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Lit Kid: books with holes in

I’m not here to encourage you to get the scissors out (and you’d have a hard time doing so with board books).

But I am being reacquainted with certain categories of books, following in the wake of Mini Reader, who has some very definite ideas about what makes a good book.

One with holes in, for example.

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We can agree on a particular one, certainly, which is the classic book with holes: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle.

I’m sure I initially came across this in paperback – and you need to be a bit more careful poking your finger through the holes in paper. This works even better as a board book, though we have it in both versions.

The conceit, of course, is that the aforementioned caterpillar, being very hungry, needs to eat, and so there are little holes in the pages where he has supposedly chewed through them.

There is some gentle maths thrown in, where he gradually eats one more item over the course of each day of the week – plus you have the days of the week element too.

But there’s also the visual aspect: each day of the week has a food of a different colour, as you progress over strawberries, plums, and so on.

Saturday is the biggie, when the caterpillar has his blow out meal, and regrets it after.

(There may not be terribly many supermodels nibbling just one green leaf the day after breaking their diet, but surely ‘just salad’ is following in the steps of the caterpillar.)

Saturday is of course the day that sticks in my mind from reading it as a child. It is partly the greed factor of so many items of food, partly the attraction of all the different things.

I’m sure it also drew me in to notions of more cosmopolitan fare – its pickles and salami, for example – years before I sampled either.

Mini Reader doesn’t necessarily put a finger in the holes of the book. But the days of the week are flipped very fast, so that you have to read quickly to keep up with them.

And we’ve had some happy discussions about just what is going on in that cocoon to bring the caterpillar into being that amazing butterfly of the final pages.

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Junior Reader and I are fans of Harry and the Dinosaurs: a small boy with a proud pudding bowl haircut, but also (importantly) a plastic bucket full of his special toy dinosaurs.

I’ve mentioned Harry before – particularly when his older sister Sam riles him – as a good example of recurring phrases. But Mini Reader has introduced me to another book with holes: a story where you see colours through a hole in the page.

Harry and the Dinosaurs Play Hide and Seek introduces colours and shapes, as does another in the series, Harry and the Dinosaurs have a Very Busy Day.

Harry is hunting for his dinosaurs – and thinks he sees a different shape, page by page. You then lift the flap to see a larger object, each with its own dinosaur on it.

The book is therefore an additional way to talk about form and colour – as well as a chance for your own mini reader to test your pronunciation of Apatosaurus and Scelidosaurus.

It’s lighter on words than the conventional Harry books – but if you are looking for quickies to add to the growing pile of bedtime stories (Mini’s book total at bedtime seems to be on the increase), it’s light and fun.

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I’ll add in a slightly different book with holes: a fold-out book which then forms a series of dioramas. (Mini Reader rather likes it too, at least to look at.)

I have a copy of Thumbelina from my own childhood – and am very pleased to find
a picture of the same issue, so you can admire it too.

There are I think six scenes, with not so much text per page – just enough to take you through Thumbelina’s initial escape, and the other places she seeks to find a home.

The plus side of the book is that each double spread folds out, so you can see two or three layers into each page. But the big excitement is that the covers of the book have strings, so you can fasten the whole thing into a lantern shape.

I think the notion, for the publishers, was to create some kind of mobile (think decorative hanging device, for those gentle readers who might think just of phones). There is a little loop at the top too, so you can certainly hang up the whole book.

The downside of this is that the pictures are quite small and detailed, and at ceiling height, it would be harder to admire them.

And it is worth admiring them: they are reminiscent of a do-it-yourself cardboard theatre
(I had one of those too as a child), with lots of levels of scenery to look through.

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I can’t leave without mentioning Peepo again – one that I referenced before, in relation to the way the text rocks you along.

Peepo allows you to see a tiny part of a scene – then you turn the page and see the whole scene.

It is partly the fun of imagining the whole before you see it all, and partly a play on the notion of the book: the peeper is a baby, exploring his home, the park, the back yard, and so on.

Peepo is a classic too – known in particular for its illustrations that conjure up a world of baths in front of the fire, coal cellars, children making their own toys, Dad in his ARP uniform, mum in curlers.

Even as an adult, we want to look through the hole in the book – back to the world we may only just remember, or (for me anyway) recognise through stories and films.

Whether we find out more with our eyes – or whether our mini reader explores with their fingers – a book with a hole is an invitation. The world we are about to find is engaging – and safe.

As long as we don’t eat too many lollipops on Saturdays.

Making: new uses for treasured T-shirts

We were on holiday, and Junior Reader noticed a problem. Come another summer or two, and a beloved T-shirt would cease to fit.

Now we’re OK on this in a few different ways:

– Junior Reader doesn’t grow terribly fast (so far), so the T-shirt still has some life in it yet

– we’re pretty good about passing on clothes when they don’t fit any more, given that many of them are ‘new to us’ via helpful friends and family, or second-hand shops.

However. There comes a point when certain clothes reach treasured status.

And really, this one is a good one – nice red background (always a good start as far as Junior Reader is concerned), big applique design on the front that’s holding pretty well despite lots of use. (It’s a T Rex, in case you wanted to know.)

So Junior Reader came to me with a suggestion. Why not turn the T-shirt into a cushion cover? (Because, you know, we definitely need more cushions with dinosaurs on.)

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Lots of people have clothes they don’t want to part with. Sometimes this is OK – fashion comes round again, etc. You may find out it looks great a few years from now. (If you have wardrobe space to wait this long.)

Sometimes, you only wear the clothes a few times a year, but it’s worth hanging on to them. (Quality wool coats; much of my ‘hot weather clothing’ collection.)

Sometimes, it’s time to think differently about the item. It’s part of the reason quilts and rag rugs work well. You get to hang on to some material that has sentimental attraction, but in a new form where it has a bit more use.

And why not add a T-shirt cushion to that category?

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Junior Reader has clearly seen me fiddling with fabric enough to put the suggestion – and I like it. It is a nice T-shirt, plus it gives me a new project idea.

Junior Reader is now adding further complexity to the notion. ‘It needs a zip.’ Well, love, I can’t fit zips (as yet), but Granny R can. So maybe we’ll ask her, or…maybe I’ll bottle it, and we’ll use press studs instead, ‘cos I know I can sew those on OK.

A T-shirt is not so far off a cushion shape in the first place. And if I run out of pillow filler, I could go as far as buying a cushion pad for this one – which would then mean I might need to do a bit more conventional measuring to make sure the cover fits.

But beyond the cushion itself, there’ll be more leftover material. Fuel for the rag rug, I suspect.

Still, while the T-shirt still fits, this is more of a project to muse on for the future. We’ll keep you posted.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.