Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Chinese Zodiac: Book, Printables & Felt craft

Photo Credit: Brian Beggerly
At its simplest, the Chinese zodiac is based on a 12 year cycle, with each year related to an animal sign. The years are based on the Chinese lunar calendar, with each new year starting on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Each animal, with its own unique characteristics, is said to influence its year. It is believed that our personal character is influenced by the animal from the year we are born into. According to the Chinese Zodiac, your animal year is reflected in your strengths and weaknesses. 

These are the twelve animal signs:

Rat, Ox, TigerRabbit, DragonSnake, Horse
Goat/Sheep, MonkeyRooster, DogPig

Since the lunar year starts and ends on different dates each year, sometime in January or February, if you were born in either month, your "year" may be different than you think. You can find out which sign you were born under here
The Great Race 
how the years were assigned to each animal

According to legend, the Jade Emperor had decreed that the years in each 12 year cycle would named after the animals in the order in which they arrived to his meeting place across a great river. Cat and Rat were the best of friends, but the worst swimmers in the animal kingdom. They cleverly convinced good natured Ox to carry them across the river. Rat deceived his friend by pushing Cat into the water midway across the river, and jumping over Ox when they reached the shore, which is how Rat claimed first place in the race and in the zodiac. Some say this is why cats and rats have become enemies. 

Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac  by Dawn Casey (Affiliate link)

This is a fun illustrated storybook of the story of the great race. The endnotes include some characteristics associated with each year/animal.

Felt Zodiac Animals

Pea and Elle are a Tiger and a Horse, respectively

Inspired by the hanging decorations of the zodiac animals I've seen in stores and online (like these), Elle and I made felt zodiac animals to be used as hanging room ornaments or Christmas ornaments. With all the siblings and cousins, we nearly made one for each year. 

We used felt because it's so versatile - it can be glued, sewed, or felted. To make these ornaments, I used these images as our template. Each ornament had three pieces cut out of felt, to make them sturdier, in three different colors. The top piece was embroidered decoratively (using the template as inspiration), a felt eye was felted on, then all three pieces were felted together with a hoop of ribbon in between. 

These are the ornaments Elle made for her mother, sisters and step father. She used the same color felt for all of her layers.

Round Up of Chinese Zodiac Printables

  • Lotta Magazine Chinese Zodiac Animals (pictured above) includes ideas on how to use the animals for decorations and toys. These are Elle's personal favorites - she had me print all of these, some more than once, has colored them and given some out to friends.
  • Activity Village has a variety of Chinese zodiac coloring pages. (Elle really likes the one with all the animals featured together.)
  • Kutchuk put a twist on Chinese zodiac animals by creating printable boxes for each animal. They also have Chinese characters with their translations in English and French on the sides.
  • Geeky Angie has a sheet of zodiac animal medallions that could also be cut out and used for a garland or decoration.
  • Nick Jr. has a colorful and fun zodiac wheel, and individual coloring sheets for each of the animals that include their Chinese character and some characteristics attributed to those born under the sign. 
Zodiac Wheel paper cut image is attributed to China Vine


  1. Brilliant! Can I ask a silly question? How does one felt felt? I work a lot with felt and really enjoy its flexibility (especially with regards to non fraying edges) but I'd never heard of sticking things on by felting. What to you do to achieve that?
    I'm waiting with anticipation!!

    1. Felting is so great (Elle loves it and has made quite a few projects) - you basically use a barbed needle (like these:http://www.theyarnroom.com/osc/index.php?cPath=26_61) and prick felt or roving repeatedly onto a wool or felt surface, and the fibers get intertwined which binds the pieces together. With the ornaments, it also made them stiffer with all those fibers interwoven. If you look up felting projects, its amazing what people do with it. Elle likes it because its quick, easy, and not messy :)


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