Making

Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

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

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

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 The shop was originally made from a junk-find bookcase, which I painted and then stocked to create the original shop (here and below).

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

DIY bookcase into a Puppet Theatre

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

chalk paint

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

sewing closeups

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

Puppet Show Welcome Sign

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

Play Popcorn and other theatre treats

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

Starlight Programmes

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

Stencilled stars

Stencilled star case

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

Starlight Puppet Collection

chairty shop puppets

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

Audience bell

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

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

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Beachcomber Chic

Beachcomber place settings

Regular readers will know that I have a passion for the sea and all things coastal; whenever we can, we pile into the car and head for the shore; there’s something about the endless skies and water, the sea-salt and the sand that is magical.  We’re heading for Cornwall soon to go rock-pooling and to brave the Atlantic waters, but till then I’ve brought the sea a little closer to home with these bauble place-settings filled with beach-combed finds, made for a casual al fresco dinner with friends…

Coastal style place settings

I bought a set of fillable Christmas baubles from Michaels when we were in New England last Autumn, and in the frenzy of festive preparations managed to forget about them completely until, inspired by the endless beautiful pictures of coastal dining and projects in magazines (especially the current issue of Country Homes and Interiors), I decided to use them as summery place-settings for a simple outdoor get-together.

I gathered up a hodgepodge of beach treasures from previous holidays and added in bits of ephemera I’ve gathered on my travels (including some old watch faces which I bought by the bagful from the eclectic  Marché aux Puces flea market in Paris, bits of broken jewellery and feathers collected in the springtime on our many trips to feed the ducks..)

Beachcombing finds

..And dug out a handful of corks, gathered over the years from various celebrations  - celebrations as big as weddings and as small as the arrival of the weekend at long last…

corks

I prised the top off each bauble and tipped in some sand (I used a scoop of play sand from Harry’s old sandpit), then dropped in my treasures.  You might want to use a pair of tweezers or cooking tongs to move things around; it’s like learning keyhole surgery without a textbook…

Making coastal bauble place settings

Push in a cork, and then tie on a simple paper tag with each name.  I printed names onto a sheet of cardstock then cut into strips before  punching a hole in each and tying on with household string.  Broken shells look beautiful threaded on to the tie;

Coastal Bauble Place Settings

And voila, a simple yet stylish summer place-setting which can be played with endlessly as your guests get tipsy and start trying to fish out interesting contents with their cutlery, adding a dash of sand to each course in the process (trust me on this; or maybe it’s just my guests…)

Summer dinner party style

If you want to try this but didn’t have the foresight to buy a fistful of empty baubles at Christmas before leaving to gather dust in the back of a drawer, there are a number of craft shops which either stock them year-round, or - quelle horreur! - are already showcasing their festive collections for this year.  Online, try eBay or craft mecca Etsy for beautiful glass versions.  In the UK you can find them here, or Baker Ross has a slightly different design.

Have a great rest of the weekend!

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Hand-Drawn Summer Postcards (and Inspiring Illustrators…)

Holiday Postcard with Quentin Blake Frame


Harry loves to draw – at the moment.  His enthusiasm goes in fits and starts, so I try to go with the flow and encourage him to have fun with painting and drawing and thus delay for as long as possible (forever, I hope) the moment when he throws down his pencil, decides that he’s ‘no good at art’ and is lost to the sports field forever.

We’re going on holiday soon and I’ve designed Harry a pack of blank postcards to draw on during the long waits for dinner, or in quiet times between dips in the pool and races on the beach.  We’ll post them home to family and friends – and address one to ourselves for our Memory Box – and it should be a fun, creative way of capturing the best bits of the holiday. He’s already feeling inspired..

Hand-Drawn Holiday Postcards 1

The back of the postcard is a simple template with  - crucially – space at the bottom for the artist to sign their name (and because after all that hard work drawing, it’s only fair that the grown-ups should have to do all the rest of the dull writing and address-filling);

Postcard Template

And the front of the cards I’ve either left blank or used this brilliant free download from the illustrator Quentin Blake’s website (see later) to make the white space a bit less daunting and provide a bit of additional inspiration..

Postcard DIY

I’ve packaged Harry’s into a box with a set of fun twistable crayons and we’ll pack them in his case at the last minute, along with approximately 104 other things that he considers to be critical for a week by the sea (Batmobile, pirate telescope, Lego, winter boots, random household objects etc).

Hand-drawn Holiday Postcards 2

They make good small gifts for Harry’s friends as we prepare to say goodbye at the end of term…

Hand-drawn Holiday Postcards 4

You can download my template below if the idea appeals (and there’s no reason why this should be just a children’s activity of course; I’ll certainly be painting a few of my own to mail alongside Harry’s ;-) ).

Postcard Printable

Talking of inspiring children to paint and draw, I love discovering how some of the best-known illustrators are providing resources and encouragement to help kids do just that.  I mentioned Quentin Blake earlier, who has a site full of activities and projects, like this one where you are encouraged to decide – and draw – the marvellous person who has just arrived at the door;

Colour_in_no_4The Guardian newspaper in the UK featured a series of awesome illustrators showing how to draw famous characters from their books and animated films, like Emily Gravett, who is helped by the unreliable Cedric in teaching us how to draw dragons;

How-To-Draw-Dragons-by-Em-001 How-To-Draw-Dragons-by-Em-004

…and the wonderful Polly Dunbar who draws pigs, step by step… (follow the link for the whole tutorial).

Polly Dunbar draws pigsdrawing by Polly Dunbar

I remember that when I was growing-up, copying pictures and learning how to draw the characters and things I loved were what slowly built my confidence… and I’m hoping it does the same for Harry.

I’d love to know who your favourite illustrators are, and any other links and resources… the more the merrier!  Here are a few more of mine;

Eric Carle (The Hungry Caterpillar) has a great site with kids colouring pages but also resources for artists on how to create wet-tissue works like his.

Fans of the Gruffalo and Axel Scheffler’s drawings  can find lots of brilliant crafting activities here

Elmer is our current favourite bedtime book; David McKee explains here how to draw elephants like Elmer – or if colouring-in is more the ticket, find a printable here.

Have a great week!

Kate

 

Calendar Cards (and notes from the week that was)

Calendar Card DIY

It’s our wedding anniversary later this week so my thoughts turned to cards.  A few months ago I stumbled across this beautiful free graphic calendar from Jasmine Dowling, and thought how perfect it would be for making cards to mark a special date or anniversary.  I downloaded the calendar page for July, resized to A5, then glued it to a piece of cardstock before adding tiny wooden pegs and circling our wedding date in red glitter glue…  and that’s all.  I’m in a pared-down, understated frame of mind at the moment and the visual simplicity of it really appealed.  Thanks Jasmine!  (These would be great to make as Save The Date cards for a wedding or party too..)

Heart date card

It’s our sixth anniversary and I’m looking for ideas; apparently it’s traditional to give your loved one iron as a gift – not to be confused with an iron I think, though this maybe why so many marriages suffer from the seven year itch; it can’t be easy to move on from the romantic gesture of laundry supplies.

For our fourth anniversary we gave each other the gift of a giant pair of faux resin antlers from RH (below); they looked so stylish and elegant online, and indeed they do now in our home – but the real act of love was the gesture my husband made in escorting them home from the US after a business trip.  It was, he later said, the longest interrogation he has ever faced at an airport check-in desk, when presented with the 44″ antler span; (‘Where were you thinking we would store these, sir?  Or should we just strap the darn things to the plane?’).  They arrived in the UK with balled-up sports socks attached jauntily to each point for protection, trussed in Heavy Load tape. We vowed then that gifts would be token purchases, and highly portable at that – and our relationship has flourished ever since.

moose antlers from RH

Still, gifts made of iron??  Suggestions please…

One purchase I did make this week was this beautiful Tradewinds Mural from Anthropologie (below)  - I had seen it months ago and become mildly obsessed, with my enthusiasm constrained only by the price tag.  Then the Sale came and I was lost.  It’s going up in Harry’s bedroom I think, for a splash of colour and to inspire dreams of globe-trotting and discovery.

tradewinds mural

With interiors in mind, I finally finished the faux fireplace in our master bedroom, which is gradually coming together (more pictures soon, I promise).  When we recently renovated the en-suite bathroom it focused my mind on how to update our bedroom to complement it.  We added a simple, architectural fire surround to the plain wall, then packed it with 10cm deep log slices to give the impression of a filled-in hearth….

log filled fireplace

And then finally for this week, one culinary success and one truly epic fail; the success first – a drizzled lemon and poppyseed cake which vanished without trace in the space of a day, using a recipe from my current favourite cookbook… you can see my passion for the bundt tin hasn’t yet abated;

Lemon drizzle cake

Homemade lemon drizzle cake

And the epic fail?  Well, my fig tree finally produced a flurry of these beauties below, and I decided to try making fig jam, as a perfect accompaniment to the cheeseboard we had planned for dinner with friends.  Well.  My first attempt produced a kind of fruity industrial-style cement (albeit one which smelled divine), which adhered to our teeth in minutes and had the staying power of cinder toffee, rendering the whole table literally speechless.  Very little actual cheese was consumed, largely because jaws were sealed shut with fig jam.

figs

I am determined to crack it though, and when I do you will be the first to know.  Trust me.

Have a great week!

Kate

Gifting ideas (and the week in which my tenuous grasp on horticulture is lost)

Wine Bottle Tags free download

Happy Monday!  I hope you had a lovely weekend, and one which hasn’t receded too dramatically into the mists of time.  Ours was packed with socialising with some of our closest friends, mostly al fresco thanks to the very un-British heatwave.  Long may it continue.  Friday night was supper with friends so I baked a batch of our tried-and-tested oatcakes to take along (delicious with cheese), and designed a bottle tag to drop around the neck of a bottle of wine.  An Eat Me, Drink Me combination worthy of Alice in Wonderland, but with somewhat more predictable results… and fewer rabbit holes.

Gifting ideas; wine bottle tags

Here’s my downloadable template if you want to make a batch of tags; for those with proper grown-up wine cellars or any kind of grape expertise, they’d be great for recording tasting notes or details of dates and vintage.  Or simply greetings and instructions to consume immediately, as we did…

Wine Bottle Tag Printables

Just cut around the outside, then punch or carefully cut out the hole and lightly fold along the dotted line before slipping over the neck of your bottle.

Wine Bottle Tag Printables

Our social whirlwind continued with a visit to Harry’s godparents and their new puppy, an adorable 5 month old labrador; we made her a jar of peanut-butter dog biscuits and I also experimented with a new iPhone/iPad app called Waterlogue which converts photos into watercolour-effect pictures.  All we had was this low-res picture of Lexie, but when imported into Waterlogue and transformed, it became a gorgeous, slightly abstract picture…

trialling waterlogue

I emailed myself the pic and cropped it slightly then printed it onto sheets of white linen cardstock to make a set of notecards for the family; I added text to some and left others bare.  I can see Waterlogue is going to be my new time waster for a little while…  if you have an iPhone it’s worth checking it out;  from my early experiments it works brilliantly with some photos and can’t seem to interpret or adapt others –  a bit hit and miss – but inexpensive enough to try.

Dog watercolour cards project

DIY cards using Waterlogue app

The heatwave has been perfect for racing through garden sprinklers and spending hours in the paddling pool, but alas fatal for some of our conservatory plants; a handful have quietly breathed their last despite my fervent attempts to water and ventilate whenever we’re home (I have felt more like an ER surgeon, racing from one to the next to check possibilities for resuscitation than the genteel green-fingered pottering I’d imagined..).  Still, the mouse-melons have not only survived but thrived, and are shooting out plucky lassoos as they climb at a rate of knots…

Mousemelons climbing

The courgettes too are soaking up the dense heat and we now have row upon row of shiny – if somewhat eclectically shaped – cukes ready for Harry to pack in his lunchbox.

cucumbers in a row

I occasionally manage an early-morning wander through the garden before work, cup of tea in hand; this rose (below) looked too beautiful to ignore and now sits on my bedside table smelling divine.

garden rose

…and in a local thrift shop I found the perfect book to photograph for the cover of my gardening journal; it’s so very true…

the amateur gardener

….as evidenced by this, my bizarrely shaped courgettes (zucchini), which taste good but look like they were caught in a moment of indecision during a growth spurt about whether to remain courgettes or aim higher and pretend to be marrows.

misshapen marrow

Still, it’s all a good (if steep) learning curve… and at least our peas are uncomplicatedly obliging.  In fact, we are slowly creating a pea mountain, as we search for endless ways of incorporating them into every dish.

have a great week!

Kate

 

peas please

How to Capture a Kiss…

A Kiss in a Box

On Mothers day this year (which in the UK falls in March), Harry produced a large, wrapped box which he’d decorated at nursery with tissue paper and paint. ‘You can’t open it’, he said ‘But there’s a kiss in it that I blowed before I shut it’. Harry’s very familiar with the notion that kisses can be blown and caught; from when he was tiny we’ve been sending kisses his way for him to chase, catch, and occasionally swallow.  I love the idea of capturing a kiss and keeping it safe, so inspired by my mother’s day gift I’ve made a kiss-catching kit which can be used to transport love through the post or in a pocket, and is small enough to be carried like a secret talisman whenever needed.

Kiss in a Box DIY

The printable wrappers below will cover a small, standard matchbox, which you can then either leave empty (because kisses are invisible after all…) or add a photo in the base.  I blew my kiss into a small glass bottle, but if you’re worried about glass then you could use a tiny bag or envelope, or a simple heart or Hershey’s chocolate kiss instead.  Simply cut out the templates, fold and glue around your matchbox, using pegs or paperclips to hold the wrapper in place whilst it dries.  I made two versions; a hessian-effect wrapper and a suitcase-style cover modelled on this beautiful one from Globetrotter, which will join my wardrobe when I eventually win the lottery (but probably not until then).

How to Capture a Kiss Kit

DIY Matchbox Covers from katescreativespace

Harry’s box is small enough to be tucked deep into a pocket to provide secret reassurance during any moments requiring mild bravery; unaccompanied playdates, sleepovers or Big Days at school – a discreet kind of comfort blanket that can be gripped when necessary without anyone else knowing.

A kiss in a Pocket

My own original box-with-a-kiss sits atop my desk and always makes me smile.  It came accompanied by a Mother’s Day breakfast-in-bed menu, which Harry had collaged by cutting and pasting a variety of options from the pages of a magazine.  He arrived at our bedroom door at dawn in chef’s whites ready to take my order (below), but then swiftly climbed into bed and delegated the preparations to his father, ‘now that I have done the hard work of the menu’.  What a smooth operator…

mothers day breakfast

Have a great weekend!

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DIY Matchbox Covers from katescreativespace

Hey Mr Postman!

DIY Embossed Monogram Stationery Master

One happy result of cleaning out my craft room/office is that I surfaced a whole pile of blank cards and individual sheets of watercolour paper and cardstock.  Given that you’re never too young or too male to have a  monogrammed stationery kit, I set about making Harry a set of embossed cards and notelets which can be adorned with drawings or wobbly cursive script and sent as thank-you notes for the myriad of parties which identify his social life as already being far more exciting than ours. (That mildly depressing moment when you look at the calendar and see it filled with party invitations, none of which are for you).

I’m something of a latecomer to embossing, which transforms ordinary rubber-stamping into glossy, raised embossed motifs worthy of a high-end paper store.  For those who have yet to discover the delights of combining embossing powder and heat, here’s how you do it;

  • Choose a rubber stamp and ink it before pressing firmly onto your card
  • Sprinkle liberally immediately with embossing powder and leave to dry for a minute (it’s important you do this whilst the ink is still wet so it sticks)
  • Shake off the excess powder and tip it back into the pot (I’ve learned to make a paper funnel to channel it all back in, after crunching my way grittily around the office for far too long…)
  • Hold a heat tool (details of supplies at the bottom) a few inches away from the print and watch as the embossing powder melts and transforms magically into a raised motif.

DIY Embossed Monogram Cards Step by Step

Like this….

Embossed motifs

Embossed Monogram Writing set

You can add them to envelopes too as I did here; the tonal colours work really well and add a spark of interest to the otherwise plain exterior…

Embossed Monogram Envelopes

I made my envelopes to fit the disparate sizes of paper I had, using envelope templates from Paper Source; they were surprisingly simple to make and I loved the flexibility of being able to choose whatever colours I had to hand instead of buying packs of envelopes in a shop.

DIY Envelopes

So now Harry has a range of monogrammed stationery to fit each occasion, whether a large drawing or a laboured message of thanks is required.  I added buttons as envelope seals and sequins to punctuate the monograms – again, a case of whatever sparkly leftovers we had to hand.  Job done!

DIY Monogram Embossed Stationery

If you fancy having a go yourself (or making these as a gift – they’d be lovely), here’s what I used.  it was very much a case of what I had to hand; all of these things will be available in good craft stores, from a variety of brands.

  • Monogram stamp and envelope template set from Paper Source
  • Ink pad is the ombre ‘seascape’ pad by Colorbox
  • I like Papermania clear embossing powder – but once you’ve mastered that, try sparkly iridescent embossing powders and experiment with different colour combinations
  • For the cards I used a variety of paper off-cuts and odd sheets, but for the envelopes I used a 12″ square pad of Papermania coloured sheets – I use these a lot in projects.
  • To melt the embossing powder, you’ll need a heat tool like this one.

You could also try making photo envelope liners or these monogram cards too.

Have a great weekend when it comes!

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Fleeting Obsessions: The Artistry of Quilt-Makers

Self Portrait by Sandra Bruce

Self-Portrait by the amazing Sandra Bruce

During our recent trip to Amsterdam, my mum and I were wandering through the 9 Straatjes area of artisan shops and galleries when we stumbled across a series of tiny, beautiful stores dedicated to buttons, fabrics and quilt-making.  We lost several hours of a very sunny afternoon completely absorbed by the myriad of materials, colours and designs and the incredible work of some of the artist-makers on display.  My mum is a somewhat more accomplished seamstress than I, and aided by a lunchtime beer and a dash of bravado went home laden with fat-quarters and ambitious plans for whipping-up a magnificent quilt (how’s that going then, mum?).

My own experience with quilt-making is limited to a dispiriting Home-Economics class project at the age of 12, when as a resolute tomboy complete with crew-cut and attitude, I cussed and stabbed my way towards completing a very grubby, blood-speckled pot holder that soon vanished from public display at home.  It feels like time to give it another try, so I have spent much of my evenings since exploring the amazing array of quilts online and finding inspiration everywhere…. like these;

'Moonlight' by Anne Brauer

‘Moonlight’ by Anne Brauer

Map Quilt by Diane Lovitt

Map Quilt by Diane Lovitt

Seaspray by Valerie Maser-Flanagan

‘Seaspray’ by Valerie Maser-Flanagan

California Ricelands by Merle Axelrad

California Ricelands by Merle Axelrad

Once Upon a Time by Joung Soon-Kim (S.Korea)

Once Upon a Time by Joung Soon-Kim (S.Korea)

'Race for the Moon' by Susan Musgrove (Aus)

‘Race for the Moon’ by Susan Musgrove (Aus)

Anne Francis Quilt exhibited at the NYC Quilt Symposium 2013

Detail from Anne Francis Bear Quilt

Aren’t they astonishing?  I’ve begun a collection of some of my favourites on Pinterest here, which are many decades beyond my current competency but are still a visual feast and inspiration whilst I work out how to get started.  Are you a quilter or have you ever been tempted to try?  Any tips for this distinct amateur with ideas way beyond her capability?  All advice welcome…

In the meantime these last two quilts struck me as rather more achievable but no less beautiful…

Amalfi Coast Quilt by Theresa Neubauer

Amalfi Coast Quilt by Theresa Neubauer

Pantone Pop by Sew Katie Did

Pantone Pop by Sew Katie Did

…And here’s a wonderful time-waster I came across when working out what tools I need to get started; this programme promises to turn any photograph into a quilt pattern by essentially pixelating it and creating numbered coloured squares.  I can see what this evening will be spent doing…

Quilt Pattern Template Tool

Quilt-surfing aside, it’s been a hectic week of long days at work followed by pottering and de-cluttering at home.  I took delivery of this beautiful old architect’s plan chest (a bargain ebay find), so can now store all of my gift-wrap, art papers and projects; Harry has a drawer too for his creations and rainy-day printables for colouring in and crafting;

Plan Chest 1 Plan Chest 2 Plan Chest 3

…and we’ve been busy in the conservatory, coaxing new life from our recently-planted seedlings; the rocket, basil and trailing squash have shot off the starting blocks, and require our close examination approximately once every few minutes.  I’m sure the novelty will wear off, but not just yet…

Planting seedlings Trailing squash

have a great week!

Kate

An Overture to Springtime…

You know what they say about the best laid plans and all that?  Well, our trip to Morocco was eventful but not quite in the ways we’d imagined; the temperature dropped like a stone from around 28C to just 8C, sending Marrakech into a state of shivery shock; our hotel had somehow over-booked itself, resulting in a midnight taxi ride across the city in search of a bed for the night, accompanied by the profusely apologetic manager (we found a new hotel and bed which looked fine in the dark, but were greeted by a curious family of cockroaches on waking – cue yet another relocation after breakfast…).  Even our eagerly awaited trip into the Atlas mountains had to be abandoned as thick fog rendered the narrow hill roads too dangerous to be easily navigated.

A disappointment, for sure, but an experience so populated by adverse events that it quickly became funny, in that sort of mildly hysterically way when things spiral completely beyond your control.  Even then there were highlights; freshly squeezed local orange juice in the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the universally lovely and helpful people, and the rose petals, everywhere… beauty amidst the chaos which leaves us keen to return, albeit probably not in February.

Back home we tried to coax a little Spring sunshine and cheer ourselves up by throwing an impromptu dinner party on Friday night.

Paper Boat Placenames

I swiftly made paper boat name settings for everyone, and Harry and I dunked handfuls of curly kale into poster paint to make a fun sea foam for them to rest on (I’ll post a proper DIY for these in the week together with the patterns to download – a very easy yet lovely ‘make’ to do with a glass of wine in hand, and a little gift for friends to take home afterwards).  Along the table centre I placed random kitchen accessories and pots of herbs – anything that made me think of spring or summer, like fresh basil and lemons…

Springtime Tablescape

Fresh basil table centre

 

Bowl of fresh lemons Breadsticks

 

We had such a good night, in the way that often happens when you don’t have much time to plan and just throw people and food together; a lovely way to end the week and start the weekend.

In other news, remember my intent to start a proper glasshouse this year and your suggestions of Meyer lemon trees and other great plants?  My newly acquired lemon tree is looking beautiful and promising abundant bounty; whilst I can’t claim responsibility for the current crop of lemons, new flower buds have appeared all over in the last couple of weeks and suggest that it’s thriving; I’m very proud :-)

Meyer Lemon TreeMeyer Lemon Flowerbuds

Harry and I also took the opportunity of half-term to get busy in the kitchen, making Star Wars cookies using our newly-acquired cookie cutters from here (US Star Wars fans can find the same ones on sale here –  a bargain!).  We made basic sugar cookies and then rolled out fondant icing to stamp the toppings; C3PO also benefits from a light dusting of gold powder (we do love a bit of bling).

Star Wars Cookies

And finally, our cake-in-the-house Saturday ritual continues; this week it was lemon drizzle loaf cake, now just a scattering of crumbs.  Next week it’s back to work, and the gym, and a more abstemious few days of salad – but not just yet…it is Sunday evening after all.

Cake In The House

Have a great week, wherever you are and whatever you’ve got planned.

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Fantasies of Heat and Dust

Homemade leather travel journals

I write this week from a beneath a pile of clothes, suitcases, scarves, swimwear, camera kit and general travel-related bounty; we’ve booked a last-minute trip to Morocco, and feverish excitement is high.

Berber man

Map of Marrakech

Photo by Christopher.michael/Flickr. Illustrated map by Mariko Jesse for CondeNast

We were searching for an escape from the relentless rain, wind and grey drizzle which seized Britain in December and has yet to let go; Morocco offers a complete contrast and at just  a 3hr flight away feels deliciously close.  We’ll be staying near Marrakech but venturing up into the Atlas Mountains and generally exploring – I can’t wait.  (Have you been? Any hot tips or must-sees?).  The weather at this time of year can be unpredictable but the one thing we know for sure is that it will be better than here..

One night this week I made a simple travel journal each for Harry and for myself; Harry’s contains crayons and envelopes for drawing pictures and the capturing of treasures; both took just a few minutes to make.  Instructions below if you like the look and want to have a go (these make great gifts too).

Handmade travel journal

Materials and step-by-step instructions after the jump ;

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How to Capture the Moon

Moon cropped

Have you ever tried to take a photograph of the moon?  Inspired by the film Gravity and by a current spate of TV programmes on star gazing and the night sky, I have developed a fleeting obsession with the moon.  This weekend I took my camera and a very wobbly ladder out into the garden and attempted to photograph it.  I waited till my husband was distracted; he is very safety-conscious, which is one of the reasons we are so well-suited.  My first attempt looked like this;

Overexposed moon

So I rapidly retreated indoors to arm myself with a warmer jacket, a flask of hot chocolate and a spot of google-generated advice on how to actually photograph the moon.  Well, it seems that for a really good shot you need a professional camera with astonishingly good lenses which can then be attached to a telescope, and stabilised to await the one night a year when the moon is perfectly visible.  OR, for a perfectly impressive amateur shot, it seems you just need to flick your DSLR to ‘manual’ and adjust a few settings.  And once you start snapping, it becomes very addictive; you find that you are awaiting clear, dark nights with all the appetite of a werewolf.  Within 10 minutes of skimming online advice, my second shot looked like this;

Second shot of the moon

This article gives some fantastic tips, as do many others, but for those who have the attention span of, well, a busy mum – I’ll summarise. You’ll get your best results by;

  • Choosing a clear night with lots of visible stars, little ambient light (no streetlights, few houses, etc) and no cloud cover.
  • Getting as close as you safely can to the sky.  If you can drive to the top of a hill, do so.  Don’t do what I did and set up a ladder on the lawn in the dark; really, it’s not something I’d recommend.
  • Use the zoomiest lens you have.  I have a 70-300m lens which came with my Canon DSLR.  The moon will always seem very far away – naturally – but a zoom lens will help.
  • Then follow the stages below.  Even if you never use your camera’s manual settings, now’s a good time to find the handbook and try it just this once;

How to shoot the moon

And then finally tweak the exposure and shadow to maximise the result;

The Moon in January

I love that you can see the craters and actual surface of the moon; it makes it seem so close and attainable, somehow.  Like most of my posts, this is the result of an evening dabbling at something new, with very few technical skills.  I used the basic iPhoto software inbuilt into my Mac.   Picasa, which you can download free online, would do the same.  For those proficient in Photoshop, you can get even more technical.  The results are gratifying (and will make a cool picture for Harry’s bedroom wall).  If Harry was a little older, I’d be dragging him out in his sleeping bag to do this with me, and we’ll certainly do some star-gazing on the long Summer nights to come.  The night sky is mesmerising and very, very addictive.  Here’s a few other fun celestial links if you’re as captivated as me;

This site tells you when the International Space Station will be visible where you live.  It moved over the UK skies on Christmas Eve around 6pm, and made a nation of children ecstatic at the thought that they’d caught a glimpse of Santa’s sleigh.

This duvet cover made me smile, and is on my list of things Harry would love when he’s older

Snurk astronaut bedding

This projector was the first gift I ever bought my husband and we still love it; it soothed Harry as a tiny baby when he lay awake  in my arms in the wee small hours, has provided a very cool backdrop for various parties and is the best thing to have beaming onto the bathroom ceiling when you settle down for a long soak in the tub.

Happy star-gazing…

Kate

n.b. The first photograph at the start of this post  - shown again below – I took at 4pm, just as dusk was falling and the moon first visible (although the sky looks pitch black in contrast, it was actually only dark blue/grey; the kind of darkness that would make you think about switching your car headlights on).  It was much harder to get the focus right, but once I did, the definition was even greater.  Have a play at different times and see what gets the best result.

Moon cropped