Making: a new use for snowflakes

We went to an exhibition, back around Easter time. A bit of a treat, really – a big collection of Matisse paper cutouts.

Dan and his mum have liked Matisse for a long time. I’m newer on the scene, but had managed to see a few things in galleries, like The Snail at Tate Modern.

Junior Reader didn’t know about Matisse, but does know a thing or two about paper cutouts, having gone through an extensive phase of making paper snowflakes. So we thought it might just suit everyone.

When I was at the exhibition, I learned that Matisse had spent time in Hawaii, and that some of the local art had influenced the shapes that he later cut out of paper.

That rang a bell with the quilting book, and more recently, I looked it up. There is a Hawaiian style of quilting that is probably more accurately described as applique i.e. sewing smaller bits of cloth onto bigger bits of cloth in a decorative way.

The Hawaiian style is to have a high contrast between the cutout shape and the background. So you can imagine a white background, say, and a deep blue or deep red design on the front.

But when I looked at how it gets made, all I could think of was: snowflakes.

When you make the template for the cutout shape, you fold the paper into four. You then just take a quarter of the cutout, and pin that onto material which is folded into four.

Then you cut through all four levels of the material. The result is that when you open out the coloured material, you have your complete shape, all nice and symmetrical.

I fancy the idea of collaborating with Junior Reader on this one. One maker making the design, the other sewing it. I think that’s probably a win-win.

The trickier bit is the sewing that goes with it. From what I’ve read so far, you sew a line around the inside of the cutout shape – that holds it in place. You do it in a contrasting colour so it’s easy to spot (and remove later).

Then you do ‘slipstitch’, which I think is to use sewing to tuck the edges under so it looks neat. After that, you remove the traced line of stitching, and your applique is complete. Or something like that.

I don’t quite know what we’d do with the result – a cushion? A wallhanging? I might canvass Junior Reader for ideas. Given the relative enthusiasm for snowflakes, I can imagine that I would be offered several, at the very least.

I’m filing this one as ‘idea for some time later’, rather than an immediate one. But if I can find a deep enough blue (particularly a kind of Yves Klein blue, if I can), and a lovely enough snowflake shape, I rather fancy giving it a try.

I imagine you could also do the same in reverse – ie white snowflake on coloured background. It might not be so Hawaiian, but it might be more snowflakey.

And as Granny R has kindly made some nice red cushions (with leftovers from the red curtains she produced), we might just have the perfect base on which to balance a few snowflakes.

I’ll keep you posted on the weather forecast for this one.

Making: a rag rug

Last summer, there was a family gathering on Skye. I was there for just a couple of days, really, but it included enough time to get along to a local craft fair, in walking distance from where we were staying.

There were a mixture of stalls. I liked some items; was less keen on others. But on one stall, there was a lady with strips of cloth, and a wooden implement which I can only really describe as a Bodger.

The woman had a loose-weave cloth, and she was using the bodger to poke strips of cloth through that backing. What she was doing was making a rag rug, something I had read about, but never actually seen done.

The woman had kits for sale, with the hessian backing, instructions, and a few pieces of coordinating material to start you off. The clincher, of course, was that the kit gave you your own bodger.

I was in.


The thing with making rag rugs is that it immediately gives you a use for lots of tiny bits of fabric that might otherwise get chucked out.

These days, as the woman showed me, those bits of fabric can include fleece material, jeans, tartan, cotton, and pretty much anything else you care to cut into tiny pieces of fabric.

Once I got home, and looked at the instructions more, it seemed that the cutting of strips was to be greatly improved by the owning of a rotary cutter.

I did not then own one. So the kit stayed in its bag for pretty much a year. (I made an attempt at getting a rotary cutter at one point, only to find I had bought something else, and had to take it back.)

Fast forward to this summer. I have now acquired my rotary cutter. So all of a sudden, my new toy is not just for quilts/patchwork, but I can also get the rag rug kit underway.

While the rag rug kit was gathering dust, I did start to amass a pile of fabric to go with it. Then I had a big bout of spring cleaning and got rid of it. (I kind of regret that now, but only a bit.)

On the plus side, it might be the ideal use for lots of little strips of eco bag that I no longer want to use, but that could find a new purpose as a rag rug.

On the other side: what does one do with one’s rag rug? I have a feeling that it might turn into a teeny tiny rug for a teddy, in a similar way to the teeny tiny quilt.

The good thing about the rag rug work is that the pieces aren’t fixed in the same way as sewing. So if I try out some bits and don’t like the effect, I can always pull them out and start again.

I’m rather hoping that rag rugging – aka bodging – might be just the thing for doing while watching TV. Normally I don’t manage to make and watch TV at the same time, but I think this might just be the exception.

And then, if I like it, I can always buy more hessian, and bodge away a bit more.


Early results:

- fleece material is nice to use, fairly easy to put in and out

-  tartan material looks good but keeps fraying. Turns out I should have cut it on the bias. (I know the phrase – now I need to go off and work out what it means in practice. I think it means cutting cloth in a way that stops it fraying.)

- cotton eco bag material works very nicely. And those bits that had writing on – you only see a tiny bit of the writing for each ‘stitch’ of the rug, so it’s not distracting.

It’s more like those pictures of walls where an old advert was painted up there and is now flaking off in a reasonably charming way.

- folding the strips in half along the width makes for a neater ‘stitch’ but means that you get lots of flatter lines

- bodging can be done fairly easily while playing Settlers of Catan on holiday

- with practice, I can now bodge strips from the front of the cloth, which speeds things up.


So: will it use up scraps of material? Yes, just great. But I am now realising I will need a lot of scraps of material. (No wonder rag rugging was done by a whole family – you’d need to, just to create enough strips and get them into the backing.)

In consequence, it will Take Some Time to complete. But that’s OK. I suspect it could be a perfect project to pick up and put down when I need to.

Keep Calm and DIY

Remember the notion of challenge I mentioned recently? Challenge is all right really - at least, the ones that you think you can actually manage.

What when they are ones that pick you? The DIY jobs that you really can’t put off any longer – the ones you also don’t know how to do?


Here’s how it goes. You agree that there is a task that must be done: taking out the old sealant round the bath and putting in new.

You don’t know how to do it – but one day, your local supermarket happens to do a deal on tools to scrape out the old stuff. So you pick those up, and a sealant tube, and hope that that will spur you on.

You invite your dad round – not to do the job, but to supervise, and show how to start it. He gets out the Trusty Penknife, starts things off. You learn how to keep going, without worrying that you are carving up things that you shouldn’t.

Your dad shows you a new and exciting sharp tool to add to the collection: a Stanley knife that you can use for DIY. It’s meant to be for getting paint off the edge of windows, but you discover you can degrime shower screens with it. Bonus.

Then you realise that you also need to regrout the tiles around the bath. You don’t know how to do that either.

But your dad tells you how to mix up grout, and you discover some left over from when friends did the job in the first place. So you add that to the list.

You begin to scrape out all the old grout around the bath. It makes a mess, it takes a long time, you work up a sweat. You start to learn that preparation in DIY really does take longer than the job itself.

You like the scraper tool, so you buy one. And a different sealant. And take the first back. And go back to the DIY place a few more times, now that you’re in the swing of things, to get radiator paint.

Because your dad has told you that you can seal the rust on the bathroom radiator that you’re embarrassed by, and the hall radiator would probably benefit from a lick of paint…and so on.

One time, you go to the DIY place twice in the same morning. The first time, because you’ve left your bank card in the wrong place. They smile and park your trolley somewhere helpful.

You discover that you have overcome another challenge, namely, driving a new route to the DIY place. And the supermarket nearby.

You touch up paintwork on the walls in the bathroom. And find yourself repainting the bathroom. With a very small brush, because there’s lots of fiddly bits. Good job it’s a small bathroom.


You enlist the help of your spouse. You seek out YouTube videos on how to do grouting and sealant. Or rather, he does, and you nod approvingly.

And go back to the DIY place, because now you need masking tape to do the sealant properly. And your spouse informs you that the local supermarket does not stock it. (But it does stock quick cook pasta. That helps. You’re tired by now.)

In the end, you chicken out, and let your better half do the actual grouting and sealant. He doesn’t seem to be as nervous.

You stand alongside and provide kitchen roll when asked for, and dig out one of those primary school style glue spreaders that happens to be the right size for pushing grout between tiles.


You discover that you don’t need to repaint the woodwork. What you really needed to do was to clean it properly in the first place.

You hunt around the attic for the sugar soap, and it does the trick. You are simultaneously pleased at the result and depressed that you let the grot hang around that long.


You have to remove part of a significant sticker collection around the window to repaint – and breathe a sigh of relief when you can do so safely and return them to their owner without ripping them.

You use one of those masks for painting the radiator. Because the DIY place doesn’t seem to stock radiator paint without significant fumes.

You feel halfway to a proper tradesman, but don’t understand why he doesn’t get headaches from the fumes if he’s doing this all the time.


You show up for school pick up in painting clothes. Three days running.

It’s only when you’ve finally finished the job that your child informs you that, one more day of painting clothes at pick up, and they might start to get embarrassed.


All of a sudden, you discover that you can redo a bathroom by doing the cheap bits that freshen it up. You feel very pleased with yourself.

But in the meantime, you eat a whole pork pie on your own, for lunch, because it turns out DIY can take it out of you. Even if you’re keeping as calm as you can.

Making: the end of bed tidy

Last year, relatives kindly passed on a lovely quality single bed. It’s one of those ones which has a spare bedstead and mattress that fit underneath. The kind of thing that could allow for sleepovers in comfort.

Meanwhile, the bed has been joined by a desk – a very nice fit really. The desk is really a low table – for tea parties, for drawing, or whatever else seems the best use at the time.

There is now a gap between the top of the table and the top of the wood that forms the end of the bed. It’s only really about fifteen centimetres deep, but I don’t want it to get attention for the wrong reasons.

I am hoping that the table will get plenty of use – but I also want to avoid leaving wood in front of the draw-er that might a) get drawn on too b) stickered to death c) other possible notions I have not yet dreamt up.

The solution: making an end of bed tidy.

The notion of the tidy is that it sits on the table side of the end of the bed, covering up the space, yet making the table space more inviting (fingers crossed).

So what I’m aiming for is a long thin strip of fabric – an extended letterbox shape, if you will. Part of it will form the back of the tidy, and a lower bit will be sewn on the front, with stitches across it vertically to form pockets in the strip of fabric.

I haven’t quite worked out how the fabric attaches to the end of the bed – but I have found the perfect remnant of fabric for it.

When I was off hunting for the exciting rotary cutter, I had a little browse among the offcuts of fabric in the shop. Lots were curtain material, and not what I was after, but I did find a long strip of fabric with a series of small animal prints on it.

(Yes, we are talking cute fabric here. It’s a new departure for me.)

I eyeballed it for size, and thought it would work. At just over two pounds’ cost, it was worth a try.

Once I got it home, it turned out that it was an ideal shape for the end of the bed, hopefully making the sewing side very easy.

I also got an offcut of plain creamy fabric at the same time. I think it might be curtain lining, not sure, but it’s plain, and cheap, and it will work out just fine to go with the print.

So far, I’ve roughly cut off enough of the plain fabric to fit the print offcut. Fortunately enough, there’s a good chunk of the plain fabric left over too (so probably add on about 50p to the cost of fabric bought, which is still a bargain).

I have worked out that I want the fabric to match: one strip will form the back of the tidy, the other will form the bit that will then get divided into pockets.

The cream fabric will be sewed to back it. I hope it will add a bit of weight, and I think it might need some of that pillow inner to make the whole thing a bit sturdier, and able to hold a fistful of crayons per pocket, say.

I’m sure more confident makers might add contrast pockets, or embroidery, or all kinds of other things.

I don’t know if I’m feeling brave enough for that yet. I’m hoping that cute fabric will swing it for now, and maybe I can add some of the rest later, if I get better (or if it is requested).

Although this is being written about after other items, it will probably get finished first, because I have all the pieces for it. Plus I can take it on holiday to complete without Junior Reader suspecting (unlike the teeny tiny quilt).

I appreciate that, given the insistence that the fabric is cute, I may be required to provide photographic evidence.

I’ll see if I can run to that too.

Summer moments 2014

One thing you hope for, when the summer holidays roll round, is that there’ll be lots of lovely moments. Moments even, maybe – ones where you can stand still for a moment, and just soak them in.

I decided at the start of the summer that I’d try and have a round-up of some of these.
I used to write a summer holiday diary as a child (or at least there are a couple of years’ worth). I don’t get that far now, but a few happy memories, that I can find time for.

So here are some of this summer’s moments so far. Like pressed flowers, preserved for that little bit longer.

Depending on how many moments stand out, there may be a few more of these posts.
I rather hope so.


A week of tennis lessons. Kids hard at it on the courts, mums and grannies and general hangers on at the side. One enterprising granny has a fold-up chair with her.

We agree that there will be lots of trips to the playground after tennis this week – because it’s a good one. Because it’s right next to the tennis courts. Because, well, it’s the summer, and playground time in dry weather is something to be seized with both hands.

There is a walk in the Botanic Gardens one day, a deux, with Junior Reader. We browse lots of interesting paths, hide under trees, seek out the tops of the waterfalls we can hear at a distance.

It’s sunny, and we have been out all morning and half the afternoon. By the time we bus home, we’re both tired, but happy.


There is the beginning of reading of the first Harry Potter book, out loud, to Junior Reader. Dan and I have read them all – indeed, we read them aloud to each other, right through to book 7. (Oh OK. I did read ahead a bit in book 7 – couldn’t not.)

Dan does the reading honours, but I beg rights to read one chapter, where Harry has to buy his things for school – including his wand.

It is back to the old magic – the reading magic of sharing a book you like, for the first time. Junior Reader knows a bit of the story, true, from a school friend who is a few books ahead. But we get to share it together, right from the start. It feels good.


There is a day where we are required to be on a Secret Mission. We bought a few little things to say well done to Junior Reader at the end of the school year. Junior Reader, not to be outdone, wants to buy something back for us.

We miss buses and we walk to different bus stops and have a few other distractions, but we finally secure some chocolate digestives. Because that’s what grownups like, as far as Junior Reader is concerned. (We concur.)


There is a trip to Perthshire to see a former school friend. It is one of those happy playdates where you abandon your child to their friend, their plans, and sit with the mum, tea and biscuits to hand, catching up.

They send us back with soft fruit – because it is the right place in Scotland for soft fruit. Especially raspberries.

The fruit disappears fast, as soft fruit always does, but I make sure to pass by the kitchen counter regularly, and inhale the scent of the raspberries a few times. And to eat them, very slowly.


There are a few more afternoon films than might normally happen, and a certain amount of parental napping during these. Because everyone needs some down time, even if they’re On Duty.