Fun, as per instructions

I enjoy being bossed about by Martha Stewart

Along the street where I live in London is a stall selling magazines that are marginally out of date. You can buy three for £2 and real bargains are to be had, especially if you choose international magazines that are usually about £5 a pop. It was here that I picked up my Martha Stewart Living magazine habit.

Within its pages I was gently bossed to do things such as "compile an inventory of all your dishes, you don't want to be caught out before the festive season" (this, just before Christmas) and to store these plates interleaved with felt squares to protect them, one from the other. Before Hallowe'en I was shown how to pierce tiny holes in a gourd, with a gourd punch tool - not even the tremor of a suggestion that any reader might not have such a thing - with the suggestion that I carve out the number or name of my house. It also shows you how to make candles and all manner of other things that most sane people have no time for. It's a magazine for people with possibly no lives, jobs or hope, just lots of money. And it's horribly addictive, because you know that, inside, these people must be screaming as they punch tiny holes in gourds and count out their soup tureens before, possibly, going out to shoot people in shopping malls.

Anyway, in a spring issue, it did show something that was lots of fun, even if you don't have an estate in Connecticut to do it on: tie-dyeing. Tie-dye clothes look hideous on anyone over eight, so it's only fair we let the under-eights indulge. What you need are any old bowls you can muster from the kitchen (MSL showed lovely vintage bowls), some fabric dyes, water, rubber bands and some marbles.

This is a great way to use up tatty, greying, stained white T-shirts. You scrunch up the T-shirt and secure with rubber bands (put marbles in the scrunched-up bits for circular patterns), or just knot the garment and chuck it in the dye for as long as you can stand it, then take out and rinse till it runs dry (you may need to set the colour according to your dye instructions). The point is to have fun, let your children experiment, and try not to be too prescriptive (but shhh, don't tell Martha). It's a really lovely thing to do in the garden on a sunny day and of course if you do it outside the threat of mess is less bothersome.

For slightly older children, there's the misleadingly named T-shirt stamping kit. The idea is that you can stamp out various words on to T-shirts, hats, canvas shoes, and so on. It's more of a considered, "head bent over the table" activity, although it's always very interesting to see quite what words children come up with when given free rein. In the world of Martha Stewart it would probably be "Help".

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 19 May 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Secret Israel