About Kate

http://www.katescreativespace.com

I blog at www.katescreativespace.com

Posts by Kate :

Channelling Icarus, and a week in pictures…

Icarus wings master

You can imagine the moment when Icarus, full of hubris and exhilaration as he sailed above Crete with his home-made wings, began to question the wisdom of using wax.  Perhaps when the first rays of the sun warmed his back and he began to feel an alarming softening of his wingspan….  the rest, as they say, is history.  Or myth, more accurately.

If only Icarus had enjoyed access to poster board and lolly sticks, we reckon it might have been a very different story.  Lighter, less smelly than wax and feathers, and surprisingly resilient even when you get stuck in a doorway when trying to launch yourself outside, these are proving a winner in our household this week.

Harry has recently developed a passion for flight, in no small part due to discovering How to Train Your Dragon, and also the cast of Lego Ninjago – his new heroes.  ’Mummy, can we make me some wings please that I can wear?’  well sure, let’s try, said I.  ’Great!  They need to ping out when I press a button and fold away when I click and they should be big enough to fly, ok?’  Ummm, no.

Still, we did OK.  I quite fancy a pair of these myself, and am trying to invent / discover a party that I can justifiably wear these to…

Icarus wings for littles

I used poster board (foam board), and hand-drew a wing shape before cutting it out with a craft knife (I used plates to get clean half-circle shapes around the edges).  Wooden lolly sticks glued in lines gave the appearance of a wing frame, and then I used ordinary paper fasteners and scraps of faux leather to make handles and to join the two wings together.  If you fancy having a go, gather the materials below  - I’ve also made a proper template which you can download and photocopy to the size you want it.  If you’re in need of detailed instructions, just let me know!

You’ll need:

  • Two sheets of foam board or cardboard
  • A pile of wooden lolly sticks
  • Paper fasteners
  • Glue (all-purpose or hot glue).
  • Scraps of cardboard, faux leather or foam to make the handles and connector piece
  • Braid (optional)

Icarus Wing Template

wing template

How to make Icarus Wings

Making Icarus Wings

In other news this week, the fair came to town!

A traditional steam fair comes to the Village Green of a town near us each Autumn, for a weekend of bumper-cars, helter-skelter rides, coconut shies and old-fashioned fun.  Crowds come from all of the surrounding villages and it’s a lovely event.  Harry wore his aviator goggles throughout, although we persuaded him to leave his wings at home.

The Steam Fair

I’m trying to enjoy every last minute of Autumn, as we gather blackberries and pine cones and count-down the days until we can light the wood-burning stove and find that we are once again racing the sun at each end of the day; to school and work before it rises, home again before it finally sets.  Already the stores are turning to Christmas, and festive displays are filling the windows.  Part of me is horrified, and part of me slows and lingers, I confess.

I’ve been doodling on scraps of watercolour paper and thinking through ideas for Christmas cards (whisper it – I know it’s so long away..).  Happy polar bears, perhaps, once I get the proportions right and add a few festive accents..

polar bear sketching

On Sunday, we focused firmly on the present and had a weekend tea party in glorious late-season sunshine for Harry’s godparents; a lovely change to a more traditional lunchtime get together, and a delicious excuse for cake-making…. I made the universal favourite chocolate biscuit cake, which apparently was served at William and Kate’s royal wedding (we add raisins, cherries and decoration to ours; we love a bit of overkill!)…

Royal Biscuit Cake

And also experimented with mini banoffee pies in flower pots, topped with grated chocolate to look like soil…

Plantpot Banoffee Pies

And finally Harry and I made a raspberry and lemon bundt cake, which has become a family favourite and proves irresistible to even the most virtuous and health-conscious guest..

The cake thief

 

And talking of cake, it’s time to sign off, as I must ensure I’m in position on the sofa, glass of wine in hand in time for the final, climactic episode of The Great British Bake-Off; we don’t watch much TV but this has become my weekly guilty pleasure; with just three bakers left and some pretty daunting challenges ahead, I’ll be gripped.

Have a great rest of the week!

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The Simple Guide to Making Secret Books

DIY Secret Books

I’ve always loved the idea of making secret boxes from books; the kind where you pull out a book from the shelves, lift the cover and find instead a beautiful box full of exciting things.  I’ve always been put off  by the method, which traditionally involves glueing all of the book pages together and cutting, carefully and precisely, through every single page to cut out an inner section of the book.  The results often look amazing, but very time-consuming and requiring much precision cutting and sticking and use of clamps.  Not one for slap-dash crafters like me.

Instead, I experimented with making one by removing the whole of the book-text and replacing it with an inner made of cardboard or foam (I tried both; you can see pics below).  It took about 90mins from end to end and I love the result… it’s also a very do-able project to make with children  on a wet Autumnal afternoon.  It the idea appeals, here’s a step-by-step guide below; let me know how you get on!

Kates secret book box

1. Choose your book

You can choose whatever book you like for this – I found mine for free at a local shop which gives away books rescued from landfill sites – but a few pointers; choose a hardback book, so that you have enough rigidity in the spine and covers for your box.  Consider the size and thickness of the book; how big and deep do you want your box to be?  There are no right or wrongs here, but have a think before you choose.  Finally, give the book a good shake and the spine a waggle to make sure it is sturdy and not falling apart.  Oh, and if you’re choosing one from your bookshelves, make sure it won’t be missed…

Elegance by K Tessaro

2. Decide on your ‘filling’

I suggest using either corrugated cardboard or sheets of fun foam.  Both of these are very quick and easy to cut; if you are planning a real work of art or heirloom you could use artists grey board, but this will several hundred more strokes of your craft knife and is only for the very dedicated.  I’ve shown the steps below using cardboard.  The foam will look a little sleeker, but does cost more (you can usually find enough cardboard from old boxes). You can also use a box to insert in your book – I used half a box from a pair of inexpensive sunglasses –  though you don’t need one.

Corrugated for making hollow books How to make hollow books

3. Carefully remove the book pages

Two ways of doing this; one is to slice away the endpapers and (gently) rip the whole book from the cover; this will keep your book intact if you want to read it again, but it will also weaken the spine of the cover a little.  The other method which I used is to slice out the pages as shown below; they will come out in clumps and this should take less than a minute.  Cut as close to the glued spine as you can.

Making hollow books

4. Measure the page size and cut pieces of cardboard or foam to the same size

Cut as many pieces as you need to fit the depth of the spine (my book needed 10 pieces of foam, or just 5 of the cardboard, which was thicker).  Make sure you are measuring the page size and not the cover; your stack needs to fit neatly inside the original book cover.

Cutting cardboard to make a hollow book

5.  Cut a section from the centre of each, to the size you want your box inner to be, and glue together

If you’re using a box to insert, measure this and mark on each piece of cardboard/foam where to cut, centring on each to ensure you are cutting in the same place.

book box step by step

When you’ve finished, push or place your box into the hole you have cut to check it fits snugly.  When you’re happy, lift it out, dab glue around the edges and reinsert to hold it into place.  If you’re not using an inner, you can decide what size of shape to cut out.  Now stack your pieces and glue together to make your completed insert. (and apologies for the lack of step-by-step pictures here; a combination of glue, paper, craft knives and darkness made this impossible)

6. Paint the cardboard if desired

I painted my cardboard stack black to match the original page edges and colour palette of the book, but you can leave as plain cardboard or paint any colour.  If you’re using foam, choose the colour you want at the beginning.  Here’s my cardboard stack, painted, with the cover sheet glued on top but without the box yet inserted or the edges trimmed;

DIY book box in progress

6.  Take one page sheet from the original book and cut out a hole of the same size/shape, and glue on top of your insert.  Trim any scrappy edges carefully, and then glue your finished inner back into the book cover by attaching it to the inside back cover and spine.  I used all-purpose glue and weighted my book down and left for a couple of hours to dry.

7.  You can also decorate the inside of your box; I stuck the opening page back carefully onto the lefthand cover, used a scrap of gift wrap to line the box, and also made a wax monogram seal with my initial.

wax seal

8. Admire, and fill with treasures!

You can use the book-boxes as jewellery boxes, or for storing secret treasures, letters or mementoes.  The beauty of them is that of course they close naturally and can be stacked alongside other books, looking indistinguishable from a normal one; great for storing valuables if you are going away.  They would also be lovely used as a small box for a ring-bearer to carry up the aisle; perhaps using a prayer book or book of poetry to make one of these.

Secret book-boxes for storing treasures!

 

My next project is to make Harry a secret box using a Harry Potter book, which he can keep under his bed and fill with ever-changing treasures.  We might even make one for the tooth fairy in the future; a tiny weeny box perhaps to tuck under the pillow, just big enough to hold a tooth and a piece of gold..

Have a great weekend!

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May The Force Be With You

Darth Vader DIY Cardboard Ship

Today I have an answer for that universal question which troubles us all at one or other time; ‘How Does One Make a Star Wars Fighter Ship Out of Cardboard?’.

Well alright,  I know that in reality it’s not a problem that many face, but it was a challenge laid down by Harry who was desperate that we should build together a spacecraft worthy of Darth Vader.  His actual specifications (‘One that really flies, Mummy!’) were a bit ambitious, but we emptied out the recycling bin and did our best….

DIY Star Wars Ship

It was a voyage of adventure (and misadventure), involving a pile of cardboard boxes, empty milk containers, a staple gun and some black and silver paint.  We took our inspiration – loosely – from the TIE Advanced cruiser that Darth Vader uses to shoot across the galaxy.  Can you see the resemblance, just a weeny bit?

TIE_Advanced courtesy of wikipedia

We tasked my husband with rummaging in the undergrowth during his evening runs in search of discarded hubcaps; he did brilliantly and managed to drag home a large and filthy selection.  Cleaning old hubcaps in the kitchen sink in order to stick milk-bottle caps onto them will be a defining moment of motherhood I think.  Still, it meant we had all our core components assembled;

Recycled materials

I sawed up cardboard to make wings and fixed them to a box (I punched holes and wired them together for strength, rather than using glue; these ships take quite a battering in astro-warfare..).  Harry was in charge of paint, a task he took to with enthusiasm.  I discovered belatedly that our paint of choice is not in fact washable; neither boy nor shirt have looked quite as box-fresh since last weekend…

Painting the Star Wars Ship

The rockets were made by spraying milk containers with silver paint and stuffing them with strips of tissue paper; I threaded a length of wire through bendy straws and used these to secure the bottles in place where they could provide jet power at the touch of a button.

DIy Milk Bottle Rockets

Star Wars Ship Straps

Foil pie cases were glued on in abundance by Harry to add a bit of bling and space-age style, as were faux jewels from the art cupboard, and then finally I cut a large square out of the bottom of the box for Harry to step through and then added wide bands of elastic to act as straps to hold the ship in place.  A star cruiser was born.

I’ve not included detailed instructions for how we made our ship because I have a hunch that this is a rather niche craft activity (though mothers of small boys – and larger ones – may find inspiration here).  Instead, here’s a pictogram of what we used and how it all vaguely came together…

DIY Star Wars Ship Materials

And now I must leave you; the universe is in peril, I hear, and Darth is on the warpath. I don’t have the time or cardboard to knock myself up a lightsaber, so I will be relying on my wits.  This means I am doomed.

All being well, however, I’ll be back on Friday with a cheat’s guide to how to make hollowed-out books for storing treasures.

See you then!

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The Letter Box: Preserving The Magic of Snail Mail

The Letter Box

I’ve written often on this blog about my love of letters and the abiding magic of good things in the post.  For someone who delights in receiving mail, I don’t write to others nearly often enough, so have gradually been gathering together lovely supplies to make it easier to scribble a pretty card or note in the moment I think of it, before life rushes on and the distracted hunt for a stamp or an envelope causes me to abandon my good intentions.

Harry too is becoming a man of letters, and has discovered the presence of the Royal Mail and the astonishing fact that letters, when posted into a box on our street, can be transported to far flung corners of the world in a matter of days (actually, in truth the time element has yet to be understood; Harry’s default expectation is that anything we post will reach it’s destination – wherever that may be – by teatime).

I’ve made Harry a Box of Letters which contains all sorts of lovely things for making and sending letters and cards to grandparents, family and friends – and even to us.  It’s helping him with his writing and means we can distribute the growing pile of artwork somewhat more widely.. and also has the bonus of generating letters in reply, which he adores.

Writing Letters

Here are some of the things in the modern man’s stationery bureau;

1. Enticing coloured crayons, pencils or pens.  We love Giotto pencils which have an almost oil-pastel like vibrancy and creaminess and go on thickly and easily.  They’re also triangular which helps with learning pencil grip, if you’re 4-5yrs old and facing such grown-up challenges.

Handful of pencils

 2.  Fun, bright stationery which doesn’t require much writing to fill it all up.  I’ve given Harry a fistful of my Happy Notes which only need about a sentence-worth of concentration and heavy-breathing before they are full.  I’ve also packed in a few of our home-made holiday postcards and some of Harry’s monogram stationery – again, just the right size for the attention-span of a small child.

Happy Note

3.  Decorative paper tape and stickers to adorn envelopes and add a dash of flair.  I also use the tape to hold the paper or cards in place whilst Harry writes and draws; with the flamboyance and heavy-handed pressure involved, it’s easy for them to skid and slip around unless I tack them lightly in place.

Washi tape and Stickers

4. And my favourite… personalised stamps and fun stamps.  I made some stamps for Harry using the Royal Mail Smilers service, and there are similar websites for the US and Canada which will allow you to upload photos and turn them into personalised stamps (lovely for a wedding or event as well as fun for kids).  They’re fun to use and raise a smile when they arrive on the mat at their destination.

personalised stamps

I made the storage box out of an old shoe box, and designed the picture below for the top (you can download a PDF printable below if you want to make your own).  I found some cow-print paper in Harry’s art cupboard which I used to line the box and lid – and now we have our correspondence kit to hand for whenever inspiration strikes!  I think one of these would make a lovely gift too for anyone young or old with a passion for stationery and lovely things; something to think about perhaps as Christmas stealthily approaches.

Letter Box Lid

Letters Box Printable

I’d love to know any other ideas for bits and bobs to include in Harry’s box or ways you’ve encouraged letter-writing and managed to avoid it becoming a tortuous semi-annual task after birthdays and Christmas; all tips welcome!

Have a wonderful weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing; we have a back-to-school party and a small family reunion to look forward to – and baking too; September sees the return of our Saturday Cake-in-the-House tradition; a glass of wine and a new recipe book await me this evening.

Kate x

Stationery box for kids

 

Accent walls

PHE paper


In one of the very first ever posts to this blog, I talked about a wallpaper I’d fallen in love with; Scrapwood paper by Piet Hein Eek.  The cost of papering a room in Scrapwood would roughly equal the national debt of a developing country, so it has always sat on my ‘Crave’ list of beautiful but unattainable things that I like to admire from afar.  And then recently a single roll appeared in the sale bin of an achingly chic design store I was rummaging through, and it felt like a tap on the shoulder from Fate.  An expensive tap, even then –  but the deed was done.

Woodplank wallpaper on chimney breast

Scrapwood No.2 wallpaper now adorns the chimney breast in our bedroom and I love it.  It lifts the previous calming but somewhat bland walls and manages to be both eye-catching and restful at the same time.  The walls in this room are almost 4m high, creating quite a dramatic sense of scale that it’s hard to convey in a photo  - even when dangling half-out of the window, as I was here.  The wood-plank effect is so realistic that visitors* tend to approach it and stroke it before jumping back to surprise to find it’s paper… (* I should clarify that we don’t have many visitors to our bedroom, lest you think it odd…)

vignette on mantlepiece

accent wallpaper

So taken was I with our accent wall that I turned my attention to Harry’s new room, which we’re in the process of decorating.  He and I chose this gorgeous wallpaper from Scion, which made Harry beam with delight when he saw it.  ’That fox is called BORIS” he announced, with great conviction; ‘and I think he should come and be in my room’.

scion fox wallpaper roll

So now Boris – and approximately 200 of his friends – adorn one wall of Harry’s very grown-up bedroom, adding a splash of colour and fun.

Scion fox wallpaper

I love the way that they parade under the window, as if heading off for a prowl around the neighbourhood…

Bedroom decor

Mr Fox Ginger Wallpaper

Have a great weekend, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing! (We’ll be counting foxes…).

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Home Harvest

Blackberry and Pear Crumble with Pistachio Crust

How was your weekend?  I hope it was a lovely one.  We had a decidedly autumnal couple of days, with misty mornings and cool evenings punctuating the bursts of heat and sunshine in between.  We had an amazing evening on Friday at the Luna Cinema, watching a movie under the stars whilst swaddled in blankets and sipping wine; as Friday nights go, it was hard to beat.  Picnics too take on a whole new dimension when you’re unable to see what you’re rummaging for in the basket; we did eat the strangest combination of things.

Our main activity this weekend though was harvesting and foraging, gathering pears and blackberries from the garden to see us through the next couple of seasons.  We began with pears… very small, wrinkly and peculiarly shaped ones, but they taste delicious nonetheless..

Home Harvest

Harry was in charge of quality control, checking for holes, bite-marks and signs that we’d been beaten to the chase by other inhabitants of the garden.  He takes after his dad and is able to do this calmly and methodically, and not run screaming to the house in hysterics every time he finds a worm (guilty as charged…).

Gathering Pears for Autumn

The quirky summer weather has produced masses of early blackberries, which unlike the pears are super-sized and super-juicy.  I flash-froze tray after tray before packaging them up like marbles, and now have a freezer-full of strangely shaped bags of bobbly purple fruit.

frezzing blackberries

Last year we experimented with blackberry jam-making, but this weekend we wanted a more immediate treat, so I tried this recipe from James Martin for pear and blackberry crumble… and can officially declare it to be delicious.  I tweaked the quantities a little (my version below); if you’re working in US measurements, all you need to remember for the filling is a rough ratio of 3:1 for the pear vs the blackberries – though of course the beauty of crumbles is that you can customise it is much as you like…

Pear and Blackberry crumble recipe

Finally, we gathered up all of the pears we had left over and arranged them amongst tissue paper in a couple of spare shoeboxes; I pasted a picture of our morning’s efforts to the inside lid and we’ll take them to local friends.  Harry has certified each to be worm-free, and his word is good :-)

a box of pears

And now we’re back into the hurly-burly of the working week; thankfully without the frantic checking of school kit and the shock of early mornings and routine which rushed at us last week; we’re in our groove again now.  At least, today we were..

Thank you incidentally for the lovely comments about our puppet theatre, and the stories and memories shared – it’s so lovely when a conversation unfolds!

Have a great rest of the week.

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Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

It’s funny how randomly some childhood passions are created.  Whilst every small boy seems to go through phases where the world revolves around dinosaurs, superheroes, and Lego, other obsessions are decidedly more unique and less predictable.  This one began with a bell.

We were sitting in the park this Summer, pondering whether the ducks would find our stale, greenish bread crusts anymore attractive than we did, when a lady walked past swinging a bell and calling for all the children in the park to follow her for the puppet show.  Obedient as ever, we joined her Pied Piper-like chain and ended up in front of a vintage Punch and Judy stall, where we watched, gripped, as the show unfolded.  It was little-boy heaven, involving as it did lots of audience participation and bad behaviour from the puppets, who variously whacked each other with sticks, threw Judy’s baby in the rubbish bin and got arrested by the local policeman.  There was nothing politically-correct about it, causing delighted shock in the rapturous audience of under-1os.

Harry talked about the puppet theatre for days, re-enacting it to try to describe to visitors just how funny it was (which in turn was very funny to watch..).  I decided to turn Harry’s old play shop into a puppet theatre – and here’s how we did it. The shop was originally made from a junk-find bookcase, which I painted and then stocked to create the original shop (here and below).

dresseroldandnew-copy1

The bookcase proved endlessly adaptable for our new project.  I enlisted help to cut an opening from the back of the bookcase, and then much of the rest was achieved with paint and scraps of fabric and trim…

DIY bookcase into a Puppet Theatre

Harry and I painted the shelves with chalk paint, which I love because you don’t need to do any sanding or stripping before you begin.  A tester-sized pot of black and red gave us the coverage we needed; Harry joined in with the painting with great enthusiasm which was lovely – as was the fact that chalk paint is very washable; a highly relevant factor..).  The bottom section I sprayed with some leftover gold craft paint for a bit of showbiz sparkle.

chalk paint

For the curtains I used a remnant length of pinky-red velvet and trimmed it with braid (my sewing skills are rudimentary, which was fortunately all that this required).  They’re threaded onto a length of wooden dowel which rests on cup hooks inside the theatre nook.  I later tacked a length of sparkly dark net fabric to the back to help disguise the young puppeteers too.

sewing closeups

Every puppet show needs a sign to let the audience know when the show is due to begin; I designed one in Powerpoint and then glued it to a piece of foam board.  The clock hands are cut from cardstock and secured with a brass paper-fastener, allowing them to be easily repositioned by small hands.  I tied a couple of inexpensive tassels to a length of red ribbon and threaded them through two punched holes to allow the sign the be hung.  A re-purposed doorknob is screwed into the top of the bookcase to hang it on.

Puppet Show Welcome Sign

To the shelf fronts I glued lengths of coppery and red ribbon from my ribbons box (whenever we’re given gifts I keep any ribbons and scraps; they invariably come in useful for projects).  I used regular all-purpose glue, but if you have one then a hot-glue glue gun would give great results.  On the shelves we arranged popcorn holders and borrowed play ice-creams and other food from Harry’s kitchen; something for everyone who comes to the show!

Play Popcorn and other theatre treats

The programmes were made by folding sheets of regular paper in half and tying them to a cover sheet of red cardstock; no trimming or gluing needed.  I made a cover for the programmes, but it was Harry who provided the content, welcoming the audience and drawing pictures of some of the cast of characters to create anticipation for the show ahead.  We made a few spare programmes so that Harry and his friends can make new programmes over time as they plan shows and come up with new stories to tell.

Starlight Programmes

The puppets are stored in an old silk-covered suitcase which I found cheaply at a local antiques barn.  I stencilled a star on the lid by drawing around a decorative 5-point star shape and then carefully filling inside the shape with a tester of dark blue-grey paint.  I used masking tape along the sides of the drawn star to give me a sharp, clean shape.

Stencilled stars

Stencilled star case

The puppets themselves were a combination of eBay and thrift store finds.  If you’re a Brit living in the south-east it’s worth looking out for FARA, a chain of charity shops which deal mostly in children’s clothes and toys; I found 4 puppets there which will help us complete the cast of Little Red Riding Hood; and for a bargain price, too!

Starlight Puppet Collection

chairty shop puppets

And as a finishing touch, I updated the former shop bell… because every performer needs to be able to summon a good audience quickly!

Audience bell

Have a great weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.  I’ll be having a weekend treat of open-air cinema and picnicking, watching George Clooney Gravity under the stars.  The forecast is good, the picnic blanket ready… fingers crossed!

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p.s. And if you see Mr Punch anywhere near the baby, don’t forget to SHOUT!!

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A Cupcake Armada (and back to school fever!)

Cupcake Armada

How are you?  Today feels like the last day of the long summer break, before school and work restart in earnest next week.  An amazing summer of long hot days, evenings without bedtime curfews and delicious expanses of family time.  A summer too of sporting achievements; armbands are now permanently consigned to the loft and Harry is confidently afloat and swimming like a fish (albeit a wriggling, giggling one, who is liable to take onboard water in moments of distraction…).

We’ve also had the time to make progress with more of the house redesign and decor, tackling the upstairs rooms a little at a time; so exciting.  And many more projects in the pipeline… but more on that in a minute.

First though, a fun papercraft-and-cake project from this week (combinations don’t come much better than that, surely); a practice-run of ideas for friends who want to have homemade vibrant and fun cupcakes at their seaside wedding instead of a traditional cake.

cupcake sails 07

I wanted to create the impression of masted sails and chose long wooden barbecue skewers and strips of brightly coloured paper to create the effect.  For the pattern – which reminded me of swirling sea colours but also picked out the pink theme colour of the wedding – I downloaded one of the wonderful free watercolour designs by Yao Cheng for DLF , cropped it into long rectangle shapes and then added some text in Powerpoint (below).  If you don’t need to add writing, I’d just chose a lovely patterned sheet of gift wrap and cut out rectangles of about 2×5 inches.

cupcake sails 02

I painted each skewer with food colouring; you can do this neat from the bottle or dilute for a more subtle colour.  I left the bottom of the skewers unpainted but of course the beauty of the food colouring is it’s completely non-toxic and safe to be thrust deep into sponge…

cupcake 04

I threaded the paper onto the skewer and then pushed a small pearl bead onto each skewer tip both for decorative effect and to avoid any partygoers accidentally poking themselves in the eye when leaning over to choose their cake.. and also strung a few tiny bells randomly on the mast tops..

cupcake sails 05

Ta-da; the finished cupcakes!  Easy to produce en masse but equally fun just to make for teatime.

cupcake sails 07

 In other news… Harry and I have been embarking on a rather more substantial project this month; remember the Parisian Play Shop?  It was well-loved and well-played with for about a year but gradually became a dumping ground for all kinds of toys, books and half-built Lego models.  Whilst the play kitchen is very much still in active use, and acts like a magnet for any little girls who happen to be passing through, the shop seemed to have run its course, so I moved it to the loft to create space and forgot about it.

But then, this summer we stumbled across a pop-up puppet show in the local park – and Harry was absolutely transfixed.  There’s something about the slapstick comedy and audience participation which completely captured his imagination and made him chuckle whenever he thought about it for days afterwards.  So… we’re building a puppet theatre together, where we can stage our own plays at home.  I began by bashing out the top shelf and getting a large hole cut out from the back..

puppet theatre in progress

and finished up…….

starlight puppet theatre DIY

…well, I think we’ll open the theatre officially with a Grand Reveal next week, when our finishing touches are complete. We have some rehearsing to do after all :-)

Have a great weekend when it comes; I’ll be making the most of the last couple of days of lie-ins and sunshine, in-between stitching in name tags and retrieving long-abandoned school kit from corners around the house..

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The Door in the Woods

The Secret Fairy Door



A couple of years ago, soon after we moved into our home, Harry and I began to hear strange skittering noises under the floorboards.  Small things occasionally went missing or turned up in unexpected places.  ’Mice!‘, said my husband.  ‘Borrowers!’ I replied.  Harry was mystified.  Then, we discovered these small doors in the skirting boards (below) and realised that we are not alone.

Fairy Doors in the Kitchen

we’ve come to enjoy watching the comings and goings of whoever lives behind these doors; post is delivered, sometimes with milk or a fresh supply of logs.  But we always assumed that the Borrowers, or fairies, or Lego men – whoever they were – lived indoors… until yesterday, when we were kicking a ball around the garden and discovered the door in the tree;

The House in the Woods

Lit by a small lamp and almost disguised amongst the foliage was this ornate front door, complete with welly boots and a rake, and a freshly swept porch.  We were very taken aback…

Fairy Doors in the Forest

It prompted us to rummage around a little further, at which point we stumbled across what looks like a tiny children’s playground, complete with tyre swing, straw bales, sandpit and even  an abandoned buggy (maybe we made too much noise?).

Fairy Playground



Well… a truly magical garden, and a whole new place to look for signs of tiny life.  We did try knocking on the door of the Tree House, but there was no reply – this time.

If, having paced out every inch of your garden or backyard, you find no signs of miniature life and want to encourage a few fairies or little people to move in, you could perhaps create your own tree doors and playgrounds.  I used unpainted doll house doors which I daubed with grey and green paint before sealing with varnish, adding tiny door furniture and borrowing some accessories from Harry’s ark and toy box.  The tyre swing is a Lego tyre, temporarily borrowed from a Lego City fire engine and repurposed.  The tiny replica gas lamp was a junk shop find (amongst a bag of mixed dolls house furniture and accessories), and miraculously works with a tiny hearing-aid sized battery, casting a magical glow over the undergrowth.  eBay is a good source too for miniature accessories and pre-loved dolls house kit.

To protect the tree from damage I simply glued the door to the bark in a natural hollow; a strong enough hold to allow the door handle to be tugged, but not a permanent fixture.  Oh, and a word of caution; when I first crept out at dusk to create this scene for Harry, I set a small dolls-house sized tomato plant by the front door, with attractive cherry-red tomatoes strung along it; by morning it was gone, and is probably even now being spat out in disgust by some local urban fox… so perhaps remove any bits and bobs at the end of each day.  Besides, half of the magic is never knowing where the evidence of the little people might pop up…

Secret Fairy Doors in the Woods

Have a great weekend!

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My Favourite Kit

In response to a recent small flurry of questions about the equipment I use, here’s a quick romp through my favourite kit and the reasons I like it.  I should begin by saying that I am completely unqualified to offer anything other than a personal opinion – I do not own so much as a Brownie badge in photography or paper craft, and am baffled by most things digital (I am awaiting eagerly the time that Harry hits his technological stride at about 6yrs old and can fix and demystify everything for me…).  Still, they’re the bits and bobs I rely on, so read on if your interest is piqued.  Where I’ve linked to stockists, it’s primarily for information, and I’ve chosen them fairly randomly; if you’re looking to buy I’d shop around for the best deal.

Camera Basics from katescreativespace

My camera, which tolerates a great amount of abuse, was a Canon 450d – I chose it 7yrs ago because when debating the question of Canon vs Nikon, I was repeatedly told that Canon was more intuitive for amateurs (the sales assistants obviously sensed my limitations within moments).  Whether or not this is true, I love my camera and it’s been reliable and awesome from Day 1.  For Christmas 2012, my wonderful husband gave me the upgraded 600d; but the single biggest change to my photos came much later when I invested in a 50mm fixed lens with a very low f/stop; it allows you to create a very shallow depth of field so that people and objects really leap out of the frame and the background melts away in a lovely blur, as in the pics above.  The effect is called ‘bokeh’ and you can read much more about it, with some other good lens recommendations, here.  These lenses don’t come cheap – they can be more than the camera itself – but if Great Aunt Susan dies peacefully in her sleep and leaves you a vast legacy, I’d suggest popping one on your shopping list.

1.  Canon EOS 450D/600D, 2. Canon 50mm lens, entry level or pro, 3. I have one of these wrist-straps and it’s invaluable when juggling a camera, a child and an ice-cream etc..  and 4. An inexpensive but super-useful lens cleaning brush

My camera came with a free DSLR bag, but I soon got sick of lugging it everywhere in addition to a nappy bag or handbag (sometimes all 3; when combined with the sartorial devastation caused by new motherhood, I’m surprised that people didn’t toss coins at me as I shuffled through the park..).  I looked at stylish camera bags but the loveliest of these tended to run into £100s.  Then I realised that I was trying to find a camera bag that looked as good as a handbag, and common-sense struck; after some thought, I trimmed all the exterior pockets and flap off the camera bag and now simply tuck it into whatever handbag or tote I’m using that day; it looks much cooler and lessens the risk of me leaving bags behind wherever I go.  And it’s a great way of converting a nappy/diaper bag once you no longer need it too.  Amazon has DSLR bags in its ‘basics’ range for under £10.

DIY Camera Bag Insert

I do a lot of paper crafts on the blog, and often have printables to download like these superhero cuffs.  A common question is how to get the same vibrancy of colour when using a regular home printer.  My printer is an Epson Photosmart 1400 (now replaced by the 1500 below which is the same with a few extra bells and whistles).  I wanted a printer that would print in large format, and it does – beautifully – though it takes up a fair amount of desktop space and the ink cartridges are expensive.  Epson inks are repeatedly described in the creative community as having the greatest colour intensity, and they certainly seem to deliver the goods.

Here’s the thing though; the biggest difference I see is in the paper I use; basic copy paper produces an acceptable but rather dull print-out as you see below left, whereas choosing professional-grade paper (I use HP matte) produces terrific vibrancy without changing any of the settings – the straightforward like-for-like comparison shows you the difference.  The paper is more expensive, as you’d expect – but still much cheaper than upgrading your printer.  I use it for craft projects and then switch to basic paper when printing emails etc.

Tips for great printing

So there we have it; my kitbag preferences and passions, for what they’re worth.  If you have other favourites or have had different experiences, do feel free t0 share in the comments below.  I’m also starting to think about a my-first-camera for Harry who is becoming fascinated with both sides of the lens; my inclination is to charge up my old pocket-sized Sony Cybershot and encourage him to have a play, but I’d love to hear if you’ve helped to grow a child’s enthusiasm for taking photos; any tips or hints?  I look at the dedicated plastic ‘kids’ cameras and recoil slightly at what seem to be inflated prices mostly for the character branding  - but I could be completely misguided. All advice welcome!

Have a great week…

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Molten chocolate fondants with sea-salt caramel sauce; calorie-free! (not really..)

chocolate fondant pots with seasalt caramel sauce

A quick post today in case you’re looking for culinary inspiration for the weekend…. I’m preparing molten chocolate fondants for dinner with friends tonight, and they’ve become a fail-safe favourite.  The brave will tackle these with relish and determination, stopping only when there is not a crumb or smudge of warm chocolate left, but even those who usually decline desserts tend to manage a spoonful or three.

My recipe is a composite of numerous ones I’ve tried; I think that every cookbook tends to have one.  The beauty of these though is that you can prepare them the evening before and just pop them in the oven when everyone is still congratulating you on the main course (at least in the fantasy world of how you imagine that the evening will go..).  After just 10-12 minutes they will be lightly crusted on top, cake-like at the sides and full of molten deliciousness in the middle.  If you want to be extraordinarily clever and are one of life’s risk-takers, you can actually tip these out of the ramekins or pots at the table, to oohs and ahhs of surprise.  Me?  I keep them in the pan; these mini Mauviel pans I found at an antiques fair last year;

Mauviel pans

Here’s the recipe, which makes 6 pots…..

Chocolate fondant recipe

When they come out of the oven, they will be beautifully soft and molten in the middle..

Molten fondant pots with seasalt caramel

For the salted caramel sauce, look no further than Nigella, who has this easy-to-follow recipe for whipping up a generous amount with relatively little effort.  Or, if you’re like me and value a short-cut, look no further than the shelves of M&S or any good supermarket for a jar of it, and hope that your guests will be so distracted by your obviously-homemade fondant that they fail to ask how you made the salted caramel sauce.  If cornered, quote Nigella.  You can also use dulce de leche and add a few flakes of fleur de sel on top, as in my pictures above; drizzle it over the pudding and then stir in as you break the top…

fondant pots with salted caramel sauce

And then if you’re feeling virtuous, run for approx. 6hrs on a treadmill to ensure that your dinner is calorie-neutral.

But then, where’s the fun in that?

Have a great weekend!

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Hot chocolate fondants from katescreativespace