Tag Archives: imagination

Unexpected clown trousers

On Saturday afternoon, Boy the Younger handed me a letter from his schoolbag informing me that, as it was Creative Week starting on Monday, the children had to go into school in clown outfits to start the week in a jolly way.  Oh blimey.

I bought a couple of yards of blue and white spotted fabric and some elastic and set to work.
I cut out four giant trouser legs and hemmed them all round.
I then stitched them together and made a wide hem round the waist, leaving a gap for threading wire through.
I opened out a coat-hanger and bent it into a circle, pinching hooks into the ends to link them together, then threaded it through the waist hem.
I squeezed the ends of the hanger shut with pliers and then stitched up the gap in the hem.
At the bottom of the trouser legs I did the same, but threaded those through with elastic so the trousers were really baggy.
I made braces out of ribbon, but I wish I’d bought extra elastic so that the trousers would have stayed on better AND bounced up and down.

To finish the outfit off, he wore some long striped socks and my Converse on his feet, a dark blue long-sleeved t-shirt with a red Indian waistcoat and I had made a bow tie out of the surplus trouser fabric.  I didn’t have time to make a hat, so he wore a wizard’s hat which I made years ago which has a big padded brim, a pointy cone and an old diamante earring stitched to the front like a jewel.

Children’s dressing up clothes can be made quite simply with cheap material and a bit of imagination.  You don’t have to have tailoring skills – just look at a pair of trousers, for example, take note of the shape of the pieces and copy them.  Even shirts, tops and dresses can be made with little skill.

Alternatively, you can pick up bits and pieces from charity shops which can be adapted with the application of a pair of scissors and a strip of Wunda-Web* into something marvellous.

I once made a Robin Hood outfit for Boy the Elder out of an old airtex shirt of mine, dyed green.  I made a little shoulder cape out of a remnant of green upholstery fabric and cut out a crenellated edge which I finished off with blanket stitch to make it look authentic.  Then I gathered the edge of the cape slightly with a drawstring thread and stitched it round the collar of the shirt.  A belt was applied round the waist and bingo!, a Merry Man as I lived and breathed.  Boy the Younger was wearing it only yesterday.  All day.  With my pirate boots.

* Wunda-Web is a  wunderful thing.  It is a long thin strip of something vaguely sticky which you fold into the hem of the garment you need turning up.  You then iron it on and it holds the hem or seam – no sewing required.  A boon, particularly if you don’t have a sewing machine.


Filed under Children, Household Hints, Sewing

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

The Hell of an Untidy Bedroom and what came out of it

A couple of months ago, I was so utterly sick of the state of The Boys’ Bedroom, that I was obliged to declare a State of Emergency.  The Boys were banned from their room, they slept in my bedroom, while I slept on the sofa, and I went in with a digger I had borrowed from the Council.   I will tell you now that this took one week.  Eight and a half hours went into the tidying and cleaning of that room, after which I removed all their toys to the outhouse and left them with only books (which are a human right not a privilege), crayons and Leicestershire for their recreation. 

They were then given the opportunity to win the boxes back through continued tidiness and good behaviour.  I nailed a typed programme to the wall, which detailed in large simple words the 8 steps to tidying their room (which should have begun with “My name is Boy the Elder/Younger and I am a dirty, untidy boy” followed by a round of applause).

Essential Reading

Essential Reading

Within a week it looked as though I had never been in.  I walked in at the end of a rainy afternoon which had necessitated indoor play and actually burst into tears.  They had managed to trash the room with books, clothes, paper and things that they had salvaged from Outside which included sticks, leaves, jars full of insects, hub caps (my own fault), pieces of wood, wire netting, dirty cups and plates and a camouflage net.

I confess that at this point I absolutely lost it, and even though my remonstrations were verbal, they looked genuinely frightened.  But it was still not enough.  The problem is that my children are interesting and have vivid imaginations; they can make something out of the most unexpected things and see anything they find as a piece of glowing, shimmering potential.

I consulted my recently rediscovered cousins, Longlost 1 and Longlost 2, who both have grown up children and know a thing or two about the iniquities of revolting minors.  They declared that I could not win and that there were no circumstances in which I could win.  I feebly protested that surely it was my job to teach them to be tidy and clean or how would they learn?  They sensibly argued that I have spent the last 12 years in this thankless task and so far nothing has worked.

Their advice was this:-

1. Let them live in whatever squalor they choose, but if their clothes don’t make it into the wash basket, they will not be washed.  This will mean that they have to go to school in dirty clothes and there is nothing like the disapprobation of your peer group to persuade you to smarten up and change your pants.

2.  If their room is untidy, they will not be allowed to have friends round to play/hang out.

3.  Continue the rule of absolutely no toys downstairs without a chitty signed in triplicate with their own blood.  Any that are not taken back upstairs after one warning will be thrown away.

I bit the bullet, although it felt fundamentally negligent.  I have to admit that it has taken the pressure off with regard to constantly nagging to tidy their room and the threat of no friends gives an intermittent incentive to clear up.  The dirty clothes thing is working, although the occasion when Boy the Elder left for school with no socks or pants was buttock clenchingly awful, but it only happened once.  He had PE.

I have only returned two toy boxes to them and, other than one (ignored) plea for the Smalls Cars and Vehicles Box, it has made no difference to them whatsoever.  Very telling – and my children have more toys than some, but a lot less than most.

More Things to Make 18.10.09One of the activities that they both love is Junk Modelling, and with an age difference of five and a half years, it is often hard to find things that they can do together.  I keep a large bag behind the kitchen door into which I put any bits and pieces that I think are interesting and useful.  Egg boxes, cardboard tubes, lolly sticks, foil cake cases, polystyrene shapes, match boxes etc and they can then help themselves. 

They have a pot on the dining room table which has biros, pencils, scissors and sellotape and an Art Box under the stairs full of paints, crayons, felt pens and interesting paper.  They do it for hours; spaceships, rockets, houses for creatures, robot limbs, masks, sculptures, you name it.  Sometimes they are then thrown away and sometimes they are broken down and returned to the bag.

Toys & Games to Make 18.10.09I’ve always tried really hard to find the balance between not giving in to the mountains of pre-formed plastic rubbish that are beamed into our homes from the television, but not isolating them from their peer group. They own a Nintendo DS and they are allowed restricted access to the computer.  They get pocket money and they can spend it how they wish.  But it has really brought home to me how little they actually need.  I know someone who spends more than £500 on EACH of her children at Christmas.  After about a year, those presents end up in black plastic bin liners.  I just hope I live near her local tip.

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Filed under Children, Family and Friends, Household Hints, Indoor Activities, Tips, Skips and Scavenging

Scouting for Scones

We will do our best

We will do our best

On Friday, the elder of The Boys went off to camp with The Scouts.  A small troop of Scouts have come over from Belgium and are spending the weekend with our troop, which will include games, an English High Tea and camping in the field behind the Scout hut.  The following day they were hiking in The Peak District .  Many of these children have met before and a good relationship is building between them.

My sons are not sporty. They are tall, thin people with vivid imaginations and a passion for books; they do not excel on the football or the rugby field and they are not competitive.  Boy the Elder once took 10 minutes to run a 50yard fancy dress relay because he felt the clothes in his lane didn’t suit him, so decided to try on those of his competitors instead. But put them in a field with trees, bits of wood, mud and unsavoury things in hedgerows and they are quite happily occupied for long periods of time, with only a portion of their day dedicated to fighting each other with sticks or heavy objects.

Boy the Elder joined the Cubs and then graduated to Scouts and it is the activity he cares about more than anything else.  We are blessed with unbelievably dedicated Leaders, who give an astonishing amount of their free time to The Scouts, taking them climbing, hiking, swimming, making up games, teaching them practical skills and teamwork and all done in an atmosphere of support, encouragement, humour and no nonsense.

It seems to be one of the few organisations left for young people where, although every care is taken over their safety and happiness, they are pushed to achieve; not in a horrid aggressive way, but for themselves, to find the best in themselves.  The values inherent in Scouting are about respect, kindness, loyalty, independence and self reliance, good behaviour, courtesy, structure and tolerance, things that seem regrettably lacking in many areas of modern life.

In the past year, scores of new Cub, Scout and Explorer troops have been set up all over the countryto cope with the increasing demand from parents who are becoming aware of the value and impact of Scouting for their children.  You may not know that most Scout troops now have equal numbers of boys and girls and this creates a very healthy and jolly atmosphere.  Boy the Younger can’t wait.

So last week, to give the Belgian Scouts the experience of a good English High Tea, the Wartime Housewife volunteered to make a big batch of scones to be eaten with my sister’s home made jam and thick cream.  The Belgian’s defected on the spot. 
Here is the recipe which is made of storecupboard ingredients.


Large mixing bowl
Palette knife
2 x  12×8″ baking trays – greased and floured
Rolling pin
2 ½ ” cutter
Cooling rack


15 oz / 450g white self-raising flour
½ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
4oz / 120g butter
4oz / 120g white sugar
4oz / 120g raisins or sultanas
9floz / 280ml milk or half milk/half yoghurt


Pre-heat the oven to 230 / 450 / 8
Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl
Cut the butter into little pieces and rub into the flour until it is no longer visible
Stir in the sugar and dried fruit
Mix the milk into the mixture a little at a time, either with a palette knife or your hands, until a loose, sticky dough is formed (this may take less milk than you’ve measured out)
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll gently to about 1″ / 2.5cm thick
Dip the cutter into some flour and cut out the scones. 
Gently roll remaining dough into a ball, roll it out again and keep cutting
It should make about 17 scones
Brush the tops with a little milk to glaze
Place the scones on the greased and floured baking trays
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown
Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

Scones 31.08.09


Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Children, Family and Friends, Food, Indoor Activities, Outdoor Activities, Recipes, Storecupboard