"It's a snake! Quick! Get the hoe!" Too often, we're scared by what we don't understand. Snakes seem so strange, with their smooth scales and their seemingly boneless motion. But if we take a moment to think about their role in our gardens, woods, and fields, we can get past our initial fear reaction and learn to regard them as our great garden ally.

I can't think of a better way to take some of the scary mystery out of snakes for kids than doing a silly snake craft project. If you can take the time to talk about snakes they might see outside, or if you can sit down together and read a book about snakes, that takes it from a craft project to an educational opportunity.

I'm fascinated by snakes, and I find them beautiful. orange tabby cat playing with pink striped necktie snake I realize that's a stretch for many people, but if you can at least establish a mutual tolerance and respect for the snakes you may encounter, they'll repay you by protecting your plants. I'd rather share my garden with a slithery snake or two than be up to my ears in marauding mice and rampaging rabbits!

Gather the materials you'll need to make your soft and silky snake. Find an old necktie with a print you like. Large diamond patterns, wide stripes, or bright paisley designs are my favorites for snakes, but use whatever appeals to you. The tie has to have a lined back; knit ties will not work for this project.

Find something to use for stuffing your snake: a bag of polyester fluff, a bunch of torn foam bits, bag of poly stuffing and stuffing-pusher stickold nylon stockings, fabric scraps, etc. Stuffed with beans or sand, your snake might make a good draft blocker. You'll also need a bit of red felt for the tongue and a pair of ¾ inch or 1 inch diameter googly eyes. Felt or fabric paint could be used, but the googly eyes are a cute touch.

A stick is useful for pushing the stuffing down into the snake. I made an excellent stuffing-pusher by adding a knob of masking tape to the end of a quarter-inch dowel. Finally, you'll need a needle and thread and glue (hot glue or craft glue suitable for fabric) for the finishing touches.

head of blue striped snakeStart by opening up the backing on the wide end of the tie. You don't need a big opening, so there's no need to open up the main seam of the tie. Put a little stuffing into this end, which will become the head of your snake. Then start pushing stuffing in the other direction, all the way down the length of your snake. With some neckties, you may also be able to insert stuffing from the narrow end of the tie.

Using smaller tufts of poly fluff will make a less lumpy snake.shows underside of head with opening sewed shut As you go along, you can squash the fluff around to smooth it out and get it to the right density. When your snake is stuffed as tightly or as floppily as you'd like, add a bit more stuffing to his head to give it a good shape. Sew up the opening under his "chin."

As a finishing touch, cut a little notched piece of red felt and glue it into place to give your snake a forked tongue. Position the googly eyes evenly on either side of his head and glue them on.

You could drape your necktie snake from your bedpost or put it out in the garden as a scarecrow of sorts. trio of necktie snakes draped over the back of an armchairWherever you put it, I hope looking at its googly eyes and silly red tongue will make snakes seem a little less off-putting. The next time you or your kid spot that black snake sunning himself on the woodpile, maybe you'll be a bit more comfortable going about your business and letting him do his thing.

pink striped necktie snake draped in climbing roseEven if you can't bring yourself to adore the real reptilian version, you've got to love the colorful, cuddlesome version you just created!

Thanks to my friend Theresa for introducing me to necktie snakes, and thanks also to my niece and nephew for a fun day of crafting!

Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus.