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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Tuesday Tutorial - How to make a campfire cushion

 Some of you  may remember my post a few weeks ago about the tepee I made for the children to play in the garden.  I also made a campfire cushion and some bunting to go with it.  From Bug's point of view, the tepee is certainly the most successful item, and she also loves the bunting, and has plans for me to make a lot more of it.  For me though, I was most pleased with the cushion.  I've now made several more of these campfire cushions, am sending one to a friend from Scouting (I sent me something awesome several months ago, so if he reads this he'll now know who he is), and have some for sale on my Folksy shop, with a posting coming soon on Etsy.  So here's how to make one:

You will need: 
  • canvas or other fairly hardwearing light coloured fabric.  I used lightweight canvas because I had plenty left over from the tepee construction.
  • a square each of red, orange, yellow and brown felt
  • fusible interfacing (bondaweb or similar)
  • red thread and natural thread
  • polyester toy stuffing - large bag
  • cutting tool (I use a rotary cutter and mat), scissors, sewing machine, needle

 - First measure and cut your first triangle.  Each side is 40cm (about 16 inches).
 - Cut around this triangle to cut three more.

 You can either cut your felt into flames and log shapes first and then fix them to the fusible interfacing (as I've done in this picture) or you can fuse the interfacing onto the whole sheet of felt and then cut out the shapes (which I did when I was making eight cushions at once).  Either way, you get your flame and log shapes with the fusible interfacing on the back.
 Peel the backing paper off the interfacing and arrange the flames and logs how you'd like them to make your fire, then iron them through a damp cloth to stick them.
 Use the sewing machine and red thread to stitch over the edges of all your felt pieces.  This not only stops them from peeling off in the future, but also adds some definition to the fire.
 Next, pin the triangles together right sides together (making sure to keep all the fires the same way up) to make a pyramid and stitch with cream or natural coloured thread, leaving a small gap on one of the bottom edges to turn the right way out.
 Turn the pyramid the right way out, stuff and then overstitch to close the gap.  
Et voila!  A cosy campfire cushion to inspire creative play and just to look gorgeous around the home or garden.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Dos and Don'ts of Wild Swimming


Wild Swimming is basically swimming outside.  When people think of swimming they think about sanitised chlorine wafted swimming pools, where you know how deep the water is, you know where the edge is, you know (hope) there won't be anything odd floating about, there are lots of other swimmers and a nice friendly qualified lifeguard to make sure that everybody is safe.
The Roman Baths at Bath - from wikipedia.org
Swimming in swimming pools is a fairly recent phenomenon.  While the oldest watertight public tank that we know of was built in Pakistan 5000 years ago, and organised swimming and public and social bathing were popular in Greek and Roman culture, public swimming pools didn't come back into regular use until about 150 years ago.  By 1837 there were six man-made indoor swimming pools with diving boards in London, and after swimming races were included in the reborn modern Olympic Games in 1896 the popularity of indoor swimming began to spread.
Chudleigh Community Swimming Pool - from Teignbridge.gov.uk
Today, most regular swimmers will rarely venture away from the security of the man-made pool, with the exception of an occasional paddle in the sea on warm holidays.  They are really missing a trick, as the UK's many wild swimmer will testify.  Whether you opt for endurance swimming, swimming in the sea, in rivers or in lakes the feel of the water is very different to a swimming pool.  It's colder for a start, but then you begin to notice variations in water temperature in and out of the current, in shallow pools or on the edges.  Sea water feels different from river water, some water is soft and silky, while another river might have a grittier feel.  Swimming in the rain has a very different feel to a sunny afternoon, and a night swim is different again.  When you put your feet down are you in soft tickly grasses, sand, pebbles or rocks - and was that a fish that just brushed against your ankle?  As you swim in a river you're part of the wildlife scene, you might see a kingfisher darting over head, keep your distance from that nesting swan, and just float on by as a mother mallard leads her ducklings across the water.  The surface of the water sparkles in the sunlight, waves lap at the shore or the river bank, and leaves rustle overhead.  What could be better than swimming in such an inviting landscape?
wild swimming in Rydal in the Lake District from headtothehills.co.uk
Most people are nervous of swimming outdoors, thinking that it must be dangerous.  Stories in the press about drownings can be pretty scary, but of the 381 water related deaths by accident or natural causes in the UK in 2013, eight were in the bath, six were in the swimming pool, 14 were sub-aqua divers, 31 were boating, and one hundred and twenty six were walkers or joggers who fell in the sea, canal or river.  Only fifty five were wild swimmers.  To put this in context, in the same year 1,713 people died on the UK's roads.  When wild swimming though, you don't put your safety in the hands of the swimming pool and their attendants.  It is up to you to choose where to swim, to assess your own capabilities and the risks of your swim, depending on weather conditions, water level and your own ability, and to keep yourself safe.  Here are a few guidelines to get you started:

DO - 

  • always be polite to other water users and landowners.  
  • swim with somebody else - this is particularly important in cold water (officially, UK water is cold year-round).  They could be in the water with you or on shore.  This keeps you safe and makes the swim more fun.
  • wear a wet-suit when the water is cold, and get into the water slowly to allow your body to acclimatise.
  • Until you are used to swimming outside, and understand your body's "getting too cold" signals, don't stray too far from shore.
  • Keep cuts and grazes covered up.
  • Report any obvious signs of pollution to the Environment Agency (and Surfers Against Sewage for coastal areas)
  • wear a bright coloured hat so that other swimmers and boats etc can see you - a tow float can also be useful where there is a lot of boat traffic.
  • Build up your swimming ability, the better you are at swimming indoors, the better you'll be able to manage outdoors where the conditions are very different.


DON'T - 

  • trespass to get to the water.  Use public footpaths or other rights of way
  • stay in too long.  All UK water is classed as "cold" year-round - staying in too long increases your danger of cold incapacitation (you can no longer swim effectively, and may struggle to climb out of the water at the bank).
  • Get in to water that looks murky and unappealing or smells funny.  
  • Swim in privately owned reservoirs unless it's clear that it is allowed
  • swim under the influence of drugs or alcohol - EVER.
For more information on wild swimming in the UK, check out The Outdoor Swimming Society.  Their website gives lots of information on staying safe and where it's okay to swim, as well as including a map showing local wild-swimming spots that have been recommended by users.  It's well worth starting with some of these, as they have been tried and tested and comments on the map can tell you what conditions are like.
Lady Alice Douglas wild swimming in Wales, from www.telegraph.co.uk

Monday, 4 May 2015

From Stay-at-Home-Mum to Work-at-home-mum... diary of a transition


My journey from being a stay-at-home-mum to two gorgeous, vivacious and characterful little monkeys, to being a work-from-home mumpreneur has been a little bumpy just lately. 

At the moment C is at school every day, and Bug is at pre-school two days a week 9-3.  On the three days that she's at home we go to a play-group, go swimming, do the shopping, walk the dog, go to play-parks, do housework and play together.  On the two days that she's at pre-school I try to cram in things like going swimming, taking the dog for long walks, and working.  In the evenings I'm trying to work, do housework, do exercise, walk the dog and occasionally do some Scouting.

I'll be honest here, things haven't been as easy as we hoped since the move from Scotland to Herefordshire.  Hubby's job is hard mentally and emotionally, and he's taken quite a while to settle into that, and been pretty exhausted when he gets home, so I've been doing pretty much all the dog-walking and housework etc.  We're also both suffering a bit from the tension of having an empty house sitting up in Scotland which is taking a very long time to sell and costing money.  Don't get me wrong, things could be a lot worse, the house we are renting is not at all bad, it's just not ours, and we can't make it feel like home because we know that as soon as we sell the house in Scotland, we'll be buying down here.  We're just unsettled and edgy.

As you'll know if you've been reading these posts, I've been trying to do a combination of writing and crafting, hoping to build up a portfolio of work and sales, enough that I feel confident to work from home once Bug is at school.

I was doing okay.  I was working hard at the writing and getting a bit of money for that, and I was selling a few bits and pieces on Folksy and Etsy, but it was not enough to call a proper business yet, and a craft fair with zero sales was also a bit disheartening.  We've managed fine on Hubby's income for the last six years, so it's not that we're desperate for cash... its more my peace of mind and sanity really.  I feel like I've so much more to offer in life than the ability to iron and cook.  I'm reluctant to spend any money on me because I'm not earning any, so would really like to contribute financially - so I can buy clothes when I need them, decorate and buy nice things for the house and garden and so we can go on more holidays together.  I NEED to be working and feeling more fulfilled now - I'm not saying that I'm not fulfilled as a mum, I love it, and I've loved being at home with the children and I know that I've done the very best I can for them (and they are awesome), it's just that I've reached a point now where I need to be moving on and doing more.

So anyway, I realised (actually Hubby pointed out, during a rare argument one evening) that I was spending loads of time tapping away at the computer and getting frustrated with him and the kids for interrupting me when I was "working", but actually Bug isn't even at school yet, I'm actually not making any money, and surely the whole point of it all is to make family life better.  So I took a deep breath and re-evaluated (again).  I took my foot off the pedal.  I've concentrated on doing a few jobs around the place to make this rented house a better place to be, since we're going to be here for at least the next couple of months.  I've tidied up the garden and planted lots of pots of flowers, I'm painting the back door, I made a tepee for the children to play in the garden, I painted Bug's bike.  I'm still trying to write and make stuff to sell - but that's only when I have time.  Family needs to come first.

Then I started applying for part-time jobs starting in September.  Mostly teaching jobs, but not all.  Anything which appears to fit my interests, experience and aspirations and also fits in around school.  One in particular really sparked my interest as a job I would love to do, and since I'm trying to be better at self-esteem I can say (not boasting) I know I would be good at - I'll likely hear in the next couple of days whether I've been short-listed.  I'm not holding my breath.  I know I'd be good at it, but I don't quite have the experience listed in the person spec, and I know that if I am short-listed it will most likely be as the "wild-card".  Plus, before I settled down in Scotland for seven years, for various reasons, I kept moving around the country, so my CV is somewhat patchy, and now I've had a six-year break.  I guess that makes me a bit of a gamble.

If I get one of the jobs I'm applying for, that's great!  It will be part-time, which will allow me to work hard and earn some money, but I'll still have time to be there for the kids, to do the house-work (I am going to pay somebody to do the ironing though!), to get out and get some me-time, and to continue writing and crafting in my spare time.

If I don't get one of the jobs, then I'll keep trying, but I'll also have more time once Bug is at school to do the writing and crafting and try to make that work a bit more.  I might make my career even more of a tapestry by adding a few other things to the mix too, making more of my teaching experience by doing story-telling, writing and 'eco' workshops in schools.

As you can tell, I'm at a bit of a cross-roads at the moment.  I really don't know what direction I'm going to go in, but just now I feel that they will all take me somewhere good, so I don't really mind, and I'm just going to keep plugging away and let serendipity find me and guide me in the right direction.
When we finally sell the house in Scotland (it will happen, and soon we hope), I know too that Hubby and I will also suddenly feel a huge weight lift from our shoulders, and life will feel brighter and easier, and we'll be ready to settle properly into this lovely part of the world and make our new home and new life here.

Do keep me company on the journey.  It might be bumpy, but we'll get there in the end!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Ancient Tree Hunt

If, like me, you love trees, then you'll understand the joy of finding an ancient, gnarled old specimen.  Put your palm against the bark and feel the heartbeat, put your ear to it and listen as it tells you stories of the history that it's witnessed.
Trouble is, unlike historic buildings, until recently nobody has been keeping a record of our spectacular ancient trees, so apart from the odd few they had little protection or recognition.
 
 Now the Woodland Trust is changing things.  A massive project, the Ancient Tree Hunt, has used volunteers and partner organisations such as The National Trust to "register, classify, celebrate and protect" the UKs most special trees, many of which are host to an enormous range of life too.
If you visit ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk you can access maps, satellite imagery and the inventory to find the ancient trees registered so far in your locality, and also details on which ones are accessible to the public, so that you can go and visit some of these mighty veterans.

I've photographed us climbing amongst a couple of ancient oaks at Croft Castle (National Trust near Leominster) - 
What's your favourite ancient tree?  

Monday, 20 April 2015

Monday make - Tepee tutorial

So pleased to have finished this.  I've been wanting to make a tepee or something for the garden for the longest time.  See here for my plans to make our rented garden a more inviting place to play.  I then started looking for tepee ideas on Pinterest, and came up with the plan for this one.  I'll be following up with tutorials for the bunting and the campfire cushion (I'm so in love with this cushion, and will be making and selling more of them) in the next couple of weeks.

So... without further ado... how to make a tepee (teepee):

What you need: 

  • 12 ft by 15 ft painters canvas drop cloth (or two 9 ft by 12 ft cloths, some waxed linen thread and a stout needle).  This is the cloth that painters and decorators use to cover furniture and carpets while they work.
  • 10 x 8ft garden canes or similar (see note later)
  • eyelets and eyelet inserter
  • stout string
  • short length of sturdy cotton or linen tape
Instructions:

I wasn't able to get hold of 12 x 15 foot drop cloth, though you can get it in the USA which is why I've included it here.  If you can't get hold of it, then your first job is to lay out your two 9 x 12 foot cloths with a 6" overlap between two 9 foot edges and join with two rows of running stitch on each side of the overlap.  You'll end up with a 12 by 17 1/2 foot cloth.

Measure 7 1/2 foot along the long side of your cloth and stitch on a loop of cotton or linen tape.  Tie the end of a piece of string to this loop, and then tie a pen 7 1/2 foot along the piece of string.  Get a willing volunteer to hold the loop still, while you pull the string taut and use the pen to draw a semi-circle on the cloth with a 7 1/2 foot radius.  Cut out the semi-circle.

Insert eyelets down the straight edge of the semi-circle on one side of your loop.

Now take your canes.  I used 8 foot long heavy duty garden canes.  Most places only sell them in packs of 50 or 100, but I did find a place that sold a pack of 10.  Actually these weren't as sturdy as I expected or hoped and we're having to take the tepee down overnight and wouldn't leave it up in the wind.  In the future we'd consider replacing them with steel rods, metal piping or 2"x 1" wood to add stability and we'd then tie down a couple of guy ropes which would give us a lot more confidence.  Fasten the canes with string in a variation on the tripod lashing about 6 inches from the end.  

Spread the canes out in a circle approximately 5-6 feet in diameter.  Stand on a step or chair and hook the loop (half way along the straight edge of the semi-circle of canvas) over the top end of one of the canes.  Wrap the canvas around the canes.

Sew the top of the tepee closed using the first few eyelets, and sew loops of string in place on the non-eyelet piece of canvas to open and close the door using the other eyelets.

I hope this is okay.  I'm still quite a tutorial beginner, and now I've found that I didn't take enough photos of each step to make it clearer.  I'm sure I'll improve in the future!


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Forest Trails - outdoor activities



One of our favourite things to do as a family is to go for a walk in the woods.  In winter the woods offer shelter from the elements, in the heat of summer they offer shade. 























A walk in the woods offers:

  • trees to climb
  • places to play hide and seek
  • wildlife to identify
  • trees and plants to spot and identify
  • dens to build
  • a constantly changing scene through the seasons
  • food to forage
  • treasure to find (acorns, chestnuts, twigs and pine cones)
  • ancient tree hunting
  • wild art
  • balancing
  • and much much more.

While many woodlands are privately owned you can access woodland in the UK on National Trust, English Heritage, Forestry Commission, RSPB and Woodland Trust properties, as well as countless local wildlife and nature parks and National Parks.  Some of our best loved woodlands can be found at the Delamere Forest, the Wyre Forest, Sherwood Forest, the New Forest and the Forest of Dean, many of which were ancient Royal Hunting Grounds.  At these larger forests you'll usually find a Visitor Centre with good parking facilities, cafes, well way-marked trails and paths and adventure playgrounds.

Don't forget, many woodlands are also the  base for hair-raising mountain biking trails and high-ropes courses, or more sedate sculpture trails.


What are you waiting for?  Get out and explore the woods near you!

What do you like to do in the woods?


Monday, 23 March 2015

Chocolate corn flake nests and a couple of cloaks - Monday's make

Today I've made two more reversible play capes from "Growing Up Sew Liberated" by Meg McElwee.  I had a special request for this colour combination on my Etsy shop (link on right), and always make two things rather than one (economies of scale!), so I've already dispatched my commissioned order, and have a spare in stock.


I also made a dozen of these cornflake confections with the children just now:


I wanted to include some information on my decoupage experiments, but since they aren't finished yet, I'll post on those at a later date, and you can just get a sneak preview:


What have you been making this week?