Monday, 30 December 2013

Crafting: A Decoupage Toy Box

In an attempt to continue the "useful or beautiful" theme with Christmas presents this year, I decided to be slightly boring and email my stepsister to ask what my nephew would like (or rather, what she would like) for his Christmas and first birthday presents. 

She had decided that she was going to ask people not to give him a gift, but to donate a toy to an appeal instead. Or, if they really wanted to get him something, to choose a book or toy from a charity shop, as he has a lot already.

It was with that in mind that I offered to make something for him. The craft bug has apparently bitten, despite the Wreath Incident. I debated a crochet blanket, but after seeing an Instagram picture of Penny's incredible Spiderman comic wardrobe, I was inspired. 

On one of my lunch time walks around the charity shops near where I work, I saw a wooden toy chest for sale for £5. An idea was formed…

I started off by searching out comics. This was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be - in the end, I found some at the car boot sale I bought quite a few of my other gifts from - but only because my boyfriend stumbled across a stall where a boy and his dad were selling some of his old toys. He asked if they had any comics, and sure enough a huge stack was produced from the back of the car for 10p each - a bargain. 
I sanded down a couple of parts of the box - it had been drawn on a bit by the previous owners, and had a large blob of the ubiquitous glitter glue on the top! I then painted it with a satin effect wood paint (which we had lying around the house from decorating our living room). Satin has a much smoother finish than gloss, which makes it a lot easier to slap on! It took a couple of coats. I also painted the top (only one goat), even though I was going to decorate it, as I'd read online that wood absorbs the glue very quickly and the pictures peel off.
I then started to arrange my pictures on top (arrange them first! It's time consuming but makes sure you don't end up bunching all the same colours, and that you have enough). I glued them down using PVA - you can buy specialist decoupage glue, but it's very expensive and I didn't think it would arrive in time. The glue does wrinkle the paper somewhat. I discovered that by glueing the surface rather than the paper, this was reduced a bit, but you still have to smooth it down carefully. Most of the wrinkles do disappear as it dries. 
I finished it with three layers of clear varnish (again, using something that we had in the house, a wood varnish which was leftover from renovating our floorboards). The first coat did make the paper slightly see-through but that disappeared as it dried. I also hit on the slightly more childproof idea of covering it in sticky backed plastic, to preserve the top - but that idea occurred to me on Christmas Day, by which point it was a bit late. 

Simple, heartfelt and really rather frugal - the whole project cost me less than £10 - and even if I do say so myself, I suspect it will be around for longer than yet another plastic toy.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Share Advent: Recipe - Peppermint Bark

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I am not such a fan of Christmas presents. I've been mulling it over quite a bit in the last few weeks, thinking about what Christmas means to me. It's not the presents themselves that I object to. It's the hype that comes with it all. We seem to be moving away from the winter festivals and celebrations of light, the bringing together of family and friends, the sense of being grateful for what we have, and a quiet optimism about the coming year. That saddens me. I have really come around to the notion that maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store - maybe Christmas means a little bit more.

As I mentioned in the other post, this year I am trying to personalise presents - choosing things that are either practical or beautiful. Or tasty. Or combinations of the three.

It was in the spirit of this notion Mr F and I spent several nights this week playing with chocolate. As well as some fruit and nut concoctions, we also made quite a lot of peppermint bark.
I love the bright pink candy canes against the dark chocolate
Makes 1 large slab
1 bar good quality dark chocolate
1 bar good quality white chocolate 
3 striped peppermint candy canes

Melt your dark chocolate. Either do this in a bowl over boiling water (making sure you don't get water in the bowl), or in the microwave (making sure you do it slowly, stirring in any last few chunks of unmelted chocolate. If overheated, it'll burn and become gritty and bitter). 
Pour it into Tupperware - about 0.5cm thick. You can either do one huge piece, and break it up into shards, or a couple of smaller slabs, depending on how you like your presentation. Allow to cool for half an hour at room temperature. 
Meanwhile, bash up the candy canes. I find it easiest to put them in a sandwich bag and whack them with a rolling pin.
Melt your white chocolate. 
Drizzle the white chocolate on top. 
Sprinkle over the candy canes. 
Leave at room temperature to cool before wrapping. Store out of the fridge in a cool dark place. 

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Share Advent: Remembrance - Ghost Signs

One of the things I really enjoy about Edinburgh is that so much of the historic city has been preserved. I suspect that large parts of this are down to the practicalities and longevity of older architecture just as much as the more recent restrictions from UNESCO, but I enjoy my scenery daily and am glad that it remains.

As you would expect from a city which grew from the amalgamation of villages, there are very strong and distinct characteristics of the different parts of Edinburgh. For example, Leith, which wasn’t part of the city until the 1920s, was once home to dockers before becoming known as the setting Trainspotting. It’s slowly regenerating into an area favoured by small businesses, artists and first time buyers. Stockbridge, which until fairly recently had a reputation as a “bohemian” area bordered by slum tenements, inhabited by artists and interesting characters (including the infamous Madame Doubtfire), has now become a fringe area of the New Town – an aspirational suburb for those looking to move up the hill towards Adam’s famous masterpiece of town planning.

The old and the new don’t sit side by side easily in Edinburgh. New buildings, particularly in the Old and New Towns and the protected areas around them, are controversial. New shops, cafes and restaurants also cause uproar, particularly if they are part of a chain, or dare to open on the former site of an establishment which everyone claimed to adore, but noone ever found the time to pop into. And yet – I do find myself wondering how much of the old architecture people really pay attention to. There is no doubting that the city is one of the most beautiful in the world – but how often do the locals stop and look around us? How many people know the story of the areas in which we live and work?

I studied History at university – that was what first brought me to Edinburgh. I was only planning on being here a year, but it’s now been five and I’ve not quite got around to leaving. As a cultural history geek, I love the occasional reminders of how Edinburgh has changed. The more I get to know the city, the more I walk around town exploring new routes and visiting new places, the more I find.

I've recently developed a little obsession with Ghost Signs. They can tell us so much about the city's past, and the inhabitants of it. It's usually the smaller ones, the names and services on offer next to the entrance to a tenement stair, that I am drawn to. I find them particularly evocative - memories of who lived in an old Edinburgh. 
Great Junction Street, Leith
Great Junction Street, Leith
"Ship Builder & Ironmongers" Union Place,  Leith Walk
South Bridge, Old Town.
"Rooms To Let. Apply to 98 South Bridge" Drummond Street, Old Town.
"T. M Ramsay. Ladies Tailor. Gents Tailor" Leith Walk.
"Victoria India Rubber Mills" Leith Walk. 
Candlemaker Row, Old Town.
Candlemaker Row, Old Town.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Share Advent: The Joy Is In The Giving

I’ll be honest, and say that one of the things I don’t like about Christmas is the presents.

There are a couple of reasons why, but to me, a gift is something that you give to someone because you think that they would enjoy receiving it. I was incredibly touched earlier this year when a friend – someone I didn’t know particularly well at that point – bought me a book of short stories. She had seen it in a shop window, remembered a conversation we’d had about the author, and thought I might like it. I don’t really feel that the same thought and sentiment always applies to Christmas gifts.

This year, in an attempt to avoid spending lots of money on gifts that people don’t really want or need, we’ve been thinking a little differently about gifting. I am intending to make lots of my presents - crocheting, decoupaging and chocolating are all on the to do list. I’ll blog some of these when they’re finished (which may well be Boxing Day, considering my current rate of productivity and my crafting abilities. I refer you to the Pom Pom Wreath…). My motto this year has been:

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” 
(William Morris)

After a discussion with a colleague about my desire to find unusual but thoughtful gifts for people on a tight budget, and how my local charity shops had let me down this year, she suggested having a look at our local car boot sale to see what vintage delights we could find. 

The downside of car booting is that if you see something you like, you have to buy it there and then or risk it going (hence the doubling up on the Picqot ware and Meakin), but we had a rough idea of what we were looking for, so we didn’t go overboard. We also agreed that we’d only buy things that we could keep for birthday gifts, or re-sell on eBay. 

I'm really excited about some of these items. Some of them were bargains and in beautiful condition and some are just for fun, but each was bought with someone in mind. To me, that's more fun to give than any special offer toiletries set.

We bought:

Two metallic soda syphons, £1 each:

A Meakin "Aztec" pattern coffee pot, £4:

A Picquot coffee pot and lidded sugar bowl, £20:

A Picquot tea pot, £4:

 An Edwardian glass decanter and pewter label, £8:

A 1964 Meakin "Eden" pattern coffee set with six cups and saucers, £10:

A wood mounted barometer and mirror, £3:

Total spends: £51

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Share Advent: 2013 in Photographs

About a year ago I got a new phone. I was never really that bothered by phones – I’ve never rushed out to get the new model or the shiniest on offer. One of my friends has been known to queue at 6am for the latest *insert product*. I am very much of the opinion that he has more money than sense.

I was a latecomer to the smart phone revolution, and ended up getting my current phone because it was free with my contract. It’s alright, it does the trick, the apps are fun. But the main thing I like is that having a camera in my pocket has encouraged me to look at the world around me a little differently, and to record what I see, particularly as I live in such a beautiful city. I haven't done much with these photos (although I keep thinking I should), but there are a few that I really love. Photos unedited unless from Instagram.
Christmas Eve 2012: Sunset over Belfast Lough and Bangor marina.
January: Snow on Arthur's Seat (instagram).
January: Stormy skies at Cramond (instagram).
February: Sunset behind the castle from Waverley Bridge.
March: Lighthouse lens at the National Museum of Scotland (instagram)

April: The view from my new flat.
June: A week of good food, good books and good company. Kefalonia, Greece 
July: Friends came to visit. Board games, wine and laughter. 
July: A week of heat brought bright colours. 
August: Friday night in.
August: Cloudy skies, bright bunting. North Berwick on the boyfriend's birthday.
August: Edinburgh Art Festival installation. Christine Borland & Brody Condon. Daughters of Decayed Tradesmen  
August: Interior of the Watchtower of New Calton Burial Ground.
September: Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Man. Possibly the best exhibition I've ever seen (instagram).
October: Grey skies, grey water, Forth Bridge (instagram).
October: Sunset and the city skyline.
November: Fun with science at a Google Edinburgh event.
November: Sunset from my living room.
November: Fiery skies.
December: Cold and frosty with blue skies. Sunday lunch and a walk along The Shore, Leith.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Share Advent: Wreath Wednesday

I've never had a front door wreath before. I quite like them, there's something very welcoming and cheery about them. Today's Share Advent prompt - Wreath Wednesday - seemed like a good time to aquire one.
I spent Sunday night browsing the web, trying to find one I liked that I could pick up on the way home from work. I'm a bit torn about Christmas decorations. I can't decide whether I like traditional (by which I mean berries, colour coordinated baubles, tartan bows and holly) or something a bit more, well, modern.
Clockwise from top left: Felt door wreath £15 Mini tree wreath £6 Pom Pom garland £8 Pom Pom bauble £2.50
I did find myself drawn to these lovelies, sadly all either too small or out of my budget – and in a moment of madness and rare optimism, a plan was formed. I was going to… duh duh duhhh… make a wreath myself.

If I was a remotely crafty (in the glue and glitter sense) person, this wouldn't have been quite the traumatic experience that it turned out to be. Monday evening was spent trying to work out how on earth to make pom poms. This resulted in a lot of tangled wool, my boyfriend Jonny ringing his mum (a Home Economics teacher) to ask her, and a very unhelpful conversation about wouldn't it just be easier to buy a wreath from John Lewis?

But... I googled, I found instructions that told me to wrap wool around a donut shaped bit of card, and I realised it was going to take me flipping ages to make 10 pom poms. Jonny got involved. The cat got involved. I got cross and impatient and threw my half made pom pom across the room. The cat got cross and impatient and bit me when I tried to reclaim it off him. It was all very stressful. Jonny made two pom poms. I made two cups of tea.

On Tuesday I had a minor panic about having to make 8 more pom poms without Jonny's assistance (he was out) in order to get this bloody wreath done for Wreath Wednesday. So I googled again, and found some quicker ways to make a pom pom. I became a pom pom demon. Hurrah! Time to attach them to my hoop... and they didn't fit. It looked a bit like one of those "send in your attempt at a Blue Peter project" photographs.

At which point I got cross and impatient and declared it a disaster, until it was pointed out that I could simply make a few more in a different colour to pad it out. So I angrily did that, all the time muttering about how I shouldn't ever do craft ever again and that it was a stupid idea in the first place.
And then it turned out alright, albeit slightly Italian.
Hooray! Wreath!
Well, at least the kitten looked impressed.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Share Advent: Joy To The World

As bloggers go, I am not a "good" one. I don't blog every day. I don't blog every week. My photos are often crappy iPhone snaps, and I can't be bothered learning how to write code so that everything is pretty. Really it comes down to the main reason I post my musings - because it encourages me to try new things.

It's in the spirit of trying new things that I've decided to join Anna at Skin & Blister in her Share Advent countdown. I don't normally "do" Christmas in a big way. Aside from a few traditions when I was growing up, I don't remember it being a huge deal, just a really nice day. In many ways I think that's a good thing. This year though, I am going to attempt to embrace the festive cheer, expand my horizons (beware, there may be non-food posts!) and have a crack at it.

The main reason for embracing the cheer is because I am not so good at winter. We used to like each other, and I used to think it was preferable to summer. But a couple of years ago when I stopped working shifts, and started to realise how little daylight I now see, we fell out spectacularly. I struggle to get up on a morning because it's so dark (sunrise tomorrow is at 8.20am - the time when I leave for work), and rather than enjoying my walk home through the city, I find myself fighting through crowds like an angry commuter instead of a friendly local. Combined with a serious aversion to being cold, and I'm not a happy winter bunny.

I reckon that this the reason that there are so many festivals of light in the winter. We need the light as a reminder of warmth and brightness, and a way of bringing people together. They bring a bit of joy to the otherwise dark world. I grew up in a multicultural city, where my friends celebrated Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas and (at that time) Eid in the winter months. Each year we gathered for school assemblies where the stories of the festivals were told and celebrations were shared. The thing that always struck me was how many similarities there are in between the differences - a chance for a gathering, a celebratory meal after a period of reflection, a time for families and friends to reunite, and an opportunity to be thankful.

I am so glad that I have something lovely to look forward to every week in December. A friend's wedding, a trip to London, dinner with friends, and a week back home in Yorkshire. It is going to be a very happy Advent.