From Trash to Tulips

From Trash to Tulips

Searching for new art projects for your little ones? Just look around. Raw materials are at arm’s length

By Ann St. Martin Stout

Replacing an empty toilet paper roll is not a creative task, but that little brown tube has lots of artistic potential. In this project, empty paper towel or toilet tissue rolls — just the right size for little hands — are used to print shapes and designs.

You will need:

  • White fabric surface such as T-shirt, tote bag or apron or white poster board
  • Newspaper to cover work surface
  • Three or more empty tubes from bathroom tissue or paper towel rolls (cut long tubes into three sections)
  • A few pieces of scrap cardboard (for printing lines)
  • Permanent liquid paint (Ceramcoat by Delta) in green and other colors as desired
  • Flat containers for holding paint for dipping — one container per color (Styrofoam packaging trays work well)
  • Scrap paper
  • Rags or paper towels for cleanup

Parent Tip: Practice on scrap paper before stamping on bag or apron.

  1. Cover work surface with newspaper. Assemble all supplies.
  2. Squirt a puddle of liquid paint in each flat container.
  3. With fabric smoothed out on the covered work surface, plan a simple design. Each tube end prints a circle or, if flattened a bit, a petal or leaf shape. Note: If your fabric has two layers, slip a piece of clean scrap paper between the layers to prevent paint from soaking through to other layer.
  4. Dip the end of the round tube in paint and print a circle for a flower center on the fabric.
  5. With a new color, print several petals radiating from the center circle using the tube flattened into an ellipse (petal shape). Use a round tube end to make overlapping circular petals around the center.
  6. Dip the edge of a thick piece of cardboard into the green paint and print a stem below the flower. Still using green, dip a leaf-shaped tube end and create leaves along stem.
  7. Repeat above steps to make a row of flowers with stems and leaves.
  8. Fold one of the flattened tubes a second time to create a V shape. Using this shape — with the V pointing down and blades of grass reaching up — paint grass along the base of the flower stems.
  9. Allow paint to dry completely before folding, stacking or touching painted areas. Once dry, the reverse side can be printed, too.

Circles and other shapes can also be used to print a border or design other than flowers. Try out different color and shape combinations.


  • Turn little drips or spritzes of paint into decorative dots that look like they belong.
  • Dip the handle end of a paint brush into paint and touch it to the drip. It will look like it was always meant to be there.
  • Groups of three dots add a nice artistic touch.
  • Need to hide something? Sew a button over it! (Change button color using nail polish, if desired)

Ann St. Martin Stout approaches every household task to hatch ideas that send her back to play in her studio. Ann crafts at her home in Newport, N.H., where she lives with her family.

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