recycling

Recycling Christmas!

Gift tags from Christmas Cards

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

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

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

Christmas Card Recycling

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

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

Colour pop gift tags

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

 

 

Partridge gift tag

Polar Bear Gift Tag

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

Festive Goose Tag

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

Stag Gift Tag

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

Boxed Christmas Gift Tags

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

handbag logo

Welcome to Harry’s Hardware!

Well welcome to the grand opening of Harry’s Hardware, Gas & Auto!  I’m sure you’ll agree it’s about time this small e-neighbourhood had a one-stop shop where you can refuel,  choose a can of flamingo-pink paint for your kitchen and have a cup of the kind of coffee that makes your hair stand on end.  We thought so, anyway….

harry store main photo

This was Harry’s main Christmas present, and is based on an old bookcase I found on ebay for a few pounds.  Like many 3yr old boys, Harry is a devoted petrol-head and delights in all things auto.  Given the domestic backdrop of our home renovation, he’s also a big fan of power tools, screwdrivers, hammers and all other dangerous hardware. Thus, a hardware store and garage seemed like a good idea, and is proving a hit so far.  I was lucky enough to find a second-hand wooden kids’ cupboard in the style of a gas pump, but everything else is customised and made from household junk and recycled bits and bobs.  So park at the rear, would you, and come on inside for the tour.  Let’s start you with a cup of coffee…

harry store coffee machine

Not just any coffee, but Harry’s Coffee, the brand that knocked Starbucks out of town and became a rapid hit with truckers.  The coffee ‘machine’ is an black cardboard jewellery box that housed my Christmas necklace (thank you, Santa!), with two cheap pump dispensers glued onto it (from pound-store pump bottles).  I made branded signage for the coffee machine and cups on my home printer, and then simply glued a sheet of black card stock behind to form the back and tray.  Because the jewellery box is hollow, the pumps do actually press in and out, making for some convincing pretend play and the addition of so many caffeine shots that you’ll be bouncing off the ceiling if Harry has his way. Tiny wooden donuts appropriated from Harry’s play kitchen offer an additional hazard to your teeth.

harry store donuts

Whilst you drink your coffee – carefully – come browse our paint selection, made from portion-sized bean cans covered in a paper wrapper.  Some of these are empty cans, used and washed out, others are still full; my domestic skills are haphazard so it’s quite foreseeable that I’ll be visiting Harry’s hardware store for dinner ingredients before the month is out..

 pretend play paints

Alongside the paints are cans of brushes and ‘wallpaper’ – rolled up offcuts of gift wrap and decorative paper.  Whilst it’s fun to look at, it’s also helping with naming colours, identifying letters and words, and counting.  I fear that Harry is not born to be a customer services professional though; dithering over your choices is not encouraged, and if Harry disapproves of what you’ve chosen, you’ll be given something else entirely and sent on your way.  Such is life.

harry store buckets

Crime can be a problem in any neighbourhood, even one as lovely as ours, so there’s a section of the store dedicated to discouraging robbers.  Harry is passionate about law enforcement, having recently fallen under the spell of Lego City, so most of our games involve Policeman and Naughty Men.  I’m quick to assure callers to the house that the various sets of handcuffs left lying around are all from Harry’s toy box and absolutely nothing to do with me or the global phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey.  The store offers sliding locks to try out, and a set of devilishly small padlocks and keys that test Harry’s dexterity and patience to their limit and beyond.  They do also bounce, when hurled to the floor dismissively. The glued-on keys come from an embarrassingly large bowl in our house which stores all unidentifiable keys from our last 5 house moves and the myriad of lost bicycle locks and chains – no doubt one of them will prove to be crucial, and I will have to chip it off from the board – but until then, they serve a more decorative purpose.

harry store security

I used a jumble of small cardboard boxes to make these faux wooden draws – most are boxes from candles or the lids of various things.  I found a graphic of an old shop chest and simply printed and glued the images to the front of each box, adding text for the contents.  Once again, the contents have simply been borrowed from elsewhere in our house, but are satisfying to play with and count out.  A small set of nesting zinc boxes from our shed completes the selection of handyman bits ‘n bobs.

harry store string

harry store wooden boxes

harry store zinc boxes

In other parts of the store you can buy birdseed, choosing amongst varieties depending on which birds you want to attract to your garden, and even find pocket-sized birdhouses to house them (these came straight from the Christmas tree…).

harry store birdseed

Budding gardeners can choose real seeds from our store list, and Harry’s own tools hang alongside.  Pint-sized bundles of firewood and a couple of Halloween-costume prop brooms complete the outdoor maintenance section.

harry store dig it sign

harry store topiary

The ‘Parking’ sign rests on two miniature tyres which are actually dog chew toys, found cheap at our local DIY store – we’ll use these in all kinds of projects come the Summertime, I’m sure.

harry store parking

I made the main store sign using off-cuts of skirting board and pasting on home-printed signs.  If you look closely, you can see the joins where I’ve pasted pieces of regular-sized paper together to make the super-sized  storefront sign.

harry store main sign

And finally of course, you can fill up with gas from the pump.  Harry’s pedal car has been regularly topped up, as has everything that moves in the household, and many things which do not.

harry store gas pump

So, a Christmas hit, for now at least, appealing to all of Harry’s manly instincts and providing lots of opportunity for play and interaction – and when the attraction begins to fade, I can simply return the bookcase to its component parts and reinvent it again.  Or maybe – and here’s a novel thought – actually place some books on it, who knows?

If you’re new-ish to the blog and like this project, you might also enjoy Harry’s kitchen and shop (note to self: stop buying junk furniture on ebay…).

Rocket Man!

Today the house is once again filled with swirling brick dust as our renovations continue, though it is eerily silent as the builders seem to have downed tools in search of sunshine, and have not been seen since Thursday. I’ve been forbidden from stepping in to finish the job, glue gun and apron in hand, so instead have turned my restless energies into creating…. a rocket!



Harry’s current passion is rockets and outer space, having discovered Wallace and Gromit and their adventures to the moon in search of cheese.  With the challenge of only using items already around the house, I built this in a couple of hours and it has already been piloted on several missions (‘Let’s go whooshing Mummy! Put your seatbelt on and I will press the button!’).  Making the rocket capsule was easy enough – I used an opened-out packing box from our recent move – but the domed roof gave me pause for thought.  In the end, I used a fibre matting liner intended for the hanging baskets I never quite got around to planting this summer.  Sprayed silver and with empty yoghurt pots glued on top it does the job just fine…

I cut out the viewing window by drawing round a plate and then using a craft knife.  A polystyrene wreath ring makes a good porthole, especially when wrapped in scraps of brightly coloured paper.  Cotton reels give a countdown to launch, and also provide the basis for an external control panel (below; I added one inside too for proper piloting of the craft after take-off…).

On the side of the rocket is this fuel cap and general gadget bar, made from old plastic lids and some stick-on alphabet letters

The captain needs a proper entrance, of course…  Reels provide doorknobs on both sides, for pilot access and to firmly shut the door once inside, in case of aliens (or grown-ups).  See how to make 3D stars like these here.

And finally our accessories; a spaceman lunch box (for cheese sandwiches and milk; the food of champions), a range of plastic tools in case of spacecraft malfunction – always possible when Mummy is the architect – and space goggles; this cardboard pair of 3D specs I saved from an old comic.

If you fancy making one of these yourself, come fly with us!  Here’s a full list of what we used, though the beauty of these is there’s no ‘right’ way of doing it – use whatever you have to hand.  A word on technique; I found that hot glue (from a glue gun) is the best way of ensuring everything stays in place, and craft knives – rather than scissors – are best for cutting corrugated cardboard like this without squashing and tearing it.  Toys like this will take a battering if used to their fullest potential, so I’m armed with a big role of clear packing tape to add reinforcement and repairs when needed.



Like this project? If you’re a cardboard recycling fan, you might also like our cardboard train and our cardboard shop.  And now you’ll have to excuse us; we need to prepare for  a moon landing in 5…  4 …  3… 2….

Flea Market Foraging

I had a magical day last week when the rest of the world was at work and Harry was in nursery and I could pack up the car and head to the coast at Brighton for a few hours of mooching around vintage markets and architectural antiques barns – heaven.  Brighton has a very unique vibe and is a mecca for artists, craftspeople and alternative lifestyles; you’d struggle to find a McDonalds but if you’re looking for a vegan, gluten-free falafel with wheatgrass juice you’ll be spoilt for choice. The Lanes near the seafront is a twisty, windy area stuffed with one-off shops and galleries, and some very cool homeware stores.  I bravely resisted the urge to burn my credit card until I came to a huge and rambling vintage shop called Snoopers Paradise which hosts lots of different antique and second-hand dealers.  I set myself a max. budget of £70 ($110) and here’s what ended up coming home with me…

This vintage flag cost just a few pounds and I bought it thinking it would be great in the garden for future boy-activities like the building of camps and adventure games; perhaps it would mark home vs enemy territory, be hung from the top of a play castle or be waved triumphantly as the victory pendant of the winning side… but now I’m very taken with it where it is, dangling from a stair rail in my office; we’ll just have to fight over it later.

The sea-green tin trunk weighs hardly anything (though it didn’t feel like it by the time I’d manhandled it to the car…), and would make a great blanket box for the end of a bed.  I’m thinking of the smallest bedroom at the top of our house, which has a hideaway feel to it, and is a cosy, calming space.  It’s next on our project list for redecoration and this chest will probably be the basis for the colour palette I use.  I thought about stencilling letters on it, but the more I look at it the more I’m inclined to leave it alone; all views on this welcome!

This old printers tray (above) would originally have held fonts for typesetting, and will make great quirky storage.  I can’t decide whether to wall-mount it in Harry’s playroom to store the ever-increasing number of small character figures he is accumulating, and which are forever getting lost down the sofa / in pockets / in the car never to be seen again…

…Or whether to use it as flat tray storage for my miscellany of embellishments, findings, glitters and magpie-like collections, per below.

Finally, one last small purchase was this dusty old pocket book guide to birds eggs, from the time when it was perfectly acceptable to spend weekends rummaging around in birds nests and collecting eggs to bring home and label.  I’m thinking I will use some of the beautiful tonal watercolour plates for future Easter cards and home decorations, or maybe simply create a miniature framed collection to hang on the wall.

I only get to do this about twice  year (which is just as well, given the amount of eclectic junk I drag home each time…), but it’s one of the things I love, and definitely a case of the journey – the rummaging, speculating, pondering and pouncing – being as much fun as the destination itself.

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…

Feathered Afternoon tea

The sun is shining at last and the birds are chirping gaily in the trees, the Biblical torrents of rain a distant memory.  Let’s draw a veil around the fact that the chirping tends to begin at around 5am in the particularly large tree right next to our bedroom window, and be grateful for small things.  Still, action is called for; Harry tends to make the most noise when he is hungry, so applying the same logic to our dawn chorus I have set about constructing these tea cup feeders (below).

I saw a version of this idea here and fell in love; ever since I’ve been scooping up random bits of china from charity shops (I also use them in cake stands like my one here, and to make pretty filled candles).  Leftover spindles and paint from our house restoration provided the other parts – though old broom handles or curtain poles would work great too, particularly for larger cups.  Paint the spindles, glue cup to saucer and saucer to spindle and hey-presto! a bird feeder.  Not just any feeder at that, but a chic and tasteful one that can be painted to contrast with (or coordinate with) your garden.  A happy consequence of the small saucers and the petite scale of these is that squirrels find them particularly challenging…. I mounted mine by our pond (below) and have watched a small army of them attempt – and fail – to hustle some seed.

A few tips… if your spindle has a particularly pointy end, use that one to dig into the ground (obvious I know, but worth evaluating carefully before you set about glueing on tea cups…).  Shallow cups and saucers work best so that the birds can access the seed very easily and without having to hop into the cup and risk missing a sighting of the local cat / fox / toddler who is stealthily heading their way.  For location, try a few ideas out – I found they look best in groups, and when spaced at different heights.  Moving them around in this bucket of sand allowed me to decide on their final position without too much exertion.  Not least because my long suffering husband was the one who lugged the pot around behind me, as I waltzed around the lawn crying ‘left a bit! No, not there!’, until steam rose gently from his brow.  Hmmm, some marital brownie points to be re-earned, I think…

A Bathtime Armada

Seldom is there anything more pleasing than uncorking a bottle of wine and feeling that you are doing something lovely for your offspring at the same time. Sin and virtue irresistibly combined.  I’ve been conscientiously setting aside corks with the vague notion of making boats for Harry’s bath, and this week my small stash was boosted by an enormous sack of corks contributed by colleagues, who seemingly rival Oscar Wilde in their affection for the grape.  The intriguing odour of slightly stale red wine corks now permeates Maison Kate and the ambience is none the worse for that.

Scraps of gift wrap, cocktail picks and pennies were all we needed to knock up these buoyant beauties; if you tire of attempting to saw the corks in half (don’t do this after drinking the wine…), just glue three together for a galleon-like raft (below). We used drinking straws to create gusty winds, seething whirlpools and ultimately as a means to a refreshing drink from the pretend sea itself – urging a 2yr old to blow not suck is a comedic exercise in futility, I have learned.

Once our flotilla was complete, I used the residual corks to make these jaunty clippers (below), which will float in bowls on the table tomorrow night when friends descend for dinner, bearing menu details and various dares and challenges for the guests to complete.  They’ll doubtless be dive-bombed by olives and tested for buoyancy with such rigour that they are unlikely to survive the main course, but first impressions are everything and they add a splash of nautical colour to the room.

We’ll leave Harry and his armada bobbing in the tub – a man’s bath is his kingdom after all, and no place for cameras – but suffice to say that these boats are phoenix-like in their ability to rise again after complete immersion and apparent destruction; dry out the cocktail pick, mount a new sail and away you float, into the brave new world of another day…