craft

Superhero Cuffs

By day, I am a mum, wife and career girl.  I leave at 7.30 each morning, waving goodbye to my family as I speed off in my ordinary car to my ordinary office building.  Beyond a certain bounce to my step, there is little to giveaway the fact that my alter-ego is – wait for it – ELASTIGIRL (da-da-daaaaa!).  This alter-ego was news to me too, but Harry has lately become obsessed with The Incredibles (or ‘In The Credibles!’ as he is inclined to call it), and my new identity has been resolutely confirmed.  In fact, there are times when he won’t call me anything else, which can be head-turning when we’re out in public.  Harry is Dash, and I am Elastigirl, and together we will save the world.  For those who are not familiar with The Incredibles, Elastigirl is a suburban superhero/mom with hips you could rest a bar-tray on and a questionable haircut, and she is very, very bendy.  My husband finds this comparison hilarious.

elastigirl-incredibles

I’ve realised that as a family we are somewhat lacking in superhero accessories.  Sure, we have plenty of spandex, and after three years of parenthood we all have a good repertoire of rocket noises and the kind of finely-honed reflexes that would rise to anything Marvel comics could throw at us… but what we really, really need are some superhero cuffs we can slip on to change our identities in a heartbeat.  So I made some:

Superhero Cuffs DIY

Toilet-roll Superhero Cuffs


These are the quintessential ’5 minute makes’, involving nothing more complex than cardboard toilet rolls, glue and paper.  I’ve added a downloadable PDF of my graphics below if you want to simply print these and use as a wrapper… or design your own and have a paint & glitter-fest at the kitchen table.

Because we’re very taken with gadgets and buttons, our cuffs have rocket booster features and a special button on the Batman cuff which alerts Robin to arrive at lightening speed in the Batmobile.   When I am wearing the Batcuff, it has been reprogrammed to summons a cup of tea, but I’m afraid neither of the men in my life is reliably responding.  *Sigh* …you just can’t get the side-kicks these days.

Superhero Cuff with Tea Button

Even the usually sensible Mr B has been seduced by our new superhero wardrobe…

superman cuffs with suit

To make your own cuffs you’ll need:

  • Toilet rolls or kitchen-paper rolls (these are usually a bit bigger; great for older kids – or grown-ups…
  • glue
  • paper printables (PDF at end of post) or paints, glitter and embellishments to decorate yourself
  • odd buttons to glue on for additional gadgets / accessories

Making the Superhero Cuffs:

  • Cut once along the length of the toilet roll to create a cuff shape and a flexible opening.  If you’re making a pair of cuffs like the Superman ones above, cut the toilet roll into two equal halves.
  • Print out the PDF wrappers and glue around the cardboard rolls, folding the ends over and glueing in place.  You might need to resize slightly depending on the size of your rolls.  The cuffs should look like this:

superhero cardboard cuffs DIY

  • You can activate your super-powers immediately, or you can glue on buttons and embellishments for additional gadgetry like we did below:

buttons for superhero cuffs

Behold; our work here is done.  One last word of caution; use your new super-powers wisely.  With great power comes great responsibility…

Have a great weekend!

Incredibles DIY cuff

Red and Grey Superhero Cuff Printables

Superman Cuff Printables

And now breathe…

egg hunt vintage bicycle sign

It’s been a glorious long weekend; a rich and hectic mêlée of friends and family coming and going, of feasts and wintery walks, with the frenetic, chocolate-fuelled hedonism of toddlers tempered  by evenings in front of the fire with a glass of wine and some exceptionally fine grown-up company.  It was blissful.

Today we had the long-awaited Great Egg Hunt, and the day dawned chilly and bright, with anticipation reaching fever pitch by lunchtime.  Eggs were laid throughout the garden, and this tantalising invitation was visible from the kitchen window and the driveway as Harry’s friends began to arrive…

easter egg hunt sign with bicycle and playhouse

Lola the rabbit  - Harry’s favourite hand puppet – welcomed guests from her lofty basket on this ancient delivery bike (another eBay find), surrounded by narcissi, balloons and golden chocolate eggs; a promise of what awaited our hunter-gatherers.

easter basket in bicycle

Inside the house, egg-hunting baskets stood ready for collection, from pint-sized hooped baskets for those still a little unsteady on their feet through to magnificent wicker hold-alls for those determined to speed like minesweepers through the undergrowth in search of every last egg…

easter baskets waiting for the egg hunt

The race was on; stragglers who were still wrestling with wellies or dithering over basket choice soon caught up and the hunt began in earnest

egg-hunting

Every garden nook and cranny was investigated in the hunt for Easter treasure

Playhouse

The eagle-eyed followed signs placed in vintage chimney pots and scattered throughout the garden…

egg hunt sign in chimney pot

egg hunt sign on bird table

The egg hunt was followed by a festive party tea of sandwiches and cakes for anyone who still had the space left for it after the chocolate-fest of the afternoon, then every small egg-hunter left with the contents of their basket and a bag of Bunny Tails, made by filling disposable icing bags with marshmallows and adding gift-wrap paper top cut with pinking shears and a free graphic from here;

DIY Easter Bunny Tails; marshmallow treats for Easter

easter bunny tails - marshmallow treats

Guests could also choose a bunny balloon, which I made by customising simple pearlised balloons with bunny ears cut from vellum, and a hand-drawn face.  I added a bow and then threaded and glued a stripy straw onto each stick (I got quite into this; I can forsee a future post with a menagerie of balloon animals; consider this fair warning..)

DIY bunny balloon

Bunny balloons

Tea was followed by games and general mayhem, as the sugar kicked-in.  The clear-up was worth it…. a day thoroughly well-spent.

honeycomb tissue balls strung on door

Tomorrow brings a return to the fray; nursery for Harry and work for us.  Bags must be packed and diaries checked; alarms set and clothes located.  Until then though, plenty of time for one more favourite activity.  This book might finally be the one I manage not to drop in the tub…

reading in the bathtub

And the winner is…

I hope you had a lovely weekend, and one which lingered long enough to make Monday morning a little brighter than usual.  As promised, this evening we scribbled out the names of all of you who shouted ‘pick me!’ for last week’s $100 craft voucher draw, and placed the folded scraps of paper into Harry’s top hat.  And he drew out…

…Riara! Congratulations; an email will be winging its way to you with all of the details, and I’m trusting you to spend it flamboyantly and decadently on the loveliest things you can find.   

This weekend I’ve also been enjoying the last bursts of scent and colour from my gorgeous Mothers’ Day flowers (Mothers’ Day in the UK falls in mid-March); my husband ordered these in Harry’s name and then took him along to collect them, tightly clutching his piggy bank.  Harry tugged out the stopper and offered the florist £2.15, a couple of euro coins, a slightly furry M&M and a fistful of buttons which had been fed, unnoticed, into the slot; she assured him that this was exactly the right amount, causing him to swell with pride.  He strolled around the house that evening chuckling to himself and pausing occasionally to whisper ‘Shhhh!’ theatrically whenever I entered the room.  Happy days.

mothers day flowers

..and also planning a decadent weekend break to Paris in June with my best friend; decadent because it means 48hrs of being grown-up, footloose and fancy-free in one of my favourite cities, with one of my favourite people.  We’re already working out how to make the most of each minute, but if you have any insider-secrets or favourite haunts then please do let me know…

paris women

… and feeling giddy with joy at my latest junk find; this dilapidated former market stall / flower cart which I found by chance on eBay; it needs TLC and a cosmetic overhaul, but there are so many things I want to do with it (some thoughts below..).  Impractical? Yes.  Unnecessary? Absolutely.  But still, a unique and lovely thing which cost considerably less than a garden bench but will be infinitely more fun..

market barrow find

It needs a canopy, parasol or roof of some kind  but renovating it will be a labour of love.  We love having parties in the summertime so I’m picturing it hung with flower baskets and stacked high with pitchers of drink and cupcakes, strung with fairy lights to glow as the sun sets.. the possibilities are endless.

barrow montage 2

pictures above via Pinterest

… and finally I’ve been breaking in my newest happy find; raspberry-coloured Converse hi-tops, to replace my holey and battered much-loved pair. Raspberry (not red, and most definitely not pink) is my favourite colour; a starchy shop assistant once warned me that this was “definitely a play colour, madam, and one you should wear sparingly when you don’t need to be taken seriously”.   Pooh to that, say I, and wear it whenever possible, even if it means those around me wincing at the brightness.  Even so, these need a bit of scuffing and mud to reduce the box-fresh glare; I’m sure Harry will oblige.

kates converse

Mud is plentiful at the moment, as we endure the final throes of winter, complete with unpredictable frosts and torrential downpours.  Despite this, the prospect of spring is imminent and intoxicating, and we’re busy with Easter crafts and preparing for the arrival of guests.  Harry’s nursery friends will descend for a garden Egg Hunt when the clouds abate, a prospect which thrills him.

Back later this week with some of our plans and crafts, and a few ideas to share; have a great week in the meantime!

Kate

A spot of DIY Book Art, and a Giveaway…

DIY Book Art

Firstly a huge thank you for the lovely comments about Harry’s playroom and the Book Nook; it quite made my week.  The folded book art seemed to capture a few imaginations, so this week here’s a mini tutorial on how I made the various books above and below, using a pile of 20p junk shop books.  Trial, error, glue and a large glass of wine all played a role in the end results, but if you’re inspired to have a go, read on.  If the idea of laboriously folding your way through a fusty and dog-eared old novel is about as appealing as dental extraction, whisk straight to the end and allow me to tempt you with a giveaway instead.

book art tutorial

1. Creating a hanging ‘Cascade’ book

I made this one last night using a small (6 inch) hardback Peppa Pig book from a charity shop.  Find any hardback book; kids’ books are great for this as they don’t have many pages.  You’ll also need glue or double-sided sticky tape, a round pencil or pen (for rolling the paper), and a stack of paper for your cascades.  I used Papermania solid card stock, which I adore, but anything will do; brightly coloured tonal papers give this lovely effect, but clashing rainbow colours or plain paper also look great, depending on where you intend to hang it.

  • Start by rolling each page over on itself and sticking it in place so you have a series of gentle loops.  Doing this will gently force the book covers out to lie flat (or at least to be held open), and create a kind of concertina of folds for you to tuck your cascading pages into.
  • Take a series of sheets of paper that are approximately the same size as the original book pages, and again gently roll each one over on itself and stick the ends together, giving you a selection of tubular, petal-shaped inserts.  Don’t use too much pressure here; you want rounded curves rather than creases.
  • Tuck in your pages randomly between the folded book pages, and secure in place with glue or tape.
  • Add a few more pages by taping these to your first layer of inserts
  • Next, take some strips of contrasting colour paper and roll them up in a pencil, before gently pulling out to give a tendril-like effect.  Glue these in place between the lowest layer of looped paper.
  • Finally, screw a small eyelet hook into the centre of the cardboard book spine and use this to hang it from the ceiling or a wall hook.
  • You can make these as big and fluid as you like, by adding layer after layer; it would make a beautiful mobile or sculpture trailing down a wall.. when I get the time I’m thinking of making a huge, floor to ceiling one in muted papers for a corner of our bedroom.

cascade book

2. Creating Rolled Books

Roll-folding books

These are the easiest to make, if you choose the right kind of book.  They look beautiful when stacked in loose piles, but also when hung as barrel-like pendants.  First, decide whether you are going to fold just the middle of the book like the first one above, or whether you want to create a whole rolled book (middle).  You can also leave a single sheaf of pages standing proud (above right) for added interest.

  • For a ‘barrel’ book, choose a chunky book (200-300 pages); the width will help it hold its shape. First, ease off the paperback book cover and any loose pages which come away with it.  Flex the spine a bit until it loosens – as if it’s been read many many times.  You’re hopefully using old junk shop books so this won’t take long.
  • Glue a long piece of string along the exposed spine; this will allow you to hang the book when finished and is much easier than trying to thread string through the finished piece.
  • Open the book in the middle and take a section of about 20 pages and roll it into the spine.  Do this 3 or 4 times and they will start to hold their form and push the book outwards.  You can glue or tape these loops in place by gluing the upper most sheet and pressing firmly into place, but often you won’t need to use any glue at all.

rolled book close up

  • Once you get to the end of the book, go back to the middle and work around the other half, doing the same.  The book will naturally form an increasingly tight barrel, and you will end up tucking your loops in. Glue your final loop in place and – hey presto – you have a rolled barrel book.  If you want to hang it up, thread a bead to the bottom of the spine string to hold it in place and for the book  to ‘sit on’, and you’re done.

Display below from Anthropologie

anthropologie

3. Folded Books

These are very simple but a little more time-consuming.  I showed you one last week which involved folding just a section of the book.  If you follow the same principle and work your way all through the book, you’ll end up with a diamond-like hanging pendant like this;

folded book pendant

I made these by the making the same two simple folds – just over and over again.  If you’re making a hanging pendant, choose a thick book (at least 300 pages) so you get a nice full shape.  And yes, that’s 600 folds, hence the large glass of wine.  Other learnings; don’t do this whilst your 3yr old son is still awake and, inspired by the crafting environment, is demanding to be allowed to do some ‘scissor practice’ on your book.  Also don’t practice your folding technique on the paperback being read by your husband, even if it was lying temptingly on the table; it won’t be appreciated. So, take your book and simply fold once to the centre;

fold 1

And twice to bring the top corner down to meet the fold; then keep doing this for every single page.  As before, if you want to hang these ultimately, glue some cord down the external spine before you begin folding, leaving a good length hanging out at either end.

fold 2

Once you’ve got the hang of folding, you can experiment with punches too; I used a circle punch to take a slice out of each page of this one below.

DIY folded book pendant

Phew; enough curling and folding; I’m now bedecked with small paper cuts and doubtless the beginnings of repetitive strain injury, but I do have a beautiful shelf full of repurposed books.  let me know how you get on..

And finally.. I have a $100 gift certificate for US craft supplier the Shoppe at Somerset to give away.  I received this as a ‘thank-you’ for a piece that I wrote for one of their publications, but whilst the e-store is filled with a myriad of tempting things, prohibitive transatlantic shipping costs mean that I’d much rather a reader of this blog is able to benefit and to spend every cent on frivolous but delicious craft materials.  If you’d like to win this, just let me know in a comment below and Harry will do the big draw on Monday.

vibrant book cascade

Happy folding (and wine drinking…)!

Behind the Blog: Design Elements

Are you having a good weekend?  We’ve had a lovely one; revelling in the afterglow of Valentine’s Day (a year’s supply of marmalade for him; an amazing vintage Imperial typewriter for me – I can’t stop stroking it..), enjoying a rare glimpse of Spring with brilliant sunshine and mild weather, baking crunchy, syrupy lemon drizzle cake (only crumbs left now, and a vague sense of remorse at our lack of self-control..), and the conversion of a cheerful little corner of Harry’s playroom into a Book Nook… but more on all of that next time.

As promised, this week I’m going to answer a few of the questions I get asked most often about how I design and style both the blog and the projects which feature on it.  Fonts, graphics, layouts; it’ll be something of a geek-peek behind the blog for those who are interested.  If you simply enjoy the projects and posts themselves (thank you!), then turn a blind eye and join me again next time, but otherwise let’s start by talking about fonts, fonts, glorious fonts….

fonts for blog 1

I love browsing for fonts on the fabulous site dafont.com.  There are a myriad of fonts available to download for free, which takes seconds.  You can also choose to donate to the author who created each, which I think is a great thing to do, and important for communities like dafont to continue to flourish and offer such loveliness (I’m like a kid in a sweet shop when I browse).

blog fonts 2

You can find all three of these fonts by simply Googling the name, and will be able to download them all for free for private use from various sites (if you’re thinking of using them for other purposes or commercially, check the licence details; the terms are often different).

blog fonts 3

The next most common question is about how I make the labels, signs, graphics and photo montages that I use, so let’s tackle that…

I do all of my graphics and montages in – wait for it – Powerpoint (I blush slightly at this revelation; I know it is seen as the slightly stale tool of jaded business execs the world over, but I love it, and more importantly, I know it intimately) … so no sexy Adobe tools and wizardry here.  And hence this post, I hasten to add, is just about what I do, rather than what other bloggers would suggest, or what might work best for you.. You can download Powerpoint in a format to suit your computer and have a month’s free trial before you have to commit to buying; worth it if you have the time and motivation to dabble a little and explore.

I work on an iMac desktop and use the in-built iPhoto software for simple photo-editing – usually cropping, and adjusting light (gloom & overcast skies being a perennial British problem), before importing photos into Powerpoint to create montages or add text.  Before I had my Mac I downloaded the free Picasa photo-editing software onto my ancient Windows laptop and used that very happily instead.  Toys and signs I’ve made for Harry like those below were all created in this way, as were the ‘font’ montages shown above.

harrys labels

For backgrounds and backdrops I tend to take photos of interesting textures, walls, surfaces and so on, and upload these for use in projects.  I also use books of art papers like these, often scanning them so I can play with them and use them repeatedly.  The one investment I did make last year which I love is in two polypaper photo backdrops from here, one of chalkboard and one of a faux wood-pannelled barn wall (see both below)… the chalkboard in particular I use all the time as it’s so versatile.  Often though, I just wander around the house following the light, and shoot against walls and on the wooden floor; it’s simple and instant.

backdrops

So, no magic; just a little bit of knowledge and a lot of experimentation and practice.  If you’re making crafty projects at home and printing out graphics, labels and the like, my final tip would be to purchase and use photo-quality matt inkjet paper (HP make some; I’m sure others do too). This gives a great intensity of colour and the closest approximation to what you actually see on the screen.  As a dabbling amateur, I find buying great paper like this is more important – and much cheaper – than buying a world-class printer.

A final word on graphics; most of my pictures and graphics are ‘homemade’, but if you’re in search of general inspiration then Pinterest is a great source; search for free printables or graphics and you’ll often find lists of resources that others have created.  One other gem, particularly for those who like vintage ephemera, is the Graphics Fairy, which has a treasure trove of free-to-download goodies.

See you in a few days for more crafting and projects; have a great week, whatever you’re doing…

A Pocketful of Hearts

valentine

We’ve briefly come over all romantic this week, felled at last by the growing global momentum of Valentine preparations and the rosy hue of shopfronts as the world turns red for a week.  Valentine’s day here in the UK is still predominantly about celebrating grown-up, romantic love, but is gradually broadening to be a general celebration of love in all its forms.  Harry proudly – and very carefully – brought us home a large envelope containing a card he had made us at nursery which we are not allowed to open until Thursday (though Harry is adamant, in a moment of 3yr old confusion, that in fact we have to wait until Christmas);  he has red glitter in his hair and heart-shaped paint splats on his jeans, so I think we are safe to assume that Thursday is the day.

In turn, Harry and I have been busy crafting a Valentine card for his cool fairy Godmother; she’s the person in his life who brings him books about farting dogs and lollipops as large as his head, and believes that pyjamas should absolutely be worn all day if possible, thus earning his unwavering affection.

make a valentines card

To decorate the envelope, I drew a tiny heart shape on the tip of a pencil eraser and carved away the edges (do this in good lighting and when free of caffeine, red wine, or anything else that might cause your hand to twitch..). It’s soooo simple but looks great, and makes the perfect rubber stamp for kids (or adults) to push into an ink pad and stamp randomly over any available surface.  We used this ink, which I fished out of my old stamping supplies, and discovered as an added bonus that the colour turns from deep red to light pink as the pigment wears out, giving a lovely ombre effect.

make a pencil heart stamp

It’s been a while since we were active in the kitchen so we also knocked up some little meringue kisses to give to friends.  I used this recipe, which seems to produce drier, crispy meringues and allows you to whip them out of the oven sooner than usual, which is great for coloured meringues where you don’t want any browning or colour fade.  For the kisses, I stirred rose food colouring in just before the icing sugar stage, piped imperfect rosettes to fill a silicon baking sheet, and then when the meringues were baked and cool, I brushed edible glue around the base of each and rolled them in rainbow sprinkles before setting to dry on a cooling rack…

meringue kisses

little meringue kisses

With the leftover meringue, I spooned out dollops onto a baking sheet and then used a wooden skewer to swirl raspberry coulis through the peaks, giving this raspberry-ripple effect; as a treat we’ll have them with whipped cream, fresh raspberries and a glass of champagne on Thursday (after all, if you’re staying in you can afford to be a little decadent…)

raspberry swirl meringues

So, a giddy pink day to celebrate all things romantic.  Little does Mr B expect that Valentine’s Day itself will bring him the gift of 12 jars of marmalade in a vintage garden trug; I’m having to blow the dust off my Tracy Anderson bicep-building DVD before I can even contemplate lifting it…

Next time, by the way, I’m going to focus on answering some of the questions I’ve had of late about the fonts, graphics, camera and other tools and techniques I use here; if there’s anything you’re keen to know more about, please do shout and I’ll endeavour to cover it.  I should preface this by saying that those seeking technological enlightenment and cutting-edge wizardry should hastily look elsewhere; my secrets lie more in the artistic draping of bedsheets as backdrops, the procurement of free graphics, and in providing life support to an ancient entry-level printer – but that at least makes everything I do very accessible and highly replicable!

Have a lovely week..

Happy New Year!

Welcome back, and  Happy New Year!  I hope that you had a lovely Christmas and a chance to switch off from the hurly-burly of day to day life.  We had a wonderful time here; a great, celebratory Christmastime, and then a lovely slow blur of days which blended into each other as we nested at home, piled up in rugs on the sofa, with the occasional blast of icy fresh air from walks in the woods.

Santa was extremely kind this year, and so too were our friends and relatives who showered Harry in loveliness, so thoughts this week turned to the very important task of saying a heartfelt ‘thank you’.  Harry’s a wee bit too young still to produce identifiable drawings or to have the concentration and dexterity for complete written sentences, so instead we staged a chaotic 5 minute photoshoot to produce some fun pictures for a home-made thank you card.

harrys thank you cards

I slung an old sheet over a bookcase for a backdrop, then gave Harry a big handful of ‘thank you notes’ – printed ad infinitum onto paper and then sliced into words – to play with.  As you can see from the outtakes below, he tried throwing them, blowing them and ultimately just tried not to drop them; he loved it for about 3 minutes, and that’s all I needed.  The clear-up took slightly longer…

HARRY OUTTAKES

I printed out some copies and glued to blank cards, pasting in one of the ‘thank you’s we used in the photo into the inside of each card and then filling in.  We added interesting stamps to each before feeding into the postbox.

harry cards final

I then got a little carried away with the general theme and made some ‘grown up’ thank you cards using the same principle (below), cutting and pasting the words for thank you in different languages and adding a simple wooden star from a pack of leftover Christmas craft embellishments.  I like their simplicity, particularly for this time of year when we’re all a little weary of sparkly festive colour and ready for a more neutral palette and a return to muted decor…

grazie mille close up grazie mille main

One of the joys of this last couple of weeks has been having the time to play a little and to try new things.  My mum’s Christmas gift to me included a big bag of wool and knitting needles, and a foolproof pattern for a beginners’ scarf; she taught me to cast-on on Boxing Day and I’ve just finished my first ever piece of knitting (below), and mighty proud I am too!  I suspect that I lack the patience and concentration to ever excel at knitting, but I’m cheerily offering hand-knitted scarves to every member of the household, buoyed by a passionate, if temporary, enthusiasm for wool.

knitted scarf

And so to the New Year, and to resolutions.  As some of you know, this blog was born of a resolution on NYE 2012, when I decided to write a blog for a year, documenting the fun stuff I do with Harry and the projects we try.  Up until about the middle of December, I was pretty clear that it would come to a natural end with the close of the year, and I would look back on it as a great thing to have done at a very specific time in my life.

But.

I think I’d really miss it. And without the discipline of posting regularly, I doubt I’d take as many photos or preserve as many memories as I do. So, my resolution for 2013 is to continue for a while longer, perhaps not with the same intensity, but definitely with the same kind of projects and ideas, posting when inspiration strikes and when time allows.  Your comments and feedback are fantastic to receive (and thank you so much to everyone who replied to ‘A Pause’ with all your festive good wishes and the small insights into life where you are; it was a wonderful Christmas present for me).

I’ll be back next week for the grand opening of Harry’s Hardware and Auto – his play store and garage which appeared, as if by magic, last week – and I hope that you’ll join me.  In the meantime, I’m sweeping pine needles, wrapping and storing Christmas decorations, and replacing the glitz and bling of the festive season with simple things around the house, like these; a bowl of fresh lemons which is slowly scenting the kitchen and mingling with the paperwhites and hyacinths to produce a distant promise that Spring will come again…

january lemons

A hundred different words for snow

It’s said that eskimos have over a hundred different words for snow, to capture the manifold ways it arrives; drifting snow, falling snow, powdery snow – a word for each and every one. Such claims may be the stuff of mythology, but it somehow captures the magic of snowfall and fits with the science of every single snowflake being unique.  We’ve had no real snow this season, despite Harry’s feverish anticipation and enough cold snaps to make even the Inuit consider double-glazing.  Still, we are nothing if not self-starters, so have decided to make our own snow for Christmas.

winter snowscapes

I’ved used glass cloches to cover simple white dining plates and scattered with faux snow and some Christmassy miniature trees from the local garden centre to create this snowscape which will adorn our Christmas table.  I glued little star-shaped buttons to the top of each tree for a splash of bright festive colour.  Harry saw me make this one (above) and was intrigued, but hasn’t yet seen the others, for which I recruited some of his favourite toys… (I’ve taken the glass covers off to photo these, but details of what I’m using are below)

Buzz Lightyear has his perennial expression of mild confusion as he struggles with these trees and directions to the North Pole…

snowglobe buzz

Peppa Pig and friend sing carols around the village tree whilst trying not to fall in this mirror-glass pond..

snowglobe peppa

And finally a bright red London bus transports a Christmas tree on its top deck..

snowglobe bus

To cover these I’ve used; a glass cake dome, a clear dessert bowl and (for the miniature London bus and tree) an upturned wine glass.  They can be constructed and taken apart in minutes so make for a good table decoration – and one which can be played with as well as just admired!

We’ve also created our own snowy landscape inside by threading a variety of different white pompoms onto lengths of cotton and tying them onto a slim branch; at the moment it decorates the (disused) playroom fireplace but these also look beautiful strung over windows and doorways.  I measured a length of cotton, threaded it with a needle and then pushed the needle through the pompoms, before spacing them out at intervals and hanging.  Harry chose the pompoms and acted as chief helper; school-age kids can do this all themselves using a thick darning needle with not too sharp a point.  If you find your pompoms slide together, just knot the thread at intervals and the pompoms will ‘sit’ on the knots and stay in place.

snow curtain

snow twig curtain

And finally to our twist on snow globes; I’ve used these miniature bottles (also great for messages-in-a-bottle for Valentines or pirate games), and filled each with a teaspoon of white glitter, water and just a dash of glycerin to top up.  Shake vigorously to disperse all the glycerin and glitter, and then add a little tag (and a bell, if you have them).  I’ll be using them as part of my festive place-settings, but they’d also make beautiful stocking-fillers if places in a tiny box and nestled in shredded tissue, or even looped with cord for a necklace (these bottles really are tiny; a necklace would obviously be a little less practical if you’re using actual milk bottles).

If you’re anticipating particularly vigorous shaking, I’d suggest glueing the cork in place to avoid the kind of dramatic glitter-in-eye-and-ruined-silk-blouse moments that will turn into great anecdotes in the years to come but may test a friendship in the immediate short-term..

DIY snowglobes

DIY snowglobe in motion

So, a handful of snowy crafts with just the right amount of mess and fun.  Hopefully they’ll keep us going until the real thing arrives…

harry in the snow

A miscellany of happy things

Despite the greyish mizzle which has rendered our little corner of the world ferociously wet and windy at a time we were hoping for clear, bright skies and sprinkles of snow, we are a happy house this week.  We’ve been beginning the Christmas preparations and finishing some long-overdue DIY, including the decision of what to do with this piece of boat salvage which I stumbled across on ebay back in early Summer.  I fell in love with the layers of peeling paint and the uniqueness of it.  It’s a transom by the way; the end piece of an old navy boat which I bought very cheaply from someone selling bits and pieces of driftwood and maritime junk.  It weighs about as much as a baby elephant, as my long-suffering husband did not hesitate to point out as he dragged it home for me.

boat picture from ebay

Never ones for conventional interiors, we’ve opted to mount it here, in the kitchen, where in the two days it’s been up it’s drawn a range of reactions from ‘are you completely mad??” to ‘gorgeous!!’.  The handy builder who helped us baton it to the wall insisted on taking a photo home to show his wife who could not believe that someone would choose to do something so daft.  I suspect she is not alone in her view, but we think it’s rather cool….

boat final

I’ve also been busy making Harry’s nativity costume for his role as Joseph in the nursery nativity play next week; it’s amazing what you can do with a tea towel and a length of hessian… oh, and of course a Biblical staff made from a stick we borrowed from a friendly dog in the park. It promises to be a comical affair as well as a maternal tear-jerker; Mary towers over Joseph due to a recent growth spurt, and the inn-keeper at 2yrs old is already such a jovial and accommodating soul that I think it’s unlikely anyone will be turned away, regardless of the official plot line.  The children have been learning songs about which they have been sworn to secrecy, so for some time now Harry will distractedly break into song at home and then, realising his error, rear back and exclaim ‘SHHHHH!!!!!!” to himself before glancing suspiciously at us to see if we were listening.  It’s at moments like this I don’t want him to grow up at all, ever.

Joseph costume

Whilst all the signs are promising, I’m desperately  hoping that on the day he enjoys it somewhat more than last year, where the official photo reveals him to have been possibly the saddest teddy-bear in the chorus (tears still wet on his lashes; *gulp*)

teedy bear chorus

Did I tell you that Harry’s big Christmas present is to be a pretend play hardware store-come-garage?  Somewhere he can refuel his scooter, examine a stack of tyres, play with locks and keys and mull over buckets of tools and paints and generally do whatever it is that guys do when they manage to lose an entire afternoon doing man-things in places like this.  Progress is slow, but I’ve at least managed to knock-up a mini paint range for the store, using little baked bean cans with adulterated labels:

harrys paints

I’ve also been making my grown-up Christmas cards to accompany Harry’s reindeer ones; I raided my collection of upholstery fabric samples, set to them with pinking shears and created these simple Christmas trees, decorated with buttons and bells;

homemade christmas cards

And a few of these, made by threading old beads onto a piece of wire and twisting into a wreath shape before gluing in place.  The joyeaux noel embroidered tags I ordered years ago from a regular school name tag supplier and have used for just about every christmas craft under the sun since.

handmade cards

And finally, today I have a day off work and Harry ensconced in nursery in final rehearsals and so will be turning my hand to my biggest culinary challenge yet; making dessert for the eighty octogenarians who will attend my mother-in-law’s birthday party tomorrow.  It has to be something that can be safely transported for two hours in the car, will not inflame any known medical conditions, can be eaten with a plastic spoon and can be tackled by those with dentures. Ha!! No doubt Martha would take this in her stride with barely a moment’s pause, but after weeks of denial and prevarication I have decided on cake, jelly and trifle; it works for kids after all.  I have torn a recipe for a divine-sounding White Forest Trifle from a magazine (leaving behind the footnote which alludes the 951 calories per serving this provides).  Made from cherries in kirsch, mascarpone, custard and sponge, it sounds suitably decadent.  And if it looks a bit chaotic when I’m done, we can  blame that on the car journey and repent our sins later….

Have a great weekend.

Homemade Pinecone Firelighters



Log fires, blankets, mugs of hot chocolate, toasty warm socks… there’s something magical about this time of year. It’s been a misty, cold day here and we’re planning to light the first fire of the season tonight to celebrate the start of  the weekend and our hibernation from the winter weather.  In preparation I’ve made these pinecone firelighters, lightly scented with cinnamon and guaranteed to set the kindling alight with a pop and a crackle.

You can buy these commercially but at vast expense, so I decided to have a go at making my own, with a view to giving these as homemade gifts this Christmas.  My research uncovered scarily complicated instructions involving double-boilers, safety goggles, wick-trimming and dipping and general scientific sorcery… so I applied some lateral thinking and came up with a much simpler approach.  It’s very safe and quick, though perhaps the only downside of this is that you’re unlikely to need to attract your local Firemen for manly assistance.

You’ll need:

  • A pocketful of pine cones
  • Pack of tea-lights or small candles; I used IKEA’s gorgeous white Fenomen ones.
  • Cupcake cases, slightly larger than your pine cones
  • Optional candle scent; cinnamon, pine, cranberry and sandalwood are all divine.

Firstly, gather all your pine cones.  Size doesn’t matter here, but give them a quick brush to remove dust and bits of forest-floor debris.  Pinecones which are tightly closed will open once exposed to the warm, so you may want to store them inside for a week before using.

When you’re ready to ‘cook’, line a cupcake tin with cases and place one of your tea lights or candles into each.  Make sure you remove the little metal cases if using tea lights, and tweak the wicks so that they are standing upright and proud of the wax; it’s much easier than fishing for them later.  Place in a moderate oven and keep checking until the wax melts and resembles water.  At this point you can add a drop of candle scent to each, or simply leave plain.

Once the wax has melted, move the wicks gently to one side of the case, using tweezers (or with your best pointy fingers; remember that some people claim to quite enjoy being covered in hot wax…hmmm).  This will ensure that the wicks don’t get lost underneath the cones.

Then simply place a pinecone into each case; the wax will rise around it and hold it firmly in place as it sets.

When the wax has cooled and set, lift the cases out of the pans and peel away the cupcake case, revealing your firelighters in all of their glory…

These also look very pretty when left in their cases; I’ll be tying a bundle of these (below) up in cellophane bags or small burlap sacks to take as gifts for those we visit during the festive season (though I’ll probably check that they have an open fireplace first…).

 

And now the light is fading, the kettle is on, and we’re almost all home; have a wonderful weekend whatever you’re doing!

*Update*; a few people have asked via email or comments how these work; to use these firelighters, simply place them at the base of your fire and arrange kindling over the top before lighting the wick; the wax ensures that the pinecone will catch light and burn for long enough to ignite the kindling and create a real blaze; at that point you can add bigger logs and settle back for an evening watching the flames.  Here’s how ours turned out this evening;

 

We are not alone… (Fairy Doors)

Strange noises have been heard in our house of late.  Scratching and skittering from behind the panelling, often at night.  Things are also going missing; tiny things, like single earrings, and crumbs from the floor. My husband, ever the pragmatist, is convinced that we have mice.  Whilst he headed off to the rodent-control section of the hardware store yesterday, Harry and I stumbled across the truth, and it’s much more exciting; We Are Not Alone!



Almost invisible to grown-ups, camouflaged against the kitchen skirting boards, is a very tiny front door.  To adults it looks just like a plug socket from a distance, but to eagle-eyed little people it is immediately obvious that this is the entrance to the home of the Other People who share our house.  And look; as if more proof was needed; they even receive mail and milk deliveries!

So now we watch this door very carefully, from the corner of our eye, just in case we manage to catch someone coming or going.  We’ve found that the best thing to do is to be very still and to pretend to be absorbed in something else entirely.  Whilst we wait, Harry has led an exhaustive search of the house to see if there are any other signs of our neighbours, and lo and behold; we found another door!!  Occasionally when Harry comes down in the mornings there is a tiny plastic ladder nearby; we think they borrow it from his toy box and use it to scramble up the skirting to reach the door.

Harry is convinced that this front door belongs to all the little action-figures which by day are jammed into his toybox; at night, they obviously retire home to a warm – if tiny – bed, shortly after Harry wends his own weary way upstairs.  As a lifelong fan of Mary Norton, I think that we have Borrowers, and have been telling Harry all about them.  In due course I expect we’ll also discover that this is the doorway that Santa’s tiny elves use on Christmas Eve when they slip in to check that the coast is clear for the Big Man himself.  The tooth fairy, too, probably makes a cameo appearance via this very same entrance.  In the years to come, doubtless Harry will forget this wee door and it will fade into obscurity again.  Till maybe one day, years from now, someone small enough and attentive enough will discover it once more…

This is the lovely site which inspired me to create the presence of tiny neighbours in our own house.  I ordered a couple of inexpensive, non-opening dolls house doors online (‘proper’ doors have deep frames which make it difficult to affix them to skirting unless you actually go the lengths of channelling them in – only for the truly dedicated), then spray painted them and added some miniature door furniture.  I crafted tiny letters and tied them together with bakers twine; interestingly, it’s these that Harry has been most captivated by and saw as the ultimate proof of life.  The doors are attached to our skirting boards with double-sided tape; strong enough to withstand Harry knocking on the door and tugging the knob, but easy enough to remove if necessary, with perhaps just a dab of touch-up paint if needed.


And finally, for those who want the instructions in an all-in-one Pinnable tutorial, here’s a montage below;