Hamsa Woodcraft for Kids
Making a hamsa is a great craft project for home or religious school. The hamsa, an amulet designed to ward off the evil eye, can then be hung in kids' bedrooms for protection or decoration (depending on how superstitious you are!).
I recommend this craft for kids eight years old and up; it involves sandpaper, acrylic paint, and glue. If you're doing it at home, a six-year-old can certainly do it with adult assistance.
What Is a Hamsa?
The hamsa originated as a pre-Islamic Arabic talisman for warding off the evil eye and bringing good fortune. The word itself comes from the Semitic root for the word "five," and refers to the five fingers on the hand. Currently, the symbol is popular throughout the Middle East, both for Arabs and Jews. It is occasionally referred to as the Hand of Fatima or the Hand of Miriam (depending on your culture).
In shape, the hamsa is always symmetrical, with the middle finger longest, ring and pointer fingers slightly shorter but equal, and pinky and thumb much shorter but also equal, and often turned out to a point. The hamsa usually has an eye in the center of the palm, and is traditionally decorated with intricate metal scrollwork or jewels. Silver is the traditional material for hamsas, since silver represents purity and was once believed to have magical powers. Common symbols include fish and the word mazal, meaning luck.
There are different traditions regarding which direction the hamsa should point. Some say that the fingers point up for protection and down for general luck and blessings; kabbalists add that a hamsa pointing toward the sky draws masculine energy, and toward the earth draws female energy.
Preparing the Wood
If you are handy and have a jigsaw or band saw, you can take Lauan plywood and cut out hamsa shapes easily.
- Draw the shape on paper for practice first. About 8 inches high by 5 inches wide is a nice proportion and leaves plenty of space for decoration.
- Tape the drawing onto the plywood or draw it again in pencil directly on the plywood.
- If you are cutting two at once, you can nail two pieces together with the drawing taped on top. (Use short, thin nails so the holes are not noticeable after you've painted the hamsas.)
- After the wood is cut, the kids can take a sanding block and carefully sand the rough edges and splinters away. Be sure to wipe away the dust with a tack cloth (you can use a damp paper towel) before painting.
Wooden hamsas for crafting are also available precut online.
Note: If you want to make a hamsa, but don't have woodworking tools, you can cut the shape from sturdy cardboard with a craft knife instead.
Painting the Base Color
Suit your kids up in their smocks and get out the acrylic craft paints and newspapers. You'll want to use a fairly wide brush to paint the base coat (bristle brushes or foam brushes should work equally well). Don't use tempera paints; the wood will suck the paint in and it won't coat nicely. And remember, acrylic craft paint is permanent once dry, so clean up any spills quickly!
Traditional hamsas are made of silver with a blue eye in the center. You can follow this pattern by using silver paint as your base color or play with it by using blue as a base and silver for accents, as we did here.
Plan It Out
Before your kids begin decorating their hamsas, have them take a few minutes to reflect on the design they would like. Explain the meaning to them, and show them examples (online or in person) of different styles of hamsas, so they understand the decorative traditions. Then draw an outline on paper for them to plan out their design. With pencil or crayons, your kids can experiment with different doodles, symbol placement, colors, and various media. Make sure to let them know what craft supplies you have available so they can plan properly.
Decorating the Hamsa
Now comes the most fun part: letting your kids get their hands messy with craft supplies! Lay out newspaper on your table, and make sure you have plenty of glue available (white glue is fine for glitter, but you'll want tacky glue for gluing on gems or other plastic items).
Suggested Craft Supplies:
- acrylic craft paint
- plastic gems or adhesive rhinestones
- googly eyes
- lace or fabric scraps
- puffy paint
- Try decoupage to decorate the hamsa. You can supply bits of wrapping paper, scrapbook paper, or even images cut from magazines for your child to glue on. You'll need Mod Podge and foam brushes. After the decoupage is dry, your child can decorate further, using glitter or gems.
- Use plastic stencils to paint or glitter the hamsa in elaborate shapes and designs. Spray adhesive will help glitter stick to just the open stencil areas. You can use letter stencils as well if your child wants writing on her hamsa.
Hang the Finished Hamsa
Once your kids have finished their crafts and allowed them to dry for a day, it's time to hang them. Get an inexpensive picture-hanging kit from the supermarket or hardware store, and gently hammer a sawtooth picture hanger onto the back of the hamsa, using very short nails.You can hang the hamsa in your child's bedroom or in a main room of your house if you desire. (The positive effects of the hamsa will be strongest in the room in which it hangs.)
Remember: Check with your child whether the fingers should point up (for protection) or down (for good luck) before hanging it!