May Day Well Dressing

I love May Day. As a child, I remember being taken to a local village to watch the Maypole dancing. I so wanted to be one of the girls dancing. They wore beautiful dresses that swished as they danced. Their dancing wove intricate patterns around the pole. In and out.  Around each other. As they danced, their ribbons magically made a perfect pattern around the pole. Then undid and made a different pattern.

There are other traditions such as Morris dancing, May Queen and garlands of flowers that I saw at subsequent May Days. One tradition, that I can’t remember seeing,  is the May Day Well Dressing. This is the idea of decorating the village pump, or well, with pictures made from living things such as flowers, leaves, etc.  It is both a pagan tradition and adopted later by the christian church. It celebrates the gift of water.

So this year I thought we would have a go. First we collected flowers, leaves and feathers from the garden. In fact, anything that took their fancy. I did insist that it should be small, not too heavy and not liable to walk off the finished work (woodlice and snails cleverly excluded from this project!)

Lucky escape for this one. It has a lovely shell and would have been perfect, but someone already considered it home.

We then made salt dough using the recipe of 1 cup salt, 2 cup plain flour, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil mixed together and then measured out 1 cup of water, which we added slowly, stopping once the dough was not dry and not sticky.

We split the dough in three and rolled them out on to pieces of cardboard to a thickness of 0.5 cm (about 1/4″). The idea is to cover all the dough with the nature collection, so no dough shows. It could be patterns, random or a particular picture.

Next I let the children loose on it. I also gave them one of our nature trail boxes from the Autumn. They had fun chatting about where they had found these various pieces. Also enjoying the new items collected from the garden today.

BL very carefully arranged her chosen bits of nature. She wants to add a frame and decorate the frame once it is dry.

It held TF’s interest for longer than I expected. He examined each piece before pushing it in with just enough force. This is his finished version. I did add a bit more after he left the table.

AJ came up with the idea of a peacock. We have one in the village and the children love spotting it as it wanders around the gardens.

I love the results. We have left them to dry overnight. Now, we don’t have a well or a pump. Seems over the top to place it on the water mains or by the kitchen sink. We will be displaying them somewhere prominent for May Day. It was raining as we collected from the garden. We could see the seedlings growing. Seems right to give our thanks for Mother Nature’s gift of water.

If you would like to see some more links for Well Dressing, I can recommend this site (I love the children holding hands, plus a video clip) and this site. Come back and tell me what you think.

I would love to hear what people think about this activity, so please leave a comment. If you are rushed for time, leave me a thumbs up to let me know you found it interesting.

I’m linking this to The Magic Onions Nature Table and 5 Orange Potatoes Outdoor Challenge. To celebrate the nature all around us, especially this weekend, you’ll find inspiration on both these sites.

17 thoughts on “May Day Well Dressing

  • Friday 30 April, 2010 at 2:20 am

    this is wonderful! now we plan to make some too!
    my daughter and i just sat and read through the links …all about well dressing, May day and Morris dancing etc. so fun and interesting.

    thanks for sharing!

    • Friday 30 April, 2010 at 9:26 am

      Marcia – I’m so glad you both enjoyed it. Let me know how you get on.

    • Friday 30 April, 2010 at 2:22 pm

      Thank you, DansMum. The children enjoyed making them.

    • Saturday 1 May, 2010 at 1:15 am

      Marcia – they are beautiful. I hope everyone had fun making them.

  • Saturday 1 May, 2010 at 4:57 am

    I love this idea. I can’t wait to show my kiddos so we can try this. Thank you for sharing.

    • Saturday 1 May, 2010 at 10:26 am

      Rana – let me know how you get on. We’d love to see the results.

      Happy May Day!

  • Saturday 1 May, 2010 at 5:15 am

    I just found your blog via The Magic Onions. What a lovely idea. They turned out beautifully. I think my daughter would love this. Does the dough completely harden?

    • Saturday 1 May, 2010 at 11:06 am

      Montessoribeginnings – the dough will dry completely. It all depends on humidity and temperature. Usually with salt dough we put it in a low temperature oven, but this was not going to work with leaves and flowers. Instead we left it at room temperature. There are parts that are a bit soft still, but most of it has gone hard. I think the rest will go hard by tonight. We could have speeded up the process by putting it in a warm place, but we risked the dough cracking as it dried and the leaves and flowers wilting.

      If you have a go, let me know how you get on. We’d love to see.

      Happy May Day!

  • Friday 11 June, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    love it!!!

    • Friday 11 June, 2010 at 11:27 pm

      Thanks. It was good fun to do.

  • Sunday 5 December, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Those are lovely! What a great way to make a nature collage. Not May but maybe we will try this with stuff from our collection/stash!

    • Monday 6 December, 2010 at 1:53 am

      The children really enjoyed making these. It is a great way to display their nature finds. Even TF thew himself whole heartedly into doing this craft activity.

  • Wednesday 27 July, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    I’ve been wanting to do a well dressing for years with the children, but never thought about using salt dough – thanks for the ideas! Couldn’t wait for May, so we ran right out in the 90+ degree heat of Tennessee to collect our materials.

    • Saturday 30 July, 2011 at 9:47 am

      Tried your link, but nothing there. I’m glad you enjoyed making the well dressings.

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