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Down with the kids

2 Aug

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The summer holidays are in full swing, and if you’ve got kids – of any age – that means you’ve got a dilemma.  What on earth to do with them now that school’s out, the playgroups are closed, and you’ve got six or more weeks of empty days to fill?

The answer, my friends, is to get yourself down to HEMA (or shop online here). My new favourite place to go for brilliant, bright, bargainous bits’n’pieces, it’s a treasure trove of a place for kiddy craft bits, stickers, paper, stampers, paint… you name it, they have it. And all for just a few quid.:

HEMA kids stickers and stamps

Take the amazing glitter foam alphabet stickers above (£2.50 for a massive pot); or the fun ink stampers below (£2.50 for a big box):

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Then there are these animal-shaped foam stickers (£1 per pot), which my toddler LOVES; big packs of coloured paper, and this fab air-dry modelling clay (£1.50 a pack):

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We had hours of fun with the modelling clay, making ‘energems’ from Power Rangers Dino Charge, which we then painted with sparkly nail polish (not a Power Rangers fan? Try pressing leaves into a rolled up piece of clay, cutting round them and leaving them to dry to  make little trinket dishes instead):

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HEMA also sell pavement chalk in a handy reusable storage box (£2), which keeps my two happy for hours in our garden, and went down a storm at our recent summer street party:

HEMA playround chalks

Ooh and they also sell fab pineapple or camera-print tin suitcases for your kids to stash all their crafty bits in, for just £2.50 each:

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So, if you’re stuck for something to do with the little ‘uns this summer, take a tenner and load up your basket in person or online. And if you’re on Instagram, tag me in (I’m @woodyjen here), and show off your goodies with the hashtag #HEMAhaul.

Happy holidays!

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Yummy bunting

16 Dec

Contact Marketing/ Press Office: 01202 596100

The homespun/Scandi red-and-white look is huge for Christmas this year, along with the idea being that you don’t have to spend a fortune on decorations. That’s all well and good, however if you’re not particularly crafty, handmade decs usually look a bit amateur.

Not so this friendly gingerbread bunting. So simple a child could do it, it looks really effective, and is perfect for stringing from a tree, mirror or mantlepiece (well, as long as you don’t hang it near toddlers or dogs!)

Using any recipe you like, just make a batch of gingerbread men biscuits, and pierce two holes in their tummies before you bake ’em…

Contact Marketing/ Press Office: 01202 596100

…then, when they’re cool, ice them (although you can leave them blank) and thread red ribbon through the holes. Easy eh?!

Contact Marketing/ Press Office: 01202 596100

For everything you need to make the bunting, such as cutters (£2) and grosgrain ribbon (£1.05 per metre), visit Hobbycraft

Sew much fun!

29 Oct

White room flyer front

Looking for something unusual for my styling shoot the other week (see two posts ago), I decided I wanted handmade cushions. In theory, it’s incredibly easy if you make ones where the back tucks into itself like a pillowcase, rather than having to fit a zip.

But with a sewing machine still in it’s box and no idea how on earth to start, I turned to my local sewing cafe, The White Room SE4 (www.thewhiteroomse4.co.uk) for help. Popping up all over the country, sewing cafes are a place where you can hire sewing machines by the hour, take courses in everything from beginner’s basics and pattern cutting, to making skirts to winter capes… plus enjoy a cake and a cuppa at the same time. The White Room also sells gorgeous clothes too, designed by the lovely Nicky, a fashion designer who’s sold her range everywhere from ASOS to Top Shop and Warehouse over the years.

Anyhow, Nicky kindly ran up a couple of cushions and some blinds for me using the amazing Woodland fabric – covered in little squirrels, birds acorns and leaves – from Scion (www.scion.uk.com). The results were better than I could have expected – and completely unique!

Flat Shots

Handmade cushion in Scion Woodland fabric

I’m now determined to master sewing myself, and am planning to sign up for one of Nicky’s “How to use a sewing machine” beginners’ courses. For £30, over two hours, they’ll teach me all the basics, and hopefully give me a skill I’ll keep and use for life. In fact, I even took my craft-oholic friend Emma there as her pre-wedding present (I made a slightly wonky bag; she had a go at machine embroidery and took to it immediately, as you can see below).

Sewing at the White Room 2

Sewing at the White Room 7

So, if you’re in London and want to have a go yourself – or want to give a session to a friend as a gift – I thoroughly recommend it. Don’t live near the capital? Google ‘sewing cafe’ or ‘sewing workshop’ and see what comes up. I’ve found them everywhere, including Harrogate (www.needlepointsewingcafe.co.uk); Hinckley, Leicestershire (www.thesewingcafe.co.uk); Bristol (www.cordial-and-grace.co.uk); Durham (www.sewcafe.co.uk); Bath (www.themakeryonline.co.uk) and Glasgow (Make It – 07597 122 809).

Sew why not give it a try?!

Sewing at the White Room 4

Very pin-teresting

12 Aug

Giant metal safety pin with tea towel

The new http://www.Notonthehighstreet.com catalogue has just popped through my letterbox and it’s a corker. If you’re not familiar with it, the website brings together thousands of different products from individual designers and small independent stores as well as bigger names. I’ve spent many a happy hour just putting different search terms in and seeing what goodies pop up.

Anyhow, my absolute favourite item from the new catalogue is this Giant Display Pin from Gertie & Mabel, top. It would look great in a kitchen with a tea towel on; in a bedroom to display necklaces; in a hallway to hang scarves; or in a craft room with spools of ribbon on. In fact, you can also buy vintage style wooden spools (£3.95 each) also from Gertie & Mabel to wind lovely ribbons on (yes, they sell the ribbons too!).

Giant metal safety pin with ribbon spools

Other standouts include these Industrial Metal Letters, below, from the Letteroom – at £29.50 each, they’re a lot cheaper than most designer ones you can buy…

Industrial metal letters

…and these AMAZING lights shaped like balloons (called Memory Balloon Wall Lights, by designer John Moncrieff). Made of handblown glass, they’re not just things of beauty, but they’re clever too – you attach them to the wall or ceiling, then pull on the string to switch them on. The only reason I haven’t run out and bought a load immediately? They start at £134 each, yikes!

Memory balloon ceiling light

DON’T FORGET!
Like reading this blog as much as I like writing it? Then please vote for me in the Cosmo Blog Awards by clicking on the link below. I’m nominated in the ‘Best Interiors Blog’ section. Thank you!
http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk/blogs/cosmo-blog-awards-2013/cosmo-blog-awards-2013-shortlist-vote-here

Let us spray!

7 Aug

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWay back when I was a student, I went out with a graffiti artist for a while. He changed the way I thought about graffiti – he and his friends weren’t vandals (they didn’t go around spraying their tags on trains and lamp posts); instead, they were artists, meticulously drawing intricate designs up on squared paper beforehand, then creating amazing works of art on designated ‘legal’ walls or at festivals, using different nozzles, masking tape and all kinds of other clever tricks to create different effects.

Anyhow, he bought me my first ever can of spray paint, and helped me to spray a beside table hot pink. It looked amazing – and from then on I was hooked.

As I’m hopeless at drawing things (although I’m quite good at Pictionary…), I’ve stuck to furniture and accessories – spraying gives a lovely even finish, and transforms even the grottiest item within minutes. The best thing about it is that you don’t need to be an expert – you literally just shake the can, point it at the object, and let rip.

My most recent project has been doing up a retro woven bucket chair that had been languishing in my parents’ loft. I sprayed it red and gave it a whole new lease of life in my new summerhouse  (nothing fancy – we just clad the walls of my shed in cheap pine tongue-and-groove, painted them white and then painted the floor with grey gloss). It was in a terrible state, but now looks quite cool, don’t you think?

spray painted bucket chair in summerhouse

If you fancy giving spray paint a go, my top tip is to start with some old plastic garden planters or windowboxes, or make a tin-can plant display like the one above…

1) Take some old tins outside (soup tins or larger cooking oil cans work well – ask a local restaurant or takeaway to save you some)

2) Lay down an old sheet or some newspaper to protect the grass, then place your can upside down over a wine bottle so that you can spray the whole of it without having to touch it.

3) Spray it in whatever colour you like, then leave it to dry. I like Plasti-Kote Super Gloss spray paints (around £6.50 for a giant can) or Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch (about £5.50) both from http://www.Amazon.co.uk or DIY shops. They both work well on wood, metal or plastic.

4) Bang a nail through the back into a wall or fence post, and your can is ready to fill with soil and flowers. Lovely!

If you do spray anything, please send me a picture! Drop me a line at thetreasurehunteruk@gmail.com

PS: I still know that graffiti artist and he takes commissions, so if you ever want a really cool mural, painted shop shutters or even just a canvas with your child’s name written in graffiti style, give me a shout and I’ll put you in touch! 

Sew worth reading

11 Jul

Christine Leech book jackets

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of working with the very talented Christine Leech. Not only is she an amazing magazine art director, but she’s also a champion crafter, and one half of the duo behind the Everything Alice and Everything Oz books (making things inspired by Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz – check ’em out at http://www.amazon.co.uk).

She’s recently branched out alone and has just published two lovely new craft books, Felt Sew Good (30 simple and stylish projects using felt) and Little Sew & Sew (sewing and embroidery projects).

Felt Sew Good is perfect for anyone (like me) who likes their craft projects to be simple yet look really professional. Working with felt means you don’t have to faff about with hems etc as much as you do with fabric, and I particularly love her ideas for a flower covered wreath and fun pom-pom style baubles – neither require a sewing machine, just a good pair of scissors and a few stitches:

Felt Sew Good project felt baubles

Little Sew & Sew, on the other hand, is a great book for anyone who already knows one end of a needle from another, and has some gorgeous ideas, including a really simple shopper bag, and sweet fabric covered notebooks:

Little Sew and Sew rabbit notebooks

The books are beautifully laid-out, the photos are super-stylish, and even the paper they’re printed on feels classy. Either would make a great present for anyone who loves crafting and wants to make things they’d actually be proud to have on display. The books cost £12.99 each (or £8.96 and £10.99 at http://www.amazon.co.uk) and are published by Quadrille.

Love Christine’s ideas? She writes a great blog at http://www.sewyeah.co.uk which is full of fun homes finds and easy-yet-stunning ideas for doing up your home on a shoestring – just take a sneak peek at her handmade pegboard noticeboard below…

Christine Leech www.sewyeah.co.uk pegboard(both images above from http://www.sewyeah.co.uk)

Playing your cards right

9 May

Vintage playing cards animal rummy

On a recent visit to friends in Norfolk the other week (more on their AMAZING house in a later post…) I found these mega cute 1950s/60s playing cards in a junk shop for £4. I love the old school illustrations – kitsch but not too twee.

Back home, I’ve paired them up with squares of wrapping or origami paper and stuck them on blank greetings cards. I plan to use them for birthdays and thank yous, with the idea that the recipients can remove the card and recycle it again in a different way. I reckon they’d look great as a freize around a child’s bedroom wall; framed as little artworks, or even used as gift tags.

Vintage playing cards turned into greetings cards 2

Vintage playing cards turned into greetings cards 1

Fancy making some yourself? You can pick up all kinds of similar packs in different retro designs for around a fiver each on eBay (search under ‘vintage playing cards’ or ‘animal rummy’ or other card games like ‘old maid’ or ‘hearts’ or ‘happy families’).

Vintage playing cards hearts

Oh boy, Lollipop!

5 Mar

Lollipop designs cat note cards set

One of the things I love most about writing this blog is finding bits and bobs that would make great presents. And to me, a great present is fun, unusual, and not the kind of thing people would be able to justify buying for themselves. It also helps in a lot of cases if it’s easy to post.

So I was very happy to stumble upon Lollipop Designs (www.lollipopdesigns.co.uk and also on http://www.notonthehighstreet.com). They sell some lovely things that tick all those boxes.

My absolute favourites are the brilliant Origami Animal Note Sets, £8.75 each (above and below) – ten sheets of printed paper that you fold to make a friendly little cat, mouse or fox face that you can then pop into the little square envelope provided and send as a thank you note or birthday card.

Lollipop designs normal_origami-notepaper-set-various

I also love the squirrel DIY gift tag ink stamp kit (which comes with 10 blank tags to get you started), £12; the classy Weekly Planner Pad, £9, which would look very smart either at work or at home; and the eco parcel tape, £9.50 per roll, which is decorated with little stars or animals, birds and speech bubbles (it’d be great for gift-wrapping), all below.

I’m off to place my order now!

Lollipop designs squirrel DIY gift tag ink stamp kit

Lollipop designs weekly-planner-pad

Lollipop designs parcel tape patterned

All mapped out

11 Jan

map covered 3D letters and ampersand

Map covered 3D ampersand

My other half is pretty easygoing when it comes to what we put in our house – he’ll go along with most of my ideas without putting up too much of a fight (sensible boy!). It’s rare he makes a real point about mentioning something he likes, and when he does, I always take note.

This Christmas, he had his heart set on some lovely 3D freestanding letters from http://www.etsy.com, that have vintage maps on the front, and can be personalised to show any country you like. He fancied our initials (we’re both “J”) and an ampersand. And he wanted Bali, where we went for our honeymoon, on one of them. Only thing was, when I checked the price of the ones he liked, they cost over £40… and I reckoned I could make them myself for much less.

So I did! And the results are above. I managed to get Bali on one ‘J’; the UK, Marrakech and Paris (favourite holiday desinations) on another; and California (where we got engaged) on the ampersand. They now have pride of place on our bedroom shelf and I’m pretty pleased with how they came out. What’s more, they were really easy to make. In fact, so easy, I thought I’d share the ‘how to’ with you, at the bottom of this entry.

Not into crafting? You can buy various versions of these letters, in different sizes, on http://www.etsy.com – they come covered in everything from vintage  maps to music scores and comic book pages. Seller Roseberry Stone makes some nice ones for £7.68/$12:

etsy map 3D letter

While you’re visiting Etsy, you can also get sweet locket necklaces (£22.39/$35 by PAPERandPLACE), personalised prints (£14.07/$22 by FleaMarketSunday) and even metal keepsake tins (£4.64/$7.25 by HocusFocus) with the map of your choice on fairly cheaply – they’d make really thoughtful, unusual presents. Some pics are below.

etsy custom map locket letters on mannequin

etsy custom map initial

HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN 3D MAP LETTERS…

1. Buy a 3D letter in the initial of your choice. You can get them from http://www.hobbycraft.co.uk (search for “3D Letter” – they’re currently on sale for just 99p!) or Amazon; or I got mine from Ebay (they were listed as “Large 7 inch 18cm Decopatch Freestanding 3D Cardboard Letters” £2.75 from seller bigbaggiepeck).

2.Paint it in any colour you like. You can use any leftover ordinary emulsion paint, or buy a little tester pot. I used a tester pot of a shade called Vintage Map (I thought it was apt!) by Farrow & Ball.

3. Choose your map or covering paper. I bought a sheet of vintage world map wrapping paper from a travel shop called Stanfords for just £2.99. Just visit travel.stanfords.co.uk and search under ‘wrapping paper’ – it’s a really cheap way of getting some great old skool style maps on the cheap.

4. Lay your 3D letter on the covering paper and trace round it. If you want to make sure you get a specific country on your letter, you can make a see-through template first. Just place your 3D letter on a plastic see-through slip-in document wallet; draw round it and cut it out; and then position this template on your covering paper and trace round that instead.

5. Cut out the letter shape from the covering paper, cutting about 1mm inside the lines you traced.

6. Stick your cut out paper letter shape onto your painted 3D letter (I just used Pritt Stick); trim any overlapping edges; and you’re done!

On the cards…

24 Dec

Cmas card with envelope

Unless you’re going shopping in town (which is madness on Christmas Eve, but when I worked on the perfume counter at Boots, there was a steady stream of panic buyers all day!), it’s too late to buy anything.

So, I  thought I’d show you a Christmas card you can make in five minutes that doesn’t require any particular skill or specialist materials, but that looks fancy and professional.

Here’s how:

1) Take a blank card (or fold a piece of white card in half).

2) Cut a piece of wrapping paper into a square a bit smaller than your card. Stick it onto the front of your card with Pritt stick or glue.

3) Take a flat-ish Christmas decoration (mine came in a pack of four for £1 from Tiger Stores) and stick it with a glue dot, a sticky fixer, some rolled over sellotape or even some Blu Tak to the middle of your card.

Cmas card sticking down decoration

4) Fold the hanging loop over the top of your card and fix with sellotape on the inside (see below). Cmas card back of card

And that’s it! You can use any paper and decorations you like. Easy.

Happy Christmas!

Cmas card four cards

Can you candle this?

17 Dec

teacup candle finished and wrapped

I’d always thought candle making was too difficult/faffy and involved specialist equipment – until a friend showed me some amazing teacup candles she’d made with nothing more than an old cup, some string and some melted tealights.

So, when my neighbour threw out a lovely vintage teaset the other day, I snapped it up and had a go at making some candles myself, to give as Christmas presents.

I’m quite pleased with the results – and they only took about half an hour to make! If you find yourself at a loose end over the holidays, why not give it a go? Please excuse my not-very-professional photos, but hopefully they’ll give you the general idea…

WHAT YOU NEED:
CandleShack blended paraffin wax £3.40 for 800g (from http://www.4candles.co.uk)*
Wedo 25mm ECO multipurpose wick £2.15 for 20m (from http://www.4candles.co.uk)
15mm wick sustainers 40p for 20 (from http://www.4candles.co.uk)
Teacup and saucer
Pencil or chopstick
Blue Tak
Glue
Pyrex jug
Saucepan
Pliers
Weighing scales

teacup candle equipment ready

HOW TO MAKE YOUR TEACUP CANDLE
1. Fill your teacup with water then pour that water into your measuring jug. Whatever the reading in ml, you’ll need the equivalent in grams of wax (eg: if your cup holds 150ml, you’ll need 150g of wax). Measure out the wax on your weighing scales.

2. Thread a length of wick through a wick sustainer and crimp it in place with pliers, so it looks like the pic below:

teacup candle crimping
3. Then stick the sustainer to the inside bottom of your teacup with a dot of glue (you could use Blu Tak at a push). Next, wind the wick around a pencil or chopstick to keep the wick straight, and stick it to the cup rim with Blu Tak to keep it in place.

teacup candle cup is ready

4. Put the wax in the jug and put the jug in a saucepan of water on a low heat. Stir gently until the wax completely melts. You can add fragrance (in a little bottle, £3.53 for 50ml Escentscia scent from http://www.4candles.co.uk – I used blackberry) or colour (30p for 5g – you need 1g per 100g of wax – from http://www.4candles.co.uk. I used lavender) – just stir it in at this point.

teacup candle melting the wax

5. Carefully pour almost all of the wax into your teacup. It’ll set with an annoying well in the middle, so after 30 mins or so, re-melt the remaining wax in the jug and fill up the well.

teacup candle pouring the was
That’s it! I wrapped mine in cellophane (£1 a roll from Tiger Stores, or you could ask a florist nicely for a square) and ribbon to make it look all professional. Now I just need to decide which lucky people get them as presents!

*All prices from http://www.4candles.co.uk exclude VAT, so they’ll cost a wee bit more at the checkout.

The Sharpiest tool in the box

7 Sep

I realise I’m probably very slow out of the blocks here, but I’ve recently discovered Sharpie pens, and I think they’re amazing.
The iMac of writing instruments, these posh felt tips are just cooler and quirkier than ‘normal’ pens.

The best thing about them is that they’re permanent, and can write on pretty much any surface, from glass and plastic to stone, polystyrene, rubber, fabric and even shoes (see below). The black ink is crisp and makes my handwriting look far swankier and I can see why the coloured inks are loved by arty types – it almost looks like paint.

I particularly like the mini Sharpies that come with a little metal ring in the lid, so that you can attach them to your bag or keys – perfect if, like me, you always need a pen but can’t find one.

I bought a black pen first, to write on freezer bags (I know, the glamour!), but quickly realised the error of my ways. I’ve since seen the huge amount of Sharpie art and craft on the web, and have bought a pack of 24 coloured pens (£15.89 from Webcrayons at amazon.co.uk) to have a go myself.

My first two attempts are at the bottom of this post – a little canvas (bought blank for 99p from a bargain bookshop) with the lyrics to Something Changed by Pulp (a reading at our wedding), which I gave my husband for our anniversary; and a beach pebble which I painted with nail polish and Sharpies and then stuck a magnet on the back of (an idea I got from the How About Orange blog at http://howaboutorange.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/wooden-disks-and-sharpies.html?m=1)

For other, ahem, far more professional (ie: better!) art and craft work than mine, Google Images for ‘Sharpie Craft’ or visit the gallery at http://www.sharpie.com

You can buy Sharpies from WHSmiths and http://www.amazon.co.uk

*Converse pic courtesy of: http://glowynddark.deviantart.com/art/Sharpie-Converse-55840579?offset=40

I wishi for washi

27 Jul

My new obsession is for washi tape (“what-y tape?” asked my other half). It’s Japanese masking tape, which comes in different widths and is printed with pretty patterns.

You can use it in so many different ways and you don’t have to be particularly crafty to get good results. The most obvious is to wrap presents with. It’ll stand out more if you use brown paper, white paper or a single plain coloured paper or tissue. Don’t just use the washi tape on the ends – stick little strips randomly all over for a really pretty effect.

Another great use for washi tape is to decorate stuff – wrap it around glass jars for candles, trinket boxes, pens/pencils, travelcard wallets, kitchen storage containers… or put strips on picture frames, mirrors, or notebooks/diaries to jazz them up.

There are loads of great ideas on the web. Check these out for starters:

Jars and clothes pegs:
http://www.adasinteriordesign.com/mondays-make-it-japanese-washi-tape/

Pretty clothes hangers:
http://thepapercutouts.blogspot.co.uk/search?updated-max=2012-06-29T12:00:00-07:00&max-results=5&m=0

Washi tape magnets:
http://twirlingbetty.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/japanese-masking-tape-washi-tape-magnets-a-tutorial/
and
http://howaboutorange.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/diy-washi-tape-magnets.html?m=1

Storage jars:
http://www.shelterness.com/10-ideas-to-refresh-your-interior-using-japanese-masking-tape/pictures/5710/

Gift bags:
http://www.simplymodernmom.com/2011/10/washi-tape-gift-bag-tutorial-from-how-about-orange/

Notebooks:
http://www.adoreweddingblog.com/2012/06/28/diy-washi-tape-notebook/

Chairs decorated with washi:
http://www.shelterness.com/10-ideas-to-refresh-your-interior-using-japanese-masking-tape/pictures/5703/

A Pinterest board with other washi tape ideas such as cards, penpots and boxes:
http://m.pinterest.com/ikbennele/washi-tape/

Feeling inspired? All you need now is some tape! The best place to start is www.washitapes.co.uk – they have the biggest selection in the UK.
You can also get your mitts on tapes at www.dotcomgiftshop.com, http://www.papermash.co.uk, http://www.lovelytape.co.uk and on Ebay (search for “washi tape” or “Japanese masking tape” or “craft masking tape”).

Measure for measure

30 May

When they were handing out good looks in the animal kingdom, snails weren’t at the front of the queue (they can’t move that fast, obviously…). However, they do make for really cute desk accessories – just check out these little fellas! You simply pull on their antennae (is that the right word?) and out pops a tape measure. Genius. They’re £7.99 from www.mocha.uk.com.

I also can’t resist these sweet little animal tape measures from Japan (just £2.99 from various sellers on EBay – search under ‘panda tape measure’ and they’ll all pop up). Choose from a frog, panda, piggy, bear or friendly-faced tiger. Perfect for popping in your pocket when you go to Ikea.

Finally, when is a tape measure not a tape measure? When it’s a Sellotape dispenser! Cunning designers Suck UK, who make some brilliant products, have created this tape dispenser disguised as an old school traditional measure (£5.99 from www.amazon.co.uk or £7.99  from www.mocha.uk.com). I reckon every well-dressed desk should have one.

Colour me happy

28 May

I’m a fan of big chunky jewellery, so I loved these bright, beautiful rings the minute I saw them – even before I found out about their secret double life.

You see, they’re crayons! Yep, each ring (you get a set of six Kikkerland Round Colour Rings for £7 at www.junkskull.com) is made of wax crayon, so you can draw with your knuckles whenever the urge takes you. You could even string the set on a piece of ribbon for an unusual yet functional necklace – just whip it off to scribble down your number when a hot boy asks for a date (um, or in my case, write down something to put on the shopping list!)

They’re great fun for big and little kids alike (they’re non-toxic, fact fans), and a cool present for anyone with an arty streak.

Pot luck

11 May

At my local market, there’s a stall selling flavoured bread in real terracotta flowerpots. They look like little shrubs – too cute to eat!

Cakes are easier to make than bread, so when I saw these brilliant mini flowerpot-shaped silicone muffin cases from Lakeland (www.Lakeland.co.uk), I put them straight on my wishlist.

At £5.99 for six, they’re not bad for something you can reuse time and time again, and with some icing flowers/sweets on top, they’ll turn your cakes into bloomin’ tasty showstoppers.

That’s a wrap

7 May

What if there was a way to get an absolutely stunningly-wrapped parcel, that made the recipient gasp,  that didn’t involve either Sellotape or scissors – and that took just seconds?

Well, thanks to the Japanese, there is. Furoshiki are traditional Japanese wrapping cloths, made of fabric, used for centuries to wrap gifts. Now they’ve been given a revamp – available in lovely modern prints, they’re good-sized squares of material that you wrap around a present and tie with a knot. They not only look cool, but can be used as anything from a scarf to a sarong afterwards, so they’re a gift in themselves.

You can buy them for £2.50-£4 each from http://www.ethicalcommunity.com; £3.99 from http://www.hunkydoryhome.com; £3.75 from http://www.clothkits.co.uk or for the best selection, visit http://www.evergreenwrap.com. There they’re  £3.99 and come printed with hummingbirds, safari animals, soldiers, dresses, or London buses. There are also written, picture and video instructions on how to wrap almost anything.

Darn it!

27 Apr

A moth/nail/small child/friend’s ciggie has made a hole in your favourite top – what do you do? You need a tin of Clothes Plasters!
Designed by artist Jennie Maizels (www.jenniemaizels.com), they’re beautifully embroidered patches, which you can iron on over a hole to hide it; or just use to decorate your clothes with.

They come in either individual packs, or four cute themed tins – choose from ‘Rock’ (red lips, skull, guitar, flaming dice etc); ‘Blue’ (robot, dinosaur, pirate, etc); ‘Pink’ (babushka, cat, star, cupcake, etc); or my favourite, ‘Birds’ (hummingbird, bluetit, parrot, black swan, etc)

They’re £3.50 for a pair or £9.99 for a tin of ten, with different designs available from www.clothkits.co.uk or www.hunkydoryhome.co.uk orwww.funkymoose.co.uk or www.letterbox.co.uk.

Stamp for joy

20 Apr

Staplers and hole punches – two of the most useful yet boring items on your desk…

Until now, that is.

Every time you use this Stampler by Suck UK (above, £7.99 from http://www.find-me-a-gift.co.uk or £8.10 from http://www.amazon.co.uk), you’ll smile – and so will your documents. A stapler and ink stamp rolled into one, it not only fixes papers together, but prints a happy face in red ink on them (with the staple as the mouth). Totally pointless, but a lot of fun.

As for the hole punch below (£8.56, also by Suck UK from Amazon), it punches heart-shaped holes instead of round ones. A nice touch that only the ultra-observant colleagues will notice, but that’ll brighten your day all the same.

All present and correct

27 Jan

My new obsession is an awesome online shopping site called http://www.presentandcorrect.com. It’s not just that they sell gorgeous stationery, cards, notelets, prints, stickers, stamps and other bits and bobs, but that they photograph and present them all so beautifully.

My top picks? The bright wooden ‘click’ pencils, £5.50 (above); the tag notebooks, £7.50 for three; the cunning tape measure calendar, £16 (each day is 1cm on the tape measure – genius!); the label notecards, £3.25; the old Czech matchbox labels, £6 for 25 and the pick’n’mix stamps, £3.95.

A cut above the rest

18 Jan

You might think it’s hard to get excited by scissors, but that’s probably because you haven’t tried these!

I’ve had a pair of pointed small Fiskars scissors for a few years now and I use them for absolutely everything – from giftwrapping to cutting ribbons to hair-trimming – and they’re still as sharp as the day I got them. Now Fiskars have bought out ‘designer’ versions with  patterns on – like Seaflower (blue bubbles, above); Bloom (pretty flowers, bottom); and even, brilliantly, the Moomin family (below).

The scissors come in several sizes/types – mine are the 12cm Needlepoint scissors (currently £7.50 on http://www.amazon.co.uk), but you can get bigger General Purpose scissors, medium-sized Paper scissors, curved manicure scissors, kids scissors and even left-handed versions too. They’re available from craft shops, online sewing shops, or http://www.amazon.co.uk.

I promise you’ll wonder how you lived without them!

Cake that!

26 Dec

I just had to share with you this mega cute Chirstmas cake – made by my mum – who was inspired by this blog to try a more adventurous design this year.

She got the inspiration from Good Food’s Rocky Robin cake (find it at http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/889664/rocky-robin-cake if you want to have a go yourself). The ‘official’ pic of how the cake should look is below. But while Good Food’s robins are small  and refined, I don’t know about you, but I quite like the way my mum’s robins are big, fat, bruiser birds. I think they’ve had too much Christmas cake to eat themselves!

The need for speed

22 Dec

Just three days to Christmas and let’s be honest – time is precious right now. Yes, handmade stuff looks amazing and costs just pennies, but no-one has the time to be faffing around making jam by hand or baking biscuits to use as Christmas tree decorations. That moment has passed.

But if you’re still stuck for a couple of presents, or your tree is a bit bare, here are a couple of solutions – each looks like it took you ages to lovingly pull together, but only takes ten minutes max, promise.
A last-minute present that suits everyone
Everyone loves sweets, from best mates to brothers – and they can keep the useful jar afterwards.
Prep:
Visit Poundland, a 99p Store or Pound Stretcher, and buy an old-school jam or sweet jar like the one above. Then, from the same shop, buy a couple of bags of sweets – go for retro Fruit Salads and Black Jacks; different flavoured bonbons; liquorice strings; or even multi-packs of Orbit chewing gum. Finally, you’ll need a piece of ribbon (satin or metallic curling ribbon) and a luggage tag (can’t find one? Cut up a spare Christmas card and punch a hole in it).
Pulling it together:
Pop the sweets in the jar. Tie the ribbon round the neck of the jar. Write the name of the sweets, or a Christmas message, on the luggage tag. Easy!
Total cost: £3-4.
Professional tree decorations
Origami birds look fab hung from a Christmas tree or bunch of sticks arranged in a vase. Or you can just pop one on every guest’s plate as a table decoration. And despite appearances, they’re dead easy to make.
Prep:
Take some wrapping paper and cut it into squares 15cm by 15cm. Grab a reel of cotton thread (any colour), a needle and some scissors. Turn on your computer.
Pulling it together:
Visit http://www.origami-fun.com/origami-crane.html. Follow the simple instructions to make your origami birds (the beauty of a video is that you can pause and rewind if you get stuck). If you want to hang it up, use the needle to thread cotton through the top part of your bird and tie to make a loop. Voila!
Total cost: free
Cheat’s chutney
Okay so this is a bit cheeky, but it transforms an ordinary item into something a bit more special – perfect for aunties, nans and neighbours.
Prep:
Buy a couple of jars of shop-made chutney, marmalade, jam – whatever takes your fancy. Grab a sideplate, some scissors (pinking shears are best but ordinary ones will do), a scrap of cotton fabric (you could use an old brightly-coloured top or t-shirt if you have nothing else), some string and a luggage tag (or cut up a spare Christmas card and punch a hole in it). Boil a kettle.
Pulling it together:
Stand your jar in the sink or a large bowl, and pour hot/boiling water round it until the label is covered. Leave it to soak until the label rubs off easily. Then take the sideplate and use it as a template to draw a circle on the underside of your fabric. Cut out the circle. Place it over the lid of the jam jar and tie round the neck with a piece of string. Attach your luggage label and write the name of the jar’s contents on it. Done!
Total cost: £2-3.

How to be a wrap star

19 Dec

Every year, I see articles and pictures in magazines of presents wrapped beautifully with brown paper, red-and-white string, doilies, baubles etc and think, “Right, I’m so going to do that this year”.

Thing is, time and life catch up with me and I end up just buying pretty printed wrapping paper and using that instead.

This Christmas, I’ve tried to find a middle way – a method of wrapping presents that looks classy and luxurious, but that doesn’t take ages, cost loads, or involve any huge amount of skill.

To get the look above, I wrapped my presents in silver-and-white patterned gift wrap  (my paper is from BHS, but you can buy this colourway anywhere); added a silver gift tag (mine are from Poundland!); and then tied on some coloured ribbon (mine’s from http://www.midpac.co.uk but John Lewis or any haberdashery store will do).

If you’re still looking for inspiration, and want to try the more crafty/brown paper approach, there are some AMAZING-looking but simple ideas on this great blog: http://soresourceful.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/tuesdays-resourceful-little-idea-wrapping-presents-a-christmas-special/ (a teaser pic is below!)

Say hello to some good buys

9 Dec

This Christmas, I’ve bought several of my gifts from brilliant new website http://www.culturevulturedirect.co.uk. With a mix of stylish home buys; fun stocking fillers; arty stuff for aunties; crafty sets for creative types; and movie/music-themed gifts for difficult-to-please men, you’re guaranteed to find at least something you want to buy.

My top picks? The Fairest Of Them All Mirrors, £30 for set of five, above (ridiculously cheaper than similar designs I’ve seen elsewhere); Typewriter Stamps, £6.99 for a full alphabet and ink pad (brilliant for making handmade cards, jam labels, placecards, gift tags, etc); Conoisseurs Cheese Baker with box and wooden spatula, £17 (for fromage fiends); and the cute Calf And A Half Creamer jug, £14.99.

Prints charming

25 Nov

On a recent trip to the seaside town of Southwold (cute beach huts, brilliant restaurants and the best bakery I’ve ever been to), I visited a local craft show. There, I met Becky Lim, a textile designer and illustrator who was selling gorgeous handmade wooden pendants, decorated with her own bird and tree designs (see below).

Now, just in time for Christmas, she’s branched out, and has launched a range of four beautiful cotton tea towels, printed with foxes, birds and deers. Designed using doodles, papercuts and photos, they’re  classy, unusual, and would also look great framed (see above).

Light and perfectly post-able, I reckon a tea towel and a pendant would make a great gift for someone special.

Becky is selling the towels for £10.99 each at http://www.etsy.com/shop/Patternista. To find out more about her designs (and contact her if you want to buy one of her unique pendants for £12 + £1.20 P&P) visit http://www.patternista1.blogspot.com/ or email Becky at patternista@yahoo.com

PS: As a new designer, Becky is also looking for ideas on how to promote her work. If you can help, email her!

It’s Grrrrrrrreat!

19 Oct

The best shop I’ve ever been into in my life was a Japanese pound shop in Singapore. Chock full of craft stuff, homewares and beauty bits, all in gorgeous Japanese prints or with quirky slogans, and all costing the equivalent of £1 each, it was so bargainous that it was almost overwhelming (you can drool at the products, and see store locations around the world, at http://www.daiso-sangyo.co.jp/english/)

I assumed the experience was a one-off until yesterday, when I visited the new Tiger store in Lewisham shopping centre (of all places). A Danish concept, it’s like a cross between that Japanese pound shop, Muji, Ikea, H&M and Poundland. I spotted gorgeous craft stuff, picture frames, baking equipment, pretty napkins, homewares, bathroom accessories, unusual wrapping paper and stylish stationery – almost all costing just £1-£4.

Apparently there are 90 Tiger stores in 11 different European countries, with ten or so of them in the UK. The Lewisham branch is their newest. It’s worth making a special journey to one near you (visit http://www.tigerstores.co.uk), as I guarantee you’ll stock up with Christmas presents.

My top picks? Toadstool biscuit tins, £2 and £3 (see top); Babushka socks, £3; multicoloured  hooks, £1; drawer knobs, £4; wrapping paper, £1 a roll; and big packs of A4 patterned origami paper, £2.

Tubs up!

26 Sep

No longer just the place for paint and tools, B&Q has got some seriously great home finds this Autumn.

Taking a trip there the other day (I’m having my bathroom done so seem to be living in DIY shops at the moment!), I spotted these brilliant flexitub storage baskets. You can use them as washing baskets; for carrying stuff in the garden; for storing bathroom bits, bags, belts, shoes, magazines, toys, craft stuff; or even as a handy way to take random junk up and down stairs.

They come in green, pink, blue and red and cost just £7.50 each from B&Q stores or http://www.diy.com.

Paper, scissors, home!

19 Sep

One of my favourite ways to get inspiration for decorating a room is to visit http://www.wallpaperdirect.co.uk and look for their newest designs. They’ve got a really easy-to-use search facility that lets you hunt for specific colours or words (eg: trees, Scandi) or types of patterns (eg: floral, geometric). You can order samples too – the first two are free, and then they’re 60p each after that, including P&P. Rolls themselves cost £5 upwards.

But you don’t have to just use wallpaper for walls – I’ve used it to line drawers of an Ikea chest (paste it to the base of your drawers before you assemble them for the neatest finish, see below) and now I’m on the hunt for something to paper the inside of a boring hall cupboard with.

I adore all things Japanese, so I’ve fallen in love with this gorgeous new design, called Kokeshi, which comes in blue or red. Sadly though, it’s one of the most expensive on the site at £83 a roll (eek!), so I may have to lower my sights a little. Cute though, isn’t it?

Fairy easy

13 Sep

Apparently it’s ‘National Cupcake Week’ this week. I’ve also become obsessed with The Great British Bake Off on BBC2, at 8pm on Tuesday nights. So, I decided there was no better time to do some baking myself.

However, cupcakes, with all their decorative icing and fancy flavours can be tricky to make. That’s why I attempted their much easier baby sister, the fairy cake, using a simple all-in-one recipe from uber cook Mary Berry (who appears on TGBBO).

All-in-all, a batch of 18 took just half an hour to make from start to finish (including washing up!), and tasted so good I had to make a second batch. The recipe is below – if you manage to make some, email me your pics!

Ingredients
For the cakes:
4oz (100g) soft margarine
4oz (100g caster sugar
4oz (100g) self-raising flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the buttercream icing:
6oz (175g) butter, softened
12oz (350g) icing sugar, sifted

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Place 18 paper cake cases in bun tins.
2. Measure all the ingredients into a large bowl and beat well with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth. Half-fill the paper cases with the mixture.
3. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 15-20 minutes until the cakes are well-risen and golden brown. Lift them out of the bun tins and cool on a wire rack.
4. To make the icing, beat the butter and icing sugar until well-blended.
5. Cut a slice from the top of each cake and cut this slice in half. Pipe (or dollop with a teaspoon!) a swirl of buttercream into the centre of each cake and place the half slices of cake into the buttercream at angles, to resemble wings. Dust with icing sugar to finish.

We’re jammin’

5 Sep

My dad is the king of jam. For my wedding, he made 110 tiny jars of worcesterberry and gooseberry jam for every guest, and is still getting repeat orders. So, when I went to visit him last weekend, we spent the day trampling round the hedgerows collecting blackberries. It’s surprisingly rewarding when you come home with a huge tub of fruit that would cost you around £40 in a supermarket.

Now I’m going to try my hand at making my own blackberry jam. But while making it is easy (I’ve put a recipe below for anyone who fancies having a go), the really fun part is making the jars look pretty! So, I’m going to treat myself to this gorgeous jam making set, £9.95 from http://www.Dotcomgiftshop.com. It contains four vintage-style glass jam jars with polka dot lids; four stick labels, lid covers, string ties and a little recipe book.

Blackberry Jam

Ingredients
1kg blackberries
1kg caster sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 pinch salt

Method
1. Combine the blackberries, sugar, lemon juice and salt in a big saucepan.
2. Bring to a rolling boil and stir regularly, for 15-20 minutes until the fruit looks squishy.
3. Sterilise your jars by pouring boiling water into them, then emptying it out.
4. Wait till the jam has cooled slightly, then pour it into the jars and seal.
5. Once you’ve started eating the jam, store it in the fridge.

Block party

2 Sep

Nic nacs. Yes, they’re pointless, but they do make your home look that much more homely. Picture frames and vases look nice on  shelves, but what you really need are some quirky little bits and pieces to scatter amongst them.

At the moment, I’m a bit obsessed with those old printer’s letter blocks you can pick up in junk stores. You can spell out names; words that suit the room they’re in (‘couch potato’ for the living room?); or even go for punctuation marks (a collection of different sized ‘&’ signs grouped together looks particularly cool).

Only thing is, they can be expensive, and sadly not everyone has the time to go mooching around junk shops every weekend. So… cheat.

Dunelm Mill (www.dunelm-mill.com) have just introduced three new sets of printers blocks, spelling ‘Home’ in red or white; and ‘Love’ in white, for just £2.99 a set. Bargain! Want to personalise yours? Opt for the white set, and paint each letter (not the wooden block) a different bright colour.

The butterfly effect

15 Aug

I’ve been coveting a butterflies artwork from www.notonthehighstreet.com for a while now, but while they’re beautiful, at £45 upwards, they’re not cheap either. So, this weekend, I decided to have a go at making one myself. It only took half an hour and the result is above – not bad eh?!

To make one yourself, follow these steps:

1)      Pop a Ribba box frame, £7.19, in your trolley the next time you visit Ikea (www.ikea.co.uk).

2)      Do a Google search to find a butterfly you like the shape of. Print it out, stick it onto a piece of card and cut around it to make a template.

3)      Use the template to cut butterflies from different pieces of patterned paper (I used origami paper from Ebay, but you could use wrapping paper, magazine tears, train tickets…).

4)      Once you’ve got enough, fold each butterfly in half along the ‘body’ of the butterfly to make a seam, and open it out again.

5)      Cut a piece of paper to fit your frame (I used white – you could use any colour you like) and arrange your butterflies on it.

6)      When you’re happy, put a dab of glue or tape on the back of each butterfly (along the seam only, so that it ‘flutters’) and stick it down. Assemble the frame – and you’re done!

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