Tap Your Inner Prairie Child with These Green DIY Projects


Just the other night I scolded my preteen daughter for kvetching about her minimal chores – setting the table and feeding Smokey and Audrey, our gluttonous pug and arthritic cat.

“Imagine if you lived on the prairie and had to churn your own butter and mold your own soap bars and sew your own petticoats and britches,” I said to my love child of the YouTube generation. It would be easier to get her attention if my face were a flat screen monitor.

Boy, they have it easy – not like us kids who had to walk several blocks to school on those monotonous clear and sunny L.A. mornings.

When you think of it, why not push your family to make soap and get handier during these here hard times? I’m no Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I’m always up for a craft project or two, especially fun ones to do with my girls.

Here is a list of some accessible green DIY projects that will conjure your homespun pioneer spirit:

1. Make your own coffee-scented soap.


Yes, wake up and smell the java with these bars suitable for vegans and latte fiends alike. The formula shuns synthetic additives like artificial fragrances that can have unhealthy side effects. The guide found on Greeniacs calls for the following ingredients:

“¢ 8 ounces (227 grams) soybean oil
“¢ 4 ounces (113 grams) coconut oil
“¢ 4 ounces (113 grams) olive oil
“¢ 5 ounces (142 grams) coffee (to be used instead of water)
“¢ 2 ounces (57 grams) lye

Apparently, the right amount of lye is the tricky part. The process demands wearing safety glasses, but it looks easy enough to pull off, sort of like making candles, and you can even make the soap in bulk. Check it out. It’s good clean fun.

2. Homemade Dog Shampoo commands us to take better care of our pets.


The problem: most pet shampoos contain the same chemicals as products made for people, including parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate and fragrances not found in nature. This option by Melissa Breyer at Care2 includes glycerin, apple cider vinegar, natural dish soap like Seventh Generation and plain old water. If you can shake it, you can make it.

3. Chopstick Birdhouse from those take-out Chinese dinners.


Architect Michelle Kaufmann provides the blueprint and walks you through the construction on this video. The idea would please Jane and Michael Banks of Mary Poppins, as well as all of those birds in your garden whose nests are so bare. I found out about this great project via CasaSugar.

Building a better green birdhouse:

  • Chopsticks
  • Non-toxic exterior glue
  • String or wire

4. Patchwork Pet Bed recycle old sweaters and pillows.


This cushion fetched at Apartment Therapy is so decorative and adorable, Smokey and Audrey would no doubt fight over who has dibs when watching reruns of The Office in the living room. Here is what you need. Follow the link to sew for little baby, the one who always runs to you when it’s time for supper.

Bed Basics

“¢ an assortment of old sweaters (at least 50% animal fiber such as wool, alpaca, cashmere, etc.)
“¢ an old pillow
“¢ scrap paper and tape
“¢ ruler
“¢ scissors and/or rotary cutter
“¢ pins
“¢ access to a washer, dryer, and sewing machine

5. Cloth Fabric tote bag pattern.


Forgo the plastic and make yourself a reversible “Tee-shirt bag” using this pattern from Etsy. It’s only $4.50 and you probably have all the materials you need at home, selecting an old shirt or other garment, perhaps a vintage dress. I love the pink print at the top of this page. Friends will be putting in their orders and you could make some extra income to stash in your own bag.

6. Blend your own shampoo.

Rather lather like Willa Cather? Say no to acid and follow the squeaky clean directions provided by Anne Marie, Helmmenstine, Ph.D at About, who argues if the pH in conventional shampoo (alkaline) tis too high, the sulfur bridges in the hair keratin can break, damaging your pretty do.

Her homespun recipe for making your own gentle shampoo (olive oil, coconut oil, castor oil, etc.) is chemically a liquid soap with the exception of vegetable shortening instead of animal fat and a small amount of alcohol and glycerine added during the process. She recommends making it in a well-ventilated room or outdoors, and be sure to read all of the safety precautions on the ingredients.

7. Sewing green organic clothing.


The book Sewing Green by renowned felter and green crafter, Betz White, is a how-to of cool stitchery, from wrap skirts and lunch totes to cashmere slippers and vintage fabric napkins. This is the DIY source for sewers looking to craft garments as stunning as those found in favorite boutiques and online stores.

8. Create your own eye pillow.


Sometimes you just cannot be bothered (see Holly Golightly) and that’s where the DIY Couch Potato Eye Pillow Kit comes in handy. All the steps you need to cut, sew, and lounge are available for $15. Naturally, the sweet find is from Etsy. The kit features Scarlet Fig’s exclusive couch design fabric and you can apparently cure the pattern out in 20 minutes, fill the pillow with dried lavender, apply to eyes, then rest. Also makes a groovy gift.

9. Stitch your own reusable sanitary napkins.


I’ve enlightened you about these before and thought they are great to add to this list, since they aren’t as high-maintenance as one of my friends thinks (she rolled her eyes at the notion of DIY pads, saying, “You have to draw the line, somewhere.”) Here is the how-to from Hillbilly Housewife (look out Miley!) who says she got the information about homemade cloth menstrual pads on a Christian Ladies’ message board in 2002.

She makes her own on her sewing machine and has been a convert to the homespun approach. Our own Sarah Irani says she has been wearing them for years!

10. Design and make your own wedding runner.

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This is exclusive from the Luanne Bradley design file of custom art projects for your wedding (because you have so much time on your hands to take on an extra project). But really, this element added so much to my own beautiful wedding at the SF Fairmont and I have lasting memories with the treasured fabric.


I simply bought yardage of cotton canvas at an art supply store (about 20 feet of it) and hired an artist friend to paint an Italian motif with cherubs and flowers, as well as a poem. She spread the fabric down the entire length of the hall outside my old apartment to paint the runner. The good news is it lives on after the wedding. I stretched the first part of the canvas which now hangs as art over my bed, and the rest of the fabric is in storage to be used for upholstery, curtains or for my daughters to have some day.

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.