craft

Toy Passports! (Or, how to take the entire family on holiday…)

Pet Passports!

Last month we set off for Provence laden with just about everything you would possibly need for a short break in the French countryside, and many things you wouldn’t.  We are masters at packing random exotica and hopeless at remembering necessities; this time we were determined not to leave anything behind.

We left before dawn one chilly July morning and had got as far as the airport before disaster struck, as we realised that ALL of Harry’s stuffed toys were still fast asleep in his bed, blissfully unaware that they had been forgotten in the rush. Boris the fox, Marvin the mouse, Wilberforce the polar bear… home alone.  Oh dear.

Harry was temporarily bereft at the thought of sleeping solo, but soon rallied when I promised that next time, we’d make sure they had passports and could take it in turns to travel with us.  Promises made to small people must certainly be kept, so I spent an evening last week forging making passports for this unruly cast of shady characters….

Pet Passports Montage

To make them, I designed a lookalike passport photo page and we asked each gentleman in turn to take a seat and pose for their official photograph.  The rules were carefully adhered to; no smiling, and absolutely no hats of any kind.

That means you, Wilberforce..

Wilberforce

Animal head shots

Some, like Boris, were naturals in front of the camera;

Animal head shots 2

We added the photos onto the ‘passport’ page on my laptop and then printed them out with some blank sheets to make a booklet.  I mocked-up a cover page for each passport and we printed these onto coloured paper to make the covers.

(By the way, for the lovely gold foiled covers, I experimented with a laser printer and gold foil printing technique – I’ll do a step-by-step tutorial soon; it’s fascinating and surprisingly easy – but if you’re desperate to have a go sooner, this link  gives you a very good overview).

And for those making passports for British animals, here are my blank templates for you to download and have a play with…

Toy Passport Cover

Blank toy passport page

We obviously made quite sophisticated toy passports (though rest assured; they certainly wouldn’t fool anyone in authority), but of course you can make these very simply using just craft paper, scissors, pens and glue; Harry enjoyed making these just as much as our computer versions…

How to make passports for your toys

How to make passports for your toys 2

However much time you invest in these, it’s a great way of filling a rainy afternoon with the littles in your house.  You could use stamps and punches to decorate the pages, reflecting a world of glamorous adventures….

Toy passport factory

So now all the animals in our bedroom menagerie have passports (and in fact, I have received a number of black market enquiries from stuffed animals seeking passage from around the world; word has obviously spread that we’re the go-to people for fun-fur illegal immigration).

Now, which to take with us on holiday? Decisions, decisions….

Travelling toys

See you next week!

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The Cartographer’s Guide to Dress-Making

Paper Dress made from maps

I live in a small village which is blessed with not one but three – three – second-hand bookshops.  Amongst the shelves of nearly-new thrillers and bodice-rippers, travel guides and cookbooks there is a large, open-fronted cupboard marked ‘Ephemera: Misc’.  It’s here I gravitate towards and where I’ve found a myriad of wild and wonderful books, maps, charts and music scores over the years which have steadily formed a small paper drift in my studio, waiting for inspiration to strike.

One of my recent buys was this Collins Graphic Atlas; I’ve no idea of the age but it was certainly pre-decimalisation, given the princely sum of 5 shillings…

Vintage map book

It had pages and pages of beautiful old maps and charts of the constellations in each hemisphere (I think I’ll frame these two as a set; I can’t bear to cut them up..)

Map book

 

Inspired by amazing paper dresses like these, I decided to have a go at making a piece of art for my friend’s newborn daughter to hang in her nursery.  Armed with scissors, a bone folder and  - of course – a nutritional glass of wine, I set about playing with ideas and choosing the loveliest and most interesting maps.

The hardest bit was working out how to create a pleated dress shape.  It took me several false starts to think it through (use rough paper till you get the hang of it), but eventually; ta-da!! the perfect concertina box pleat;

Dress making with vintage maps

To save you the brain strain I experienced, here’s a guide below for how to make a box fold.  Essentially, you need to measure out and mark up your map or paper with alternate widths of 2cm/1cm, and then score them lightly using a bone folder to make folding easier.  The grey dotted lines below indicate where you fold the paper inwards to make an inverted fold; the red lines show where you fold away from you to build up the raised pleat areas.  Once you have made your box pleats, flatten the top end and gently spread out the bottom edges to create a fan effect like in the picture above.  Give it a whirl..

How to make a box pleat

Once the dress shape is made, the rest is fun and just needs imagination and a bit of playing around.  I made lapels for the dress using the edges of a map, folding carefully to match the borders, and using a punch to cut out a large decorative button (this can also cover a multitude of sins when you’re sticking it all together)

Assembling a paper dress

As you see above, I made little puffed cap sleeves by cutting semi-circles and lightly gathering and glueing them – but then decided later not to use them.

I assembled the dress together and then glued each part in place onto a sheet of white watercolour paper, layering it up, piece by piece.  It needed one final touch, for a tiny but determined person with the world at her feet and a life full of adventure ahead…

Matilda and her dress

And here it is!

Matilda's Map Dress

Good luck if you decide to give this a whirl; although I used my book of maps, any gift wrap, patterned or even plain paper would look good.  And do let me know how you get on…

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Art in Action 2015

Pip art pastels

How are you, have you had a good week?  We’re just back from a whirlwind trip to Provence, which was glorious – and hot! Lots to share from the trip in due course, but first I wanted to tell you about a daytrip we made to Art in Action a couple of weeks ago – Harry, my mum and I.

Art in Action is a curious and lovely event – several hundred artists and craftspeople come together in the Oxfordshire countryside to demonstrate, exhibit and sell their work, with workshops and taster events for visitors so you can try your hand at all sorts of crafts (amateur stone-carving, anyone?) and discover just how incredibly difficult each one really is.

aKscW9AR.jpeg

We wandered into the demonstration tent and watched Dave Rogers (below) from the Vinegar Hill Pottery conjour up a salt pig from a slab of clay thrown onto his potter’s wheel (‘look at his hands!’ exclaimed Harry, in a stage-whisper of horrified delight)

Vinegar Pottery

Throughout the day there were lots of classes for both adults and kids, and Harry gravitated quickly to the clay tent to produce this surpirisngly accomplished (I know, I know; I’m his mother, what can I say?) model of the Owl and the Pussycat. ‘Oooh, a frog!’ said my mother, before being sternly corrected.  Artists are forever misunderstood, as Harry is beginning to learn..

Pwl and pussycat

Amongst the many exhibitors and stalls were some incredible textiles, painting and ceramics; we made if-I-win-the-lottery mental lists of the pieces we liked the most, like  Claire Palastanga‘s beautiful sea-urchin-like sculptural forms (below).

Claire_Palastanga1201.jpg

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

burnished_bowls_close_up.jpg

I bought a smooth, egg-sized vessel like these below from her display; it cost only a few pounds and fits reassuringly in my palm like a particularly sophisticated stress ball; it sits on a corner of my desk and just asks to be rolled from hand to hand whilst I think.  I must just remember not to squeeze it…

juliet_walters_1

And finally, onto one of my favourite parts of Art in Action; the giant ‘Marketplace’ marquee where you can buy gazillions of different at supplies and craft materials at a fraction of the usual prices.  It’s a fatal retail experience, akin to a trip to Ikea where you fill your basket with bargains and then find at the checkout that the sum total could release a small country from debt.  Swallowing hard, I bought…

..these beautiful chalky pastels, which I love looking at even before I’ve had a go at using them.  You could fill a box, sweet-shop style, with your chosen colours and I went for a seascape of blues and greeny-grays….

tonal pastels

…A tiny, pocket-sized set of watercolour paints complete with travel brush for Harry and me to take on holiday with a tin of watercolour postcards.. we brought them out after dinner each evening and dipped the brush into a spare water glass to idle away the night and make the most of the beautiful sunsets (and the dwindling bottle of wine).  Inspired by the countryside around us, I painted olive stems.  Inspired by his experience at the hotel kids club, Harry cheerily painted the club bus being pursued by an angry dragon and burning it up with flames.  Also, a rocket.

Hannemuhle postcards

I came across these Hannemuhle matt cards (below) for use with inkjet printers and have been testing them out with some of my favourite images; the colour quality is wonderful and I can see these becoming a new go-to replacement for thank-you notes and gift tags.  The paper map dress in the picture below is next week’s blog project, by the way..

hannemuhle

I bought other bits and pieces which I’ll try out in the weeks to come and show you here on the blog..  water-soluble fabric, calligraphy pens and the like, but just one final purchase to share; this amazing home-dyed, unspun wool that feels as soft as clouds and is just waiting for a project of some kind.  I have no ideas, I just loved the colour and the tactile sensation of running my fingers through it.  It’s currently wrapped loosely around a mannequin in my studio whilst I await inspiration; at £5 for the bundle, I’m happy just to enjoy it catching my eye in the meantime.  Have you used this kind of yarn/wool before?  Any ideas?  Please do share….

FibresFobre scarf

If you live in the UK, Art in Action is now an annual event, so do look out for next year.  I’m already saving up for a new stash of craft materials to play with in 2016…

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n.b. All photos my own, apart from: portait of Simon Buchanan via ArtInAction; Burnished vessel and bowls via Juliet Walter; Gilded ceramic form via Claire Palastanga (links above).

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

Mouseketeers

Welcome back!  It’s been a wonderful, chaotic few weeks here with the end of term (and graduation from Reception class, so soon!), endless sunshine and record-breaking temperatures, ice-cream, tennis, splash pools and a new job for me… possibly the busiest June ever.  Amidst all the fun and general mayhem, we found time for a few craft projects, like this giant hot air balloon for Harry’s pet mice, who had always, always wondered what the world would look like from the sky…

Mongolfieres

We’d been talking to Harry about the amazing annual Montgolfières festival of hot air balloons in Montreal which we’d visited just before we got married; we were lucky enough to go up in a balloon made for two (plus pilot!) and witness the amazing sight of fields of balloons slowly inflating and taking to the skies;

ALBUM take off shot from the airALBUM take off shot from the air1ALBUM balloon art shotALBUM art shot fields from the hot air balloon2ALBUM art shot fields from the hot air balloon

I’m so glad we had the chance to do this before we had Harry; I think my instinct for self-preservation and appetite for danger have grown and shrunk respectively, making this a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Harry was mesmerised by our photographs, and asked me whether we could make our own hot air balloon for a ride around the village.  Whilst the aeronautics of this were beyond me, we settled on a compromise; a giant, papier mache hot air balloon which could hang from the playroom ceiling and give rides to the mouse family who usually live a quiet life on the bookshelf…

How to make your papier mache hot air balloon:

I found a pack of 36 inch balloons on eBay, and spent an evening inflating one.  Use a footpump for this, and choose a night when your husband is home.  Stroll past and make a casual slight about his manliness; nothing  hurtful, but just challenging enough to provoke him to spring to his feet and wrestle the aparatus from you.  Settle back with a glass of wine for the 45 minutes it takes to get enough air in the damn thing balloon.  Try not to comment when it twice evades his grip at the last moment and whistles around the room, expelling air before puttering gently to the floor. Feign deafness at the muttered cursing.

Cover it with around 6 layers of papier mache.  Ha! See how easy I made that sound?  In reality, this is six evenings of ripping up newspaper and applying in layers.  Only 20 minutes each night, but 20 mins of watery glue, drips, sticky surfaces and the constant distraction of all the interesting articles you stop to read whilst pasting them onto the balloon. Disciplined focus is key.  My top tip would be to alternate between using newspaper and plain white paper – you need to be able to see when you’ve completed each layer and it’s very hard if it’s all newsprint.  Use PVA glue and water in a ratio of 1:3 for the mixture.  One final word of advice; don’t do this in a hot room or one where the temperature changes dramatically, or your balloon will expand and pop  with an explosive splatter just when your back is turned.  This was my THIRD balloon; the first two are still being scraped off the ceiling and floor whenever we have a spare moment – and a chisel.  Assuming all goes well and you heed this advice, on the sixth night, stand back and admire your papier-mâché labour of love;

papier mache giant balloon

I took it outside and covered it roughly with two layers of leftover white paint, balancing it in a flower pot for stability;

painted papier mache balloon

And now the fun part; decorating the balloon.  I wanted it to look like a balloon the mice might have stitched and crafted out of household items and random bits and pieces, so I searched online for free vintage envelope prints (try googling ‘old envelopes’, selecting the ‘images’ tab and going through to locate those which are free to download)and raided my draws for scraps of fabric, buttons and ribbons.  I printed out the envelope graphics, scrumpled them up and then stuck them at intervals around the balloon…

vintage envelope patterns

balloon

To make the rim at the base of the balloon, I traced around an upside-down bowl, trimmed the raw opening of the balloon and then glued some curtain braiding around to form a neat rope edge;

braided papier mache balloon

Once I’d finished with the decoration, I used a bradawl to make a small hole in the top of the balloon and screwed in a cup hook to hang it from.  For the basket, I repurposed a small wicker plant pot and used rubber-coated wire to form four rope-like hanging handles (you’ll find the wire in garden centres; it’s used to train plants without damaging fragile stems).

Mouse basket

The ‘sand bags’ are made from these teabag sachets, filled with a spoonful of rice and stamped to look like 100kg weights (stamp them first before you fill them; I learned that the hard way, and am still treading on small grains of rice every morning as I navigate the kitchen, half asleep..).  I tied them tightly with string and then twisted a little piece of wire under the string to attach each one to the basket.  I thought long and hard about how to attach the actual basket, and in the end I suspended it from the inside of the balloon, using another length of wire to hang it from the base of the cuphook, meaning that the papier mache balloon itself didnt have to take any weight.

For the final touch, I found a length of braided rope in my sewing basket and cut up a pair of thrift-shop curtain tie backs to look like the rope and weights you might find on a vintage balloon.  I stamped out little paper flags for my Mouseketeers and then draped it around the balloon, pinning it into place at intervals by just pushing a pin into the papier-mâché balloon. Job done… and the mice took to the air!

final balloon shot

Our balloon currently hangs in the hallway, and is big enough for all the toys in the playroom to take it in turns for a ride – but you can of course make this with an ordinary sized balloon; it’ll be much quicker and easier to handle.

I hope you have a great week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

It’s good to be back :-)

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Silvered Pebbles; a DIY Garden Game for Summer

DIY Painted Rocks

We’re in the throes of an unexpectedly lovely May holiday weekend, and have been living outdoors, sorting out sheds and pottering in the garden.  I uncovered a stash of old tiles, leftover from bathroom and kitchen projects both here and at our last house.  They looked too pretty to throw away, so I’ve repurposed them to make an outsized, organic version of Noughts and Crosses (or Tic Tac Toe).  I used river pebbles which are smooth and tactile and call out to be stroked and handled, and the set can live outside in all weathers.  If you have a couple of old tiles and a supply of pebbles (mine were from our local garden centre; £5/bag), then this is a very gratifying afternoon project…

DIY Garden noughts and crosses

Playing garden games in summer

Garden games for families

You’ll need:

  • A large tile for the board; slate, granite or marble are ideal.
  • Felt pads to back the tile (optional, but avoids scratching surfaces)
  • Silver paint; I used Liquid Leaf.  Varnish is optional.
  • Masking tape and stencils
  • Pebbles; choose similar sizes, as flat as possible to aid painting and reduce wobble on the board!

First, wash and dry the pebbles and decide on your design.  I decided on stripes and a flower motif instead of noughts and crosses; I used masking tape freehand to mark the stripes on half of the stones, and then simply peeled it away again after brushing on the liquid silver…

step 1

Step 2Step 3

DIY Silvered pebbles

For the ‘noughts’, I used mini cupcake stencils from a local baking shop, and lightly sprayed them with repositionable glue to hold them in place whilst I brushed the paint on.  If you get any small runs or smudges, wait till the paint dries and then simply scratch away the excess with a knife blade; it’s gratifyingly easy to correct.  You can varnish your stones to make them even more hardy; gloss varnish will change the colour of the stone, so have a practice on a spare stone to check that you like the effect first.

Stencilled pebbles step 1

 

Stencilled pebbles step 2

DIY Silver motif pebbles

For the main board I chose a large grey floor tile and measured the gride for nine squares, and marked this in pencil.  I used my masking tape to mark very thin grid lines and then simply painted these in the same way as the striped stones.  You could make them thicker if you like (or even engrave them if you are a master with a Dremel tool (and thus far handier than I…).

DIY Tic Tac Toe for the gardne

Add felt pads to the back of your board (I used these felt coasters for ease, gluing them near the four corners), and place on a contrasting tile if you wish, or simply on a table top or patio.

I used two plank tiles to make platters for the sets of stones; these were wood-effect tiles leftover from the bathroom in our guestroom.  Again, I added felt coasters underneath and then laid out the stones on each; they look rather beautiful..

Decorated silver pebbles Striped silver pebbles

And there you have it… a stylish and fun game to entertain the little people in your life, or simply to look good as the seasons finally turn and al fresco living becomes a reality.  Roll on summer….

Garden tic tac toe

Garden perspective

Midweek Magic: Frozen blooms

DIY Ice Disks

The garden looks very bleak at the moment; grey and brown, forlorn and hibernating.  We decided to give it some jewellery to brighten it up a little as the day begins.

Inspired by an idea in Landscape magazine, we’ve been taking advantage of the sub-zero nights this week to practice a little magic; leaving shallow saucers of water outside overnight, filled with seed heads, citrus slices and cyclamen buds.  When we came downstairs in the morning, we popped out beautiful frozen disks of colour that looked like they could be necklaces for some majestic ice maiden, or perhaps serving dishes for a fantastical snowy picnic..

I carefully poured  a thin stream of hot water to melt a hole in each disk, and then we strung them from the apple tree in our garden and watched the sun slowly rise and shine through them.  Beautiful, just for a few amazing minutes.  Most we left to melt in the sunshine; a couple we slipped into the freezer so we could save them a little longer…

Ice Disks

These are of course only transient; beautiful and then gone.  Half the magic  is in the anticipation of going to bed and wondering what you will wake up to find; will the bowls have frozen?  What do the different things you’ve added look like?  It was definitely fun for an otherwise chilly, bleak day, when even The Little House was too covered in frost to look inviting for long.

The Little House in the Frost

ice disks in winter

Notes:

We found that wide-based yoghurt tubs, frying pans and plastic lids were the most successful; avoid using china that might shatter in extreme cold.  You need about 1/2 inch of water; try adding food colouring for even prettier effects.  To loosen the disks, I placed them quickly in a sink of shallow warm water.  And of course, if you find that your disks haven’t completely frozen overnight, you can cheat by finishing them off in the deep freeze!

Icy garden Jewellery

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

DIY Birthday Cake Bags


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

Birthday portraits

Personalised party gift bags

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

Champagne top armchair

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

DIY Champagne top chairs

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

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

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 Update:

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

How to Make Champagne Cage Armchairs

Recycling Christmas!

Gift tags from Christmas Cards

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

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

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

Christmas Card Recycling

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

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

Colour pop gift tags

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

 

 

Partridge gift tag

Polar Bear Gift Tag

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

Festive Goose Tag

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

Stag Gift Tag

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

Boxed Christmas Gift Tags

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

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Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

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

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

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

dresseroldandnew-copy1

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

DIY bookcase into a Puppet Theatre

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

chalk paint

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

sewing closeups

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

Puppet Show Welcome Sign

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

Play Popcorn and other theatre treats

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

Starlight Programmes

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

Stencilled stars

Stencilled star case

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

Starlight Puppet Collection

chairty shop puppets

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

Audience bell

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

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

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A Cupcake Armada (and back to school fever!)

Cupcake Armada

How are you?  Today feels like the last day of the long summer break, before school and work restart in earnest next week.  An amazing summer of long hot days, evenings without bedtime curfews and delicious expanses of family time.  A summer too of sporting achievements; armbands are now permanently consigned to the loft and Harry is confidently afloat and swimming like a fish (albeit a wriggling, giggling one, who is liable to take onboard water in moments of distraction…).

We’ve also had the time to make progress with more of the house redesign and decor, tackling the upstairs rooms a little at a time; so exciting.  And many more projects in the pipeline… but more on that in a minute.

First though, a fun papercraft-and-cake project from this week (combinations don’t come much better than that, surely); a practice-run of ideas for friends who want to have homemade vibrant and fun cupcakes at their seaside wedding instead of a traditional cake.

cupcake sails 07

I wanted to create the impression of masted sails and chose long wooden barbecue skewers and strips of brightly coloured paper to create the effect.  For the pattern – which reminded me of swirling sea colours but also picked out the pink theme colour of the wedding – I downloaded one of the wonderful free watercolour designs by Yao Cheng for DLF , cropped it into long rectangle shapes and then added some text in Powerpoint (below).  If you don’t need to add writing, I’d just chose a lovely patterned sheet of gift wrap and cut out rectangles of about 2×5 inches.

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I painted each skewer with food colouring; you can do this neat from the bottle or dilute for a more subtle colour.  I left the bottom of the skewers unpainted but of course the beauty of the food colouring is it’s completely non-toxic and safe to be thrust deep into sponge…

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I threaded the paper onto the skewer and then pushed a small pearl bead onto each skewer tip both for decorative effect and to avoid any partygoers accidentally poking themselves in the eye when leaning over to choose their cake.. and also strung a few tiny bells randomly on the mast tops..

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Ta-da; the finished cupcakes!  Easy to produce en masse but equally fun just to make for teatime.

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 In other news… Harry and I have been embarking on a rather more substantial project this month; remember the Parisian Play Shop?  It was well-loved and well-played with for about a year but gradually became a dumping ground for all kinds of toys, books and half-built Lego models.  Whilst the play kitchen is very much still in active use, and acts like a magnet for any little girls who happen to be passing through, the shop seemed to have run its course, so I moved it to the loft to create space and forgot about it.

But then, this summer we stumbled across a pop-up puppet show in the local park – and Harry was absolutely transfixed.  There’s something about the slapstick comedy and audience participation which completely captured his imagination and made him chuckle whenever he thought about it for days afterwards.  So… we’re building a puppet theatre together, where we can stage our own plays at home.  I began by bashing out the top shelf and getting a large hole cut out from the back..

puppet theatre in progress

and finished up…….

starlight puppet theatre DIY

…well, I think we’ll open the theatre officially with a Grand Reveal next week, when our finishing touches are complete. We have some rehearsing to do after all :-)

Have a great weekend when it comes; I’ll be making the most of the last couple of days of lie-ins and sunshine, in-between stitching in name tags and retrieving long-abandoned school kit from corners around the house..

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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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