diy

How to get your 7-a-day of Fruit & Veg.

Paper Fruit from katescreativespace

This week the British government announced that we should each be eating at least 7 portions of fruit and veg every day for optimal health and longevity.  Apparently, the raisins in a fruit & nut chocolate bar don’t count, and nor, really, do the dried banana chips I carry around in my bag.  To bolster our household fruit supplies, I have ingeniously resorted to Pinterest and the beautiful DIY fruit bowl templates created for the wonderful Mr Printables site here.  They may not be strictly edible, but they’re certainly very decorative – and great fun to make.

DIY Paper Fruit


When I stumble across lovely things like this which catch my eye I tend to download them and then save them for rainy nights in; this week gave us a couple, so Harry and I did some scissor-practice and wielded our glue sticks to great success.  The fruit are described as toys, though they’re not really resilient enough for any kind of hard-loving or action play; ours simply sit on the mantelpiece looking cheerful and decorative.  I printed them out as supersize templates (download them and print at 150% if your printer can cope with A3; or blow them up at a copy shop).  This makes them larger than life and much easier to fold and stick, especially for little fingers.  A great project for the Easter holidays, or for grown-ups (this particular craft project  was mainly for me, I confess…).  You see them here on Harry’s play kitchen scales and picnic basket – each piece of fruit is about 15-20cm in height.

Paper Fruit Picnic Basket

They are so tactile and colourful; if Harry was younger I’d be tempted to string these into a mobile or a garland for his bedroom (which we’re doing-up currently; more on that soon).  A lovely ornament for a nursery perhaps; out of reach of curious, uncoordinated hands but perfect for capturing attention and imagination.

Tempting paper Fruit


Before I go and rearrange my virtual fruit bowl, thank you SO much for the lovely comments on last week’s post; I’m delighted that the rabbit drawing/download has been useful and inspired a good few projects -it’s always a joy to hear when something has worked and been used in other creations.  Easter preparations continue here, albeit amongst the frenzy of work & deadlines, and a new backdrop of mists and frost.  More pics and news from the home front next week.

Have a good week, wherever you are and whatever you’re upto.

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Fantasies of Heat and Dust

Homemade leather travel journals

I write this week from a beneath a pile of clothes, suitcases, scarves, swimwear, camera kit and general travel-related bounty; we’ve booked a last-minute trip to Morocco, and feverish excitement is high.

Berber man

Map of Marrakech

Photo by Christopher.michael/Flickr. Illustrated map by Mariko Jesse for CondeNast

We were searching for an escape from the relentless rain, wind and grey drizzle which seized Britain in December and has yet to let go; Morocco offers a complete contrast and at just  a 3hr flight away feels deliciously close.  We’ll be staying near Marrakech but venturing up into the Atlas Mountains and generally exploring – I can’t wait.  (Have you been? Any hot tips or must-sees?).  The weather at this time of year can be unpredictable but the one thing we know for sure is that it will be better than here..

One night this week I made a simple travel journal each for Harry and for myself; Harry’s contains crayons and envelopes for drawing pictures and the capturing of treasures; both took just a few minutes to make.  Instructions below if you like the look and want to have a go (these make great gifts too).

Handmade travel journal

Materials and step-by-step instructions after the jump ;

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Dream House Renovation: The Snug

Room Makeover Master

Regular readers of this blog will know that we are gradually restoring a beautiful yet crumbling Georgian house, one room at a time as budget allows.  So far we’ve managed some grand transformations and repurposing of spaces.  This time, it was a more cosmetic makeover needed, on one of the smallest and yet most important rooms in the house; The Snug.  Here’s how it looked before;

Room Makeover before main shot

And now;

Snug in sunlight

The snug – or the ‘Cinema Room’ as it was optimistically called by the estate agents who showed us round as prospective purchasers – is sandwiched between other rooms in the middle of the house, and has little natural light.  It’s a peculiar shape and has innumerable quirks and oddities, and yet somehow, it manages to be the place that we all gravitate towards.  Our house is on a hillside, so rooms at the rear like the snug have lowish ceilings, compared to rooms like the kitchen and bedrooms/bathrooms at the front of the house which measure almost 4 metres from floor to ceiling.

We decided early on not to attempt to add ceiling lighting but instead to celebrate the cosiness of the room and rely on wall and surface lighting to create atmosphere and corners for reading.  This lamp below is actually wired through the window frame into the next room (a conservatory) to avoid cabling trailing down the wall.

Room Makeover 5

A contemporary yet organic tripod lamp creates enough light for reading at each end of the two sofas…

Room Makeover 6

Room Maekover 6

Our only real structural change was to replace the fireplace, which had housed a faulty gas fire and a very elaborate surround which had been added at some point in the last few decades, and then painted flesh pink;

Room Makeover before shot

We had the chimney converted to fit a wood burning stove, and added a simple yet substantial stone surround, which creates a focal point for the room;

Snug lieft side

Room Makeover 7

Room Makeover 8

(I should mention here that we’re not using the stove at the moment due to unseasonably mild weather, hence the decorative logs stacked up the sides – inadvisable for wood-burners in use which get hot to the touch).

You’ll see that we kept the original dado rail, but added faux panelling under it to tie the room together and add a sense of lightness; it glows when the morning light filters in through the conservatory, and acts as a good contrast to the deeper grey-green on the walls above.  And besides, the salmon pink accent colour Just. Had. To. Go.

Snug panelling

In one of the darkest corners we hung an old French window repurposed with mirror glass, which helps to bounce the weak light around and maximise it; we also house our Christmas tree in this alcove  in December, and the mirror sends the lights glittering back into the room.

Room Makeover 10

I should pause for a moment to navigate you, as you’ll see above another window set high into the wall; that looks through into the playroom (seen here au naturel, just so you know that we don’t live in this zen-like state most of the time..);

Room Makeover 4

..And you reach both rooms by heading through from the kitchen/diner, which gives a lovely open-plan feel to the ground floor and works great for parties, where everyone can cheerfully flow from one room to the next, treading breadsticks into the carpet and shrieking with delight when they discover the presence of Lego (always the non-parents; for those of us with kids the thrill is long gone).

Navigation

One of the wonderful things about the Snug is that it seemed to absorb all of the furniture we brought with us and require nothing new; the sofas were originally bought for our last house, and were just deep-treated with stain-guard when Harry arrived (it’s working so far, touch wood).  The travertine coffee and lamp tables were the sole survivors from my husband’s bachelor pad, and even this console table survived; it’s an IKEA Malm table, given a coat of olive paint to tie it in.  Under it sits a wicker chest, hiding Harry’s giant dumper truck collection and a vast collection of unsightly but much-loved stuff.

Room makeover 3

As if there weren’t enough doors already, this one (below) leads into the hall, creating confusion and mild alarm in guests as you exit through one door to fetch a drink and suddenly reappear through another, magician-like.

Room makeover 2

This one is even more fun; it simply houses cables, DVDs, routers and all other tech paraphernalia.  Helping to extricate tipsy friends who thought it was the way to the bathroom has become a regular occurence.

Hidden door

The dado is deeper along the back wall, creating a lovely shelf on which to house photos, vases, stars and family memorabilia in a constantly changing arrangement.  The radiator is cast iron by the way, as are the huge pillars in the bay; apparently they were added in the 1930s when the house was briefly used as a film studio; it’s had a very eclectic cast of owners of the centuries, and each has left a unique calling card.

Snug corner

So you can see why we love the snug, and why most of the hours from dusk till bedtime are spent curled up en famille on the sofas, or racing cars on the coffee table.  It has held 32 people, memorably, at a festive gathering when everyone cheerfully squashed up together and forgave each others elbows – but equally, it is the perfect, perfect size for 3.

If you’ve seen anything you like or are curious about, here’s a rough crib-sheet of the colours and pieces we used;

Snug mood board

  1. Farrow and Ball paint in White Tie (woodwork)
  2. ..and Manor House Grey Estate Emulsion (walls above dado)
  3. EASIPanel self-adhesive faux MDF panelling, available from DIY stores
  4. Our wooden tripod lamp came from M&S and is no longer available, but BHS in the UK has a similar one, as does John Lewis
  5. The Malm console table from IKEA comes in red and white; we gave ours a facelift with regular emulsion paint
  6. Coffee table in travertine stone – try eBay for companies selling these
  7. Portland chesterfield sofa from M&S
  8. Alhambra fire surround from Chesneys, who also supplied the wood-burning stove.

room makeover 1

Have a great week, whatever you’re up to – and make the most the lingering few hours of the weekend (we’ll be curled up with the Sunday papers in the snug..!)

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Let there be bright!

Winter Brights to lift the gloom

It’s been a week where the world at large seems to have been beset by wild and extreme weather, from the deep freeze in the US to the wet and windy ravages across Europe and unpredictable swings of temperature in the Antipodes; few places seem to have escaped.  Our corner of the world is flooded, with water levels rising.  We are fortunately ensconced at the very top of a hill, Noah style, so are quite literally high and dry – for now.  With the general gloom and January grey, I’ve been trying this week to add colour and new life to our home, to encourage thoughts of Spring.  First, an unruly bunch of tulips escaping from an old watering can;

tulips in watering can

Tulips

I trimmed a couple of leftover flowers and tucked them into a folded book on the mantle, having wrapped the stems in soaked kitchen roll; so far they have looked perky and beautiful for 3 days, which is longer than I expected;

tulips in book pages

The most lasting display will be in the kitchen, where I have repurposed our old decorating ladder as a stand for a myriad of Spring bulbs and winter flowers.  Hellebores, hycacinths and snowdrops jostle for space on the treads and lean towards the weak light which manages to flood through the window each morning.  I took this first photo (below) last weekend, and have been gradually overlaying shots as the buds burst into bloom, inspired by David Hockney’s photo montages;

Spring bulbs on a ladder

Hockney style flowers on a ladder

The hyacinths are on the cusp of flowering and the scent is delicious, mixing with the woodsmoke from the hearth;

hyacinths blooming

Back in the depths of November, I planted individual hyacinths bulbs into teacups and individual casserole dishes, and am enjoying them dotted about the house, like this one in my office;

Spring hyacinth adding a pop of colour

 

I’m not naturally green-fingered at all, but one ambition this year is to convert an old and disused conservatory at the side of our house into a place to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables over the year.  A good use for these long winter evenings is to sit, glass of wine and pencil in hand, flicking through seed catalogues and marking out the most beautiful and interesting blooms and crops.  These mouse melons are on my list, just because they are so unique and pretty, and as we live on strawberries and tomatoes through the summer months, I’m sifting through varieties of those too.  For the gardeners amongst you, what would you suggest an amateur with sporadic attention should sow in a conservatory?  Space is plentiful, but colour, interesting plants and lovely scents will all increase the chances of Harry and I remembering to feed, water and prune…  All ideas welcome!

Have a wonderful weekend, and may the weather be kind to you wherever you are.

Kate

New Traditions: The North Pole Repair Shop

Santas Repair Shop

Christmas is a time to revive traditions, but also – perhaps – to start some new ones.  Tonight, we will gather in the garden at twilight with a torch to send a signal up to the skies; we have a special parcel for Santa to come and collect.

Everyone knows that Father Christmas has a huge workshop at the North Pole where the presents for children all around the world are made by thousands of elves, overseen by the benevolent but watchful eye of Mrs Claus; it’s been immortalised in books and films, and is, as far as Christmas goes, a universally understood truth.  Not many people know, however, that Santa also has a repair shop, where pre-loved toys are sent in by children so that they can be lovingly repaired and restored, or simply polished and wrapped, ready to be given to another, smaller child who would adore it.

We’ve been busily collecting the clothes that Harry has outgrown, and the toys which were once favourites but are now relegated to the bottom of the toy-box, and have boxed them up to go to the North Pole.  Harry is delighted that another small boy might be waiting for his exact yellow truck – and it means that we get to clear the playroom a little ahead of Christmas when new toys are sure to arrive.

From our perspective it works a treat too; Harry’s main Christmas present this year will be his first bike; a gleaming red two-wheeler with a bell and shiny paintwork that is very cool but – without a doubt – definitely second-hand. We found it at a junk sale and knew it would be perfect for him.  Explaining that it has come from Santa via the North Pole workshop will account for the occasional scratches and dents, and give it even more of a cool factor;  the former possessions of bigger boys are much coveted.

I hope that this becomes a new tradition for us;  it emphasises the importance of giving and sharing, helps to keep our house free of outgrown toys and also allows us to have direct contact with the big man himself at the North Pole.

Five flashes of your torch, by the way, will alert Santa and the Elves that they need to swing by in the night to make the collection.  Leave your boxes by the back door or in the hearth, and in the morning you’ll wake up to find a candy cane as receipt of your package.  And parents; all we have to remember to do is to hide the boxes in the back of the car ready to give to the local charity shop or collection.

Magic.

Now, must add candy canes to my shopping list today….

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

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Messy play: DIY Button Christmas Cards

Button Christmas Card DIY

Welcome back, and Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends; I hope that you had a wonderful day yesterday and are not feeling too many ill-effects from the feasting and general revelry.

Today’s post comes courtesy of Harry, who will take you through the messy-but-highly-enjoyable art of button craft.  Yesterday here was wet, grey and miserable, so we spent our evening covered in glue and sparkles, humming off-key snippets of Christmas carols whilst making cards for Harry to give to his grandparents and teachers; I can thoroughly recommend it.  You’ll need;

  • Green craft paper
  • Lots of buttons of different shapes and sizes; (we used these but any assortment will do)
  • White glue
  • Blank cards or cardstock to mount your trees onto at the end
  • A bathtub that your small assistant can be dropped into the moment that the glue-based activity is done

Firstly, cut out a set of Christmas tree-shaped triangles, and pour a small bowl of white glue.  Stir vigorously.  Ignore buttons and card and focus on the glue.  Force yourself to return to the job in hand.

holiday crafting

After applying glue liberally to the tree, place as many buttons as you can on the shape, in any order and pattern.  Remember, you can never have too many buttons, and you can certainly never have too much glue.  Don a Santa hat to further increase the festive mood.

crafting for the holidays

Add more glue.

christmas crafts

Place the shapes to dry on a baking rack (this will probably take overnight).  To kill a bit of time whilst you wait, you can punch out a few snowflakes to place around the button tree.  We used a Martha craft punch and had a competition to see who was the strongest at squeezing the punch.  I am proud to say that I won.  And also embarrassed; there’s little glory in being stronger than a three-year old, after all.

DIy snowflake christmas cards

The glue will dry completely clear, leaving you with beautiful trees which give no hint of the mess and chaos involved in their production.  Mount them onto cards; we also added a little wooden star to each, plus a few of our punched-out snowflakes;

button christmas tree cards

I then pimped the plain envelopes by using scraps of gift-wrap to make envelope liners (a quick how-to on this next time; you can practically do it one-handed with a glass of wine / eggnog / green detox juice in the other).

DIY button cards and lined envelopes

I chose gatefold cards which I found on sale here during our recent holiday to the US; I wanted to add a photo of Harry making the cards so that everyone who received one got to share in the fun of the work-in-progress; you could just as easily slip a photo inside a regular card.  Ours stand up so that on one side you have the tree, and the other the photo and space for a hand-written message down the side.

DIY holiday cards for kids

 

homemade Christmas cards

 

So our first phase of Christmas crafting is complete, and our glue-dipped paintbrushes in for a very, very long soak.  This weekend brings a long-awaited pirate birthday party, family visits and much celebration, so we’ll be busy… I hope that you have a lovely one, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

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The Dream House Restoration: Heading upstairs…

French armchair in bathroom

Those of you who have been following for a while will know that we are slowly restoring and updating an ancient, crumbling yet beautiful Georgian house in England; working our way as quickly as inspiration and budget will allow (very slowly, in the case of the latter).  It’s a battle against the elements; even as one coat of paint dries in a room, a strange and ominous water stain will seep through the ceiling of another.   A sense of intimacy is created quickly with new guests who soon realise that every toilet flush clangs and reverberates around the house for a good 10 minutes; there are no secrets here.  The house will be something of a life’s work, and is frustrating and wonderful – often in equal measure.  We moved here two years ago this Christmas, and have so far tackled much of the downstairs; the kitchen, playroom and hallway have all appeared here on the blog.

Our next project was the overhaul of our bedroom and its en suite bathroom.  We moved out of it more than two months ago for a job that we thought would take two weeks… we (and our builders) should definitely have known better by now!  Having been camping out in the spare room since September, we finally reclaimed our own bed yesterday, with great relief and general giddiness.  As we put the finishing touches to our bedroom, here’s a peek at the bathroom, which we’ve completely overhauled.  I’ve interspersed the before and after pictures so that you get a sense of the layout and evolution.

Let’s start view into the bathroom from our bedroom before;

old bathroom 1

And after…

view from bedroom into bathroom

The bathroom had a very strange false step buried beneath dark green carpet (seen below), which was presumably crafted as a way of improving drainage at some point in the 70s or 80s.  It had to go; beyond being a complete hazard in the middle of the night, it also reduced the floor space significantly.  Oh, and the drainage thing obviously didn’t work; our en suite had no actual toilet; for that you needed to head down the corridor.

old bathroom step

We took out the step, removed half of the wall-to-wall cupboards (which the step had been cut into, making them look a bit odd), and stripped out the old shower, replacing it with a hidden-cistern WC instead.  An old armchair has been moved from the spare bedroom and has quickly settled into the corner here instead.  Underfloor heating warms the new travertine stone which we laid instead of the carpet.

new bathroom left view

new bathroom left corner

We think that the room is likely to have originally been a nursery bedroom, and contains a chimney breast (boxed in behind the sinks) and alcoves.  The alcove to the right of the sinks used to house a built-in wardrobe, but one which we seldom used, being in a bathroom and far away from our other storage.  It also had a weird half-wall which further bisected the space, and which we took down.

old bathroom cupboard

We replaced it with a huge walk-in shower…

bathroom shower

For the main sink area, we stripped out the old, stained green marble top and inset basins, and chipped off the tiles to reveal the chimney breast and fireplace; incredibly, it hadn’t been boarded up so also contained several fossilised birds (eek!) and  - more interestingly – a time capsule from the previous owners, and a newspaper that was more than 50 years old.  I’ll share that in a future post; it makes for wonderful reading.  After properly stabilising the chimney breast and wall, we had it re-plastered and tiled before choosing simple washbowl sinks with inset taps.  The eagle-eyed will recognise that they are now mounted on our former hall table; we thought it would look beautiful in the space, so after sealing the wooden surface we asked our joiner to plumb the washbowls through it.

vanity unit

washbowl

For aesthetically-pleasing storage of the things we use all the time, we found these poured-concrete planters at our local garden centre (a bargain at £15), which easily hold bits and bobs like hairbrushes, toothpaste and so forth.  Hand towels are stored in the vintage dough bowl which again you may recognise from our apple-picking and other adventures – so much of this bathroom is recycled from other parts of the house.

concrete planter dough bowl bathroom storage

An old French milking stool (a flea market find last year) acts as a stand for shower essentials;

milking stool

‘That’s all very well’, I hear you cry; ‘but where do you store all your un-beautiful bathroom products, hmm?’  I can imagine you saying it, because that was exactly my husband’s question when I described to him my vision for a bathroom with nothing in it (or near as dammit).  Well.  Not that I am going to confess to owning anything unsavoury like haemorrhoid cream, waxing supplies, dandruff shampoo etc, but IF I did, they would surely all be housed in the magnificently huge cupboards we retained and which hide all manner of sins.  Believe me, it’s like the episode of Friends where Monica’s secret closet full of junk is discovered.

bathroom wardrobes

We’ve only been able to use the bathroom for 24hrs so far, so we’re still pondering where to place things and wall decor.  We’ve moved a huge picture up from downstairs which we love and are living with to see how it all works together.  We’re hoping that we’ll be able to turn the old cupboard doors from the units we removed into window shutters, by stripping them and adding hinges to produce period, fold-back shutters…we shall see.

There are gremlins and small irritations, of course; the limitations of ancient plumbing and old houses means we have had to site the heated towel rail on the opposite side of the room to the sink, for example.  We knew that we would have to plan this room somewhat on the fly, as we wouldn’t know what was underneath and behind the old bathroom until everything had been stripped away.  All told though, we are very, very happy – not least because we’ll have no more midnight sprints along a cold corridor to the bathroom, stubbing toes and shivering as we go.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the colours we chose and fittings we used, for any bathroom fetishists or if you’re about to start a similar project yourself…

Now, time for a shower.  Only my third today; the thrill of the new, eh?

Kate

Bathroom Sourcebook

Quick Tricks: Printing Onto Tape

Magic tape printing master

How are you… are you having a good week?  We are beyond excited as our New England trip looms; suitcases are packed and stand in the hall (somewhat prematurely, meaning we have to rummage in them daily for crucial things buried deep inside).  Harry is determined that his entire Lego collection should accompany us, along with his stuffed-animal menagerie, so every night under cover of darkness we stealthily unpack his backpack and try to lighten the load a little.  We cannot wait!  A quick craft therefore this week, squeezed in between frantic completion of work projects and endless small preparations and errands; I present to you the art of printing onto tape.

This may well be one of those crafts that divides readers into those who cry ‘Lawks! That’s genius! However did I live without this knowledge?’ and those who are frankly mystified as to how this could ever come in useful.  Have faith; read on.  I used Scotch magic tape, because I had it to hand, but coloured washi tape also works well and easy to print on and peel.  I decorated a box of inexpensive wooden pencils from here, and now have a pot of prettiness on my desk for those times when only graphite will do…

pencil on book

To print onto washi or satin tape (don’t try using high-glass tape like Sellotape; the ink won’t adhere and you will end up in a tangled, inky mess and blame me..), firstly print out your words onto a regular sheet of paper.  Check that the font size is right for the width of your tape, and then cover each line with the tape, as below.

printing on tape 1

Now run the sheet back through the printer, positioning it the same way as before so that it prints over the original text and – Ta-Da! – over the tape itself.  Wait for the ink to dry (don’t skip this step; adopt a yoga pose and think zen thoughts until you are sure it has dried).  Then gently peel the tape away, and position it onto your pencil (or envelope, or giftwrap, or whatever else you want to use it for).

tape printing 2

printing on tape 3
If you’re covering pencils like these, gently roll the tape around the sides and then press firmly into place.  I’ve gone for the understated, Muji-esque look, but blinging bright washi tape would be equally delicious.

printing on tape 4

Pencils on notebook

Printed Pencils

I used exactly the same technique to print a sheet of tape strips to use on the back of envelopes to help them stand out from the dreary bills and other junk mail that arrives each day;

Washi tape Printing

So there, as promised, a lightening quick technique to use whenever the fancy takes you….

DIY printed pencils

I’ll see you soon!

Kate

A Chill in the Air…

Striped Holiday Candles

Arctic winds have blown through our corner of the world this week, hustling the trees into a frantic leaf fall and turning our minds to thoughts of cold, crisp mornings and snow.  The newfound chill is novel enough to feel fresh and exciting, and to make us a little giddy at the thought of Christmas approaching (I’m an unashamed Christmas person; although the grown-up in me joins in the general tut-tutting at the sight of Christmas cards in the shops in September, the child in me gets very excited…).

Preparations for the festive season can never begin too early in this house, so I waited for a break in the gusting wind and then rushed outside to practice making candy-cane striped candles, a plan I’d had vaguely formulating since the neon candle experiment earlier in the summer.  This was an experimental DIY but proved to be a very easy one.  You’ll need;

  • A handful of inexpensive red candles
  • Nail varnish remover
  • A roll of masking tape or washi tape
  • A ruler, if you are precisely minded (I did mine by sight and guesswork)
  • A can of matt white spray paint (whilst the propellant is highly flammable, the paint itself is usually fine to use; check the small-print on yours before buying).

Firstly rub the candles lightly with a cotton wool bud soaked in nail varnish remover, and then rinse and pat dry.  This will help the spray paint to adhere better.  Now, starting at the bottom of the candle, run the tape around at intervals of about 1″ (or as wide as your tape).  Repeat until the top, and then smooth around the tape to ensure it is stuck to the candle all the way around each ring (this minimises the chance of smudging or paint runs).  At this point they should look a bit like this;

pegged candles

I pegged mine up for spraying, but equally you could simply don an old rubber glove and hold them by the tips before spraying.  The bands of tape mean that you can lean them against a wall to dry, as long as you position them carefully.  I gave mine two light layers, about 3hrs apart.  If you have more patience, 3 coats would look even better… just don’t be tempted to try and give it a double-coating in one; it will run and look horrible.  Trust me.  when they are dry, carefully peel off the tape and examine;

candles drying

At this point, you can use a craft knife to gently scrape away any paint to neaten the edges, and dab any gaps or chips using a cotton wool bud with a little paint sprayed on top.  And then… well, that’s it.  Ta-da!  Have a cup of tea and congratulate yourself.

Candles in black tissue

These burn very normally without strange smells or firework effects (always reassuring to know), and look very pretty.  Not as finessed as those in high-end shops which are made from layers of coloured wax, but a very cunning and serviceable thrifty alternative (and where Christmas is concerned, any opportunity to be thrifty has to be good…).  For ultimate holiday table chic, use a handful of these candle spikes and stick them in glossy red apples.  Gorgeous.

(ps if we were partying at home this Halloween, I think I’d be making some of these using black candles for stripy witch-stocking effects).

Have a great weekend!

Kate

 

 

Detecting The Flamboyance Gene

Harry discovered the art of disguise at an early age.  It was clear even at two that a man can never have too many pirate eye-patches, cloaks, swords, racing driver goggles or superhero capes; you never know when they might be called upon in the ups and downs of everyday adventure.

I look at my husband and the genetic sequencing becomes clear.  Here is a man who has variously dressed-up as Madonna – complete with conical bra – a hippy, a zombie and Father Christmas, and has his own trunk filled with accessories and war-torn party outfits.  (nb I will set aside the question of the Madonna outfit for now, and dwell on it in private later).

It became clear last week that storing all of Harry’s dressing-up clothes in a chest wasn’t working; everything gets flung on the floor in the frantic search for THE crucial piece of kit (usually pirate-related). I looked online for a fun clothing rail but it seems that only girls are allowed to have these, if the number of heart-bedecked, pink shimmery rails are anything to go by.  So we made our own…

DIY Witches Broom Dress Up Rail

I recycled an old clothing rail from the loft and replaced the top rail with a long-handled, bushy natural broom from the local garden centre (a bargain at £5).  Although the broom was in their display of general tools, it struck me as deliciously Witchy, and Harry agreed.  We are obsessed with the lovely Room on the Broom book at the moment, so this felt like a brush with fate (unforgiveable pun, sorry..).

Bracing the side rails is important, so if you make one of these be sure to lash your broom securely at each end, to avoid them leaning inwards.  I wound string around tightly for, ooh, about 5 minutes at each until it felt like they weren’t going to move AT ALL.  And that’s it; the quickest DIY ever.  I also recycled a bathroom waste-bin for sword storage, and slotted Harry’s superhero cuffs onto the rails for easy access – hallelujah; a walk-up wardrobe of delights is born.

Dress Up Rail Montage

I added another outfit to the rail last week when Harry came home from school with a request that he come dressed as a cowboy to the back-to-school BBQ.  In my general ineptitude, I discovered this note about 24hrs beforehand, so we constructed an outfit mostly out of things we already had, spending a grand total of £5.  Breakdown below…

homemade cowboy outfit

The shirt and jeans are Harry’s own; I roughly hand-stitched  lengths of animal print fabric onto the legs, loosely enough to flap a little but stay in place.

cowboy chaps

The waistcoat first featured in this post, soon after I bought it in a charity shop – a surprisingly rich hunting ground for mini-waistcoats and jackets for dressing-up outfits, presumably because they are purchased for one-off weddings or events and then rapidly grown-out of.

Our bandana was fashioned from a tablecloth stolen from Harry’s play tea-set, knotted loosely around the neck.  The cowboy hat was our only investment, bought as part of a set (together with the toy guns in holsters) from the 99p shop – honestly, so much tat for under a pound; it’s more addictive than Class A drugs…

Cowboy Hat

I glued a polkadot ribbon around it (in suitably manly colours), and designed & printed a paper sheriff’s badge to stick over the top.  I then stitched the plastic gun holsters to the belt loops of the jeans, and used a length of washing line for a lassoo.  Job done..Dancing cowboy

That’s Harry doing the Cowboy Dance by the way; a spontaneous jig which he feels compelled to launch into when fully-clad in his outfit, usually in front of a mirror and with much self-admiration.  Just like his father again…

Not an outfit with impressive durability by any means, but a very easy flung-together costume for when life demands something a little more flamboyant than the everyday.

*****

 

DIY Art Installation: The Great Wall of China

I’ve always had a bit of a passion for matt white porcelain; there’s just something about its beauty and fragility, and the understated simplicity of it.  Having neither the lifestyle not budget to warrant actually buying it, I’ve till now satisfied my passion with window shopping and pinning artists and makers like Caroline Swift (below) and Isabelle Abramson (bottom)

carline swift vessels caroline swift bowls

Isabelle Abramson

A couple of weeks ago I was drinking coffee in the kitchen and wondering idly which picture to hang on a long, thin wall when I decided to do something very different – I’d try creating a sculpture wall of porcelain-like vessels and kitchen implements which could hang quietly against a backdrop of white until noticed…

Kitchen with wall installation

 

great wall of china montage

I began by assembling any old and chipped plates we had, plus odds and ends like a couple of baby feeding spoons from when Harry was weaning, and a pair of chopsticks.  I did a quick trawl of local charity shops and managed to pick up a cheap teapot and a couple of china mugs and saucers.  These were a myriad of different colours, but of course that doesn’t matter at all as everything will be sprayed white.  Oh, and remember the teacup bird feeders I made?  I swiped one of the cups and saucers from there to repurpose on my wall.  I gave everything several thin coats of matt white spray paint and then rolled out a length of white paper to play with the arrangement of the items.  I used a leftover roll of lining wallpaper for this – very cheap and super useful.  I moved the items around, repositioning and taking photos to work out what arrangement would look best on the eventual wall…

wall art laid out on paper

It was also at this stage that I gave some serious thought to how to fix the china and objects to the wall, especially those – like the whisk – that I wanted to hang at a particular angle.  The answer was to use a few different methods.  For lighter items like the baking implements below, I just tapped a handful of nails into the wall to secure them in place, spraying the nails white afterwards.  You can see them if you look for them, but otherwise they pass largely unnoticed…

kates kitchen wall

kitchen utensils wall art

For heavier plates and arrangements, I glued the pieces together before spraying them, then used plate discs to adhere to the back before hanging flush on the wall using nails.  The plate discs hold an amazing weight, but you do need to follow the directions and let them ‘cure’ overnight first before testing their strength.junk shop teapot sprayed matt white sprayed white chopsticks on saucer

babyspoon and bowl white plates

The most challenging items were light, individual pieces like the little ramekins and the fish dipping dish.  I wanted them to appear completely flush with the wall and seem almost to be floating.  In the end, I opted for  super-strong velcro tabs which are designed for picture hanging.  One side adheres to the wall, and one to the piece you want to hang, then they simply clip together (see below for more details).  This was great to use for any pieces which I was hanging in arm’s length of visiting toddlers – they can be peeled off the wall if some strength is used, but can’t be knocked to the floor and broken.  Not easily, anyhow…

kitchen wall with a difference

 

Fancy having a go? Here’s what I used; matt white spray paint to get the china a uniform, flat colour.  Command picture hanging strips to adhere lightweight pieces directly to the wall; this is great as you can reposition them and move the pieces around to different positions.  Adhesive plate discs, for invisible hanging or larger items, which are then hung onto nails or hooks; I used these tap-in angled ones below for a near-flush finish; you could use ordinary nails and gently tap them at an angle to avoid pieces jutting out.

wall art materials

 

Our Great Wall of China joins other kitchen features like the mounted boat transom (below) and folded books on the fireplace and completes it at last…

boat in room close up

books on fireplace

It will probably provoke similarly mixed reactions from friends, with some who think it’s the coolest thing ever and others who think we’re completely nuts… and that’s fine too.  Debate can ensue over a Saturday night glass of wine or three…

I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend, wherever you are!

Kate