diy

Come tell me a story…

Fun with the Storybox

Storytelling is big in our house.  From tales of the little people who live behind the skirting boards, to the owl family up our chimney; from the lego men who come to life after bedtime and party hard in the playroom all night, to Mummy’s magic shoes which dance when anyone steps in them; we weave stories into the fabric of our days almost without thinking, and Harry loves it.  Experts may say that we are storing up untold problems and creating a fantasist; I like to think that we’re just unleashing Harry’s imagination throughout the wonder years before the real world starts to hem it in.

And indeed, Harry  loves telling stories too.  ’My turn, my turn!’ He’ll exclaim as we sit around the table, or bundle into bed together.  And Harry’s stories are a delight, though they tend towards repetition and rely heavily on goodies and baddies, robbers and jail, and cars.  Oh, and usually someone falls into a giant vat of mud at the end.

This week we introduced The StoryBox, and it’s transformed our tales.  Filled with random but enticing words – like custard, mud, helicopter, sword and pirate – each person has to pick out a word and use it to begin their story.  Whenever you run out of narrative steam, you choose another word and have to incorporate it.  At three-and-a-half, Harry grasped the idea immediately and loves the unpredictability of what might come next.  It gives him triggers to keep his own story going, and it also allows him to direct – or perhaps sabotage? – our stories too, by pulling out words and insisting that we now need to add in a huge pile of elephant poo – or grandma on a motorbike, or a slimy monster, or whatever is written on the card.

The StoryBox Game

To make this I used a sturdy giftbox and filled it with chips of foamboard to which I glued interesting words.  I chose the names of family members, comic concepts and ideas involving mud, poo, custard and slime, and current obsessions like Lego men, the emergency services and all forms of transport.  And I added in a few completely new words, so that we could explain them and continue to expand his world.  It’s helping with Harry’s word recognition too (though you have to shut your eyes when actually choosing, to add to the drama and unpredictability…).

make your own storybox game

Some very cool stories have emerged.  Like the one where Granny had to rescue Daddy who slipped on a banana whilst escaping from the naughty pirates, who she then chased  on her scooter before making them jump into a big bowl of custard that they had to eat all up before going to jail.

Making stories

You can make this at home in just a few minutes, and it can be as simple or as finessed as you have the energy for.  For the five-minute version, scribble a host of words onto scraps of paper and place them in a hat, shoebox or bowl for family members to pull out.  For the lux version, you can print them out and glue to something more substantial as I did, and decorate a special box to keep them in.

If you want to use my graphic (below) for the cover of your box, you can find a printable version to download at the bottom, albeit one without Harry casually strolling through the pages..

StoryBox

I will keep adding words to our game as Harry’s vocabulary expands and his interests change, to keep it fresh and ensure that the StoryBox retains a firm place in family life. And now I must go; apparently there’s a cross-eyed camel running loose in the garden, and we need to find a saucepan full of sausages to tempt it over with.  No rest for the wicked…

Storybox Main Graphic

Weekend Notes

Hello Typewriter card

Did you have a lovely weekend?  We had a divine long weekend of sunshine, friends and downtime, with very few places to be and nothing which required more sartorial effort than t-shirts and deck shoes.  Perfect.  it gave me a chance to plant up the windowboxes which line our sills and always make me think of those beautiful hidden squares in the heart of French villages..

Geraniums

We managed to eat al fresco every single day, with picnics in the park and long, lazy lunches in the garden at home.  The magnolia trees continue to explode in bloom so I snipped a handful of buds to float in a bowl in the centre of the table;

magnolia

magnolia 2

magnolia 3

We feasted on some tried-and-tested family favourites like this tomato salad with grilled halloumi cheese, torn basil and balsamic glaze;

summer salas

…and experimented with some new decadent dessert recipes which I’ll share with you properly in due course.  The cocktail glasses were all scraped clean with happy sighs so I’m considering that a resounding success!

Strawberry Cheesecake Cocktails

There was one small shadow cast over the weekend, and a grave reminder that pride surely comes before a fall.  My sunflower, which shot off the proverbial starting blocks just a week ago, has now developed a worrying lean.  Like a teenager in the midst of an ungainly growth spurt, it has somehow overshot itself.  We’ve called in the fire brigade to assist but I’m not confident.  The other two are standing strong, but I may make an early and untimely exit from the family race..

wobbly sunflower

And finally… one of the loveliest things about the gradual arrival of summer is the long balmy nights.  I spent one evening this weekend with the garden door propped open, glass of chilled white wine to hand, making these cards (top and below) using a photograph I took of my Valentines typewriter.  I’ve included a printable version at the bottom if you want to use this yourself; just trim around the main image, then carefully slice around the top three sides of the typewriter-paper which is inserted into it.  Roll the flap lightly around a pencil to create a curve (see below), then glue the main image to card stock, being careful to avoid glueing your flap down.  Ta-da; a 3d typewriter correspondence card.  I added simple white shirt buttons to the keys as further embellishment..

typewriter correspondence card

Before I sign off, a huge thank you for the lovely comments recently, and welcome to those who are new here; it’s wonderful to hear from you and  to have you along for the ride.

Have a good week, and may the sunshine be with you!

Vintage Typewriter Printable

Lost Arts: Paper Boats

tutorial on how to make paper boats

Do you remember making paper boats as a child?  Or perhaps paper hats?  I was thinking last week about how easy it would be for these oh-so-simple and yet so magical crafts to vanish in the modern world.  I grew up knowing how to make boats and hats, how to write secret letters in home-made invisible ink , how to tie a myriad of different knots – albeit mostly with the aim of binding my  brother to a tree – and how to build bivouacs and signal in morse code using my torch, illicitly, late at night.

It helped that my mother was a Girl Guide leader, and that most Friday nights saw the garden filled with girls flamboyantly  lighting campfires (health and safety be damned..) and practicing outdoor skills.  It was a gung-ho upbringing and I just assumed that all parents knew this stuff and could whip up a sailing boat, a double-half-hitch-crossover-hench-twist* or a series of intelligible smoke signals at the drop of a proverbial hat.

*Don’t try to look this one up; accuracy is not my strong point.

Of course, I have forgotten nearly all of it, so in an attempt to ensure I can create the same delight and awe in Harry, I gave myself a refresher crash course in elementary boat building.  If your skills are similarly rusty, arm yourself with a sheet of letter paper and follow this.  Pause it when you get lost and start-over.  Don’t do this after a glass of wine.

tradewinds paper boat with mast and ribbon flags

I made my boats from map paper and poked twigs and wooden skewers through each to form a mast.  Washi paper tape and scraps of fabric complete the sail, and I used a rubber stamp kit to print random numbers and letters on them.  I christened my boats with suitably nautical names – Tradewinds, Siren Song, Night Trawler et al – and prepared to set sail.

paper boat with sail

Tiny silver bells and paper dolphins accompany the boats as they take to the high seas; these are beautiful if you’re making boats to tuck into bookshelves and on mantels, but obviously won’t survive a voyage across the bathtub.

paper dolphine

If you find you’re having balance problems, try adding an anchor; I used a handful of beads from an old necklace which look a little like ancient maritime fishing bouys.

paper boat with anchor and paper dolphins, and linen sail

And finally if you want to produce an armada to be sailed across lakes, rivers or ponds, try using an old book.  The pages are perfectly thin and work brilliantly for folding.  I found an old book of letters in my local junk shop for 50p and now have a handful of tiny boats that we can practice bombing, sinking and blowing off course…

paper boats made from old book pages

Staying with our nautical theme, we managed a long weekend at the seaside, having a very British kind of minibreak; each day we acquired a smattering of freckles, a dash of windburn and the kind of bracing exfoliation that only frequent, brief hail-storms can provide.  Every time we turned to face each other our hair had been coiffed into evermore improbable positions by the briny crosswinds, and we practised our sprint-starts by racing each other to shelter under the pier when the heavens opened.

And yet, and yet …it was beautiful.

vibrantly coloured doors of houses and seaside photographs

In three brief, heady days we had a ball; crabbing in the harbour with leftover bacon from breakfast; building mermaids and forts in the sand; watching astonishing sunsets with a glass in hand, and gradually amounting a huge collection of dubiously scented seaweed, driftwood and flotsam, which has left a lingering & evocative presence in the car ever since that no amount of ventilation can quite dispel.

postcards 2

We came home, unpacked the car, collapsed in a heap together on the sofa, and then remembered our sunflowers.  A feverish scramble to the windowsill revealed…

..that we have life!!  A magnificent 4 inches of life no less; we are very proud.

sunflower germinating

Have a wonderful weekend when it arrives, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.  It’s a holiday weekend here in England, and for once the skies are blue and cloudless.  I feel a barbeque coming on…

Weekend notes

weekly shop

You just know it’s going to be good weekend when you go to the supermarket and find all the Spring bouquets discounted to £1.  Even then, buying flowers for yourself is somehow deliciously decadent.  Add baguettes, fresh figs, french cheese and drizzling honey and you have a sunshine feast in the making; never mind that I forgot the far more crucial household staples (domesticity will never come easily to me; lack of effort, I suspect…).

The same trip took me past a haberdashery store which was selling roll-ends of fabric; I bought some majestic raspberry velvet which will easily see Harry through a childhood of Harry Potter cloaks, wise man nativity outfits and Santa hats, plus a length of this cheery tea-party cotton for which I have a myriad of ideas; it will hang over my desk till inspiration settles.

time for tea

And on the theme of lovely-but-unnecessary purchases, the postman delivered me a long-awaited and utterly impractical lukrecja cotton apron from Polish company COOKie.  Whilst serious cooks would doubtless throw up their hands at the skittishness of my apron, I am giddy with adoration for it.  In its defence, it is made of heavyweight industrial cotton and designed for the kind of heavy-duty labour a kitchen skivvy needs.

lukrecja apron

Undermining this defence completely is the publicity shot for the apron (below), with the tagline  ’it is easy for Lukrecja to leave the kitchen to buy vegetables whilst absent-mindedly forgetting to wear clothes under her apron’.  Hmmm.  Completely mad, and all the better for it.  I have been waltzing round the kitchen in my jeans and apron, twirling and admiring myself in the oven door and every other reflective surface.  Dinner has been late.

LUKRECJA bicycle

In other despatches from the weekend, we’ve been channeling our inner Picasso, making a homemade picture for Harry’s grown-up brother who has recently moved house.  Harry adores Chris, so going to Chris’s first grown-up house is a very big deal.  In real life, Chris and his girlfriend Emma look as if they have stepped from the pages of an Abercrombie catalogue.  Harry, in the manner of Lucian Freud, has chosen to render them looking rather simian and obese, with no hint of flattery.  He stood back to examine them, then waved his hand dismissively; ‘they are done, mummy’. A 3yr old artiste.

Harry draws BIG, so I took his two pictures and scanned them in, adding the names and date, then mounted the print and placed it in a simple silver frame; he is immensely proud of his efforts, which manage to look stylish and understated in C&E’s hip neutral living room.

picture gift

The sun has shone this weekend, almost throughout, causing Britons up and down the country to hurl off their clothes and lie on every available patch of grass.  It’s a cultural kind of carpe diem; sunlight is so rare and cherished that we tend to overreact completely to the melting of frost and make the most of every ray of warmth.  In a rather more domesticated reaction, we hung washing on the line for the first time this year, and Harry tackled the spring-cleaning of his playhouse (for about 5 minutes; he gets that staying-power from me).

spring cleaning

We’ve planted our sunflowers, turned over a couple of flower beds and then there’s just been time, as the spring sunshine fades today and the air cools again, to lie on the still-damp grass and look up through our magnificent magnolia tree, which has suddenly burst into bud and bloom.

Heaven.

magnolia skies

I hope you had a lovely weekend too…especially those who planted sunflowers with us; let the race begin!!

Kate

The Great Sunflower Race 2013!

The Great Sunflower Race begins

This time last year, we launched our inaugural Great Sunflower Race, pitting our horticultural skills against family, friends, neighbours – and you.  We painted our pots, googled top tips, and Harry and I then watched in glee as our seeds germinated seemingly overnight, sending out perky shoots and promising great things.  We tut-tutted over my husband’s barren soil  - his seedling eventually grew about a foot before peaking and retiring – whilst watching our stems shoot heavenward.

…They were eaten as an appetiser by a passing deer the following week.

But there’s something about the British spirit of perseverance against all odds; a relentless optimism  combined with a constitutional patience that causes us to quietly join queues and wait in line even if we have no idea what we are waiting for.  Some argue that it is this spirit which has won wars; it’s certainly the same dogged optimism that compels us to try again this year – and with such passion and fervour!

Once more Harry and I have had a fun time packaging up seeds into tiny envelopes to give away to old friends and new, so that the race can begin in earnest;

sunflower packets 3 copy

great sunflowe race master

And once again we’d love you to join us, if you have a patch of soil or even just a doorstep – the beauty of sunflowers is that they need very little space.  Choose your seeds, fill a pot and throw your virtual hat into the ring via the comments below, and we’ll have regular progress checks on sunflower growth spurts around the world.  Let the great sunflower race begin!

 

An Easter welcome…

Easter approaches, but not the vibrantly green Easter of sudden unseasonal heatwaves, spring picnics and al fresco fun.  Instead, Easter in our small corner of the world promises to be sprinkled with snow flurries, with only the hardiest early apple blossom and narcissi spikes braving the chill.  We don’t care; at Easter each year the house fills with family and friends, and we’ve been adding some decorative touches to spruce things up for their arrival.  Let’s start with lunch…

wallpaper table runner

I wanted to create an interesting Easter table that will see us through a number of meals and provide some distractions for little hands; I used a leftover piece of wallpaper for a simple, natural table runner.  It’s wipe-proof, unlikely to tear and means there’s no need for a tablecloth beneath.  I love using wallpaper for table runners – our local DIY store lets you cut sample lengths and I have a bundle of offcuts from when we were decorating bedrooms; some vibrant and some, like this, more subtle.  Simple brown kraft paper looks great too, or you could use a roll of black paper to mimic a chalkboard; I’ve done this for informal dinners with friends and it looks gorgeous when decorated with white chalk pens (leave some on the table for guests to doodle with..)

spring hare napkin rings DIY

I made these seasonal napkin rings by cutting toilet rolls in half and glueing a length of fabric around each.  I sourced the archive image of the spring hare from here; it was once a bookplate in a dictionary…  I printed it out several times on a sheet of white paper and cut into strips before glueing around each ring.

I used the same image for placemats, printing onto A3 recycled paper, and creating a set of hares racing around the table…

march hare placemat

For the centre of the table, I trailed a variety of spring elements to create a narrow but interesting feature, that can stay in place throughout the long weekend…

tonal spring table

We dragged a mossy log back from the park and this, when dried out, provided the backbone (n.b. if you do this, I’d suggest leaving it in the porch overnight for any existing many-legged residents to seek alternative accommodation, thus avoiding a mass exodus across the lunch table). Homemade nests were placed at each end, with smaller ones tucked along the log.  Old terracotta pots planted with narcissi are scattered at intervals, and should come into bloom at just about the right time…

easter or spring table centrepiece

Hard-boiled white duck eggs sit alongside faux eggs and blown quails eggs, filling bowls and egg cups, and even a tiny vintage silver tea pot from Harry’s play kitchen.

easter table display with teapot

 

I wandered around the house collecting any small vases or bowls of the right sort of palette, like this duck-egg blue vase which normally sits on a mantel but looks just right here…

easter tablescape detail

I decided to make a decorative banner for the fireplace in the kitchen, so set about painting some eggs in fantasy colours and designs (don’t try looking these up in any bird book; accuracy was never my strong point).  These beautiful paints are from legendary Parisian art store Sennelier, and were a gift from my father; I don’t break them out very often but when I do they’re a joy to use.

watercolour eggs

I painted my eggs onto watercolour postcard paper, then scanned them in so I could cut out enough for a banner; I like how they turned out, and think I’ll use them as individual place cards, or maybe transfer print them onto a plain tea towel in the future; if you want to use them for anything seasonal I’ve attached my file as a PDF below, which looks like this when you open it;

bird egg collection

If the weather-man is right, we’ll be lighting the log fire more than once and it will be the centre of attention, so I’ve arranged the folded books from a couple of weeks ago to add a spark of humour and interest…

easter fireplace

And as a final touch, on the large cook’s table sits a vase filled with plastic eggs and a fallen cherry-tree branch, a victim of the recent storms; we rescued it, trimmed just a little and then decked the branches sparingly with speckled eggs.  To do this, I placed a drinking glass inside the vase, filled it with water and inserted the branch, before carefully dropping the plastic eggs all around, filling up the space between the glass and the vase.

easter vase filler

Elsewhere, a collection of  wicker baskets which we’ve collected over the years sits waiting in the hall for the small hands of eager egg-hunters on Easter Monday.  We’re all ready to lay out the hunt (below), but are waiting till the very last minute to decide whether this is a bracing outdoor escapade calling for wellies, scarves and hot chocolate, or whether instead we’ll be placing eggs in nooks and crannies around the house before unleashing indoor chaos…

egg hunt signs

Our next task is a spot of seasonal baking; these baby chick cupcakes went down well last year so a newly hatched batch is top of the list.  If you click on the picture below you can find the details of how we made them.

Hatching Chick Cupcakes

Have a wonderful Easter weekend, wherever you are and whomever you’re with; may spring sunshine and good chocolate find their way to your door…

March hare tablemat

Six Speckled Eggs by Kate

Dream Home Restoration Part III: The Playroom and Book Nook

I’ve talked before about the life’s-work that is our home restoration project (if you’re a newish visitor, you can read about it here and here).  We’re probably about 10% through our list of projects, having tackled the kitchen and the more pressing – and depressing – stuff like turfing out the mouse population and reducing the bracing fresh air which gusts through every seemingly-closed window.

Next on our list was a play space for Harry; we’re lucky enough to have a perfect room for this, sandwiched between the kitchen and Snug, and featuring an ancient but very cool wrought-iron spiral staircase which leads straight upto his bedroom.  When the last owners lived here, the playroom was used as a games zone by their sons, complete with black walls, slightly crusty green carpets (let’s not consider that further), a myriad of sockets and cables, and wall-to-wall posters.  What little natural light there was had been blocked with heavy curtains, gloom being the preferred natural habitat of the teenage male.

Painting walls and replacing the carpet was an immediate priority, but the rest we’ve done gradually, adding homemade furniture and toys here and there, and evolving the space as Harry’s grown from a wobbly toddler into a little boy.

Playroom Stairs

The original fireplace appears to have had its legs sawn off at some point in the last 300yrs, but we decorate it nonetheless with string ball lights, garlands and bunting, depending on the season; at Christmas it had a curtain of cotton wool snowballs, and a vintage glitter ball currently sits in the grate waiting for us to find a new home for it (though I think it’s pretty settled at this point).

Playroom with fireplace

Nooks and crannies are used for storage; these sturdy chairs fit around the art table when we’re painting, but then retire, Shaker-style, to the peg rail to free up floor space

Playroom Chairs

A giant bookcase found on Ebay houses toyboxes, Lego and other treasures like the animals from Harry’s Ark and his collection of fireman helmets (one for each of us; teamwork is everything).

Playroom shelves

A ratty sofa allows shoppers to queue in comfort when waiting to be served at Harry’s store, and doubles up as a boat, life-raft, island, den or car depending on what game we’re playing.  One of the first things I ever made for Harry, his family tree, hangs on the wall and is regularly updated when family members are matched or hatched.

Playroom wall with shop

My favourite part of the playroom is the newest; a former cloakroom was awkwardly squeezed into a corner of the room and hoarded the only precious direct natural light.  We knocked down the wall and ripped it out to extend the main room and create a small reading area with books and cushions.

Playroom book nook

book nook montage

The ‘book of the week’ corner utilises the boxed-in plumbing for the former faucet, and holds a rotating series of Harry’s favourite books, accessorised with paintings and pictures we’ve made, or things from the Dressing Up box, like this Halloween Hat and Broom.

harrys book nook 1

Scattered around are some folded books, which I made one evening last week in front of the television, inspired by this amazing window display from US store Anthropologie.

anthropologie book window

I played around with folding a couple of charity shop books which we won’t read again, and had a lot of fun.  Next time I’ll work my way through the whole book and make some over-sized hanging pendants, perhaps at Christmastime.

Playroom Book Art and Stag

book nook 2

I added a junk store vintage sofa which I painted in off-white chalk paint and reupholstered in faux (wipe-clean!) suede; it was previously unfashionable mahogany so I bought it for a song and spent a couple of days overhauling it.  It adds a touch of grace to the playroom and shows you don’t have to be surrounded by plastic-fantastic ‘kids furniture’ all the time.

Upcycled vintage sofa

Elsewhere paper stars & Harry’s artwork adorn the twisting staircase, acting as a height warning for unwitting grown-ups.  The Jeeves & Wooster pendant light is made from a gilded bowler hat and is one of the few light fittings we’ve managed to reuse from our former, very modern house. Two squeezable trumpet horns are used in the summer for garden games and races, and frighten the life out of newcomers with their ear-splitting exuberance.

bowler hat light

trumpets

Old favourites like the cardboard rocket have miraculously managed to survive months of heavy-handed play; the rocket currently houses Harry’s most precious treasures and anything else which catches his eye around the house (car keys, watches, bananas… it’s an eclectic and hazardous mix).

Playroom 5

We’re lucky to have a dedicated playroom, and one which sits so perfectly at the heart of the home, close to the rest of the action.  Its layout and palette gives space for Harry to grow and for his tastes – and stuff – to evolve.  I know that one day I too may be painting the walls in dark and manly teenage colours and shuddering as I peel up the once-oat coloured carpet, but till then we’ll enjoy the space, light and fun of a room filled with the passions of a 3yr old, who I hope will take as long to grow up as is humanly possible…

Nesting

DIY birds nest tutorial

Bird nests; one of nature’s most abidingly beautiful things, evocative of spring & new life.  Did you know that birds make on average 500 trips to build a nest, working with barely a pause for several days on end?  And that if you’re a poor male Weaver bird, your nest is the dating equivalent of a statement of your net worth, your DIY skills and your general domesticity and attention-to-detail all in one? Frankly, if  your nest doesn’t cut it,  you’re destined to remain the eternal bachelor.  And that’s a lot of pressure, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Fortunately these homemade nests (above and below) take about 30 minutes and require only a good rummage under the hedgerows, a small amount of dexterity and creativity, and a dab of glue.  Oh, and a few well-placed hair grips.  They may not attract exotic winged wildlife to take up residence, but they will look very pretty as an Easter table centrepiece, or strewn around the house decoratively through Spring.  Mine are currently perched on the kitchen windowsill and tucked into bookshelf corners, and make me smile in the morning.

DIY birds nest project

bird nest DIY 2

DIY feathers

speckled birds nest DIY

A tiny nest has even found its way into the pocket of Harry’s waistcoat, watched over by a territorial pheasant (a lingering Christmas tree decoration).

bird nest in waistcoat pocket

birds nest on branch

bird nest still life

The fabulous thing about bird nests – in real life and here – is that each and every one is different.  You can use different materials to construct it, and weave all manner of things into the basic structure.  Through trial and error I’ve found that there are three main good things to build your basic shape with;

Salim, or seagrass, is perfect.  I got a huge bundle from my local garden centre / florist for a few pounds, and it’s a (messy) delight to work with as it naturally binds itself together

Raffia is very widely available and comes in many different colours.  It’s great for kids to work with and also good for building nests that will house chocolate or candy eggs

Handfuls of reeds, creepers, living willow or other garden plantstuff also work well; you want a good thick handful of whatever you choose, at least 12-18 inches in length.  Green willow will become brown and stiff as it dries out, but is very malleable when freshly cut.

bird nest basics

Once I’d bought my seagrass, we went to the park to gather up bits and pieces to adorn the nests.  Harry loved this bit,  racing back to us with carefully cupped handfuls of treasures including feathers, bits of string and pebbles, interestingly shaped twigs… we threw it all in to our collecting sack.  Duck feathers are particularly beautiful as they tend to be very small and speckled, sometimes with hints of blue and green which look gorgeous when you add in eggs to the finished nest.  Whilst Harry and I fearlessly waded amongst mounds of duck poo to collect tiny, crusty feathers, my husband grew restless; ‘Would it speed things up if I just kidnap a duck for you to pluck later?’ he enquired, through chattering, gritted teeth.

faux birds nest materials

Once you’ve assembled everything (in a clear, sweepable space; don’t do this on a carpet, trust me..), find some clothes pegs, craft glue and simply hair grips like these which you’ll use to hold the nest together.  Now, we begin..!

Step 1: Take a thick handful of your seagrass (or raffia, etc), about 12-18 inches long (like a bundle of spaghetti).  Bend it into a tight tyre or wreath shape and secure it in place.  You can do this by tying it with string or wire, or by clipping it temporarily with clothes pegs and then using a glue gun, removing the pegs when dry.  You should end up with a messy but firm hoop like this below; don’t worry that it has no ‘bottom’; we’ll fill this in later.

nest building step 1

Step 2: trim off all of the bits that stick out (decide whether you want a very neat, trimmed nest to impress the neighbours, or a more random, scruffy one; I like both in different ways).  Tuck a loose ball of seagrass and offcuts into the hoop to make a base.  This will hold blown eggs very easily, but if you’re planning on putting anything heavier in the nest you might want to place it in a bowl or on a plate at this stage. Place it on its ‘bottom’ and make sure it is stable, neatening up where necessary.

nest building step 2

Step 3; Now you can start to accessorise your nest.  You can add moss (real of faux) by dotting it around the edges and securing with either hair pins (pushed straight in), or by wrapping around with brown or invisible thread.  Strands of leafy ivy are a great alternative.  Then tuck feathers in around the sides and top edges, along with any other treasures that you’ve gathered along the way;

nest build step 3 moss

nest building step 4

nest building step 5

Your nest is now ready for eggs!

nest building step 6

bird nest on fireplace

I’ve used a mixture of hand-blown quail and duck eggs in my nests, some of which I’ve dyed and speckled using a dry-bristled paintbrush dipped in paint, and some shop-bought ones too.  For a step-by-step tutorial on how to dye and speckle eggs, have a look at this post I wrote last year by clicking on the picture below;

101tonal-eggs-with-ink

Now, I must leave you in order to go sweep up in the aftermath of our nest-building frenzy, but first a quick but heartfelt ‘thank you’ for all of the lovely comments, likes and for those of you who have signed up for more, week after week; it puts a spring in my already-bouncy step and makes it all very worthwhile…

Have a lovely weekend!

speckled egg

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..

The Rainy Day Explorer’s Kit

Hello again at last, after an uncharacteristic hiatus; we’ve been a plague house this last couple of weeks, with both my husband and I felled by seasonal ‘flu.  Harry miraculously escaped, and observed our symptoms and progress with great interest; he immediately and opportunistically whipped out his Melissa & Doug Veterinary Dress-Up Bag, and proceeded to administer bandages, injections and chilly plastic stethscopes to whichever of us was too slow to evade his latex gloved-clutches.

Still, the fevers have at last abated, leaving us feeling a little stir-crazy and restless, particularly as last month’s glorious snowfalls have been replaced by driving rain and an all-pervading damp chilliness.  It was time for some indoor adventuring, in the style of a housebound Indiana Jones, so last night whilst Harry was asleep I hastily constructed the Rainy Day Indoor Expedition Kit…

Rainy Day Expedition Kit from katescreativespace

I used this old cardboard laundry box (below) which I found at a local junk shop.  A vintage suitcase would also be brilliant for this, but equally a large shoebox or bag would do the job.  I designed a suitably enticing picture for the front (you can download mine below), and pasted it on before filling it with a collection of bits and bobs from around the house that would spark Harry’s imagination and get us started on a truly exciting and brave indoor adventure.

laundry box

Almost all of the items can be sourced within minutes – and quickly returned to their usual homes afterwards.  A quick raid of the laundry cupboard, fridge, and Harry’s toybox generated most of the contents.  I’ve highlighted below what I included and why; you can customise this for the age(s) of your kids, and also get them to join in the planning; when Harry’s a bit older I’ll get him to decide most the things we need.

Contents of indoor expedition kit

In our rainy-day expedition case you’ll find:

  1. A field trip notebook and pen for recording what we see 
  2. A torch (you can teach morse code to older kids).  We had battery-powered fairy lights too for our den
  3. Toy walkie-talkies so we can communicate when out adventuring; real ones would be even cooler
  4. A large white sheet to use as a tent for our den, with pegs to hold it in place.
  5. Books to read in our tent, when eating our snacks
  6. Juice and crackers.  We ate these before we even started, so one of our first expeditions was back to the fridge
  7. A simple point-and-shoot camera for Harry to take endless blurry photos of our trip
  8. Hat and goggles, in the manner of all true explorers
  9. A sword, because you never know when you’ll meet a pirate or a baddie
  10. Handcuffs; see above.
  11. A rubber snake, for instant atmosphere; throwing this around (Harry) and screaming in faux-terror (me) took up quite a lot of the day and caused endless delight
  12. Marvin, Harry’s right-hand mouse and inseparable companion, and finally..
  13. A strong rope; we used a waxed washing line rope, mostly as a lasso for wild animals, but also to tie around our waists when climbing the stairs / dangerous mountain.

Expedition Kit Contents

I placed the expedition suitcase on a stool for Harry to discover it at breakfast time, when we usually make our plans for the day.  Once he wrestled the top off the box, he also found this mysterious ribbon-tied scroll in the case, which outlines exactly what you need to do to qualify as a proper Adventurer; this provided the basic plan for our morning…

Adventurers Challenge

Our den-building took quite a bit of time and was lots of fun; pondering the exact location, and discussing what we needed to consider; (ability to see pirates coming from afar, easy access to food and toys, and a multitude of other specifics).  We strung, hung and pegged and bundled cushions and suitcase into the finished den, stringing up fairy lights for added atmosphere..

harrys big expedition

Harry’s toy dog Digby nobly agreed to play the role of wild animal and was duly captured and tethered to the kitchen table, with some crackers as a reward for his co-operation and acting skills.

indoor expedition

We fended off attacks from a troop of Lego City Robbers and some Playmobil pirates before settling down to stories and juice.  After lunch we discovered the promised treasure; leftover chocolate gold coins from Christmas, secreted in an old wooden box at the top of the stairs.

It was the best kind of day; just enough planning to spark Harry’s imagination, and then much adventuring, rescuing, wrestling, construction, destruction and finally chocolate, which seems to me to be the formula for little boy heaven.  I’m sure versions of this game are played in homes the world over, but if you want to download our Expedition Case label and Adventurer Instructions, you can find both below.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to just go untether a dog before retiring to my den with a fistful of chocolate coins (who says you have to grow up?).

The Adventurers Challenge

Expedition Kit