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The Scrap-Fabric Table Runner

DIY Fabric Table Runner

This is a story that began with a dress.  This dress. I bought it a couple of years ago, and it was beautiful, and hung just right, until I discovered – belatedly – that it had HUGE pockets.  And once my hands found these pockets, I couldn’t seem to stop filling them with things, until one day I realised that the dress looked less like a tailored silk sheath and more like a tent that I was using as cover to smuggle contraband goods.  The perfect dress for petty theft, perhaps, but not quite the elegant look I was aiming for.

So I took the pockets out and removed the problem.  They were so beautiful that I couldn’t throw them away; I kept them in my fabric drawer along with leftover bits and pieces of material from all kinds of projects.  On a rainy Sunday last month, I finally dug them out and began sorting and sifting through other pieces to see what might complement the colours.

I found a large square of turquoise cotton, unpicked the pockets to form four identical shapes, and then backed them with iron-on fusible paper before mounting on the fabric.  Sort of like a set of balancing bowls, or mussel shells;

silk pockets cut open and used for a fabric collage

Then I layered other colours against it and picked out a few in silver, navy and duck-egg shades.  I cut them into slices, vaguely but not precisely measuring each to ensure a kind of symmetry.  Then backed them together; pinning and stitching, pinning and stitching;

making a table runner

Until it began to look like this!

Making a scrap fabric table runner

The edges remained imprecise for a long time; when I had the final length I wanted I trimmed them down to an even length and marked a 1″ seam for folding in.

fabric scrap table runner

With the runner nearly 3m long by now, I did have to buy more fabric to back it; I chose a heavyish, velvety curtain fabric that gives weight to the runner and ensures it doesn’t slip and slide around.  As with Harry’s baby-clothes quilt, my workmanship on the sewing does not bear close scrutiny, and my seams are rambling and a little slapdash. But still, I am left with an almost stained-glass like creation that looks good on the table, and equally good draped over the end of the bed.  A shorter length would make a lovely, vibrant evening wrap – for this one though you’d need the shoulders of a line-backer to carry it off with aplomb…

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Have a wonderful week!

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The Hare and the Carrot

Hare and Carrot Cake

Last weekend I made a cake for Easter.  Not a fruit or Simnel cake (simple tastes abound in our household), but instead a rainbow cake, frosted and decorated festively with a carrot, which soon attracted these hares…

Hares & Carrot Cake

It’s one of those cakes that is far simpler to make than it may look;

  • The rainbow cake recipe and technique is on the blog here, and for the frosting I used Betty Crocker’s own trusted recipe (so simple, but so good).
  • To make the shards around the side, I melted a pack of these and smoothed the mixture out between two sheets of greaseproof paper, before rolling it up quickly like a swiss roll.  The Candy Melts harden quickly, and when unrolled again break into shards which I gently pressed into the frosting around the sides of the cake.  You can find them in Lakeland and Hobbycraft in the UK, and in craft stores and supermarkets in the US and Canada.
  • The carrot is a paper-and-raffia Easter decoration that I simply pierced with a wooden skewer, then pushed the skewer down into the cake to hold it in place (remove before serving!).  If you made an actual carrot cake, this would look even better.
  • The mischievous hares?  Again, they were Easter decorations designed to be hung up; I snipped off the hanging threads and let them loose on the cake…

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After two days, this was all I managed to rescue for a photo :-)

Rainbow cake

p.s.  On a related subject; a campaign has been launched by the youngest member of the family who is adamant that what our family needs is a pet rabbit.  Have you ever had a rabbit, and do they make easy pets?  Perhaps we won’t start with one of these

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Another Place

Neither From Nor Towards

We had an extraordinary adventure last weekend, venturing north to Chester, Liverpool and Yorkshire to visit a couple of places I’ve always wanted to see.

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park covers 500 acres and promises ‘art without walls’; hundreds of astonishing, permanent and rotating works by artists such as Ai Weiwei, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

Housed in the Chapel amidst the grounds was a breathtaking installation by artist Cornelia Parker (above and below).   Neither From Nor Towards is a suspended work of hundreds of weathered bricks from a row of houses destroyed when cliff-top erosion on the south coast caused them to fall into the sea.   The rounding of the bricks is organic, caused by the battering of the waves and relentless tides before they were eventually retrieved from the water.  It was mesmerising and beautiful, and for a few minutes we were the only visitors in the room.

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One of the wonderful things about YSP is how interactive and accessible all of the sculpture is.  Even for this most fragile and stunning work, there were no ropes or barriers, and Harry was immediately offered a stool and a drawing box so he could have a go at recreating it;

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Just outside the Chapel stands Iron tree by Ai Weiwei; a 6m high tree made of 99 iron casts from different trees, roughly bolted and screwed together;

An Wei

We roamed through the woods, which looked beautiful, still strewn with spring bluebells and with wintery light radiating through the trees (it was freezing that day; bright but cold..)

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We spent hours there, and took hundreds of photographs (I will spare you, I promise), and touched and stroked and admired a myriad of different sculptures, big and small.  If you ever have the opportunity to go there, I can’t recommend it enough.

The next day, we went to another place.  Literally, to Another Place; Antony Gormley’s iconic line of standing figures which are set along more than a mile of the tideline of Crosby Beach, looking out to sea….

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The pictures above are from the first installation of the figures, at Cuxhaven on Germany at an estuary of the Elbe, before they were relocated to the UK.  Gormley said of the sculpting process ‘The sculptures are made from 17 body-casts taken from my body (protected by a thin layer of wrapping plastic). The sculptures are all standing in a similar way, with the lungs more or less inflated and their postures carrying different degrees of tension or relaxation’.   I think I would have erred towards a posture of tension myself, if wrapped in plastic and encased in plaster.  Here he is at work, on a different project;

Antony Gormley

Gormley at work

We went to Crosby beach at first light, and they looked equally powerful; rusted now and covered in barnacles;

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Extraordinary, and beautiful, and powerful enough to have stayed in my mind constantly all week.  It made me remember how much I love to visit places like this (and how easy it is to get derailed by motherhood and plate-spinning and the guilt of self-indulgence. I needn’t have worried; we all had a ball…).

Where have you been lately that’s moved you or blown your mind?  I’d love to create a new list of must-visit places…

Have a wonderful weekend!

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All photos my own apart from those of Cuxhaven, via here and of Gormley’s Domain Field workshop via here.

 

 

Eggshell mini-nests for an Easter table

Mini nests

Are you ready for Easter?  We usually love to have a big feast with friends, and I always think about to make the table look seasonal and different.  This year we’ll have tiny individual nests placed at each setting, shaped around gold-painted egg shells and filled with beautiful little praline eggs (not to be eaten until later!)

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(I have to show these beautiful over-sized bowls here as often as I can; my best friend helped me drag 8 of them back from Paris after our trip there and never lets me forget how heavy they were; I feel compelled to demonstrate at every opportunity that they are well-used…)

First, gather some egg-shells, rinse them out and paint the inside gold (and the outside too if you like)…

tiny egg nests

Then weave a little sisal or hay around them and tuck in a few sprigs of moss.  Other ideas for elementary nest construction here!

I used a box of these eggs to fill them; small enough to fit, pretty enough to look startlingly real (and very edible).

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Miniature nests

p.s.  from the archives; hand-decorating chocolate eggs, easter crafting and a Spring dress

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Lost Arts: Collage!

Easter Collage

When I was small, I LOVED scissors.

Perhaps it was the frisson of danger and responsibility of being in charge of a pair of scissors; perhaps it was the clean swoosh of snipping, but whatever it was, I spent a good few years of my childhood just simply Cutting Things Out.  All around the house you could find the evidence of my hobby; newspapers missing crucial sections, magazines with headlines removed.  I passed by in a small drift of paper cuttings, oblivious to the destruction in my wake.

Last weekend I picked up a pair of scissors again and worked my way idly through a supermarket magazine, crafting a spring bird and its nest from the pages….

magazines for collage

I began by drawing the rough outline of a bird, and then cutting out an oval for the body and layering strips of paper for the wing;

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…till it became this, with a bead glued on for the eye (the leaves are actual leaves from a photograph in the mag about spring gardens…)

Bird collage

For the nest, I cut out a plate-sized circle of brown paper and then simply placed layer after layer of slices over the top to form a nest, snipping out 2 inch long sections of anything brown or sandy or bluish-grey. I cut simple egg-shapes from the cover and used this punch to cut out the feather shapes

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…until eventually, it looked like this!

Nest collage

I scanned the paper collages into my computer and gave them a backdrop to make a fun set of Easter cards for friends and family;

DIY Collage Easter cards

 

If you haven’t picked up a pair of scissors with the express purpose of Cutting and Snipping and Sticking for years, then I strongly suggest you give it a whirl – it was great fun, and required surprisingly little concentration (it’s hard to go wrong, so great to do whilst listening to music / waiting for dinner to cook / feigning interest in a long, rambling conversation about Pokemon Go, for example).

If you want a shortcut however, do feel free to download the hi-res image below (personal use only please), or the individual PDFs of the bird and its nest.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Bird collage

Nest collage

Easter Collage

Simple projects: tonal painted spoons

DIY Painted Kitchen Spoons

Until last week, we had just one wooden spoon in our kitchen.

Possibly the oldest kitchen item I own, it is a warped and aged thing, of a variety that you find lurking deep in the ‘Kitchenalia’ section of dubious antique stores.  Scarred by age and immune to the vigorous attentions of the dishwasher, it is also so short that every time I stir a boiling pan I risk steam burns and often drop the spoon entirely, having to fish it out with the toast tongs.  Why it did not occur to me earlier to buy a new spoon, especially when regularly purchasing such random things as toast tongs, I do not know.

Finally, I did.

I bought six in fact, having a tendency towards excess when shopping.  They are long and beautiful and  - let’s face it – rather dull, so I dug out all the leftover tester paint pots from our shed and gave them a good stir.  I taped off the tip of each spoon handle (use masking or washi tape) and then gave each two coats of paint.  When dry, I sealed with a satin varnish.  It took just an hour or so from beginning to end, but the result makes me smile.  Somehow stirring a dish with one of these makes it seem inherently more likely to taste good.

Paint pots

Leftover paint

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Hand painted kitchen sitrring spoons

DIY painted kitchen spoons in a pot

(As I study the photo above, I notice I’m still somehow unable to throw away the short-and-unhygenic-and-entirely-useless wooden spoon that inspired this project).

Have a wonderful weekend!  It’s a glorious one here; sunshine and daffodils and blossom and only an occasional gust of window to remind you that you are in England, still, and thus need to keep your wits, and woollens, about you.

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p.s.  Whilst you have your leftover paint to hand, why not try painted pots, and use them to start a family sunflower race… (we’re planting ours this afternoon!).

 

The Odd Egg

The Odd Egg

With Easter fast approaching, Harry and I have been busy making an enormous egg.  Heaven knows what bird might have laid this egg, which is just short of 3 foot in length; it is certainly not a bird I would want to stumble across accidentally or whose nest I would want to unwittingly disturb.  Come Easter Sunday, it will hang from a tree in the garden filled with sweets and chocolate eggs, and be smashed, piñata-style, by an army of small egg-hunters.  Till then, it is safe and majestic atop a rather unsubstantial nest.

We began by inflating a large – huge – balloon.  Well actually, in truth we watched my husband inflate it and made encouraging noises as he turned slowly purple with the effort.  Team-work. Then we covered it with two layers of newspaper dipped in a mixture of white glue and water, pausing only occasionally to read the newspaper stories.

Paper mache balloon egg layer 1

And then a final layer, this time of white paper (we used two sheets of flipchart paper, torn up), so that we could see when we’d finished an entire layer.

Paper mache egg layer 2

And then I painted it with some pale grey leftover tester paint, before dabbing on circles and speckles of paint, in brown and copper colours….

Painted paper mache egg

It looks pretty convincing!

pinata egg

It’s very light, at least until filled with chocolate…

Giant duck egg pinata

Once it was completely dry, I cut a circular hole in the back (don’t cut it out entirely – it’s much easier to seal this way).  Harry filled the egg with chocolates, using an ‘add one, eat one’ policy and thus adding to the brown smudges around the egg.

DIY fillable Easter pinata

At Easter, we’ll thread a rope up in through the egg and tie it to the old apple tree in our garden that’s currently filled with blossom.  Until then, we can just admire it…

p.s. two more of our papier-mache projects; the hot air balloon and the moon.

Have a great rest of the weekend!

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Springtime in Five Minutes

Cauliflower centrepiece

I unnerved my family by coming home from the supermarket this morning with two cabbages and a cauliflower.

‘Do I eat those?’ asked Harry, suspiciously.

‘I don’t', said my husband, with absolute conviction.

It’s okay.  They weren’t for eating; instead, filled with a handful of hastily plucked flowers from the garden they make lovely – if transient – centrepieces for the table.  A whisper of Spring, as it flirts with us, not yet truly here.

The good news; this project is so very simple; take a cauliflower (or cabbage); carefully hollow out a small well in the centre and fill with a couple of tablespoons of water; stuff with spring flowers or greenery.  Single colour flowers look lovely and simple…

Cauliflower Spring centrepiece

But there’s something about the exuberance of excess that feels very Spring-like; sturdy, determined flowers in a windswept green bowl…

Colourful Spring Cauliflower Vase

Red cabbage gives a more Japanese, zen look…

Cabbage vase

You could even eat the cauliflower afterwards, if you have a family that does not regard earthy green vegetables as the work of Satan.

Happy weekend!

p.s.  Book vases, Winter brights, a garden room  - and frozen blooms for those still in the midst of winter frosts and snow.

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Forgotten Pleasures: Wardrobe Makeovers

Wardrobe makeover!

As a teenager, I spent many evenings customising my outfits.  From turning the waistband of my school uniform skirt over and over until the hem reached the requisite shortness (waaaay too short), to the more sophisticated attaching of studs and sequins to just about everything I owned, it was very much my thing.  My ultimate sartorial peak was achieved at the age of 18 at my first ever work Christmas party, where I stitched a row of battery-operated fairy lights all around the neckline of my dress.

Well.  Fairy lights get pretty warm I can tell you. Like, mild burns warm.  Still, one must suffer for high fashion.

Then I actually started earning an income and simultaneously losing all my free time, and I gradually stopped reinventing my clothes and turned to buying them instead.  Easier, but not quite the same, somehow.

Last month I was skimming Pinterest and falling for all the military-style jackets being effortlessly accessorised and styled.  The latent Sergeant-Pepper-channelling-extrovert in me was awoken, and I rummaged around for something I could customise…

jacket

I’ve had this jacket for ages, but rarely wear it; beautifully cut, it’s just somehow a bit… dull.  So I dug into my haberdashery chest and found some rather eye-popping braid, bought last year in a small Aladdin’s-cave store in Montmartre.  I sourced military-style buttons on eBay (about £4 for 20 of these), and set to work.

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The braid is hand-stitched in place (badly – no matter…), and the buttons somewhat imprecisely spaced along the front and cuffs;

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…and come the summer, I may well unpick it all again.  That’s the forgotten magic of a one-night wardrobe makeover; when you get bored or the craze is over, you just start again.

I’d love to have the skill to whip up a dress or jacket from scratch, but in truth the dedication and study that would take is well-beyond my flighty attentions.  Instead, I’ll go for anything that can be glued, stitched or hot-ironed in place.   Just maybe not actual string lights again.

DIY military jacket

Have a great week!

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Room to Grow (a little more)

Boys bedroom

I finally got around to giving Harry’s room a proper makeover.

His treehouse bed was becoming outgrown; not by him, so much, as by me – the act of clambering up the stairs for a final bedtime cuddle, remembering to dodge the low beam and then lying very still, listening to the ominous creak of the stilt-legs, as I squinted at the label warning *THIS BED SHOULD NOT EXCEED 50 KILOS TOTAL WEIGHT*.  It was altogether tempting fate.  And besides, we’re now firmly in The Sleepover Years, where having twin beds from which you can actually see your best friend and talk all through the night (or at least until 10pm) is very important.Twin bed room

I bought inexpensive beds on eBay and we lost just two evenings of our lives assembling them and trying to remember not to criticise each other’s DIY skills or aptitude with allen keys and wordless, diagrammatic instructions.  They still make me wince slightly, remembering the effort that went into them.  But still, they look very cool; ageless without being too grown up (not yet; I’m not ready yet).

Star curtains

New star curtains with blackout linings filter the Northern light that still manages to creep through even in February, and two rattan Christmas decorations are repurposed for the bed-ends…

Bed with stars

Harry’s not ready to say goodbye to his nighttime menagerie of animals, but they do take a more discreet backseat these days, living under the bed in simple Ikea baskets.  The matching bedspreads are actually made from a TK Maxx bargain king-size bedspread, simply cut in two and hemmed (badly, flamboyantly – but who’s to know?).

Underbed storage

Bedroom stool

In the old fireplace the log basket remains, topped with a string of plug-in origami lights that provide a low, magical glow through the night;

Log basket

And the trusty badger rug remains, looking with every passing year a little less alive and a little more like roadkill, but beloved nonetheless.

Bedroom seascape

It’s a room to grow up in, and a room where you can still be reassuringly, comfortingly small.

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DIY Paper Marbling with Metallics

DIY Shaving Foam Paper Marbling

I’ve always loved marbled papers, ever since a trip to Venice as a teenager when I stumbled across a tiny paper shop called Il Papiro that was filled from floor to ceiling with hand-decorated sheets in every hue.  Even then (especially then!), they were way beyond my price range, so I admired them and reluctantly left them behind.  Finally, an unimaginable number of years later, I discovered how to make marbled paper at home.  The trick?  The cheapest shaving foam you can find.

In truth, I am pretty sure that this is not the secret ingredient that Italian marblers have been using since the fifteenth century, but still – it works a treat.

DIy marbled paper from KatesCreativeSpace

Firstly, go shopping for several cans of shaving foam.  Ignore the strange looks that this provokes; try not to appear as someone wresting with a secret, hidden, hairiness.  Then find yourself some disposable foil trays, food colouring and a syringe or baster / pipette.  Latex gloves too, if your fingers will appear in public soon afterwards; temporary staining is a potential hazard.  Let’s begin…

Fill your tray with spray-can shaving foam.  Make sure it’s the old fashioned cheap foam and not hipster shaving gel; you want plenty of ‘bouff’…

Foil tray filled with shaving foam (DIY marbled paper)

Then using the syringe or pipette, squirt drops of food colouring randomly around the tray.  Here, I used two shades of blue food dye (a turquoise and a deeper blue), and also some gold paint;

Mixing foam with food dye for marbling

Using a wooden skewer, gently stir and swirl the dye around until it’s mixed loosely together and there are no big pools or stripes of colour.  Don’t blend it in completely; you just want it stirred together, like this;

DIY shaving foam paper marbling

And then quickly lay your piece of paper on top, face-down, and push it gently flat so that all parts of it are covered by the foam mix

DIY paper marbling step 4

Lift up the paper and lay it down flat.  It will look deeply unimpressive.  You will be covered in foam.  You will despair.  But wait.  Wait just a moment, because this next bit is where the magic happens…

DIY foam paper marbling

Take a clean ruler and place it along your sheet, and pull down smoothly, wiping the foam away.  It’s awesome.  You will feel like an artist…

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Use kitchen roll to wipe away any residual foam, and leave the paper to dry.

You can get a second print from the tray, but it will be a bit blurrier and less defined than the first.  Try different colour mixes and experiment with using shaded papers.  My favourite is pale blue paper with blue food dye and silver paint; it gives an ethereal and delicate marbling pattern that’s perfect for making writing paper…

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Deeper and more vibrant mixes are great for making gift tags, or cutting out as envelope liners like below;

DIY Marbling Envelope Liners

Make sheet after sheet, and use them in everything you can think of…

DIY Paper marbling with shaving foam

Oh, and happy Sunday, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing! (Do this now; do this instead…)

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