Category Archives: Re-use Recycle

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

Startled by a skip

End of term and, having successfully avoided the Leavers’ Service, Boy the Younger and I wandered down the road towards the car, clutching armfuls of books, drawings, sewing, and all the other detritus collected over a school year.

Then, on the outskirts of my, highly trained, peripheral vision, I spied a skip at the side of the road.  Ah-haaa.  “Hang on Chap,” I said, “I just need to look in this ’ere skip”.  Groans all round.  But not nearly as loud as the groans I groaned when I saw what was in there.

12 x school dictionaries – used but useable
1 x large bag of size 12-14, immaculate clothing
1 x large bag of baby toys – good condition
2 x large books of children’s sample wallpapers – excellent for craft use

And all, bar a few of the baby toys, spoiled by the rain.

How much effort would it have taken for someone to drop that stuff in at a charity shop in a black bin liner?  I know one shouldn’t do it, but if necessary, pop it on the step on your way past.  As a last resort, put it in a bin liner and label the bags so the refuse men might just sort it at the tip.  Supermarkets now have weatherproof  re-cycling bins that can be accessed day or night, so there’s not really any excuse.  The contents of that skip will now end up in landfill.

We must stop wasting.   I’m not asking everyone to fashion their stained shirts into useful pinnies, use single socks to make cosy sleeping bags for hamsters or even knit their leftover spaghetti into a warm vest.  And whatever you do, don’t actually use your toenail clippings to make a nutty Bubble and Squeak.   Just think before you treat something which could be a valuable resource to someone else with profligate contempt.  There are schools in the third world that would give their eye teeth for a dozen English dictionaries and if I was a size 12, I would have snaffled the clothing, but any of the charity shops would have been grateful for it.  The Parents and Toddlers groups at any of the churches would have loved the toys.

We are running out of land. Land on which we should be growing food is being sold off for housing developments or more offices that will sit empty and we will never get that land back again.  Landfill sites are getting bigger and bigger and although many domestic tips are really making an effort with recycling, and opening areas where they sell on the decent stuff, we have to make the effort on the home front.

We have been in recession and now we are facing a period of essential austerity in an attempt to correct it.  Put away your storecards, hide your credit cards to be used in emergencies only; take stock of what you have, appreciate it and make the most of it.  Go mad – save up for something.  Learn some basic skills so you can bring out your creative side and make things last a little longer.  I assure you that if someone comes into your house and admires something you’ve made yourself, it’s worth every bit of effort. Smug Factor 50.  Job done.


Filed under Re-use Recycle, Tips, Skips and Scavenging

Summer fetes and what you can find there

We are now heavily into the Summer Fete* season. Barely a weekend goes by without there being at least one fete or summer show to tickle our fancies.  They are usually tremendous fun, with lots of games, stalls, bric-a-brac, teas and displays and they make a great deal of money for  schools, local charities and projects.  Which is a comfort as your wallet empties, your children’s arms fill with other people’s cast-off toys and your tummy starts to grumble at the third cream scone you’ve stuffed into it.

I’m going to set you a challenge based on Wartime Housewife values and sensibilities.  In the next month, I want you to attend one (or many) fetes.  Rummage feverishly among the stalls and find an object which is either an incredible find or, better still, can be turned into something else that is useful, beautiful or both.  I will do the same and report back.

Last year, I bought a concertina mug rack for 10p on which I hang all my necklaces.  I don’t know how I managed without it.  Go forth and scavenge my dears.

*  If anyone can tell me how to get a circumflex over my ‘e’ in Word I’d be very grateful.


Filed under Community and shopping, Leisure, Re-use Recycle, Tips, Skips and Scavenging

Foxed by urban attitudes. Don’t feed the foxes.

Along with the rest of the country, I was heartbroken at the plight of the two little girls in East London who were attacked in their cot by a fox.  I sincerely hope that they will recover and that the wonders of modern surgery will be able to minimise the effects of their injuries.  I send my love to the family.

It does, however, bring the problem of foxes, usually considered to be a ‘countryside’ issue into a much broader focus.  I am going to nail my colours to the mast here and now so there is no confusion.  Despite living in a cottage owned by The Fernie Hunt  I am not in favour of fox hunting.  Not because of the elitism of the hunt, or because I have romantic notions about foxes, but because it is a very inefficient way of culling.  In fact, (and don’t tell them this will you) I suspect that the hunt actually strengthens the fox population because the hounds are far more likely to catch the old and the sick ones.  When they do catch one, it’s a horrible business, as horrible as the fate of lambs and poultry that are attacked and killed by foxes.

Foxes have to be controlled around humans and livestock in the same way that other vermin have to be controlled.  They have no natural predators in the UK and just because they’re beautiful, that doesn’t make them any less verminous.  If rats were fluffy with cute little ears, would we hesitate before feeding them poison which kills them over several days with internal bleeding?  If foxes carried rabies, as they do in other countries, would there be as many hunt saboteurs? 

I would suggest that, in the countryside, other than taking all reasonable precautions to protect livestock, the livestock farmers and particularly the gamekeepers, nearly all of whom own guns, should have training as marksmen.  This is a far more humane and efficient method of control.

Regarding the towns and cities, the first thing we should do is to ask ourselves what the foxes are doing there in the first place.  They are unlikely to have come in for the culture, but they are absolutely there for the fine dining.  The increasing amount of waste food lying about in the streets and piled up in bins is the fox equivalent of a safari supper.  I swear I saw one in Leicester wearing chinos and loafers, whilst snuffling daintily at a discarded vindaloo.

Another massive incentive for them is the utter idiots who deliberately leave food out for them.  The Aged Parent’s next door neighbour used to leave chicken carcasses, often with half the meat still attached, out on her lawn “for the lovely little foxes”.  Apart from the wickedness of wasting half a chicken, the local rat population must have thought the God of Takeaways had come to Earth in human form.

Wednesday’s Telegraph reported that a local wildlife expert had suggested that the fox who attacked the baby girls was probably a cub that was attracted by the smell of nappies and that, as soon as it realised that the nappies were attached to a human, it panicked and injured them. 

There is nothing that can be said or done to make this incident less frightening and tragic for the Koupparis family, but let us use this incident as a wake up call.  Foxes belong in the countryside in manageable numbers.  If we treat our urban environment with such contempt by leaving our filth and detritus scattered about the streets, then we are inviting trouble.  Rats are already increasing in frightening numbers, foxes will inevitably become emboldened by their familiarity with the towns. 

This country is in financial meltdown and very soon the new coalition government is going to start making economies and rightly so.  Let’s all start to take some personal responsibility and, at the very least, help to keep our towns and cities clean by disposing of our rubbish responsibly.  Better still, consume less in the first place or we’ll be playing ‘Where’s Wall-e?’ whether we like it or not.


Filed under Ethics, Food, Politics, Re-use Recycle

Brimful of Asha I am 45. The oddness of getting older

At seven minutes past midnight, on this day in 1965, the Wartime Housewife arrived in the world.  Within the hour, I had congratulated my mother on her insistence on a home birth, applauded her use of terry nappies and delighted my sisters with my passable impression of Bela Lugosi.

Today I am forty-five.  People often say that, despite their advancing years, they still feel the same as they did at eighteen.  I can say without hesitation that I do not feel the same as I did at eighteen and very glad I am too.  At that age I was a total mess and although I’m sure I was a very entertaining companion, I was also a dangerous combination of naive and fearless, nihilistic yet convinced of my immortality. My unspoken mantra was undoubtedly ‘Try everything once except incest and country dancing’.  I wouldn’t go back there for anything, although I have since tried country dancing and it’s not nearly as dangerous as one might suppose.

However, as I was discussing with Mrs Cromarty only yesterday, I repeatedly forget that I am not the same shape as I was when I was eighteen.  There are these awful moments when I catch a passing glimpse of myself in a shop window and wonder how that slightly portly woman with a pointy nose got hold of my clothes.  And then realisation dawns… 

But the pay-off for being older is that I no longer take any nonsense from anyone and (most of the time) I am afraid of no-one.  I’ve had an ‘interesting’ life (in a Chinese curse kind of way) and I’ve done many things; I’m now at a point where that’s starting to come in very useful indeed.

What I do find utterly extraordinary is that, by the autumn, both my sisters will be in their 50’s, which seems inconceivable, not least because they are both gorgeous and you’d never think it for a moment.

Ah now then.  Talking of being 50, my writer and photographer friend Jo Blackwell has launched an interesting blog site called ‘Project 50’.  She is very keen to hear stories from people who are already, or are going to be, 50 this year.  I won’t tell you any more as it would be better if you have a look on her site yourself and see what you think.

Incidentally, some of the terry nappies referred to in the opening paragraph were pressed into service again for my own children and now make excellent floor clothes, bedding protectors for vomiting children and basket liners for sodden cats.

PS.  Amongst the many gorgeous presents I received from family and friends, was a framed copy of the collage ‘Shunt with Care’ by Peter Ashley. And I didn’t even have to sleep with anyone to get it.  Hurrah!


Filed under Family and Friends, Household Hints, Re-use Recycle

Socks Education: Where do the odd socks go?

Socks cause a great deal of trouble in the home.  Everyone needs socks and everyone has experienced difficulties with socks, whether through personal loss, identity crises or malodorousness. 

Sock Amnesties:
Every so often, the preponderance of single socks in the Lost Sock Basket, forces me to hold a Sock Amnesty.  This involves The Boys handing in any socks, single or otherwise, that they have found under pillows, in schoolbags, down their trousers or on bookshelves, with complete impunity.  The Lost Sock Basket is then emptied into the washing machine.  When clean and dry, any socks that are obviously a pair are returned to the drawer of their owner.  Any socks that remain are marched straight to the rag bag.

Identity Parades:
There is absolutely no valid reason why anyone should wear plain, dark socks.  To do so is perverse and selfish and leads one to suspect that the wearer has no hobbies.  I am charged with the responsibility of managing the socks of a gentleman on a professional basis and he has more than 50 pairs of plain, unmarked socks, 45 pairs of which are black or navy.  However, they are not identical; they exhibit a bewildering assortment of ribs, welts, lengths and thicknesses and on wash days I am frequently to be found in the laundry room, ashen faced and shaking, being menaced by 28 startlingly similar items of faintly threatening hosiery as they stealthily mount the clothes horse.. 

Hole in One (or both):
The Wartime Housewife is not in favour of profligate waste, not even in the sock department.  I am one of those genetic mutants who has my second toe longer than my big toe.  Consequently, every sock I own has a hole in the toe within a month of being introduced to my feet.  Therefore I darn.  Darning is easy and, if done really well, will actually strengthen your socks thereby ensuring a longer life.  I will show you how to darn tomorrow.

Lost Socks in the Laundry of Oblivion:
Make yourself a cup of tea, help yourself to a Hob Nob and sit down.  I have something to tell you.
I believe that when you know, to the core of your soul, that you put two socks in the washing machine, but only one sock comes out, there is a scientific explanation.  Time and/or interdimensional teleporting.  Washing machines are imbedded with a Top Secret Chip which dictates that when the spin cycle reaches a certain velocity i.e. between 800 and 1000 rpm, for a certain period of time, single socks are flung out of this time and catapaulted into another. 

Think of a time in history when ghoulish knitters were actually given a name.  The Tricoteurs of the French Revolution were alleged to sit at the guillotine, knitting whilst they enjoyed the entertainment. They weren’t watching the executions, they were waiting.  Waiting for the single socks to materialise so that they could knit a matching sock and sell them on the black market.  Those socks that were merely flung into another dimension are currently languishing in Single Socks Schools, learning  darning and podiatry or being put to work as sleeping bags for hamsters or, in the worst cases, as hand puppets in tea commercials. 

Possible Solutions:
The obvious solution to the Great Pairing Debacle is simple.  Five pairs of black socks with coloured toes and heels can be purchased at modest cost from any major supermarket (more expensive varieties are available should you wish).  They give every appearance of being plain dark socks, but when sock bath time comes round,  they are easily identified and paired up.  It goes without saying that patterned socks are easily managed, as are plain socks with the days of the week embroidered on them.  Cartoon socks are not acceptable under any circumstances.

Another, more time consuming, measure is to thread a little piece of coloured wool just inside the welt of  each pair of socks, which will not be seen by strangers, but will be visible to The Sorter of The Socks.  It would take a little time, but would be infinitely cheaper than buying new socks.

However, if your socks are disappearing from the washing machine on a regular basis, then you must either stop spinning them at once or better still, hand wash.  This is the only sure fire way of keeping absolute control of your socks. That and not wearing any socks at all.  But that would be going too far.  OR WOULD IT?


Filed under Cleaning, Household Hints, Re-use Recycle, Sewing

Emergency Sledge

If you find yourself in the disturbing position of having no sledge on a snowy slope (10/- to anyone who can say that after a bottle of  the Wartime Housewife’s Sloe Gin) you will need the following:-

1 x large piece of thick cardboard – 2 if you have them
1 large thick bin liner with handles
1 x snowy slope

Place the large piece of cardboard into the sack, trimming to fit if necessary
Place your bottom on the bin liner, grasping the handles firmly
Hurl yourself down the slope

The Wartime Housewife takes no responsibility for anyone who recklessly hurls themselves into the path of oncoming vehicles, livestock, the waste products of livestock, or barbed-wire fences.


Filed under Children, General DIY, Leisure, Make it yourself, Outdoor Activities, Re-use Recycle

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

Re-use, Re-cycle, Re-fuse to waste

I am absolutely fed up with being told how important it is to recycle.  I groan when I hear about councils threatening to fine people for putting recyclable waste into their normal dustbins.  I mutter to myself about the vicissitudes of waste management from county to county.  I feel genuine pity for the people who live within half a mile of our local rubbish tip, for whom the constant smell must be utterly unbearable.

In Leicestershire we have a green bin for garden and a ‘limited amount’ of cardboard waste, a box for paper including junk mail and another box for glass and tins. We then have a black bin for everything else.  Recycling is collected weekly and the black and green bins are collected bi-weekly.  The refuse collectors have the right to refuse to empty your bins if the lids won’t close.  I have to drive to the nearest recycling centre.  But every county is different accordingly to which refuse company has been awarded the contract and how much the council is willing to spend.   My family in the south have a far greater range of recyclable rubbish collected from their houses than we do in the Midlands. 

I am not an expert environmental scientist and I am not a guru in the field of waste management.  I am simply a Housewife (Wartime variety, naturally)  who doesn’t want to see my country disappear under a mountain of rubbish.  Recycling is all very worthy, but it is not the answer to the massive refuse problem that we,  and the majority of the developed world, is facing.  In times of recession, many waste management companies are not buying this recyclable waste, so what happens to it then?  And let’s not forget the energy involved in producing recycled goods.

If we really want to ‘do our bit’ for the environment, we have to produce less waste in the first place.  We must consume less.  In some aspects of life this is easy; one excellent reason for cooking from scratch is that you don’t have to contend with all that packaging from pre-prepared food.  But I scream with rage when I am told, all too frequently, that it is cheaper to buy a new appliance than it is to repair the old one.  At one time, one assumed that if you bought an expensive brand of kettle, it would last you several times longer than a £4.95 one from Argos, but even that does not appear to be true any more.  Lady Marjorie recently had to throw away a £70 Dualit kettle after only 18 months and was told she had done well to have it last that long.  Apparently, she should have spent another £12 on an extended warranty.

So what can we do?  And how can we do it without completely disrupting our lives?  Here are a few tips (to reduce the tips!) that I follow when I can, with which most of you will already be familiar, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded!:

  • Plan as many meals as you can in advance so that you can get the food you need, thereby potentially reducing waste
  • Cook from scratch to avoid packaging
  • Take tupperware boxes to the meat, fish and deli counters in the supermarket and ask them to put your food in those with the bar code stuck to the lid.  Some will refuse, but most won’t and if they do – make a fuss!  Independent shops are much more amenable to this idea.
  • Always have a couple of cotton shopping bags in your handbag or car
  • If you need to use carrier bags, keep them for use as bin liners
  • Sugar bags and flour bags are ideal for re-use as they are lightly waxed on the outside to keep the original contents dry.  Use them to wrap sandwiches and cake for packed lunches.
  • Keep some of your interesting rubbish for junk modelling as an activity for the children.
  • Keep some jam jars and small bottles with screw lids.  Next year they will be there when you have a go at jam, jellies and syrups!
  • Wash foil and use it again
  • Use the milkman if you can afford to.  If not, plastic milk cartons, cut in half, make very effective cloches for seedlings in your garden. You can adjust air flow through the lid.
  • Mend your  clothes and darn your socks.  I will do an item on darning if this will help! Just because you can buy a new pair of trousers in Primark for £2 doesn’t mean you should.  You can do mending while watching TV or listening to the radio.
  • If clothes are beyond the pale, cut them up for dusters and cleaning cloths.  Old pants make super dusters, shirts are non-linty for shiny surfaces. A man’s shirt will make a practical painting overall for a child.
  • Don’t buy separate cleaning fluids for every different job.  It’s a con.  A decent, all-purpose household cleaner will manage most things as will an own brand bleach and a packet of soda crystals.  Better still, invest in some eco cloths.  My sister bought me some four years ago and they’re still doing the job.
  • Lemon juice in the cleaning water will disinfect work surfaces as well as anything else
  • Essential oil, such as lavender or lemon, on a damp cloth, wiped over your radiators will fragrance your house as well as any air freshener, costs much less and can be tailored to your own taste.  Why does your house smell so bad anyway?
  • If you need odd bits of furniture for general use, see if your local tip has a shop and look there first.  You’ll be amazed at what you can find.
  • Auctions – the ultimate in re-use from expensive antiques to general houseware.  And it’s great fun.
  • Have a go at E-bay – you’d be amazed what people buy and if it doesn’t sell, it’s cost you nothing
  • Use charity shops – again you’ll be amazed and the benefits are two-fold; less waste plus a charity donation

Right, that’s enough to be going on with.  I would love to hear your own  tips for reducing waste or saving energy. 

I am now going to save my own energy by switching off the computer and going to bed.


Filed under Cleaning, Ethics, Food, Household Hints, Re-use Recycle