch embroidery.


Girls learned many of these skills at home and school in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Learn about their history. Some of these arts are still popular today! Two patterns are included—a filet-crochet cockatoo and a dog needlepoint. Online resources let you use technology to create patterns.


Click on the pdf link below to read and printout the activity brochure.

Playing with a Grid2.33 MB

Then and Now Activity

Try your hand at finding object in the exhibit that were used in their day like the objects of today shown in our challenge. Then think about the changes in technology that made the early objects obsolete and the modern objects possible.


Sometimes the technology has not changed, but the tastes of consumers and craftspeople have changed, making the early objects looked old-fashioned. What are the basic differences between Victorian taste and our taste in style today?


Click on the pdf link below to read and print out the challenge sheet. Use it to browse our online image gallery of exhibit objects. Can you find the Victorian or early 20th century equivalent of the designed items we use today?

Then and Now Activity258.81 KB

Memory Jug Activity

How do people commemorate events and remember other people? One of the ways is to embellish an object with mementos of the event or person. The Memory Jug activity shows one way to do this. This ceramic jug has dozens of trinkets embedded in it, held there with putty. Learn about the history of commemorative craft.


Click in the pdf link below to read and print out the activity.


Other objects in this exhibit, such as portaits, wreathes, and quilts, were made to remember people or events. Browse the image galleries for more ideas to make a commemorative object..

Memory Jug Project523.02 KB


Cigarband BowlReverse Decoupage DishPotichomanie or Reverse Découpage, was a popular craft brought from Europe in the mid-nineteenth century. It was an inexpensive alternative to china painting. This craft has become popular recently. There are many commercial products such as adhesives and enamels that are made especially for adhering to glass.


This activity helps us to understand the methods, techniques, and skills used in the craft.


The  bowl to the left is in the exhibit.  The fish dish on the right (click to enlarge) is featured in the activity. Click the link below to read or print out the pdf.

Potichomanie Activity1.52 MB


finished legwarmerWedding StockingsThis knitting activity is inspired by the Victorian wedding stockings in the exhibit. They were knitted of white cotton thread by Emma White in 1878 for her wedding. The main stitch is called 'feather and fan' or 'old shale.' Today's fashions for the leg do not use garters, so we adapted the stocking object to popular legwarmers. The ribbing at the top and bottom hold the legwarmers to the legs. They are made of sport weight wool yarn and feature an appliquéd flower designed by Nicky Epstein.


There are other images of these objects in the Image Gallery: Textiles: Wearables.


Click on the link below to get the full activity brochure pdf to read or print out.

Legwarmer Activity955.78 KB


Haskins stenciled backsplash

See how traditional and modern stencils are made, try your hand at cutting and painting a stencil. Our example is the American eagle motif from the stenciled backsplash by Miss Haskins from the 19th century.

Click on the pdf file below to read, print out, and try the activity.

Stencils Activity2.86 MB

Crazy-Quilt Activity

Try your hand at crazy-quilting, both on paper and in cloth! This textile art uses many richly patterned or textured fabrics and combines them with embroidered seams and motifs. The Philadelphia Exposition's Japanese exhibit is said to be the inspiration of the American quilters and embroiderers who saw it.

See what you can do with the crazy textile art!

Crazy-quilt Activity5.9 MB