Category Archives: Decorative, fashion

How to make an attractive display case out of an old cutlery tray

Cutlery trays

Old wooden cutlery trays can make useful display cases or storage trays for little things.  My boys love little things and have masses of tiny plastic abominations which are carefully abandoned about the house in case I should feel the need of a nasty accident.

I had a cutlery tray left over when I bought a larger one to accommodate a new cutlery set, but you can pick them up at junk stalls from between 10p and £1.  I bought acrylic paints because they dry very quickly and wash off hands and clothes easily with soapy water; these cost about £1.25 a bottle and last quite a long time.  I found the felt squares in the local stationery shop costing 45p each.  For sticking the felt, you can use PVA glue, although I used a hot glue gun in the interests of speed and less mess.

First coat of paint


1 x wooden cutlery tray
Acrylic paints
PVA or hot glue
Paint brushes – 1cm wide
You might also like some transfers or sparkly things or varnish
2 x Small mirror plates if you wish to hang it on the wall

Line with felt

Firstly, choose your colours
Then paint the insides of the tray, overlapping a bit on the bottom where the felt will go
Leave it to dry then apply a second coat
Then paint the outside edges, leave to dry then apply another coat
Lastly paint the back, leave to dry then apply another coat
If you are varnishing, apply a thin coat and leave to dry, applying another coat if necessary
Cut out the felt to the size of the compartments
Glue the felt into place, making sure the glue goes right to the edges

Add extra decoration

Apply any other decorations
If you wish to hang it on the wall, apply two small mirror plates to the back

Boy the Younger's Blue & Green tray

Boy the Elder's Gothic tray


Filed under Collecting, Decorative, fashion, Household Hints, Indoor Activities, Leisure, Re-use Recycle, Tips, Skips and Scavenging

Out of an old sewing machine came forth a kindling box

Our homes should be places where we can be expressive of who we are.  Even if we can’t afford the furniture or paintings we would like, we can always make comfortable compromises by putting an attractive throw and bright cushions over a tatty sofa or, as I do, photocopy pictures of paintings (in high resolution) that I love and frame them.

As I have said before, I am deeply uncomfortable and perplexed when I go into a house where everything is white and there are no books or pictures, precious few ornaments or fol-de-rols and no clues as to the identity of the inhabitant. 

The ability to make things oneself comes in so useful, particularly when money is shortUsing up old materials to make new things is not only deeply satisfying; it makes your house more individual and exciting but also means fewer  items going to the tip.  For good examples of this, you need only visit Sue at the Quince Tree or The Vintage Knitter to see the lovely things they do.

As usual for a Sunday, I was wandering around the Market Harborough Antique Market and spotted an interesting looking box, half under the table of a stall that I frequent.  It was a slightly unusual shape and it drew my eye, something about the shape nagging at the back of my mind.  The vendor had put a few small logs in it and I thought “What a super, neat little box for kindling”.  I’m currently using an old straw bag for kindling which does the trick but it looks untidy and just ‘not right’. 

The cover off an old sewing machine

I asked what price she had on it and immediately beat her down a few quid.  It turned out to be the lid off an old Singer sewing machine.  How completely perfect.

which became a kindling box

I am the owner of four sewing machines; an 1890s treadle, a 1910 flower-enamelled Singer, a miniature 1950s Sew-ette and a fancy new modern jobby that goes shopping for its own bobbins and advises you on your colour schemes.

Everything in your home should tell a story – your story.  So make it an adventure.


Filed under Collecting, Decorative, fashion, General DIY, Re-use Recycle

Free Gift Tags

When the festive season is over, don’t immediately throw away your Christmas cards or take them for recycling.  Sift through them and select ones that can be cut  up for gift tags for next year.  Cut them straight or use pinking shears (serrated edge scissors?) to make a crinkly edge.

Either put a hole in the top with a hole punch and thread a bit of glittery string or wool through them, or just put a bit of sellotape across the top side and it can be flipped up like a hinge.  Any that are not suitable can be recycled in the special card bins and the remaining cut up bits just go in with the cardboard recycling

I haven’t bought a gift tag in years.


Filed under Christmas, Decorative, fashion, Household Hints, Re-use Recycle

Things to Make and Do at Easter: Part 3 – Egg Decorations


These eggs are so simple to make but look wonderful, particularly if you hang them on a small branch.  You can buy sheets of bead stickers and ribbon stickers at craft shops and good stationers, and haberdashers with have ribbons and beads and often have bags of off-cuts or assorted oddments which are perfect for this sort of thing.

Think through your design before you start and lay your materials out.  They take a little bit of time, but you can go off and do other things while they’re drying.  And of course you can use the egg to make Hot Cross Buns and Simnel Cake.

You will need:
Eggs for blowing
A sharp, long, thick needle
Acrylic paints
Paint brushes – assorted sizes
Clear varnish to make them extra hard
Beads, ribbons, stickers etc for decorating
1/8” / 5mm ribbon to make hangers
PVA glue (because it dries clear)

Make a very small hole at each end of the egg
Poke your needle into the egg to break it up
Position your egg over a bowl and blow through one end until all the egg is out
Leave to dry
Paint your egg carefully with acrylic paint.  You will need more than one coat to get a thick, dense colour, leaving to dry between each coat
When all the coats of paint are dry, apply the varnish to the whole of the egg and leave to dry
Decorate with beads, ribbon, stickers etc and leave to dry

To make the loops:
Cut a length of thin ribbon about 6 times the length of the egg and thread onto the needle so that the ribbon is exactly in half
Thread the ribbon through the bottom hole and out through the top hole, leaving the two ends hanging out of the bottom
Tie off the ribbon neatly at the bottom so it can’t slip through the hole
Put a tiny dab of PVA glue around the hole at the base of the ribbon to set it firm and leave to dry

Post Script 19.04.11:  You can thread the ribbon through a medium sized coloured button on the bottom and glue it on.  This completely covers the hole and makes a very neat finish.

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Filed under Children, Decorative, fashion, Indoor Activities, Leisure, Seasonal

A lecture about life skills and instructions on how to sew on a button

My Sitting Room

I’m always curious when people proudly announce that they ‘can’t cook’ or that they are unable to ‘even sew on a button’.  Evolution should sort these people out – these are life skills, not optional extras.  What they actually mean is that they can’t be bothered to learn to cook because a) they’re rich enough to eat out, or b) the supermarkets are full of pre-prepared, over-salted, glutinous ‘meals’ or c) they confidently expect someone else to do it for them.   They don’t sew on a button or mend their clothes because a) they can buy another one, or b) they’re rich enough to pay someone else to do it or c) they confidently expect someone else to do it for them.

Everyone could boil an egg, knock up a bit of pasta, roast a chicken.  Everyone could sew on a button or a nametape.  If they wanted to.  These are austere times and it’s always cheaper to do these things for yourself.  I’m not suggesting that we should all be sitting in windowseats with beatific smiles on our faces, embroidering tablecloths for retired governesses or knitting socks for soldiers, but we should all assume a basic level of skill for our own self esteem and convenience.  And don’t attempt to give me the “I don’t have time” defence, it cuts no ice with me.

However (you all knew there was a ‘but’ coming).  Sewing, knitting, crocheting, making things – out of fabric, wood or whatever your chosen medium –  is incredibly satisfying; to complete an item that you have made yourself fills you with pride and pleasure.  Sewing is the thing I’m best at and one of my only regrets in life (only?  surely not!) is that I didn’t do O’Level needlework as it would have made life an awful lot easier.  Sadly, I was so frightened of the teacher that I didn’t have the guts to do it.  Happiest days of your life?  I don’t think so.

But I make things all the time, out of a combination of creative enjoyment and searing poverty.  In the evening, I like to have something to do with my hands, to know that I’m not just slumped, passively in front of the telly (obviously I do sometimes – you can’t follow Foyle’s War or Lewis unless you pay attention).  Sometimes I’m just doing boring mending or labelling of school clothes, but sometimes I’m making Gollies or knitting squares for a patchwork throw for my manky sofa or making something for the boys.  It gives you creative, constructive focus and encourages concentration.

Another important reason to mend rather than replace is that it means one less item in landfill.  Even if you can find a cloth recycling bin, it still takes energy to recycle things and, as I will never tire of saying, re-use first and if you can’t, recycle.  I keep an old set of worn out uniform to cut up for patches to keep trousers and sweatshirts going for longer and the only energy you use is your own.

I seem to remember that one of the large UK prisons (Brixton, The Scrubs?) embarked on a project where the men made a huge patchwork quilt on the theme of prison life.  Its aim was to encourage them to learn new skills but also to have a creative outlet for their feelings, frustrations and anxieties.  I never saw this piece, but apparently it was extremely moving.  In Victorian times, women and men were encouraged to learn sewing to teach them patience, assiduity and endeavour. 

This is so true.  To make something properly usually means that it can’t be dashed off in an evening, it’s something one has to work on over days, weeks, months even.  I knitted a very simple pram blanket for each of my boys when they were born and I loved to see them wrapped up warmly in them as they lay sleeping outside in the pram.

How to Sew on a Button:
(with additional help from the 1930’s Big Book of Needlecraft)

Get some cotton the same colour as the thread on the rest of the buttons
Thread your needle, then cut a length of cotton about 18”/45cm long
Tie a couple of knots in the end without the needle on it
Position the button where you want it and push your needle through one of the holes from the wrong side
Take the needle back through the other hole, looking to see how the other buttons were done
Do this about 10 times until the button appears to be firm
Push the needle up from the wrong side but don’t put it through the hole in the button, pull it out to the side
Wrap the thread round the core of thread under the button several times
Then push the needle back up through one of the holes in the button and back to the wrong side through another hole in the button
Tie the cotton off with a firm knot and cut it off neatly
Pat yourself on the back and have a cup of tea and a shortbread finger


Filed under Decorative, fashion, Sewing

Are you my Mummy? The Wartime Housewife buys a gas mask

After a long lie-in listening to The Archer’s Omnibus (remind me to ask you all a question about that), we set off for our regular Sunday jaunt to the Market Harborough Antiques Fair.  After a mug of coffee and a slice of superior cherry cake in the café, we had a good haul.  A couple of 70’s Rupert Bear annuals, a Junior Science Ladybird book, a brass dressing table mirror plus a few other vital bits and bobs.

I always do a final sweep before leaving and thank goodness I did.  For there, on a table of militaria, was a 1940 gas mask.  15th March 1940 to be precise, N.B.R. 466 0.  Now tell me.  Was there any way that The Wartime Housewife was going to leave without that?  After all, one can never be too careful, Kibby Tip gives off a frightful stink to say nothing of the bone factory near Gallow, and as we know, there’s always a war on somewhere.

Dr Who toy

Better still,  I can use it to frighten The Boys by re-enacting the episode of Dr Who in which a small boy is contaminated by nanogenes during an air raid and wanders about in a gas mask (which is fused to his face) asking pitifully “Are you my Mummy?”. 

Yes darling, I am your Mummy.  And if your mates think I’m cool for shouting at bus drivers, you wait till I turn up at the school gates wearing this.

Why do you make me do this Mummy?

PS.  Re  The Archers, is Helen getting unhealthy notions about Annette?  She’s never had any luck with the boys of the 1st XI and I suspect she may be about to switch teams and head for the crease.  What do you reckon?

PPS: 31.01.10.  My Aunt in Canada has just e-mailed this photo to me of my father taken in 1940 and I just had to show it to you.

My Dad in 1940 aged 12


Filed under Children, Community and shopping, Decorative, fashion

Off we go again – but with heels on

Happy New Year to you all!

I’m sorry that I haven’t posted for a while, but Christmas has been a joyful, but hectic old time and this is the first day that I’ve had a moment to myself for nearly three weeks.  I have also finally caught up with the Lost Sleep that goes hand in hand with the week leading up to Christmas.  Having woken briefly for The Archers, slithered downstairs just long enough to boil an egg and make soldiers, then return to bed to almost finish the Andrew Martin book (Murder at Deviation Junction) I was given for Christmas, I feel thoroughly refreshed and ready for action.

Action, in the immediate sense, meant tidying the midden that was my bedroom and photographing three pairs of shoes.  I need to explain this.

I love shoes. I am not a frivolous woman; my interests in life tend towards the intellectual, the artistic and the practical and I am passionate about many things.  But shoes are one girly fetish to which I submit with joy. Except in extremis, it matters not whether you gain or lose a few pounds,  your shoes still fit.

Oh yes

I have nearly sixty pairs of shoes and boots ranging from a clomping pair of ex-army yompers through sensible black pumps to the sluttiest pair of 5″ red suede stilettos you have ever seen (a gift from Lady Somerset).  In order to enjoy them to the full, I keep them all in boxes, stacked on a bookshelf in my bedroom, each with a photograph carefully pasted on the front for ease of identity. It really speeds up getting dressed, I can tell you!  Practical you see, practical.

Sadly, I don’t get as many opportunities as I would like to wear the really slutty ones, but I know they’re there.  Waiting in their boxes, for the time when, having run an appraising eye over the serried ranks of foot-soldiers waiting for duty, I fix a resolute eye on the perfect pair – perhaps The Pewter Wedges, perhaps the Black PVC Platform Boots – and say “You are the Chosen Ones.  Come forth and dazzle your public!”.

Actually, I may not have had quite enough sleep after all…


Filed under Christmas, Decorative, fashion, Household Hints, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art