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 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

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?

Friday, 20 March 2015

What the frack are they doing?

I hear a bit about fracking, mostly on the news or in the types of magazines, blogs and websites that I visit, and most of it is negative.  When I hear a bit about something, but don't know enough to be able to form an informed opinion, it's time to do a bit of research.

So what is fracking?
Technically it's called Hydraulic Fracturing.
Image result for fracking uk
image from
Under the ground, there are layers of different stuff.  Quite a lot of it is rock (think back to school geography lessons, igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic), but mixed in with those, particularly the sedimentary types, you'll find organic material.  Forests and other plant material that has got buried within the sediment and over millions of years has been squashed and heated to form coal, oil and natural gas.   It turns out that this stuff is quite good to burn and gives off a lot of energy, so we've been digging it up and burning it for the last couple of hundred years or so.  Unfortunately, there are two problems with that: 1) we're running out of the stuff and it's now more difficult to get, and 2) it turns out that burning all this stuff is gradually raising the temperature of the earth, and it's now got to a pretty bad state.

So, back underground.  The easy oil and gas has been found and exploited, or is in volatile countries who we have to keep sweet so that we can have our fix of the bad stuff.  But hey presto!  They've found out that there's a supply of natural gas right here in our own back yard!  It's not that easy to get out of course.  With conventional oil and gas drilling you just drill a hole, and because it's under pressure, it comes spurting up for you to collect.  This stuff is hidden away in tiny pores in shale rock.  To get it, you have to inject water down into the rocks, which makes a fracture and you can force the gas out.  You also have to inject sand, to keep the fracture open.  And also a little bit of biocide, surfactant, lubricant and stabiliser, though I couldn't quite work out what they were all for.  Anyway, that's what fracking is.  You can only get gas out from the small area around the fracture, so you usually drill a few wells from a single point.
Image result for fracking uk
image from
Why the controversy - that sounds okay?

  1. Okay, so firstly there's the groups who say we shouldn't be investing in more fossil fuel extraction when climate change is such a problem and we should be trying to wean ourselves off the stuff and use renewable energy sources.  The argument to this is that while gas is still a fossil fuel, it's a much cleaner fossil fuel than coal.  Using gas instead of coal in electricity generation emits half the CO2, and almost none of the Sulphur Dioxide or ash.  Also, since we are still very dependent on fossil fuels, doesn't it make sense to exploit our very own domestic source, which doesn't need to be liquified and shipped across the world, and isn't at the whim of hmmm... volatile neighbours.
  2. Water consumption and water pollution.  Two different beasts here.  Fracking uses a lot of water, more than conventional oil or gas drilling.  Natural gas electricity generation, however, uses less water than either coal fired or nuclear power generation.  The concern about water pollution is that this chemical cocktail that's being forced into the rocks is coming back out (about 10-40%, though  much is recovered for future fracking activity).  The actual chemical make-up of the cocktail is a closely guarded secret, so nobody is quite sure what's in it.  Do we really want this puddling about and potentially entering our water supply?
  3. Air quality.  The drill process does mean that there's a bit of extra organic material floating about in the air in the vicinity of the well.  But natural gas electricity generation emits a lot less air pollution than coal fired, so there's possibly a net gain there.
  4. Earthquakes - really?  Yes, the anti-frackers say that all this high pressure water injection is creating earthquakes right here in Britain.  Apparently though, this was in the early, unregulated world of fracking.  Now, while fracking does cause tremors, these are not generally felt by Jo Public.  The argument is that conventional mining activities have a much greater potential to cause geological problems (as evidenced by sinkholes appearing in heavily mined places like Stoke-on-Trent).
  5. Visual appearance and construction - it's true.  Wellheads aren't attractive, and the initial fracturing and well construction takes about 2 months and quite a bit of HGV movement.  However, the wellheads are generally on low ground and therefore much less visually intrusive than a wind turbine, and wind turbines involve more traffic in construction too.
So, that's why people don't like fracking, and the arguments to refute those concerns.  I confess, it doesn't sound as bad as the anti-frackers had me believe.  On balance though, while this all sounds very reassuring and "not as bad as coal", that doesn't go far enough for me.  Just because you're "not as bad" as something else, it doesn't mean that you're good.  I still think that the investment should be in reducing our energy requirements, and finding better, more efficient and less intrusive renewable energy sources, not just finding a "not as bad" halfway house.
image from
What do you think about Fracking?  Is there a controversial issue that you want to know more about?  Let me know by commenting below.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Ten things to do with mud - activities for children

Since mud surrounds us most of the time, it's freely available in the garden at no cost and it's a marvellously tactile material, it makes sense to use it in children's play.  I do live in the real world, and there are times (many) when I groan to see yet another clean pair of trousers or brand new pair of cream tights covered with mud and requiring washing, but I also love to see my children getting hands-on with interesting materials, particularly outdoors, natural materials.

Here's a round-up of ten interesting activities that children can be encouraged to do with mud:
  1. Cooking mud pies in a mud kitchen - this image is from  A mud kitchen can be as simple as a patch of soil and an unwanted saucepan, right up to a fully equipped toy kitchen set up outside with a variety of wooden, plastic and metal tools, pans, bowls and utensils - where children can mix mud, water, acorns, pebbles and pine cones to their hearts content to make mud pies, grubby soup, worm cake and any other delectables that their imagination provides.
  2. Mud sculpture - this image is from  Encourage children to make models using mud, and allow them to dry out.  Clay type mud is better for this.
  3. Mud painting - image from  Take a large, sturdy piece of card and encourage the children to "paint" images and patterns using hands, sticks, car wheels, bike tyres, brushes or anything else.
  4. Planting - image from  Children don't "get in the way" of gardening (once they are walking and not eating everything anyway), and love to be involved in the gardening process.  Point them to some nicely prepared soil, show them how to plant, and let them go for it.  It's true, a few small plants may get slightly damaged in the process, but most recover, and the learning experience is well worth it.
  5. Small world farm - This awesome small world farm was pinned by Kirstine Beeley on Pinterest.  I would prefer to set the farm up in a raised bed, but this outdoor play tray is really good too.  She's even got real carrots in there for the tractor to harvest!
  6. Diggers - This image is from  So the toys get dirty - they can be washed!  Put diggers in real soil/mud, especially if there's a construction site nearby that the children can relate to.
  7. Archaeology dig - Bury an interesting artifact (a pot in several pieces, an old metal kitchen utensil or a few toy dinosaurs) in the soil in one area of the garden or a raised bed, and allow it to settle for a few weeks (if you can spare some garden).  Now introduce the children to the idea of archaeology and how it works.  Show them the area of the garden where they will search.  When they've dug the item up, get them to try to put it together if required, and to figure out what they can about the item.  This image is from
  8. Make compost - Get kids involved with your compost making routine at home and you'll have the joys of introducing them to reducing waste, to all sorts of little garden critters, and to making the garden a better place.  It's a win-win!  These images are from where she talks about how to make compost with kids in under an hour.
  9. Barefoot walk - I know, I know.  There might be sharp stones, prickly plants, or even glass or dog mess.  But let's say you check the route for any obvious signs of these first.  It takes a lot to beat the feeling of tickly grass and squelchy mud between our toes.  And lets face it, most of us don't think twice about letting our little ones barefeet on the beach, where there are similar risks?  This awesome picture is from
  10. Tracking - There are two types of tracking.  The first is the one practiced by wilderness gurus the world over, where you are looking for signs left by wildlife.  This may be owl pellets, fur, tunnels through the grass, nibbled nuts and... footprints in the snow or... mud!  The other is the method used by scouts to leave a trail for those following on behind, a series of simple symbols created with pebbles, stones, chalk or even drawn in the mud.  It doesn't matter which of these you choose, you'll have a ball.  To find animal tracks in the mud you'll want it to have rained the day before, to make the ground nice and soft, so that evening and night time critter visitors will have left nice footprints for you to find in the morning.  This image is of a deer print from, where they have lots of other great tracking information for the UK.
What do you like to do with mud?

Monday, 16 March 2015

Pencil cases - Monday Make

This week I've made nine pencil cases.  Eight are to sell through Sunbow Designs - either Etsy or Folksy (see links on the right) or directly.  The ninth isn't in this picture, I personalised the embroidery and made it as a birthday present for Bug's friend.

They are all lined, and I decided to make half of them with the patterned fabric on the outside and plain turquoise lining, and the other half with the turquoise on the outside, embellished with applique and embroidery, and the patterned fabric to line.

This fabric comes with blue, pink and cream backgrounds.  I've made reusable washable snack-packs and sandwich wraps with the bird-love blue background, and I've sold all of them.  I was looking for some butterfly fabric for these pencil cases, but couldn't find any on this visit to my favourite fabric shop, so decided to go with a fabric that has proven popular on my Etsy and Folksy shop so far.  Maybe I'll even get some repeat custom from people who've already bought a sandwich wrap?
The making process for these is pretty straightforward once you've done it a few times, and especially if you're making several at once.  Next time I make pencil cases I'll remember to take step-by-step photographs and will include a tutorial.

What have you been making this week?