Making

Lepidoptery for the Lily-Livered

As a child on holiday in Cornwall, I remember scuffing my way along the hedgerows in Summer and finding seemingly hundreds of butterflies which had quietly met their last and were now decoratively, if a little sombrely, adding a flash of colour amidst the green.  We’d gather them up and head home, carefully cupping our deceased quarry as if it might still fly away.  But here the nostalgic reminisces grind to a halt because I cannot for the life of me remember what we did with them next.  Even at the age of 10 when one’s barbaric tendencies are at a peak, the idea of pinning them to a board or glueing them into a macabre holiday craft montage  seemed a little, well, unnecessary. So instead I imagine they  sat on the kitchen table, shedding and gathering dust in equal measure, until swept to their ultimate doom by my mother in a fit of domestic zeal.

This week I discovered a far more humane way to reignite my brief flirtation with the world of lepidoptery; a cheap and cheerful craft punch, which has proven to have a multitude of uses.  I worked my way through some leftover gift wrap, then experimented with watercolours and finally some old walking maps, which my husband had unwittingly left lying around.  I am mildly apprehensive about the day when he confidently whips one open when lost on a Yorkshire moor and finds that there is a butterfly-shaped hole in the place where the footpath was once shown, but I’ll endeavour to not lose any sleep over it.  A word of advice on maps; if using the more mundane modern versions like me, rather than the romantic olde worlde versions, do check what map detail you are stamping out before attaching your butterfly irrevocably to a card; I had to prise a fluttering ‘Public Sewage Works’ butterfly off and start again…

Close-ups, tips and tools below.

A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies on pastel paper. If you had the time or inclination to keep going, these would look beautiful en masse in a box frame. (Fact of the day; a kaleidoscope is indeed the beautiful and apt collective noun for a group of butterflies…)

Map butterflies glued to a square of mount board with a watercolour wash

Fun layering with leftover gift wrap – this would work well on tags or headed notecards too

A wallpaper butterfly on mount board as before, this time with a dash of glitter glue

Materials:

  • Hobbycraft small butterfly punch (£3.99)
  • Decorative paper scraps and maps
  • Gel craft glue or hot glue (glue sticks like Pritt will work fine for flat butterflies but are not quite strong enough if you’re folding and mounting at an angle)

 

A kitchen for the Mini-Gourmand

It was when we were raising a glass to the completion of our new kitchen that we belatedly noticed Harry stalking around stroking the cupboards and muttering gleefully ‘My new kitchen! What is in my cupboards? I cook now!’

Never one to miss an opportunity to raise an enlightened metrosexual, it seemed an opportune time to focus on completing the toy play kitchen I’ve been making out of bits and bobs in the garage, but which has fallen off the priority list since our house move.

I bought a dresser top from Ebay (a bargain at £12) and painted it with leftover cream Eggshell, then raided the local Poundsaver store for accessories; the sink (lasagne dish), cups, utensils and bread board all cost less than £1, which is just as well as their life expectancy is already in jeopardy after some flamboyant, Heston-style dramatic gestures from the toddler chef de cuisine. The recycled taps and knobs were procured during a visit to the local dump after I wrestled them off an unwanted sink and cupboard, with the wrench and screwdriver I tend to carry in my handbag (ex-Girl Guides are always prepared…).

Harry may be a dab hand in the kitchen, but he is still inevitably a small boy, so guests; be warned that top of the menu is Slug Soup and Worm Sandwiches.  At least you know he’ll have pretended to wash his hands before dishing up…



The finished play kitchen, complete with accessories…and the original Ebay find (below)

The kettle and toaster were an Amazon.co.uk find

The hob (below) was made with CDs and silver-sprayed wooden knobs

The cupboards are filled with empty food packets and a junk store tea set, plus this rather fabulous toy cake stand from Grandma

I admit it; this was just a great excuse to buy and eat a whole camembert.

Hours of fun (and peace…)

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A-List Baking

Say what you like about Gwyneth Paltrow, the girl’s obviously got buns of steel and thighs that could crack a walnut at 30 paces. Previously I have attributed this to a diet of pea shoots and a life frittered away in the gym, so I was delighted to discover that au contraire,she maintains her svelte physique by baking and snacking on jammy biscuits.  Well okay then, we’ll call them gluten-free thumbprint cookies.

Harry and I unashamedly customised her recipe in her recent book ‘My Father’s Daughter’, having been delighted to find something so suited to our natural kitchen style, namely a cookie that is actually supposed to be a greyish-brown colour when finished, and also to have a very dented and uneven appearance.  I must ‘fess up that here the similarities end, as Gwyneth confidently predicted a batch of ‘around 50′ cookies, and our efforts yielded, well, 12.  This portion control could explain many things.  Still, H and I will maintain our belief that a proper cookie is one of a size which requires both hands to get a good grip.

Recipe follows… they taste wickedly, addictively good.  Eat one and then give the rest away. Quickly.

Step One: Combine all of the ingredients except for the jam.  Roll into balls and place of a baking sheet.  Demonstrated here by my beautiful assistant Ted Glen, of Postman Pat fame.

Step 2: Make a thumbprint dent, then add a healthy dollop of jam in the centre of each

Step 3: Bake in the oven for 20 mins.  Use this time to either a) kill yourself on the treadmill in preparation for the carb onslaught or b) make a large pot of coffee and locate a comfy chair and a plate.

Step 4: Admire, consume, repeat.

Recipe:

4 cups of Barley flour

3 cups of chopped almonds (we used pistachio nuts instead – we love them)

1 cup of Maple syrup

1 cup of oil

Pinch of salt, teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Jam – any flavour you like.

adapted from Gwyneth’s Paltrow’s  ’Lalo’s Cookies’ recipe

MadHatter’s Cake Stand

I spent last Summer vaguely lusting after the gravity-defying cake stands which popped up in every style magazine and chic home store (Anthropolgie does this kind of thing beautifully).  I convinced myself that it was exactly the kind of thing I could knock up at home on a wet Sunday, using thriftily purchased remnants of china from the charity store, to eventual gasps of awe from anyone who came to tea.

In the event it’s taken me about 6 months to acquire enough cups and saucers, within my self-imposed budget of no more than a couple of pounds for each, not least because I eventually opted for white porcelain pieces… somehow there’s a fine line between uber-stylish retro chintz and just full on mis-matched, chipped 70′s china, and I definitely kept finding the latter. Colourful egg-cups from Pip Studio provided a little burst of zingy colour in the otherwise-white ensemble.

So here it is, the finished result, albeit with a distinct cake deficit in this shot; we are still recovering from the cupcake frenzy of last week, so it may be some time before I can picture this properly laden with sugary delights. n.b. For anyone who is similarly inspired and reaching for the hot glue, there’s a definite knack to cobbling one of these together; my ‘how to’ notes are below…

Materials and methods:

  • 3 or 4 plates of differing sizes; I used a saucer, side plate, dinner plate and an optional under plate to rest it on
  • Selection of cups, mugs or egg cups all with flat rims – pile them up before glueing to check for wobble; they should sit happily and steadily before you attach them
  • Epoxy resin

To make:

  1. Compose your cake stand and try a number of different combinations. Decide which direction you want any handles to point in, and ensure you have enough height to layer cakes or biscuits on each tier. Step back and look at it from different angles before making your final decision.
  2. Clean each piece thoroughly and ensure they are fully dry.  Rub a little fine sandpaper over the base and rim of each piece you will be glueing, to increase the hold.
  3. Mix the epoxy resin together and apply to each piece in turn, working from the bottom and allowing each piece to set before adding the next layer.  Take great care to centre each piece, both aesthetically and to minimise the risk of any wobble
  4. Allow to dry fully, then test each join by pulling gently – the last thing your grand hostess-y entrance needs is to be marred by the sudden loss of the bottom tier of your cake stand at the moment critique….
  5. I used a spray of orchid in the egg cup at the top, but depending on the occasion might also use easter eggs, coloured hat pins, berried twigs etc – or for a true Madhatter touch, twisted and bent cake forks and spoons (but there’s a whole other load of trips to the charity shop before I manage to acquire those).

 

Homemade Family Tree

Your toddler years are probably the only time in your life where you are allowed – nay encouraged – to believe that you are the Centre of the Universe, around whom everyone else revolves.  Why not celebrate that with a scrapbook-style family tree? Harry is by now pretty clear on who his relatives are, but sometimes needs reminding.  He’s also fascinated by the connections between them and to him – particularly given that we’re a modern, blended family with all sorts of interconnectivities and the kind of complex histories that only a venn diagram could truly give order to.

We’re making this together (or rather, I make it with Harry issuing commands about who is placed where, wielding the glue stick and frequently peeling people off for a closer look, or to attempting to insert their photos into Postman Pat’s van, or attaching them to the fridge..so it’s hardly a zen, bonding crafting experience, it has to be said). We’ve taken a pretty liberal view of family, including favourite toys and friends as well as those from who Harry is genetically inseparable. It’s a work in progress as we collect photos to add in.  Be warned if you try this at home; EVERY single person who sees it will claim that you have used a terrible picture of them…

Experiments in art clay

Having uncovered a dusty pack of FIMO Air Microwave clay, I today set about rolling, cutting, stamping and experimenting, with a vague notion of making gift tags or hanging ornaments (the Christmas spirit is taking a while to wear off).  Initially pliable like clay, the alchemy of microwave and steam rapidly turns each piece into a light-as-air tag or pendant with the rough, organic feel of porcelain but a density similar to cardboard.  Definitely a great discovery.  Here’s my first attempt at chic gift tags for wine bottles (or anything, in fact…).  I love the contrast with the black but taupe or plain brown paper would also look great as a complementary wrap colour.  Accessorised here with simple black ribbon and a tiny silver bell – and a piece of heavyweight paper strung underneath for the gift message (it’s hard to write on the finished clay itself, though not impossible).

The good thing is you get masses of cut-outs from one pack, and can cram a surprisingly large number into the microwave at any one time for finishing, so I have enough to hang one on my pinboard as well as a boxful to actually use.  Now I just need a party to go to this weekend…

 

 

Equipment used:

1 pack of FIMO air modelling clay

Black ribbon, bells, heavyweight linen paper

Rubber stamps (I used an italic text block) and beads for embellishment and surface printing