About Kate

http://www.katescreativespace.com

I blog at www.katescreativespace.com

Posts by Kate :

Springtime in Five Minutes

Cauliflower centrepiece

I unnerved my family by coming home from the supermarket this morning with two cabbages and a cauliflower.

‘Do I eat those?’ asked Harry, suspiciously.

‘I don’t', said my husband, with absolute conviction.

It’s okay.  They weren’t for eating; instead, filled with a handful of hastily plucked flowers from the garden they make lovely – if transient – centrepieces for the table.  A whisper of Spring, as it flirts with us, not yet truly here.

The good news; this project is so very simple; take a cauliflower (or cabbage); carefully hollow out a small well in the centre and fill with a couple of tablespoons of water; stuff with spring flowers or greenery.  Single colour flowers look lovely and simple…

Cauliflower Spring centrepiece

But there’s something about the exuberance of excess that feels very Spring-like; sturdy, determined flowers in a windswept green bowl…

Colourful Spring Cauliflower Vase

Red cabbage gives a more Japanese, zen look…

Cabbage vase

You could even eat the cauliflower afterwards, if you have a family that does not regard earthy green vegetables as the work of Satan.

Happy weekend!

p.s.  Book vases, Winter brights, a garden room  - and frozen blooms for those still in the midst of winter frosts and snow.

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Forgotten Pleasures: Wardrobe Makeovers

Wardrobe makeover!

As a teenager, I spent many evenings customising my outfits.  From turning the waistband of my school uniform skirt over and over until the hem reached the requisite shortness (waaaay too short), to the more sophisticated attaching of studs and sequins to just about everything I owned, it was very much my thing.  My ultimate sartorial peak was achieved at the age of 18 at my first ever work Christmas party, where I stitched a row of battery-operated fairy lights all around the neckline of my dress.

Well.  Fairy lights get pretty warm I can tell you. Like, mild burns warm.  Still, one must suffer for high fashion.

Then I actually started earning an income and simultaneously losing all my free time, and I gradually stopped reinventing my clothes and turned to buying them instead.  Easier, but not quite the same, somehow.

Last month I was skimming Pinterest and falling for all the military-style jackets being effortlessly accessorised and styled.  The latent Sergeant-Pepper-channelling-extrovert in me was awoken, and I rummaged around for something I could customise…

jacket

I’ve had this jacket for ages, but rarely wear it; beautifully cut, it’s just somehow a bit… dull.  So I dug into my haberdashery chest and found some rather eye-popping braid, bought last year in a small Aladdin’s-cave store in Montmartre.  I sourced military-style buttons on eBay (about £4 for 20 of these), and set to work.

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The braid is hand-stitched in place (badly – no matter…), and the buttons somewhat imprecisely spaced along the front and cuffs;

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…and come the summer, I may well unpick it all again.  That’s the forgotten magic of a one-night wardrobe makeover; when you get bored or the craze is over, you just start again.

I’d love to have the skill to whip up a dress or jacket from scratch, but in truth the dedication and study that would take is well-beyond my flighty attentions.  Instead, I’ll go for anything that can be glued, stitched or hot-ironed in place.   Just maybe not actual string lights again.

DIY military jacket

Have a great week!

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Room to Grow (a little more)

Boys bedroom

I finally got around to giving Harry’s room a proper makeover.

His treehouse bed was becoming outgrown; not by him, so much, as by me – the act of clambering up the stairs for a final bedtime cuddle, remembering to dodge the low beam and then lying very still, listening to the ominous creak of the stilt-legs, as I squinted at the label warning *THIS BED SHOULD NOT EXCEED 50 KILOS TOTAL WEIGHT*.  It was altogether tempting fate.  And besides, we’re now firmly in The Sleepover Years, where having twin beds from which you can actually see your best friend and talk all through the night (or at least until 10pm) is very important.Twin bed room

I bought inexpensive beds on eBay and we lost just two evenings of our lives assembling them and trying to remember not to criticise each other’s DIY skills or aptitude with allen keys and wordless, diagrammatic instructions.  They still make me wince slightly, remembering the effort that went into them.  But still, they look very cool; ageless without being too grown up (not yet; I’m not ready yet).

Star curtains

New star curtains with blackout linings filter the Northern light that still manages to creep through even in February, and two rattan Christmas decorations are repurposed for the bed-ends…

Bed with stars

Harry’s not ready to say goodbye to his nighttime menagerie of animals, but they do take a more discreet backseat these days, living under the bed in simple Ikea baskets.  The matching bedspreads are actually made from a TK Maxx bargain king-size bedspread, simply cut in two and hemmed (badly, flamboyantly – but who’s to know?).

Underbed storage

Bedroom stool

In the old fireplace the log basket remains, topped with a string of plug-in origami lights that provide a low, magical glow through the night;

Log basket

And the trusty badger rug remains, looking with every passing year a little less alive and a little more like roadkill, but beloved nonetheless.

Bedroom seascape

It’s a room to grow up in, and a room where you can still be reassuringly, comfortingly small.

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DIY Paper Marbling with Metallics

DIY Shaving Foam Paper Marbling

I’ve always loved marbled papers, ever since a trip to Venice as a teenager when I stumbled across a tiny paper shop called Il Papiro that was filled from floor to ceiling with hand-decorated sheets in every hue.  Even then (especially then!), they were way beyond my price range, so I admired them and reluctantly left them behind.  Finally, an unimaginable number of years later, I discovered how to make marbled paper at home.  The trick?  The cheapest shaving foam you can find.

In truth, I am pretty sure that this is not the secret ingredient that Italian marblers have been using since the fifteenth century, but still – it works a treat.

DIy marbled paper from KatesCreativeSpace

Firstly, go shopping for several cans of shaving foam.  Ignore the strange looks that this provokes; try not to appear as someone wresting with a secret, hidden, hairiness.  Then find yourself some disposable foil trays, food colouring and a syringe or baster / pipette.  Latex gloves too, if your fingers will appear in public soon afterwards; temporary staining is a potential hazard.  Let’s begin…

Fill your tray with spray-can shaving foam.  Make sure it’s the old fashioned cheap foam and not hipster shaving gel; you want plenty of ‘bouff’…

Foil tray filled with shaving foam (DIY marbled paper)

Then using the syringe or pipette, squirt drops of food colouring randomly around the tray.  Here, I used two shades of blue food dye (a turquoise and a deeper blue), and also some gold paint;

Mixing foam with food dye for marbling

Using a wooden skewer, gently stir and swirl the dye around until it’s mixed loosely together and there are no big pools or stripes of colour.  Don’t blend it in completely; you just want it stirred together, like this;

DIY shaving foam paper marbling

And then quickly lay your piece of paper on top, face-down, and push it gently flat so that all parts of it are covered by the foam mix

DIY paper marbling step 4

Lift up the paper and lay it down flat.  It will look deeply unimpressive.  You will be covered in foam.  You will despair.  But wait.  Wait just a moment, because this next bit is where the magic happens…

DIY foam paper marbling

Take a clean ruler and place it along your sheet, and pull down smoothly, wiping the foam away.  It’s awesome.  You will feel like an artist…

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Use kitchen roll to wipe away any residual foam, and leave the paper to dry.

You can get a second print from the tray, but it will be a bit blurrier and less defined than the first.  Try different colour mixes and experiment with using shaded papers.  My favourite is pale blue paper with blue food dye and silver paint; it gives an ethereal and delicate marbling pattern that’s perfect for making writing paper…

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Deeper and more vibrant mixes are great for making gift tags, or cutting out as envelope liners like below;

DIY Marbling Envelope Liners

Make sheet after sheet, and use them in everything you can think of…

DIY Paper marbling with shaving foam

Oh, and happy Sunday, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing! (Do this now; do this instead…)

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Mapping a Marriage

Valentines book from Kates Creative Space

Full of romance and good intention, I turned to my husband last month and described my plans for celebrating our milestone tenth wedding anniversary this summer.

‘That’s great’ he said.  ’Except it’ll actually be nine years’.

I was never good on detail.  High on enthusiasm; rather loose on the specifics.

But still, for this Valentine’s day I have a plan; a book that maps the eight-and-half-years of our marriage through the adventures we’ve had and the places we’ve been together.  When we married I promised that we would continue to explore the world; that whatever tide of real life and responsibilites consumed us, we’d keep on moving and travelling and experiencing new things.  And for the most part, we have.

This magical website lets you type in any place in the world and then translates it into a beautiful watercolour map that you can download and use; I found our favourite and most memorable places, printed them onto watercolour paper and bound them together in a book.  Each page comes without clues (he prides himself on his geographical knowledge; this is a challenge he will seize..), but on the back are notes and memories and photos from each trip.  I started with the Isle of Capri..

Isle of Capri in watercolour

It was the first place we went to together, staying out of season in November in the Capri Palace hotel, enjoying late autumn sunshine and then sitting wrapped in blankets in the village square at night, drinking wine with the locals. It was, in a sense, where we began.

Then later Cape Town, where we honeymooned; a more identifiable harbour for this seasoned cartographer to spot…

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There are twelve maps in total in the book, ending with Sydney, our latest great adventure;

Sydney Habour watercolour map

And here’s how I made it…

DIY Valentines Map Book

You’ll need;

  • Two sheets of greyboard or other strong cardboard
  • Decorative paper for the covers and inside leaves of the book
  • A length of ribbon or bookbinding fabric to make your spine and cover the edges of the boards, binding them together
  • Your printed sheets; I used 300gsm paper to look like actual watercolour paintings
  • Linen-backed paper tape to attach the pages
  • I added a love letter to the inside leaf of the book, and a large button to the front to hold the book together

Stitched button map book

The detailed instructions are below if you want to give this a go; it took me two evenings, three cups of tea and two glasses of wine.  Also a deep paper cut on my index finger.  It was worth it.

But if you do nothing else, have a play at making beautiful maps online (your home town! Your next holiday destination! Anywhere….)

Have a wonderful week.

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DIY Valentines book of all the places youve visited together

 

Making the book, step by step;

  1. Mix a cup of white glue and water, using 1 part glue to two parts water.
  2. Cut your decorative paper so that it is 1 inch greater in size all round than your greyboard.  These are the margins that you’ll fold over the board.
  3. Paste the paper thoroughly on the reverse side, and lay each board carefully in place; fold over the edges of the paper so that they are glued in place, and then place a sheet of parchment/baking paper over the top before weighting down the covered cardboard to dry (use heavy books for this).  The parchment paper will stop the cardboard from sticking to the books as it dries.  Don’t skip this step; without weighting, the glue will curl the cardboard and you’ll end up with bowed covers.  This is a good time for the first cup of tea / glass of wine.
  4. Once your boards are throughly dry, lay them alongside each other, ‘good’ side up, so that they are like the open covers of a book.  Leaving a space of 1 inch between them; glue a 2 inch-wide length of fabric or ribbon so that it adheres to each board and binds them together.  Turn the book cover over, and paste another sheet of decorative paper to the inside, hiding the pasted edges of the covers (see my picture 2 in the montage above, where one side is decorated and one side still bare and uncovered).
  5. Whilst this is drying, print out your pages and order them carefully, practising flipping through them to make sure you have them facing the right way (it’s surprisingly easy to get them back to front).
  6. Using strips of linen tape, stick the pages together.  This tape is helpfully marked down the centre with stitching so that you can get your seams absolutely straight.
  7. Then – and you’re almost done now – use strong decorative tape to tape your bound pages into the book covers.  I used navy-blue constellation patterned tape which contrasted nicely with the sea colours of the paper (see pic above).
  8. Finally, just to show off, use a punch or bradawl to make two tiny holes in the cover and stitch a button in place (don’t even think of trying to force a needle through the greyboard without pre-made holes; it will end in disaster and stab wounds…).  Inside the back cover, glue or thread a length of ribbon that you can wind around the button to hold the covers closed.
  9. Congratulate yourself on navigating my impenetrable instructions, and present the finished book to your lover, emphasising just how much effort has gone into it.
  10. Be showered with adoration as a result.

January Colour

Colour

I can’t decide whether the greyest month of the year here in England is January or February.  Certainly both seem a little bleak and colourless after the intensity of Australia.  Last weekend I was at the supermarket,  wandering around aimlessly  choosing ingredients for dinner when I saw a rack of chillies on sale.  They looked vibrant and gorgeous.  I can’t remember the last time I used any sizeable amount of chillies in my cooking, but they looked so good that I bought them all; all ten packs (this is why you’re supposed to go armed with a shopping list).

Red chillies

I bought bay leaves too (the kind you find in slim packs in the herb section)…

Bay leaves

And then strung the chillies together along a length of florists wire with the bay leaves and some leftover dried orange slices;

Making a chilli wreath How to make a wreath step 1

Then I twisted the wired bunches around a simple wreath frame, lifting it up every now and then to check that they stayed in place and were secure.

Building a wreath

Winter wreath

Then when I ran out of chillies and oranges, I wrapped the last bit of the frame in ribbon..

Chilli Orange and Bay Wreath

If you don’t have a Greek god available to wear your chilli, bay and orange wreath once it is completed, can I suggest hanging it in the kitchen?  That’s where mine is now, and it catches my eye and makes me smile and think of summer.

Greek god

Have a wonderful weekend when it comes; I’ve been travelling for work this week and am now just back home, eagerly awaiting Harry’s return from school.

Thanks again for the wonderful suggestions in last week’s post; we’ve a trip planned to the library and the bookstore tomorrow!

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What are you reading?

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Are you a reader?

I grew up in a house of books; obscure and familiar, high-brow and low-brow, trashy and treasured.  An egalitarian wall of bookshelves meant that there was always something to read, and new discoveries to be made.  The collated volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica informed numerous homework assignments, Judy Blume navigated me through adolescence and later a diverse collection of philosophers fuelled my existential angst and earned me a university degree.  Even now whenever we come together as a family, someone will always ask on the first evening ‘what are you reading at the moment?’.

Discovering new authors is always a joy; exhausting the works of others always a sombre moment; Nora Ephron and Carol Shields feature prominently in my collection.

This Christmas and New Year break, I seized the chance to catch up on some great reads, old and new.  The Rocks and Fates and Furies were novels I’d read rave reviews of and which didn’t disappoint; both span decades and navigate the intricacies of marriage and friendship.  As a contrast, Julia Child’s autobiography of her years living in Paris and discovering – nay, Mastering! – the art of French cooking was a mesmerising read and made me immediately want to relocate to France and change career  (p.s. have you seen this film?  I watch it again and again…).

great novels to try

I was given some beautiful books for Christmas, including this one…

French laundry Cookbook

I’m smitten – and also completely outclassed – by the beautiful, complex recipes and preparations outlined in The French Laundry Cookbook, which is essentially a coffee-table cookbook, if such an idea were not intrinsically absurd.  Most of the cookbooks I read end in phrases like ‘… Made Simple’  or begin with ‘How to Cheat at…’, so this was a delicious and aspirational read.  Apart from posing with the book above, I have so far only mastered the important step of learning how to fold a napkin with a clothes peg, of which I am very proud.  Sauces and soufflés can wait for the springtime.  Or maybe never.  We’ll see.

Another gift; this gorgeous interiors book which celebrates imperfect homes and the contrast of old and new; flawed and smooth.  It’s made me wander thooughtfully around the house and move things around, to the great consternation of my husband, who finds nothing where he expects it to be these days. ‘Wabi-sabi‘ I whisper to him confidently as I waft past. ‘Transcience is the essence of beauty’.  I would best describe his expression as Unconvinced.  Two other recent, covetable reads; this book on colour which makes me want to paint my walls a deep, inky blue, and this one by stylist Sibella Court that’s an escapist work of art in itself.

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The last book I bought – two copies in fact – I haven’t yet read.  Harry and I have a new tradition; whenever I am travelling for work, I send him an iphone audio clip each day of me reading a chapter from a new story book, so that he can listen at bedtime each night, hearing my voice and following along at home under the covers.  It connects us and spans the distance of oceans and timezones.  Last time we read Jeremy Thatcher: Dragon Catcher (boys and pet dragons; what could be better?) and this time it will be James and the Giant Peach.  I’m looking forward to it as much as he is…

Roald Dahl

But now I need a new novel; my bedside pile is running low.  What are you reading right now; do you have any recommendations?

p.s. The ten most beautiful libraries in the world; I want to visit them all…

p.p.s. Top photo of Nigella Lawson in her library at home c.James Merrell for House and Garden 2004; all others my own.

Have a wonderful week!

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The Scent of Winter

Scented winter fire starters

Happy Sunday!

It’s been a frosty, overcast weekend here in this small corner of England, and each evening we’ve laid a fire in the hearth and drawn the curtains against the closing of the day; it’s a time for Hygge – for comfort, warmth and home.

To get the fire off to a crackling, scented start I made these bundles packed with clippings from the garden and the trimmed branches of our Christmas tree…

Winter firelighters from the garden

Scented fire starters in brown paper twists

I used sprigs of olive, from the huge old trees that we bought this summer to line our patio;

olive sprigs

And Nordic fir, shorn from the Christmas tree before recycling;

fir branches

Eucalyptus, one of my favourites that I use in the house all year round (try tying a sprig in the shower; it’s amazing!)

Try tying a branch of eucalptus under the shower for a blast of forest scent

And fresh rosemary, clipped from the pots around the kitchen door

rosemary sprigs

And then finally lemon rind, for a citrussy burst…

Peeled lemons

I tied the bundles tightly together and wove a slice of dried orange to each, before hanging them up to dry  out completely (slice a bag of oranges and arrange the slices on a baking tray, then dry out overnight on the lowest possible oven temperature; the scent is amazing and they look lovely..)

Scented fire bundles hung up to dry

Once they’re completely dried out, you can wrap them lightly in twists of brown paper (this stops them becoming tangled up and unravelling), and then use them to kindle a delicious, scented fire.

Scented fire starters for cold winter nights

For those without both the glory and the inconvenience of an open fire; try making these and simmering them in a saucepan on the stove instead for instant winter atmosphere and warmth; perfect for the bleak wintery months ahead.

Have a wonderful week ahead, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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Down Under

Happy New Year!!  We’re just back from our extended roam around Australia; an amazing, amazing trip to visit family and experience a totally new-to-us continent. Here’s a few highlights if you’d like to see…

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Sydney Opera House, shot in morning sunlight from the Manly Ferry as we swung into Circular Quay

We began with a few days in Sydney, staying with my brother and his family near Manly on the North Shore. We spent the evenings together and the days exploring the city and surrounding area, using ferries and hop-on-and-off buses to navigate our way around the beautiful waterside city and neighbourhoods.

Then a brief road trip out to Port Stephens on the NSW coast for endless beaches, nature and more relaxation.  We tried our hands at sand-dune surfing; a surreal cross between sledging and surfing on the startlingly high and beautiful dunes that lie along the coastline…

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Here’s a tip; don’t apply lip balm and sunscreen when there is a light breeze and you are surfing a sand dune; it creates an entirely adhesive surface and you will spend 90 minutes in the shower later having an unplanned full body exfoliation as you attempt to remove the excess.

After Christmas back in Sydney we flew out to Hamilton Island (aka Paradise on earth), which lies close to the Great Barrier Reef.  This was the view from our hotel room, and sums up how utterly stunning the island was…

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We swam seemingly all day, every day, meeting all manner of exotic fish and shells in the water, trying our hands at sea kayaking and paddle-boarding before collapsing for a rest.  One night, we came back to the beach to watch the sunset with a bottle of wine and bag of fish and chips (locally caught barramundi; somewhat more exotic than the cod and chips of home!).

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And then of course, the Reef itself; we snorkelled, swam and then – most amazing of all in some ways – took a brief helicopter ride over the reef to see it from the air.  Awe-inspiringly beautiful…

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And then one final excursion out to the Blue Mountains; a two-hour drive from Sydney and a welcome drop of temperature; a world apart from the beaches and water of Cairns and seemingly another land entirely.  So-named because of the haze exuded by the eucalyptus trees which fill the mountainsides, they really are mesmerising and every shade of blue, grey and green you could mix in a palette…

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And finally, I can’t not mention the wildlife and animals we saw throughout our time there.  From the wild cockatoos that tried at every opportunity to steal our chips, wander through any open door or examine the contents of a brightly coloured handbag, to the crocs and koalas and kangaroos we encountered at nature parks and reservations.  All of them amazing, and all seemingly natural pros in front of the camera…

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Hand-feeding baby kangaroos, albeit not as quickly as they’d have liked.

pink cockatoo

Say cheese!

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Curious and sociable fish that swam alongside us when snorkelling

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The one that viewed us as a light lunch option

And now we’re back; back to England and down to earth in every sense, wrestling jet-lag and a 40c temperature change (the shock!).  Harry is the most resilient of us all, bouncy and seemingly immune to the cold.  Not quite immune to the timezone shift, however; ‘Mummy!’ he whispered into my ear in the wee small hours of today; ‘The clock in my bedroom says 03.28am! Shall we get up?’.

No.  No, let’s not.

A return to posting new creative projects later this week after a delicious and inspiring break; I hope that your break too was a wonderful one, whether big or small.

Have a great weekend!

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Happy Christmas!!

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Driftwood and tiny shells from the beach at Port Stephens, NSW

Happy Christmas!

The big day has arrived in Australia, and we began last night with champagne and prawns on the barbecue; then today, a dip in the ocean (below).  A very Aussie Christmas, and a magical one.  Santa found us, leaving a fresh mango in the bottom in Harry’s stocking instead of the orange he’s come to expect in England – delicious.

Wishing you the happiest and most fun-filled and joyous of all Christmas Days, and a wonderful New Year in 2017.  Thank you for visiting here, for reading and following and for the myriad of lovely comments and anecdotes shared over the last year.

Here’s to the next!

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An Extraordinary Adventure!

Usually at this point in December, our home would be festively adorned, bedecked with wintery tableaux and with the fir lady preparing to make her annual seasonal entrance.  Instead, suitcases are down from the loft and checklists being drawn up and steadily ticked off as we prepare

…to go to Australia!

This year, for the first time ever we will be away for Christmas, going down under to Sydney to stay with my brother and his family, and taking the opportunity for a grand adventure and extended roadtrip whilst we’re there.  We are beside ourselves with excitement and anticipation.

We are also slightly despairing about the growing size of our luggage, which includes; a) a portrait of my bother, painted by my father (beautiful, fragile, large); b) a huge papier mache giraffe ordered by my brother (‘you can’t find them anywhere in Australia, sis’), and c) a football, bought for my nephews by another well-meaning relative.  We do not lean towards practicality in my family.  I am hoping that Customs officials will look kindly on us; I suspect we will make their day.

Given all this, our usual creativity and crafting has tapered a little in the frenzied rush and my presence here will be a little less until January. In the meantime please do have a rummage through some of our favourite projects from the last few years, like…

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Homemade Gift Ideas from Kates Creative Space

  1. Wintery pinecone firelighters, for everyone you know with an open fire or wood-burning stove
  2. A homemade leather travel journal, for those with wanderlust…
  3. Together with a concertina mini photobook to store all their photos and memories afterwards
  4. If you’re choosing gifts for a book-lover, why not add in some of these whale-tail bookmarks to keep their place each night
  5. DIY bird-feeders, for the animal-lover in your life
  6. secret book jewellery box
  7. Or a personalised bowl for cereal-lovers
  8. cafe apron for the man in your life, which will encourage him into the kitchen this Christmas
  9. The gift of breakfast, for all those hosting this holiday season, to relax with the morning after

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Holiday baking ideas

  1. Three christmas cookies to box up and share
  2. Or Bake-at-home cookies for the students in your life who eat you out of house and home but wouldn’t dream of making their own
  3. Mitten-shaped ginger cookies, perfect to go with hot chocolate
  4. Or monogram cupcakes (I’d use a snowflake monogram for Christmas)

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Holiday decor ideas

  1. These fun ways to use kraft paper to wrap presents with a twist
  2. Handmade origami stars and folded stars
  3. Nutcracker peg dolls to hang from the tree
  4. You could make these personalised sacks for the most special people in your life
  5. The longest journey; a winter animal parade to meander along your table top or mantel
  6. And three years of our holiday decor here, here and here

And finally don’t forget to clear the playroom in advance by sending outgrown toys off to the North Pole Repair Shop for re-gifting, arrange a North Pole telegram for Christmas Eve, and magic reindeer food to sprinkle outdoors before bedtime.

North Pole Telegram

After that, may I boldly suggest a glass of mulled wine and a deep, comfy armchair?

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