photography

My Favourite Kit

In response to a recent small flurry of questions about the equipment I use, here’s a quick romp through my favourite kit and the reasons I like it.  I should begin by saying that I am completely unqualified to offer anything other than a personal opinion – I do not own so much as a Brownie badge in photography or paper craft, and am baffled by most things digital (I am awaiting eagerly the time that Harry hits his technological stride at about 6yrs old and can fix and demystify everything for me…).  Still, they’re the bits and bobs I rely on, so read on if your interest is piqued.  Where I’ve linked to stockists, it’s primarily for information, and I’ve chosen them fairly randomly; if you’re looking to buy I’d shop around for the best deal.

Camera Basics from katescreativespace

My camera, which tolerates a great amount of abuse, was a Canon 450d – I chose it 7yrs ago because when debating the question of Canon vs Nikon, I was repeatedly told that Canon was more intuitive for amateurs (the sales assistants obviously sensed my limitations within moments).  Whether or not this is true, I love my camera and it’s been reliable and awesome from Day 1.  For Christmas 2012, my wonderful husband gave me the upgraded 600d; but the single biggest change to my photos came much later when I invested in a 50mm fixed lens with a very low f/stop; it allows you to create a very shallow depth of field so that people and objects really leap out of the frame and the background melts away in a lovely blur, as in the pics above.  The effect is called ‘bokeh’ and you can read much more about it, with some other good lens recommendations, here.  These lenses don’t come cheap – they can be more than the camera itself – but if Great Aunt Susan dies peacefully in her sleep and leaves you a vast legacy, I’d suggest popping one on your shopping list.

1.  Canon EOS 450D/600D, 2. Canon 50mm lens, entry level or pro, 3. I have one of these wrist-straps and it’s invaluable when juggling a camera, a child and an ice-cream etc..  and 4. An inexpensive but super-useful lens cleaning brush

My camera came with a free DSLR bag, but I soon got sick of lugging it everywhere in addition to a nappy bag or handbag (sometimes all 3; when combined with the sartorial devastation caused by new motherhood, I’m surprised that people didn’t toss coins at me as I shuffled through the park..).  I looked at stylish camera bags but the loveliest of these tended to run into £100s.  Then I realised that I was trying to find a camera bag that looked as good as a handbag, and common-sense struck; after some thought, I trimmed all the exterior pockets and flap off the camera bag and now simply tuck it into whatever handbag or tote I’m using that day; it looks much cooler and lessens the risk of me leaving bags behind wherever I go.  And it’s a great way of converting a nappy/diaper bag once you no longer need it too.  Amazon has DSLR bags in its ‘basics’ range for under £10.

DIY Camera Bag Insert

I do a lot of paper crafts on the blog, and often have printables to download like these superhero cuffs.  A common question is how to get the same vibrancy of colour when using a regular home printer.  My printer is an Epson Photosmart 1400 (now replaced by the 1500 below which is the same with a few extra bells and whistles).  I wanted a printer that would print in large format, and it does – beautifully – though it takes up a fair amount of desktop space and the ink cartridges are expensive.  Epson inks are repeatedly described in the creative community as having the greatest colour intensity, and they certainly seem to deliver the goods.

Here’s the thing though; the biggest difference I see is in the paper I use; basic copy paper produces an acceptable but rather dull print-out as you see below left, whereas choosing professional-grade paper (I use HP matte) produces terrific vibrancy without changing any of the settings – the straightforward like-for-like comparison shows you the difference.  The paper is more expensive, as you’d expect – but still much cheaper than upgrading your printer.  I use it for craft projects and then switch to basic paper when printing emails etc.

Tips for great printing

So there we have it; my kitbag preferences and passions, for what they’re worth.  If you have other favourites or have had different experiences, do feel free t0 share in the comments below.  I’m also starting to think about a my-first-camera for Harry who is becoming fascinated with both sides of the lens; my inclination is to charge up my old pocket-sized Sony Cybershot and encourage him to have a play, but I’d love to hear if you’ve helped to grow a child’s enthusiasm for taking photos; any tips or hints?  I look at the dedicated plastic ‘kids’ cameras and recoil slightly at what seem to be inflated prices mostly for the character branding  - but I could be completely misguided. All advice welcome!

Have a great week…

handbag logo

 

A Modern-Day Botanical Journal

Botanical Journal 1

As a child I remember being briefly transfixed by the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady; a beautifully illustrated journal of all-things-country, penned by a fragrant, gentile lady who paused to capture nature at its most bountiful with her ever-ready paint palette.  I think I must have imagined myself doing the same one day, in blissful naivety.

Now, of course, I know that parenthood seldom allows you to pause for long enough to finish a cup of tea in a single sitting, let alone daub consistently beautiful watercolours (most of my painting is done under cover of darkness, which makes capturing the nuances of plant life somewhat tricky).  Also, that the chances of producing two beautiful sketches on adjoining pages of a notebook are slim to say the least, and that the inevitable ripping out of false-starts could render any diary very thin by the time I’d found my stride.

Instead, I decided to capture the ever-growing life in the conservatory with a kind of photo-diary; wandering around during these still-light evenings and taking a weekly snapshot of tendrils, buds, seedlings and even – most exciting of all! – the emergence of mini-vegetables.  If I manage to stay the course by both a) managing not to kill all the plants through ignorance and neglect, and b) taking some decent photos along the way, then I think I’ll make them up into a photo book like this one at the end of the year… but one step at a time.

This week; the first flurry of peas arrived; mini-cucumbers began to gain weight and dangle enticingly; the courgette plant swung into bloom and I acquired a lovely old watering can from a junk shop; both functional and – to me – beautiful…

Botanical Journal 4

Botanical Journal 2

Botanical Journal 3

Botanical Journal 5

Botanical Journal Week 1

Pea Shoots

For those who wonder about these things, I shot these photos very simply with a regular Canon DSLR and lens,  wandering around the conservatory holding a square sheet of Tim Holtz craft paper behind or alongside the plants to make for an interesting, arty picture (a behind-the-scenes shot of this below);

Behind the scenes pic

The paper takes on a very different tone in the differing lights and corners of the room, and the texture pools and melts away when I’m shooting close-up like with this vibrant-yet-poisonous Gloriosa Lily, which sits high on a shelf away where it can be admired from afar;

Gloriosa Lily

In other news; it’s been half-term this week, so a week of family time and an altogether slower pace of life; fewer early-morning alarm clocks and a very laissez-faire approach to planning each day.  Picnics in the forest, local excursions and lots of serious preparation from Harry for the first ever school Sports Day which looms on the horizon (his godmother has been coaching him for the egg-and-spoon race, professing her expertise – though she resorted this weekend to using a less conventional falafel-on-a-fork in the absence of hard-boiled eggs; we are nothing if not versatile in our approach).

There’s a back-to-school feeling for all of us this evening as uniforms and work clothes are laid out ready for the morning; but we’re drawing out the remains of the day for as long as we can.

Have a wonderful week, and enjoy the final moments of the weekend.

Kate

 

Winter Projects: The Family Yearbook

Making A Family Yearbook



How are you;  are you having a lovely weekend?  Mine began with a delivery I’ve been feverishly anticipating; a copy of the family photo yearbook I’d assembled and ordered, capturing all of the best bits of 2013.  Creating it was a labour of love which filled the long evenings between Christmas and New Year, but the result is 132 pages (count ‘em!) documenting the big and small things which together made up what was a wonderful year.  It was the first time I’ve done this even slightly methodically; here are a few thoughts and learnings I picked up along the way…

1. Don’t worry too much about chronology

It doesn’t matter if you get the exact sequence of events right (was our day at the seaside before or after Auntie Jean’s birthday?) – no-one will remember anyway.  Instead, I grouped pictures according to season, using photos for each section that I’d taken during the year and which I felt captured the essence of the months ahead; snow for the first quarter, then nests and eggs for springtime, and so on… it creates a feeling of the passing of time without you losing sleep over chronology…

Memory book seasons

Christmas was such a fun and activity-packed time it warrants a section of its very own…

Family album DIY

2. Capture the little things as well as the milestones

Whilst holidays, birthdays and events of course feature, some of the loveliest moments for me were the little things; growing sunflowers, racing scooters, feeding ducks; the minutiae of the everyday at this time in our lives – and the ones most likely to make me sentimental in the years ahead!

Family yearbook sunflower race

3. Think about your year in the broadest sense; memories don’t have to have people in them

Regular followers will know that we are gradually renovating our house (very gradually; it is the archetypal money pit…), so at various stages of our book I added pics of completed projects like our bathroom below;

Family album house renovations

4.  Flex your layouts to make the most of the pictures

On some pages of the book, I’ve used a myriad of pictures which reflect the pace and busyness of our lives at that point, like the run-up to Christmas below.  At other times, I’ve used a double-page spread for a single photo, like this one of Harry on a beach in Newport, when it felt like the horizon was infinite and we had the place entirely to ourselves.

Family album christmas crafts

Family album holidays snaps Family album holiday photos

5.  Think beyond photos and use the yearbook as a family archive too.

Possibly my favourite section is at the end, when I’ve added a miscellany of things which were very meaningful to us, whether or not they came with photos.

Family album things to remember

…like a letter my father wrote to me on my birthday, saying how ‘at this landmark time, I am incredibly proud of you’.  A letter so special that it warranted capturing in my book of the best bits of the year…

Contents for a memory book

…and on a different note, cuttings from the 50yr old newspaper we found in a cupboard when excavating an old shed; comically politically-incorrect and charming at the same time, it gives a lovely insight into another era.

Family album newspaper clippings

This post back in October generated some lovely reminisces of children’s sayings, and I couldn’t miss recording some of Harry’s in our yearbook – immortalising them to remind us just how fleeting the magical pre-school years are;

Family album quotes

The archive section also contains  a gallery  of Harry’s artwork from across the year, which  allows me to be a little more ruthless about what I throw away;  we now have a permanent record without needing to store boxes and boxes of artistic efforts in the loft.

Childrens artwork gallery in a family yearbook

5. Use your completed Yearbook as a one-stop shop for Grandparents (and everyone else…)

I was slightly astonished when I watched my book upload to the server to find that it contained 756 photos.  I struggle during the year to keep up with sending interesting family pics to relatives without either overwhelming them or having them miss out.  Now, I can sit them down with a glass of wine and our family yearbook and get them to stick a post-it note on any they want copies of; rather like viewing your wedding photos after the event and choosing only the ones you love!

6. Order a copy or two..

Photobooks, particularly thick ones, can add up financially, but I’ve ordered an extra copy to begin to build a set for Harry that I can give him when he leaves home.  For my generation of pre-digital childhood snaps, the only way of looking at pictures is by visiting your parents and going through their albums; I want Harry to be able to have a copy of each of our yearbooks and not have to wait to inherit them.  It also gives us a back-up copy in the event that we lose or damage this one (and with the country currently shoulder-deep in floodwater, it’s a very relevant thought…)

Finally, in the category of I-wish-I’d-thought-of-this-earlier; I wish I’d archived photos as I’d gone along, choosing the best each month and putting them in a folder (I use iPhoto, for Mac).  Sorting and sifting an entire year’s worth of photos was painfully slow, so my New Year’s resolution is to exert a little more discipline and order for 2014; I now have a folder for each month and am gradually dropping photos into it for January as the year unfolds.

Do you make photo yearbooks or do anything similar?  I’d love to hear (and learn ideas from those who have been doing it longer).

And now with Monday looming I will allow myself one more wander through the pages before firmly setting it aside and focusing on the week ahead; I hope that you have a good one.

Kate

Family yearbook spine

p.s. I used BobBooks software to make our yearbook, which I chose because I’m familiar with it – but shop around for good deals and the formats you like.

 

How to Capture the Moon

Moon cropped

Have you ever tried to take a photograph of the moon?  Inspired by the film Gravity and by a current spate of TV programmes on star gazing and the night sky, I have developed a fleeting obsession with the moon.  This weekend I took my camera and a very wobbly ladder out into the garden and attempted to photograph it.  I waited till my husband was distracted; he is very safety-conscious, which is one of the reasons we are so well-suited.  My first attempt looked like this;

Overexposed moon

So I rapidly retreated indoors to arm myself with a warmer jacket, a flask of hot chocolate and a spot of google-generated advice on how to actually photograph the moon.  Well, it seems that for a really good shot you need a professional camera with astonishingly good lenses which can then be attached to a telescope, and stabilised to await the one night a year when the moon is perfectly visible.  OR, for a perfectly impressive amateur shot, it seems you just need to flick your DSLR to ‘manual’ and adjust a few settings.  And once you start snapping, it becomes very addictive; you find that you are awaiting clear, dark nights with all the appetite of a werewolf.  Within 10 minutes of skimming online advice, my second shot looked like this;

Second shot of the moon

This article gives some fantastic tips, as do many others, but for those who have the attention span of, well, a busy mum – I’ll summarise. You’ll get your best results by;

  • Choosing a clear night with lots of visible stars, little ambient light (no streetlights, few houses, etc) and no cloud cover.
  • Getting as close as you safely can to the sky.  If you can drive to the top of a hill, do so.  Don’t do what I did and set up a ladder on the lawn in the dark; really, it’s not something I’d recommend.
  • Use the zoomiest lens you have.  I have a 70-300m lens which came with my Canon DSLR.  The moon will always seem very far away – naturally – but a zoom lens will help.
  • Then follow the stages below.  Even if you never use your camera’s manual settings, now’s a good time to find the handbook and try it just this once;

How to shoot the moon

And then finally tweak the exposure and shadow to maximise the result;

The Moon in January

I love that you can see the craters and actual surface of the moon; it makes it seem so close and attainable, somehow.  Like most of my posts, this is the result of an evening dabbling at something new, with very few technical skills.  I used the basic iPhoto software inbuilt into my Mac.   Picasa, which you can download free online, would do the same.  For those proficient in Photoshop, you can get even more technical.  The results are gratifying (and will make a cool picture for Harry’s bedroom wall).  If Harry was a little older, I’d be dragging him out in his sleeping bag to do this with me, and we’ll certainly do some star-gazing on the long Summer nights to come.  The night sky is mesmerising and very, very addictive.  Here’s a few other fun celestial links if you’re as captivated as me;

This site tells you when the International Space Station will be visible where you live.  It moved over the UK skies on Christmas Eve around 6pm, and made a nation of children ecstatic at the thought that they’d caught a glimpse of Santa’s sleigh.

This duvet cover made me smile, and is on my list of things Harry would love when he’s older

Snurk astronaut bedding

This projector was the first gift I ever bought my husband and we still love it; it soothed Harry as a tiny baby when he lay awake  in my arms in the wee small hours, has provided a very cool backdrop for various parties and is the best thing to have beaming onto the bathroom ceiling when you settle down for a long soak in the tub.

Happy star-gazing…

Kate

n.b. The first photograph at the start of this post  - shown again below – I took at 4pm, just as dusk was falling and the moon first visible (although the sky looks pitch black in contrast, it was actually only dark blue/grey; the kind of darkness that would make you think about switching your car headlights on).  It was much harder to get the focus right, but once I did, the definition was even greater.  Have a play at different times and see what gets the best result.

Moon cropped

The Absent Mother

Are you the main photographer in your family?  it gradually dawned on me this year that whilst we have armfuls of lovely pictures capturing the last few years, I am missing from the vast majority of them, hidden behind the lens.  In truth, it is entirely my own fault; I love taking photos, and I am far less comfortable at the front end of the lens.  When caught on camera, I tend to look like I am struggling with trapped wind, as I simultaneously try to remember my (alleged) best side, toss hair out of my eyes and give helpful instructions to the person unlucky enough to be trying to work my camera, all without breaking from my frozen smile.  Hopeless.

Last month I decided to sort this out, temporarily at least, and found a friendly photographer who would come along on a day that Harry & I had together, and just snap away in the background.  Sophie was brilliant, charged very little for a couple of hours of shooting, and then sent me all of the shots a couple of days later.  No costly post-production, no framing, no retouching – just a myriad of gorgeous, spontaneous shots capturing a typical Harry/Mummy play-day at the age of 3.

Like pirate sword-fights in the kitchen, followed by a teddy-bear picnic on the lawn..

teddy bear picnic

A short camping holiday;

camping

Stories…

stories

Three-way cuddles with Wilberforce the polar bear…

garden cuddle with bear

And plenty of snacks, shared of course..

snacks

It was a small extravagance, for sure, but worth it without a doubt for an eternally captured ‘day in the life’; particularly one where the sun was shining throughout.

The sun has since vanished, and we have been assailed by relentless rain and wind.  I would usually be unfazed by this (we are in England; such things are usual…), were it not for the fact that tomorrow I am to be abandoned in the heart of a forest for a so-called Wilderness Day, where I will be expected to rely on my survival instincts and a few hurriedly-learnt bushcraft skills until I am allowed back home sometime at the end of the day.  OH GOD.

I cheerily suggested the course a couple of months ago to a girlfriend who has a similar taste for bizarre and life-enriching experiences.  We’d been discussing doing something completely unlike our day-to-day lives (office workers and mothers), and over a glass of wine this seemed just the ticket.  What fun!,we thought, from the comfort of the couch.

Looking at the small print today, I have discovered a kit list as long as my arm, mostly – and worryingly – involving anti-chafing lotions and medical kits, waterproof trousers and flick-knives.  Needless to say, I have none of these.  The organiser, an ex-military guy called Wilderness Bob, sent me a cheery email explaining that the day will culminate in a ‘surprise survival experience’ to test how much attention we have been paying.  Indeed, it may be a surprise if I survive.

And now I must go; we have been informed we will be foraging for and cooking our own lunch – something to do with edible woodland weeds and the grinding of flints – so I must spend the evening sewing illicit chocolate bars & rashers of bacon into the lining of my jacket.

Wish me luck…

Fragile Worlds

le paper globe

I thought hard about how to prepare Harry for my recent extended trip. He’s very used to me being absent for a night here or there when work takes me away, but an absence of Eight Big Sleeps was unprecedented.  We talked about it in the few days beforehand so that it didn’t come as a surprise, and that seemed to work pretty well.  A couple of days before I left for India, I stumbled across this free downloadable paper globe kit, so we made one together and worked out where Harry would be, where I would be, and how long a plane takes to fly between them.

the globe

We painted India in bright pink so it was easy to find, and then carefully placed the globe on the fireplace where it could be taken down and examined whenever Harry wanted.

paper globe on mantel

These paper globes are beautifully tactile and surprisingly sturdy; I used 170gsm heavyweight recycled paper for ours.  If you download the PDF, you’ll see it is constructed by building a paper skeleton and folding the spherical globe segments into place around it.  I tried this, then cheated and simply abandoned the inner skeleton, instead just cutting, folding and glueing the outer pieces together to form our hollow-but-robust version.  (nb If you choose our method, you’ll only need to print the first 4 pages of the PDF).

paper globe diy

I had a few emails and comments asking about my trip, so I’m sharing a little more below; I work in healthcare ( so not creative, but very fulfilling), and I went to India to see how NGOs and government try to tackle some of the challenges of providing basic healthcare and access to education to those who live in urban slums and remote rural communities.  I expected to see – and did – some sobering and shocking things.  What struck me equally though were the things that I didn’t expect;

That there is beauty and entrepreneurialism to be found everywhere….

onion seller of ravi nagar

..That the children I met who live and work in the most extreme poverty have an irrepressible energy and joie de vivre, and bonds that run deep;

the children of ravi nagar slum

boys on roof

boys with flowers

These children (above & below) are all ‘rag pickers’ living  illegally in Deonar,  Mumbai’s largest dumping ground for waste.  They and their families pick through the dump looking for items they can sell.

Mumbai boys

…And that the next generation of women can together change their world.

women together can change the world copy

These girls live at the dumping ground but are now attending school and spoke impressive English.  Shy and proud in equal measure, their ambition is to be able to move their families out of the slum, ‘and also to become a doctor’.

India was a land of extremes; complex, beautiful, impressive and startling.  The only place I have been where you will see a man leading a goat along the highway on a length of frayed string, scrolling through his smartphone with a free hand.  And where (below) you find market stalls with the most vibrant and lush fruit and vegetables… alongside a stall selling puppies, packed into bamboo cages.  Abhorrent? Or perhaps just a different kind of normal.  Certainly food for thought.

crawford market mumbai

Back to the home-front now though, and what promises to be a weekend of sunshine.  I’ll be putting the finishing touches to the interior of Harry’s house which I’ve been busy kitting out for a Summer of outdoor living.  More next week…

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…

Handmade Memory Books

My love of paper is well-known to anyone who has visited this site with any regularity since I began writing in January; show me a craft knife, a gluestick and a roll of interesting papers and my heart starts to race faster than if Mr Clooney swung by announcing I was his plan for the evening.  Well, maybe not quite that fast, but fast enough nonetheless…..

Where was I? Oh yes, back to far more appropriately maternal thoughts for a moment and this week’s project; a homemade scrapbook for Harry to colour in, fill out and cover randomly with photos of his choosing.  Documenting his friends, passions and a carefully curated collection of his exuberant artwork, it will capture a little piece of his life at 2, and will be a great rainy day project (and we have plenty of rain right now…).

I learned the sublime art of book-making a few months ago at the hands of the serene and wonderful artist Ciara Healy.  Ciara takes a zen approach to paper craft and despite spending her days upto her elbows in PVA glue manages to look effortlessly elegant and well-manicured, without attracting all the bits of discarded paper and ribbon that seem to adhere themselves to my entire body surface by the time I’m done.  The scrapbook or memory book I’ve made above is deliciously simple, and can be made with two sides of a cardboard box, a few large sheets of white paper, a roll of giftwrap and very little else (though you can increase the sophistication endlessly).

The pages for this book are standard size sheets simply folded in half. You can choose any starting size – I used A3 – and decide whether to leave them blank or add text as I did by running through the printer first.  I added headings to some pages ‘my favourite toys’ ‘my best friends’ etc, and left others blank.  When making grown-up books for friends I love to use old maps, diagrams, and textured papers interleaved with regular paper stock to make each book more interesting and individual; you can also add vellum envelopes for the recipient to store keepsakes.

Score and cut your cardboard so that it is 1″ longer than the folded paper at both the top and bottom and 1.5″ wider in total.  Choose some colourful strong gift wrap, wallpaper or even fabric for your cover (plastic coated fabric like tablecloth material works brilliantly for this), and a contrasting strip of book cloth or tape for your centre seam.  Decide how deep you want your seam to be, and then measure and lay out your card so that you have a gap of 0.5″ between the two covers (1).  Apply PVA glue liberally to the book cloth seam and then lay the cardboard in place, scoring down the sides for definition.  Place a sheet of greaseproof paper in the middle and fold the book shut, weighting it down to dry out (this will help flatten any bumps and prevent the cardboard from curling).  Once dry, it should look like this (2); overlay various decorative papers to decide which looks best, and work out which part of any pattern or design you want to show (particularly important with large prints or images). Carefully apply PVA to the back of each sheet of your paper and lay over the cover, overlapping your seam by a fraction.  Trim off the corners and fold under neatly, before weighting to dry out as before, at which point it should look like this (3).  By this time I had become too covered in rapidly-drying glue to take intricate photographs of each stage so have simply described them, but for the visually minded and determined, there’s an excellent online tutorial here.

Whilst your cover dries, stitch together your pages as shown here, using a strong thread that won’t snap easily, and then glue the front and back pages into your board cover, which should leave a lovely decorative border around the side whilst masking your stuck-down edges.  If the thought of sewing makes you want to weep, you can staple your pages together instead, just don’t tell anyone I suggested it…

As a final touch, you can add a closure for your book; I opted to punch small holes in Harry’s book cover and sew on two contrasting buttons, then added a ribbon to the inside back cover (secured with another piece of glued cover paper), as shown below.

Harry is rightly proud of his new book and marches around clutching it possessively in the manner of a trainee Traffic Warden looking to note down infringements.  I am attempting to follow closely behind and impound the gluestick before all important bits of household paperwork become irrevocably adhered to its pages. Wish me luck…

Neat Feet

Today Harry elected to wear his red rubber wellington boots to nursery.  Yes it is June, and they were accessorised with shorts and a t-shirt, but H is a firm believer in following one’s fashion impulses regardless of season or peer pressure. (I say peer pressure; we were greeted by an eclectic cluster of two-year olds dressed as fairies, superheroes or simply sans clothing altogether, so perhaps conventional dressing is the only taboo at Harry’s age…)

I love Harry’s feet, and always have… as a tiny baby they, like his chubby starfish hands, seemed impossibly small and in constant motion as they flexed, explored and sensed this new and strange world.  One of my favourite pictures I took in those first few blurry months was this one of H&A’s feet, which hangs in the kitchen.

Since then, Harry has developed a keen interest in footwear, albeit each new sized shoe leads to a comic day of tripping and dragging as he learns the extra clearance required for walking in longer shoes.  This morning Harry opted to try on my husband’s shoes for size; a moment I had to capture…

I’ve kept all of H’s shoes since his first slippers at a couple of months old, and often ponder what to do with them; they currently hang on nails along my office wall, waiting for inspiration.  The most recent favourites are these battered silver trainers below, now immortalised as the footwear du jour at age 2  - I did the same for him at age 1 and will keep going over time.

What were your favourite shoes as a child?  As a tomboy I lived in trainers apart from the obligatory school shoes, a notion incomprehensible to my husband as he now surveys my overflowing shoe rack and row of killer heels of a height which makes him wince. Now that my home-days are spent in sandpits and muddy fields,  I have to confess that trainers are once again enjoying a revival in my daily life, and the heels mostly just a reminder that somewhere deep inside me is a footloose glamazon in temporary hibernation…

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?

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…