Paper Paper!

Paper crafts

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.

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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).

Claire_Palastanga1201.jpg

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

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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…

juliet_walters_1

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..

hannemuhle

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).

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

Mouseketeers

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…

Mongolfieres

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

balloon

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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Singing in the Rain!

Singing in the Rain Again

It’s been raining, raining, raining here, so a few days ago we decided to bring the stormy weather indoors so that we could dance in the rain without getting wet…

Our very own raincloud has lasted for over a week now and makes us smile whenever we walk under it.  Oh, and it only takes an hour or so to make, with a bit of careful scissoring and a lot of puff (note to self; buy a balloon pump next time…). Grab an umbrella and join us!

Paper Raindrops DIY

For the raindrops, we cut shapes out of sheets of craft paper in tonal blues (I used these, but any will do).  Here’s a template I made (download via the PDF link below) if you want to have a go; I’ve coloured the shapes in blue so that you can simply print onto white cardstock as well.

Raindrop Template from KatesCreativeSpace

 

Lay 2-4 of the same-sized shapes on top of each other, and run through a sewing machine to stitch them together before folding them open to form a 3-d shape.  If these words strike fear in your heart, you can fold and glue them together instead.  The brilliant Kate at MiniEco has a tutorial for making paper rain without the need for sewing (she made a paper mobile). Use different coloured shapes together for the loveliest effects…

Tonal paper raindrops

If you’re sewing like we did, allow long lengths of cotton at each end, and use these to knot the raindrops together to form strands.  If you’re using the fold & glue approach, just glue or tape lengths of cotton to each drop to attach it.  I used blue thread because it’s what we had to hand on a dull and overcast day, but if I was doing this again I’d choose invisible thread for maximum aesthetic effect!

Raindrops and balloon clouds

Then, simply blow up a handful of white and grey balloons, tie them together and tape your raindrop strands to the bottom of the balloon cloud.  I strung my cloud up from our conservatory roof and it looks very beautiful and enticing; perfect for a wonderfully dry dance in the rain….

Balloon raincloud and paper raindrops

 

Rain Dancing

Making rain clouds is not a new idea, and there are a myriad of different ways you can try, depending on how permanent you want your art to be and how much time and patience you have (try typing ‘DIY cloud’ into Pinterest and be astonished by possibility..).  We were looking to fill a rainy half-term afternoon, and tailored our approach to fit, but if you’re prepared to invest more time, have a look at these beautiful papier-mâché library installations by Hafuboti.

And now the skies are clear, and Spring suddenly feels like it is on the horizon; our rain dance might just have brought the sun!

DIY Indoor Raincloud

Raindrop Template from KatesCreativeSpace

By the way, our gorgeous rainbow umbrella is from here; it caught my eye as we skidded through the retail area of SFO airport last October as the final call for our flight boomed around the halls – it was worth the panic; it  makes rainy day walks an absolute joy :-)

 

Celebration (or: How to Pimp a Store-Bought Cake, and Things to do when you’ve Finished the Champagne).

DIY Birthday Cake Bags


How are you, are you braving the cold?  We’ve been a plague-house this past week, falling one after the other into the chasm of ‘flu and cold  …but surfacing now, at last.  Amidst it all life has bustled busily on, brightened by a couple of big highlights like my father’s seventieth birthday last weekend.  At his request it was just a small family dinner – everyone he loved the most, together around a table – but a mighty fine dinner it was. I brought a cake, because a birthday without cake is unthinkable, however old you are.  The cake itself was a beauty from the local patisserie which had caught my eye, sitting siren-like in the window and demanding to be taken home.  I wanted to make it a little more personal though, so I made a simple paper wrapper to go around it.  Dad loves to paint, so I spread out all of my brushes onto a sheet and photographed them, then printed, trimmed and taped them together for a simple but beautiful accent which speaks to one of his greatest passions.. Art materials DIY Cake Wrapper I secured the wrapper in place around the cake, and ta-da!; a treat fit for a remarkable man. My Dad. Birthday cake for the artist
I knew that we wouldn’t manage much of the cake after dinner, so I found an old photograph of my father as a child and used it to make take-home bags for the end of the meal.  I love this picture; mostly I think because of his beaming, proud mother ducking almost-but-not-quite out of shot.  Mothers and sons – it gets me every time..

Birthday portraits

Personalised party gift bags

All the celebrating over Christmas, New Year and the flurry of birthdays has left us with a small pile of champagne corks, so I’ve also had a chance to play around making champagne-top armchairs; have you ever tried this?

Champagne top armchair

By far the most sensible way of shaping these chairs is when sober, with good light and a pair of pliers, but I always seem to end up doing it with my  bare hands whilst tipsy and then waking up to find that I may have the wire equivalent of a three piece suite, but I also have no nails left at all and swollen, scratched hands.  I’ll post a quick tutorial if you’re interested, with the caveat that health and safety are treated fairly recklessly in my approach..

DIY Champagne top chairs

As for this weekend, we’re setting a quieter pace and planning on doing some serious nesting; rumour has it that we may still be in our pyjamas at noon, albeit with thick woolly jumpers and socks to keep the arctic chill at bay.  Heavy frosts are forecast and Harry and I are unusually excited; we’ve been playing outside with pots and pans of water and making soon-to-be-frozen ice sculptures to hang from the trees; I’ll let you know next time if it has worked!

Have a great weekend, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

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 Update:

Here’s a PDF tutorial as promised for how I made my champagne cage chairs.  If you find videos easier to follow, look on You Tube and there are a variety there.  Once you’ve mastered the basics, have a look here for inspiration and further champagne cork-n-cage artistry! Good luck!

How to Make Champagne Cage Armchairs

DIY Knights and Princesses Party: Invitations and Arrows!

Knights and Princesses Party

Harry’s birthday party is at the end of the month and he is already beside himself with excitement.  Befitting a boy who is passionate about knights, swords, acts of heroism and needy princesses, it will be set in a castle (or rather a draughty village hall, but we’ll make do), and will involve mostly lots of running games until the young partygoers are just exhausted enough to collapse at the table for tea.

For Harry, the invitations are one of the most important bits; he loves to hand them out to his friends and tell them all about the party.  Last year we had a pirate party and made message-in-a-bottle invites.  This year we’ve gone for medieval castle scrolls and feather arrows, making use of the 6 billion empty toilet rolls we find ourselves with after an extended period of festive entertaining..

DIY Castle invitations for a boy's party!

I took each cardboard tube and covered it with a piece of this cool wallpaper, fixing it in place with double-sided tape..we’ll use the rest of the roll to cover the tables for tea on the day.  I rolled up an invitation and slid it into each tube..

DIY Castle Party Invitations Step 1

To make the glitter feathers I used inexpensive duck feathers from a local craft shop (Hobbycraft in the UK and Michaels in the US sell these), and sprayed the tips with CraftMount glue before sprinkling liberally with glitter.  Do this in an area with no wind, and where a small boy is unlikely to come hurtling through at great speed, displacing even heavy objects and certainly a tableful of glitter.  I offer you this as a learning from experience.

DIY Castle Party Invitations Step 2

Finally, I tied on the feather with ribbon and added a faux wax seal leftover from Christmas supplies (mine are snowflake ones I ordered from here for holiday envelopes; I love them and they stick ferociously, generally surviving the mail).

DIY Castle Party Invitations Step 3

Job done!

DIy Castle Party Scroll Invitations

To make the decorative arrows, I used lengths of dowel and attached a feather to one end with bright paper tape.  For the tip of the arrow, I glued on pencil eraser caps which I painted silver; the rubberiness helps if you get accidentally impaled during an over-zealous bout of play-fighting, and also means it’s almost impossible to poke someone in the eye, and Lord knows that’s an occupational hazard at most children’s parties.  Life is too short to produce these in large quantities (by which I mean that my attention span is too short), but a quiver-full is fun to play with and running repairs can be made in an instant simply by adding more tape.

DIY faux arrows

DIY Arrows

For the invite itself I used powerpoint and some clip art, and this lovely medieval font which is free to download.

Knights Party Invitation

 

(It obviously had a bit more detail on it than this!)

I should point out that making Harry’s birthday party invites is an annual small labour of love, and that if I had more than one child the effort would be by necessity scaled down immensely.  Also, that it is the most effortful aspect of the party itself, which requires little more of us than filling a large hall with balloons, sugar, loud music and small children and retreating to safety as soon as possible.

Did I tell you that I am required to dress up as a princess?  My birthday present from Harry was an adult-sized Maid Marion costume which looks alarmingly insubstantial and should certainly never be waved near a naked flame.  In his eyes though it is beautiful, and I must play my part in agreeing to be rescued valiantly by the birthday boy.  And who am I to argue with such chivalry?

Wish us luck…

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Recycling Christmas!

Gift tags from Christmas Cards

Possibly the simplest DIY you’ll ever see here – but a timely one!

Do you recycle old Christmas cards by using them to make other things?  it’s a thrifty tradition I remember from early childhood, though the memory of curled and yellowing card trimmed with pinking shears put me off it for a long time.  This year we received some beautiful and fun cards; whilst adults are gradually paring back on card-giving (a combination of saving-the-trees and a lack of organisation, in my house), Harry and his classmates traded cards daily, keen to show off budding penmanship skills and thrilled by the constant flurry of envelopes to open.

Yesterday we took some of them down and had fun making these over-sized gift tags for next year; a way of preserving the beauty of the cards but also of creating tags which are big enough for Harry to write on himself (because no 5yr old can be easily constrained to a tiny square of card), and also a way of refining scissor-skills; Harry busily chopped and snipped his way through a pile whilst I attempted a more measured and symmetrical clipping …

Christmas Card Recycling

I used bits of string and ribbon we’d saved during the frenzy of unwrapping on Christmas Day, and a hole-puncher and eyelets to thread the string through.  We chose the strongest cards as well as the prettiest; they’ll spend a year in the loft and then a few weeks under a tree next Christmas so we wanted to make tags that could last that long.  Also, check that your cards only have writing on the inside ‘back’ of the card and not the back of the image; if they do, you’ll need to just stick them onto another piece of thin card so you cover this up.   A few other tips;

Use ribbon or cord which picks out a colour of the main tag and it really makes them pop!

Colour pop gift tags

Cutting around interesting images on the card cane make some fun shaped-tags, like this pear tree from a larger, square Christmas card…

 

 

Partridge gift tag

Polar Bear Gift Tag

Mounting your cut-outs onto other backgrounds can  make them even more special; I glued this Christmas goose image onto a narrow strip of gold glitter card and then trimmed the corners to make a large swing tag;

Festive Goose Tag

And sometimes cards are so striking that all you need to do is snip off the back and simply make a hole for the ribbon, like this gorgeous graphic print;

Stag Gift Tag

Once we’d finished, leaving a sea of tiny snips of card, drifts of glue and wisps of ribbon fibre, we put all our tags into a leftover gift box and I’ve labelled them ready for next year – a satisfying way to recycle and have fun making things in the process!  Do you recycle your cards? Any other creative ideas for things to do with them? I’d love to hear…

Boxed Christmas Gift Tags

Have a wonderful evening tonight if you’re out celebrating, or simply taking quiet stock in the warmth of home. May I wish you a very Happy New Year for 2015!

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Christmas at Home

Dogs bearing baubles

Today is apparently the busiest day for holiday traffic as everyone heads for home and family in a grand  exodus.  Even though we’re not travelling, the dawn of the weekend does seem to signify the proper start of Christmas and the time when relaxation can begin.  We have family arriving tomorrow to celebrate, so here’s a quick glimpse of how we’ve decorated the house.  Firstly, the friendly stone dogs who stand to attention at our door have abandoned their usual froideur and now bear baubles and festive ribbon, illuminated by the bay trees which are now strung with lights and oversized bells..

Dogs with baubles!

The fir lady has been visited by a flock of robins who peck at her skirts (collective noun for robins, anyone?)..

The fir lady with robins

But aside from the fir lady, I’ve opted for a low-key, calm kitchen with just an oversized paper star to catch the eye from the hallway and distract from the frenetic preparations and clutter on every surface..

Christmas kitchen

In the hallway lies my new addition to our Christmas decor; this year we are honoured to host the North Pole Sorting Office, where every letter sent to Santa from around the world blows in steadily, falling in flurries around Santa’s desk and filling his mailbags to overflowing;

North Pole Sorting Office in Hallway

Santa's mailbag

Santa's mailsack

As fast as the letters arrive, Santa diligently replies to each one. He’s currently busy writing back to Harry;

Santa's Mail Room

His typewriter perches on a ladder, which also holds his reading glasses, special wax seals, bundles of letters and maps and a compass so he can work out where each child around the world is writing from;

North Pole Post Office Detail

(To make this, I printed addresses onto some regular envelopes using different fonts and soaked them in a tray of watery tea before drying on the radiator for an old, worn appearance.  The letters blowing in from above are wired together using lightweight florist wire and hung from a removable adhesive hook on the ceiling. For the letterhead paper, I used this lovely printable and simply added my text to it.)

North Pole Letters

Further down the hallway I’ve arranged a similar tableau to last year (below), with the addition of a basket of magic reindeer food to give to all Believers who cross the threshold and may need a little help to summon the reindeer on Christmas Eve…

Holiday tableau

Magic reindeer food

I’ve hung Christmas cards simply from lengths of ribbon and clips, wired to the base of the bannister poles..

Christmas cards hanging in the hallway

And of course, most importantly all of all, mistletoe to greet all those who arrive…

Mistletoe in the porch

 

We have a real Christmas tree in the Snug, which I’ll share next time along with a few other festive accents.  Now, though, I must sign off as I’ve set myself the challenge tonight of mastering spun sugar to decorate an over-ambitious meringue wreath for dessert at lunch tomorrow.  The wreath has already collapsed after I accidentally turned the oven on again, forgetting it was quietly cooling down inside.  Plan B is to use whipped cream liberally as a distraction…

Have a wonderful weekend!
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Quick crafts: DIY Santa!

DIY Torn-Paper Santa

Harry and I are beginning to feel a bit festive (if you’re in Bah Humbug-mode, look away and shush your tut-tutting…).  Perhaps it’s the steady thud of Christmas catalogues arriving in the post, or the relentless holiday music playing in every retail space we wander through.  By December, we’ll probably be fatigued, but right now we’re loving it.

We’ve been discussing what our home-made Christmas cards should look like; last-year’s button tree cards went down a storm so the bar is high.  Harry is keen that we should feature the iconic Big Man himself, so we’ve chosen Father Christmas as our focus.  Or Santa Christmas as H calls him, in one of those 4yr old linguistic mash-ups I want to remember always.  I was inspired by these fun gift bags with their simple graphic image, and had a play to try and create a picture which could be made very simply, involved some fun tearing and ripping, and would be very forgiving if one of us got distracted by Lego (him) or wine (me).

DIY Santa face giftwrap and cards

To make these you’ll need:

  • Red paper
  • White watercolour paper (any white paper will do, but textured paper like watercolour paper looks great for the beard and hat)
  • Pink or flesh tone paper; I used this
  • A black marker pen
  • Make-up blush or a pink crayon
  • Glue

Firstly, decide on your base / background; we used white cardstock for making cards, and also decorated a brown kraft paper bag and a gift tag, to practice and see how they looked.  Here’s the bag, step by step…

1. Cut a wide strip of pink paper and paste across the centre of your bag.  Trim at the sides to fit.

Step 1

2.  Cut and glue a wide strip of red paper above, to the top of the bag (or card, or tag, or whatever).

Step 2

3.  Tear a thin strip of watercolour paper; do this roughly, don’t use a ruler, and don’t worry if it’s irregular.  Glue it over where the red and pink paper meet; this is the trim of Santa’s hat.  Now tear a wider piece of the white paper for the beard and moustache shape; aim for a shape which curves up in the middle like this:

Step 3

4. Now take your marker pens and dot two eyes and sketch a little smile (play around with expressions; each one can be different!).  Use a pink pen to ink in a nose.

Step 4

5.  Finally, dip your finger in some blusher (or use a crayon if you’re a dude), and swirl on two rosy cheeks.  You could dab some on the tip of the nose too if you like; it gets cold out there on the sleigh.  Ta-da; you’re done!  Now just repeat  - or you can scan your work of art and print it out instead; the lazy crafter’s guide to mass-production at Christmas.

Step 5

If you use a red base, as we did with this gift tag, you can skip a step and it’s even simpler; just add the pink and white papers on top.

Santa Gift Tag

Our living room is now adorned with smiling Santas, who are partially stuck to various surfaces as they dry.  The rain is beating down and we are slowly beginning to think about work and school bags and clean clothes, with that small heartsink that comes with the end of a lovely weekend and the prospect of Monday morning.  An open fire tonight, I think – let the weekend linger just a little bit longer.

Have a great week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

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DIY Dutch Canal House Luminaries

DIY Dutch House Luminaries



Back in the Springtime, Mum and I went to Amsterdam for a weekend which we spent in cafes, galleries, stores, bars and – most of all – walking along all the beautiful canal streets, picking the houses we most wanted to live in, transfixed by the rooflines with every conceivable shape and architectural feature.  These were some of my favourites;

Canal Houses in Amsterdam

With the nights slowly but surely drawing in, I wanted to recreate  the houses as delicate luminaries which could be backlit with candlelight on the mantle.  I drew different house shapes (templates at the bottom)…

Dutch House Luminary 1 BLANK

 

Dutch House Luminary 2 PLAIN

Then printed them onto A4 sheets of cardstock (go for card as thick as your printer will take – mine was quite flimsy which made it very easy to cut, but the luminaries will be more likely to curl and bend over time).

Carefully cut out all the tiny windows with a craft knife and self-healing mat.  Use a safety-ruler for this if you have one, the kind with a deep groove for your fingers, particularly if you’re as easily distractible as me.

Making luminaries

…fold the side-flaps so that you have a self-standing shape, and then simply glue a sheet of vellum or tissue paper on the back.

Making Luminaries 2

Stand them up on your cluttered desk and admire them with the natural daylight shining through…

DIY Luminaries in daylight

IMG_1971

…and then watch them come into their own by placing candles (in jars! Safety first..) behind them as the light fades.

Luminaries

With the festive season around the corner I designed two styles; one plain, and one with a sandstone texture and snowflakes.  You could also print out the plain one and paint or decorate it and send as a greeting card…You can colour in the windows to avoid having to cut them all out (cunning, and very labour-saving… life’s too short to spend too much time with an x-acto knife in hand).

We love our small canal-house street, and lighting the luminaries has become an evening ritual as we shed school bags and coats, briefcases and umbrellas and head for the warmth of the snug to catch up on the day’s events.  Just don’t forget to blow them out before bed!

Templates below to download… enjoy :-)

Dutch House Luminary 1 FESTIVE

Dutch House Luminary 1 BLANK

Dutch House Luminary 2 FESTIVE

Dutch House Luminary 2 PLAIN

Dutch House Luminary 3 FESTIVE

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May The Force Be With You

Darth Vader DIY Cardboard Ship

Today I have an answer for that universal question which troubles us all at one or other time; ‘How Does One Make a Star Wars Fighter Ship Out of Cardboard?’.

Well alright,  I know that in reality it’s not a problem that many face, but it was a challenge laid down by Harry who was desperate that we should build together a spacecraft worthy of Darth Vader.  His actual specifications (‘One that really flies, Mummy!’) were a bit ambitious, but we emptied out the recycling bin and did our best….

DIY Star Wars Ship

It was a voyage of adventure (and misadventure), involving a pile of cardboard boxes, empty milk containers, a staple gun and some black and silver paint.  We took our inspiration – loosely – from the TIE Advanced cruiser that Darth Vader uses to shoot across the galaxy.  Can you see the resemblance, just a weeny bit?

TIE_Advanced courtesy of wikipedia

We tasked my husband with rummaging in the undergrowth during his evening runs in search of discarded hubcaps; he did brilliantly and managed to drag home a large and filthy selection.  Cleaning old hubcaps in the kitchen sink in order to stick milk-bottle caps onto them will be a defining moment of motherhood I think.  Still, it meant we had all our core components assembled;

Recycled materials

I sawed up cardboard to make wings and fixed them to a box (I punched holes and wired them together for strength, rather than using glue; these ships take quite a battering in astro-warfare..).  Harry was in charge of paint, a task he took to with enthusiasm.  I discovered belatedly that our paint of choice is not in fact washable; neither boy nor shirt have looked quite as box-fresh since last weekend…

Painting the Star Wars Ship

The rockets were made by spraying milk containers with silver paint and stuffing them with strips of tissue paper; I threaded a length of wire through bendy straws and used these to secure the bottles in place where they could provide jet power at the touch of a button.

DIy Milk Bottle Rockets

Star Wars Ship Straps

Foil pie cases were glued on in abundance by Harry to add a bit of bling and space-age style, as were faux jewels from the art cupboard, and then finally I cut a large square out of the bottom of the box for Harry to step through and then added wide bands of elastic to act as straps to hold the ship in place.  A star cruiser was born.

I’ve not included detailed instructions for how we made our ship because I have a hunch that this is a rather niche craft activity (though mothers of small boys – and larger ones – may find inspiration here).  Instead, here’s a pictogram of what we used and how it all vaguely came together…

DIY Star Wars Ship Materials

And now I must leave you; the universe is in peril, I hear, and Darth is on the warpath. I don’t have the time or cardboard to knock myself up a lightsaber, so I will be relying on my wits.  This means I am doomed.

All being well, however, I’ll be back on Friday with a cheat’s guide to how to make hollowed-out books for storing treasures.

See you then!

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The Letter Box: Preserving The Magic of Snail Mail

The Letter Box

I’ve written often on this blog about my love of letters and the abiding magic of good things in the post.  For someone who delights in receiving mail, I don’t write to others nearly often enough, so have gradually been gathering together lovely supplies to make it easier to scribble a pretty card or note in the moment I think of it, before life rushes on and the distracted hunt for a stamp or an envelope causes me to abandon my good intentions.

Harry too is becoming a man of letters, and has discovered the presence of the Royal Mail and the astonishing fact that letters, when posted into a box on our street, can be transported to far flung corners of the world in a matter of days (actually, in truth the time element has yet to be understood; Harry’s default expectation is that anything we post will reach it’s destination – wherever that may be – by teatime).

I’ve made Harry a Box of Letters which contains all sorts of lovely things for making and sending letters and cards to grandparents, family and friends – and even to us.  It’s helping him with his writing and means we can distribute the growing pile of artwork somewhat more widely.. and also has the bonus of generating letters in reply, which he adores.

Writing Letters

Here are some of the things in the modern man’s stationery bureau;

1. Enticing coloured crayons, pencils or pens.  We love Giotto pencils which have an almost oil-pastel like vibrancy and creaminess and go on thickly and easily.  They’re also triangular which helps with learning pencil grip, if you’re 4-5yrs old and facing such grown-up challenges.

Handful of pencils

 2.  Fun, bright stationery which doesn’t require much writing to fill it all up.  I’ve given Harry a fistful of my Happy Notes which only need about a sentence-worth of concentration and heavy-breathing before they are full.  I’ve also packed in a few of our home-made holiday postcards and some of Harry’s monogram stationery – again, just the right size for the attention-span of a small child.

Happy Note

3.  Decorative paper tape and stickers to adorn envelopes and add a dash of flair.  I also use the tape to hold the paper or cards in place whilst Harry writes and draws; with the flamboyance and heavy-handed pressure involved, it’s easy for them to skid and slip around unless I tack them lightly in place.

Washi tape and Stickers

4. And my favourite… personalised stamps and fun stamps.  I made some stamps for Harry using the Royal Mail Smilers service, and there are similar websites for the US and Canada which will allow you to upload photos and turn them into personalised stamps (lovely for a wedding or event as well as fun for kids).  They’re fun to use and raise a smile when they arrive on the mat at their destination.

personalised stamps

I made the storage box out of an old shoe box, and designed the picture below for the top (you can download a PDF printable below if you want to make your own).  I found some cow-print paper in Harry’s art cupboard which I used to line the box and lid – and now we have our correspondence kit to hand for whenever inspiration strikes!  I think one of these would make a lovely gift too for anyone young or old with a passion for stationery and lovely things; something to think about perhaps as Christmas stealthily approaches.

Letter Box Lid

Letters Box Printable

I’d love to know any other ideas for bits and bobs to include in Harry’s box or ways you’ve encouraged letter-writing and managed to avoid it becoming a tortuous semi-annual task after birthdays and Christmas; all tips welcome!

Have a wonderful weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing; we have a back-to-school party and a small family reunion to look forward to – and baking too; September sees the return of our Saturday Cake-in-the-House tradition; a glass of wine and a new recipe book await me this evening.

Kate x

Stationery box for kids