When I was growing up, I had a toy cookware set including a pot, pan, casserole dish, and tea pot. Apparently, my parents kept it and it’s managed to survive from the 1980’s to here in 2024.

Earlier this year, my father emailed me to say he’d dug it up, and to ask if my brother’s daughter – my niece – could have it.

4-piece Galt Toys cookware set.

That was fine by me, but my memory of the set is that it was mostly used to play in the sand pit. If I ‘cooked’ anything in it, it was mud patties, and concoctions of leaves, sand, water, and random (inedible) berries from the garden.

While messy play is fun, I thought I could maybe do a little better for the next generation.

Felting is fun

Last year I found myself on a video call with Liz Mitchell MNZM. She was absolutely lit up telling me about the potential of New Zealand strong wool. She told me that felting was easy, and that even I could make almost anything.

And sometime between Christmas and New Year, I began the needle felting kit that Liz had sent me as a reward for supporting her PledgeMe project.

A felted sheep

It turned out, she was right. I’ve never really gelled with any type of textile craft in my life. I can’t sew, I can’t knit, I can’t crochet. But felting? Turns out I don’t suck at that!

So my first needle felted sheep kit quickly bloomed into a small pile of supplies.

By late January, I found myself in the middle of a project to make my niece a bucket of foods to ‘cook’ in my old toy cookware.

The foods

I decided to limit myself to ‘whole’ foods – fruit, vegetables, and animal proteins. That did limit some more fun foods, but still offered a lot of great options.

Felted fruit - watermelon, blueberries, apple. avocado, strawberry, raspberries, pear, banana, mandarin, lemon, and lime.

My scale is terrible. The sizes of these foods is all over the place. But each piece meant I was learning something.

Felted vegetables - tomatoes, mushrooms, pumpkin,  capsicum, potatoes, carrot, turnip, cauliflower, broccoli, kumara, onion, eggplant, cucumber, peas, garlic, chili, and radish.

I started with the peas, then as the colours of wool I had available increased, so did the variety of ingredients.

I found the fruit and vegetables easy because I’m so familiar with them from my work in the garden and years in the kitchen.

Felted proteins - mussels, a shrimp, a whole ass roast chicken, a steak, two chicken drumsticks, and a hard boiled egg in halves.

The foods got more and more complex. I learned more techniques. I started getting more complicated and interesting.

The bucket

The bucket itself originally came filled with liquorice all sorts – a Christmas gift from Richard.

Initially it was just a convenient container for the foods I was making, but then filling it became the goal.

Still, it felt cruel to gift a toddler a bucket covered in imagery of lollies, and containing fake vegetables. So the bucket was going to need a re-brand.

Without getting into a rant about how manufacturers could easily use removable branding on packaging like this to encourage re-use, the manufacturer did not use removable branding.

The bucket I started with.

So I sanded the branding back – that actually took off quite a lot of the branding sticker – but then I sprayed it with black spray paint. I sprayed once a week for three weeks, sanding between coats.

Then I wanted to do something a bit – more – with it. So I began cutting up an old Yates Garden Guide and decoupaged it on.

Final bucket

It turned out pretty good. Hopefully it withstands the wear!

The gift

Generally I make it a rule to avoid noisy, messy, or gendered gifts for children. But everyone needs to learn how to cook, and it’s already apparent that food and cooking are some of my niece’s interests.

Felted peas and carrots in a toy pot.

And this gift is intergenerational. The cook wear was gifted to me by my Nana, then my parents saved it for decades so the next generation could use it too.

A whole roast chicken, kumara, and pumpkin in a toy cooking dish.

The addition of the felted ingredients is something that took me months.

Hopefully they’ll be treasured too, but if not then – because they’re made from wool – they’re at least 100% compostable.

Steak, potatoes, and a mushroom in a toy frying pan.