Making

Love Letters

Ransom Note Valentine's Card

Have you got your Valentine’s Day affairs in order?  To my beloved this year I am giving a tatty old John Grisham thriller, a supermarket newsletter and a page from the Guardian Review of Books.

Well, to be more precise, I am giving him a hand-crafted card declaring my love, snipped from the pages of the above book and periodicals, with carefully scissored words and letters glued into place to form a very unique kind of affirmation that Hallmark couldn’t quite offer.

To make something like this, you can simply riffle through the Sunday papers and snip out useful words, or raid a novel you have no intention of ever trying to re-read (how annoying would that be?  To reach page 96 and find a crucial paragraph has been cut out).  I snipped out some pronouns and joining words so that I had a little pile of ‘I’s and ‘you’s and ‘and’s and ‘then’s … and then found some altogether more interesting and random phrases and snippets to spice it up a bit.  Then I laid them all out and got to work;

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Ransom note Valentines Card

Have fun with the envelope too, and then quietly congratulate yourself on your artistry even as you survey the 249 tiny shreds of newspaper that now cover every surface and skitter gently across the floor carried by the infernal draughts that plague your ancient house.  Ignore, sip wine. Use leftover clippings to craft a series of ransom notes and post to your neighbours under cover of darkness.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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How to make a fortune in just five minutes.

DIY Fortune cookies

Recently we had a Chinese takeaway and Harry discovered fortune cookies.  On a scale of life’s wonders, it briefly ranked RIGHT AT THE TOP. ‘A cookie that actually tells you what is going to happen to you?  Woooah!’

In practice, the cookie itself was a little underwhelming, disintegrating into an explosion of crumbs when snapped and revealing a rather vague fortune about pleasant strangers.  So I had an idea; I’d make my own…

DIY Chinese Fortune Cookies made of paper

The good thing about homemade fortune cookies is that you can customise your fortunes to suit the recipient (these are the ones for my husband; heavy hints wrapped in paper);

DIY Paper Fortune Cookies from KCS

Harry’s contain equally alluring and essential promises;

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Best of all? They are so simple to make.  Details below…

Supplies:

  • Paper.  I used 3 types; a vellum-like paper with a sheen (gorgeous), basic paper torn from an exercise book, and script-patterned gift wrap
  • Circle template; I used the lid of the tin in the top picture.  Aim for something about 10cm/4in square
  • Fortunes; scribble them out onto strips of paper and cut up ready to slip in as you fold the paper cookies.
  • Scissors, pencil, glue

Steps:

Draw around your circle shape and cut out as many shapes as you need from your paper.
Then, using the pictures below as a guide;
1. Fold the circle lightly in half and pinch hard at the crease in the centre, leaving an indent
2. Let the circle open again and lay a fortune sideways across the indent you made
3. Roll the opposite sides of the circle together as shown so that they overlap slightly; this forms a cuff that will hold the paper cookie together
4. Press your finger into the indent you made on the opposite side to push in the centre of the cookie, making the distinctive folded shape
5. Add a dab of glue deep in the fold and either hold for a minute until dry or use the tips of your scissors to anchor it in place to set as shown
6.  Repeat!

DIY Paper Fortune Cookies
Ideas…

  • These would make a beautiful Valentines gift for someone; a bag of fortunes customised for the one you love
  • Or try making a single over-sized paper cookie (12″), containing a letter or poem written out along a whole strip
  • Experiment with materials (I want to try using a piece of tan-coloured leather; you could hide a pair of earrings or a necklace in here as an exquisite little gift)
  • Have fun with the packaging; I used an old tin that had once held tempura mix and made my own label to cover up the original text

Paper fortune cookies

 

Happy folding!

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Adventures in giant knitting

On my birthday recently, my mother gave me a very large cardboard box.  I say she gave it to me; in fact she dragged it in through the front door with much huffing and puffing and muttered cussing, and left it in the hall whilst she lay down on the sofa to recover herself with a gin & tonic.

‘Is it a puppy?’ asked Harry hopefully.

‘Why no‘ she announced dramatically; ‘it is ….A BALL OF WOOL!’.

A 5kg ball of lightly-spun wool as large as a doberman in fact, and a pair of 60mm wide knitting needles to tame it with.  Welcome to the unladylike art of Giant Knitting.

Adventures in giant knitting

It took me a little while to begin the knitting because the needles were immediately seized to be used as light sabres and general tools for random destruction.  You can see the appeal…

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Once in posession of both needles and wool, I studied the booklet that came with the kit (mine was from here), and taught myself the basic ‘knit one, purl one’ blanket stitch.  Unlike those genteel grandmothers you see clacking away on television, there was nothing effortless about my stitching; it required a vast turning circle of personal space (I jabbed so many family members in the eye and ribs with my herculean needles that I was eventually exiled to a small chair on my own); but good lord, there is something so satisfying about knitting a throw that is four foot square in just two hours.  To give you a sense of the scale, just 25 stitches completes a row (and also, I suspect, burns about 200 calories).

Occasionally the wool would come unspun and break apart if I tugged too hard, but you can immediately press it back together and carry on.  Dropped stitches are by their very size immediately obvious, making this the most energetic but also the most forgiving of needlecrafts.  I think I am in love.  The only drawback is the cost; a ball this size will cost around £100, which makes this not an economical hobby.  But as my husband says ‘Not bad value when you consider you’re basically knitting together an entire flock of sheep’.  Well quite.

My messy, irregular and somewhat whispy wool throw is a thing of great heft but also of quiet beauty, and magnetises the smallest member of the house.

A giant knitted throw Giant knitting (great for wannabe ghosts)Have you tried giant knitting before?  Any tips or second-project recommendations?  A couple of people on Instagram recommended arm knitting, which sounds like a natural progression, albeit not one to try when multi-tasking, I suspect.

Happy Monday!

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DIY Cook’s Calendar

DIY Cook's Calendar 2018Here’s a project for anyone slow off the blocks in tackling 2018.  I know many people have their next-year calendar in place from August, or fully populated by November, but perhaps you’re one of those people who just hasn’t got a grip yet (me), or has maybe fallen out of love with the store-bought/gifted calendar you acquired and fancies something much cooler instead.  This is for you.

Cooks calendar with pencil

I used an old chopping board (or source a brand new one from a discount store and soak it in water for two days until it is rough and weathered – ta-da!).  Then I found this free printable calendar online and printed out the year onto thin cardstock – I loved the typographic simplicity of this one – thanks Crissy! – but search on Pinterest for a myriad of other different styles offered for free by generous designers.  I then punched holes in the top of each page and added eyelets, marking with a pencil through the holes where I wanted to bang in the old nails that I’d hang the calendar on…

Cooks calendar detail of rivets

To attach the pencil, two different styles;

  • For a clean, linear look, glue a bulldog clip to the board above the calendar and simply slip your pencil in (these are my favourite Blackwing pencils, beloved of Oliver Jeffers and decades of artists and illustrators)

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  •  If you like a firmer leash on your pencil, tie a length of thin string around the tip and then loop it through the handle of the bread board, knotting it in place where it can hang alongside the calendar all year, resisting casual abduction by other family members.  I also added a decorative vintage baking mould at the top of the calendar, bought as part of a job lot from a local junk store (I’m still thinking about how to use them – they look so pretty..)

DIY Kitchen Calendar 2018and then finally; loop a rope through the top of the chopping board and hang it on the kitchen wall, where your creativity can be admired by all the family, who can also adorn it with tomato sauce smears, greased fingerprints and multiple reminders of their own birthdays.  Honestly, I ask you.

One other style to play with; for a brighter look, try mounting the calendar pages on thick giftwrap, coloured cardstock or watercolour paper with bright splashes of  paint-  I made this smaller set to hang in my office, so that I have two chances of remembering important dates…

Brights calendarBright calendar

Have a wonderful week.

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A homemade nativity

Simple nativity angel

This week I made a simple Christmas nativity scene using some wooden blocks I picked up from a craft store.  Painted in muted colours and with twists of wire, modelling-clay and wooden accessories, they make a calming and beautiful tableau.

How to make a simple nativity setI bought a selection of different wooden shapes (mine were from A C Moore in the US; Michaels in the US and Hobbycraft in the UK also sell similar).  I chose sets of three shapes to form my shepherds and wise men, and then picked out shapes that could be crafted into the other key figures in the stable…

simple nativity set building blocks

I gave Joseph and Mary two layers of pale grey paint, and then rolled out a rectangle of white modelling clay to form their clothes, pressing a wooden button into each as it dried.  Baby Jesus too just has a thin sheet of clay to swaddle him; his cradle is a giant coat button and a soft handful of dried moss.

Simple nativity Joseph Mary and baby JesusOur shepherds have simple clay headcloths, tied with a small length of leather cord; their crooks are wooden pins (designed to use with wooden wheels in toy-making I think; but any piece of twig or stick would do).

simple nativity shepherdsnaive shepherd dollsThe wise men have simple crowns made by rolling out a length of clay and cutting it with serrated scissors (If you don’t have these, just use a craft knife to cut out triangle shapes).  Their gifts are little wooden squares (repurposed from a rubber stamp alphabet kit!), topped with the same little buttons as Mary and Joseph’s clothing.

three wise menthree wise men nativity dollsAnd finally Gabriel; my favourite angel.  Hand-cut wings of clay are pressed into his back, and a thin length of gold wire thread around his head to form a halo, topped with a tiny clay star.  He stands on a wooden block, keeping watch and centering the scene.  He makes me smile.

Simple nativity angel

A simple nativity, that looks all the better for being a little rough and ready and unformed.  It’s a very satisfying project for a winter’s afternoon… and the first sign of Christmas to appear in our home!DIY Simple nativity scene

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The Advent of Beauty

I’ve made advent calendars in the past, usually filled with chocolates and tiny toys for Harry.  This year I decided to make a rather different one for a couple of my girlfriends, which reveals a new beauty treat each day through the month of December…

DIY beauty gift advent calendar

A few weeks ago, I began to collect pocket-sized lotions, potions, lip balms and soaps; sprays and rollers and mini-mirrors and scents.  Some were saved from in-flight washbags or handed out at beauty counters as samples, whilst others I bought especially.

Some are meaningful gifts in themselves; the Cowshed candle that will burn gently by a bathtub for many nights, or the This Works pillow spray – whereas others are one-time fun throwaways; a single use Clarins hand-cream sachet or a sample-sized scent from Miller Harris.  A couple of chocolates did find their way in too…DIY Beauty Advent Calendar ideasI used a simple £5 wooden advent house frame, and painted the interior squares with different shades of green paint; olive, leaf, sage and the lightest mint. Then I counted out the goodies and wrapped each one in tissue paper before stuffing it into one of the squares (I didn’t number them; it’s a lucky dip choice!). I then cut a piece of cardboard in the shape of the house by tracing around it, and covered it with giftwrap to make a lid for the calendar and tied a ribbon around; DIY Christmas Beauty Advent CalendarAll ready for December 1st!

You could also use simple envelopes (glassine or paper) and a normal gift box for your advent calendar.  My other friend lives across the pond in Philadelphia so I’ll be taking hers on the plane, and opted to box it up instead, using different sized mini-envelopes with wax seals…Beauty advent calendar in day by day envelopes

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A few ideas if you fancy making this;

  • 24 is a lot of envelopes or boxes to fill, especially with just ten days to go; try buying multi-packs of things like lipbalm flavours, travel-sized product sets or simply cruising the aisles of Sephora, Boots or other beauty stores asking for freebie sample-size sachets and trial use products
  • Mix it up with mini-chocolates, hair clips, temporary tattoos (Meri Meri for kids or Tattly.com for me :-) ) or tiny nail polish pots
  • Other ideas entirely; different herbal or fruit-flavoured tea-bags.  Tiny dinosaurs for little people (I’ve made one for Harry this year filled with pocket-sized velociraptors and triceratops).  Miniature bottles of spirits for a whiskey-lover who is worth the investment …the possibilities are endless.  Best of all, share this with someone who might just make one for you, with a heavy-handed nudge.  After all, they have 10 WHOLE DAYS to get going!

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The Circle of Life

IMG_1997When we got married almost ten years ago, I slipped a champagne cork from the wedding breakfast into my husband’s pocket as a memento of the day. A year later, I did the same on our first anniversary, and then again when we raised a (very small) glass to toast Harry’s arrival into the world.  Slowly, unthinkingly, I began to assemble a collection of corks from the most memorable events in our lives.  Be it great dinners with old friends, Christmas and birthday parties, new jobs, reunions and celebrations big and small; whenever I remembered I’d scribble the date and event on the cork and stash it in the kitchen drawer.

But joy has no place in a drawer, so last weekend in a sentimental mood I tipped it out and began to create a huge circle – a wreath of corks – to hang on the wall in the kitchen and remind us of all of the magic that’s happened, and all that’s yet to come.  Tucked in the drawer now instead is a small tube of glue so that we can easily add the next cork, and the next one; layer upon layer…

IMG_2023To make this cork wreath….

I drew and cut a big (about 70cm) circle out of grey board, and then sprayed it with a copper-colour paint in case the card showed through between the corks. I deliberately cut a narrow ring so that the corks would appear to ‘float’ and the background would be invisible; the inner ring of corks are glued to the cardboard, but the outer ring(s) are simply glued to the corks themselves; their weightlessness makes this easy.

IMG_1902I used wood glue because that’s what I had to hand, but gorilla glue or any strong adhesive will work; I built this on the kitchen counter over the course of an afternoon and used glasses and cups to hold the corks in place whilst the glue set.  Position each ring as offset to the one before, so that the corks nestle between each other; this gives it strength.

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IMG_1917To hang on the wall, simply add a loop of thin wire around the ring and hang on a hook.  Consider it an ongoing life project which should never be considered finished, and whose gaps are to be filled as soon as a new occasion for celebration presents itself…

IMG_1951p.s.  from the archives: another use for those champagne cork-cases (scroll down), and two fun ways to wrap a bottle.

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Every Child is an Artist

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Picasso famously asserted that ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up’.  It’s a great question to ponder; why do so many children change from being magnetically drawn to any available paper and crayons to declaring, somewhere in the double-digit years, that ‘I can’t draw’, and never feeling inclined to do so again?

Harry is still at an age and stage where he loves all things arty and crafty, and I’m keen to gently foster this as far as possible.  Here are a few of the things we’ve discovered and loved together…

This book is a favourite, packed with brilliant ideas for drawing projects, like drawing by torchlight, making monoprints and staging an art party.  I can’t tell you how much I love it.  Our first project was a simple fruit bowl still-life, arranged by Harry, that we drew together at the kitchen table.  The challenge was that we had to use oil pastels (neither of us had tried this before), and use a coloured paper background.  Harry won Best in Show for his picture (I was robbed!).  I liked it so much that we scanned it and made it into a set of cards;

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The internet is a fantastic resource both for blogs and for tutorials.  We loved watching Quentin Blake showing us how to draw Willy Wonka, and sat together with our pens and paper, following his pen-strokes and creating some astonishingly passable imitations.  Try typing ‘how to draw a ….’ into your search engine, filling in the blank with whatever you are passionate about (unicorns, pterodactyls, tractors, volcanoes… you name it, someone somewhere will have a tutorial showing you how).

This blog is great for a steady stream of ideas and projects; the Facebook feed is one of my favourites.

Museums and art galleries are also a favourite and a source of continual inspiration.  But here’s the thing; we whistle through them at a rate of knots, going where Harry’s interest takes us and staying for as little or as long a time as we feel like.  We take a sketchbook and pencils and settle down on quiet spots of floor or benches to draw the things that capture our attention.  Favourites include the V&A in London, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Tate Modern.  On my list for a long time has been the House of Illustration (and how I wish we could have teleported to California to visit this!)

Workshops are also fun; during school holidays I often sign Harry up for classes for a couple of hours to try new things, like Lego animation (a HUGE hit), clay-making (hit and miss) and this most recent triumph; a short class at a local art shop teaching kids how to draw wolves using charcoal.  An unusually specific topic, but for this seven year old it was just about the coolest thing to know how to do.  And the result was awesome.  We framed it and it now hangs, three-foot-wide and howling at the moon, in the snug.

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ps Three ways from the archives to make kids feel ever prouder of what they make; an art desk calendar,  a matching pairs game and these cereal box pegs from yesteryear.

Cereal box pegs

mantel pegs tutorial from www

Happy Tuesday!

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Winter Animal Matryoshka

DIY winter animal matroyshka dolls

The nights here are drawing in as the seasons turn, bringing out my hibernating instinct.  The wind and rain and the sudden chill in the air have given the perfect excuse for spending a few evenings over the last week in the art room, radio on and cup of tea in hand, painting a set of nesting matryoshka animals as a birthday present for Harry.  They were a bit of an experiment – the animals morphed as I began painting them, and my technique definitely improved as I went along – but I love them, and I hope he does too…

DIY Animal Matroyshka

The biggest (and friendliest!) is the bear, catching fish for dinner.  Well, it started as a bear, and then my husband saw it. ‘Otter-ly amazing!’ he declared enthusiastically.  So now it’s, well, an otter.  Or an otter-bear.  Harry can decide.

Nesting animal matroyshka; Otter

And then the racoon, with his distinctive bandit eyes, hijacked here by a perky penguin the size of a fingertip (painting matryoshka is a good test of one’s steady hand, hence the tea rather than wine to accompany).

Matroyshka racoon and penguin

And the racoon’s butt, because this is that kind of website.

Raccoon matroyshka

Then Charlie the fox, the first animal I painted.  Somehow this fox is definitely called Charlie, though the others are waiting to be named.

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Then finally the owl, penguin and a tiny, tiny squirrel, wrestling with a nut (the squirrel is hiding inside the penguin here, but you can see her at the top).

Nesting matroyshka

I bought the blank wooden shapes on eBay; they were very inexpensive (about £5) – many craft stores sell them too.  Mine had 6 shapes, with the tallest about 8 inches high and the smallest less than an inch.

DIY matroyshka painting

blank matroyshka

Here’s a few tips I’d pass on if you fancy trying this as a project…

  • When you buy your blank set, play with them a little and check that they pull apart relatively easily.  Some of mine were very stiff and needed light sanding in the join (better to do this now than when you’ve painted and don’t want to touch them).
  • Draw on your design in ordinary pencil, and you can rub it out simply with a normal eraser.  I did this SO many times, often midway through an animal.  it’s very forgiving.
  • I used acrylic paint straight from the tube for all my base colours, then lightened or darkened the shade for accents and shadows.  If you’re hand-mixing colour, make more than you need so that you don’t run out (the wood soaks up a surprising amount), and that you can cover over your supply if you want to call it a day.
  • If you’re making animals like these, try googling them to remind yourself how the noses, ears and limbs work.  It sounds obvious but it’s really helpful when you’re trying to work out how to draw a bear an otter.
  • Plunge in.  I looked at these for days before daring to begin, and then once I did it was easy.  If you make a mistake, paint over it. Bam. No-one will know.

Good luck!

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Walls of Colour!

DIY Wallhung PaintboxYears ago, swinging through southern France with a bunch of girlfriends after university, I bought this beautiful old picture frame from a junk store.  I bought two of them in fact, and they cost only a handful of francs (francs! that ages me immediately..).  It has lived with me for many years and had many different roles, but recently has just been propped up in the art room, looking lovely but rather aimless.

Old French picture frame

So I reinvented it as a hanging pinboard to store our acrylic paints, in an accessible place so that Harry can take them down and use them without having to ask for help with cupboards or high shelves.  Now he can trash his clothes ALL BY HIMSELF without any grown-up help at all!

Paint palette board

To make the pinboard, I measured the back of the frame and asked my local DIY store to cut a piece of plywood to the right size (usually the first few cuts are free when you buy the wood).  I glued a sheet of cork over the top, and then used tiny panel pins to tap the wood into place on the frame.  I did this in a slapdash, haphazard way, with little symmetry and a number of mishits (hello, blackened fingernail).  Still, it is a very forgiving project given that all your work is visible only from behind.  I then measured the spacing for the paints I wanted to hang (these!  I love them..), and pushed upholstery pins in to the cork, sealing each one with a dab of glue.  As a final precaution, I glued cardboard squares where the very tips of the pins broke through.

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We practised together taking the paints on and off and it works a treat (if your paints don’t have easy loops like these, just attach a bulldog clip to the end of each tube and hang the clip on the nail instead).

When I get around to it, I’ll mount our new paint rack on the wall by Harry’s desk.  Until then, it leans at a jaunty angle against my plan chest, emitting a powerful siren song that draws us over every time.  Definitely better than a store cupboard.

The Art Room

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Paint palette pinboard

A Drawing Wall!

Wall-hung drawing paper rolL!

When we updated Harry’s room earlier this year, there’s one more thing that we added – almost as an afterthought – that has proven to be a HUGE hit.

Whilst rummaging in the loft, we found an old wooden curtain rail which we cut down to size and threaded with a 20m roll of brown parcel paper.  We mounted it on a spare sliver of wall in Harry’s bedroom…

How to make a drawing roll

..added a simple painted wooden baton at the bottom the hold the paper in place, and hey presto; a drawing wall came to life!

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It’s become a kind of collaborative family art space and messaging board.  We practice numbers on it (times-tables, exhaustively…), see who can draw the best elephant or sea monster or ice-cream flavour* (*me; Harry; Dad).  When Harry won an art prize at school, I sneaked upstairs before bedtime to leave this trophy in pride of place…

Brown paper roll for family messages

Here’s a few tips if you’re making your own..

  • Source your paper roll first before cutting the curtain pole down to size.  Paper tends to come in standard widths, so start with the end in mind.  Amazon and office supply stores are great for white and brown paper rolls.
  • Choose paper strong enough to withstand pulling down and pressing on, but not so thick that it won’t roll easily or tear off when you’re done – we used inexpensive 100gsm parcel paper.
  • To roll the paper onto the curtain pole, tape along one long edge to hold it in place and then roll up, positioning it so that the roll is to the front and the paper drop to the rear as shown (like a toilet roll!)

Wall-mounted drawing paper roll

  • When you’ve filled a length of paper, you can either tear it off or roll it up again at the bottom, pulling down to create new space.  If you do this, you can ultimately rewind it facing the other way to create a double-sided roll.
  • We used art pastels initially on the paper which gave great vibrant colours, but do tend to rub off on fingers (and wall, and floor, and duvet cover) – then I found these bright chalk pens which work beautifully and give rich colours without the mess.  You just have to be disciplined about putting the tops back on again afterwards.

Harry’s works a treat in his bedroom, but this would also look great in a kitchen for shopping lists, family messages or general creativity. Enjoy!

Family art wall in a kids bedroom

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