My 1-year-old daughter has already delighted the hearts of her grandparents with her wonderful crafty creations. Crafts for a 1-year-old can be a messy business, but fun. It's worth putting in a bit of planning beforehand. Here are a few tips:
First of all, do not expect to be able to leave her on her own to get on with it while you do the washing up. This would severely limit the range of things she can do, and the quality of the outcome. A 1-year-old needs to be able to handle small things to develop her manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Most of these ideas involve allowing her to do this. If you don't supervise, she can't do it.
Make sure she is appropriately dressed. Don't spoil things by fussing over her clothes getting messy. Likewise prepare your work area for minimum stress.
Make sure that the activity is one she can do. So often when I was working in play groups I saw parents doing everything for the child, then praising them afterward. There is no sense of satisfaction in this, only confusion.
In general, if you have a toddler, it is a good idea to have a stock of basics in hand. I would include paint, paper, crayons, glue, fabric oddments, old magazines and a good supply of junk.
A note on glue: Little ones love sticking things and most of the ideas I will suggest involve glue. In most cases I would recommend a good glue stick rather than the white PVA glue usually used. They are easy to hold and to apply, won't make so much mess, and often stick better.
Here are the craft ideas:
A particular favorite among the very young is sticking things onto paper. When the weather is suitable, we like to take the little ones out for walks and they delight in examining all kinds of tiny things that attract their attention. Let her carry a basket to put things in. Flowers and flower petals, leaves, tiny pebbles, feathers, etc. When you get home, she can stick the things onto paper. It's a good idea to make sure everything is securely stuck down before you hang the picture on your fridge.
Any kind of collage is great fun at this age and is a great opportunity for your 1-year-old to explore textures. If the collages take the form of cards for relatives to gush over, all the better.
Gather a lot of different scraps of material with different textures as well as pom-poms, etc. Use big pieces of card, folded in half. Draw some pictures on the front with a good black marker. Your child will guide and advise you on the composition. Alternatively, if you are well-prepared, you can help her to draw around templates. Then let her decorate it.
A good idea for Easter is to get a little basket and let her decorate that with straw, pom-pom chicks, ribbons, etc. This can take a surprisingly long time and will provide amusement value for you as she chats to the chicks.
At Christmas time, indulge in some glitter. If you buy cheap Christmas cards, your toddler can brighten them with glue and glitter. Glitter is normally not recommended for toddlers, so you must supervise them every minute, clear up immediately, and put the glitter away somewhere safe (and preferably secret) when you are done.
Often through the last year I have allowed my daughter to decorate boxes to put presents in. To do this you need a small, empty cardboard box, perhaps the one that the tea bags were in. Examine the box and carefully undo the seams. Sometimes application of steam helps. Turn the box inside out and stick it back together. If you have to, use tape but only on the inside. You now have a nice white box ready for decoration.
In my fridge there is always a big lump of salt dough. You make it from equal parts salt and flour, a splodge of oil and enough water to make a good texture. Some people cook it, adding too much water, then drying it down, but I don't think this is really necessary. It must be kneaded well and kept wrapped in cling film in the fridge. It does not keep that long, but it is wonderful for those "Oh no, what are we going to do now?" moments. You can add food coloring to bits of it. The advantages of this dough are that it is cheap, easy to make, tastes horrible and, most important, you can bake it in a slow oven and it will harden.
This is the perfect answer to all of your extended family gift questions. Your little one can have lots of fun playing with as much of the dough as she likes, then when she is happy with her creations, pop them in a cool oven until it's hard. Afterward she can paint them. A big fat brush and really thick powder paint is excellent. If you mix an egg into the paint, it will stick better and stay nice and glossy. Make sure she washes her hands well after using this dough because salt is of course drying. If your child has a skin condition, you could use a barrier cream.
There are many more craft projects you can do with your toddler. These should give you a starting point to develop your own ideas with your own child in mind.