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

A Few More Household Hints

  • A couple of grains of rice in a salt cellar will keep salt from clagging up
  • A sugar cube placed onto cheese will stop it going mouldy
  • Mix together a thick paste of biological washing powder and bleach and apply to mildew round sink seals with a brush.  Leave for an hour to dramatically reduce black marks
  • Keep attractive Christmas cards at the end of the holiday.  Cut them up to make gift tags for next year.  You can use a hole punch to make a hole in the corner.
  • Make lists of what Christmas presents you have bought this year and for whom, then keep it until next year.  This avoids repetition of gifts.
  • If you’re going on holiday for a few days and need to keep your plants watered, place a jar of water near the plants.  Push a piece of string into the soil in the pot  and put the other end into the jar of water.  The plants will draw what they need up the string.


Filed under Christmas, Cleaning, Decorative, fashion, Household Hints

Syrup, String, Bubbles & Cat Food

No – these are not the names of my sisters.  As I have said before, one’s home should be an interesting and personal place.  Anyone can furnish their house with homogenous items from Great Big Shops, but truly interesting houses that contain interesting people have things that are out of the ordinary, that they have made themselves or collected or created from something else.  Let your possessions have a story.

As you know, I am a tremendous scavenger and there are few things I like better than a village fete, a charity shop, a bric-a-brac stall or a jumble sale.  They bring three-fold benefits in that one can find wonderful, cheap treasures, you can use things in unusual and decorative ways and they usually benefit a charity at the same time. 

I wish immediately to give credit for this string dispenser to Diplo, who I know reads this blog. (Have a look at his own eclectically interesting ‘Sweat, Steam & Gasoline’ in my Interesting Blogs list).


String dispenserThoroughly wash an empty golden syrup tin left over from your storecupboard.   Using a bradawl, make a hole in the centre of the lid, then use a slightly larger Phillips screwdriver to widen the hole.  Turn the lid over and place the hole on something hard and just flatten any sharp bits with a hammer.  Thread your string through the hole – it keeps string neat and tidy and looks great.


Cat food boxI found this bread bin for 50p at a jumble sale.  At some point I may go mad and stencil it, but at the moment it is simply an excellent container for dried cat or dog food.  I keep a measuring cup (an old plastic baby cup) inside and the food is kept dry and fresh.


I love to wallow in the bath and I like my bathroom to be a calming place with nice things to look at.

Bubble bathThese three decanters cost me £1 each from charity shops.  They are a common design and turn up all the time so you can collect a set over time.  I fill them with brightly coloured bubble bath – shop’s own brand aromatherapy type at 97p each – and bingo! they look great and smell lovely.

Incidentally, the mirror just visible behind the decanters was found at the local tip with a chunk missing from the frame.  It measures about 48″x36″ and I paid £4 for it.  I built up the frame with plastic wood (available from DIY shops) then sanded it down and bevelled the edge with a chisel.  A couple of coats of white paint and the job was done.  I bet you can’t see where I repaired it.

Plant standI live in a rented house, so I don’t want to attach too many things to the walls.  This little wooden corner unit cost me 10p from a village fete and is so light I just nailed it up.  The plants are artificial and were bought in a sale for £3 each from a company on e-bay and the corals have been in my drawer for about 15 years, but you could use shells or glass things to catch the light.


Filed under Decorative, fashion, General DIY, Household Hints, Re-use Recycle, Storecupboard

How to make an Interesting Table Lamp for about £6

After  my last tirade, I think it’s about time we did something lovely with beads and ribbon.

The Wartime Housewife has a bit of a taste for the Victorian, but she does like shiny things.  I detest harsh lighting, so tend to have lots of table lamps dotted about so that the light can be both subtle and adaptable to one’s activities.  But table lamps are often very expensive and even plain shades are rarely less than £7 or £8. 

My first port of call whenever I need anything new in the household department is the local tip.  Many council tips now have a shop where one can buy all sorts of useful things that often just need a good scrub down or a coat of paint and are very reasonably priced.  Charity shops don’t sell electricals so leave those out, but car boot sales and jumble sales are full of treasures.  I found the lamp (incl the shade)  featured in this article at a local antique/collectable shop for £2.50.  It should have been £3 but naturally I haggled.  Always haggle – you’ve nothing to lose.

Plain shadeLamps are so hard to photograph so I’ll describe it.  It has a marble base, a crystal stem and a plain shade.  I have decorated several lamps before using crystal drops and mirrored ribbon and I had just the corner to put it in. 

I bought the ribbon with crystal drops and the mirrored ribbon from a haberdashery stall at the market for about £2.00/metre each.  A good haberdasher is a wonderful thing and it’s worth wandering round these  and other craft shops just to see what they hRibbonsave in stock and one can get so many ideas just from seeing what’s available.  I like bold, sparkly things but you may like something more subtle, so look around and see what there is.  Measure your lampshade circumference top and bottom and then get half a metre more than you actually need, just in case.  Any spare will always come in useful for other projects.

Glue gunThe next essential is a hot glue gun.  These are available from all good craft shops and I would recommend getting a small one which is light in your hand and can do finer work.  Mine cost about £5 and the replacement glue sticks are around £2.25.  The glue sets very quickly so you can attach things to each other without having to stand there like Soft Ned while everything sets.  Take some time to practice with it first on scraps of fabric or card until you get the hang of it.  You do get tiny strands of glue hanging about but these pull of easily when you’ve finished.  Do remember that this is a HOT GLUE gun and be careful as the glue will be unsurprisingly hot.

Ist layer - beaded ribbon

Ist layer - beaded ribbon

Firstly, lay out your beaded ribbon, right side up.  Starting at the seam of the shade, apply two thin parallel lines of hot glue, the width of the ribbon, to the base of the shade  about 2″ (5cm) at a time.  Apply the ribbon immediately and do another strip.  I would recommend NOT cutting the ribbon to the circumference of the shade as you will waste less this way. Work you way along the base of the shade, pressing the ribbon down firmly, until you come back to the seam.  Cut the ribbon neatly, allowing a small overlap.

2nd layer - mirrored ribbon

2nd layer - mirrored ribbon

Then do the same with the mirrored ribbon, making sure you cover the ribbon neatly underneath.  Pull off any tiny strands of glue.  You could try layering the beaded ribbon to create a cascade effect or even using two colours which would look very dramatic. 

And that’s it, and it took about half an hour.  As I say, lamps are difficult to photograph, especially at 11.30 at night when my eyes feel like they’ve been sandpapered, but it really does
look very effective.Finished lamp
Switch off the television and do something creative instead, it’s incredibly satisfying.  Put your own stamp on things; it doesn’t have to be perfect and it’ll be a heck of a lot more interesting than some homogenous lump of plastic from Ikea.

Green version

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Filed under Decorative, fashion, Household Hints, Make it yourself, Tips, Skips and Scavenging

How to Display Necklaces or the Flash of Inspiration

In which Necklaces 06.08.09The Wartime Housewife gets frustrated with tangled necklaces
and buys a mug rack at the village fete to get them organised.

I love necklaces; long, short, chunky, sparkly, ethnic, old-fashioned, pearls and studs.  Accounting for The Boys, I estimate that the average time for getting ready to go out is approximately 20 minutes, which includes, bath/shower, doing my hair, make-up, choosing clothes, choosing shoes (from my collection of 50-odd pairs – more on that later) and on top of that, attempting to accessorize jewellery. 

Firstly, I can never remember what I actually have and then, when I did rummage through the box, I found them in a tangled heap and simply hadn’t the time to sit down and extract what I needed.  I invariably ended up wearing the same old thing over and over again, despite having some very jolly things to choose from. 

Then, I went to the Slawston  Village Fete.  This is a super little annual fete behind the Village Hall that provides everything one could possibly want from a fete; games, second-hand books, bric-a-brac, tombolas, excellent cream teas served by smiling ladies and best of all (if you’ll pardon my French) no bloody face-painting.  God I hate face painting; I wouldn’t mind if…….  oh I’m so sorry, I shall go and fetch a cup of tea at once.   

Now. Rummaging through the dazzling array of bric-a-brac donated by those with larger attics than mine, I chanced upon a mug rack of the trellis  kind you screw or nail to the wall.  In a flash, I thought “Necklaces!” and quickly handed over my  two shillings (that’s 10p in old money).  When I arrived home, I screwed it to the side of my wardrobe, quite high up, and now all my necklaces are displayed, easy to access and don’t trail about on the top of the dressing table. 

I just put mine up in its raw state, but a creative type could paint it to co-ordinate with bedroom décor or simply in one’s favourite colours.  Acrylic paints with a coat of varnish would be perfect for this, acrylics are relatively cheap, can be bought at any art shop and last for a very long time if you keep the cap tightly on. 

Now if anyone can think of a clever way of storing earrings, please let me know.


Filed under Decorative, fashion



It may surprise you to know that the Wartime Housewife is the owner of a very modern handbag which I bought on a marvellous Intraweb shop called Ebay.  I was looking for something capacious and black when my eye was caught by the description “Black Goth Emo Punk Rubber Studded Bag”.  As you can imagine I was immediately intrigued and, having viewed the item in detail and found the price to be utterly agreeable, I bought it at once.  I was rather thrilled by its somewhat subversive appearance but it is both a handbag and a shoulder bag and, being made of rubber, is wipe-clean.  How practical!

However, there is a drawback.  Being soft and squashy and bigger at the bottom, but with no outside pockets, it is possible to lose smaller items in the corners and it can take hours of unattractive rummaging to find one’s keys, a laundry ticket or a lipstick.  An elderly friend resolved this for me in a most practical way.  She has a small, zipped purse which she keeps in her handbag into which she puts the small and most frequently needed items, which can then be easily and quickly retrieved.  Hers is a rather tasteful designer bag which comes with a matching purse, but one can buy a simple zipped pencil case like the one in the picture for £1 or less which does just as well.  I suffer from asthma and my inhaler is now kept clean and quickly accessible at all times.  Now convenience need no longer be sacrificed to style!

Post post note:  Make sure that the inner bag that you chose is of a different colour to the lining of your handbag, otherwise you’re no better off.


Filed under Decorative, fashion, Household Hints