Kids craft: no glue conker spiders

DIY no-glue conker spiders | Wolves in LondonI have to confess, I find crafting with the children a singularly stressful experience.

When the sprogs were still babies, I eagerly looked forward to a time when we could make stuff together. Misty-eyed, I imagined rainy afternoons spent bent over the kitchen table, glue stick in one hand, paint brush in the other, as we painstakingly created a magical castle made of nothing but loo rolls, or perhaps a Thunderbirds mountainside and launchpad from papier mache.

(Yes, I think it is possible that these imaginings were based largely on my own consumption of Blue Peter at a young age in the early 1980s…)

In actuality, now the kids are old enough to make things with me, any time spent attempting to craft anything tends to end with someone having a screaming tantrum and throwing a pair of scissors across the room. And it’s not always me.

The sproglet, in particular, just doesn’t like being helped with anything. If he’s making something, he has to be able to do it all on his own. Frustrations arising from necessary parental assistance tend to be high and volatile. Which generally means that gluing anything is out of the question.

And so I give you, the glue-free conker spider, arguably the least stressful thing I’ve ever made with the sprogs and perfect both for Autumnal conker use and a pre-Halloween craft.

It’s incredibly straightforward, but I’ve put together a bit of a how-to below in case you’d like a bit more info…

What you’ll need:

conker spider supplies

For each spider you need a conker, a pair of adhesive googly eyes, two pipe cleaners.

What to do:

  1. Pull the backs off the googly eyes and stick into place.

conker eyes

2. Cut the pipe cleaners in half, to create four small pieces

pipe cleaners

3. Starting with two pipe cleaners, fold them over each other to make a cross

fold pipe cleanerspipe cleaners 2

Pipe cleaner fold

4. And then add in the last two cleaners so you’ve got a star. (If this is a bit fiddly for your child and they’re not keen to wait while you do it, you can also just pull them into a little bundle at the middle…)

Pipe cleaner foldPipe cleaner fold5. Fold over the very edges of the legs so that the spider will stand up

DIY conker spider

6. Using a small bit of sellotape, stick the legs onto the underside of the conker.

Finished conker spider

7. Repeat as many times as you like, until you have a small army of conker spiders taking over your house…

DIY spider conkersPretty straightforward, no? Do let me know if you have a go at this by leaving a comment below. And if you’ve got any tips for minimising child-crafting stress I’d love to hear them…

All quiet on the blogging front

I’ve been a little quieter than normal on the blog recently. But don’t worry, I’m not stuck in the same lethargic funk as I was all over the winter

In fact, quite the opposite. Chez Wolves in London has been a crazy hive of activity recently.

The littlest is going to be one in just over a week, which has meant (yet another) renewed effort to get the house finally finally finished before his birthday. (Spoiler alert: we won’t manage to get it finished before then. I’ve been setting deadlines for us for the past two years and we’re still trucking on…)

But there has been lots of wall and door-painting going on, and even a bit of, shock, putting-up-of-pictures on newly painted walls. This is a pretty huge step, I have to say, to actually have something hanging on the walls (instead of tatters of ancient wallpaper…)

Botanical wall artThat’s a pretty shabby photo, but I am very pleased with my botanical wall art in real life. The frames, of course, aren’t actually warped, as they seem in the photo. I used a Cavallini calendar and then framed my favourite pictures in some of Ikea’s bog standard (but rather nice) RIBBA white frames. They’re sitting on a chimney breast, but I couldn’t get far enough back with my camera to show you any more of the view…

Everywhere you turn, there are various parts of the house waiting for another coat of paint:

Doors being paintedThis morning, scaffolding was set up against the front of the house so the pebble dash can be removed (we’re not trying to do that ourselves) and a handyman has been in all day putting on door knobs, hanging doors in different directions and re-wiring our doorbell back into the mains, a mere 1.5 years after it was first unwired.

I’ve also been spending loads of time outside in the garden, sowing endless successions of seeds with the sproglet and admiring all the new growth.

Cherry blossomForget-me-notsApple blossom
Borlotti beanTulipsI’ve got carrots in pots, beans rearing their heads above the soil, apple and cherry blossom on the trees, a rather delightful bed of tulip bulbs and some lovely perennials and about 75 tomato plants, at last count. I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing with 75 tomato plants, but at least it means I won’t worry too much if a few of them die.

I’ve also been thinning the radish and carrot seedlings and decided to eat the mini leaves as a salad, rather than throw them into the compost. Oh, I felt very Masterchef, I can tell you, eating my microgreens. (And also, rather amused by the whole concept of microgreens being a modern way of eating, having also recently grown loads of cress with the sprolgets, which I remember doing in my childhood and is, surely, the origin of the whole microgreen craze?)

Radish microgreensA great find from the weekend was a Birds of Britain book, left outside for collection on someone’s front wall. The sproglet adores bird watching, peering out from the kitchen and saying to me, “oh Mummy, yook, a robin! Yook a blackbird!” so a happy time has already been spent poring through the pages.

Bird bookbird book insidebird bookIt’s incredibly beautiful, I think, with a map in the front cover of the locations of various birds and some lovely illustrations.

Finally, I’ve been beavering away industriously at my garden design diploma. We had two major deadlines just before Easter. One was to design a border for a shady courtyard attached to a bookshop; thinking about year-round interest. Bliss. I loved doing this.

The other, was to draw five different plant associations (eg, groups of plants that look nice together…) Five different drawings! I am terrible at drawing, so this was some sort of special hell for me. Not only am I terrible at drawing, but I really ever so very desperately want to be good at drawing, so every time my pen makes things look weird and not how I imagine them, I get very frustrated and cross. Ah, the rage of a wannabe artist…

Anyway, these were the two I was most pleased with (or, rather, least displeased with). After weeks of getting fed up and stressed out and thinking I would be failed, I managed to pass the assignment. The main feedback from my teacher? “Interesting style.” I’m not entirely sure whether that’s a good thing or not, ha ha.

Plant associations

So, in all, just the right sort of fever of redecorating and gardening to perfectly accompany the Spring weather… As each last job gets completed, I’m starting to believe that at some point we might, we just might actually live in a house that is fully painted and fully functioning. Exciting stuff!

I want this so badly

Before accepting that I must keep my old tumbledown greenhouse in the garden, for the time being at least, I spent a long time searching online for a greenhouse slash garden shed slash potting house.

It seemed such a straightforward idea to me. One little building that housed plants, tools, and all that junk that accumulates over the years and is banished from the house proper.

I searched and searched and searched and found nothing really suitable. Certainly nothing affordable.

But just now, a mere few days after telling you how I was reconciled to the beast at the end of the garden, and how I planned to make it look all lovely and appealing, on a little stroll down the Pinterest rabbit hole I stumbled across it. My dream garden outbuilding. Part potting shed, part greenhouse, part tool shed. And all, every single last bit of it, utterly beautiful.

Take a look.

Potting shed slash greenhouse
© Nitty Gritty Dirt Man

Screw the big, ugly greenhouse. I can’t begin to tell you how desperately badly I want this one, nay need this at the end of my garden.

It’s homemade, by someone who clearly has some superb DIY skills, and the plans and all sorts of useful information for how it was built are over at Nitty Gritty Dirt Man.

(There are also loads and loads of other wonderful gardening articles too, with hugely appealing names such as Ten reasons I love elephant’s ears. If you’ve any interest in gardening, you could while away a good amount of time here, as I just have…)

But back to the glorious shed. Any ideas on how I can persuade my husband to give up every bit of spare time he has to learn the requisite skills and then build this for me? As a birthday present perhaps? That would give him a whole three months to essentially retrain as a builder and get it in situ. Sounds fairly reasonable to me…

Pretty soap packaging

Since moving back to our house after the builders moved out, we’ve only succeeded in getting two rooms anywhere near a finished condition.

The kitchen has a single coat of paint up on the walls, but that at least makes it look better than everywhere else where the bare plaster sings out in all its beigey drabness.

The bathroom is, actually, almost entirely finished. Tiling done. Walls painted. Bath, shower, sink in place. Glorious custom made wood shelf fitted around the sink. The only things left on the to do list are fixing a bath panel and painting the window frame.

Vintage soap packaging | Wolves in London
Good enough for an interiors magazine! Well, maybe not…

And so it is, in this one little oasis of properly decorated living that I decided it was absolutely imperative that everything looks incredibly beautiful and ready to be photographed by an interiors magazine. (Ahem, sort of…)

Even the soaps.

DIY vintage soap packaging | Wolves in London
Soaps and a rose. Because we all keep roses with our soaps…

I’ve got a bunch of soaps that I made a while ago (there’s a tutorial here, if you’re inclined to do the same: homemade soaps), which had been relegated to living in a brown paper bag in our bedroom, because they weren’t packaged as beautifully enough to be out on display. (And yes, I do know how that makes me sound and, trust me, it’s even weirder given that the rest of our house is a complete sh*t heap… But there’s something about the sparkling new shower and lovely tiled floor that just cries out for matchingly lovely accessorising.)

DIY vintage soap packaging | Wolves in London
Another view, same subjects: soap, rose, lovely soap dish

I won’t insult your intelligence by giving you a step by step how to tutorial. Clearly, all I have done is print off some nice vintage images, wrap up the soaps and tie them up in garden string.

If you’d like to do the same, the images I’ve used are this vintage lavender illustration from the Graphics Fairy and these amazing floral cigar cards.

DIY vintage soap packaging | Wolves in London
The soap dish is new too. i rather love it.

I’m pretty pleased with them. Pleased enough that they are now allowed to sit in my glass soap jar, in full view on the shelf.

I know, I know, it’s time to get on with painting the walls now…

PS If you follow me on instagram, you will have seen that I was originally trying to shoot these soaps alongside some lavender, in one my first ever attempts at photo styling. (Oh, I find it so hard!)

The lavender was just too dark alongside the soap parcels, though, and I couldn’t get the colours to be right for both at once. But in case you were here, just looking for some lavender photos, here’s one of it sans soap, but looking rather glorious.

Lavender | Wolves in London
Beautiful lavender

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DIY advent calendar

DIY advent calendar tutorial from Wolves in London

I’m a complete curmudgeon when it comes to advance Christmas preparations.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Christmas. Just not in September. (Or August, October or November, for that matter…) And, as we all know, September is generally the time you start seeing Christmas bits and pieces popping up.

The first few times you tut to yourself in whatever giant multinational supermarket you happen to have popped into, “Tch, Christmas cards and advent calendars and it’s still September. Idiots.”

But, before you know it, the insidious pan pipe Christmas Carol music has crept into your brain and you’re feeling all Winter Wonderlandy and tinselly. And then, bamm, the middle of November hits, all of your Christmas joy has been used up already and you’re yearning for your next summer holiday.

So every year, I guard myself carefully against any Christmas thoughts at all until it’s December.

And so it is, that I have just, a few days in advance, allowed myself to think about making an advent calendar. And this is it.

DIY advent calendar
What’s not to love? Tiny little bags filled with chocolate and some vintage Christmas images

Lots of gorgeous little numbered bags stuffed full with chocolate and decorated with jolly vintage pictures, all found on the wonderful Graphics Fairy website. Here are a few of my favourites:

DIY advent calendar
I love the little gingerbread house for December 6th

If you’re a late preparer like me, and would like to make yourself one, I’ve put all of my images into a pdf and there are some really straightforward instructions below.

So, joyeux Noel, all. May the mulled wine drinking and mince pie eating officially begin!

Supplies:

DIY advent calendar
Scissors, bags, transfer paper
  • Small drawstring bags, approx. 9cm x 7cm. (I ordered mine through eBay ages ago, mistakenly getting a size that was too small for our wedding favours. Luckily, they were perfect for this purpose…)
  • This pdf template with all the images and dates
  • Some iron on transfer paper for pale fabric
  • An iron and scissors

What to do:

  1. Print out the pdf onto the iron on transfer paper. (The numbers and images are backwards, but don’t worry, this is as they should be!)
  2. Cut round the images leaving a small border of a few millimetres around the outside of each one.
  3. Position an image, face down, onto a bag.

    DIY advent calendar with vintage image
    Use the grid on the back to make sure the picture is straight
  4. Cover a wooden board (or your table) with a tea towel and, with the iron at its hottest setting, but the steam turned off, iron over the image for about 90 seconds. Make sure you cover the edges and especially any corners. (You can’t use a normal ironing board, because it’s too soft for the iron to really press the image onto the fabric.)

    Making an advent calendar
    Nice tea towel, isn’t it?
  5. Leave the transfer until it’s dry (you can iron on another one in the meantime)
  6. Carefully peel off the backing and tadaaa, you have a lovely little bag
    DIY advent calendar
    Start at a corner and gently pull the backing off

    DIY advent calendar
    Bag one, finished. Only 23 to go…
  7. Stuff with a chocolate, tiny presents or diamonds. Whatever floats your boat.

    diy advent calendar
    The perfect size for a Lindt Lindor, aka, the best chocolate ever created
  8. Repeat until all bags are finished and then hang somewhere festively…
    DIY advent calendar
    A lovely pile waiting for a treat
    DIY advent calendar
    I think they’d look very nice strung from a Christmas tree too
    homemade advent calendar
    Or use a bit of washi tape to hang them from the fireplace…

    DIY advent calendar
    Ah, just one more photo, so you can see this nice reindeer

If you want a bit more info on the process, check out my step-by-step tutorial for ironing images onto fabric, or my tips and hints for getting the best results.

I’m a traditionalist with advent calendars and only go up to December 24th, but I’ve included a 25 in there too for any of you newfangled crazy modernists out there.

Hope you enjoy this and do leave me a comment if you make one yourself.

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  • I know that there must be lots of people out there waaaaaay more organised than me, because the round-up I put together last year for the top 20 tutorials for homemade Christmas presents has been getting lots of interest in the past few months

Top five homemade wedding favours

Before settling on our wedding favours, I spent quite a lot of time researching various different homemade options, out there on the world wide web…

I’ve got to say, there is a lot of amazing inspiration out there. So I thought I’d share my round up of the top five ideas I came across.

 1. Fruit gin

Homemade wedding gin and chutney
Damson gin anyone?

This was actually our very first plan for favours: we were going to make up a batch of sloe gin and then put a small bottle out in everyone’s place. (I had great plans for Alice in Wonderland style labels reading “Drink me”…)

But then my sister got married four months before me and they had the same idea for their wedding. Drat!

She has a tutorial on her blog, though, with lovely pictures too, so head over there if you like the sound of the idea: homemade fruit gin.

 2. Hand stamped drawstring bags

hand stamped favour bag
Snacks for the road

So this was the idea we went with in the end and actually, given the number of kids, pregnant people or people looking after kids, this was probably better than super strong booze anyway.

I found variations on this theme all over the place: bags filled with lavender, filled with sweets, filled with seeds, buttons, cookies… …the list is pretty much endless. We followed a Martha Stewart version that gave our guests sweets and used a stamp that said, “Snacks for the road.”

Take a look at my tutorial for supplies and a step-by-step: homemade wedding favours.

3. Rubber stamped cookies

rubber stamped cookies
The sight of these makes me weak at the knees…

You know me, I simply cannot resist hand stamped things. And then I came across hand stamped cookies. Cookies, I tell you! That you can eat and everything!

I was really, really, really tempted to re-use my stamp from the favour bags with some edible ink on the top of cookies as well. But we ran out of time, in the end, which perhaps was no bad thing since I’m not quite sure how I would have removed all the fabric ink first.

There’s a brilliant tutorial at cake central: rubber stamp iced cookies

4. Tote bags

tote wedding favour
Tote a tote from the wedding…

This was another Martha Stewart idea that very nearly made the cut. Tote bags printed up with some relevant personal message. There is a (very) succinct tutorial on Martha Stewart weddings: tote bag favours. But if you need a bit more info than that, take a look at my tutorial for using iron-on transfer paper. Just replace the T-shirt with a bag and you could easily transfer any picture or writing you like…

The main reason we decided against this one, in the end, was that the cost of enough totes for our 140 guests would have become a little prohibitive. This is definitely one for a smaller wedding party (or a deeper pocketed host!)

Incidentally, if you’re looking for more inspiration than I’m giving you with just my top five ideas, then I have to suggest a visit to the Martha Stewart Wedding site, which has just about every idea ever conceived. Take a start with their 50 great wedding favours.

5. Screen printed wedding tea towels

Tea towel wedding favour
This is a seriously classy favour, no?

Oh, I could have another four weddings just to be able to make all of these favours!  Each new one I write about, I’ve been thinking, “Oh yes, that was my favourite” and once again I’m thinking the same about this idea. The bonus of a tea towel is that it would be genuinely useful to the guests once they’d left. Everyone uses tea towels…

You can buy beautifully designed wedding favour tea towels from all sorts of places (if you would rather buy them than make them, take a look at Brian Franks Tea Towels who designed the one above (www.bryanfranksteatowels.co.uk) and who will print to your design) but you could also screen print some yourself.

Just get hold of some cheap white linen tea towels and have a look at this easy and simple screen printing tutorial from the Art of Doing Stuff: how to screen print at home.

There you have it, five (ever-so-slightly) different ideas that are all, in my humble opinion, blinking fantastic.

Inspired? Or feeling there is something seriously awesome that I’ve missed off? Do let me know in the comments below…

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