About Kate


I blog at www.katescreativespace.com

Posts by Kate :

The Cartographer’s Guide to Dress-Making

Paper Dress made from maps

I live in a small village which is blessed with not one but three – three – second-hand bookshops.  Amongst the shelves of nearly-new thrillers and bodice-rippers, travel guides and cookbooks there is a large, open-fronted cupboard marked ‘Ephemera: Misc’.  It’s here I gravitate towards and where I’ve found a myriad of wild and wonderful books, maps, charts and music scores over the years which have steadily formed a small paper drift in my studio, waiting for inspiration to strike.

One of my recent buys was this Collins Graphic Atlas; I’ve no idea of the age but it was certainly pre-decimalisation, given the princely sum of 5 shillings…

Vintage map book

It had pages and pages of beautiful old maps and charts of the constellations in each hemisphere (I think I’ll frame these two as a set; I can’t bear to cut them up..)

Map book


Inspired by amazing paper dresses like these, I decided to have a go at making a piece of art for my friend’s newborn daughter to hang in her nursery.  Armed with scissors, a bone folder and  - of course – a nutritional glass of wine, I set about playing with ideas and choosing the loveliest and most interesting maps.

The hardest bit was working out how to create a pleated dress shape.  It took me several false starts to think it through (use rough paper till you get the hang of it), but eventually; ta-da!! the perfect concertina box pleat;

Dress making with vintage maps

To save you the brain strain I experienced, here’s a guide below for how to make a box fold.  Essentially, you need to measure out and mark up your map or paper with alternate widths of 2cm/1cm, and then score them lightly using a bone folder to make folding easier.  The grey dotted lines below indicate where you fold the paper inwards to make an inverted fold; the red lines show where you fold away from you to build up the raised pleat areas.  Once you have made your box pleats, flatten the top end and gently spread out the bottom edges to create a fan effect like in the picture above.  Give it a whirl..

How to make a box pleat

Once the dress shape is made, the rest is fun and just needs imagination and a bit of playing around.  I made lapels for the dress using the edges of a map, folding carefully to match the borders, and using a punch to cut out a large decorative button (this can also cover a multitude of sins when you’re sticking it all together)

Assembling a paper dress

As you see above, I made little puffed cap sleeves by cutting semi-circles and lightly gathering and glueing them – but then decided later not to use them.

I assembled the dress together and then glued each part in place onto a sheet of white watercolour paper, layering it up, piece by piece.  It needed one final touch, for a tiny but determined person with the world at her feet and a life full of adventure ahead…

Matilda and her dress

And here it is!

Matilda's Map Dress

Good luck if you decide to give this a whirl; although I used my book of maps, any gift wrap, patterned or even plain paper would look good.  And do let me know how you get on…

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Art in Action 2015

Pip art pastels

How are you, have you had a good week?  We’re just back from a whirlwind trip to Provence, which was glorious – and hot! Lots to share from the trip in due course, but first I wanted to tell you about a daytrip we made to Art in Action a couple of weeks ago – Harry, my mum and I.

Art in Action is a curious and lovely event – several hundred artists and craftspeople come together in the Oxfordshire countryside to demonstrate, exhibit and sell their work, with workshops and taster events for visitors so you can try your hand at all sorts of crafts (amateur stone-carving, anyone?) and discover just how incredibly difficult each one really is.


We wandered into the demonstration tent and watched Dave Rogers (below) from the Vinegar Hill Pottery conjour up a salt pig from a slab of clay thrown onto his potter’s wheel (‘look at his hands!’ exclaimed Harry, in a stage-whisper of horrified delight)

Vinegar Pottery

Throughout the day there were lots of classes for both adults and kids, and Harry gravitated quickly to the clay tent to produce this surpirisngly accomplished (I know, I know; I’m his mother, what can I say?) model of the Owl and the Pussycat. ‘Oooh, a frog!’ said my mother, before being sternly corrected.  Artists are forever misunderstood, as Harry is beginning to learn..

Pwl and pussycat

Amongst the many exhibitors and stalls were some incredible textiles, painting and ceramics; we made if-I-win-the-lottery mental lists of the pieces we liked the most, like  Claire Palastanga‘s beautiful sea-urchin-like sculptural forms (below).


And the smoke-fired vessels made by Juliet Walters, a Brighton-based sculptor and ceramicist …


I bought a smooth, egg-sized vessel like these below from her display; it cost only a few pounds and fits reassuringly in my palm like a particularly sophisticated stress ball; it sits on a corner of my desk and just asks to be rolled from hand to hand whilst I think.  I must just remember not to squeeze it…


And finally, onto one of my favourite parts of Art in Action; the giant ‘Marketplace’ marquee where you can buy gazillions of different at supplies and craft materials at a fraction of the usual prices.  It’s a fatal retail experience, akin to a trip to Ikea where you fill your basket with bargains and then find at the checkout that the sum total could release a small country from debt.  Swallowing hard, I bought…

..these beautiful chalky pastels, which I love looking at even before I’ve had a go at using them.  You could fill a box, sweet-shop style, with your chosen colours and I went for a seascape of blues and greeny-grays….

tonal pastels

…A tiny, pocket-sized set of watercolour paints complete with travel brush for Harry and me to take on holiday with a tin of watercolour postcards.. we brought them out after dinner each evening and dipped the brush into a spare water glass to idle away the night and make the most of the beautiful sunsets (and the dwindling bottle of wine).  Inspired by the countryside around us, I painted olive stems.  Inspired by his experience at the hotel kids club, Harry cheerily painted the club bus being pursued by an angry dragon and burning it up with flames.  Also, a rocket.

Hannemuhle postcards

I came across these Hannemuhle matt cards (below) for use with inkjet printers and have been testing them out with some of my favourite images; the colour quality is wonderful and I can see these becoming a new go-to replacement for thank-you notes and gift tags.  The paper map dress in the picture below is next week’s blog project, by the way..


I bought other bits and pieces which I’ll try out in the weeks to come and show you here on the blog..  water-soluble fabric, calligraphy pens and the like, but just one final purchase to share; this amazing home-dyed, unspun wool that feels as soft as clouds and is just waiting for a project of some kind.  I have no ideas, I just loved the colour and the tactile sensation of running my fingers through it.  It’s currently wrapped loosely around a mannequin in my studio whilst I await inspiration; at £5 for the bundle, I’m happy just to enjoy it catching my eye in the meantime.  Have you used this kind of yarn/wool before?  Any ideas?  Please do share….

FibresFobre scarf

If you live in the UK, Art in Action is now an annual event, so do look out for next year.  I’m already saving up for a new stash of craft materials to play with in 2016…

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n.b. All photos my own, apart from: portait of Simon Buchanan via ArtInAction; Burnished vessel and bowls via Juliet Walter; Gilded ceramic form via Claire Palastanga (links above).

Painted Pots!

DIY Painted Pots from katescreativespace

Earlier in June the sun broke through the grey British skies and we had three magnificent weeks of an early taste of summer. We spent most of our free hours outside; building dens, bringing the garden back to life, practising football skills and planting up pots for some summer-long colour.  I have a HUGE supply of pots but most are modern, dull terracotta, so I raided our shelf of old tester pots of paint and brought them back to a more colourful life…

Painted pots

Here’s what I used…

DIy Painted Pots Materials

In each case I simply washed and dried the pots and then painted each a different, complementary colour, experimenting with techniques to see what happened.  For this first one (below), I used two layers of a lavender/grey paint and then lightly sanded around the rim to age it a little.  When dry, I used a bit of sponge to dab some lichen-coloured paint around the base (leftover from our kitchen!)..

Painted pots 1

For contrast, I used a deep, bold charcoal paint sample for the rosemary pot, and rubbed a tiny dab of silver paint (this one) around the rim to highlight..

Painted pots 2

And for the lavender, I used a vibrant blue and brushed it on very roughly, before stippling the dry paint with a sponge topped with white emulsion paint…

lavender pot in blues

When you’ve completed your artistic endeavours and painted all the pots, simply coat with a brush-on wax or varnish to seal – hey presto; summer is here!

Clustered painted pots

With lavender on my mind, we’re heading to Provence for a few days; I’m fantasising about swimming outdoors, browsing for brocantes in local village markets and sipping chilled rosé as dusk falls… I can’t wait!  If you’ve visited the region and have any recommendations do please let me know in the comments; we’re staying near Grasse, and hoping to catch a glimpse of the Tour de France as it barrels through the neighbouring countryside..

p.s. thank you for the lovely comments on last week’s Mouseketeers post; I’m still smiling…

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Allez,Les Mouseketeers! (Or: how to make a giant papier-mâché hot air balloon..)


Welcome back!  It’s been a wonderful, chaotic few weeks here with the end of term (and graduation from Reception class, so soon!), endless sunshine and record-breaking temperatures, ice-cream, tennis, splash pools and a new job for me… possibly the busiest June ever.  Amidst all the fun and general mayhem, we found time for a few craft projects, like this giant hot air balloon for Harry’s pet mice, who had always, always wondered what the world would look like from the sky…


We’d been talking to Harry about the amazing annual Montgolfières festival of hot air balloons in Montreal which we’d visited just before we got married; we were lucky enough to go up in a balloon made for two (plus pilot!) and witness the amazing sight of fields of balloons slowly inflating and taking to the skies;

ALBUM take off shot from the airALBUM take off shot from the air1ALBUM balloon art shotALBUM art shot fields from the hot air balloon2ALBUM art shot fields from the hot air balloon

I’m so glad we had the chance to do this before we had Harry; I think my instinct for self-preservation and appetite for danger have grown and shrunk respectively, making this a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Harry was mesmerised by our photographs, and asked me whether we could make our own hot air balloon for a ride around the village.  Whilst the aeronautics of this were beyond me, we settled on a compromise; a giant, papier mache hot air balloon which could hang from the playroom ceiling and give rides to the mouse family who usually live a quiet life on the bookshelf…

How to make your papier mache hot air balloon:

I found a pack of 36 inch balloons on eBay, and spent an evening inflating one.  Use a footpump for this, and choose a night when your husband is home.  Stroll past and make a casual slight about his manliness; nothing  hurtful, but just challenging enough to provoke him to spring to his feet and wrestle the aparatus from you.  Settle back with a glass of wine for the 45 minutes it takes to get enough air in the damn thing balloon.  Try not to comment when it twice evades his grip at the last moment and whistles around the room, expelling air before puttering gently to the floor. Feign deafness at the muttered cursing.

Cover it with around 6 layers of papier mache.  Ha! See how easy I made that sound?  In reality, this is six evenings of ripping up newspaper and applying in layers.  Only 20 minutes each night, but 20 mins of watery glue, drips, sticky surfaces and the constant distraction of all the interesting articles you stop to read whilst pasting them onto the balloon. Disciplined focus is key.  My top tip would be to alternate between using newspaper and plain white paper – you need to be able to see when you’ve completed each layer and it’s very hard if it’s all newsprint.  Use PVA glue and water in a ratio of 1:3 for the mixture.  One final word of advice; don’t do this in a hot room or one where the temperature changes dramatically, or your balloon will expand and pop  with an explosive splatter just when your back is turned.  This was my THIRD balloon; the first two are still being scraped off the ceiling and floor whenever we have a spare moment – and a chisel.  Assuming all goes well and you heed this advice, on the sixth night, stand back and admire your papier-mâché labour of love;

papier mache giant balloon

I took it outside and covered it roughly with two layers of leftover white paint, balancing it in a flower pot for stability;

painted papier mache balloon

And now the fun part; decorating the balloon.  I wanted it to look like a balloon the mice might have stitched and crafted out of household items and random bits and pieces, so I searched online for free vintage envelope prints (try googling ‘old envelopes’, selecting the ‘images’ tab and going through to locate those which are free to download)and raided my draws for scraps of fabric, buttons and ribbons.  I printed out the envelope graphics, scrumpled them up and then stuck them at intervals around the balloon…

vintage envelope patterns


To make the rim at the base of the balloon, I traced around an upside-down bowl, trimmed the raw opening of the balloon and then glued some curtain braiding around to form a neat rope edge;

braided papier mache balloon

Once I’d finished with the decoration, I used a bradawl to make a small hole in the top of the balloon and screwed in a cup hook to hang it from.  For the basket, I repurposed a small wicker plant pot and used rubber-coated wire to form four rope-like hanging handles (you’ll find the wire in garden centres; it’s used to train plants without damaging fragile stems).

Mouse basket

The ‘sand bags’ are made from these teabag sachets, filled with a spoonful of rice and stamped to look like 100kg weights (stamp them first before you fill them; I learned that the hard way, and am still treading on small grains of rice every morning as I navigate the kitchen, half asleep..).  I tied them tightly with string and then twisted a little piece of wire under the string to attach each one to the basket.  I thought long and hard about how to attach the actual basket, and in the end I suspended it from the inside of the balloon, using another length of wire to hang it from the base of the cuphook, meaning that the papier mache balloon itself didnt have to take any weight.

For the final touch, I found a length of braided rope in my sewing basket and cut up a pair of thrift-shop curtain tie backs to look like the rope and weights you might find on a vintage balloon.  I stamped out little paper flags for my Mouseketeers and then draped it around the balloon, pinning it into place at intervals by just pushing a pin into the papier-mâché balloon. Job done… and the mice took to the air!

final balloon shot

Our balloon currently hangs in the hallway, and is big enough for all the toys in the playroom to take it in turns for a ride – but you can of course make this with an ordinary sized balloon; it’ll be much quicker and easier to handle.

I hope you have a great week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

It’s good to be back :-)

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TED Women 2015: Momentum!

A rather different kind of post this time, as I return from an extraordinary week at the global TED Women meeting in Monterey, California… an amazing experience that I’m still digesting and processing several days on.  The theme was ‘Momentum’ and it drew hundreds of women from 200 countries together to listen to talks and ideas from those who are kickstarting transformational change in the world, whether big or small.

Have you ever been to a TED meeting?  I’d been an avid follower of TED talks which I use a lot in my work, but never attended an event.  The energy in the conference centre was palpable as participants registered and  began to gather for the opening sessions… this was the auditorium; like a small, intimate theatre which masked the size of the audience..

TED Auditorium

The meeting was structured into 6 themed sessions over 3 days, beginning with Spark; how ideas come to live and ignite into a groundswell of action – through to Sustain; the impact of transformational change over decades. There were some big-name draws on the speaker list; former US President Jimmy Carter, former Irish President Mary Robinson, Billy-Jean King and Jane Fonda to name but a few – but some of the most compelling and powerful talks for me came from the lesser-known speakers; like Linda Cliatt-Wayman, an unstoppable inner-city high school principal who has transformed her school from a rating of ‘persistently dangerous’ to a safe, nurturing, inspiring environment.

School principle

Linda spoke –  no, issued a rally-cry – for 9 minutes and you could barely hear an audience member breathe.  Formidable and awe-inspiring in equal measure, she captivated with her passion and energy and earned a stamping, standing ovation at the end. Her simple mantra in the face of seemingly overwhelming adversity; “So what? What now? What are we going to do about it?” – summed up her resilience and determination that there is always a way, no matter how stacked the odds are.   You can read her amazing story here (the videos of the talks themselves are not yet uploaded; I’ll link to them when they are).

Equally compelling and moving was Nancy Lublin, pioneer of the youth volunteering movement dosomething.org, who spoke of the day her team received an incoming text from a teenager who was being abused by her father, eventually asking simply ‘…R U there?’.  Feeling powerless to do anything more than text back details of a national rape support line, Nancy and her team determined to set up a resource to support teenagers in crisis in the way that they needed, and two years later Crisis Text Line was launched. Anyone can text the support team and begin a conversation, on their terms, and get the help they need.  Over 6.5m texts have been received to date, and one of the most valuable outcomes is that the data can be used – anonymously – to highlight the most vulnerable populations and areas across the US to help better target local resources.  You can read more about the remarkable evolution and impact in this New Yorker story.

Nancy Lublin (below), who closed her talk by saying; ‘Why am I here today? In the hope that one day, the young girl who reached out to us, who made us take action, might just hear this and know that although we couldn’t help her, we’re doing all that we can to help all the others who came after her…’.

Nancy Lublin

I could go on – and on and on – about the talks which covered everything from the front-line fight against ebola to robotics; from global climate change to basket-weaving in Nigeria.  If you have the time and a cup of tea in hand, lose yourself in the TED site which covers the highlights of the programme and the conversations which took place… even though I was there, I keep going back to it.

We also got schooled in how TED prepares its speakers for their talks, and the tips for powerful, memorable presentations (tell a story; make it human, be authentic – not rocket science but so easy to forget..).  A large neon clock is set on the back wall of the auditorium counting down so that speakers know how they’re doing against the fiercely moderated nine minutes of airtime.  If you ever have the chance to go, or to attend a local TEDX event, I cannot recommend it enough.

A couple of final highlights to share; three short videos which were chosen to bridge between the talks, and which bear watching again even if you’ve come across these before;

A powerful short film about reclaiming what it really means to run like a girl

A ballet dancer who refused to listen to the critics and proved them wrong

And a beautiful poem written by a Marshall Islander to her baby daughter

all photos courtesy of TED.com



Regular followers will have noticed the tapering off of posts in recent weeks as attempts to juggle work, work-travel and family life become temporarily all-consuming, albeit for the best of reasons.  Harry is now five, and our sessions of cutting and pasting, daubing and scribbling are now more often surpassed by strenuous wrestling, ninja-warrior swordplay and the endless retrieval of mishit tennis balls from flower pots, guttering, car exhaust pipes and – memorably – the stagnant pond at the far end of the garden.  Growing up is an important business and I must bear witness; this time is far too precious to spend on lesser things (and if nothing else, I must keep my wits about me given all the ninja/ball-hitting/new wrestling moves;  a girl’s got to be quick with her reflexes to foil such an agile opponent…)

The crafting and home improvements continue (of course!), but in fits and bursts when time allows. I’m going to take a short break from writing and return in July when the days are longer and school is out and there’s suddenly more time to share what we’re upto, and to finish the myriad of partially-complete fleeting obsessions and artistic experiments which spill across my studio table.

If you’re looking for inspiration or project reminders in the meantime, you could have a look at my main Pinterest board where some of the best of the last 3 years is captured, with links.

Have a great – and sunshiny – June, and see you in July!

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Friends for dinner: time for kitchen experimentation!

How is your Monday going, are you surviving?  We managed a lovely weekend with friends and sunshine (the best combination), so the afterglow has seen me through a manic day at work.  We threw a small dinner party on Friday night.  The kind where everyone arrives, slightly giddy with a mix of exhaustion, anticipation, and the rush of adrenalin that comes after shutting your laptop, settling the babysitter in, examining yourself from every angle in your outfit, sucking everything in and racing, slightly late, to your destination.  Friday night fever.

If you’re braced for a picture-heavy post, here are a few touches from the night, like dessert (but more on that later!)…

Lemon tart with edible nasturtium flowers and macarons

Earlier in the week I made place-names for everyone to go on the table.  I began by printing out the names of all our guests onto watercolour paper (I used this calligraphy font; a favourite of mine), before taking a heavily loaded brush and spattering on watercolour paint in different shades of green.  I swirled the brush around a little to pool the colours and left to dry…

Watercolour gift tags step 1

Before slicing the paper into strips to create individual tags;

DIY place cards or gift tags

Which I then clipped to the plates at each setting, adding a spring of rosemary….

DIY Watercolour place names

Watercolour place settings

With dinners like these it’s always good to work out where to spend the effort and where to make life easy for yourself so that you can kick back and enjoy the evening; I opted for a huge caprese salad to start, and then a side of salmon, baked with lemon, feta, black pepper and capers and served up with sharing bowls of roasted new potatoes; one of those combination that you can place in the oven and forget about for 40mins whilst catching up on everyone’s news.  You’ll have to excuse the lack of photos; we were having way too much fun to stop and try to capture the food…

After a couple of easy courses, I wanted to go to town on the dessert and experiment with using the edible flowers I’ve been growing.  I decided to make individual lemon tarts in advance (these, which are my go-to reliable pudding for nights like these!).  To try to truly over-stretch myself, I also decided it would be a really great idea to make caramelised hazelnuts to garnish the plate, following what looked like a foolproof tutorial from Martha.  WELL.  Let me tell you that it’s quite an expensive garnish if you factor in the saucepan which became irretrievably welded with cooling molten caramel, and the burn cream I had to invest in after a minor slip up with the pan.  Oh, and you could lose 8hrs of your life attempting to skin the hazlenuts, unless  - as I did – you decide from the outset that life is too short and that a rather more slapdash approach is called for.   They look mighty pretty, but I can tell you it was a one-off venture into nut caramelisation for me…

caramelised hazelnuts

Still, I would like to be awarded an inventiveness prize for my creative repurposing of an old floral foam wreath…

caramelised nuts in florists foam

After that, the rest of the dessert was remarkably easy.  I had a dry-run at putting it together before everyone arrived, and took the photos below.  I’m pleased to report that even 4hrs and a number of glasses of wine later, it was manageable – here’s the step by step guide if you fancy giving it a whirl!

Take a plate (yes, ok – that’s the easiest step).


Using a brand new  - washed! – paintbrush, add a stripe of raspberry coulis (from a jar; this is no time for domestic goddessery; no-one will ever know).

Plate with coulis

Add your homemade lemon tart in the centre of the coulis.  Squash together any crumbly bits; dust with icing sugar if necessary to disguise any imperfections.

Coulis and lemon tart

Add a couple of fresh blackberries and some carefully washed and pesticide-free edible flowers.  Mine are nasturtiums; you can grow your own or buy them in high-end supermarkets.

Step by step dessert with edible flowers

A couple of (shop-bought!) macarons add a further splash of colour.  I once tried making my own during a weekend break in Paris; it was amazing to learn but another of those once-in-a-lifetime things for me.

And finally, the caramelised hazelnuts, a sprinkling of dried edible rose petals (from Waitrose, for those in the UK), and a shaving of lemon zest, and ta-da! – dessert on a plate.   Just don’t drop the tray of these on the way to the table or your poor heart will never recover from the ruined labour of love…

Lemon tart with edible nasturtium flowers and macarons

The evening went on into the wee small hours; plates were scraped clean and the weekend was truly christened and launched.  I love Friday nights…

p.s . Now I need a new show-stopper dessert; do you have any favourite recommendations that you can share? Or other courses?  Preferably high on the aesthetics and low on the culinary skill required, which regular readers will know is my modus-operandi by now…

Have a great week, wherever you are and whatever you’re upto;  and thank you for stopping by… particularly those who come week after week and say hello; it’s a very wonderful thing :-)

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Silvered Pebbles; a DIY Garden Game for Summer

DIY Painted Rocks

We’re in the throes of an unexpectedly lovely May holiday weekend, and have been living outdoors, sorting out sheds and pottering in the garden.  I uncovered a stash of old tiles, leftover from bathroom and kitchen projects both here and at our last house.  They looked too pretty to throw away, so I’ve repurposed them to make an outsized, organic version of Noughts and Crosses (or Tic Tac Toe).  I used river pebbles which are smooth and tactile and call out to be stroked and handled, and the set can live outside in all weathers.  If you have a couple of old tiles and a supply of pebbles (mine were from our local garden centre; £5/bag), then this is a very gratifying afternoon project…

DIY Garden noughts and crosses

Playing garden games in summer

Garden games for families

You’ll need:

  • A large tile for the board; slate, granite or marble are ideal.
  • Felt pads to back the tile (optional, but avoids scratching surfaces)
  • Silver paint; I used Liquid Leaf.  Varnish is optional.
  • Masking tape and stencils
  • Pebbles; choose similar sizes, as flat as possible to aid painting and reduce wobble on the board!

First, wash and dry the pebbles and decide on your design.  I decided on stripes and a flower motif instead of noughts and crosses; I used masking tape freehand to mark the stripes on half of the stones, and then simply peeled it away again after brushing on the liquid silver…

step 1

Step 2Step 3

DIY Silvered pebbles

For the ‘noughts’, I used mini cupcake stencils from a local baking shop, and lightly sprayed them with repositionable glue to hold them in place whilst I brushed the paint on.  If you get any small runs or smudges, wait till the paint dries and then simply scratch away the excess with a knife blade; it’s gratifyingly easy to correct.  You can varnish your stones to make them even more hardy; gloss varnish will change the colour of the stone, so have a practice on a spare stone to check that you like the effect first.

Stencilled pebbles step 1


Stencilled pebbles step 2

DIY Silver motif pebbles

For the main board I chose a large grey floor tile and measured the gride for nine squares, and marked this in pencil.  I used my masking tape to mark very thin grid lines and then simply painted these in the same way as the striped stones.  You could make them thicker if you like (or even engrave them if you are a master with a Dremel tool (and thus far handier than I…).

DIY Tic Tac Toe for the gardne

Add felt pads to the back of your board (I used these felt coasters for ease, gluing them near the four corners), and place on a contrasting tile if you wish, or simply on a table top or patio.

I used two plank tiles to make platters for the sets of stones; these were wood-effect tiles leftover from the bathroom in our guestroom.  Again, I added felt coasters underneath and then laid out the stones on each; they look rather beautiful..

Decorated silver pebbles Striped silver pebbles

And there you have it… a stylish and fun game to entertain the little people in your life, or simply to look good as the seasons finally turn and al fresco living becomes a reality.  Roll on summer….

Garden tic tac toe

Garden perspective

A Horticultural Miscellany

Spring tulips

Life is full of injustices, big and small.  My mother was the recipient of one of these this week when the tulips we had each carefully brought back from Amsterdam last year burst into bloom in my garden and remained resolutely absent in hers, despite her attentive efforts and track record of green-fingered magic.

So this post must begin with an apology to Mum as I revel in their glory after nine solid months of neglect in a few forgotton pots in a corner of our overgrown garden.  It must be Karma, though for what I cannot guess…. aren’t they beautiful? :-)

feathered tulips

They are so plentiful in fact, that I even sacrificed a few to a vase by my computer so I can enjoy them all the time (but I’ll stop going on about the tulips now before I am disowned)

tulips in a vase

Instead, lets talk about the turn of the seasons; we still have winter Hellebores parading thei final glories as the  Magnolia trees which line our border burst into bloom; I continued around the garden with my shears and snipped a few of each, to arrange in a pre-soaked florist’s foam wreath tucked inside one of my old Easter faux nests…it took just a few minutes but has made a lovely table centre which has lasted a surprisingly long time…


wreath with willow

Spring floral nest

Winter hellebore arrangement

magnolia wreath nest

Magnolia wreath

And finally for my last act of green-fingeredness, I’ve planted up a couple of pots of edible flowers (below) ready for the summer, inspired by the array of beautiful dishes and recipes which are appearing in gourmet magazines and food programmes the world over… here’s to fantasies of long hot days and gorgeous plates of food with splashes of floral colour.  If nothing else, it can mask all my usual burned bits and distract from the taste – the art of aesthetic illusion!


Edible flowers for Summer

But enough of this, I must scrub the soil from my fingernails and adopt as chic a demeanour as possible because this weekend we’re off to Madrid – Madrid! – to celebrate my Mum’s 70th birthday.  If she cannot have tulips, she can at least have tapas, music and the Prado, which will do very nicely instead.  I have been to Madrid for work but never for play, so if you have any ideas or recommendations for how we should make the most of our long weekend, please do let me know – we have a map and a wide open itinerary just waiting for inspiration….

Have a great week!

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The gift of…. Breakfast.

Sunday morning croissants

Back in January, we spent a lovely evening at my friend Anna’s house.  Twelve of us squeezed around her dining table, talking to and over each other, eating and drinking into the wee small hours.  The party continued after we all left, as Anna and her husband cranked up the stereo and threw some moves, ignoring the scene of culinary devastation in the kitchen.  A perfect night, all told; but what of the morning after?

‘I have the hangover from hell‘ texted Anna gingerly the next morning, ‘And there’s no food in the house because I didn’t think beyond dinner.  I would KILL for carbohydrates right now.’

It was a lightbulb moment for me; so now when we go to friends for dinner I generally take a bottle of wine – and breakfast.  The kind of slightly decadent, Sunday-morning breakfast that you can indulge in whilst reliving tales of the night before and revelling in your marvellous hostessery (new word, but you know what I mean..), before the realities of cleaning up and entertaining the kids with a hangover properly kick in.  I find croissants (butter, almond or chocolate; all divine), really good jam and fresh bread go down a treat, and also require no attention when you hand them over; they can be set down and forgotten, then rediscovered with joy & hunger the next day.

The gift of breakfast...

A couple of really good friends have recently had babies, and I take a similar approach on the first visit to see them too; whilst the new arrivals tend to get showered with lovely gifts, it’s easy to forget who actually did all the hard work and is finding it hard to remember unbroken nights and the phenomenon of being able to read a book from cover to cover.  For the new mums, a magazine, some simple scented flowers and a loaf of sourdough go some way to restoring peace of mind and providing the maternal equivalent of a comfort blanket;

Hostess gifts; breakfast for the morning after

Creamy white roses

p.s. Hot, buttered toast would be my last meal of choice.  No question.  Perhaps not my desert island food of choice – that would be calamari and crayfish with a chilled glass of wine as I scan the horizon looking for passing ships – but toast would be the most evocative, comforting choice. And as my last meal, I wouldn’t even have to skimp on the butter…


41 rules for how to be a great dinner party guest

..and useful tips for the host (especially ones like me who tend to have a warm-up cocktail at 7pm and only then remember to vaguely start thinking about the cooking)

and finally, for anyone feeling tortured by the gratuitous photos of carbohydrates, try the gluten-free museum

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Happy Easter!

hatching chick cupcakes

Happy Easter!

Hope that you’re having a wonderful (and restful) weekend.

p.s. Our hatching chick cupcakes above are made with fondant icing and very little skill; find the tutorial here in one of my very first posts…I added wings this year for a little extra fun.


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hatching chick cakes!

Last-minute Easter Crafts

Making button Easter cards

The Easter holidays have begun!  You can tell it’s the holidays, because overnight the skies opened and since Friday the rain has been lashing down, driven horizontal by the gale-force winds. We took Harry to the park to practice riding his bike on Sunday;

‘It’s like being in a HURRICANE‘ he screamed excitedly, as he was swept into a hedge.

Time to retire indoors to some more sedate, warm activities – like Easter crafting.

First we made hanging egg pendants to give to Harry’s grandparents by cutting out egg shapes from coloured cardstock and then liberally applying PVA glue before arranging a myriad of tonal blue buttons all over the shape (we get ours for £1/bag from here).

Button egg hanging charms for Easter

Once Harry had glued all the buttons on, we left the shapes to dry (the weight of the buttons helpfully holds them flat and stops them curling).  Then I carefully poked a hole through one of the buttons using a craft needle and threaded thin ribbon through to create a hanging loop.  Ta-da..!

DIY Button Egg Cards

These look lovely taped to a window, or we’ve strung a couple up on the peg rail in our guest room, and adorned the bare branches of our indoor fig tree to add a splash of unseasonal colour.  To mail these to our families, I used trifold cards and glued a picture of the small craftsman to the inside, to give a flavour of the work in progress.  Use the kind of  hardboard-backed envelopes designed for photographs to ensure that they don’t bend or crack in the post.

Handmade Easter Pendants DIY Button Egg Cards for Easter

Once we’d removed the excess glue from all the surfaces, including surfaces of hands, face and hair, we set about our second project; hatching chicks!

Winged Hatching Chick Decoration Hatching Chick Easter Decoration

To make these, I drew around Harry’s hands onto some fun paper, then we each had a go at cutting round the shapes (great for developing coordination, this one).  We used a small heart-shaped punch to make a beak and crest, then stuck on googly-eyes and used paper-fasteners to attach the wings, which flap up and down with a little bit of encouragement.  I traced around the egg shape onto some white card to make a half-egg for the chick to hatch from; just glue it on top and you’re done.

DIY Easter Chick Decoration

We got quite carried away with the handprint-making, so used the same technique for Harry’s entry into his class competition to decorate a hard-boiled egg for Easter; this time he covered the handprints with tiny yellow pom-poms and we glued them to an egg I’d dyed yellow for him (by simply adding yellow food dye to a pan, popping the egg in and leaving it to boil (actually, forgetting about it until it almost boiled dry, which did give it a lovely depth of colour..).  So here you have it, a newly-hatched baby chick with possibly the largest wings you’ll ever see (when DID Harry’s hands grow so big?), but a labour of love and much 5yr old pride.

The Easter Hatchery


Happy Easter, and have a wonderful long weekend when it comes!

(We have 10 children coming for an egg hunt on Friday, to coincide with what the Met Office describes as ‘an unprecedented Atlantic storm of hailstones and high winds’.  I can’t wait).

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