toys

Allez,Les Mouseketeers! (Or: how to make a giant papier-mâché hot air balloon..)

Mouseketeers

Welcome back!  It’s been a wonderful, chaotic few weeks here with the end of term (and graduation from Reception class, so soon!), endless sunshine and record-breaking temperatures, ice-cream, tennis, splash pools and a new job for me… possibly the busiest June ever.  Amidst all the fun and general mayhem, we found time for a few craft projects, like this giant hot air balloon for Harry’s pet mice, who had always, always wondered what the world would look like from the sky…

Mongolfieres

We’d been talking to Harry about the amazing annual Montgolfières festival of hot air balloons in Montreal which we’d visited just before we got married; we were lucky enough to go up in a balloon made for two (plus pilot!) and witness the amazing sight of fields of balloons slowly inflating and taking to the skies;

ALBUM take off shot from the airALBUM take off shot from the air1ALBUM balloon art shotALBUM art shot fields from the hot air balloon2ALBUM art shot fields from the hot air balloon

I’m so glad we had the chance to do this before we had Harry; I think my instinct for self-preservation and appetite for danger have grown and shrunk respectively, making this a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Harry was mesmerised by our photographs, and asked me whether we could make our own hot air balloon for a ride around the village.  Whilst the aeronautics of this were beyond me, we settled on a compromise; a giant, papier mache hot air balloon which could hang from the playroom ceiling and give rides to the mouse family who usually live a quiet life on the bookshelf…

How to make your papier mache hot air balloon:

I found a pack of 36 inch balloons on eBay, and spent an evening inflating one.  Use a footpump for this, and choose a night when your husband is home.  Stroll past and make a casual slight about his manliness; nothing  hurtful, but just challenging enough to provoke him to spring to his feet and wrestle the aparatus from you.  Settle back with a glass of wine for the 45 minutes it takes to get enough air in the damn thing balloon.  Try not to comment when it twice evades his grip at the last moment and whistles around the room, expelling air before puttering gently to the floor. Feign deafness at the muttered cursing.

Cover it with around 6 layers of papier mache.  Ha! See how easy I made that sound?  In reality, this is six evenings of ripping up newspaper and applying in layers.  Only 20 minutes each night, but 20 mins of watery glue, drips, sticky surfaces and the constant distraction of all the interesting articles you stop to read whilst pasting them onto the balloon. Disciplined focus is key.  My top tip would be to alternate between using newspaper and plain white paper – you need to be able to see when you’ve completed each layer and it’s very hard if it’s all newsprint.  Use PVA glue and water in a ratio of 1:3 for the mixture.  One final word of advice; don’t do this in a hot room or one where the temperature changes dramatically, or your balloon will expand and pop  with an explosive splatter just when your back is turned.  This was my THIRD balloon; the first two are still being scraped off the ceiling and floor whenever we have a spare moment – and a chisel.  Assuming all goes well and you heed this advice, on the sixth night, stand back and admire your papier-mâché labour of love;

papier mache giant balloon

I took it outside and covered it roughly with two layers of leftover white paint, balancing it in a flower pot for stability;

painted papier mache balloon

And now the fun part; decorating the balloon.  I wanted it to look like a balloon the mice might have stitched and crafted out of household items and random bits and pieces, so I searched online for free vintage envelope prints (try googling ‘old envelopes’, selecting the ‘images’ tab and going through to locate those which are free to download)and raided my draws for scraps of fabric, buttons and ribbons.  I printed out the envelope graphics, scrumpled them up and then stuck them at intervals around the balloon…

vintage envelope patterns

balloon

To make the rim at the base of the balloon, I traced around an upside-down bowl, trimmed the raw opening of the balloon and then glued some curtain braiding around to form a neat rope edge;

braided papier mache balloon

Once I’d finished with the decoration, I used a bradawl to make a small hole in the top of the balloon and screwed in a cup hook to hang it from.  For the basket, I repurposed a small wicker plant pot and used rubber-coated wire to form four rope-like hanging handles (you’ll find the wire in garden centres; it’s used to train plants without damaging fragile stems).

Mouse basket

The ‘sand bags’ are made from these teabag sachets, filled with a spoonful of rice and stamped to look like 100kg weights (stamp them first before you fill them; I learned that the hard way, and am still treading on small grains of rice every morning as I navigate the kitchen, half asleep..).  I tied them tightly with string and then twisted a little piece of wire under the string to attach each one to the basket.  I thought long and hard about how to attach the actual basket, and in the end I suspended it from the inside of the balloon, using another length of wire to hang it from the base of the cuphook, meaning that the papier mache balloon itself didnt have to take any weight.

For the final touch, I found a length of braided rope in my sewing basket and cut up a pair of thrift-shop curtain tie backs to look like the rope and weights you might find on a vintage balloon.  I stamped out little paper flags for my Mouseketeers and then draped it around the balloon, pinning it into place at intervals by just pushing a pin into the papier-mâché balloon. Job done… and the mice took to the air!

final balloon shot

Our balloon currently hangs in the hallway, and is big enough for all the toys in the playroom to take it in turns for a ride – but you can of course make this with an ordinary sized balloon; it’ll be much quicker and easier to handle.

I hope you have a great week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

It’s good to be back :-)

handbag logo

The Longest Journey

DIY Winter Animal Parade

A few months ago, I saw a picture on Pinterest of a toy giraffe with a small gift tied on its back and it made me smile, and sparked my imagination; last week I raided Harry’s Ark and created a winter animal parade which is now weaving its way through the snowy  log landscape of our dining table, carrying a myriad of heavy parcels and gifts as Christmas draws ever closer…

Giraffe bearing gifts

Animal Parade

I used some leftover kiln-dried logs from when I filled in our fireplaces, and then wrapped up as many tiny boxes as I could find with brown paper  (far less decorative are the little bowls of staples, matches and paperclips now cover every surface, emptied out temporarily whilst I borrow their boxes..).  Once taped, I tied them with a mixture of butchers string and fine glittery thread, and then carefully secured them to each of the animals.  Harry’s toy wagon also came in handy, and the smallest animals were allowed to perch on top and watch proceedings from above…

Penguins in Animal Parade

I added festive bells, bottle-brush trees and a handful of glittery stars for some additional festive sparkle…

Giraffe with gifts

…and a final scattering of fake snow, which rather caught the meerkat by surprise;

Meerkat animal parade

I used up all of the animals I could find, to make a procession which covers most of the length of our (2m) table, but just one or two would look equally lovely; perhaps as place-settings.  Mine are elevated on logs which are just low enough for easy eye contact and conversation across the table, but again, you could simple set out a tableaux directly on the table itself.

Animal Parade with Gifts

I took these close-up photos above in the conservatory where the natural light is strongest in winter, but you can see here the parade as I began to lay it out in our kitchen, in readiness for throwing open our doors last Sunday to friends for an afternoon of food, drinks and Christmassy fun;

Winter Animal Parade Table Centre

Animal Parade Table Centrepiece

Alas, our festive parade will have to complete its journey soon, as the animals are being continuously depleted by Harry who needs them urgently for various daring missions and the ongoing battle with the Lego men, dinosaurs and Transformers; still, it gives me a reason to create something else for Christmas Day!

I finished work today for the holidays, with a mixture of exhaustion and elation; I’ve developed the hacking cough and bone-tired weariness that always seems to come whenever work abates, but it can’t distract from the smell of the mulled wine now warming, or the fact that two long, uninterrupted weeks of family time and celebration lie ahead; bring it on.

I’ll be back in a couple of days; have a great rest of the week…

handbag logo

 

Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

It’s funny how randomly some childhood passions are created.  Whilst every small boy seems to go through phases where the world revolves around dinosaurs, superheroes, and Lego, other obsessions are decidedly more unique and less predictable.  This one began with a bell.

We were sitting in the park this Summer, pondering whether the ducks would find our stale, greenish bread crusts anymore attractive than we did, when a lady walked past swinging a bell and calling for all the children in the park to follow her for the puppet show.  Obedient as ever, we joined her Pied Piper-like chain and ended up in front of a vintage Punch and Judy stall, where we watched, gripped, as the show unfolded.  It was little-boy heaven, involving as it did lots of audience participation and bad behaviour from the puppets, who variously whacked each other with sticks, threw Judy’s baby in the rubbish bin and got arrested by the local policeman.  There was nothing politically-correct about it, causing delighted shock in the rapturous audience of under-1os.

Harry talked about the puppet theatre for days, re-enacting it to try to describe to visitors just how funny it was (which in turn was very funny to watch..).  I decided to turn Harry’s old play shop into a puppet theatre – and here’s how we did it. The shop was originally made from a junk-find bookcase, which I painted and then stocked to create the original shop (here and below).

dresseroldandnew-copy1

The bookcase proved endlessly adaptable for our new project.  I enlisted help to cut an opening from the back of the bookcase, and then much of the rest was achieved with paint and scraps of fabric and trim…

DIY bookcase into a Puppet Theatre

Harry and I painted the shelves with chalk paint, which I love because you don’t need to do any sanding or stripping before you begin.  A tester-sized pot of black and red gave us the coverage we needed; Harry joined in with the painting with great enthusiasm which was lovely – as was the fact that chalk paint is very washable; a highly relevant factor..).  The bottom section I sprayed with some leftover gold craft paint for a bit of showbiz sparkle.

chalk paint

For the curtains I used a remnant length of pinky-red velvet and trimmed it with braid (my sewing skills are rudimentary, which was fortunately all that this required).  They’re threaded onto a length of wooden dowel which rests on cup hooks inside the theatre nook.  I later tacked a length of sparkly dark net fabric to the back to help disguise the young puppeteers too.

sewing closeups

Every puppet show needs a sign to let the audience know when the show is due to begin; I designed one in Powerpoint and then glued it to a piece of foam board.  The clock hands are cut from cardstock and secured with a brass paper-fastener, allowing them to be easily repositioned by small hands.  I tied a couple of inexpensive tassels to a length of red ribbon and threaded them through two punched holes to allow the sign the be hung.  A re-purposed doorknob is screwed into the top of the bookcase to hang it on.

Puppet Show Welcome Sign

To the shelf fronts I glued lengths of coppery and red ribbon from my ribbons box (whenever we’re given gifts I keep any ribbons and scraps; they invariably come in useful for projects).  I used regular all-purpose glue, but if you have one then a hot-glue glue gun would give great results.  On the shelves we arranged popcorn holders and borrowed play ice-creams and other food from Harry’s kitchen; something for everyone who comes to the show!

Play Popcorn and other theatre treats

The programmes were made by folding sheets of regular paper in half and tying them to a cover sheet of red cardstock; no trimming or gluing needed.  I made a cover for the programmes, but it was Harry who provided the content, welcoming the audience and drawing pictures of some of the cast of characters to create anticipation for the show ahead.  We made a few spare programmes so that Harry and his friends can make new programmes over time as they plan shows and come up with new stories to tell.

Starlight Programmes

The puppets are stored in an old silk-covered suitcase which I found cheaply at a local antiques barn.  I stencilled a star on the lid by drawing around a decorative 5-point star shape and then carefully filling inside the shape with a tester of dark blue-grey paint.  I used masking tape along the sides of the drawn star to give me a sharp, clean shape.

Stencilled stars

Stencilled star case

The puppets themselves were a combination of eBay and thrift store finds.  If you’re a Brit living in the south-east it’s worth looking out for FARA, a chain of charity shops which deal mostly in children’s clothes and toys; I found 4 puppets there which will help us complete the cast of Little Red Riding Hood; and for a bargain price, too!

Starlight Puppet Collection

chairty shop puppets

And as a finishing touch, I updated the former shop bell… because every performer needs to be able to summon a good audience quickly!

Audience bell

Have a great weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.  I’ll be having a weekend treat of open-air cinema and picnicking, watching George Clooney Gravity under the stars.  The forecast is good, the picnic blanket ready… fingers crossed!

handbag logo

 

p.s. And if you see Mr Punch anywhere near the baby, don’t forget to SHOUT!!

IMG_0100

Superhero Cuffs

By day, I am a mum, wife and career girl.  I leave at 7.30 each morning, waving goodbye to my family as I speed off in my ordinary car to my ordinary office building.  Beyond a certain bounce to my step, there is little to giveaway the fact that my alter-ego is – wait for it – ELASTIGIRL (da-da-daaaaa!).  This alter-ego was news to me too, but Harry has lately become obsessed with The Incredibles (or ‘In The Credibles!’ as he is inclined to call it), and my new identity has been resolutely confirmed.  In fact, there are times when he won’t call me anything else, which can be head-turning when we’re out in public.  Harry is Dash, and I am Elastigirl, and together we will save the world.  For those who are not familiar with The Incredibles, Elastigirl is a suburban superhero/mom with hips you could rest a bar-tray on and a questionable haircut, and she is very, very bendy.  My husband finds this comparison hilarious.

elastigirl-incredibles

I’ve realised that as a family we are somewhat lacking in superhero accessories.  Sure, we have plenty of spandex, and after three years of parenthood we all have a good repertoire of rocket noises and the kind of finely-honed reflexes that would rise to anything Marvel comics could throw at us… but what we really, really need are some superhero cuffs we can slip on to change our identities in a heartbeat.  So I made some:

Superhero Cuffs DIY

Toilet-roll Superhero Cuffs


These are the quintessential ’5 minute makes’, involving nothing more complex than cardboard toilet rolls, glue and paper.  I’ve added a downloadable PDF of my graphics below if you want to simply print these and use as a wrapper… or design your own and have a paint & glitter-fest at the kitchen table.

Because we’re very taken with gadgets and buttons, our cuffs have rocket booster features and a special button on the Batman cuff which alerts Robin to arrive at lightening speed in the Batmobile.   When I am wearing the Batcuff, it has been reprogrammed to summons a cup of tea, but I’m afraid neither of the men in my life is reliably responding.  *Sigh* …you just can’t get the side-kicks these days.

Superhero Cuff with Tea Button

Even the usually sensible Mr B has been seduced by our new superhero wardrobe…

superman cuffs with suit

To make your own cuffs you’ll need:

  • Toilet rolls or kitchen-paper rolls (these are usually a bit bigger; great for older kids – or grown-ups…
  • glue
  • paper printables (PDF at end of post) or paints, glitter and embellishments to decorate yourself
  • odd buttons to glue on for additional gadgets / accessories

Making the Superhero Cuffs:

  • Cut once along the length of the toilet roll to create a cuff shape and a flexible opening.  If you’re making a pair of cuffs like the Superman ones above, cut the toilet roll into two equal halves.
  • Print out the PDF wrappers and glue around the cardboard rolls, folding the ends over and glueing in place.  You might need to resize slightly depending on the size of your rolls.  The cuffs should look like this:

superhero cardboard cuffs DIY

  • You can activate your super-powers immediately, or you can glue on buttons and embellishments for additional gadgetry like we did below:

buttons for superhero cuffs

Behold; our work here is done.  One last word of caution; use your new super-powers wisely.  With great power comes great responsibility…

Have a great weekend!

Incredibles DIY cuff

Red and Grey Superhero Cuff Printables

Superman Cuff Printables

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…).

We are not alone… (Fairy Doors)

Strange noises have been heard in our house of late.  Scratching and skittering from behind the panelling, often at night.  Things are also going missing; tiny things, like single earrings, and crumbs from the floor. My husband, ever the pragmatist, is convinced that we have mice.  Whilst he headed off to the rodent-control section of the hardware store yesterday, Harry and I stumbled across the truth, and it’s much more exciting; We Are Not Alone!



Almost invisible to grown-ups, camouflaged against the kitchen skirting boards, is a very tiny front door.  To adults it looks just like a plug socket from a distance, but to eagle-eyed little people it is immediately obvious that this is the entrance to the home of the Other People who share our house.  And look; as if more proof was needed; they even receive mail and milk deliveries!

So now we watch this door very carefully, from the corner of our eye, just in case we manage to catch someone coming or going.  We’ve found that the best thing to do is to be very still and to pretend to be absorbed in something else entirely.  Whilst we wait, Harry has led an exhaustive search of the house to see if there are any other signs of our neighbours, and lo and behold; we found another door!!  Occasionally when Harry comes down in the mornings there is a tiny plastic ladder nearby; we think they borrow it from his toy box and use it to scramble up the skirting to reach the door.

Harry is convinced that this front door belongs to all the little action-figures which by day are jammed into his toybox; at night, they obviously retire home to a warm – if tiny – bed, shortly after Harry wends his own weary way upstairs.  As a lifelong fan of Mary Norton, I think that we have Borrowers, and have been telling Harry all about them.  In due course I expect we’ll also discover that this is the doorway that Santa’s tiny elves use on Christmas Eve when they slip in to check that the coast is clear for the Big Man himself.  The tooth fairy, too, probably makes a cameo appearance via this very same entrance.  In the years to come, doubtless Harry will forget this wee door and it will fade into obscurity again.  Till maybe one day, years from now, someone small enough and attentive enough will discover it once more…

This is the lovely site which inspired me to create the presence of tiny neighbours in our own house.  I ordered a couple of inexpensive, non-opening dolls house doors online (‘proper’ doors have deep frames which make it difficult to affix them to skirting unless you actually go the lengths of channelling them in – only for the truly dedicated), then spray painted them and added some miniature door furniture.  I crafted tiny letters and tied them together with bakers twine; interestingly, it’s these that Harry has been most captivated by and saw as the ultimate proof of life.  The doors are attached to our skirting boards with double-sided tape; strong enough to withstand Harry knocking on the door and tugging the knob, but easy enough to remove if necessary, with perhaps just a dab of touch-up paint if needed.


And finally, for those who want the instructions in an all-in-one Pinnable tutorial, here’s a montage below;


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….

Harry’s Ark

Most of the projects I do for and with Harry take minutes or hours; we are notoriously distractible and not genetically completer-finishers. Not at all. This one however was a monster; it began when Harry was just a few days old, and was finished a year later – at last, Harry’s Ark (with apologies to Noah) is ready for the rains to come!

In the early, fuzzy days of new motherhood I decided I wanted to make Harry a toy that he could play with over a number of years, that would look good even when it was retired to the playroom shelf, and maybe, just maybe, might become a family heirloom and entertain others in the future.  I must have been mad; let’s blame the raging hormones and sleeplessness.

I settled on the idea of a Noah’s Ark, as a sort of boy’s equivalent to a Dolls House.  My creativity may be strong but my woodworking skills are not, so I searched Ebay for old model boats or half-built and abandoned projects that I could makeover.  I found the base for Harry’s Ark this way; a beautifully shaped, nearly complete hull of a boat that was discovered in someone’s late grandfather’s workshop.  This gave an added poignancy to the project and I like to think he’d have been pleased to see it finished and put to use.  I built the body of the ark using random doll house components bought online (pillars, doors and windows) and balsa wood for the walls and pitched roof.  Miniature cedar shingles glued to the balsa create a folk-art style roof, and I used malleable stained glass leading for the roof top and edges.

I added eye-hooks along the hull and threaded a waxed washing line and curtain rings to give the impression of buoyancy aids (amazing what you can repurpose!).  A cheap ladder from the pet store intended for budgerigar cages provided the perfect ramp for animals to board the ark.  Stitched scraps of hessian filled with rice make good food bags / sandbags, and join straw bales and barrels to make a collection of props for Harry to use when playing.  Harry helped me to gather tiny twigs through the winter, which I chopped and glued to fill the roof cavity and add a decorative top to the ark walls.  I nailed a tiny model dovecote to the roof and added miniature birds and a weathervane (the forecast of course is always rain but you never know…).

I was determined that this should be a properly usable toy and not an ornament, so designed it to come apart into several pieces (above).  When Harry was tiny he played with the base alone, then I mounted it onto castors and added a rope so he could pull it around.  Now that he is 2 and more dextrous, he marches the animals in and out of the ark and positions them along the roof, slams the doors and zooms them up and down the ladder laden with buckets and miniature carrots and grain sacks.  Being a boy, many animals regularly plunge to their doom in the sea, and the emergency services are frequently required to rescue lost dogs and sheep.  Not very biblical perhaps, but great fun nonetheless.

We bought a few pairs of Schleich animals to start him off, which cost a couple of pounds each; I thought that in time this would be a good pocket-money investment, with Harry able to add new animals one (or maybe two) at a time, and find the odd one in his Christmas stocking.  With that in mind, I customised an Ikea box using transfer paper, so we can document and then store each new arrival….

The ark is still a work in progress, and I suspect always will be; bits occasionally drop off after vigorous play, but more often additions are requested and made; our next project is a feeding trough and some nets to trawl the ocean; I’m thinking fishnet stockings might be the obvious candidate for recycling here but am pretty sure I don’t have any lying around (not these days, at least…)

What was your best-loved toy as a child, and has it survived? I give our ark a 50:50 chance of longterm survival, but actually it doesn’t really matter – sometimes the very best toys get loved to death and destruction, and that surely should be seen as a sign of their success..

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…

The Playroom Safari

Harry’s now at the age where hand puppets are becoming interesting; they can bring stories to life, steal food from his plate (who knew that giraffes are partial to bananas, or that crocodiles lose all sense of decorum when faced with a square of toast?). They can whisper secrets furrily into one’s ear, and seem to Harry to occupy a realm somewhere between make-believe and reality.

We’ve amassed a small safari of animals over the last couple of years, including this incredibly lifelike rabbit below (‘it looks like roadkill‘ shuddered my husband, as I whipped the admittedly rather squashed bunny out of my suitcase after a recent business trip).  The trouble is that like all soft toys they tend to get buried at the bottom of the toy box and discovered only by chance, usually looking somewhat crumpled and adorned with lost Cheerios and ancient stickers.

The solution; to mount them on the playroom wall, hunting-lodge style.  Each animal has been carefully (if not very imaginatively) christened and allocated a position, and now our very own safari surveys the playroom and its members are regularly invited down for play.  It’s perhaps the only habitat in which you will see crocodiles, giraffes and elephants co-existing in such harmony…far more harmony than a bunch of toddlers, that’s for sure.

How to make these: After experimenting with various poles and mounts, I discovered these papier-mâché hands (1) which duly fill the puppet heads to max effect when glued to a piece of MDF (2) –  strong cardboard would work just fine. Glue together, paint white all over with a soft bristled brush (3), allow to dry and then drill a small hole before mounting on the wall with pins or nails (6).  I added these name tags (4), made from wood offcuts and blackboard paint and strung loosely over the hands.

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?