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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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California Highlights

Sea Nettles

Sea Nettles at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

How was your weekend?  We had a lovely but strange one, adjusting to the timezone shift after a wonderful trip to California.  It was a magical break, and we came back with a suitcase full of sand, beach-treasures and 1,013 photos.  Count ‘em.  Sometimes digital cameras are not such a good thing… Here, for those of you who can bear it, are some of our highlights!

We flew in to San Francisco and spent a couple of days adjusting and sight-seeing; obvious favourites like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Cable Cars of course, but we also found delights like the Saturday morning farmers market at the Ferry Terminal building, where we wandered the stalls for ages, sampling goods and being amazed at some of the produce..

Ferry Building Farmers Market SF

I was particularly taken by these mushroom-growing kits; aren’t the results beautiful (below)?  I brought one home and we spent the morning soaking rolls of paper and sprinkling over the spores to see if we could reproduce some of this magic..

Mushroom MiniFarms

From San Francisco we picked up a car and headed to Santa Monica; a longish drive broken up by field after field of pistachio groves.  The journey was worth it; we awoke before dawn the next morning and headed straight for the beach to watch the sun come up, coffee in hand; it was beautiful;

Dawn surfers at Santa Monica beach

We hired bikes and rode for miles along the boardwalk, people-watching and soaking up the amazing sunshine as the beaches came to life and the day unfolded.  I received some great suggestions of places to check out including the vibrant pier; we ended up staying so long we had dinner at a restaurant on the beach as the sun set again; I could get used to this lifestyle..

Santa Monica Pier

From Santa Monica we hugged the coastline and gradually pottered back towards San Francisco, stopping whenever we felt the urge along the way (at least once an hour!).  Our next proper stop was in Pismo beach, famous for its seals and sea-glass, amongst other things.  Again, we gravitated to the shore, and made pilgrimages every dawn and dusk to see what the tides had brought in, joining the wading birds at the edge of the water..

Commanding the sunrise

Harry commanding the sun to rise on Pismo Beach

Wading birds at the shoreline

Beachcombing

At the tideline we found seal skulls and vertebrae, driftwood of all shapes and sizes, golf balls (mis)hit from cliff top courses and tiny, beautiful pearls of sea glass.  Most of it we returned to the shore, but a few treasured souvenirs have found their way back home with us.

From Pismo we headed for Carmel and another reader’s recommendation of Carmel Valley Ranch, which was the highlight of our stay.  We’d saved up for a few amazing days here, and loved every minute; we learned how to cook S’mores beside the campfire (we caused great hilarity by attempting to assemble the whole cookie and then pierce it with a skewer before roasting… you can only imagine how tricky this is).  At Carmel I also attempted my first – and possibly last – cardio barre class, which my thighs have yet to recover from.  I knew I was in trouble when I hobbled back up the steps to our lodge and Harry whispered loudly  ‘Daddy, I think Mummy is going to need our help with the stairs’.

We used Carmel as a base to explore and tour the coast and surrounding areas; we agreed that if work and finances were no object we’d happily relocate there tomorrow; we loved it. Here are a few of our highlights – again, thanks to all those who suggested wonderful local secrets like Pfeiffer Beach and the Monterey Youth Museum that don’t tend to appear in guidebooks… we tracked them all down and they were wonderful..

Watching the surfers at Carmel Beach

Watching the surfers at Carmel Beach

Beach after the rain

Wine tasting and touring the winery at Chateau Julien

Wine tasting and touring the winery at Chateau Julien

Witnessing the power of the ocean at Pfeiffer Beach

Witnessing the power of the ocean at Pfeiffer Beach

Viewing some impressive pumping carving at Carmel Valley Lodge

Viewing some impressive pumping carving at Carmel Valley Lodge

Pebble Beach

Choosing fantasy homes in Pebble Beach

Sea Nettle

Watching the mesmerising sea nettles and moon jellies at Monterey Aquarium

moon jellies

Coral

As the nights draw in during the weeks ahead, we’ll sift through our souvenirs and photos ready to make our next family yearbook, and I’m stitching our route on the map we used along the way so that we remember…

Stitched holiday map

Have a good week ahead, wherever you are and whatever you have planned; when work abates I’ll be back at the end of the week with a new project. See you then!

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California, here we come!

 

MarisaMidori Illustration

We’re still not packed, we have at least two meals-worth of strange, incompatible-yet-perishable things in the fridge to eat up, but my goodness we’re excited; our long-awaited Californian road trip is almost here!  We’ve made the most of your tips and recommendations and are planning to start in San Francisco and then follow the coast, stopping at Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur – anywhere and everywhere that captures our attention until we run out of time.

I’ll be back here in a couple of weeks to share our trip highlights and some more of our home renovation; clouds of plaster dust are still settling gently around my shoulders as I type, and our guest room is almost complete.  In the meantime, have a wonderfully spooky Halloween!

See you soon,

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Top: Marisa Midori Illustration via here

 

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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Channelling Icarus, and a week in pictures…

Icarus wings master

You can imagine the moment when Icarus, full of hubris and exhilaration as he sailed above Crete with his home-made wings, began to question the wisdom of using wax.  Perhaps when the first rays of the sun warmed his back and he began to feel an alarming softening of his wingspan….  the rest, as they say, is history.  Or myth, more accurately.

If only Icarus had enjoyed access to poster board and lolly sticks, we reckon it might have been a very different story.  Lighter, less smelly than wax and feathers, and surprisingly resilient even when you get stuck in a doorway when trying to launch yourself outside, these are proving a winner in our household this week.

Harry has recently developed a passion for flight, in no small part due to discovering How to Train Your Dragon, and also the cast of Lego Ninjago – his new heroes.  ’Mummy, can we make me some wings please that I can wear?’  well sure, let’s try, said I.  ’Great!  They need to ping out when I press a button and fold away when I click and they should be big enough to fly, ok?’  Ummm, no.

Still, we did OK.  I quite fancy a pair of these myself, and am trying to invent / discover a party that I can justifiably wear these to…

Icarus wings for littles

I used poster board (foam board), and hand-drew a wing shape before cutting it out with a craft knife (I used plates to get clean half-circle shapes around the edges).  Wooden lolly sticks glued in lines gave the appearance of a wing frame, and then I used ordinary paper fasteners and scraps of faux leather to make handles and to join the two wings together.  If you fancy having a go, gather the materials below  - I’ve also made a proper template which you can download and photocopy to the size you want it.  If you’re in need of detailed instructions, just let me know!

You’ll need:

  • Two sheets of foam board or cardboard
  • A pile of wooden lolly sticks
  • Paper fasteners
  • Glue (all-purpose or hot glue).
  • Scraps of cardboard, faux leather or foam to make the handles and connector piece
  • Braid (optional)

Icarus Wing Template

wing template

How to make Icarus Wings

Making Icarus Wings

In other news this week, the fair came to town!

A traditional steam fair comes to the Village Green of a town near us each Autumn, for a weekend of bumper-cars, helter-skelter rides, coconut shies and old-fashioned fun.  Crowds come from all of the surrounding villages and it’s a lovely event.  Harry wore his aviator goggles throughout, although we persuaded him to leave his wings at home.

The Steam Fair

I’m trying to enjoy every last minute of Autumn, as we gather blackberries and pine cones and count-down the days until we can light the wood-burning stove and find that we are once again racing the sun at each end of the day; to school and work before it rises, home again before it finally sets.  Already the stores are turning to Christmas, and festive displays are filling the windows.  Part of me is horrified, and part of me slows and lingers, I confess.

I’ve been doodling on scraps of watercolour paper and thinking through ideas for Christmas cards (whisper it – I know it’s so long away..).  Happy polar bears, perhaps, once I get the proportions right and add a few festive accents..

polar bear sketching

On Sunday, we focused firmly on the present and had a weekend tea party in glorious late-season sunshine for Harry’s godparents; a lovely change to a more traditional lunchtime get together, and a delicious excuse for cake-making…. I made the universal favourite chocolate biscuit cake, which apparently was served at William and Kate’s royal wedding (we add raisins, cherries and decoration to ours; we love a bit of overkill!)…

Royal Biscuit Cake

And also experimented with mini banoffee pies in flower pots, topped with grated chocolate to look like soil…

Plantpot Banoffee Pies

And finally Harry and I made a raspberry and lemon bundt cake, which has become a family favourite and proves irresistible to even the most virtuous and health-conscious guest..

The cake thief

 

And talking of cake, it’s time to sign off, as I must ensure I’m in position on the sofa, glass of wine in hand in time for the final, climactic episode of The Great British Bake-Off; we don’t watch much TV but this has become my weekly guilty pleasure; with just three bakers left and some pretty daunting challenges ahead, I’ll be gripped.

Have a great rest of the week!

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The Simple Guide to Making Secret Books

DIY Secret Books

I’ve always loved the idea of making secret boxes from books; the kind where you pull out a book from the shelves, lift the cover and find instead a beautiful box full of exciting things.  I’ve always been put off  by the method, which traditionally involves glueing all of the book pages together and cutting, carefully and precisely, through every single page to cut out an inner section of the book.  The results often look amazing, but very time-consuming and requiring much precision cutting and sticking and use of clamps.  Not one for slap-dash crafters like me.

Instead, I experimented with making one by removing the whole of the book-text and replacing it with an inner made of cardboard or foam (I tried both; you can see pics below).  It took about 90mins from end to end and I love the result… it’s also a very do-able project to make with children  on a wet Autumnal afternoon.  It the idea appeals, here’s a step-by-step guide below; let me know how you get on!

Kates secret book box

1. Choose your book

You can choose whatever book you like for this – I found mine for free at a local shop which gives away books rescued from landfill sites – but a few pointers; choose a hardback book, so that you have enough rigidity in the spine and covers for your box.  Consider the size and thickness of the book; how big and deep do you want your box to be?  There are no right or wrongs here, but have a think before you choose.  Finally, give the book a good shake and the spine a waggle to make sure it is sturdy and not falling apart.  Oh, and if you’re choosing one from your bookshelves, make sure it won’t be missed…

Elegance by K Tessaro

2. Decide on your ‘filling’

I suggest using either corrugated cardboard or sheets of fun foam.  Both of these are very quick and easy to cut; if you are planning a real work of art or heirloom you could use artists grey board, but this will several hundred more strokes of your craft knife and is only for the very dedicated.  I’ve shown the steps below using cardboard.  The foam will look a little sleeker, but does cost more (you can usually find enough cardboard from old boxes). You can also use a box to insert in your book – I used half a box from a pair of inexpensive sunglasses –  though you don’t need one.

Corrugated for making hollow books How to make hollow books

3. Carefully remove the book pages

Two ways of doing this; one is to slice away the endpapers and (gently) rip the whole book from the cover; this will keep your book intact if you want to read it again, but it will also weaken the spine of the cover a little.  The other method which I used is to slice out the pages as shown below; they will come out in clumps and this should take less than a minute.  Cut as close to the glued spine as you can.

Making hollow books

4. Measure the page size and cut pieces of cardboard or foam to the same size

Cut as many pieces as you need to fit the depth of the spine (my book needed 10 pieces of foam, or just 5 of the cardboard, which was thicker).  Make sure you are measuring the page size and not the cover; your stack needs to fit neatly inside the original book cover.

Cutting cardboard to make a hollow book

5.  Cut a section from the centre of each, to the size you want your box inner to be, and glue together

If you’re using a box to insert, measure this and mark on each piece of cardboard/foam where to cut, centring on each to ensure you are cutting in the same place.

book box step by step

When you’ve finished, push or place your box into the hole you have cut to check it fits snugly.  When you’re happy, lift it out, dab glue around the edges and reinsert to hold it into place.  If you’re not using an inner, you can decide what size of shape to cut out.  Now stack your pieces and glue together to make your completed insert. (and apologies for the lack of step-by-step pictures here; a combination of glue, paper, craft knives and darkness made this impossible)

6. Paint the cardboard if desired

I painted my cardboard stack black to match the original page edges and colour palette of the book, but you can leave as plain cardboard or paint any colour.  If you’re using foam, choose the colour you want at the beginning.  Here’s my cardboard stack, painted, with the cover sheet glued on top but without the box yet inserted or the edges trimmed;

DIY book box in progress

6.  Take one page sheet from the original book and cut out a hole of the same size/shape, and glue on top of your insert.  Trim any scrappy edges carefully, and then glue your finished inner back into the book cover by attaching it to the inside back cover and spine.  I used all-purpose glue and weighted my book down and left for a couple of hours to dry.

7.  You can also decorate the inside of your box; I stuck the opening page back carefully onto the lefthand cover, used a scrap of gift wrap to line the box, and also made a wax monogram seal with my initial.

wax seal

8. Admire, and fill with treasures!

You can use the book-boxes as jewellery boxes, or for storing secret treasures, letters or mementoes.  The beauty of them is that of course they close naturally and can be stacked alongside other books, looking indistinguishable from a normal one; great for storing valuables if you are going away.  They would also be lovely used as a small box for a ring-bearer to carry up the aisle; perhaps using a prayer book or book of poetry to make one of these.

Secret book-boxes for storing treasures!

 

My next project is to make Harry a secret box using a Harry Potter book, which he can keep under his bed and fill with ever-changing treasures.  We might even make one for the tooth fairy in the future; a tiny weeny box perhaps to tuck under the pillow, just big enough to hold a tooth and a piece of gold..

Have a great weekend!

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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

 

The Door in the Woods

The Secret Fairy Door



A couple of years ago, soon after we moved into our home, Harry and I began to hear strange skittering noises under the floorboards.  Small things occasionally went missing or turned up in unexpected places.  ’Mice!‘, said my husband.  ‘Borrowers!’ I replied.  Harry was mystified.  Then, we discovered these small doors in the skirting boards (below) and realised that we are not alone.

Fairy Doors in the Kitchen

we’ve come to enjoy watching the comings and goings of whoever lives behind these doors; post is delivered, sometimes with milk or a fresh supply of logs.  But we always assumed that the Borrowers, or fairies, or Lego men – whoever they were – lived indoors… until yesterday, when we were kicking a ball around the garden and discovered the door in the tree;

The House in the Woods

Lit by a small lamp and almost disguised amongst the foliage was this ornate front door, complete with welly boots and a rake, and a freshly swept porch.  We were very taken aback…

Fairy Doors in the Forest

It prompted us to rummage around a little further, at which point we stumbled across what looks like a tiny children’s playground, complete with tyre swing, straw bales, sandpit and even  an abandoned buggy (maybe we made too much noise?).

Fairy Playground



Well… a truly magical garden, and a whole new place to look for signs of tiny life.  We did try knocking on the door of the Tree House, but there was no reply – this time.

If, having paced out every inch of your garden or backyard, you find no signs of miniature life and want to encourage a few fairies or little people to move in, you could perhaps create your own tree doors and playgrounds.  I used unpainted doll house doors which I daubed with grey and green paint before sealing with varnish, adding tiny door furniture and borrowing some accessories from Harry’s ark and toy box.  The tyre swing is a Lego tyre, temporarily borrowed from a Lego City fire engine and repurposed.  The tiny replica gas lamp was a junk shop find (amongst a bag of mixed dolls house furniture and accessories), and miraculously works with a tiny hearing-aid sized battery, casting a magical glow over the undergrowth.  eBay is a good source too for miniature accessories and pre-loved dolls house kit.

To protect the tree from damage I simply glued the door to the bark in a natural hollow; a strong enough hold to allow the door handle to be tugged, but not a permanent fixture.  Oh, and a word of caution; when I first crept out at dusk to create this scene for Harry, I set a small dolls-house sized tomato plant by the front door, with attractive cherry-red tomatoes strung along it; by morning it was gone, and is probably even now being spat out in disgust by some local urban fox… so perhaps remove any bits and bobs at the end of each day.  Besides, half of the magic is never knowing where the evidence of the little people might pop up…

Secret Fairy Doors in the Woods

Have a great weekend!

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My Favourite Kit

In response to a recent small flurry of questions about the equipment I use, here’s a quick romp through my favourite kit and the reasons I like it.  I should begin by saying that I am completely unqualified to offer anything other than a personal opinion – I do not own so much as a Brownie badge in photography or paper craft, and am baffled by most things digital (I am awaiting eagerly the time that Harry hits his technological stride at about 6yrs old and can fix and demystify everything for me…).  Still, they’re the bits and bobs I rely on, so read on if your interest is piqued.  Where I’ve linked to stockists, it’s primarily for information, and I’ve chosen them fairly randomly; if you’re looking to buy I’d shop around for the best deal.

Camera Basics from katescreativespace

My camera, which tolerates a great amount of abuse, was a Canon 450d – I chose it 7yrs ago because when debating the question of Canon vs Nikon, I was repeatedly told that Canon was more intuitive for amateurs (the sales assistants obviously sensed my limitations within moments).  Whether or not this is true, I love my camera and it’s been reliable and awesome from Day 1.  For Christmas 2012, my wonderful husband gave me the upgraded 600d; but the single biggest change to my photos came much later when I invested in a 50mm fixed lens with a very low f/stop; it allows you to create a very shallow depth of field so that people and objects really leap out of the frame and the background melts away in a lovely blur, as in the pics above.  The effect is called ‘bokeh’ and you can read much more about it, with some other good lens recommendations, here.  These lenses don’t come cheap – they can be more than the camera itself – but if Great Aunt Susan dies peacefully in her sleep and leaves you a vast legacy, I’d suggest popping one on your shopping list.

1.  Canon EOS 450D/600D, 2. Canon 50mm lens, entry level or pro, 3. I have one of these wrist-straps and it’s invaluable when juggling a camera, a child and an ice-cream etc..  and 4. An inexpensive but super-useful lens cleaning brush

My camera came with a free DSLR bag, but I soon got sick of lugging it everywhere in addition to a nappy bag or handbag (sometimes all 3; when combined with the sartorial devastation caused by new motherhood, I’m surprised that people didn’t toss coins at me as I shuffled through the park..).  I looked at stylish camera bags but the loveliest of these tended to run into £100s.  Then I realised that I was trying to find a camera bag that looked as good as a handbag, and common-sense struck; after some thought, I trimmed all the exterior pockets and flap off the camera bag and now simply tuck it into whatever handbag or tote I’m using that day; it looks much cooler and lessens the risk of me leaving bags behind wherever I go.  And it’s a great way of converting a nappy/diaper bag once you no longer need it too.  Amazon has DSLR bags in its ‘basics’ range for under £10.

DIY Camera Bag Insert

I do a lot of paper crafts on the blog, and often have printables to download like these superhero cuffs.  A common question is how to get the same vibrancy of colour when using a regular home printer.  My printer is an Epson Photosmart 1400 (now replaced by the 1500 below which is the same with a few extra bells and whistles).  I wanted a printer that would print in large format, and it does – beautifully – though it takes up a fair amount of desktop space and the ink cartridges are expensive.  Epson inks are repeatedly described in the creative community as having the greatest colour intensity, and they certainly seem to deliver the goods.

Here’s the thing though; the biggest difference I see is in the paper I use; basic copy paper produces an acceptable but rather dull print-out as you see below left, whereas choosing professional-grade paper (I use HP matte) produces terrific vibrancy without changing any of the settings – the straightforward like-for-like comparison shows you the difference.  The paper is more expensive, as you’d expect – but still much cheaper than upgrading your printer.  I use it for craft projects and then switch to basic paper when printing emails etc.

Tips for great printing

So there we have it; my kitbag preferences and passions, for what they’re worth.  If you have other favourites or have had different experiences, do feel free t0 share in the comments below.  I’m also starting to think about a my-first-camera for Harry who is becoming fascinated with both sides of the lens; my inclination is to charge up my old pocket-sized Sony Cybershot and encourage him to have a play, but I’d love to hear if you’ve helped to grow a child’s enthusiasm for taking photos; any tips or hints?  I look at the dedicated plastic ‘kids’ cameras and recoil slightly at what seem to be inflated prices mostly for the character branding  - but I could be completely misguided. All advice welcome!

Have a great week…

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Molten chocolate fondants with sea-salt caramel sauce; calorie-free! (not really..)

chocolate fondant pots with seasalt caramel sauce

A quick post today in case you’re looking for culinary inspiration for the weekend…. I’m preparing molten chocolate fondants for dinner with friends tonight, and they’ve become a fail-safe favourite.  The brave will tackle these with relish and determination, stopping only when there is not a crumb or smudge of warm chocolate left, but even those who usually decline desserts tend to manage a spoonful or three.

My recipe is a composite of numerous ones I’ve tried; I think that every cookbook tends to have one.  The beauty of these though is that you can prepare them the evening before and just pop them in the oven when everyone is still congratulating you on the main course (at least in the fantasy world of how you imagine that the evening will go..).  After just 10-12 minutes they will be lightly crusted on top, cake-like at the sides and full of molten deliciousness in the middle.  If you want to be extraordinarily clever and are one of life’s risk-takers, you can actually tip these out of the ramekins or pots at the table, to oohs and ahhs of surprise.  Me?  I keep them in the pan; these mini Mauviel pans I found at an antiques fair last year;

Mauviel pans

Here’s the recipe, which makes 6 pots…..

Chocolate fondant recipe

When they come out of the oven, they will be beautifully soft and molten in the middle..

Molten fondant pots with seasalt caramel

For the salted caramel sauce, look no further than Nigella, who has this easy-to-follow recipe for whipping up a generous amount with relatively little effort.  Or, if you’re like me and value a short-cut, look no further than the shelves of M&S or any good supermarket for a jar of it, and hope that your guests will be so distracted by your obviously-homemade fondant that they fail to ask how you made the salted caramel sauce.  If cornered, quote Nigella.  You can also use dulce de leche and add a few flakes of fleur de sel on top, as in my pictures above; drizzle it over the pudding and then stir in as you break the top…

fondant pots with salted caramel sauce

And then if you’re feeling virtuous, run for approx. 6hrs on a treadmill to ensure that your dinner is calorie-neutral.

But then, where’s the fun in that?

Have a great weekend!

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Hot chocolate fondants from katescreativespace

Hello Summer!

Feature log fireplace

Hello again after a couple of weeks away… an unplanned but delicious retreat from the world where we just kicked back from work, school and routine and made the most of the sunshine and freedom that the start of the school holidays brought.  It began with fond farewells to the teachers who made Harry’s first taste of school so exciting; he painted this portrait of his class teacher to give her (I love the way she is portrayed with a beaming smile and wide open arms – exactly as a nursery teacher should be!)…

teacher cards and gifts

..then we had an amazing week of holiday in Tenerife, spent mostly in the swimming pool under cloudless blue skies.  As dusk fell Harry chose a suitably stylish outfit and we headed for the beachfront bar so he could draw some postcards to send home whilst we relaxed with a glass of wine.

IMG_8592

Once home it was time for some more fond farewells, this time to a friend who is moving to East Kenya to work with Amref and their rural doctor programme; I cheated with a shop-bought cake but then borrowed some native African animals from Harry’s Ark and made them little party hats (disks of gift wrap topped with tiny pom-poms).  If you want to have a go at these simple cake toppers,  I downloaded a free clip-art banner from here, added my text and carefully cut out two copies.  I then glued two drinking straws between them before pushing into the cake top… ta-da!!

banner cake

The cake was very much in the spirit of how we’ve spent the last couple of weeks; doing fun, creative things that take little effort and no finesse.  Like these frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and toppings, which have helped us to soldier on through the hottest of days and even count as one of our 5-a-day portions of fruit…

Frozen choc dipped bananas

Here’s what we did (using leftover chocolate from Easter – a bonus!).

Choc dipped frozen banana recipe

The only downside is that your kitchen surfaces will look a little like this for a while, and you’ll be finding pretty sprinkles in every nook and cranny for at least a month.  But hey, it’ll be worth it.

cooking with kids

We also made giant paper boats to hold popcorn on Family Movie Nights (not worrying about bedtimes with no school in the morning is wonderful…).  I took some sheets of gift wrap and used this tutorial to remind me how to craft the boats….

Plan Chest

Drinking straws and washi tape gave the boats a jaunty mast and flags…

Paper Popcorn Boats

Popcorn Paper Boats

They’d be great as  table centrepieces for a nautical or pirate-themed party…

And now work beckons once more, for a few weeks at least.  Monday morning saw the heavens open and flash-flooding across southern England as if to mark the temporary hiatus in our idling… but definitely only a temporary one.

Have a great week wherever you are and whatever you’ve got planned!  I’ll be back at the end of the week.

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p.s. the top picture of painted logs is of the fireplace in Harry’s new bedroom, a work in progress – more soon.