diy

Laundry? Life’s too short…

There’s nothing like a weekend of torrential rain and domestic chores to make one’s mind turn to glittery, sparkly things; to cocktails and flighty behaviour and all things fun. Given that kitten heels and Cosmopolitans would be a tad inappropriate at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, let alone hindered somewhat by a toddler and localised flooding (unrelated, those last two, for once…), H and I have been making our own fun, combining clothespins, glitter and glue to messy creative effect. Here’s the grown-up edit of alternative uses; Harry’s showcase to follow in due course.

1. Nailing ribbon to an old picture frame and using sparkly clothespins to attach personal mementos, which include here my husband’s marriage proposal (we don’t only communicate in writing, I hasten to add), a favourite wedding photo and a cherished note from a friend.

2. Adding a salvaged tap end to a clothespin to hide a message to Mr B inside his suit carrier before a business trip (always good to have something to look forward to..)

And as a creative alternative to stand-up place cards for dinner…

These are so simple they don’t warrant a tutorial; we found that double-sided tape is the easiest way of attaching coloured scraps of paper, glitter and ribbon to clothespins for all sorts of fun, but glue would work just fine.  2yr olds are ideal for the decadent and flamboyant distribution of glitter; we will be sparkling lightly all week, and the entire house has taken on a lovely sheen.  Using glitter in tonal shades works great for items like the pegboard; primary colours and vibrant patterns add a zing to refrigerator doors when a magnet is attached to the back.  And if you really want to be purist and use them for laundry, they make great ‘Lonely Sock’ pegs when hung in a row on the laundry room wall….

Open for Business!

Napoleon once famously declared Britain to be ‘a nation of shopkeepers’, unfit to go to war with France (this was shortly before his defeat at Waterloo, ahem).  In the centuries since, this throwaway Gallic insult has become something of a source of national pride, with the village shop being the heart and soul of any local community and a fiercely defended institution.

Avid followers of this blog (thank you both) will know that Harry is a big fan of The Shops, unhindered as most 2yr olds are by the notion that one must pay hard cash for the magical goods contained within. His original cardboard box play shop sadly collapsed this past weekend, after months of cavalier treatment from children and grown-ups alike (what is it about very small spaces that makes adults determined to wedge themselves into them?), so I’ve been finishing a more robust version below, which we are proud to open here today for all your daily provisions.  The prices are of course outrageous, as Harry is saving up for a new fire engine; an apple will set you back about a week’s wages, but it will taste very good, I can promise you. Tips, process steps and a few close-ups of our wares below.

As with Harry’s play kitchen, I found this dresser top / hutch on ebay for around £15, and set about sanding, priming and painting it.  This involved poking the odd woodworm in the eye with a sharp stick, but otherwise was fairly painless.

I mixed up food boxes and packaging with various bits of plastic play food that we already had to produce a rather odd – let’s say eclectic – mix of produce to sell. The wooden trays are the lids of some ikea storage boxes, with home-printed labels for decoration. Stripy paper bags are filled with dried pasta, and some paper triangles glued to ribbon make for a festive bunting to mark the Grand Opening…

This bell was a junk-shop find with an astonishingly loud clang (note to self; check this next time before cheerfully purchasing…).  Harry’s cooking apron doubles as a store-owners uniform, and Japanese paper tape accessorises the shelf-fronts. Wooden drawers act as a till for cash, and fake fruit abounds wherever you look.  We are having a Dali-esque issue with scale, as you’ll see; strawberries are the size of eggs, and pears have a decidedly GM look to them, casting a shadow over smaller produce; such are the results when you acquire play food from a number of sources over a number of years…

And finally of course, our shop sign; it had to be French (sorry, Napoleon…). Now, what can we tempt you with today?

Primal Instincts

Naming things; it’s a very primal instinct, isn’t it? From the time that I could write I have been carefully inscribing versions of my name onto everything I own, and indeed many things which I don’t (possession being nine tenths of the law and all that).  A therapist would doubtless put this down to my being briefly but significantly called David for the first few moments of my life, as during the general distraction and euphoria of childbirth at least one of my parents was apparently heard to cry ‘It’s a boy! Let’s name him David!‘ before being eventually corrected by the midwives. As my parents are both doctors, this anatomical oversight is hard to explain.

Like all stories that one’s brothers tell you, this is probably wholly untrue, but ever since then I have been keen to write my correct name, very clearly, everywhere.  Of course the excellent thing is that this kind of territorial behaviour is not something we’re expected to grow out of once we leave childhood behind; instead, we call it Personalisation and consider it to be a very on-trend and chic thing to do.  Hurrah. So today I have been busy personalising the entire contents of the china cabinet, using up some leftover chalkboard paint. Having hosted a bunch of friends for coffee this week and realised the error of having ten identical mugs, I’m wishing I’d done this sooner…

Tips and techniques below for those interested in giving this a whirl…

Making chalkboard teacups:

1. Choose your materials.  I used; 1) porcelain teacups; I had these at home but if you’re starting from scratch choose mugs with a matte finish for greater adhesion, or use a primer as I did for glossy bases like these. 2) Chalkboard paint, from any craft or DIY store. 3) A selection of brushes; thick for the main tag and fine for finishing edges. 4) Repositionable tape for straight lines when painting. 5. A ceramic pen or paint for your ‘thread’. 6. Sharp craft scissors for scraping unwanted paint and making the hole in your tag.

2. Mark up and paint; I used a simple tag for the outline and marked the long straight edges with tape to help me.  Don’t worry about being too exact; the chalk paint is forgiving and can be gently scraped away before finally dry.  Prime if necessary, then give it two coats, following the manufacturers instructions about drying time, before gently scraping out a circle in your tag with the tip of the scissors.  Your finish should now be pretty resilient (though not dishwasher proof), but you could also coat with a clear varnish for even more staying power if you like.

3. Add your coloured thread; I used a sparkly ceramic pen for this, and continued the thread into the cup so that it looks fun when filled with coffee.  Again, check drying times – some brands require you to bake on a low heat to fix the ink and make it permanent.

4. Personalise! I used a chalk marker pen, but all of these options (pictured) work equally well, and wipe off easily with a wet cloth so you can change whenever you like.  Of course, if you’re truly having a retro moment and find yourself mentally back in the schoolyard, this means you can rewrite the names hourly, as you change your friends and ditch your former BFF for someone far cooler and more popular. Ah, those were the days…

Channeling Martha with a spot of dip ‘n dye

I was lying on the sofa the other day, idly trying to choose which of the few remaining chocolate Mini Eggs to eat first; should it be the pastel pink one, or the soft purpley-blue one? (Note the deliberate use of ‘first’ here; it was clearly never going to be a trade-off).  It reminded me that Easter is just around the corner and that Martha Stewart is no doubt at this very moment engaged in vigorous preparations for her extensive annual Easter home-makeover.  I prefer a rather more minimalist approach myself, saving the creative double-barrels for Christmas, but the one thing I do love doing is dip-dyeing eggs to make a simple centrepiece, or even a colourful addition to picnics when the weather allows.

The one big drawback here in the UK is the distinct lack of white eggs, unlike in the US where white eggs are the norm.  Apparently sometime back in the 60s, the UK government announced that brown eggs are better for you, and farmers and the general public immediately switched allegiance and the white hen egg was quite literally bred out of circulation.  The health-benefits story turned out to be entirely untrue, but brown eggs are now the norm and so for this I used white duck eggs, from Prince Charles’s very own Royal farms, and thus retailing at about £10 an egg.  Alright then, £2 a box.  Even so…

1. Hard-boil your eggs, boiling rapidly for 5mins then cooling gently in the pan for 15 mins to ensure a gradual reduction of heat, preventing the shells from cracking.  In the meantime….

2. Prepare several small bowls with 1 tbsp vinegar, food colouring of your choice and enough warm water to cover the egg completely. I used plain blue and green (above), then also mixed pink and blue food colouring to create a lavender colour, and experimented with different shades and depths of colour as I went along.

3. Add the eggs in turn and check colour regularly – leave for anything from 30 seconds to 5 minutes for deep colour, before extracting with gloves or tongs. Don’t wipe the eggs but instead rest of a piece of kitchen roll or place in egg cups.  Martha’s minimum wage elves apparently build her custom-made draining boards with a grid of nails specifically calibrated for optimal egg drying, but for us mere mortals an egg cup is more than sufficient.

4. The eggs look beautiful just grouped on a tonal plate as below (this one is from Wedgwood’s Vera Wang ‘Chalk’ range and I use it constantly…), or you can experiment with speckle effects using either undiluted food colour (if you’re intending to eat the eggs) or artist’s ink or paint if not.  Be warned that using anything pink/red based could leave your kitchen looking like a scene from CSI, with extensive blood spatter pattern effects across every surface.

The good thing is, once you’ve finished displaying them (no longer than a week after cooking, and keep in the fridge in the meantime), they taste really lovely too, despite H’s obvious suspicion…