A warm welcome

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There are times, during a dark, bleak British winter, when you get so cold that only the copious application of cosiness will possibly warm you up. I am not just talking about an extra jumper, environmental though that would undoubtedly be. I am talking about super-duper cosy-central. Times in a cold February when I want my life to resemble a desirable photo-shoot from a modern, handmade lifestyle magazine: cashmere bedsocks, goose down duvet, grey merino hand-knitted hand warmers, large stoneware mug of tea, big purring cat.

This year has been weirdly warm (“when is it going to SNOW, Mummeeeeeeee?”) which has happily meant that most thoughts of trying to warm myself up have been banished from my mind. This is especially good, since opportunities for languidly lounging around wrapped in desirable warm items of homeware made from natural fibres are sadly limited round here. We tend to rely on the hot heat of tantrummy soft-play to warm us up these days.

So we’ve relied on our heating only a little bit this winter. This is something of a relief, since our heating system is what one might describe as touchingly basic. No thermostat. No particularly obvious way of altering the temperature on the radiators, other than the time-honoured, ‘turn the knobs as far as you can in one direction then see whether the radiator seems cool or roasting next time you remember’. Basically when it gets cold, although we can set the rudimentary timer on the boiler, we tend to just turn the heating on for a few hours, then turn it off again. Thankfully our house, whilst having many problems that we would like to fix, is actually a pretty warm house. It heats up pretty quickly, and retains the heat reasonably well. Which is a blessing, actually, now I think of it, that I should really appreciate more.

The boiler on the other hand, is hard to appreciate, sitting as it does right in the middle of the kitchen. Remember our kitchen window, which I posted about blimmin’ ages ago some time ago?

The kitchen windowWell, since then we’ve seen a few small improvements. I removed the hideous metal blind. I even undercoated and painted the window frame. And I bought a metal shelf from Ikea to hang our saucepans from, having admired the very same thing in a friend’s house.

Corner by corner - kitchen windowSo here you can see the white painted window frame, which made a lovely difference to the whole space, making it feel much cleaner and brighter. But what’s that, dominating the view from here? Ah yes. The boiler.

My ideal boiler would be hidden away somewhere. Preferably in a built-in cupboard, so we could put it completely out of sight, and I could live a nice warm life whilst pretending that there was no such thing as pipes, gas supply, or indeed heating bills. I just have this nagging feeling that if we ever tried to move this boiler, it would not only be massively expensive, it would also hasten its demise. So there it stays.

Since being sent some information about evohome, a smart central heating system has also joined my dream list for our heating. The basic premise is that instead of waiting to feel cold, then flipping open the boiler and switching it on, the whole thing works in a rather more seamless, technological and beautiful way.

honeywell1You get to control your heating remotely via an app, which is music to the ears of a technophile like me. There is something pretty pleasing about the idea of sitting on a cold train, getting out your phone, and arranging for the house to be nice and toasty when you get back. But you also get a control panel fitted like the one above, which has a pleasingly futuristic air about it.

Of course, a love of gadgets and a desire to change the temperature when on the London Overground are not the only reasons to find this all appealing. You can also create ‘zones’ in your home and heat them separately, which should mean you can use your heating more efficiently and save money.

If that’s piqued your interest, there are a couple of places to find out more, both the Evohome website, and the nifty system planning tool, where you can input a few details and get a price.

This is a sponsored post in association with Evohome. I received payment for this post, but all words and thoughts are my own.

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Painting our Ikea craft table

I recently wrote about various things that, as I snappily said ‘I love so much that I can’t decide where to put them, and therefore currently don’t have anywhere at all in our house‘. As part of this, I resolved to, over some as yet unspecified period, include the following stuff in our home, somehow, somewhere:

– a garland
– a wall sticker (or wall stickerS. I might go crazy.)
– tissue paper spheres
– chalkboard paint

So here we are. After hearing some words of doom concerning blackboard paint, largely concerning how hard it was to remove and sand off, I started off small, and decided to paint our little Ikea table first of all.

Corner by corner - Ikea children's table Here it is. This is the ‘before’. I love this little table, which I bought with two chairs when Rosa our eldest was probably about two. The idea was for her to have a table and chairs to draw at, and it has been used variously as a place for playing, drawing, reading, and eating snacks from.  It was, of course, from Ikea. As is almost everything in our house (apart from those things which I bought from ebay). I love the shape of it. I love the little chairs. I love everything about it, apart from the finish. Slightly too shiny, slightly too orange, slightly too wrong. I decided I needed to paint it almost as soon as we got it home.

I knew I wanted to spray paint the table a neutral colour, and then paint the top in blackboard paint. I thought the girls would enjoy scribbling on it writing on it with chalk. Truthfully, I thought *I* would enjoy writing things on it. I thought it would only be a small job. Easy.

But then every time we reached a point where we might begin to wrest back some control over our lives, and might possibly be able to find a moment to paint some furniture… well, we developed the habit of just having another baby. Hurrah. After all, why not?

So here we are. As with so many things. Emerging from the abyss of tiny babies, with our youngest now just days away from being 18 months old, and staring down the barrel of all the things we should have done years ago. The sun was out a few weeks ago, the girls were happily romping around the garden, and I had a sudden rush of blood to the head: ‘I could spray paint that table!’ I thought to myself.

And so I did.

Corner by corner - spray painting Ikea table I just did it. In the words of my previous post, I carped the diem. I did the whole works: lightly sanded the table, then sprayed it with grey primer, before getting stuck in with the almond colour paint I wanted to use on the legs. In retrospect I am not quite sure that grey primer was the right call. Even after about three thin coats of almond paint, the overall impression of the colour is still… well… very grey. I don’t mind that so much. I’m all up for a bit of grey. It just wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

Corner by corner - painted Ikea tableBut undeterred, I pressed on, and painted the top with my trusty tin of blackboard paint. I have to explain here how had a slightly hilarious episode with a magnetic tin of blackboard paint some years ago now where we painted a wall in our old kitchen with it. We were then mystified by the wall’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge its magnetic properties in any way.  We couldn’t persuade even one small word of magnetic poetry to cling to it for longer than a second, before sliding slowly and sadly down the wall. Turned out that we had failed to stir it properly, so all the magnetic stuff (iron filings?) was sitting at the bottom of the paint tin, being resolutely and uselessly magnetic there.

So this time I was pretty determined to stir it properly. I wielded my weapon of choice (a knife from our cutlery drawer) and stirred it as well as I could. It was hard. Trying to get it all to mix together was nearly impossible. I have searched hard for an adequate metaphor to describe how difficult this was. It wasn’t like whisking up salad dressing.  It was more like…. like… well, imagine a bucket half-filled with gravel, then topped up with water. Imagine usng an implement, let’s just say a knife from your cutlery drawer, and imagine trying to whip up the gravel into a gentle emulsion with the water.

Can you imagine that?

Well, quite.

So. I did my best. I stirred and whipped valiantly. Then I painted. And the effect was pretty good. You can see above. It has just the contrast I wanted between the pale neutral and the black.

Corner by corner - Ikea tableBut… but… what’s this? I was perplexed by its shininess. I kept thinking it would dry matte, and it kept… well, not being matte. Turns out that shiny blackboard works just as well as matte. You can still write on it with chalk. The girls don’t mind one bit.

I mind. I consulted the Oracle on such matters, who goes by the name of my Dad.

“Why is my chalkboard paint drying shiny rather than matte?”
And do you know what he said?
“Ah. Yes. You need to stir it properly.”

Brilliant.

 

 

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A picture ledge for our room

I was admiring a picture ledge on the rather lovely Tales from a happy house. The only thing better than how lovely the ledge looked was finding out that rather than being impossible to replicate (“Oh, this? I bought it at auction years ago.” “Oh, this? I found it at this DARLING little flea market in Paris.” “Oh, this? My grandfather made it for me when I was born.” etc. etc.) it was in fact from Ikea. From the ‘Ribba’ range, no less, which I know reasonably well since approximately one million of the Ribba frames already hang on my walls.

So upon hearing the fabulous news that it was neither prohibitively expensive, nor impossible to get hold of, I did what any normal person would do. I bought two the next time I went to Ikea. And then I gazed at them in a pleased fashion for a minute or two, slung them under the spare bed, and left them there for at least six months.

          

 I knew exactly where one of the ledges would go. The space above our bed, where I put up our sun mirror. There was only one problem. To put it up, I would have to use the drill. Because here’s the thing: I lost my drilling mojo, over the course of three pregnancies, and having three newborns. When pregnant, I didn’t want to use the drill. I wanted to lie down, eating Lindor chocolates, and watching trashy TV. When I was looking after a newborn, I didn’t want to use the drill. I wanted to have a bath, and a sleep (of course, what I actually did was to spend every hour god sent breastfeeding). So I stopped believing I could do it. And hence the flow of DIY in our house, halting and uncertain at the best of times, came to an almost complete standstill.

Until I decided that this was ridiculous. I OWNED a drill. I had previously used it. It was not rocket science. It was not frightening or mysterious. It was just a drill, and I was going to conquer this strange mental block, and drill holes in the wall if it either killed me, or took me all day.

And I did!

Corner by corner - picture ledgeI got Oli to sit up in bed so that I could make sure I put it high up enough. I had an uncomfortable vision of sitting in bed, with a ledge at the exact level of the back of our heads. I wasn’t sure whether the worst thing about that image was the idea of always hitting my head on it, or the idea of constantly knocking pictures off. Either way, it was an image to be avoided. You can see above not only how high up it is but also how I was so excited once I’d actually managed to put the ledge up that I immediately balanced some pictures on it to see how it would look.

Great, was the answer. So I scoured the house to find some more pictures to put on it.

Corner by corner - picture ledgeAnd in one of those weirdly serendipitous moments, it turned out that I already had a collection of frames which, after just a little bit of shifting around, moving forwards and back, looked pretty near perfect together. Some of these were frames that had been looking for a home for a while. Like this one:

Corner by corner - family tree paper cutThis papercut vision of gorgeousness is a personalised family tree. I am very slightly obsessed with personalised prints and homewares, and spent more time than I’m prepared to admit looking at different family tree type prints online. The fact that this one combined a tree, a papercut, and serifed lettering makes it a bit of a holy grail item for me. I actually found it online before Persephone was born, and bookmarked it ready for when our family was complete. I then – ahem – bought it as a father’s day present for Oli from the girls. And the fact that I love it so much is entirely incidental.
Moving on.

Corner by corner - you are my sunshine printThis picture was a Valentine’s present from Oli. All the more remarkable (and appreciated) because he bought it all by himself, and I hadn’t even seen it or commented on it, or dropped hints about it, or told him to buy it for me, or emailed him the link, or anything.

Corner by corner - picturesThis is a picture of my gorgeous sister on her wedding day. And next to it is – um – an empty frame. The colour and size of the empty frame are perfect for the space. All I need to do is put a picture in there.

Corner by corner - picturesMore family photos at this end of the ledge, too. What’s funny about this ledge is that it’s ended up being largely white and silver, which I would previously have definitely said would not have worked in our room with its largely warm tones. But there it is, being white and silver, and looking lovely. And somehow it’s lightened the whole room up a bit.

Corner by corner - picture ledgeThere it is. I love it. I am hopelessly, stupidly pleased with myself for having rediscovered my ability to use the drill. It fills the space above our bed beautifully. And I do love a picture ledge. The rest of our bedroom is currently covered in stuff and full of boxes, as minor building work takes place downstairs, and every item we own seems to be in a box, piled on top of other boxes. But looking at this space makes me feel very soothed and happy.

Rachel x

 

 

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Tutorial: make a fairy door

      Corner by corner - fairy door tutorial

It all started, as things so often do for me these days, with Pinterest*. It started with a pin that showed some rather adorable looking ‘fairy doors’ made out of lolly sticks. But, frustratingly the pin didn’t take me anywhere useful. And I suddenly thought, ‘I could DO this. I could make them myself, and make a tutorial, and maybe it would be good for me, and perhaps it would even be useful.’ So here we are.

Tutorial: make your own fairy doors

Materials

  • Lollipop sticks / popsicle sticks (around 9 per door)
  • Glue (either PVA or, more thrillingly – and with more opportunities for James Bond impressions – a glue gun)
  • Thick carrier bag or other smooth non-porous surface to act as a gluing mat that you can easily peel gluey lolly sticks off
  • Buttons
  • Hacksaw, or something else sharp enough to cut lolly sticks with

1. Glue together enough lolly sticks to make the main body of your door. I just judged this by eye, and I found around 6 looked good. If you have a glue gun then this is the work of a moment. If you don’t have one, or if like me you DO have one but can’t lay your hands on it, then PVA is your friend. I laid out my six sticks next to each other on a reasonably sturdy carrier bag, thinking this would be easy to peel off afterwards. I made sure they were straight by pushing something straight up against one edge of the door, and then just ran glue up and down all the visible joins. I did think about carefully applying glue along each thin edge, then butting them up against each other one by one, but I thought this a) felt like a big faff and b) felt as though the glue would seep through and be visible from the ‘right’ side.

Corner by corner - fairy door

In fact, you can see in the picture above how this worked out. My red lolly sticks are ‘wrong side up’ so you can see shiny glue along where all the lolly sticks meet. The plain one is right side up, and you can see how they’re joined pretty seamlessly. You can also see how gluing like this made them bow slightly, but fear not! Step 2 will address this.

2. Glue on your reinforcements.

Corner by corner - fairy doorI wanted each of my doors to have two horizontal reinforcements, and one diagonal one. But there are no rules, obviously. I like this stage, because I think this is what makes a row of lolly sticks start to have undeniably door-ish qualities.

Corner by corner - fairy doorsI again did this by eye. I think the fairies are not exacting in their carpentry requirements. Strangely, I had two different sizes of red lolly stick, meaning I could use a whole one for the diagonal piece. But when it came to the plain sticks, I had to cut all three of my reinforcement pieces to size.

Fairy doors - corner by cornerBy now I had found my glue gun, so pressing my little doors flat, and holding on the reinforcers was the work of a happy, hot-glue moment. But if I’d still been using PVA I would have applied glue very sparingly (to stop it seeping through to the front), then folded over the carrier bag so that the door was encased in plastic to protect it, then thwacked a thick book on top to keep it all flat whilst it dried.

3. Adorn

Fairy door furniture - corner by cornerAfter all that ‘right side’ / ‘wrong side’ flapping about, you can clearly see in the picture above that I glued my reinforcers onto the wrong side of my red door. Ah well. Learn from my mistakes.

Once the doors are glued and flat you can stick stuff on. I kept it very simple and just glued on some very plain small buttons to act as doorknobs. If I’d had more time I would have roamed around the house looking for more stuff to act as door furniture. I’m thinking perhaps beads, more unusually shaped buttons, and perhaps little bits of broken jewellery to act as door knockers, letter boxes, finger plates, hinges etc.

4. Hide around the garden

Fairy doors - corner by cornerThe plain door (in my head this is the ‘untreated pine door’) found a home amongst the ivy of a tree stump.

Fairy doors - corner by cornerThe red door I tucked into the base of a tree on the other side of the garden.

Fairy doors - corner by cornerThis picture gives you more of a close up. It is hard to convey how cute these doors look. They are seriously adorable. I have left them out overnight because quite apart from any enjoyment that the girls get out of them, I really like the idea of them hiding out in the garden, ready to charmingly surprise at any moment.

But talking of the girls…

Fairy doors - corner by cornerI was trying to get a picture of them playing with the doors, and this was my first attempt. I show it here just to demonstrate the level of their enthusiasm: it was very hard to move them away sufficiently to take pictures. They must have spent at least an hour, perhaps two, out in the garden today playing fairies, entirely independently, only interrupted by my asking if they needed the toilet, and Persephone wandering over to destroy their games and pull their hair, in her indomitable toddler way.

Fairy doors - corner by cornerInspired by the wonderful Red Ted Art, we made peg fairies yesterday and today, and they delightedly invented games where the two fairies went in and out of the doors, and got up to various other adventures that mere parents aren’t privy to.

Fairy doors - corner by cornerThis is Rosa’s doll, Periwinkle, which she made all by herself. I made a conscious effort to sit back and let her do it herself, and not intrude. She totally loved it, which made me realise I should get less stressed about the girls’ craft generally, and just allow them free rein with all my their craft materials, at least occasionally.

Fairy doors - corner by cornerAnd there you have it. Lovely fairy doors. Entertaining for children. Charming for whimsical adults. I don’t know how long these will last (though I am suddenly tempted to give them a good spray with clear varnish tomorrow, for good luck). But frankly, they took so little time to make that I don’t really mind. I feel quite happy with the idea of making more of these in the future. There were certainly plenty of places where I could imagine hiding them, inside and out.

Which brings to a conclusion my very first tutorial I hope you liked it. I do have more planned…

*As an aside, talking of Pinterest, I was recommending to a friend with a new lovely house that she should look on Pinterest for pictures of amazingly capacious, over-styled American laundry rooms, and another friend overhead and said, “Why? Why would you do that? Why torture yourself by looking at these pictures?” And I was torn between wanting to shout, “You just don’t GET it!” …. and feeling that, actually, she had a point. Why do I browse the web looking people living amazing lives and doing things I can’t replicate? How is that different, exactly, from reading celebrity gossip magazines? Hmmmmm.

Rachel
x

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Paralysed by indecision

Obviously the list of things I would like to do to the house is as never-ending as the laundry. But I was reflecting recently how several of the things I would really like to add somewhere in our home are things that I really actively love. Things which, if you asked me for some of my top interiors favourites, would easily come to mind. But things which – crucially – I haven’t actually yet PUT ANYWHERE IN MY ACTUAL HOUSE.

It struck me quite forcibly when I was trying to plan where to put a chalkboard wall. I love blackboard paint. I own a tin of it, which has been sitting downstairs in the basement for at least a year. There are at least three surfaces in the house that I would like to paint with it. And because I can’t choose between them, what have I done? Well, absolutely nothing, of course. Ditto garlands, which I keep thinking I am slightly obsessed with but then am forced to realise that surely if this were the case, my house would be full of them.

So I therefore thought I would set myself a challenge. And to make myself accountable, I would write a blog post about ‘the things I love so much that I want them in every room, can’t decide where to put them, and therefore keep putting it all off and don’t actually have any of them anywhere‘.

So here it is. My personal challenge of four lovely things, inspired to a large extent by three lovely bloggers.

1. Garlands

140315craftsonseafeathergarland

Check out this beautiful feather garland by Kate from Crafts on Sea! I love bunting and garlands, and all things strung from string.. Although it’s true we do have some bunting around the house (birthday bunting, Christmas bunting, and bunting in the girls’ room. Oh, and we make seasonal bunting to hang in the kitchen. That’s quite a lot actually… ) we definitely do not have any permanent bunting downstairs, and we certainly do not have garlands. Kate made this one herself, by simply stringing feathers onto baker’s twine. Which is such a simple idea, but really effective. Seeing it look so lovely makes me want to string postcards up, or flowers, or anything really.

I have started to make heart garlands for the girls. And I want to add a felt garland of some kind to the picture ledge I have just put up in our room (on which, more later). But I think overall our house is very top-heavy in terms of decor. The bedrooms are generally in a better state than downstairs, despite downstairs being where I spent almost all of my time. So my garland plan is:

– finish heart garlands for the girls
– put up a garland somewhere downstairs where I can see it.

2. Wall stickers

Tidy away today - wall stickerThis wall sticker is from Tidy Away Today, from Antonia’s coffee corner. I have to say that I am normally very firmly #teamtea but I am willing to overlook such small-minded loyalty to point out what a lovely wall sticker this is. I love wall stickers generally- there are some lovely animal ones in Persephone’s room, but none downstairs for me. And I couldn’t tell you why this is. Maybe because I love them so much it feels too important to choose them. Which is doubly ironic since the whole point of wall stickers is that they are a low cost, low commitment way of decorating the walls.

Meaning that my wall sticker challenge is very simple: buy a wall sticker and put it up somewhere.

3. Pom poms / honeycomb balls

Love Chic Living - honeycomb ballsWhen I was planning a nursery for India, I was determined to hang tissue paper pom poms over the cot. I bookmarked some and planned how striking they would look. And yet, and yet, in the hustle and bustle of preparing to have our second baby, there was never a good time to fork out for the pom poms. So I’d almost forgotten them when I was forcibly reminded by reading this post in Love Chic Living. Jen hung these up in her dining room / den, and I just love them. I think they look so colourful and striking.

So I resolve to put up some tissue paper spheres, in either pom pom or honeycomb form, just as I wanted to – erm – three years ago.

4. Chalkboard wall

I have already mentioned this one, but am illustrating it here with another picture from Tidy Away Today, this time of Antonia’s chalkboard wall in her kitchen. Here, she’s decorated it for Christmas, as well as the handy calendar. I think it looks fab.

Meanwhile, in my home, I have mused over painting the top of the girls’ craft table in blackboard paint. Also the door that leads down to the basement. Also part of the wall in the kitchen. Also one of the walls outside the kitchen in the hall. Obviously the main limiting factors to my painting things with chalkboard paint are 5, 3 and 16 months old, and are normally found running around my house destroying things. But in addition to the girls, I think I have been worried that I might choose the wrong place and regret it.

So I have decided to seize the day. To carpe the diem. I am going to paint something with chalkboard paint, and hang the consequences. This is my final challenge.

To recap, then. In the next six months I am going to:

– finish heart garlands for the girls
– put up a garland somewhere downstairs where I can see it
– buy wall sticker and put it up somewhere
– put up some tissue paper spheres
– paint something with chalkboard paint.

And you will have to hold me to it!

Rachel(with thanks to Kate from Crafts on Sea, Antonia from Tidy Away Today, and Jen from Love Chic Living both for their inspiration, and for kind permission to use their pictures)

 

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Invitations to draw

 

Corner by corner- invitations to drawI was a serious and perhaps slightly tedious small child. I spent long hours drawing and colouring, making endless crafty items out of paper and pipe cleaners, fashioning people out of toilet rolls with my sister, devouring craft kits for breakfast,and begging for art materials for birthdays and Christmas.

Before I had children, I spent a long time considering how they would not be just like me, and it was important to remember that they would have their own interests and strengths….But I never ever considered that they wouldn’t want to draw.

I blithely assumed that as soon as they were able to hold a crayon, they would be fascinated by it, and would want to do nothing else. So of course, just to shake me up, I was blessed with two determined little physical girls. Little climbers. Little walkers. Fast (if graceless) runners, who would be off and halfway up the nearest tree before I could say, “Anyone fancy doing some potato printing?… Shall I get out the tissue paper?…No?”

I have dealt with this in various ways. The main one –  not recommended – being to placate myself by buying endless quantities of art materials. I have been storing these materials in a series of plastic boxes in the kitchen. I don’t claim it’s rational. I’m just reporting what I do. Another being torturing myself gaining inspiration by reading various blogs written by people about encouraging play and artistic activity. There are hundreds of these blogs, and many of them are every bit as smug and joyless as you might imagine. Two of the more approachable, and more inspiring ones for me are The Imagination Tree, and the Artful Parent.

So I bought an easel for the girls (ok, it was really for me). I wondered if shaking it up a bit might encourage them to draw a bit more. And I suddenly remembered that on the Artful Parent, Jean had written about creating drawing prompts: essentially creating a ‘starting point’ on a chalkboard that her children could find and complete. So, almost as an afterthought, one day I drew an enormous plate on the whiteboard of our easel, and wrote, ‘What’s for lunch?’ underneath.

The next morning, India’s reaction was immediate. “What that say?” she demanded. “It says ‘what’s for lunch’.” “Oh.” And she jumped off her chair, demanded a pen, and began swirling it around in circles. “Pancakes!” she cried, happily. It might have been the first time she made marks that actually represented something. It was amazing. So since then, I’ve been creating invitations to draw as often as I can think of them or get a moment to draw something. Rosa has joined in too. And it’s been immensely fun.

Corner by corner - Christmas invitation to drawOf course, Christmas was a great source of inspiration. I drew this one the weekend that we got our real tree.

Corner by corner - invitation to drawThis one was more fun for me to draw than for the girls to complete, but you can see above how Rosa started to draw snowflake stickers on the mirror above the fire, and India was scribbling I think to represent fairy lights at the window.

Corner by corner- invitation to drawThis one was very popular. The girls always love it when I draw them (probably the most successful invitation to draw to date, which I inevitably didn’t photograph, was when I drew a cartoon India and Rosa in crowns, vests and knickers, with an instruction to draw the princesses’ pretty dresses). And since this was just after Christmas, they enjoyed talking about their presents, and which ones they could include.Corner by corner - invitation to drawAbove you can see how Rosa divided up the floorspace, before drawing her own presents (a barbie, and a small plastic horse, which I am reliably informed that Father Christmas got from the 99p shop), and drawing Persephone’s Noah’s ark and toy frog. India took a more impressionistic approach to the board, adding a spider to Rosa’s toys (“MUMMY! India has drawn a spider but I didn’t get a spider for Christmas!”) and then drawing what I think is meant to be her treasured ‘Belle doll’.

Corner by corner - invitation to drawI don’t know if it was the idea or the quality of the execution, but this one totally failed to grab them. They both looked at it over breakfast, and each declared morosely, “That doesn’t look like a bed, Mummy.” Then they ignored it steadfastly.

Corner by corner - invitation to draw flowersAnd this one, on the other hand, provoked a response but not of the expansive colourful flowers I’d imagined. Rosa carefully drew four very small detailed flowers, and then left her creation there.

These photos are just the tip of the iceberg. Other invitations have included ‘Who’s at the door?’, ‘What’s in the present?’, ‘What’s outside the window?’, ‘decorate the cake’, and more. It has become something of a game with Oli, too, who is totally confused by any kind of artistic activity, and feels that some kind of unprecedented creative explosion is happening in his kitchen, and doesn’t quite know what to make of it.

So there we have it. A small diversion from the house. Only linked to the house, actually, by the fact that I am a bit obsessed by blackboard paint. So obsessed that I am continuously thinking of places I could use it, and hence feel a bit paralysed when it comes to actually deciding what I should paint. So far I have decided to paint the surface of the girls’ craft table, at least two of the walls in the kitchen, one of the walls in the hall, and the door that leads down into the cellar. Perhaps narrowing these options down somewhat could be the topic of another post…

Until then, do let me know if you’ve done anything similar to this. Or if you try it and enjoy it.

Rachel
x

 

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All wrapped up

Corner by corner - brown paper wrap with doilies and raffia

It was 2008 when I first began to get what you might uncharitably call slightly obsessed with wrapping presents. Up until that point I’d had a very measured and sane approach, in common I believe with most of the population. It went like this: buy roll(s) of wrapping paper, buy gift tags, wrap gifts. Run out of paper, buy another roll or two. The end. It was a more innocent and perhaps a happier era.

2008 was the year of my ‘Christmas goes Bollywood’ wrapping theme, and marked a dramatic departure from this. I don’t have a photo of said theme, since this was before the days when I would immediately photograph anything visually pleasing, and share it on social media (can you imagine? Me either.) So you will have to imagine it: pink tissue paper, gold sparkly ribbon, purple and glittery gold gift tags, with shiny beads hanging off each parcel. The whole theme came from finding a necklace in New Look that was reduced to a few pounds, and made up of enormous, petrol-coloured, dangly beads.  It was enormously pleasing.

Since then, and since my discovery of the collective madness that is Pinteres, and also the Mumsnet ‘poncetastic Christmas’ threads, life has been somewhat transformed. We have had ‘Scandi cute’ Christmas wrap (brown paper, gingham ribbon, a small bell and a candy cane), ‘cool paper craft’ (brown paper, with patterned washi tape ‘ribbon’), ‘homespun craft rustic’ (brown paper, tied with red and cream wool, with a small wooden star threaded onto the wool) and many more. So it was part and parcel of this year’s preparations that I should find myself on the one hand longing to just grab some wrapping paper as in the pre-Pinterest era, but on the on the other hand powerfully desirous of coming up with a new and even more beautiful way of wrapping.

For there are rules here. Who knew? Turns out even though I did very much like my candy-cane accessorised wrapping theme, I am not allowed to re-use it. Why? I would say ‘I don’t make the rules‘… Except that in this case I quite clearly did make the rules.

Corner by corner brown paper wrap with doilies and raffia

So – voila! This year’s wrapping. Brown paper, doilies, raffia, and assorted gift tags. These lettering ones are from the ever-fabulous not on the high street. Shamefully, I bought these tags years ago, but lost them and could not find them in time. They turned up this year, tossed up on the flotsam as we tidied up, and I pressed them into service.

Corner by corner - brown paper wrap, doilies, raffia

I should add that this year represents something of a compromise. I originally planned doilies, with red baker’s twine threaded with a few green buttons. But I was let down – for the first time! – by an ebay seller, and couldn’t quite get it all together in time. I do love the doilies, though. I bought full size doilies, plus a pack of little mini ones, and I think they look really fab, even if I do say so myself. I also used some little wooden star tags from Tiger, and used either the cardboard ones or the star ones pretty indiscriminately as I loved how they both looked.

Corner by corner - Christmas pudding vodka

Every year in around November I start up a food production line of presents for aunts and uncles, friends, and others, and this year was no exception. After the success of last year’s toffee vodka (recipe: drop Werther’s original into vodka. The end.) I branched out into Christmas pudding vodka, which was slightly more involved, but very lovely. I hope it’s received well.

Corner by corner - party bags as gift bags

This year I found some red party bags which I used as gift bags, realising one night as I was almost asleep that I could pritt-stick on the mini doilies as decoration and gift tags all at once. Of course, I then ran out of them so had to use some star tags as well.

Corner by corner - mini doilies gift tags

The doilies were a huge pain to stick on, but the effect of the red peeping through the pattern was so lovely that I persevered. And when I handed over Christmas presents this year, two people (two) separately said, “Beautifully wrapped presents – as always!” And sad to say it, but it made my heart rejoice.

And made me think I should start planning next year’s wrapping theme…

Merry Christmas one and all. See you on the other side.

Rachel

x

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Christmas stockings

Corner by corner - hand-made heirloom Christmas stockingsIn 2011 I decided that I wanted to make the girls Christmas stockings. I went out to John Lewis (naturally), and bought myself some felt, some red fabric, some green fabric, striped red, striped green, red gingham, green gingham, and I went home and went to town. I found this lovely tutorial and away I went.

Personalised stockingsAnd they were great!

At least…. at first look, they were great. I loved how they matched each other. I loved the letters (I do love a bit of lettering). What you can’t see here is how Rosa’s one is lined with green gingham, and India’s with red gingham, and I loved that, too.

And yet. And yet. This lovely matching pairiness was perhaps to be their death knell. For what did I do? I had another baby. And even as I looked at the two lines on the pregnancy test (ok, maybe not that early) I realised that any stocking I ever made for any subsequent baby would ALWAYS look like an add-on to this pair. Which would lead, inexorably, to feelings of displacement and inadequacy, and probably a lifetime of unhappiness and psychoanalysis. Or something. In addition, there were a few little problems I wasn’t happy with. I didn’t realise when making my first that I would need – well, duh – to TURN OVER the cuff. I made the main body of my stocking too short, thinking the cuff would be an addition to the height. A rookie mistake. So India’s stocking has a proper turned over cuff, and Rosa’s cuff just sits, slightly foolishly and superfluously, atop the stocking itself.

And once you look at them even more carefully, the problems don’t stop there. I didn’t add the ribbons when I sewed them together. Why? I do not know. I thought I would sew them on afterwards, so they are slightly messily stitched on at the end rather than smoothly being part of the seam. The spacing on the letters on Rosa’s is maybe not ideal. And most importantly, is the fact that was pointed out by my insightful but direct mother-in-law the first time she saw them. “Aren’t they a bit small?” she asked. “NO.” I snapped back. Realising, even as I opened my mouth to be defensive that of course the answer was really, “Yes.” Although the proportions look ok here, once Father Christmas has filled them with presents, they become all skinny and over-stuffed, like little pepperamis.

Which is a long way of saying that I realised I would have to make more stockings. And now I have finished them. And it is impossible to describe how pleased I am with them.

Christmas stockingsOk. Maybe not impossible. I will try….

So the first thing was obviously to learn from my previous mistakes. I decided these ones would be bigger. And the pattern I drew would take account of the seam allowances and the cuff. Ahem. My original design drew pretty heavily on the stocking that my mother made for me when I was a little girl, with ‘RACHEL’ written on the front in felt letters. But I am here to tell you that calling my third child ‘Persephone’ ruled out putting the girls’ whole names on their stockings. I think sewing on ‘India’ was about my limit. So I decided to go for the letters of their names.

131213monogram2131213monogram4131213monogram3

 

 

 

I wanted a lovely, serifed, dignified sort of a capital letter, and decided pretty early on that I would hand-stitch around the edge of each letter in backstitch. What I wanted was that contrast between the exacting, geometric qualities of the letter, and the faintly homespun, hand-drawing qualities of the stitch and the outline. Turns out that the line between quaintly homespun, and ramblingly wobbly is a fine one, as half an hour spent unpicking and resewing the long line on the left of my capital ‘R’ will attest. But I got there. And I love them. Once I’d done the outlines, I was wondering about a white running stitch along the middle of the letters. Then as I was retrieving my white embroidery thread, I spotted my trusty gingham ribbon, and realised that it was destiny. A line of gingham ribbon, hand-sewn down each long-line, with green buttons, and they were done.

But of course before that I had traversed the difficulty that was deciding on my fabrics. I had thought of a kind of Scandinavian vibe, so was imagining linen stockings with red and green Scandi type fabric cuffs. But when I got to the fabric shop, I found myself as ever looking at the linen and finding it a bit… creased and rumpled looking. I love the idea of linen, but when faced with the crumpled reality I can rarely convince myself to hand over any cash. So I threw myself on the mercy of the assistant, who recommended this stuff: a buff-coloured woollen kind of fleece fabric. It’s lovely. Snuggly and neutral and almost teddy-bear-like. I paired it with some wadding, and it was perfect.

Corner by corner - home made stockingThis picture gives you a sense of the snuggle factor involved. Because the woollen fabric is quite thick, I only used wadding on the front of the stocking, and kept the cuff to just the cotton patterned fabric. This was definitely the right decision, since the hardest bit of this lovely pattern is the bit where you sew the seam between the main body of the stocking and the cuff. At certain points I couldn’t even count how many layers of material my poor sewing machine was going through at once.

Corner by corner - cuffed stockingsI bought the beautiful dark red spotted lining material from the same helpful local fabric shop as my outer, but decided to go online for the cuffs. This was harder than I thought, since what I wanted was three different patterns, different enough to make the stockings different, but similar enough that the whole thing wouldn’t look garish and ridiculous. Of course the ever-lovely fabric rehab came to my rescue. I lingered for a while over white and red fabric with snowflakes, or little stylised horses…. but went in the end for three different designs which all had both red and green in them. Trees for my sophisticated eldest, mittens for my middle cheeky monkey, and snowflakes for my winter baby. Perfect.

Stocking trimAfter I’d very nearly almost finished them, the very clever teacher at my local sewing class suggested that I should create a polka dot trim around the top. It’s hard to describe but easy to do, you kind of just gently tug up the lining, until it’s in an even line around the top, then iron it in place, and sew – gently and carefully! – around the seam. It created a kind of mock-piping look.

Stockings with bells onAlong with the bells that I sewed on – ahem – only after I’d started photographing them, the trim at the top was the perfect finishing touch. I have decided that when it comes to making stuff, I am basically all about the embellishment. The bells are so perfect it is almost painful to look at them. And naturally the girls LOVE jingling them.

In fact, the girls love their stockings full stop. I wanted to make them beautiful stockings. Big enough for a chocolate orange to fit inside (the dimensions of a chocolate orange being the internationally recognised scale of stocking measurement), but not so big that Father Christmas might bankrupt himself trying to get that crinkly, stuffed, lumpen feel that is so important first thing on Christmas morning. I wanted the stockings to be robust enough that they will last for their entire childhood and well beyond because, believe me, I am NOT making them more stockings. I am done with the stockings. Enough. I wanted stockings practical enough to survive- let’s be honest – being worn and tramped around the house in festive games, yet stylish enough to be hung up together in the front room as part of our decorations.

I started planning these in about May, knowing that beginning sewing in September was the only way I could make sure of finishing them before Christmas. And they are done. It would not be possible to be more pleased with them. I hope you like them, too.

Rachel x

 

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Treble by treble

I think I already mentioned how I learned to crochet. It was more than a little bit magical. The first magical thing about it was that it was a class run by an amazing local children’s centre, so it was not only freefreefree, but also had a creche. But I  remember clearly sitting in the first class, looking through my small bag with some excitement, finding my ball of wool, holding my hook with fingers that felt suddenly clumsy thinking to myself, ‘I have literally no idea how this works. But in just a few weeks, I will. This is all a total mystery to me right now, but soon all will become clear.’ It was a great thought; knowing I would learn something entirely new. (When I was younger and complaining about school, my Mum told me that it was actually very enjoyable to learn things. I think my reaction at the time was something like, “Chuh! I can’t believe you really THINK that. Ohmygod. School is SO boring.” But on this topic, as with so much else, it turns out that my mother was in fact right about everything.)

So I learnt to crochet. I started off by making Persephone a hat. I went into John Lewis and bought the most beautiful ball of wool I could find, then started searching ravelry for a pattern. I painstakingly hooked up this hat, willing it into existence against the opposing forces of newborn demands, and my lack of proficiency. I loved the hat. I will try to hunt out a picture of Seffie wearing it to show it off. I continued to squish it onto her little head far longer than I should have done, just because I was so proud of myself.

Having made the hat, I made a few other items: beanie style hats for the big girls, a doll’s blanket. Then I bought Kat Goldin’s wonderful book ‘Crochet at play’, and my mind was tempted by bigger projects. I decided to make a cardigan. I chose the cabled yoke cardigan, and resolved to make it in ‘1 year old’ size to give myself some time to complete it. Even though Seffie turning one seemed hilariously far away, I reckoned it would be good to give myself some time in hand. Turns out, this was a good thing…. But – look! Isn’t it great?

cabled crochet cardiganI chose this cardigan partly out of fascination. I had no idea it was possible to ‘do’ cabling with crochet, and even as I followed the beautifully clear instructions, I still really had no idea whether it was all going to work. I have tended to make things in the round before, so crocheting long lines of stitches was also something of an education.

double crochetI also liked that it’s worked in double crochet, which I think personally produces a lovely, textured, dense fabric that is warm and snuggly and modern looking. I find some crochet a bit leggy, a bit holey and lacey, and whilst sometimes you’re in the mood for a bit of lace, sometimes I find I quite definitely am not. This cardigan is for those times. It’s snuggly and warm and solid. I love the wool too, which is a Sirdar ‘click’ one in Indigo. I know that modern crafter’s parlance requires that I call it ‘yarn’, but I can’t quite yet. Give me time. It’s all wool to me at the moment. I like how the colour is slightly variegated, enough to give it some texture and interest, but not so varied that it becomes a bit gnarly.

Corner by corner - porcelain buttonsThese lovely buttons might be my favourite bit. It needed more buttons than four, really, but I had this pack of four which I found at an antiques and craft fair, and I was so desperate to use them that I just went with it. I think my favourite one is the heart with the polka dots, but all together they are so completely charming that it’s hard to imagine I shall want to use matching buttons on anything ever again.

So the cardigan was complete! This was an important part of my ‘making things’ ambition for 2013. I wanted to make Rosa a dress, to make Seffie a cardigan, and to make all three girls Christmas stockings. I set these rather lowly ambitions in about May, realising that I needed to keep my sights realistic and achievable.

So what next? Well, I learnt some things whilst crocheting that cardigan. One was that I am not really a crocheter who makes items of clothing. It was hugely satisfying to learn so much and to complete it, but it was also in parts a bit frustrating, and often seemed interminable. The sleeves, for example, should have been soothing and meditative, but I found them a bit of a chore. So I think on balance that I am more of a crocheter of ‘novelty items’, of multi-coloured things, and – strangely specific this – of things that are crocheted in the round. What can I say? Self-knowledge is a wonderful thing.

For my next project I drew joint inspiration from a group granny square blanket that we made together, from the increasingly chilly evenings, from the heaps of beautiful blankets on the ever-wonderful Attic24 blog, and also this rather fabulous blanket which I found via Pinterest. I love the way that the plain granny squares combine to look almost like a patchwork quilt. Just lovely.

Corner by corner - plain granny squareI went and bought some beautiful wool. Cheap enough to buy without wincing, with just a bit of merino in it to give it a lovely squidge, and none of that nasty acrylic squeak. I decided to crochet my squares small and dense, so that they wouldn’t be too holey, and the colours would show up well and maybe give me that patchwork look. So off I went.

Corner by corner - pile of granny squares I haven’t yet decided how many squares I will need. Truthfully, I am kind of putting off the decision, as I don’t want to spook myself and abandon the project before I’ve started! These pictures were taken a week or two ago, and at the last count I reckon I have about 35 squares. I am aiming for a blanket that can live on the arm of the sofa during the winter, and is big enough to snuggle under when it’s cold… so it’s possible I might need around 200 squares.

Corner by corner - patchwork of granny squaresHere you can get a sense of my colours. I was all set to do something in a sort of dusky rainbow: maroon, mustard, sage green, etc. Then my eye was caught, and my wallet drawn inexorably to the kind of purpley palette that I always seem unable to resist. I think it’s meant to be.

So my plan is, as I discussed with a wise friend, to try this time around to enjoy the process. I am going to try to be less impatient, less goal-orientated, and instead just enjoy the stitches. Because these little squares are actually very soothing to make. Small enough to be manageable, and carry around with me. Big enough that I can see I am making progress. The looping of the treble stitch is in fact quite meditative, if I can stop myself from grumpily counting rounds and trying to hurry myself up. The awkward truth is I like to crochet granny squares, but I often don’t like how they look, and this plain colour patchwork affair might be the perfect way of combining what I like to look at with what I actually enjoy making.

We’ll see. I reckon with the paucity of free time around here right now, it could easily take me a year to complete it. And that would be ok. Square by square, cluster by cluster… trying to focus on the task in hand, and on small victories rather becoming despondent about the magnitude of all of it. Hoping that by chipping away, square by square, I might reach my overall goal without even realising…

I realised as I was thinking through this post that my blanket really represents what I’m trying to do to the house, but in microcrosm. Which feels quite appropriate, really.

I will report back on the blanket. Don’t be surprised if my progress is slow. But I will be making progress. Bit by bit. Square by square. Stitch by stitch.

 

 

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Organising the art materials

I think I thought when I first started this blog that the task would be finite. ‘After all!‘ I thought, in what I can see now is an irritatingly chirpy inner monologue, ‘How many corners can there be? I will work around the house, little by little, and then one day – wow! I will realise it’s basically all done.’

Feel free to have a little hollow laugh along with me at the optimism and naivety I displayed.

What I hadn’t quite realised was the interplay of several factors. Firstly, changing needs, both as the girls get bigger, and Oli and I have different things to do. The second is additional STUFF, which despite my best efforts keeps on a-comin’ in and needs somewhere to go. The third is the girls’ unfailing ability to find a place that I have sorted and tidied and organised, and to, well, mess it up again. It’s like a special talent of theirs. I would be proud if it wasn’t so annoying.

Cupboard of drawing materials

So I looked again at my cupboard solution for the drawing materials, and I realised that, yet again, it wasn’t quite working for us. It’s not all bad, though. Plenty of bits are still great. The red office trays are perfect, and my original classifications of ‘paper etc’, ‘colouring books’ and ‘stickers’ are still going strong. (That said, with my newfound fervour for labelling I am suddenly seeing a space where little labels could go…)

Organiser for children's art materialsThis altered shoe organiser is still going strong, too. Although have I replaced the metal hooks with command strips, to avoid scratching the wood? Have I heck.

Art materials caddyThe problem was this little fella. Ah, Pinterest. How you sucked me in and then let me down. I liked many things about this whole ‘muffin tray and Ikea cups caddy’. I like the bright colours. I like the homespin air it gives. But frankly, it wasn’t working out. The magnetic sticky sheets never actually held the cups in place, meaning it all rocked about precariously. The cups are just slightly too roundy to contain the crayons, particularly the big fat ones.

But I think you can’t get too hung up about these things. You win some, you lose some. And we could always use some more cups, and some more muffin trays. So then I was in Ikea, and I saw these. A mini chest of drawers, made from plain birch wood. And I was lingering over them, thinking how much I liked them, but reflecting that I have to stop buying things when I don’t have a clear purpose for them… when suddenly I realised.
“Crayons!” I shouted, holding it aloft triumphantly to a frankly bemused Persephone and a scarcely less bemused husband.
“What?”
“Crayons. And pencils. And things. It’s perfect. I will spray it yellow.”
Oli’s face took on a wearied but accepting expression. One that I will term his ‘Ikea face’. “I suppose that means we’re buying that, too?”
“Yep.”

Mini chest of drawersAnd doesn’t it look splendid? Rosa has suddenly and heart-warmingly got very into drawing and writing, so I needed something that could live on the children’s table in the bay window, where some drawing things could be readily available. I am still, with a newly rampaging nearly-one-year-old, not ready to leave out felt tips, glue, or other exciting craft materials at grabbable level. So this chest contains those things which I judge could only create minimal damage: crayons, pencils, small notebooks, colour pencils, etc.

Chalkboard labelsI went back to my favourite chalkboard labels, and had just as much fun writing on them with the white ‘chalk pen’ as I did last time. Just as before, this means I can easily change them around if I need to move the materials around a bit. I do find something very pleasing about the small ‘fluted’ design on these. I think I like the contrast with the simple letters.

Mini chest for drawing materialsJust as before, I am convincing myself that the labels are in fact VERY EDUCATIONAL as they provide some purposeful reading practice for my reluctant little reader. So you see I am not in fact just buying the labels because I love them. It is a self-sacrificing purchase in the name of Rosa’s education. I hope that’s clear.

And of course above you can also see how I managed to spray almost the entire thing, but clean forgot about the front edges. Ah well. I can’t easily do them now as they need a couple of coats of white primer before the yellow. You live and learn.

An art tableHere it is in situ, being happily ignored by my two ballerinas.Seeing it here along side the Ikea table and chairs I am reminded more than ever how I want to spray paint the chairs a bright colour (orange? Purple?) and paint the table cream, then paint the table-top with blackboard paint. But I fear my attentions are more urgently needed elsewhere.

Now that it’s in place, Rosa can go to the cupboard any time, help herself to paper, and sit down quietly to draw and write any time she wants to. Which I am happy to report that she does, all the time.

On a more theoretical note, it means that she can tidy up all the materials easily at the end of the day…. Erm…I will keep you posted on that one.

 

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